The ICC T20 World Cup is a tournament held every two years – there was even an occasion when it was held within a gap of a year. However, the situation the world faces itself with right now is such that the tournament will now be held only after 5.5 years from its previous edition.
The 2020 version of the T20 has been officially postponed by a year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One year is a long, long time in international cricket, particularly in the shortest format of the game where the form is fickle. The nature of the format is such that players who were confident of featuring in the 2020 edition might not necessarily make it to 2021 one.
While form and injuries are unpredictable, aging is not. Players who would have been eyeing the 2020 tournament now suddenly have the challenge of preserving their body for international rigors for one more year.
Let’s look at some of the players whose plans might – or might not! – be affected.
The former India captain turned 39 earlier this month. It’s hard to know whether he was eyeing the 2020 tournament given he hardly makes his plans public. It’s harder to know the Indian team’s plans for Dhoni as well. Dhoni’s close ones have maintained that he’s not thinking about retirement, although he last turned out for India only in July last year in the World Cup semifinal against New Zealand.
Dhoni might have wanted to be a ‘back up’ of sorts if India’s plans of investing in Rishabh Pant/KL Rahul didn’t work. He was eager to play the IPL for CSK and even turned up early for practice sessions before the tournament was postponed. But will he be able to do that for another year? Dhoni will be 40 by November 2021, and the chances of younger Indian keepers outperforming him will be higher too.
As always, Dhoni’s future remains a mystery.
What about others in the Indian team?
India now have more time to get their middle order sorted. They have been having issues beyond the top 3 in white-ball cricket, and the postponement allows them to try out more options. Current ones like Shreyas Iyer face a challenge of maintaining/upping their game, while others get more time to stake a claim for spots. It’s likely that we’ll see two IPLs in a short duration, which should throw up more options for the Indian team as well.
Apart from the younger players, a few veterans too could welcome the postponement. Players like Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin and Krunal Pandya, who were in the scheme of things at different times in the past, will look at the future with optimism.
Bravo pulled himself out of retirement earlier this year with an eye on the T20 World Cup. With a change of guard in the West Indies cricket board and under Kieron Pollard, Bravo said he hoped to make an impact especially given the inexperience in the pace department.
Bravo even played five T20Is since then with decent returns. But he too will be 38 next year during the T20 World Cup. The inexperienced pacers could gain more experience, and Bravo’s age might also work against him. It will be interesting to see if he extends his international career to help West Indies defend the T20 World Cup title.
Perhaps the best ever T20 batsman, Gayle last played a T20I in March 2019. With Lendl Simmons and Brandon King forming a strong partnership at the top, West Indies haven’t turned to Gayle. His – and West Indies’ – plans for the T20 World Cup was unclear, but the postponement could bring an end to such chances. He will be 42 in November 2021.
AB de Villiers
“He was definitely in line. If fit, I would have loved to have AB de Villiers. I think any team would have loved to have AB de Villiers in their team. While we were pushing for him, now we will have to see when the T20 World Cup is going to happen now.”
This is what South Africa T20I captain Quinton de Kock said on the Cricket Connected show on Star Sports recently. De Villier had retired in 2018 but was eyeing a comeback for the tournament this November, before fate had other plans.
There was controversy last year in the World Cup when reports emerged that de Villiers had wanted to play the tournament, albeit a bit too late. South Africa performed poorly in the tournament and exited in the league stage. This time, his plans were made clear much earlier and was very much in line as de Kock said.
De Villiers will be close to 38 by November 2021. While form and fitness might not be an issue with the legendary batsman, his desire to break out of retirement could be a factor.
What about others in the South Africa team?
Like de Villiers, other veterans like Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir too will be affected by the postponement. Steyn, who has retired from Tests and last played an ODI in March 2019, has been focusing on his T20 career. He will be 38 by the T20 World Cup 2021 – not the youngest for a pacer.
Tahir is already 41 and has retired from ODIs, but has also expressed readiness to play T20Is. However, he last played a T20I in March 2019 although he remains active in the franchise cricket world.
“My only target is to play knock-out round in the T20 World Cup. If Sri Lanka qualify for the knockouts, I would not mind retiring anytime after that.”
Sri Lanka’s T20I captain and one of the legends of white-ball cricket has already indicated that he would retire after the T20 World Cup. Like Steyn, Malinga too will be 38 by November 2021 which will only increase his challenge.
Malinga leads a young Sri Lankan side which is undergoing transition for quite a long time, which means his role is crucial on and off the field. Like most pacers, he too had had his share of fitness issues through his career; can he stick on for another year?
Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez
Malik and senior teammate Mohammad Hafeez won surprise recalls to the Pakistan T20 squad for the home series against Bangladesh after being constantly ignored after the World Cup.
Hafeez, who will be 40 next year, has already said he will be available for the tournament even if it is postponed.
“I gave retiring from T20 cricket after the World Cup a lot of thought. Just like when I retired from Test cricket, I decided to retire on my own terms. It took into consideration my own goals, as well as the interests of Pakistan cricket. I want to retire from T20 cricket after playing a big tournament in which I perform well, and hopefully go out on a winning note. This is my plan, and if the World T20 is postponed to November or some later time, that doesn’t mean I won’t play it,” he had said last month.
Malik, meanwhile, will be 39 and often spoke about taking it series-by-series. Whether their plans hold good for another year remains to be seen, especially given how fickle selection is in Pakistan cricket.