England’s bid for a first T20 World Cup title in 12 years gets going on Saturday with Afghanistan first up for one of the tournament favourites.
After a tricky summer in which they failed to win a white-ball series on home soil, England have bounced back with a 4-3 success in Pakistan followed by a 2-0 victory over Australia.
So, can Jos Buttler’s in-form side go all the way over the next few weeks?
We asked Sky Sports Cricket pundits Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton as well as former England skipper Eoin Morgan for their thoughts on that and a whole lot more.
Read on for their views and then catch England vs Afghanistan live on Sky Sports Cricket on Saturday, with build-up beginning at 11.30am ahead of a midday start…
How will England do?
NASSER HUSSAIN: I think they will be very competitive. They have a strong side and a lot of options. You only have to look at the players that may have to be left out to see that. They seem to be peaking at the right time. Buttler looks in great nick at the top of the order and there is a lot of batting depth.
I also think the conditions will suit them. It has been wet and cool in Australia and their seamers should enjoy that. You never know in T20 cricket. For England, the last two World Cups have shown that you only need one bad over and the tournament is taken away from you – but I think they are positioned well. I expect them to make the semi-finals at least.
I am certainly not concerned about Ben Stokes. He hasn’t played a lot of T20 cricket of late for a variety of reasons but in big games you need someone to handle pressure, particularly with the bat, and as we saw in the 50-over World Cup in 2019 and the Ashes Test at Headingley later that summer, he is a very smart cricketer. He is also brilliant in the field and gives you a bowling variation so he’d definitely be in my side, probably at No 4.
MICHAEL ATHERTON: England have as good a chance as anyone in what I see as a pretty open tournament with no standout favourites. Plus, T20 is a more volatile form of the game anyway.
England are pretty well-balanced. They have a long, powerful batting line-up with lots of destructive, boundary-hitting potential in there and have lots of the elements in the bowling that you need to do well in tournaments – pace, with Mark Wood, wrist-spin with Adil Rashid and left-arm seam with Sam Curran and David Willey.
I think Wood and Rashid are going to be the key bowlers for England. Traditionally in Australia you’d think conditions would suit pace and wrist spin but with the weather patterns at the moment, who knows? I still believe the one bowler England wouldn’t want to lose is Wood.
They fell down with their death bowling in the last tournament and that might be the weakness again, but they have lots of players with big-match tournament and franchise experience so I would expect them to get out of their group – and after that it’s anyone’s game.
EOIN MORGAN: I put them as joint favourites, with Australia, to win this competition as I think they were brilliant against Australia.
Losing to South Africa in the fashion that they did in the final T20 of the summer was extremely disappointing. I thought that the way they batted took away the positivity, they were miles off the mark so to bounce back as quick as they have, in Pakistan and then in Australia, has been fantastic.
They have gone from not knowing what their best team is with injuries and guys out of form to a side that is spoiled for choice trying to pick a best XI. They have a huge amount of confidence.
Must-win games in a bilateral series are the closest you get a to a World Cup so to see England win the deciding game in Pakistan in the style and fashion that they did gave a nice insight into what is going on in the changing room.
NASSER: Anyone can win this tournament. New Zealand are always there or thereabouts, Pakistan are a very good side especially with Shaheen Shah Afridi coming back from injury, India have so much T20 experience, class and depth, and England, as I said, should do very well.
India, England and Australia are three of my four semi-finalists and my favourites would be Australia. They deliver in pressure games and know the conditions playing at home. That will be key in this tournament with different venues and rain around. Adapting will be crucial and Australia should do it best, while they have good pace bowlers up front.
Jasprit Bumrah’s injury is a blow for India, as is the absence of Ravi Jadeja, a brilliant all-round cricketer. Bumrah is probably the best multi-format bowler in the world – a wicket-taking option up front with the new, swinging ball, a wicket-taking option in the middle overs and then brilliant at the death as one of the best slower ball and yorker bowlers around.
Without Bumrah, India will have to go slightly harder with the bat. They have been a bit timid with the bat in ICC events recently but I don’t think they will be this time. I expect them to be dynamic and strong contenders.
EOIN: I thought India losing Bumrah would have dropped them down to second favourites with Australia the clear front-runners. With England’s recent form and Australia’s lack of it, I don’t see Australia as out-and-out favourites at the moment.
England handed Australia their backsides on a platter last year, which gave them the kick up the backside to play the way they did and eventually go on to win the tournament – but at the moment they are struggling massively.
There is uncertainly in what sort of team they are going to put out and the bowling hasn’t completely been up to scratch. Even in the warm-up game against India they were cruising and then folded like a deck chair late on. I think home advantage will be huge for them but they are not the standout team at the moment.
ATHERS: You must think Australia would have a strong chance on home turf and they look a bit stronger than last year. They are a more developed side and Tim David’s likely inclusion gives them a bit more power.
Their players know the conditions and they tend to be quite difficult to beat at home so I expect them to give a good account of themselves. As hosts and defending champions, they are the side to beat.
Bumrah will be a big miss for India but you can’t discount them with the strength of their batting and, like Nas, I think they will be forced to go a bit harder with the bat in Bumrah’s absence. It should clear their mind and strategy.
Pakistan are always contenders in T20 World Cups and I have a sneaking suspicion South Africa will be there or thereabouts.
NASSER: It is going to have to be someone at the top of the order whose team do well and so I would go with Buttler, but there are so many candidates. KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Babar Azam, Mohammed Rizwan. Suryakumar Yadav is a fantastic player but he will come in at No 4 for India, after Rohit, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli so you wonder how many balls he will face.
EOIN: I’m going for Jos. Even when I was still playing, I watched him play shots that made me think, I should retire because I can’t do that. He is on a different level with how hard he hits the ball and how he is consistently trying to evolve his game.
ATHERS: Look for the openers. Buttler should do well and show he is one of the best white-ball players in the world. David Warner for Australia, too. And clearly Pakistan openers Babar and Rizwan. Pakistan don’t take as many risks as some other teams trying to get to a par or above-par score due to the strength of their bowling attack so it gives them the time to settle in.
NASSER: That is a slightly harder choice. You want someone who bowls at the death so I would look towards Mitchell Starc or Bhuvneshwar Kumar. I will go Starc as he could also get wickets up front and then come back at the end with his slower balls and yorkers.
EOIN: I was initially going to go for a spinner and say Adil Rashid or Rashid Khan but the weather could negate the spin aspect a touch. I think the ball will really skid on and so I am going to say a seamer. There are about five you could pick but I will go for Mark Wood.
ATHERS: You are looking at new-ball wicket-takers, so someone like Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is back fit and has his in-swinging yorker going if the warm-up against Afghanistan is to go by. Wood and, if West Indies qualify for round two, Alzarri Joseph are contenders. If I went for one, I would say Shaheen.
Which players are you looking forward to seeing?
NASSER: Definitely Suryakumar. This is his first major ICC event where he is in absolutely phenomenal nick. He is a real 360-degree batter, the way he manoeuvres the ball is fantastic.
With the ball, it’s Shaheen. I was lucky enough to be commentating when he bowled that spell against India in Dubai last year and I just love his skill and the way he plays the game with a massive smile on his face and his celebrations. He is a super cricketer – new ball, old ball, it doesn’t matter.
With him, Babar, and Rizwan, if Pakistan can get their middle-order hitting going – Fakhar Zaman should help with that and I would bat him at No 3 – they have got a real chance in this tournament.
ATHERS: There are one or two big names missing unfortunately in Bumrah and one of my favourite players, West Indies’ Shimron Hetmyer, who didn’t make his plane! The tournament could be a real springboard for Suryakumar and bowling-wise it is Shaheen.
When he is steaming in with ball in hand and has plenty of support behind him, which there is sure to be in that opening game against India on Sunday, it is great theatre. There is no more thrilling sight in the game than a fast bowler looking to take wickets with the new ball.
Beyond that, South Africa’s Tristan Stubbs is one to keep an eye on. He played a brutal innings against England at Bristol over the summer and is a player who has sprung from nowhere out of franchise cricket and now finds himself on the big stage. He is a massive hitter of a ball and could play some eye-catching innings.
For England, I see Harry Brook as a star for England across formats and his strike rate at the end of an innings in T20 is fantastic. He struggled a bit in the Big Bash but he is a better and more confident player now. I expect him to do well if he plays.
NASSER: For me, it’s South Africa. The big question for them is what to do with captain Temba Bavuma as he has been injured and out of form. They have Rilee Rossouw, Tristan Stubbs, David Miller and Aiden Markram with the bat, seamers like Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje should enjoy the conditions, and then there is the wrist spin of Tabraiz Shamsi. Keshav Maharaj is a very good cricketer, too, plus they always field well. They are definite dark horses.
ATHERS: I always say South Africa and they always disappoint but I feel they have dangerous batters, including the returning Rossouw, and that their pace bowlers should thrive. I think South Africa offer the best value outside the top three of England, India and Australia. You would be foolish to write New Zealand off but I think they may lack a little bit of firepower and I had a sense when they were last in England that perhaps one or two of the big-name players who have held that team together for so long are maybe not quite at their peak now.
EOIN: It’s a full house for South Africa. They have every base covered – experience, firepower, a spin aspect that is world class. I think the biggest challenge for them is getting around that notorious hoodoo of not fulfilling their potential at World Cups. They just need to get their heads around that as they have the ability to beat the best sides in the world, they have proven that. They just need to believe in themselves. If they do that, they have a huge chance.
Watch England take on Afghanistan live on Sky Sports Cricket on Saturday. Our coverage starts at 11.30am ahead of a midday start.