By Amindha de Alwis
With the T20 World Cup set to commence this weekend, Sri Lanka, by virtue of its T20I Ranking, will batte it out in the First Round of the tournament and will need to finish among the top two sides from their group -- comprising Ireland, the Netherlands and Namibia -- if they are to qualify for the Super 12 stage.
While all three of Sri Lanka’s opponents are ranked below them in the ICC T20I Rankings, all are capable of producing fine cricket on their day and Dasun Shanaka’s men would want to leave no stone unturned in their preparations lest they slip up against opposition whom they would have seen very little of.
Namibia will be featuring in their first major ICC event since the 2003 World Cup and their first game of the tournament will also be Sri Lanka’s first, on October 18. At first glance, one might write off Namibia as the weakest of the four sides, but the team captained by Gerhard Erasmus has been riding a wave of good form with strong showings against South Africa and Zimbabwe emerging sides in their lead up to the tournament. They have looked in good touch since landing in the UAE having recorded clinical wins over the hosts, Papua New Guinea and Scotland.
Player of the Tournament at the T20 World Cup Global Qualifier in 2019, skipper Gerhard Erasmus with his attractive strokeplay and athleticism in the field will be central to Namibia’s hopes of making it through the opening round. Former South Africa all-rounder David Wiese will be sporting the Namibian blue, being eligible as his father was born in the country. The 36-year-old is still in demand in T20 leagues across the World and picked up two five-wicket hauls for St. Lucia Kings in last month’s Caribbean Premier League. All-rounder JJ Smit, one of four left-arm bowlers in Namibia’s attack, brings an x-factor to the Namibian side, particularly with his aggressive lower-order batting. Smit boasts a strike-rate of 162 in T20I cricket and is a very capable hard-hitter of the ball.
The other Full-Member in Sri Lanka’s Group, Ireland is ranked just two places behind Sri Lanka in the ICC Rankings and are coming off a 3-2 victory over Zimbabwe last month. Ireland’s giant-killing exploits in global tournaments are well known and Andy Balbirnie’s team are definite contenders for a place in the next round. Ireland’s limited-overs batting tends to be heavily concentrated towards the top 3-4 and they would be hoping to see their young middle-order step up in these crucial matches,
Ireland’s standout player, Paul Stirling, is often the prize wicket for any opposition. The attacking opener is a regular on the T20 circuit and was recently named Player of the Final for Southern Brave in the inaugural edition of The Hundred in England. Stirling battered Zimbabwe around the ground for his first T20I ton a few weeks later and will be raring to impress. Probably Ireland’s most exciting bowling prospect, Joshua Little with his bustling left-arm pace and canny variations will be one to look out for. Capable of bowing over 140kmph, 21-year-old Little has been amongst the wickets this year, evidenced by him sitting in second place in the ICC CWC Super League wicket-takers, albeit in the ODI format. Aggressive right-hand batsman and leg-break bowler Gareth Delany returns to the Irish side after a long layoff due to injury, His unorthodox off-side dominant batting technique has served him well at T20I level so far with his strike-rate reading 140 after 26 matches.
Sri Lanka’s last opponent in the First Round will be the Netherlands skippered by Pieter Seelaar. Sri Lanka recorded a dominant 9-wicket victory when these sides last met at the T20 World Cup in 2014, a tournament that Sri Lanka would eventually win. Both sides have changed considerably since then, however. The Netherlands possess arguably the most potent fast-bowling battery at Associate level and field a number of players who are regulars in the English County circuit.
Tenacious all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe will have a major role to play with his left-arm spin and experience playing T20 cricket across the world. Van der Merwe made his international debut for South Africa in 2009 but has been representing the Netherlands since 2015 after gaining a Dutch passport. Tall paceman Paul van Meekeren will be one of the Dutch bowers to keep an eye on. He recently featured for St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League. Van Meekeren’s economy rate of just 7.1 is also indicative of his run-stifling abilities. 41-year-old Ryan ten Doeschate, holder of the highest ODI average in world cricket (67), will bolster the middle order in what may probably prove to be his final major tournament having recently announced his retirement from professional cricket with Essex after a distinguished 19-year career at the club. The right-hander’s appearances in the Dutch orange have been sporadic over the years owing to his county commitments but his performances whenever available have been exceptional.
Main photo (L-R): Paul Strling, David Wiese, Ryan ten Doeschate