Gayle expected to be a force, again, in World T20

Associated Press
West Indies' Chris Gayle kneels down as he watches his shot as England's wicket keeper Jos Buttler screams during their first T20 International cricket match at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
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NEW DELHI (AP) — In the smash-and-bash spectacle of Twenty20 cricket, big-swinging batsmen like Chris Gayle, David Warner and Mahendra Singh Dhoni tend to be the focus of attention.

When the fifth ICC World Twenty20 tournament gets under way in Bangladesh on Sunday, though, it's just as likely to showcase slow bowlers as match winners.

As the recent Asia Cup illustrated, the pitches in Bangladesh can produce high-scoring matches one day, and completely different outcomes on the next.

And that's where the likes of Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, the present master of the 'doosra', come into play. The defending champion West Indies are banking on spinner Sunil Narine snaring wickets and keeping run rates low to supplement Gayle's dynamic batting, while Ajantha Mendis is expected to do a similar job for Sri Lanka team spearheaded by Kumar Sangakkara.

The conditions should favor the sub-continental teams, particularly Pakistan and Sri Lanka which have well-balanced bowling attacks that carried them to the Asia Cup final in the more traditional, 50-over limited-overs international format on March 8.

"I can't see a better limited-overs combination in the world," veteran allrounder Shahid Afridi said of his Pakistan teammates.

India's chances can't be discounted, either, with the likes of Yuvraj Singh back on the scene and hoping to help the 50-over World Cup champions out of a mini form slump.

It suggests something about the nature of T20 cricket that none of the previous champions embarked on their winning campaigns as tournament favorites.

India, Pakistan and England won the first three editions before West Indies triumphed last time, sparking a resurgence in cricket in the Caribbean — at least in the shortest form of the game.

An India vs. Pakistan showdown will highlight the start of the second stage on March 21. The preliminary league starts in Mirpur on Sunday with host Bangladesh against up-and-coming Afghanistan in Group A, which also contains Nepal and Hong Kong. Zimbabwe, Ireland, United Arab Emirates and Netherlands are in Group B, with one team from each group advancing to join the top eight ranked teams in the Super 10 stage.

That's when it gets even more intense, with Group 2 containing India, Pakistan, West Indies, Australia and the Group A qualifier. Group 1 consists of Sri Lanka, England, South Africa, New Zealand and the Group B qualifier.

For all the growing popularity of T20 cricket, the world tournament still hasn't overtaken the World Cup — under the 50-over one-day format — as the most sought-after ICC trophy.

The World T20's importance is also diluted by professional leagues featuring star players from around the world.

This year, the cash-rich Indian Premier League kicks off just 10 days after the final of the World T20 is played in Mirpur.

In a way, the World T20 puts a heavy emphasis on individuals because the short format can allow one player to completely dominate. And the back-to-back tournaments give West Indies opener Gayle, who has slammed 11 T20 centuries and owns a host of batting records, a much longer period than usual to showcase his immense hitting power.

When it comes to match-winning batters, though, he's likely to be competing with the likes of Sangakkara, Australian opener Warner, Brendon McCullum of New Zealand, A.B. de Villiers of South Africa, Eoin Morgan of England and India's World Cup-winning captain MS Dhoni.

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