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Spinners might come to the fore as Super Eights start today

With the men separated from the boys, the eight heavyweights in T20 cricket will begin their quest for the World T20 title when the double-header kicks off in Group 1 at Pallekele between Sri Lanka and New Zealand and England and the West Indies on Thursday.

There is little to separate between the sides that expectedly qualified for the Super Eight stage after their group engagements. Without discounting the credentials of the sides in Group 1, that includes defending champions England, the Group 2 clashes in at the R Premadasa Stadium promise more excitement. In India and Pakistan this group has two former champions, perennial contenders South Africa and a hungry Australia who are looking to win the only trophy missing from their cabinet.

“It’s a tough group. India has played some fantastic cricket, Pakistan is playing great cricket. Australia came up with some big performances. I think it will be a very tough group to qualify from,” said South African all-rounder Albie Morkel.

The unique thing about all these four teams is that they have reached the Super Eights winning both their engagements from their respective groups in the first phase of the tournament. If India appeared a bit uncertain against Afghanistan in their opening engagement, they emphatically set aside those worries with a crushing win over England. While batting, even in the absence of Virender Sehwag, wears an intimidating look, the performance of the bowling unit against England has come as a shot in the arm for skipper MS Dhoni.

Harbhajan Singh formed a deadly combination with Piyush Chawla to decimate English batting and the template for India’s future matches may remain the same. Having tasted blood with two spinners, India may persist with both Harbhajan and R Ashwin, in place of Chawla, on surfaces that are increasingly aiding their types.

Morkel was in sync with the perception. “It looks like a wicket that’s slower and may take a bit of turn,” he said talking about the conditions here, largely different from Hambantota where the Proteas were based. “Our preparations are certainly going to be different from what we had in Hambantota where the wicket is a bit quicker, almost home conditions for us. I think we’ll focus on those scenarios. We are likely to face spinners in Power Play and more of spin throughout the middle overs.”

Pakistan is another side that will bank on a variety of spinners with a capable pace attack to complement them. Not to forget a combustive batting line-up that includes Akmal brothers -- Kamran and Umar -- Jamshed Nasir and skipper Mohammad Hafeez. If Shahid Afridi comes into his own, the leg-spinning all-rounder can tear apart any attack.

“They are obviously a quality side,” pointed out South African assistant coach Russel Domingo. “We have a lot of respect for them. They have got some big game-breakers and match-winners. We are looking forward to it. We will do our homework over the next couple of days. They have got a good mix, some good spinners and some experience in their seamers in Umar Gul and Yasir Arafat. So we know they are dangerous,” he offered.

Of all the four sides, South Africa appear to have a more balanced composition. An ideal T20 batting line-up, a perfect mix of quality pace and spin to go with top-class fielding should make them favourites to wear the crown for the first time, but will they overcome that ‘C’ factor remains to be seen.

Australia, the finalists of the previous edition, will be keen to go a step further. However, they are heavily reliant on good starts and much of their batting revolves around the top three or four. Against the West Indies, the chinks in the bowling too were exposed but Aussies being Aussies, you can count them out at your own peril.

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