India – $3.25
The hosts and tournament favourites come into the competition in hot form, having lost only one of their last 11 T20Is. Consistency has been the key to India’s success with minimal changes to their starting XI since winning 3-0 in Australia with a further 2-1 series win at home against Sri Lanka rounded off by an unbeaten Asia Cup victory.
The top three of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have all been in superb form, with little required of the middle-order in recent times. Kohli has been in particularly irresistible form, passing 40 in 10 of his past 12 T20Is innings. So often their Achilles heel the Indian bowling attack is geared to home conditions with spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja supported by part-time options Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina.
The spinners are complemented by the experience of Ashish Nehra and unpredictability of Jasprit Bumrah whose unusual action has helped him concede less than seven runs an over in nine of his 11 T20I appearances. The only obvious weakness in their side is the inclusion of young all-rounder Hardik Pandya who is yet to prove himself at this level with bat or ball.
However with a well-balanced and settled side playing in front of their home crowd in familiar conditions I can’t quite go past the hosts so will start by backing them before looking to potentially lay off in the knockout stage where their price will likely compress too far.
Australia – $5.9
Australia somehow enter the competition as second favourites despite losing five of their past seven T20Is and possessing a well-documented fallibility in slower conditions. Whilst the likes of Shane Watson, David Warner, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell have had plenty of experience in the IPL, they are all still better suited to the faster conditions they enjoy at home.
However the main issue for Australia is that their bowling attack has been hit by long-term injuries to Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, with the likes of John Hastings, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Josh Hazlewood less effective in this format. That is perhaps why the Australians have stacked their squad with all-rounders such as Watson, Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, James Faulkner and Ashton Agar so they do at least have a wide variety of options with the ball.
The other chief concern for Australia is that, unlike India, they are still grappling with the composition of their best XI with a number of spots up for grabs coming into their opening fixture. Whoever they pick I don’t think they have the ingredients to win the tournament, particularly in these conditions, which is why I’m willing to oppose the Australians strongly from the off.
New Zealand – $11.5
New Zealand will be hoping to finally translate their success in 50-over cricket to 20-over cricket, however they face a tough task without the inspirational Brendon McCullum. The opening pair of Martin Guptill and captain Kane Williamson provide nice balance at the top of the order but much will depend on the unpredictable duo of Colin Munro and Corey Anderson, especially with Ross Taylor suffering a side strain in the Black Caps’ last fixture.
Matt Henry has been surprisingly left out of the Kiwis’ squad with the bowling attack very spin-heavy, following the inclusions of Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Nathan McCullum. New-ball duo Trent Boult and Tim Southee will need to recapture their best form after an underwhelming summer and face stiff competition from the likes of Adam Milne and Mitchell McClenaghan who is the highest ranked seamer in the ICC player rankings.
The Black Caps are at least in good form, winning five of their past six T20Is, but without the X-factor of McCullum and with a few injury concerns lingering I think they’re around the right price so will be leaving them as is.
Pakistan – $20
Pakistan’s preparation for the tournament has been marred by selection issues with the surprise inclusion of Khurram Manzoor revoked in order to include Ahmed Shehzad. Similarly after being originally picked Iftikhar Ahmed was omitted in place of Khalid Latif, while injury has ruled out Babar Azam and Rumman Raees with Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Sami brought in.
Pakistan have one of the more promising bowling attacks in the tournament featuring the controversial Mohammad Amir, giant quick Mohammad Irfan and the evergreen Shahid Afridi. However their batting is a huge concern, as highlighted in their Asia Cup opener against India when they were rolled for a paltry 83. The fact that Mohammad Hafeez – who has failed to get to 20 in 19 of his last 22 innings – can maintain his place in the side emphasises the issues that Pakistan face with the bat.
While their bowlers could win them a few games and even see them advance to the semi-finals, the instability surrounding selection and more importantly the lack of potency with the bat is enough to put me off backing Pakistan although I wouldn’t necessarily want to oppose them at their price either. One strategy I would adopt for matches involving Pakistan is backing them to either defend or fail to chase a slow total at juicy odds.
Group A Qualifier (Bangladesh/Netherlands/Ireland/Oman)
Bangladesh are the hot favourites to progress to Group 2 and if they do they are not without a chance of causing a shock with seasoned internationals Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mashrafe Mortaza leading the way. The Tigers also enjoyed a fruitful Asia Cup campaign, defeating Sri Lanka and Pakistan on their way to the final with fast bowler Al-Amin Hossain enjoying a particularly fruitful tournament.
Netherlands and Ireland have been on the fringe of the international scene for a number of years now, however their most established players are well past their best, while Oman are somewhat of an unknown quantity in their first appearance at a major tournament.
If, as expected, Bangladesh do go through then be wary of opposing them as they showed at the Asia Cup they are more than capable of matching it with the bigger sides in this format.