ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: A tournament with no underdogs
The ICC Cricket World Cup will be underway in May this year, with the tournament scheduled in a round-robin format. The format will be in place for the first time since the 1992 world cup in Australia. This makes every team play every other team once and the teams finishing in the top four play the semifinals.
Also, the number of teams has been reduced to 10, which was 14 in the last two world cups. There have been debates in favour of Associate Nations regarding how such a format will only deprive them of the big stage and is a backward step for the globalisation of the sport. But talking from a commercial point of view, the 10 team tournament, with each team capable of giving every other team a run for their money, will generate more revenue with no dead rubbers.
While the ICC wanted to make the tournament more competitive by eliminating lesser ranked teams, it is also a fact that teams like Ireland and Zimbabwe have been highly competitive in the past few world cups. Even this time, both teams narrowly missed out to Afghanistan and West Indies in the qualifiers.
The teams are all set to have a go for the most prestigious trophy in cricket and have more or less settled on their world cup squads. And a close look at the strengths and weaknesses of the teams and their form gives a fair idea on how competitive the tournament would be.
Talking about the favourites, India and hosts England do start ahead of others. But does any team start as real underdogs? Is there any team which can be completely written off before the start of the tournament?
The answer is a clear no. Let us begin with the favourites. England and India have been huge forces in ODI cricket since the past couple of years with highly impressive records. But they are far from being called the invincibles like the Australia of the 2000s or West Indies of 70s and 80s. Teams have shown that the two top-ranked sides can be beaten if certain chinks in their armour are exposed wisely. India and England will be wary of not taking any opposition lightly, especially at such a big stage where a little flaw can show you the exit doors.
Ones with a good chance
The likes of South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia come in the next level. They are the teams with a pretty decent look on paper, with a few slots to fill here and there, but have not been consistent over the past year or so. Pakistan are unpredictable like ever before. Australia might get strengthened with the addition of Smith and Warner, but only 2 wins in 2018 show the state they are in. New Zealand and South Africa have not been able to get the desired results despite having most bases covered. These teams might get into the groove once the tournament gets underway, but in no way start outright favourites against any lower ranked side.
Afghanistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are the teams whom most people would not give a chance based on their rankings. But a look at their squads and their form in the last couple of years shows their ability to beat even the best in the business.
Sri Lanka have been terribly out of form and are probably the weakest among the 10 teams, but they have shown their credibility in big tournaments in the past. Even in the Champions Trophy 2017, they beat favorites India and would have booked a place in the semifinals if not for dropped catches against Pakistan. Also, the squad is not short of talent, it is just the execution that they have not been able to master.
Bangladesh are no pushovers in big tournaments as evident from the 2015 World Cup and 2017 Champions Trophy. They have beaten almost every top team since the last World Cup and there is no reason why they cannot do that again. The fact that they are more consistent than ever and they now know how to win makes them doubly dangerous.
West Indies will be boosted by their recent success in Tests against England. Moreover, the ODI series in India gave a fair idea on how dangerous they can be, with the likes of Hetmyer and Shai Hope getting the better of the Indian spin twins on numerous occasions. They always bring a sense of unpredictability with them and every team will be wary of the West Indies side filled with match-winners.
Afghanistan, the most rapidly rising cricketing nation, are not just to make up numbers. They have their players excelling in T20 leagues around the world against the best players of the world. Rashid and Mujeeb possess a huge threat to non-subcontinent teams. Even the teams from subcontinent would be taking the duo very seriously after their exploits in the Asia Cup 2018. Moreover, the maturity of their batting unit is what makes them a more competitive side. All they need is to learn to hold the nerves and seize the big moments in the match. Hence it would not be a surprise if one or two among the four lesser ranked teams break into the top four.
At present, the idea of making the tournament more competitive by reducing the number of teams seems to be working, with no clear underdogs for the tournament. Such is the situation that predicting the semifinal lineup is as difficult as it has ever been, which makes the world cup even more exciting.