Following months of fervent build-up and analysis, the World T20 is finally set to get underway. While these opening rounds are always a bit of a minefield to navigate - I mean, who knows anything about Hong Kong cricket bar the three spectators who actually rock up to their infrequent home internationals - but we've trawled through the stats and tried our utmost to provide you with the best possible information for these preliminary games.
Let's get to it then, shall we?
Hong Kong 7/2 | Draw 35/1 | Zimbabwe 2/9
The first match of the World T20 will see Hong Kong go up against an ever-improving Zimbabwe side. The Hong Kongers come into this game with very little hope of qualifying for the Super 10 phase – they don’t look very likely to even win a game. They'll be looking to the experience of Ryan Campbell to see them through the qualifying phase of the tournament. The 44-year-old wicketkeeper / batsman has tons experience having played two ODIs for Australia as well as having played plenty of First Class cricket for Western Australia.
They’ll also need Babar Hayat to continue where he left off in Asia Cup qualifying. He stood head and shoulders above the rest of his teammates as they failed to win a single qualification match. His scores of 122, 54 and 18 underlined his credentials as the player to watch in the Hong Kong side.
They managed to eke out a one-wicket win in their final warm-up game against the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association XI – a team made up almost entirely of inexperienced youngsters. Things haven’t gone well for the side in 2016, though, they’ve played five warm-up T20 internationals since the turn of the year nad have only managed to win once.
The Zimbabwean camp have been rocked by injuries in the lead up to the tournament. Graeme Cremer, Luke Jongwe and Neville Madziva have all been ruled out of the tournament following injuries picked up at their training camp in the UAE. The news of Cremer’s absence will have come as a massive blow. The leg-spinner was in excellent form and looked as though he’d be as dangerous as anyone with ball in hand on the Sub-Continent.
Despite their injury woes, the Southern Africans will still come into the qualifying round of the tournament confident of securing a place in the Super 10 phase. They will be further buoyed by their most recent drawn series in Bangladesh where they came from 2-0 down to claim a share of the spoils with some excellent batting displays.
Verdict: Babar Hayat to top score for Hong Kong at 3/1
Hayat has been in magnificent form of late – albeit in losing circumstances. He’s managed 194 runs in his last three T20 internationals and looks a cut above the rest of the Hong Kong top order.
Afghanistan 3/10 | Draw 35/1 | Scotland 5/2
Afghanistan’s rise up the associate ranks has been nothing short of remarkable, and they will head into the qualifying phase of the World T20 confident of causing an upset or two. They’ve been on a magnificent run of form lately, having beaten Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe as well beating their Southern African rivals at in UAE. They’ve only lost twice in their last ten T20 internationals and will be confident of putting Scotland to the sword in Nagpur.
The Afghans have a magnificent combined record against the other three teams in qualifying Group B. They’ve won 17 and lost two, those two defeats coming somewhat surprisingly against Hong Kong. Their record against Scotland (5-0) and Zimbabwe (4-0) speaks volumes for the quality they possess in their ranks. Mohammed Shahzad returns to the side following his exclusion from the 2015 World Cup following concerns over his weight and general fitness.
Much will hinge on whether or not Hamid Hassan can stay fit for the entire tournament. The giant quick can be devastating on his day – as was noted when he removed both Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in the last World Cup.
Overall, the Afghans look like the only side in this group that will be able to give Zimbabwe a run for their money. They possess a mixture of youthful exuberance and measured experience that could well see them through to the tournament proper.
Scotland come into this tournament with hopes of ending their record of never having won a match at a flagship ICC event. They have endured an indifferent build-up to the tournament winning two and losing two of their last four T20 Internationals, and they’ll be desperate to lay down a marker by claiming victory over Afghanistan on Tuesday.
The Scots qualified for the tournament as joint champions of the World Cup qualifiers alongside the Netherlands after the final was washed out. It wasn’t all smooth-sailing, however, as defeats in two of their first three games left them on the brink before rallying to win their remaining games, finishing top of their group.
Preston Momsen’s form will be will be key to Scottish qualification hopes. His ability with the bat in the middle overs could well see them upset the applecart a bit in qualification Group B. He will also captain the side following his permanent appointment 2014. The man he took over from, Kyle Coetzer, will also need to be at his brilliant best at the top of the order if Scotland are to have any chance. He was Scotland’s leading run-scorer during qualification, scoring 206 runs at an average of 34.33.
Whether or not their seam-heavy attack will be effective in India remains to be seen. They will need their young left-arm spinner, Mark Watt, to step up to the plate in a big way – especially seeing as Majid Haq remains in the international wilderness following the Twitter rant that saw him sent home from the 2015 World Cup.
Verdict: Afghanistan 3/10
The Afghans come into this match as the team to beat in Group B. They’ve never lost against Scotland in a T20 International and don’t look like doing so now. If you’re looking for a bit more value, take Kyle Coetzer to top score for Scotland and 35/10.