Top teams and their record in T20 World Cup cycles
India and Pakistan will start their campaign in the men's T20 World Cup 2021 as the teams with the most wins since the previous tournament, in 2016. In terms of win-loss ratios, Afghanistan, who turned into a Full-Member nation in mid-2017, are the best while West Indies, the defending champions, are the worst among the eight teams to have directly qualified for the Super-12s, with a ratio of 0.66.
This might suggest Pakistan and India should be favourites going into this World Cup, but history indicates that in T20, form between World Cups does not always translate into form during a World Cup. South Africa, the best side going into the 2012 edition with 11 wins in 16 matches in the period since the previous World Cup, crashed out in the Super Eights, losing three in a row. The eventual winner, West Indies, had the second-worst win-loss ratio among the top eight sides between 2010 and 2012.
West Indies, who also won in 2016, headed into that event with an average record as well. In the semi-finals they defeated India, the team with the best record between 2014 and 2016.
In the 2014 event, though, the form team did end up winning: Sri Lanka, the eventual champions, started their hunt having the best win-loss ratio in T20Is since the previous event.
Different approaches for different teams in non-World-Cup years
Looking at stats from the last decade for how teams have fared in T20Is immediately preceding, and during, a World Cup, compared to periods when the World Cup is not around the corner, is interesting. Some teams have tended to experiment with their line-ups and rest their top players in T20Is unless a World Cup is imminent, while others have had a more consistent approach. To an extent, that has also depended on how many all-format players a team has in their T20I first XI.
West Indies have consistently proved that their record in non-World-Cup years is no indication of how good their team really is. Seldom do they field a full-strength team, with all the T20 heavyweights in the XI. Since crashing out from the 2010 World T20 at home, West Indies have played 118 T20I games, of which only 26 have had all of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard in the XI; 11 of those 26 games were in 2021, as preparation for what could be those players' last appearance in a T20 World Cup.
Since the end of 2010 World T20, West Indies have had a win-loss ratio of 1.555 in T20Is around T20 World Cups (we have considered matches since January 1 in years in which World Cups were hosted, till the final of the tournament), which drops to 0.589 in the periods not around World Cups. Pakistan and England go the opposite way: their records are much better in non-World-Cup years. Pakistan's 93 matches in non-World-Cup years is also easily the highest among all teams; no other team has played more than 72 (India).
England's strong record between World Cups can be explained by the fact that they field their T20 specialists consistently. Since the 2016 World Cup, England have played 50 T20Is, of which Eoin Morgan, their captain, has featured in 45. Their death-overs specialist Chris Jordan had missed only two games in this period.
However, their relatively poor record in World Cup years is also down to the fact that the last three tournaments - in 2012, 2014 and 2016 - have all been held in Asia, in conditions that aren't the most conducive for England's players. They have tried to fix that recently by having their T20 stars play in the IPL as much as possible. More than half of the current squad have played in the UAE, which hosted the 2020 IPL and the second half of the 2021 one.
Australia, much like West Indies, do without the services of their star players in this format regularly due to players' preference for other formats and the Australian policy of workload management. However, unlike West Indies, who have several players involved in top leagues around the world, the Australians have much less exposure to top-level T20 cricket in different conditions. Some Australian players do not play even their own league, the BBL.
Australia have usually tried a large pool of players, and struggled to find the right combination for the big tournament. That happened before the 2014 and 2016 World Cups, and might in 2021 too: in the last five years, they have played 58 T20I matches, but only five players featured in more than half of them - Aaron Finch (48), Adam Zampa (44), Alex Carey (38), Glenn Maxwell (38) and Ashton Agar (37). Carey failed to make the World Cup squad ahead of Josh Inglis, who hasn't yet played a T20 international.