'Big-Show' Maxwell key for disjointed Australia at T20 World Cup

By: AFP      Published: 10:37 AM, 15 Oct, 2021
World Cup
File photo.

Australia are banking on Glenn Maxwell being at his destructive best at the Twenty20 World Cup to carry a team beset by injuries, poor form, minimal game time and dressing-room discontent.

Rarely, if ever, have Australia had such a disjointed build-up to a major tournament.

But Maxwell's blistering exploits in the Indian Premier League at Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore have been one of the few bright spots.

"He looks to be hitting the ball beautifully, he's confident at the moment, and his backswing looks really impressive," skipper Aaron Finch said of the 32-year-old, who has been in blazing form coming in at number four rather than five.

"The thing I like is he's taking games deep, and as we know, he's as destructive as anyone in the world when he's on. He's someone who in World Cups has shown in the past, whether T20 or 50-over, that he can win games for Australia off his own bat."

Australia will need all that Maxwell, known as the 'Big Show', can offer.

Along with Josh Hazlewood, he is the only member of the 15-man Australia squad playing regular cricket.

Finch has been among the walking wounded, undergoing knee surgery in August, but is confident of being fit for Australia's opening game of the World Cup against South Africa on October 23 in Abu Dhabi.

Embattled coach Justin Langer -- under scrutiny over his intense leadership and mood swings -- will need Finch to come out of the blocks firing with few of his team-mates in form or match-hardened.

Of concern, David Warner was sidelined by his IPL team Sunrisers Hyderabad while Steve Smith was out of favour at the Delhi Capitals.

Covid and quarantine requirements have also taken their toll with bowling kingpin Pat Cummins opting out of Australia's limited-overs campaigns in the Caribbean and Bangladesh in July-August.

He has not played since April, while fellow paceman Mitchell Starc turned down IPL riches, and game time, to be with his wife Alyssa Healy as Australia's women's team faced India in a home series.

- 'Headmaster-like' -

Others, including Kane Richardson, Ashton Agar, and Mitchell Marsh, have played just one recent domestic white-ball match, while Adam Zampa, Mitchell Swepson and Matthew Wade have not padded up competitively for months due to Covid-related travel restrictions in Australia.

It doesn't bode well for Langer's men in the one format they have yet to win any silverware, although Finch is keen to put a positive spin on their prospects.

"We've got guys who have come off long layoffs before, we've got guys who have come off long injuries before and it's not that much different when you're trying to get yourself up to speed quickly," he said.

"I think that will play into our hands and might allow us to be a little more fresher, to be honest."

Adding to the intrigue has been player discontent with Langer, who was forced to address negative feedback about his "headmaster-like" leadership, amplified by Australia's recent poor white-ball form.

It deteriorated so badly that an emergency clear-the-air meeting was called with Test skipper Tim Paine, his deputy Cummins, Finch and Cricket Australia executives.

Langer, who said he hoped the row would make him a better coach, has laid low in the aftermath with the World Cup his first tour since the storm blew up.

Left-arm spinner Agar spoke to Langer recently and said the coach was in "a good place".

"I think the players know that he's listened to what they've had to say," Agar told the West Australian newspaper. 

"All anyone wants to do is feel heard and considered, and feel valued. So as long as that's the case, I'm sure the support will be there 100 percent."

'We fancy our chances' say Dutch 'underdogs'

The Netherlands open their assault on the T20 World Cup next Monday against Ireland. Both team coach Ryan Campbell and captain Pieter Seelaar have high hopes for the little associate country, known for punching above their own weight and upsetting some big name teams -- just as they did in 2009 when they stunned England at Lord's. Here they answer six questions on the Dutch campaign:

How do you rate the Dutch team's chances?

"Hopefully really good," said Campbell. "We bring a really well-balanced side. I think this squad has a number of great assets including our fast bowlers who proved so successful at the qualifiers in 2019. In saying that, I believe our greatest strength is our adaptability. We have players who can bat 1-9, which will also provide us with six or seven bowling options at any given time. I believe in T20, you have to have these options if you are to be successful."

Always the underdogs?

"We are always the underdogs unfortunately as world cricket isn't on a level playing field," Campbell told AFP. "We all know that full members have massive cash and assets at their disposal. But we never look at it that way, we just see it as an opportunity to upset the big guys. The players see it as a great challenge as well as a chance to pit themselves against the best players in the world."

How has the team prepared for the pitches in the UAE?

"Before we left we had a camp in the Netherlands and one of the groundsmen at VCC (Voorburg Cricket Club), Tom de Grooth did a great job in preparing some wickets that were turning and not bouncing as much as what you would normally be used to," said Campbell. "We'll work hard on our spinners obviously and we will make sure that they get their lengths right and their pace right which is really important here."

Now and then. The difference from the 2009 team?

"Arguably the biggest thing is the professionalism," said captain Pieter Seelaar. "In 2009 we were just happy to compete. Now we're actually looking to win games."

What legacy will be left behind?

"With us playing in the Super League, now performing here at the World Cup, I would like to see the Dutch cricket team much more respected by the full members (of the ICC)," the Dutch captain said. "We've been a top member in associate cricket for as long as I can remember. We want to take it to the next level and get the respect from the full members." 

What was the six-day quarantine like? 

"I did not like it one bit," said Seelaar. "The first day was alright... but after that it was tough. But saying that, it had to be done and now we're back into a more normal lifestyle. It's out of the way now and I don't really want to think about it anymore!"

Scotland's T20 World Cup squad packed with 'match-winners'

Former England Test star Jonathan Trott says Scotland's batting line-up is full of "match-winners" as they bid to reach the second stage of a T20 World Cup for the first time.

The Scots have fallen at the first hurdle in their three previous appearances, in 2007, 2009 and 2016.

They claimed their first and only win at the tournament five years ago -- an eight-wicket triumph in a rain-affected match against lowly Hong Kong -- but it was not enough to progress.

However, the rejigged format at this year's edition in the United Arab Emirates and Oman gives the Scots, ranked 14th in Twenty20 cricket, a real chance.

The top two nations from two four-team groups will qualify for the Super 12 stage, where they will join world cricket's leading nations.

Bangladesh are Group B favourites, but the other two teams are Oman and Papua New Guinea, both ranked below Scotland.

Trott, who played Test and white-ball cricket for England, was brought into the Scotland set-up to work as a batting consultant in the lead-up to the World Cup and he likes what he sees.

"We have some really good players in this Scotland squad, the batting line-up is full of match-winners," the 40-year-old told The Scotsman.

"But T20 matches can ebb and flow so much that it can’t be left to one player to perform well. The whole XI has to play well to get good results.

“In terms of the batters, they are a powerful bunch of lads. It is going to be about who can deal with the pressure and not let the occasion get a hold of the emotions when the World Cup starts."

In 2007 Scotland finished bottom of a group also featuring Pakistan and India, and in 2009 they finished last in a group with South Africa and New Zealand.

The 2016 tournament gave more opportunities for the lower-ranked nations but Scotland's victory against Hong Kong was not enough qualify from a four-team group also including Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.

This year could be different. Oman have only competed in the tournament once before and Papua New Guinea are making their first appearance in the competition.

Scotland head coach Shane Burger can call upon the experience of captain Kyle Coetzer, a veteran of the 2009 and 2016 tournaments.

Richie Berrington, Calum MacLeod, Safyaan Sharif, Matthew Cross, Alasdair Evans, Josh Davey, Michael Leask, George Munsey and Mark Watt also boast big-tournament experience.

"This squad has worked hard over a long period of time now and deserves the opportunity to show the world what we are about," said Burger.

"This is an experienced, versatile and exciting group of players and we're looking forward to embracing the challenges ahead as a team."

‘Bomb squad’ key as Namibia look to make breakthrough

Namibian cricket coach Pierre de Bruyn doesn't buy the narrative that his underdog team have nothing to lose at the T20 World Cup.

De Bruyn said his players were determined to upset the odds by finishing in the top two in their first-round group in order to qualify for the Super 12 phase.

"The impact for Namibian cricket would be massive. It means automatic qualification for next year's T20 World Cup and the financial benefit that comes with it," he said.

"The stakes are high for us. We've got a huge amount to lose, probably more than any other team. We're talking about finances, so many other things."

Funding from the International Cricket Council, which flowed from Namibia achieving one-day international status in 2019, has played an important role in enabling the country to get to the tournament - but it depends on keeping that status or doing well in the T20 World Cup.

"ODI status is our bread-and-butter, our livelihood," said De Bruyn. 

"It enabled us to go from having four contracted players to 17 – overnight we became professional."

It also enabled De Bruyn to hire Albie Morkel, one of the first big-money T20 specialist players and a long-time friend and South African provincial teammate, as assistant coach.

The Namibian team is effectively picked from just five clubs in Windhoek, the capital. 

The standard, De Bruyn admits, is "below par" so he and Morkel have concentrated on working with the country's best senior and Under-19 players.

Namibia have had an intensive build-up of matches, with series against Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe Emerging teams and two South African franchise sides, the Titans and the Knights. 

All the series were won in convincing fashion, as were four warm-up matches against other second-tier teams since arriving in Dubai.

"We have prepared so well, we've done everything that we could do. We are going to go all-out. We have a very good game plan for this format," said De Bruyn.

Key performers will be what De Bruyn describes as a "bomb squad" of captain Gerhard 'Merwe' Erasmus, former South Africa all-rounder David Wiese and JJ Smit, who will fill the number four to six batting positions.

All are capable of powerful hitting, with Smit in particular exciting Morkel, who himself was a renowned striker of the ball. 

"When JJ gets going he is capable of hitting sixes into the top tier of the Dubai stands," said De Bruyn.

De Bruyn says Namibia have an "unusual" bowling attack, with no fewer than seven left-armers, including medium-pacer Jan Frylinck, who took 6-24 in a warm-up T20 international against Oman.

Kevin O'Brien desperate to put Ireland on T20 map

Kevin O'Brien -- the architect of one of one-day cricket's greatest upsets -- is hoping to inspire Ireland as they seek finally to make their mark at a T20 World Cup.

Ireland have shown they can mix it with the big boys in the longer format of white-ball cricket, with scalps including England, Pakistan and West Indies in the 50-over World Cup.

But their record in the 20-over game is less impressive -- they boast just three wins in 15 maches over the past five tournaments.

Their most notable victory was against Bangladesh at the 2009 competition in England, a result that helped propel them into the second stage.

But they have crashed out at the first hurdle in every tournament since then, despite wins against Zimbabwe and the United Arab Emirates in 2014.

O'Brien is desperate to put matters right in Ireland's first appearance on the global stage in limited-overs cricket since 2016.

Irish cricket's most recognisable face and their only Test centurion retired from one-day internationals in June to focus on T20 cricket and the five-day game.

"We've had a lot more success and our big victories have been in the 50-over tournament," the 37-year-old told the Irish Examiner.

"But you look back at when we beat Bangladesh in 2009 at Trent Bridge you have still had victories at T20, but lately the ones that stand out are the results we have been on the wrong side of.

"We haven't played in a World Cup since 2016 so it's been a long time for us to rectify that."

- England heroics -

O'Brien shot to fame in 2011 when he scored the fastest World Cup century in the 50-over format to inspire Ireland to a sensational win against England in India.

Reduced to 111-5 in pursuit of 328, Ireland appeared destined for defeat before O'Brien's scintillating 50-ball hundred turned the match on its head.

O'Brien and Ireland want to make their mark in the T20 format and avoid low points such as the defeats at hands of the Netherlands in 2014 and 2016, and a chastening loss against debutants Oman in 2016.

At this year's World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, things could be different.

Andrew Balbirnie's men, ranked 12th in the T20 format, only need to finish in the top two of Group A to end their World Cup hoodoo and reach the Super 12 stage.

Their fixtures look winnable -- with Namibia, the Netherlands and Sri Lanka lying in wait.

Openers O'Brien and Paul Stirling, who have played nearly 200 T20 internationals between them, are Ireland's all-time leading run-scorers in the format and will spearhead a squad lacking experience on the biggest stages.

O'Brien appears to be in good form leading into the tournament, with a clutch of useful scores in warm-up matches against Zimbabwe and UAE.

Captain Balbirnie is in no doubt as to the importance of the veteran batsman, even though he is in his twilight years.

"The experience we get from Kevin and the runs are so valuable to this team," the skipper told the Belfast Telegraph. 

"We are all in the runs business and he has enough in the bank to know how important he is to this team."

For one week only, Oman centre-stage at T20 World Cup

It's a far cry from Lord's, the MCG and Eden Gardens, but the modest Al Amerat ground, 15km to the south-east of the Omani capital of Muscat, will on Sunday briefly become the beating heart of international cricket as the T20 World Cup gets underway.

"How often does an Associate nation get to host a World Cup?" Pankaj Khimji, the chief executive of Oman Cricket told cricinfo.com.

"I'm told by Star Sports (the host broadcasters) that this might turn out to be the third-largest televised sporting event of all time, potentially reaching an audience of 3 to 3.5 billion people. 

"Even if Oman gets a billion people watching the first six games, and showcases itself just to the Indian subcontinent, it's massive."

The grass pitches of the 3,000-seat Al Amerat site are a long way from the days when cricket was first played in the sultanate, often on waste ground by teams hastily assembled from visiting navy ships.

Oman are playing in the T20 World Cup for the second time after a 2016 debut saw them stun Ireland at spectacular Dharamsala.

Ranked 18 in the world, they have to negotiate a qualifying round which includes Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Scotland to get into the Super 12 which is being played exclusively in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

Even if only six first round games are staged in Oman, the stakes are high. 

As well as the prestige of being in the mix with the likes of India and Pakistan, making the second stage will give Oman a place in the 2022 T20 World Cup.

- Semi-professional expatriates -

The team is coached by former Sri Lanka Test skipper Duleep Mendis while the 15-man squad is made up almost entirely of expatriates with Sufyan Mehmood the only Oman-born player.

They are also semi-professional which means many will train at 5:30 in the morning, put in a full day's work and return for more cricket in the cooler evening temperatures.

Oman's recent cricket history has been a roller-coaster ride -- they were playing in Division 5 of the ICC World Cricket League as recently as 2016. 

They achieved ODI status in 2019 but were the last team to make sure of a spot in the T20 World Cup which was chased out of Australia and then India by Covid-19.

To secure their place, they defeated Hong Kong by 12 runs in a sudden-death play-off, defending only 134.

In six years of playing international T20s, Oman have lost 19 of 36 matches -- two wins over Ireland punctuated by a home defeat to Qatar in February 2020.

Against Scotland in a home ODI in 2019, they were bowled out for just 24 with six of their batsmen dismissed without scoring.

Oman have also failed to escape controversy with former player Yousuf Abdulrahim Al-Balushi banned for seven years by the ICC in 2020 on four counts of corruption.

Despite those highs and lows, Oman have a core of dependable match-winners who will be key if they are to be one of the teams from their pool to make the latter stages of the World Cup.

Aqib Ilyas has struck two centuries and six fifties in his international career while Jatinder Singh is Oman's top scorer in the format with 697 runs.

Left-arm seamer Bilal Khan, meanwhile, has 51 wickets at an average of just over 16.