It is finally here!
The men’s cricket 50-over World Cup starts this Thursday. Fans across the world cannot wait as the tournament bowls off at the Oval, London with host nation England up against South Africa.
The other 8 teams in the tournament are Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and my beloved West Indies. The early stages of tournament is a round robin affair where each team plays against each other once with the top 4 going straight to the semi finals.
The romantic in me hopes that Afghanistan performs well. They have magic bowlers such as Rashid Khan and under coach Phil Simmons have had some impressive victories and leading up to the tournament. 18 year old Mujeeb Ur Rahman could be one of the breakthrough players of the World Cup.
As a die hard long suffering West Indies fan, my heart hopes they can reach at least the semi finals. But I fear their chances will be derailed by injuries and inconsistent form. Some players are clearly not 100% fit and the cool temperatures in the UK could flag these twinges. I am concerned that key players such as Christopher Gayle, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Andre Russell and some others will have fitness issues to carry them through all 9 (hopefully 11) games. The batting is too fragile at times and the team will be relying heavily on veteran Gayle. I hope Shimron Hetmeyer has a great World Cup. If Russell stays fit and productive then we have a chance.
Perennial winners, Australia are coming into form at the right time and look a cohesive side to win their 6th title. The return of Steve Smith from his suspension is timely as the former skipper bats really well in English conditions.
On paper India has a strong and entertaining batting lineup. Leaving the left-hander Rishabh Pant behind was a major error by the selectors. His clean hitting and fearless approach will be missed. Most of Indian top batting order have not performed consistently well in British conditions with the exception of captain Virat Kohli. The bowling of Jasprit Bumrah is going to cause headaches to top order batsmen. A successful India will do wonders for their fans in in the UK.
Pakistan is the unknown quantity for me. They can beat any of the teams in the World Cup but just like the West Indies can easily self destruct. Too inconsistent to sustain a challenge to reach the semis. But Babar Azam is different class in 50-overs cricket. Both he and Imam-ul-Haq will be crucial to their chances.
South Africa has a strong balanced team and in Kagiso Rabada they have a bowler who will love the conditions and take key wickets. The fitness of Dale Steyn will be important to their success. Opening batsman Quinton de Kock does not know how to bat slowly, so if he gets in watch out for some real entertainment. But facing quality spin bowling could be their achillies heel.
England are the clear favourites given their tremendous form in recent years. Still, England has yet to win the World Cup which first began in 1975. In Josh Buttler and Eoin Morgan they have serious run machines. The challenge will be, can England handle the pressure of being favourites on home soil? Their bowling attack is more potent with the addition of Jofra Archer. As a West Indian fan I am still peeved at how England relaxed their eligibility rules to allow Barbadian Archer to make the squad just in time for the tournament. Good luck to them :-(.
2015 quarter finalist, Bangladesh is my dark horse to make the semi finals. They play well in English conditions and is a very aggressive and intense team in the 50-over format. Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal are the players to watch. I am a big fan of captain Mushfiqur Rahim.
New Zealand is the usual World Cup dark team and in Trent Boult they have a fast bowler who is likely to get key early wickets. Their batting will rely on the fortunes of captain Kane Williamson.
Sri Lanka has sadly lost so many of their great players – due to retirement in recent years – thus I feel the the team is still in rebuilding mode.
Given the amount of games that each team will play in the prelims, fitness will be a key factor for those who can reach the semi finals.
Wins will be so important throughout the round-robin stage as knowing English and Welsh conditions, some matches are likely to be rained off or cut short due to poor light. This could leave some of the favourites at a disadvantage, if the weather prevents them from achieving maximum points from the lower ranked teams.
England and Wales – The Prefect Host
The UK is simply the perfect country for any cricket World Cup as each team will be guaranteed great crowds at all the matches. Even the tie between Bangladesh and Afghanistan is bound to attract a decent and energetic crowd.
My semi finalists are Bangladesh, England, Australia and India. I’ll leave it at that.
For West Indies sake I hope I am wrong and that our captain Jason Holder will be lifting the ICC World Cup Trophy on 14th July. Just like Clive Loyd last did for the West Indies in 1979.