Aussies, Sri Lanka in form _ will it help in T20?

C.RAJSHEKHAR RAO
March 16, 2014
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Australia's batsman Shane Watson, plays a shot during their T20 Cricket match against South Africa at Centurion Park in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, March 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Australia is on a hot streak, making veterans like Shane Watson increasingly confident of winning the World Twenty20 title for the first time.

Sri Lanka has the runs on the board at the tournament venue, having won the Asia Cup in the 50-over format in Bangladesh earlier this month to give Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkar extra hope of a World T20 breakthrough after losing two finals.

But if there's one thing history has shown, form going into the tournament means very little at the World Twenty20.

India, Pakistan and England weren't favorites when they won the first three editions. The West Indies struggled in the group stage before powering to the 2012 title and sparking a resurgence in cricket in the Caribbean, at least in the shortest form of the game.

Chris Gayle owns a host of T20 batting records and is the most proficient match winner in the format, but the West Indian team knows that to retain the title they'll also need spinner Sunil Narine snaring wickets and keeping run rates low to supplement the dynamic batting.

Conditions can be tricky in Bangladesh, with pitches giving batsmen seemingly unlimited help on some days, then favoring slow bowlers the next.

That's where the likes of Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, the present master of the 'doosra', is expected to come into his own. If allrounder Shahid Afridi can stay in form, Pakistan will certainly be among the strong contenders.

"I can't see a better limited-overs combination in the world," Afridi said recently.

The tournament opens Sunday with a preliminary league match Bangladesh against Afghanistan. The top eight countries join the tournament in the second stage, which opens with a blockbuster between archrivals Pakistan and India on Friday.

India hasn't played a T20 International for months, and has only played five in all since the 2012 World T20, but that doesn't bother skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He said the experience in the rich domestic Twenty20 tournament was better preparation for his team.

"In IPL we have played with the best players and the standard there is as high as international standards so that really amounts to the experience we need," Dhoni was quoted as saying by Press Trust of India. "The conditions in Bangladesh are similar to those in India and so the IPL experience will help us."

India and Pakistan are in a tough group with Australia, the West Indies and a qualifier from the preliminary stage. The top two teams advance to the semifinals. The other group in the second stage consists of Sri Lanka, England, South Africa, New Zealand and a qualifier.

Australia has won more World Cups in the 50-over format than any other team, but hasn't managed yet to convert that success into the shortest version of international cricket.

George Bailey's team has won its last five T20s, including three at home against England after Australia's emphatic Ashes test series win, and two more in South Africa immediately after the Australians beat top-ranked South Africa in a test series.

"Obviously the conditions in Bangladesh will be difficult, but we'll take some confidence into the World T20," Bailey said after wrapping up the series in South Africa on the weekend.