This World Twenty20 tournament is India’s to lose. In 2011 they proved they can handle the massive expectation from their own fans by winning the 50-over World Cup on home soil.
Now they have four more years of experience in the IPL. Young players are used to playing in front of massive crowds and big television audiences. They know how to deliver under pressure.
India have picked an experienced squad, going back to some of the older faces like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra but they still have a good blend with younger players to add energy.
I really like the look of Jasprit Bumrah. He has an unusual action that helps him bowl lethal yorkers. His last over in the Asia Cup final against Bangladesh, when he conceded just seven runs, proved he can handle the pressure.
His three for 23 against Australia in Adelaide in January in his first game for India showed all those years of IPL cricket are paying off with guys like Bumrah coming through and ready to play top-level Twenty20 straightaway.
In Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma India have the best batsmen in the world and MS Dhoni is still a real force and calming presence. They have everything. From 1 to 11, it is hard to find a weak link.
Beyond India I think West Indies are very strong, too. The conditions suit them, they have a deep batting line up, lots of power and clever seam bowlers. If they had Sunil Narine I would put them right up there but his loss is a big blow.
I like Australia under Steve Smith. They have great togetherness and power in the batting. I’m looking forward to seeing the leg-spinner Adam Zampa bowl. He has done well in the Big Bash but now has to deliver in conditions where he will be expected to do well. That is something new for him. The same for Adil Rashid for England. He too had a good Big Bash. But now we expect that from him all the time in India. Can he handle it? I hope so.
Jasprit Bumrah has an unusual action that helps him bowl lethal yorkers.
South Africa are in form and have so much talent in the batting but I wonder if their back-up spin bowling is good enough in India. Imran Tahir is a matchwinner for them but I think the rest are a weak point.
For the first time in a long while I expect to see England do well at a World Cup. They surprised us by winning the World Twenty20 in Barbados in 2010. That came as a shock but I expect this side to do well, not by lifting the trophy, but at least making an impression on the tournament. They are in a really tough group with two other previous winners of the tournament in Sri Lanka and West Indies. England play West Indies first too and when you see they have eight players in their line up who have played IPL then you realise how much ground England have to make up in terms of experience.
But If they can qualify for the knock-out stages then other teams will be wary of England. I don’t think England will freeze in a knock-out match. Trevor Bayliss has instilled a new found freedom and belief in the players. He has won the IPL as a coach so if they can get to the knock-out stages he will keep the players calm and they will be very dangerous.
In Twenty20 captaincy is vital. In Test cricket if you make a small mistake you have time to claw it back. In 50-over cricket there is always a period when you can grab back momentum but in Twenty20 a captain’s error might cost his team the game. Captaincy is always about pressure but you can be exposed in Twenty20 so you have to know gameplans, be reactive to conditions and above all else be brave. Do not be scared about taking risks. You will not win by playing safe. The only way to stop good teams is by taking wickets so if someone like Rashid is bowling you have to be prepared to gamble with the odd field setting. Try to force the issue.
On slow, turning pitches you see bundles of wickets falling in clusters. That is why it is crucial teams prepare mentally. The best sides have a batsman sat on the bench who is already 25 not out before he gets to the crease.
In his mind he has to be strolling out with runs already under his belt. Those who walk out on nought, having not watched the game and assessed conditions, will be found out.
The best players work out angles and the pitch before they have faced a ball so they can go hard straightaway.
Pace is dangerous on Indian pitches just like it is anywhere else in the world but the best seamers in Twenty20 cricket are the clever ones. Bowlers like James Faulkner and Andre Russell use pace as a surprise element. They bowl wide slower ball yorkers, balls out the back of the hand and the odd bouncer.They can deliver the appropriate ball at the right moment. That is a skill in itself.
For all the shambolic organisation in the early stages, this will be a great tournament. The excitement will burst through the television screens back home. The crowds and the atmosphere will be brilliant. But going forward the ICC has to lay down regulations regarding the hosting of its tournaments.
Venues must be announced and tickets on sale nine months before the competition starts to give fans a chance to arrange travel. The scenes here with fans unable to buy tickets and being locked out of grounds were embarrassing and reflected badly on the ICC and BCCI. It cannot happen again but somehow India gets away with it.
Also the ICC needs to give the associate countries a proper opportunity to play against the established teams. The likes of Oman and Afghanistan have provided us with brilliant stories.
Who would have thought five years ago that Oman would beat Ireland or Afghanistan qualify to play against England. In Mohammad Shahzad Afghanistan have a brilliant opening batsman/wicketkeeper. We need to grow the game globally so we have more stories like Oman and Afghanistan and more players like Shahzad which means allowing a greater number of associates to play in World Cups.
Sadly, it is all about money. But surely it is better for the game if more countries are playing cricket and in time that will bring in more money.