Sunday 14 November, 2021. Remember the date.
Fans all over the Caribbean will probably be marking Monday 15 November down on their calendars as well. The organisers are calling it a reserve day; West Indian fans are already seeing it as a day reserved for celebrating Kieron Pollard’s men capture—for the third time—of the title of ICC T20 World Cup champions on the Sunday immediately preceding.
Sixteen teams will be in the ring when the bell goes for the start of the tournament on 17 October. But from 6pm on that November Sunday one of the other 15 teams will merely be showing up in Dubai as the other team in the final.
If, that is, the West Indian fans have their way,
But not so fast. There is the small matter of the qualification from the Super 12 stage, which ends for WI on 6 November. That is when they take on Aaron Finch’s Australia in Abu Dhabi in a game that could well prove to be a decider.
By that time, Pollard and company will have had to make their way past Eoin Morgan’s England, Temba Bavuma’s South Africa and two other teams who have had the misfortune to qualify into the Group of not-so-sudden-Death.
For Pollard’s men, England are first up in the afternoon game in Abu Dhabi on 23 October. Three days later, they take on South Africa. Then before the potentially decisive Aussie match-up, the games against the qualifiers are scheduled for 29 October in Sharjah and 4 November in Abu Dhabi.
Earlier, in Round One, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Scotland and Bangladesh are drawn in Group B while Group A brings together Ireland, Netherlands, Sri Lanka and Namibia. A week before the start of the Super 12 phase, their qualifying round bowls off when Oman and PNG clash in the afternoon and Scotland and Bangladesh meet in the evening.
So the identity of the two unfortunates, the winner of Group A and the runner-up of Group B, who will earn themselves the right to attempt to move the West Indian mountain in the Super 12 Round will be known no later than 22 October. That is when qualifying round action concludes.
The next day will see the start of the much more serious business of the Super 12 competition in Abu Dhabi. Australia and South Africa, both of whom were recently in the Caribbean, will start the ball rolling in Group One in the afternoon before the crucial England vs West Indies evening game.
On Wednesday 10, Abu Dhabi is the venue for the clash of the semi-final Titans, the winners of Group One (whom the West Indian fans have already identified) taking on the Group Two runners-up.
And the Group Two winners, not yet determined, will be up against the Group One runners-up in Dubai on Thursday 11. If needed, Thursday 11 and Friday 12 can be used to complete or replay these titanic clashes.
After the release of the fixtures, England’s Morgan said that ‘the standard of T20 cricket around the world is improving exponentially’ and he therefore expects the World Cup to be ‘one of the closest and most competitive world tournaments to date’. His side, he says, ‘can’t wait to get started’.
Nowhere near gauche enough to remind him of the 2016 final, Pollard did not say that Morgan’s men were unlikely to get started until their second round game against the Group B runners-up.
The hard-hitting all-rounder simply said that the ‘fans in the Caribbean and all over the world are highly anticipating seeing us in action’. But many of those fans are likely to have heard an unspoken follow-up: ‘…and we have no intention of letting them down’.
Subcontinent rivals India and Pakistan meet in the first Group Two game on 24 October in Dubai in what is likely to be a must-win match-up for the Pakistanis. Although they too were recently in the Caribbean, rain ruined three of the four scheduled games, leaving the regional fans none the wiser about the real strength of Babar Azam’s short format unit.
Virat Kohli’s Indians are in the very fortunate position of having the Round One qualifiers, B1 and A2, as their last two opponents on 5 and 8 November. None of Pakistan, Kane Williamson’s New Zealand or Rashid Khan’s Afghanistan have that luxury.
But the Pakistan captain noted that his side will feel at home in UAE conditions where they have played regularly.
He seemed to be throwing down the gauntlet to his opposite number Kohli, saying that they ‘have also beaten the top sides in these conditions to peak to number-one in the ICC T20I Team Rankings’.
“All the players are excited, motivated, and enthusiastic,” Azam continued, “and view this tournament as an opportunity to showcase our prowess and re-establish our superiority in the shortest format of the game in conditions that suit us best.”
Azam is new to the business of being an international captain so he has not yet learned the lesson about always making your words short and sweet.
Just in case you later have to eat them.
West Indies W/Cup schedule
23 October: England
26 October: South Africa
29 October: Qualifier
4 November: Qualifier
6 November: Australia
10 November: Semi-final
14 November: Final