Who will win world cricket’s biggest prize?


Ben Stokes of England bats watched by Quinton De Kock of South Africa during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between England and South Africa at The Oval on May 30, 2019 in London, England (Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images).
Ben Stokes of England bats watched by Quinton De Kock of South Africa during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between England and South Africa at The Oval on May 30, 2019 in London, England (Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images).

by
RONNIE RUFF

THE 2019 Cricket World Cup kicked off on Thursday (30) with hosts England taking on South Africa at The Oval.

Over the next six weeks and 48 games, the best players on the planet will compete for the biggest prize in the sport.

England and India are favourites for the tide but expect the likes of Australia to also contend. This year’s event has a different format where the ten nations all play each other in a round-robin format, with the top four progressing to the semi-finals.

Here is Eastern Eye’s expert guide to the action, with a look at the star players and keys to victory…

WITH home advantage and arguably the best squad in their history at their disposal, expectations are understandably high of England winning their first World Cup. Scoring 350-plus comes all too easy now for a side consisting of boundary-bashers like opening pair Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes. Joe Root will add a more traditional run-scoring approach at three.

Morgan’s men have been given a further boost with Jofra Archer’s call-up to bolster the bowling ranks. The pace ace, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes spearhead the attack; spin duo Adil Rashid and Moeen All will also have an important role to play in the middle overs. A balanced XI in favoured conditions, victory beckons if the bowling holds up.

India have the class and experience to win their third World Cup, with the minimum requirement a place in the showpiece final. Stacked with batting brilliance, match-winning all-rounders and, at long last, a bowling attack to rival anyone, Virat Kohli’s squad are primed.

Kohl joins Rohit Sharma and major tournament specialist Shikhar Dhawan in a potent top three, while national icon MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya will provide the fireworks down the order.

ICC’s leading bowler Jasprit Bumrah will link up with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami in a strong, varied pace attack; Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav are entrusted with spin duties.

The only worry going in is a lack of a natural number four; Vijay Shankar is seen as the front runner but explosive back-up opener KL Rahul could make that spot his own as the league stage progresses.

Dinesh Karthik being preferred to Risbant Pant proved to be a big talking point, but despite his absence, India should flourish.

Australia welcome controversial former skipper Steve Smith and big-hitting open-er David Warner back into the fold following their one-year ball-tampering ban, making the five-time and defending champs even stronger. The third favourites are in form too, with a recent one-day series win in India under their belt.

Smith, Warner, Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja are the chief run-getters; wicket-taking will fall on speedsters Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins.

Adam Zampa is their spin king. Glenn Maxwell brings his x-factor to the middle order, which him aside, could be the Aussies’ weakest link. A semi-final place is a priority.

Like India, South Africa are littered with veterans but have been flying under the radar ahead of their latest crack at breaking their ‘bottlers’ tag. In Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn, JP Duminy, David Miller, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, they know how to win big matches. There is a fear though that some are past their best. Du Plessis and de Kock are still class acts and their form will be vital. Their star man is quickie Kasigo Rabada, injury-permitting, and if 40-year-old spinner Imran Tahir can repeat the form he showed in the recent IPL, the Proteas should challenge for a top four spot. Lungi Ngidi, another with express pace, has raw quality too.

Always the perennial ‘dark horses; New Zealand look well equipped to fight for a knock-out place. Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill and the fit-again captain Kane Williamson should enjoy the English batting tacks and a lot will be expected from this influential trio. Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls will also need to chip in.

Seam duo Trent Boult and Tim Southee renew their long-time new ball partnership and have able support in Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry. Mitchell Santner is the go-to slow bowling option.

Pakistan have grand plans to shock the world again following their Champions Trophy success of two years ago. Consistently inconsistent, there are some positive signs – the form of openers Iman-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam at three, and a pace trio full of pace and promise in Shaheen Afridi, Muhammad Hasnain and Hasan Ali.

Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir have received late call-ups in case the youth fails to fire. The middle order may struggle without any real power-hitters; captain Sarfraz Ahmed will have to go well and combine with veterans Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.

Despite losing 5-0 to England in a warm-up series, getting used to conditions may prove to be an advantage. Expect more highs and lows from this squad, where making the last four I will be an achievement.

Another side sure to entertain are the West Indies; who are full of six-hitters. Boosted by the recalls of the IPL’s star man, Andre Russell and run machine Chris Gayle, Shai, Shai Hope, Shimron

Hetmyer and Evin Lewis are a trio that could make a huge impact.

The omitted Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard’s absence may be felt in the crunch games but, Russell and Gayle aside, the selectors have kept faith in the recent regulars. Skipper Jason Holder will have a major role with bat and ball; Kemar Roach and Oshane Thomas provide the pace.

Sri Lanka limp into the World Cup struggling to find a winning team amid the usual pre-event chopping and changing. Dimuth Karunaratne, who has not played an ODI since 2015, has been made captain, mainstays Dinesh Chandimal and Upul Tharanga have been dropped, but legend Lasith Malinga is included and will be full of confidence after his IPL final heroics for Mumbai.

Angelo Mathews will again be the main man and runs will definitely be needed from Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera and Kusal Mendis if the South Asian nation are to restore some pride.

Afghanistan’s rapid rise through the ranks has to well-documented, but there are fears they might have become victims of their own success after what many experts called an unnecessary shake-up before the finals.

Asghar Afghan was replaced by Gulbadin Naib as skipper although retaining his place in the starting XI, a move star duo Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi were far from happy with. Coach Phil Simmons will also leave in July. There is no doubt though this team is ready to create some more history and ‘shock’ results. The spin trio of Khan, Nabi and Mu-jeeb-Ur-Rahman are as good as it gets, and Mohammad Shahzad, Hazratullah Zazai and Rah-nat Shah are fun to watch with the bat.

Bangladesh complete the ten teams vying for the World Cup. Another well-drilled unit who have improved so much over the years, the core five of captain Mashrafe Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mustafizur Rahman are all good to go.

Tamim is a streaky run-scorer and Al Hasan, the world’s top all-rounder, is now batting at number three so expect a better out-put from here.

Mushfiqur is as solid a middle order spoiler you can get, while Mortaza will hope Mustafi-zur is finally over his form and injury problems and gets back to being the class act he was. A mixed bag of results awaits the Tigers.