After five years of waiting, the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup is back with a bang on Sunday as eight nations begin their campaign in the first round.
However, eight more must wait just a little bit longer for their first slice of the action and the highly anticipated beginning of the Super 12s.
On 23 October, after the first round has concluded and we know which four nations have qualified to complete the line-up, the higher-ranked teams join the party and the Super 12s get underway – guaranteeing nothing but thrills, spills and sensational cricket.
Group 1 will certainly deliver all of that in spades, with Australia, England, South Africa and the West Indies all drawn in the same group.
They will be joined by the winners of Group A from the first round – one of Ireland, Namibia, the Netherlands, and Sri Lanka – and the runners-up of Group B, which consists of Bangladesh, Oman, Papua New Guinea and Scotland.
Group 1 kicks off with a pair of mouth-watering clashes, as Australia and South Africa face off in Abu Dhabi while England and the West Indies meet in a re-match of the 2016 final in Dubai.
Only two sides will qualify for the semi-finals and who will reach the knockout rounds is anyone’s guess in what is set to be a wide-open race.
Australia (seventh appearance)
Australia will resume their hunt for the one international trophy that has so far eluded them after experiencing several near misses since the inaugural tournament in 2007.
The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup has been a case of so close yet so far for one of cricket’s superpowers, who were defeated in the semi-finals by eventual champions India in the first edition.
Three years later, Australia reached the final in the West Indies only to fall at the last hurdle as bitter rivals England clinched the trophy with a seven-wicket success in Barbados.
Another semi-final appearance followed in 2012 but once again they lost to the eventual champions as the West Indies romped to a 74-run success in Sri Lanka.
Their recent record has not lived up to their high expectations, however, having not progressed to the knockout stages in the 2014 and 2016 editions of the tournament.
Aaron Finch will be hoping to put that record right and end Australia’s drought in the tournament, although their recent T20 form does not inspire confidence.
Australia have lost their last five T20 series, including a 4-1 defeat to Bangladesh, but there is no doubting the talent this side has.
In Finch and David Warner, they have perhaps the best opening combination in the world, while Glenn Maxwell will be expected to come in and blitz some runs towards the death.
With the ball, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Ashton Agar form a potent combination, while keep an eye out for wicketkeeper Josh Inglis at his first ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.
October 30 is the key date for Australia, when they face arch-rivals England in Dubai.
England (seventh appearance)
Coming in top of the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s T20I Team Rankings, England are without doubt the side to beat on paper as they attempt to back up their 2019 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup triumph.
They will be aided by having the same core group of players who contributed to that dramatic conclusion in the final against New Zealand two years ago at Lord’s.
And Eoin Morgan’s men will certainly go into the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 feeling confident, following back-to-back T20 series victories over Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Their 3-0 clean sweep of Sri Lanka was particularly impressive although their 3-2 series defeat to India at the beginning of the year showed that they are beatable.
But with a destructive batting line-up that includes the likes of Morgan, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler and a well-rounded bowling attack, they are more than capable of going all the way.
England will also hope their past success in the tournament will serve them well, having toppled Australia in the final of the 2010 edition to take home the trophy for the first time.
That remains the one and only time they have won the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, having also reached the showpiece final in 2016 before losing by four wickets to the West Indies as Carlos Brathwaite ensured we will always remember his name.
South Africa (seventh appearance)
South Africa have undergone a significant period of transition in the past few years but go into the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup with momentum behind them after a run of good results.
Three consecutive series victories suggest the Proteas have turned a corner in the shortest format of the game and possess the quality in their squad to upset the tournament favourites.
You only have to look at their series win over defending champions West Indies in the summer to see that Temba Bavuma’s men are equipped for a title tilt.
Traditionally this tournament has not been a happy hunting ground for the Proteas and their best finishes came in the 2009 and 2014 editions when they reached the semi-final stage.
Other than those defeats in the last four to Pakistan and India, respectively, the hosts of the inaugural ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in 2007 have failed to reach the knockout stages.
Yet in Aiden Markram, Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen, they possess batters that have scored heavily in 2021 and are capable of producing match-winning displays.
They also have the No.1 ranked bowler in the format, with no player in world cricket taking more wickets in T20Is this year than 31-year-old wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi.
There is no hiding place for Mark Boucher’s side, who open up against Australia and then face the West Indies three days later.
The West Indies (seventh appearance)
It is never dull when the West Indies are in town and the defence of their ICC Men’s T20 World Cup crown will be box office once again.
They will bat deep and go hard as always with some of the world’s most recognisable T20 players in their line-up, including Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and captain Kieron Pollard.
West Indies were tested by the best in a 3-2 series loss to South Africa in June, while July’s thrilling 4-1 win over Australia on home soil suggests they have added to a winning formula.
Their breakout star is left-arm quick Obed McCoy – he took nine wickets against South Africa, 4/26 in the opener against Australia and looks set to add X-factor to the attack.
Roston Chase and Evin Lewis are the glue in the side and the pair were the two heaviest scorers in the recent Caribbean Premier League, with Lewis scoring an unbeaten century.
Nearly a decade after winning the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, seamer Ravi Rampaul returns to the format’s biggest stage off the back of 19 wickets in the CPL.
They are in a group with some top teams but who wants to play West Indies – the only two-time champions in this tournament – at their own game?
England await first up in what is sure to be a must-watch clash and they stay in Dubai to play South Africa three days later.