England’s bid for the Twenty20 World Cup gets underway in Australia on Saturday when they take on Afghanistan.
And although Jos Buttler’s side is littered with a dazzling array of talent with both bat and ball, there are several sides who will look to bar their way to a second white ball tournament win in three years.
Here Sportsmail takes a look at the five sides that will prove the toughest test if England are to lift the trophy next month
Jos Buttler is hoping to lead England to a second Twenty20 World Cup triumph in Australia
World ranking: 6
Previous titles: 1 (2021)
How they’re shaping up: Australia were not the best team at last year’s World Cup but lifted the trophy by winning the games that mattered. There remains a feeling they are behind the best teams in the world but among their own fans there is an expectation they will be the first in the 15-year history of the competition to defend their title.
Playing at home should help but the three-match warm-up series against England exposed flaws. The poor form of two big-name players in captain Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell is a concern, debate rages as to whether Steve Smith still merits a place and they have a problem chasing.
Aaron Finch’s poor form has left many questioning whether he deserves a role in the side
What they do have is Josh Hazlewood, the world’s best 20-over bowler, two Test side-kicks with strong white-ball skills in Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc plus a wicket-taking leg spinner in Adam Zampa. But the lack of a fifth front-line bowler is a concern, and whether their trump cards can cover the cracks for a second time in 12 months is debatable.
Danger man: Tim David. Made his international debut last month. The game’s striker of the biggest sixes.
Fun fact: David Warner is one of the most recognisable T20 players, featuring in 332 matches, yet only three of them have come in Australia’s Big Bash League.
Australia’s cross-format opener David Warner is a veteran of 332 Twenty20 players
World ranking: 5
Previous titles: 0
How they’re shaping up: Last November’s beaten finalists won nine in a row earlier this year but will expect tougher tests than Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands and West Indies, their opponents during that sequence.
Jimmy Neesham hit 27 off 11 against England
The Black Caps’ success across all formats is built on continuity and changes in personnel have been minimal since that Abu Dhabi semi-final win over England 11 months ago.
The decision to hand Devon Conway the wicketkeeping gloves expands the options of a preferred XI that has seen him forge a new opening partnership with Finn Allen, and the veteran Martin Guptill relegated to cover.
Injury niggles to the bowling attack will be a concern for coach Gary Stead and captain Kane Williamson, with the pace of Lockie Ferguson or Adam Milne necessary to complement the skills of veterans Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
They are in England and Australia’s group but they will not fret about that in conditions that will suit their style.
Danger man: Jimmy Neesham. A game-changer, as he showed with 27 off just 11 balls against England last year.
Fun fact: Boult, who recently rejected a national contract from the Kiwis, is more likely to post about Louie, his golden retriever as cricket on social media.
Devon Conway has formed an opening partnership with Finn Allen and has taken the gloves
World ranking: 1
Previous titles: 1 (2007)
How they’re shaping up: The loss of pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah to a back injury is significant, particularly with their other metronome, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja (knee) already out.
The absence of Jasprit Bumrah will be a huge blow for the 2007 champions
Rivals take more wickets than Bumrah but with a T20 economy rate of 6.62, he plugs leaks at the end of each innings. Mohammed Shami does not carry the X-factor of Bumrah’s pinpoint yorkers, so extra pressure will be on Bhuvneshwar Kumar to get things right at the death.
The rest of the attack is likely to feature Arshdeep Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin and the under-rated Yuzvendra Chahal. Otherwise, it is a case of India finding the right combinations in their batting, which is helped by having Suryakumar Yadav, the world’s form T20 player. Virat Kohli is in form too.
Such wealth in the top six positions will mean KL Rahul is destined for the fluorescent bib. All-rounder Hardik Pandya’s fitness is crucial to their balance.
Danger man: Rohit Sharma. A serial winner with Mumbai Indians, big-game player and the only man to have struck four hit in T20 internationals.
Fun fact: Yadav, a man nicknamed SKY due to his initials, hit the first ball he faced in his international career from England’s Jofra Archer for six.
Talismanic former skipper Virat Kohli has also begun to rediscover his best form with the bat
World ranking: 3
Previous titles: 1 (2009)
How they’re shaping up: The 4-3 home defeat by England highlighted Pakistan’s shortcomings yet also revealed how dangerous they could be in a knockout scenario if they fix their issues.
For a country so rich in mercurial talent it felt odd they had a batting unit with a succession of plodders once Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan were separated. At times, it was two out, all out. The subsequent promotions of Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz added dynamism to the middle order as they won a tri-series in New Zealand.
Shaheen Shah Afridi’s return has bolstered Pakistan’s already blisteringly quick pace attack
Reasons for optimism rest with a bowling attack boosted by the return of left-armer Shaheen Shah Afridi from a knee injury. With Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain, Naseem Shah and Mohammad Wasim as well, Pakistan have the quickest pace group going in a country where conditions encourage fast bowling.
Danger man: Mohammad Rizwan. Rated the world’s No 1 T20 batter, Pakistan’s three wins versus England featured a trio of half-centuries.
Fun fact: Pakistan recently became the first country to play 200 Twenty20 internationals.
Mohammed Rizwan is ranked as the best T20 batter in the world and is set to star for his side
World ranking: 4
Previous titles: 0
How they’re shaping up: If form is anything to go by, South Africa are contenders. They have won 20 of their past 27 completed matches and brushed aside England last summer.
The return of Rilee Rossouw after a six-year Kolpak hiatus has added to a top-order that includes Quinton de Kock. With fellow power-hitters Tristan Stubbs and David Miller to follow, the Proteas will not be flustered if asking rates escalate. The only issue is captain Temba Bavuma, who averages five in his last six white-ball internationals.
Captain Temba Bavuma’s form is a concern for the Proteas averaging just five in his last six
As for their bowling, injury to Dwaine Pretorious has promoted greater variety in the attack. Replacement Marco Jansen offers an alternative left-arm trajectory to the skiddier Wayne Parnell.
Danger man: Lungi Ngidi. No other fast bowler gets near his career strike rate of 12.4 with the ball.
Fun fact: Marco Jansen used to play provincial junior rugby as a fly-half until the age of 16, when he was 5ft 10in. Five years later, he made his international debut as a 6ft 8in fast bowler.
Marco Jansen began his career as a rugby fly-half before growing almost a foot in five years