Cricket's T20 World Cup got under way last Sunday in the Middle East but the real business begins tomorrow and our Andy Schooler is backing New Zealand in his outright betting preview.
When and where is the T20 World Cup taking place and who is in it?
Dates: October 17 to November 12, 2021
Hosts: UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah) and Oman (Muscat)
Format: 16 teams. Round one: two groups of four, top two in each progress to Super 12s. Super 12s: two groups of six, top two in each progress to semi-finals.
Group A: Sri Lanka, Ireland, Netherlands, Namibia
Group B: Bangladesh, Scotland, Papua New Guinea, Oman
Group 1: England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies, Winner Group A, Runner-up Group B
Group 2: India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Runner-up Group A, Winner Group B
Welcome return for the T20 World Cup
Amazingly, it's five-and-a-half years since the last T20 World Cup - the time when Carlos Brathwaite hit four consecutive sixes off Ben Stokes in the final over of the tournament to wrest the trophy out of England's hands.
For all the thrills of the 2019 50-over World Cup final, this is the tournament cricket has missed the most.
Unlike it's flabby 50-over colleague, this event cuts to the chase that bit quicker, although the ICC's money-making policy has almost inevitably seen the event expanded a tad for its 2021 edition - it's a 12-team second stage this time around, as opposed to 10 in both 2016 and 2014.
There should be excitement aplenty, although there is a concern about slow, worn pitches in the UAE, which has been staging the conclusion to the Indian Premier League at the same venues over the past month.
Scores around the magic 200-mark will be few and far between if the IPL is anything to go by - just seven of 30 matches saw a first-innings score above 170, while only once was 200 surpassed.
Those surfaces won't be particularly welcomed by defending champions West Indies, whose big-hitting ability is arguably second to none given they have the likes of Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer, Andre Russell and Keiron Pollard at their disposal. And that's before we mention Chris Gayle, who could yet roll back the years.
The bowling attack is less fearsome though, even more so if Russell's injury issues hamper him again.
Veteran Ravi Rampaul has been recalled after a strong season in the Caribbean Premier League which saw him finish as top wicket-taker but perhaps leg-spinner Hayden Walsh will be a key man given the conditions, particularly given Sunil Narine - who played a crucial role in the team's 2012 success - has again been left out.
It could be a decision the Windies regret if Narine's form in recent IPL games is anything to go by.
Black Caps can avenge heartbreaking 2019 World Cup loss
The holders are 6/1 but it's New Zealand who look the better bet at around the same price and they look capable of going one better than they did at the 2019 World Cup.
That agonising super-over loss to England was eased somewhat by this summer's crowning of the Black Caps as Test world champions and their T20 squad looks well-rounded.
The bowling attack has strong seam and spin options and boasts plenty of experience, most notably in Trent Boult, who took 25 wickets in 15 IPL games in the UAE in 2020.
Tim Southee's line and Lockie Ferguson's pace provide wicket-taking power, while the fact that The Hundred star Adam Milne can't even make the squad says much.
Ish Sodhi looks a big threat in the spin department - he took 10 wickets at the 2016 tournament - while Mitchell Santner also remains from that squad after making the team of the tournament that year.
In the batting department, the fast-starting Martin Guptill, run-making ability of Kane Williamson, top scorer in the IPL in 2018, and Jimmy Neesham are still key components. However, the X-factor which could make the difference for New Zealand is the introduction of some big-hitting new boys into the XI.
Devon Conway and Glenn Phillips have strike rates around the 150-mark, while Tim Siefert is also no slouch.
The potential problem could be a lack of experience on sluggish pitches but 10 of the squad have been involved in the IPL in the UAE in recent weeks - ample time to get used to surfaces which have varied considerably from ground to ground.
The Black Caps do possess players capable of adapting from game to game and at around 13/2 they look the best bet in the outright market.
Reasons to oppose T20 World Cup market leaders India and England
India and England head the betting but both have good reasons to be opposed.
Many of India's key players have struggled for form of late, failing to impress at the IPL, and there has been plenty of debate about whether they've picked the right squad.
There's a widely-held opinion that too much weight has been placed on long-term history rather than recent performance.
Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan have both been out of sorts of late, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar has tailed off largely due to injury problems.
Despite these doubts, Ruturaj Gaikwad and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal have both been omitted despite their lauded IPL displays.
Clearly India still have the talent to come good - opener KL Rahul has been churning out the runs in this format on a consistent basis for the last couple of years, while Virat Kohli's T20 numbers certainly aren't as bad as the media chatter about his form has suggested.
But it's hard to get too excited about odds of 5/2.
The same can be said about England, who have lost Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, arguably the two first names on the teamsheet.
Captain Eoin Morgan's form is also a concern ahead of England's bid to become dual world champions in white-ball cricket.
Yes, England do have strength in depth and have lost only one T20 series (3-2 in India) since the summer of 2018, but a price of 7/2 isn't for me given the concerns.
Pakistan worth considering if you are looking for a T20 World Cup outsider
Of the rest, you always have to consider Pakistan, whose inconsistency has long plagued punters, yet also delivered spectacularly for them at times - think the 2009 World T20 in England.
Their bowling attack continues its tradition as a strong unit with Hasan Ali holding big claims to be the tournament's top bowler - his strike rate in this format is below 12 since the start of 2020.
Mohammad Hafeez's spin will tie teams down. His economy rate is among the best in T20Is and he was also impressive during this year's CPL.
They also have an excellent opening batting line-up of Mohammad Rizwan - the top runscorer in T20Is since the start of 2020 - and Baba Azam but below that is the real worry with the middle order looking flaky and lacking finishers.
It's perhaps strange I've got this far without mentioning Australia, although that says much about their current side.
They still have plenty of experience but they've lost all five T20 series they've played since sport went into lockdown last March.
Old heads such as Aaron Finch, David Warner and Steve Smith were largely unwanted in the IPL this year with the batting looking a big worry for potential backers, even given Glenn Maxwell's long-standing ability down the order.
Mitchell Starc will trouble opponents with the ball, while Ashton Agar's spin will tighten things up in the middle overs, but overall there's simply not enough to like about the current Aussie line-up to back them at 7/1.
Similar things can be said about South Africa, the team who never seem to deliver on the biggest stages.
They have a world-class operator in Quinton de Kock at the top of the order - he features in my top runscorer preview - and in Aiden Markram they have a batter who has the potential to take this tournament by storm.
However, Faf du Plessis' absence seems strange and leaves the Proteas light on batting experience.
The bowling is also weaker than it has been for a while with the likes of Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir, stalwarts of previous global tournaments, having left the stage.
Paceman Kagiso Rabada now leads the attack but these conditions seem unlikely to get the best out of him.
Afghanistan look woefully short of T20 preparation
Afghanistan are the other team straight through to the Super 12 stage.
With only eight T20Is under their belts since lockdown, partially due to the chaos in their homeland, the Afghans look woefully under-cooked.
Having played plenty of late on slow, turning pitches, Bangladesh could cause an upset or two but Sri Lanka look difficult to side with.
This looks their weakest team for some time despite them currently topping Group A.
Previous T20 World Cup winners
2016 - West Indies (in India)
2014 - Sri Lanka (in Bangladesh)
2012 - West Indies (in Sri Lanka)
2010 - England (in West Indies)
2009 - Pakistan (in England)
2007 - India (in South Africa)
- Six tournaments have been won by five different nations, West Indies being the only two-time champions in this format. They have won two of the last three editions.
- The host nation has never won.