The fourth ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka is about to start. I have not a clue who's going to win it.
Twenty20 cricket at international level is still a bit of a lottery because it's simply not played at that level all that often. T20 is still (correctly) seen a domestic-level franchise event, no matter how grandiose those events become (IPL), or fail to become (BPL and SLPL to name but two).
It's a statement of the bleeding obvious to say that Twenty20 cricket has come a long way in a short time. It is still not ten years since the deceptively simple idea of cutting a limited-over game down to 20 overs per innings was turned into an English county competition in 2003. India's BCCI resisted taking up the format at first - shorter games meant less advertising space on TV and therefore less value in broadcast rights, or so they thought. But while the rebel Indian Cricket League was quietly assembling itself during 2007, the BCCI reluctantly dragged its national team off to the ICC's inaugural T20 "World Cup" - the World Twenty20, as they branded it - in South Africa.
Quite by accident, India won that 2007 World Twenty20, and did so by defeating Pakistan in the final at The Wanderers, Johannesburg. That day, September 24, 2007 was undoubtedly a game-changer in the history of world cricket, as the world's most powerful cricket nation started taking the new genre seriously.
Most of the betting markets I see today have India either as sole favourites or jointly with host nation Sri Lanka at prices around 5.50, with South Africa at 6.00, but Pakistan, West Indies, Australia and England all very close behind. (Then, in order, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Afghanistan.)
The official ICC Twenty20 rankings are of no help because they are based on unacceptably small statistical samples. England is currently the number one-ranked team on 130 pts, one ahead of South Africa (129) followed by Sri Lanka (119). Then you have West Indies (111), New Zealand (109) at 5th, Pakistan (108). India (101) take tournament favouritism in 7th place? Bangladesh (95) are 8th, and for them that's a slump compared with recent months. Australia, with 94 pts, is ninth; Ireland (88) 10th. Zimbabwe is eleventh on 47 - no other team has an official ICC ranking.
For a short while during its recent T20 series with Pakistan, Australia was actually level with Ireland. How even, can you draw any comparison between Australia and Ireland when they haven't played a single T20I against each other? At least that situation will change on Wednesday.
Who, then, won't win the 2012 World Twenty20? Afghanistan won't, nor will Bangladesh or Ireland. Zimbabwe won't either, and furthermore I think that as an international cricketing force they are at risk of heading for a major, even terminal, decline, similar to that we have witnessed in Kenya. Their 15th placing in the recent Under-19 World Cup was very troubling for their future.
Australia, or if you prefer, Team GB (George Bailey), won't win either. Ninth may be a harsh ranking but I wouldn't be at all surprised if they can't reach the semis. You can leave out New Zealand as well, I reckon.
That leaves six contenders, and you could throw a blanket over the lot of them. England will probably miss Kevin Pietersen's genius, even if they happen to be a better team unit for his absence. The West Indies are sentimental favourites of many, especially possessing such brilliant players as Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine. South Africa is the eternal bridesmaid. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka can all be maddeningly inconsistent.
I'm sorry, I simply cannot pick a winner of the men's World Twenty20 event. All I will say with confidence is that England will take the women's title in a canter.