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T20 World Cup Group D Preview: Strengths, weaknesses and players to watch out for

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Unlike the other three groups of this T20 World Cup, where lopsided odds present clear favourites for the Super 8, Group D has more than two contenders.

On paper, South Africa might appear as the heavyweight, but underestimating Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Netherlands, which has beaten the Proteas in the last two World Cups, would be fraught with risk for Aiden Markram’s side.

The addition of Nepal makes Group D the most competitive pool.

South Africa is batting its way to victory

South Africa has laid its cards on the table for how it will approach the tournament. In Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, Tristan Stubbs, and David Miller, the Proteas have had four batters with a strike rate of over 150 in T20Is since 2022.

The latest inductee into this slam-bang batting order is Ryan Rickelton. The 27-year-old southpaw, yet to get a cap in the shortest format, stole the show in SA20 2024, where he scored 530 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate above 173.

Three of South Africa’s four group games will be in the USA, which is expected to have batter-friendly tracks, giving the batters a chance to flex their might with the willow.

With the ball, South Africa again turned to the SA20 when it included Ottniel Baartman, the highest wicket-taker of the 2024 edition. However, he might have to wait for his turn in a pace battery that boasts Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Marco Jansen, and Gerald Coetzee.

Keshav Maharaj, Tabraiz Shamsi, and Bjorn Fortuin will be waiting to pounce once low and slow tracks in the Caribbean come the team’s way.

If South Africa wants to banish the ghosts of the shock loss to the Netherlands in 2022 and end the unceremonious streak of knockout exits in ICC tournaments, it cannot rely on reputation alone. Given the contrast in playing conditions through the group stage and Super 8, South Africa will need its big names to adapt well and step up.

Will the real Sri Lanka please stand up?

Sri Lanka advanced to the semifinals in four of the first five editions of the T20 World Cup. However, since winning the title in 2014, it has failed to reach the last-four stage.

Under a new captain, Wanindu Hasaranga, Sri Lanka would wish for a change of fortune in 2024. A recurring problem for Sri Lanka has been its meek display against big teams. Not having to play the preliminary group stage this year, courtesy of a format change, will allow the side to focus on the crunch games. In the last two editions, the first round had two groups of four, which included teams that entered the tournament through the qualifying pathway and teams that finished between ninth and 12th in the previous T20 World Cup. However, this time, 20 teams will be divided into four groups of five in the first round, followed by a Super Eights phase.

The Sri Lankan unit is built around its bowling attack, which is tailor-made for the slower surfaces that are expected in the second round of the World Cup in the Caribbean. Tweakers Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana have had economy rates of 7.42 and 6.71, respectively, in T20Is since 2022. The pair, along with quicks Matheesha Pathirana and Dilshan Madushanka, will be vital in containing the opposition’s scoring rate.

Sri Lanka would hope the rigours of captaincy in high-stake contests do not weigh down on Hasaranga’s performances.

If the bowlers play their part, the experience of Angelo Mathews, Kusal Mendis, and Dasun Shanaka with the bat can take Sri Lanka over the line.

The time is now for Bangladesh

Ending its series of near misses in the T20 World Cup will top Bangladesh’s priority list.

It could have been in contention for a semifinal spot in 2022 if not for its agonising five-run reverse to India via the Duckworth-Lewis Stern Method. In 2016, Bangladesh missed the semifinal berth due to a one-run loss against the same opponent.

The Bangla Tigers have gone with experienced names like Soumya Sarkar, Litton Das, Mustafizur Rahman, and Taskin Ahmed in both batting and bowling departments. If Najmul Hossain Shanto, still relatively new as a full-time captain, can efficiently marshall his troops, Bangladesh will stay in the hunt for the next round. A run to the Super 8, and eventually the semifinals, will also serve as the perfect farewell for its veteran duo of Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah, both likely to be playing their final World Cup.

In charge: Leggie Wanindu Hasaranga was named captain of Sri Lanka after missing the IPL to get fit in time for the T20 World Cup.

In charge: Leggie Wanindu Hasaranga was named captain of Sri Lanka after missing the IPL to get fit in time for the T20 World Cup.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

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In charge: Leggie Wanindu Hasaranga was named captain of Sri Lanka after missing the IPL to get fit in time for the T20 World Cup.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

Netherlands and Nepal will decide the qualifiers

The Netherlands and Nepal might not be in the race to advance to the next round, but their fixtures will decide the fate of the other three teams. No team would know it better than South Africa and Bangladesh.

The Netherlands showed it can punch above its weight in the 50-over World Cup when it beat South Africa and Bangladesh in the round-robin stage. Most names from that squad—Scott Edwards, Max O’Dowd, Logan van Beek and Bas de Leede—were retained for the T20 World Cup.

Nepal qualified for only its second T20 World Cup after finishing as runner-up in the Asian qualifiers behind Oman. Even though it is mostly against Associate nations, the Rohit Paudel-led side has shown a flair for the extraordinary.

Dipendra Singh Airee struck six sixes in an over against Qatar in April, becoming only the third batter after Yuvraj Singh and Kieron Pollard to manage the feat in T20Is. During the 2023 Asian Games, Airee struck a nine-ball half-century against Mongolia to better Yuvraj’s record for the fastest fifty.

In the same match, Nepal became the first team to score 300 runs or more in a T20I.

The bigger teams in the World Cup will be a tough test for Nepal, but its record over the last year has piqued viewer interest.

Two teams that will qualify

South Africa and Sri Lanka: The sheer star power makes South Africa a favourite for the top spot. Sri Lanka is likely to edge past Bangladesh for second place, given its better head-to-head record in the recent encounters.

Dark Horse

Of the three major teams, Bangladesh probably has the ideal blend of youth and experience. If it can have its best players on top of their game, Bangladesh might change its all-too-familiar tale of stumbling at crucial junctures.

Three standout players:

Heinrich Klaasen – One of the most devastating hitters in T20 cricket right now, Klaasen will be among the most closely followed players at the T20 World Cup. His strike rate hovers around 160 in internationals, but he has shown he can go a couple of gears higher, striking at 186 in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and a whopping 208 in SA20.

One of the most devastating hitters in T20 cricket right now, Klaasen will be among the most closely followed players at the T20 World Cup.

One of the most devastating hitters in T20 cricket right now, Klaasen will be among the most closely followed players at the T20 World Cup.
| Photo Credit:
EMMANUAL YOGINI

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One of the most devastating hitters in T20 cricket right now, Klaasen will be among the most closely followed players at the T20 World Cup.
| Photo Credit:
EMMANUAL YOGINI

Matheesha Pathirana – The slingy right-arm quick cut short his IPL to recover from a hamstring injury, and Sri Lanka would want to wrap him in cotton wool till the start of the tournament. His economy rate of 8.24 in 19 innings at the death in IPL makes him a valuable asset.

Matheesha Pathirana’s economy rate of 8.24 in 19 innings at the death in IPL makes him a valuable asset.

Matheesha Pathirana’s economy rate of 8.24 in 19 innings at the death in IPL makes him a valuable asset.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

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Matheesha Pathirana’s economy rate of 8.24 in 19 innings at the death in IPL makes him a valuable asset.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

Dipendra Singh Airee – For all his feats over the past year, the limelight will fall on Dipendra Singh Airee and how he fares against the A-listers of international cricket.

Dipendra Singh Airee has been delivering power-packed performances with the bat in the lead up to the T20 World Cup.

Dipendra Singh Airee has been delivering power-packed performances with the bat in the lead up to the T20 World Cup.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

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Dipendra Singh Airee has been delivering power-packed performances with the bat in the lead up to the T20 World Cup.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

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