Ahead of the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup to be held in the UAE from October 23, there are several teams in which players with recent success in the region for their various IPL franchises stand out. The pitches across the second half of IPL 2021 in Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi – where the World Cup will also be held – were overall slow and low, which offers an indication of what we can expect from the tournament.
In that regards, how these five cricketers fared during the UAE of leg of IPL 2021 could define their respective countries’ fortunes at the T20 World Cup.
GLENN MAXWELL (RCB)
It can be argued – and isn’t that what sports fans do best? – that Glenn Maxwell is now the most important player in Australia’s squad for the T20 World Cup following a superb run of form for Royal Challengers Bangalore. Just looking at the UAE leg of IPL 2021 indicates that the success Maxwell found on the same kind of pitches we can expect for the World Cup could make him the fulcrum of Australia’s batting as they bid to win their first men’s T20 world title at the seventh attempt.
Maxwell scored 290 runs at an average of 41.43 and, most critically, a strike-rate of 143.56 during the second half of IPL 2021. Batting in the middle order, Maxwell scored three fifties in a row, of which two were not out, and all contributed to RCB victories. Look closer, and all three fifties came in Dubai, where Australia will play three of five league matches during the World Cup.
Of all of Australia’s IPL contingent, only Maxwell featured in every match for his franchise.
With David Warner and Aaron Finch set to reunite at the top of the order and Mitch Marsh slotted at three, Australia’s middle order will likely comprise Steve Smith, Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade.
KL RAHUL (PBKS)
KL Rahul may have had a disappointing run as captain of Punjab Kings this IPL season, but once again his bat did plenty. Rahul finished with 626 runs from 13 innings, of which 295 came in the UAE at an average of 59 and strike-rate of 141.82.
While he is unlikely to open in the World Cup, at least in the first couple of games, Rahul’s form augurs well for India, especially if we look at his last innings: an unbridled and unbeaten 98 off 42 balls with eight sixes and seven fours. While Rahul has regularly been in the top three run-getters list over the past three IPL seasons, a dipping strike-rate as opener has caused concern and disbelief.
After Rahul’s 98* hurried PBKS to victory in 13 overs versus Chennai Super Kings in their last match, his team-mate Aiden Markram alluded to something that many have been feeling.
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“I don’t think these innings come too often in this world,” said the South African. “He needs to enjoy that. He’s done something quite special tonight. Hopefully he appreciates it. This team, behind the scenes, has gone crazy after every shot as you can imagine. It’s been unbelievable to watch.”
Rohit Sharma’s lean run for Mumbai Indians, plus Virat Kohli’s patchy season, puts more emphasis on Rahul’s batting.
LOCKIE FERGUSON (KKR)
A belated entrance to Kolkata Knight Riders’ starting XI during the 2020 IPL season in the UAE, New Zealand quick Lockie Ferguson has proved a source of wickets for his franchise. When he played his first match for KKR last year in Abu Dhabi, Ferguson made an immediate impact with three wickets and a starring role in the Super Over win, and finished that edition with six wickets with an economy of 7.46.
He struggled for impact during the first half of IPL 2021 on Indian pitches, but back in the UAE Ferguson was good. Either side of an injury that saw him miss a few matches, he claimed 13 wickets at a strike-rate of 13.8 and economy of 7.46. Dismiss Ferguson’s expensive four overs in the IPL final, which KKR lost, as an anomaly. This was a highly potent strike bowler for KKR.
On the slow and low pitches of the UAE, bowling a variety of deliveries such as cutters and slower balls has worked well for several pacers, but what Ferguson has given KKR is a flat-out fast weapon. He has bowled batsmen, hurried them for pace to draw top edges and spooned drives and bounced them liberally. On tracks such as the one in Sharjah with inconsistent bounce, Ferguson proved devastating as he helped derail Rajasthan Royals for 85, while earlier in Abu Dhabi his pace proved too hot for Mumbai Indians’ middle order.
New Zealand have a super asset in Ferguson, whose IPL form in the UAE bodes well for them.
ANRICH NORTJE (DC)
Like Ferguson, the South African fast bowler Anrich Nortje was instrumental for his IPL franchise with his pace on those surfaces. In eight matches during Delhi Capitals’ successful run to the IPL playoffs in the UAE, Nortje took 12 wickets at an average of 15.81 and economy of 6.16, striking every 15.1 deliveries.
After sitting out the first half of IPL 2021 in India after a false positive COVID report and then as Capitals tinkered with their combinations, Nortje has prospered in the UAE. He has been quick, accurate and consistent with wickets. He started with four wickets in two matches and since then has managed at least one wicket in each appearance.
Being the fourth most successful bowler in 2020’s IPL in the UAE allowed Nortje to return in 2021 and repeat his success. South Africa’s World Cup squad includes Nortje’s IPL team-mate Kagiso Rabada, who did not have as much success, as well as pace options in Lungi Ngidi, Wiaan Mulder and Dwaine Pretorius. Nortje and Rabada are the two with recent match experience, and given his success in the Powerplay and at the back end of innings, it is Nortje with his pace and accuracy on whose shoulders South Africa’s hopes really lie in the UAE.
EVIN LEWIS (RR)
Drafted into the Rajasthan setup as a replacement for the absent Jos Buttler, Evin Lewis showed what he can offer West Indies in the T20 World Cup in such conditions. During the Caribbean Premier League season that preceded the IPL, Lewis was in excellent form on spin-friendly tracks with a record 426 runs for winners St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, while also hitting 38 sixes across 11 innings, the most by a batsman in a CPL season.
The biggest gain for Lewis, in his own words, was how he adjusted his game to succeed against spin. And so when the IPL resumed in the UAE, there was interest to see whether Lewis could extend his CPL form into the tournament with Rajasthan.
In five matches opening the innings, Lewis reached double digits four times with a best of 58 from 37 balls and ended with 151 runs at an average of 30.20 and strike-rate of 162.36. During this time, Rajasthan were provided starts of 54 from 33 deliveries, 11 from seven, 77 from 50, 77 in 32 and 27 from 22.
Lewis has been striking at over 160 for West Indies, Patriots and now Rajasthan, which is a terrific sign for the defending champions at the World Cup.