March 14 (Reuters) - Cricket will shed all pretensions of being a lazy, nuanced game and reward brute force when top teams brawl in Bangladesh over the next three weeks for the biggest crown of the game’s shortest and most unabashed format at the ICC World Twenty20.
Mostly young, brawny men will walk out wielding heavy, modern bats with the sole aim of whacking the ball into the orbit in front of a largely young crowd with insatiable appetite for the crash-bang format.
There will invariably be a Sunil Narine or a Saeed Ajmal, refusing to be just cannon-fodder, conning batsman with their guile and variation to prove that smart, slow bowlers can also coexist in this format.
The tournament is still likely to be a mind-boggling batting exhibition over 35 matches at three venues culminating with the April 6 final at Mirpur’s Shere Bangla National Stadium.
Much of it is expected from the Australians who will land eyeing the only major cricket silverware missing from their trophy cabinet.
For a batting line up boasting the likes of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson and captain George Bailey, few teams can match Australia’s firepower.
Complementing them will be a bowling attack spearheaded by the redoubtable Mitchell Johnson, who is nursing a toe infection and might arrive late for the tournament.
”We’ve got the most balanced side and balanced squad I’ve ever been involved in,“ Watson declared earlier this week. ”We really do have firepower in our batting order, all the way down to number 10.
”We’ve got high-quality opening bowlers, death bowlers and spinners. We have versatility. In all conditions, against any opposition we can match up really well.
“Twenty20 cricket is certainly fickle, but if you have a lot of match-winners in your team then you’ve got more of a chance of it being someone’s day. We certainly got that in our squad for sure.”
Eyes will also be on Brad Hogg, 43, and Brad Hodge, 39, as they challenge the popular perception that Twenty20 is essentially a young man’s game.
On a similar mission will be the Sri Lankans who are fully aware what victory means for their passionate fans who have endured the agony of watching their team falter in the final of four World Cups - both 50 and 20-over - since 2007.
Last week, the cricketers got a hero’s welcome and were given an open-top bus ride in Colombo after they won the Asia Cup in Bangladesh.
There could be an encore next month if Sri Lanka’s enviable balance translates into performance.
In Tillakaratne Dilshan and captain Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka have two batsmen who can clear the boundary almost at will, fortified by the presence of contemporary cricket’s two premier bailout specialists - Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
The presence of two enigmatic bowlers in Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis means outscoring Sri Lanka, also a formidable fielding side, will be doubly difficult for any side.
Their recent Asia Cup victory also means they know the conditions in Bangladesh better than any other team except the hosts.
Neighbours India have opted for a blend of youth and experience, having recalled Yuvraj Singh, hero of their triumph in the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007 and the 50-over World Cup four years later, to the squad.
In a team teeming with strokemakers, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s major worry will be India’s bowling frailty which has recently been laid bare in other formats.
For the talented Pakistan team, the challenge essentially will be to curb their tendency to implode if they are to repeat their 2009 triumph.
In Shahid Afridi and Ajmal, Pakistan have two game-changers and they are familiar with the conditions too, having reached the Asia Cup final last week.
Defending champions West Indies will rely on Chris Gayle’s power-hitting and Marlon Samuels’ street-smart cricket to see them through, but they will miss Kieron Pollard’s all-rounder service after the Trinidad player hurt his knee.
England look even more depleted, yet to settle down after the unceremonious axing of Kevin Pietersen, who was adjudged player of the tournament in their 2010 triumph in West Indies.
To make it worse, Joe Root has been ruled out with a thumb injury and captain Stuart Broad is also nursing a knee problem.
Bangladesh take on Afghanistan on Sunday in the first match of the qualifying stage which culminates with two of the eight smaller teams joining the top eight teams in the Super 10 stage starting from March 21.
Comprising players who learned the game in refugee camps, Afghanistan continued their fairytale rise in international cricket when they beat Bangladesh in the recent Asia Cup and the muted celebration that followed was a statement of their growing self-expectations.
“We were expecting this,” chief executive of the war-ravaged country’s cricket board, Noor Muhammad Murad, told Reuters after the team’s first victory against a test playing nation.
“Whenever I spoke to the team, they told me they were confident of at least beating the lower-ranked full members.” (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)