T20 World Cup | Pitches hold the key as the Super 12s gets underway on Saturday

Teams ready to embark on road to semifinals.

The Super 12 round of the 2021 T20 World Cup gets underway on Saturday with South Africa taking on Australia in Abu Dhabi and England facing West Indies in Dubai in the first of what promises to be thrilling 30 encounters before the top four move into the semifinals.

Namibia has joined Afghanistan, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Scotland in Group 2. Bangladesh joined Australia, England, South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka in Group 1.

Defending champion West Indies will be one of the favourites. But its form in the warm-ups — it lost both matches — has flattered to deceive. Chris Gayle’s recent form slump has raised questions over his place. The absence of Sunil Narine is conspicuous.

Meanwhile, the runs have also dried up for England captain Eoin Morgan. England will also miss the services of Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer.

The pace of Mark Wood and Tymal Mills should give it an edge. Jos Buttler, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow add batting heft. Moeen Ali, given his exploits with CSK in IPL 2021, could be vital. The No. 3 spot suits him but he can also be a pinch-hitter at the death. England is bidding to become the first team to hold the 50-over and 20-over titles at the same time.

New Zealand, which won the World Test Championship in June, is eyeing a second world title this year. There was concern over skipper Kane Williamson’s fitness but he is likely to be match-ready. Most of the Kiwi players have had enough game time through the IPL, CPL, and the Hundred.

For Australia, all the big names are back. But the middle-order issues coupled with uncertainty over the bowling composition could spoil its title bid.

Dark horses

Pakistan, led by Babar Azam, will look to polish its mercurial mettle in the UAE, which has been home away from home for the subcontinent nation in the past decade. Pakistan’s blockbuster clash against India is scheduled for Oct. 24 in Dubai.

South Africa enters the event having won three successive T20I series. Its pace attack comprising Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje will be one of its strengths. The team starts as a dark horse.

Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh can be expected to create ripples. Scotland and Namibia, which beat a Test nation (Ireland) to advance to the next stage, would want to leave a mark as well.

Of equal interest will be the pitches at Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai as they have been used extensively since the pandemic began.

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