World Cup 2019: India on the charge and the other front-runners
England will host the 12th edition of the Cricket World Cup from 30 May to 14 July, this year. Ten nations would compete in the round-robin format, with the top four teams advancing to knock out stage, semi-finals and final.
At the time of writing, nearly all teams seem to have issues to contend with; that may or may not be overcome prior to the tournament. Hence, prediction of outcomes three-plus weeks before a high-pressure tournament is a challenge in itself.
Pitches in old Blighty had produced the most number of runs for the past two years, in ODI cricket. It translates as emphasis on getting big scores quickly while containing the opposition and taking wickets in the middle overs. Needless to say, a complete ODI side for the upcoming World Cup should have attacking openers, a strong middle order, lower-order depth, a fearsome pace attack, topped-up with a wrist-spinner.
Remember India, favourites in the 2007 World Cup, humbled and sent home early? A repeat may not be likely this time around, though. India is blessed with the best top-order in world ODI cricket, comprising Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, followed by the irresistible MS Dhoni in the middle. A line-up of potent new-ball and death bowlers in Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneswar Kumar and Mohammed Shami; an efficient all-rounder in Hardik Pandya providing balance to the side. Wrist-spin twins Chahal and Kuldeep, complete their versatile attack that can defend while also chipping in with wickets at any stage of the game. Beating South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in recent away series is a testament to their current prowess. In my estimation, they are the tournament’s numero uno favourites.
England crashed out of the World Cup ignominiously, four years ago. Being rated one of the tournament’s favourites this time around was unthinkable, then. Having never won the cup before, they do enjoy the enviable advantage of being the host nation. Possessing an awesome batting line-up– with depth that sometimes performs all the way down to 11, they had won nine of their last ten multi-game bilateral series. Qualifying to play for his adopted homeland ahead of the World Cup, Barbados-born Jofra Archer’s brilliant all-round skills have also bolstered England’s chances.
Losing finalist of the last World Cup, New Zealand seem to raise the bar in big tournaments. Brimming with talent, they own the likes of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill, carrying the proverbial big stick. Not to be outdone, speed merchant Lockie Ferguson is a partner in crime with veteran swing twins Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Spinning the cherry is in Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi’s capable hands. This, together with a solid bench, gives them a plethora of options for a nine-match group stage, to vault them into the last four.
On recent form, the defending champions may not present themselves as a potential semi-finalist. Nevertheless, they are getting better by the day and with the return of the banned duo, Smith and Warner, Australia are on course to be one of the main contenders of the tournament.
The Proteas too have never won the cup, and AB de Villiers will be badly missed. Their formidable line up is a roll-call of talent; Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, David Miller, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir and the ever-improving all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo. Impressed are you? If they don’t find an imaginative way to crash out at a crucial stage as usual, South Africa can walk into the semi-finals, as it were.
On the other hand, notoriously unpredictable Pakistan would be my dark horse for the semis. Winners of the 2017 Champions Trophy in England, their talented new additions can make the difference by consistency, if recent match-winning performances are anything to go by.
With Chris Gayle, the evergreen “Universe Boss” in rollicking form, the Windies levelled the recent ODI series with No. 1 ranked England. Are they peaking at the right time?
What is Cricket? Beware; the only similarity between the insect and the game is the unpredictability!