The main draw of the World T20 in India is set to begin on Tuesday, with the hosts taking on New Zealand in Nagpur. If the quality of cricket on display during the qualifiers is anything to go by, the audience is in for a nail-biting tournament.
Here are 11 players to watch out for:
1. Virat Kohli (India)
India are an outfit buzzing with team spirit. And a lot of credit for that should go to Virat. He has silenced all talk of disharmony and the existence of two power centres by playing the perfect lieutenant to Dhoni, supporting the team in all aspects while setting the standard in the field. Kohli has been in impeccable form, pulling India out of the rut and leading them to victory in tense situations.
2. Ravichandran Ashwin (India)
With question marks over India’s pace attack, Ashwin will be the team’s go-to man in home conditions. The off-spinner comes into the tournament as the top-ranked T20 bowler in the absence of the West Indies’ Sunil Narine. With many variations including the ‘carrom ball’ up his sleeve, Ashwin is feared on Indian wickets and he’s also handy with the bat lower down the order.
3. Colin Munro (New Zealand)
Forget Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill and Corey Anderson, New Zealand suddenly has another big-hitter in the form of Munro, 29. The unheralded left-hander has been in sensational form this year and starred in the Black Caps’ 74-run thrashing of Sri Lanka in Thursday’s warm-up match in Mumbai. Munro smashed 67, including seven sixes, off 34 balls, leading Anderson to call him “one hell of a player”. His form is timely for New Zealand, after the retirement of their swashbuckling captain Brendon McCullum.
4. David Warner (Australia)
Arguably the most brutal opener in Test cricket, Warner has been handed a new role in the middle order of Australia’s T20 side. A blistering 77 off just 40 balls against South Africa last weekend showed how quickly he has adapted to the change and he says he is relishing the opportunity to face more spin bowling.
Warner made his debut for Australia’s T20 team even before he played first-class cricket but is now an automatic pick in all formats. His in-your-face approach has landed him in trouble, including his infamous 2013 ban for punching England’s Joe Root in a bar. But as vice-captain in what is a relatively inexperienced squad, much responsibility now rests on the 29-year-old’s shoulders.
5. Chris Gayle (West Indies)
It’s been a while since Gayle played Test cricket but his appetite for T20s appears undiminished. While the biggest headlines from his recent stint in Australia’s Big Bash League revolved around his bid to chat up a TV reporter, he also bludgeoned a stunning 12-ball 50.
Gayle racked up the highest ever score in T20s while playing for the Bangalore Royal Challengers in the Indian Premier League three years ago, hitting an unbeaten 175 off 66 balls. And he lit up the first World T20 in 2007 by notching up the format’s first international century. It could be the last chance for glory for a player, now aged 36, that captain Darren Sammy describes as “the most destructive” in T20 cricket.
6. Imran Tahir (South Africa)
With paceman Dale Steyn struggling with injury, the hopes of South Africa’s bowling attack will rest largely on the shoulders of leg-spinner Imran Tahir. The 36-year-old has been in the form of his life in 2016 and was the stand-out bowler in the recent T20 series against Australia and England.
Born in Pakistan, Tahir broke into the Proteas’ side at a relatively late age because of issues over his eligibility, but quickly became a fans’ favourite due to his ability to turn matches. The stylish spinner wears his heart on his sleeve and is a natural entertainer, famed for his often dramatic appeals for a wicket.
7. Shoaib Malik (Pakistan)
The middle-order batsman made his international debut back in 1999 when still a teenager, beginning a rollercoaster ride which seems to be drawing to a close. Still only 34, he dropped a bombshell last November by announcing his retirement from Test cricket, only three matches after a five-year exile. But he remains a key member of Pakistan’s one-day and T20 squads and a calming influence in a crisis situation.
After Pakistan’s disastrous performance in the recent Asia Cup in Bangladesh, skipper Shahid Afridi will be looking to Malik to mentor the side’s young batsmen. Husband of Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, Malik was at the crease when Pakistan lifted the T20 crown in 2009 and would love to repeat the victory in Kolkata on April 3.
8. Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh)
Widely regarded as the best cricketer Bangladesh has produced, Shakib is a canny left-arm spinner and a power middle-order batsman with a wide array of strokes. Shakib is also Bangladesh’s most experienced T20 campaigner and has played in domestic leagues in four different countries.
Previously ranked as the world’s number one all-rounder, he has been the main factor behind the team’s sharp improvement in one-day cricket in the last two years. But the brash 28-year-old has also made headlines for the wrong reasons and he was slapped with a six-month ban in 2014 by the Bangladeshi board for a “severe attitude problem” after he tried to play in the Caribbean Premier League without permission. He was also suspended briefly last year for a foul-mouthed outburst at an umpire in Bangladesh’s domestic T20 tournament.
9. Joe Root (England)
He may have the appearance of a choirboy but the chirpy Yorkshireman is a steely competitor who gets up the noses of opponents. Widely seen as a captain-in-waiting, Root has excelled at all forms of the game and appears to relish the more aggressive style of cricket that England have pursued in the last year. Still only 25, he has already scored more than 6,000 international runs since making his debut in India four years ago. Not only is he now the most prized English wicket, but he is also a handy offbreak bowler.
10. Angelo Mathews (Sri Lanka)
The batting all-rounder has been handed the unenviable task of ensuring the struggling islanders at least make a decent fist of trying to defend the World T20 title they won in 2014. Sri Lanka have been on the decline since their triumph in Bangladesh, slumping to eighth in the world rankings, and come into this edition hot on the heels of a torturous Asia Cup campaign.
Mathews, 28, was appointed captain in place of the injured Lasith Malinga just hours before the squad were due to leave for India. Progressing to the semis is seen as a tall order, so if Sri Lanka succeed, then their new skipper will regard it as a job well done.
11. Mohammad Shahzad (Afghanistan)
A self-proclaimed fan of Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad has not only copied his idol’s ‘helicopter shot’ but possesses a similar never-say-die attitude. The portly opener has been in the form of his life and is the main reason Afghanistan made the Super 10 cut. With scores of 61, 41 and 40 in the qualifiers, Shahzad is sure to make any opposition bowler wary of his presence.
Apart from his range of colourful shots, the 31-year-old Shahzad is regarded as the team’s chief motivator thanks to his chirpy presence behind the stumps.