With the world’s greatest cricket carnival – the ICC Cricket World Cup – all set to get underway in England and Wales, the excitement cannot get any bigger for cricket fanatics.
This year’s edition of the ICC’s showpiece event will be a bit different as this is for the first time since 1992 that it will be played in a ‘Round Robin’ format. The number of teams has also been reduced to 10 from the previous edition’s 15, which means each team will get to play at least nine matches.
All the teams are going to play each other once in the group stage and then the top four sides will qualify for the semi-finals. After the group stage, the top team will play the fourth team in one semi-final while the second and the third teams will play each other in the other semi-final. This will also be the first time when the World Cup will be held without all Test-playing nations (Ireland and Zimbabwe).
As far as the contenders are concerned, the home side England enter the tournament as favourites to lift the Cup. England have made it to the finals thrice before – 1979, 1987 and 1992. The hosts have arguably their best chance to lay their hands on the trophy. They have some of the finest talent when it comes to hitting the cricket ball. Although they have included Barbados-born Jofra Archer, it remains to be the only one weak spot in the England side, it is perceivably in the bowling department.
Chris Woakes and Mark Wood are decent pacers, but can they prove themselves on the grandest stage of all? Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali’s spin talent too would be tested on batsman-friendly surfaces. A highly impressive line-up of attacking hitters in Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and of course Jos Buttler. Buttler could be key to the team’s fortunes, given his form and ability to shatter any opponent attack. Skipper Eoin Morgan has held the team brilliantly while the experience of Joe Root should also come in handy.
Defending champions Australia too seem to be picking up at the right time. They seem to have brilliantly recovered after the ball-tampering scandal. Their major success was defeating India in the ODI series in India. Steve Smith and David Warner are back in the mix and, more importantly, are in good form. Till a couple of months ago, there were major concerns over captain Aaron Finch’s form. But, the opener’s response to pressure has proved the critics wrong.
The rise of Usman Khawaja as an ODI batsman has been an added advantage. While he has been around international cricket for a while, it was in the away series against India that he really came into his own with some stupendous batting performances. The big-hitting Glenn Maxwell, left-arm pacer Mitchell Starc and Adam Zampa will be the other key performers for Australia to make an impact.
Also Read: India’s road to England
India too arrive in England as one of the firm favourites to lift the coveted trophy. The Virat Kohli-led side with a formidable top order and a lethal bowling attack consisting of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, among others, the side looks solid in all departments. The most lethal weapon India possesses is Bumrah.
With his slinging action off a short run-up, he can cause havoc to any batsman on any kind of a surface. He has rarely had an economy rate of more than 5.50 runs per over. Bhuvneshwar has evolved into one of the most reliable new ball bowlers and will be expected to bring all his experience into play. His vastly-improved skill sets in the death overs will give skipper Kohli confidence.
Shami has staged a remarkable comeback to be in the mix along with Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar as India’s new-ball attack this time in England and Wales. His form and improved fitness level make him an important ingredient of India’s pace attack. The number four spot is still up for the grab as it is likely to be a last minute call. With the selectors preferring neither Ambati Rayudu not Ajinkya Rahane it remains to be seen whether Vijay Shankar or KL Rahul can fill up the spot. It also means the dependence would be heavy on Mahendra Singh Dhoni in case of a batting collapse.
The South Africans would want to get rid of the unwanted ‘Chokers’ tag quickly. They have in their ranks some of the most amazing talent. Quinton de Kock, Imran Tahir and Kagiso Rabada all come in on the back of excellent IPL campaigns but Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Dale Steyn have all had injury problems in the lead-up to the tournament and Hashim Amla has been in poor form. However, results have been strong – they arrive in England having won nine of their last 11 ODI series.
Semi-finalists on the three previous occasions England have hosted the tournament, New Zealand were sensational in the 2015 edition until the final, the only game they lost. In Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson and Tom Latham they have a strong top order, and there’s plenty of talent with the ball too, but they have tended to struggle a touch away from home of late.
Well, no matter how good one is on paper, but the end result will surely depend on the performance inside the ground. All teams who have qualified for this edition are the finest and which can be seen from the fact that this is the first time when the West Indies team failed to qualify directly for the event. They had to play the ICC World Cup qualifier to enter the World Cup.