The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup gets underway on October 17, with the tournament set to be held in the UAE and Oman. This time around, cricket’s big-hitting spectacle will take place just days after the Indian Premier League has completed. Does that mean that the world’s best players have had the chance to get their eye in ahead of the tournament? Let’s hope so.
But who are some of the key men to watch? Well, we recruited the very best of Stats Perform’s Opta cricket data editors to break down 10 players to keep an eye on when the competition kicks off this weekend.
Since debuting in September 2016, Babar Azam has been the mainstay of Pakistan’s T20 batting line-up, scoring 2,204 runs. Third place in the Pakistan run-scoring charts in that time is his current opening partner Mohammad Rizwan, who’s accumulated 959 runs at an amazing average of 59.9. Babar’s consistency (he’s never averaged less than 37 in a calendar year) at the top of the order has been remarkable and his role in the team has rarely changed, adopting an almost old-fashioned approach as he looks to bat deep into the innings. He’s only batted outside the top three twice in 56 innings.
He has a truly remarkable average of 46.9 at an ever-improving strike rate of 130.6. His T20I career average is third on the all-time list (20+ innings) behind Virat Kohli (52.7) and his current opening partner, Rizwan (48.4). He clearly relishes batting with the aggressive Rizwan, and the pair have delivered three 100 partnerships and dovetail very well together.
In 11 innings in host venue UAE, Azam averages 49 but at a reduced strike rate of 116.7. His last innings there was in 2018 and since then, he’s added more power to an already beautiful all-round game.
In April earlier this year, he made his career-best score (and only century so far) versus South Africa in Centurion, racking up 122 in 59 balls. He smashed 15 fours and four sixes in that display, and it marked the first time he’d hit more than three sixes in an innings.
Babar was the fastest player to 2,000 T20I runs (52 innings) beating Kohli’s prior record of 56 innings. India play Pakistan on October 24 and all eyes will be on the match-up between the opposing captains. It will be their first meeting at T20I level.
The elegant right-hander will be looking to pick up a second ICC Global trophy following Pakistan’s success in the 2017 Champions Trophy. With a quality attack packed with variety at his disposal, he will know that much will depend on his form up front and ability to set the game up for some big hitters down the order.
Pakistan and Babar have sometimes been criticized for being cautious in the powerplay. In 50 innings, he has only hit three sixes and his 124.7 strike rate in powerplays is lower than his career average. This suggests that Pakistan’s approach is to keep wickets intact and explode later in the innings. He’s been dismissed 16 times in the powerplay at an average of 47.6, which is a formidable record, and it indicates even if the ball isn’t flying out of the stadium just how hard it is to keep this prolific batter quiet.
New Zealand come into the 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup driven by defeat after failing at the penultimate stage of the 2016 edition. They’ll be looking to go one further and reach the tournament final for the first time in their history. The Black Caps boast one of the most decorated T20I batters in history – Martin Guptill – but it will be a newer face to the squad who could hold the key to New Zealand’s fortunes.
Devon Conway has taken to the international stage like few before him, with a Test double-century and an ODI century to his name already despite having played only three games in each format thus far. It’s his form in the shortest of the three formats that is most exciting, though, with his 14-game career in T20Is already putting him on track to be one of the Black Caps most memorable players.
Devon Conway has a T20I batting average of 59.1 from his 11 innings so far in the format. It’s the highest batting average of any player in the history of the format for New Zealand (men or women) and is the highest of any player to have batted more than five innings for any men’s team. He doesn’t waste time, either, as he’s one of only three players in the history of the format with a batting average of 50+ and a strike rate of 150+ (together with Leslie Dunbar and Mirza Ahsan) among those to have played in more than five innings.
The danger that Conway poses to his opposition gets exponentially higher the later he’s allowed to stay at the crease as well. Since he made his T20I debut on November 27 2020, he has had a batting strike rate of 241.8 in the death (overs 17 to 20). Among all players from Test-playing nations to have faced 25+ balls in that time, no other player has a better scoring rate.
Men’s T20Is at the Death since Conway Debut (Min. 25 balls faced):
|Devon Conway||New Zealand||55||133||241.8||2.6|
|Andre Russell||West Indies||39||88||225.6||3.0|
|Fabian Allen||West Indies||62||132||212.9||3.3|
|David Miller||South Africa||83||171||206.0||3.6|
|Kieron Pollard||West Indies||25||51||204.0||3.6|
|Glenn Phillips||New Zealand||30||61||203.3||3.0|
Devon Conway has reached at least 30 runs in seven of his 11 T20I innings, 60 in four of those, and 90 in two of those. An unbeaten 92 against Bangladesh in his second-to-last T20I innings ensures that Conway comes into the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup as one of the most important players to watch.
Josh Inglis has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in T20 cricket, with his promising form putting him right in the frame to be a surprise inclusion over his more established teammates in Australia’s starting XI for the T20 World Cup.
The uncapped wicketkeeper-batter made quite an impact in the 2021 Vitality Blast for Leicestershire, scoring the most runs (531) of any player in England’s domestic T20 competition. Inglis scored a boundary once every 3.5 balls faced, the third most frequent of any player (min. six innings) in the campaign (behind Alex Hales – 3.2 and Will Jacks – 3.4). In that time, he hit 63 fours, a tournament high and almost double the tally of his next best teammate (Arron Lilley – 32).
Back home in Australia’s Big Bash League, Inglis has impressed with his ability to rotate the strike and not get bogged down at the crease, a vitally important skill in the fast-paced world of T20 cricket. In the 2020-21 BBL, Inglis logged an Opta batting dot-ball percentage of just 26.8%. Amongst players to face at least 60 balls in the most recent edition only Jordan Silk (23.9%) had a better rate.
Going further back to the 2019-20 BBL season shows Inglis can be just as explosive as he is efficient. Across the last two BBL campaigns only Alex Hales (153.7), and Chris Lynn (152.0) have recorded a higher batting strike rate than Inglis (146.6) amongst the 25 players to score 500+ runs. In addition, as a wicketkeeper he has proven more than effective – Inglis’ six stumpings since the start of the 2019-20 BBL is the second most of any keeper (Seb Gotch – 7).
Inglis and Matthew Wade are the specialist wicketkeeper-batters in Australia’s squad for the 2021 Men’s T20 World Cup. Regardless of whether Inglis is selected ahead of the veteran Wade for the keeper role or as a batter only, he has undoubtedly proved he deserves consideration for the first choice XI from his performances in recent times.
Liam Livingstone made his England T20 debut back in June 2017 against South Africa. Fast forward exactly four years and he was notching up just a third appearance in the format. Despite his lengthy hiatus, the Lancashire all-rounder has the potential to be a key player for one of the favourites to win the 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.
Where he lacks international experience, Livingstone makes up for it with experience in T20 franchise cricket, having appeared in each of the IPL, Blast, Big Bash, PSL and South African Mzansi Super League. Across 28 matches for Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League, the 28-year-old has scored 851 runs at an average of 30.4 and strike rate of 138. In that time, he has smashed 55 sixes – only two players have scored more in the entire history of the BBL for Perth.
In fact of the 23 players to hit 50+ sixes in the tournament’s history only Chris Gayle (9.4) and Chris Lynn (10.7) have a better balls-per-six rate than Livingstone (11.2).
Clearing the ropes is definitely a speciality of Livingstone, and it’s hard to devalue the importance of that skill in T20 cricket. Against Pakistan in July of this year he took his chance to highlight this ability when crushing nine sixes in one innings.
In doing so he became just the third batter to hit a men’s T20I century for England, smashing 103 runs from a mere 43 balls faced, with his knock the joint-seventh fastest 100 in men’s T20Is (42 balls). Opta’s worm graph below shows that Livingstone played aggressively from the off in that innings:
Beyond his capability to swing hard with the bat, Livingstone is also a useful bowler and someone that can contribute overs and wickets when handed the ball by his captain. His bowling average (16.6) and strike rate (12.1) for Perth Scorchers are, remarkably, both better than that of any bowler in the team’s Big Bash League history, taking nine wickets for the cost of 149 runs across 18 overs.
Players that can contribute in both innings of a T20 match are always high value and Livingstone’s ability to do this coupled with his undoubted ability to win games with the bat make him a real asset to Eoin Morgan’s side. Having batted at all positions from 1 through 7 in T20 matches in 2021 alone, his versatility means he can make an impact at any stage of a match. Opposition bowlers beware.
Bangladesh head into this World Cup as one of the form teams in men’s T20I cricket, following back-to-back home series wins over Australia and New Zealand. Over the last two-year period, only India, England and Pakistan have enjoyed a better win percentage in this format.
Spearheading the Bangladesh attack is left-arm seamer Mustafizur Rahman. The 26-year-old was the Tigers’ joint-leading wicket taker against New Zealand last month, but it was in his side’s 4-1 hammering of Australia earlier this summer where his performances really were a class apart.
Three of Bangladesh’s victories came in scenarios where they successfully defended low totals on slow pitches and across the series, Mustafizur recorded a miserly economy rate of 3.53, conceding only three boundaries across five innings. His finest performance came in the series-clinching victory in Mirpur, where he bowled four overs for just nine runs, as Australia fell 10 runs short chasing 128.
Given that the conditions for batting in Bangladesh are very different to those in other parts of the world, it will come as no surprise to see that Mustafizur’s economy rate in international T20 matches overseas is higher compared to matches played at home (8.7 vs 6.6). However, this is offset by the fact that he carries a greater wicket-taking threat overseas, averaging 1.5 wickets per innings away compared to 1.4 at home. He also averaged three wickets per innings at the last T20 World Cup in 2016, played in India, which was the best return of any bowler to bowl in a minimum of three innings.
Despite their impressive recent T20 record, Bangladesh are a team who tend to struggle when playing outside of their home conditions – they’ve won only three out of eleven matches played overseas in the last two years – and Mustafizur has been busy acclimating to the UAE in recent weeks by featuring for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL. He has been the franchise’s joint-second highest wicket taker (6) since the competition resumed last month and whilst Bangladesh would expect to progress from the Group Stage to the Super 12s, Mustafizur’s performances with the ball will be crucial if they are to stand a chance of making it to the knockout stages.
With an extreme low grip and crouched stance, Nicholas Pooran packs a punch greater than his small stature would suggest. He enters the competition as vice-captain and will be crucial to the West Indies’ hopes of going deep in the tournament.
The left-hander has made his name across multiple franchise tournaments such as the IPL, CPL and PSL and recently had a stint in England with Yorkshire. Pooran announced himself on the international stage in 2018 when he hit a 24 ball half-century against India.
The Trinidadian specialises in clearing the rope. Despite batting in the middle order he hit the second highest number of sixes in the CPL 2021 (25) – only opener Evin Lewis hit more (38). His most impressive performance in the tournament came on September 11 when he amassed 75 runs from just 39 balls against the Jamaica Tallawahs.
Recent history suggests Pooran can make runs in the Middle East. He had a stellar 2020 IPL, notching up 353 runs at a strike rate of 170 and hit the most sixes of any overseas player (25). In the UAE earlier this year, Pooran took George Garton for 32 off an over in the Abu Dhabi T10, on his way to a mammoth 89 from 26 balls.
Like many short players, Pooran is exceptional on the pull and is also prolific down the ground. Expect to see opponents using variations in pace and bowling wide outside off-stump as anything short or on his pads is likely to travel the distance.
When the West Indies are in the field Pooran is likely to be donning the wicket-keeping gloves. Athletic and effervescent in the field, he is one of the safest pair of hands in the Caribbean team.
But it is with the bat where the Windies will need him most, and if he gets in, expect him to go big quickly.
Ireland secured their qualification for the 2021 T20 World Cup by topping their group at the qualifying event in the UAE in 2019. The leading run scorer in that 14-team tournament was the experienced Paul Stirling and he is sure to be a key factor if the Men in Green are to make it out of the preliminary stage and into the Super 12 stage with the big boys.
With franchise experience around the globe and over 85 appearances for Ireland in T20 cricket, he won’t be daunted by what he comes up against in the UAE/Oman in the coming weeks. The 31-year-old is Ireland’s top run scorer in the format and is in the top five scorers from any nation in the 20 over game.
Over a third (32) of the 89 T20I matches that Stirling has played have come in the UAE (25) or Oman (7). In fact, he has played more often in the UAE than he has in Ireland. If local knowledge and experience will count for anything then he is sure to be a success in the 2021 T20 World Cup. Only Mohammad Shahzad has scored more runs than him in the country in men’s T20I cricket and with an average over 40 he will be more than a match for any bowler he faces.
Ireland play Sri Lanka, the Netherlands and Namibia in the early group stage of the 2021 World Cup. It will be the 10th time Stirling has faced the Dutch, although he will be looking to do better than his current average of 18.9 against them. Meanwhile, he has faced Namibia just once (25 runs) and will be coming up against Sri Lanka for the first time.
Ireland have picked up three T20 World Cup wins before, beating Zimbabwe and the UAE in 2014 as well as Bangladesh in 2009. Stirling picked up the Player of the match award in their win over Zimbabwe thanks to scoring 60 runs from just 34 balls faced as well as bowling a tight four overs for just 24 runs. If he can recreate that form, then he is sure to be a star once more in this edition of the tournament.
In an era where the sport is dominated by batters, the huge impact of a 23-year-old bowler from a warn-torn country has been a welcome sight in limited-overs cricket. Part of the Afghani setup since October 2015, Rashid Khan is a vital player that has played a huge part in his nation’s meteoric rise from an associate nation to a competitive full-member side in limited-overs cricket.
Such has been his impact in the modern T20 era that wrist-spinners, previously not seen as a huge bowling threat, have since his debut become a fresh force against batters. Rashid’s unique combination of wicket-taking ability along with his tight economy has made him a match-winner around the globe.
One of the hottest properties in international cricket, Rashid is just five scalps short of becoming the third bowler in men’s T20Is to take 100 wickets.
He is currently fifth in the list with 95 wickets to his name. If he does reach the milestone in the tournament, then he will become the fastest bowler to bag 100 wickets in T20Is, beating Lasith Malinga’s record of 76 matches.
Rashid Khan is arguably the best T20 spinner in the world. He has a bowling average of 12.6 in T20Is, the best rate in the format (min. 500 balls) while also maintaining a bowling strike-rate of 12.1, again the best by any player in the format. Furthermore, he maintains an economy rate of 6.2 in T20Is, which is the fifth best in the format (min. 500 balls).
The bowler – who idolised Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi while growing up – has fast hands that enable him to rip the ball to generate sharp turn. What makes him more special and threatening is his ability to bowl his leg-spinner and googly with almost the same action. It makes reading him almost impossible. In fact, he has induced an Opta false shot rate of 31.3% since the beginning of 2018, the best amongst all spinners in men’s T20Is (min. 500 balls).
Khan also holds the distinguished record of picking up four wickets in four balls against Ireland in February 2019. Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga is the only other bowler to have also achieved this feat. Rashid went on to grab a five-wicket haul in that game for the princely sum of a mere 25 runs. He’s bagged a four-wicket haul in five games – only Umar Gul of Pakistan has done that more often (6).
Khan’s Afghanistan are in Group 2 alongside India, New Zealand and Pakistan. They are likely to be joined by Bangladesh and Ireland from the qualifiers. All eyes will be on their very own spin wizard if Afghanistan are to have any chance of advancing to the knockout phase of the tournament.
A large part of India’s chances in the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup will depend on one man, Rohit Sharma. The current India opener made his batting debut in the format with an unbeaten half-century during the first edition of the ICC T20 World Cup in 2007. From then on Rohit has gone on to play 111 matches for India in the format, only two players from any nation have more appearances in the format than the Indian (Shoaib Malik – 116 and Mohammed Hafeez – 113).
In a nation of over a billion, there is no dearth of talent when it comes to the sport of cricket and the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been a testimony to that. The premier domestic T20 tournament has always been pushing youngsters into the limelight to help make their claim for a chance in the Indian national team. Despite this, Rohit has managed to hold onto his spot in the T20 side and even managed to make his way back into the Test XI. In the 111 T20I matches that Rohit has been part of, India have won 72 of these (L36, T1, NR2).
Over the last few years, every time Rohit has registered a score of 50+ in the T20 format, India have ended up on the winning side. The last time India lost a match in which the Mumbaikar made a score of 50 or more was in August 2016 against West Indies.
He has made 14 scores of 50+ (including three centuries) since then, all of which were part of a winning cause. It’s not rocket science. When Sharma goes big, India win.
The Indian opener’s ability to clear the boundary ropes is also no secret. He has hit 133 sixes in the format, only Martin Guptill (147) has more. If Virat Kohli were to finally win an ICC trophy as captain, Rohit will have to come out all guns blazing during the tournament.
The 34-year-old has featured in seven T20I matches since the start of 2020 but prior to that, during 2018 and 2019, the Mumbai Indians captain scored 986 international runs at a strike rate of 144, making him the highest run-getter during that period. Pakistan’s Babar Azam, Ireland’s Paul Stirling and India’s Shikhar Dhawan were the other three players to score above 900 during that time.
Rohit was in phenomenal touch then, he scored 67% of his runs from boundaries, at a rate of a boundary for every five balls faced.
The ICC T20 World Cup will be very important for Indian cricket as well, for both Rohit and Virat. The current Indian skipper of all three formats has chosen to step down as the T20I captain after the tournament. Rohit has five IPL trophies as the captain of Mumbai Indians and during the absence of Kohli has captained in the national setup.
The Mumbai captain has lead India in 19 matches, winning 15 of them. The question would be whether the Board of Control for Cricket in India would choose the 34-year-old as their newest captain in the limited-overs format or whether they opt for a young gun looking into the future years to come.
Heading into the 2021 T20 World Cup, South Africa’s Tabraiz Shamsi is currently the #1 ranked bowler in the format. The spinner has picked up 28 wickets in 17 T20I matches this year, more than any other bowler. Not only does he have a stellar economy rate of 5.5 runs conceded per over, the Proteas tweaker also has an impressive strike rate of 13.9 and has induced a false shot from 34% of his deliveries, the highest rate of any spin bowler with 10+ overs to their name in 2021.
Most Men’s T20I Wickets in 2021:
|T Shamsi (SA)||17||65||360||28||12.9||5.5||13.9|
|LM Jongwe (Zimbabwe)||14||50.4||400||26||15.4||7.9||11.6|
|W. Abbas (Malta)||13||45.3||321||24||13.4||7.1||11.3|
|PWH de Silva (SL)||12||47||263||20||13.2||5.6||14.1|
|B. Muhammad (Malta)||13||49||279||19||14.7||5.7||15.4|
|OC McCoy (WI)||10||37||264||18||14.7||7.1||12.3|
There is a growing buzz in the Proteas camp about the team’s ability to play well in flat and spinning conditions and Shamsi has naturally welcomed South Africa’s increasing tendency of fielding as many as four spinners. Bjorn Fortuin, Keshav Maharaj, Shamsi and part-timer Aiden Markram shared 16 wickets among them as the Proteas made light work of Sri Lanka in their recent tour.
Shamsi’s ascent in T20I cricket is testament to the value of an apprenticeship, dedication to his craft and an unrelenting belief in his gift. When you consider that of the 39 T20I matches he’s played, the first dozen or so were played intermittently, his climb is even more impressive. Imran Tahir was the Proteas’ favoured T20I choice during that initial time, and for good reason, but Shamsi is now getting his go.
Shamsi’s international bowling career was shaped by his learning period and the patience and work ethic it took to progress through that period. Tahir last appeared in a T20I match on March 19, 2019. Shamsi took his place for a match against Sri Lanka at Centurion on March 22nd, bowling four overs in which he surrendered only 16 runs and claimed two wickets.
Shamsi has well and truly locked down the front-line spinner role for his nation.