The middle-order does have some issues but India are firmly in contention and a semi-final slot is there for the taking.
An Indian master, with a tunnel vision at crowning glory, will cross paths with a resilient Aussie duo on its road to redemption as an Irishman seeks to end a ’44-year-old English itch’ in one of the most challenging World Cups ever. His batting conquests are already a stuff of legends but a World Cup victory will be like the ‘Kohinoor’ in ‘King’ Virat Kohli’s crown. For Steve Smith and David Warner, a title triumph will be the resurrection they have been longing for more than 12 months now. Eoin Morgan is leading an England team with talent and expectations like never before. During the next six and half weeks 10 countries will play against each other for global cricket’s most coveted crown and the battle will begin with a clash between firm favourites and hosts England and South Africa.
A minimum of five victories will be required to qualify for the semi-finals and that will be the primary aim of the teams. While India, England and Australia headline the event, a disciplined New Zealand, the mavericks from Pakistan and the flamboyant Caribbeans are well capable winning the title. On batting belters, it will be the potent bowling attacks that will hold the key and Jasprit Bumrah along with two talented wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are expected to play pivotal roles in India’s campaign. The batting line-up is one of the most formidable with Kohli leading from the front, Rohit Sharma providing the zing and Hardik Pandya the flamboyance. The Indian team would strive to make it a memorable World Cup swansong for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who will be playing his fourth and final mega event. The middle-order does have some issues but India are firmly in contention and a semi-final slot is there for the taking.
For Australia, the perfect reintegration of David Warner and Steve Smith in the set-up was just what the team needed. Warner got into the groove straightaway in the IPL ending with nearly 700 runs (692) while Smith, who was a bit rusty in the league found his bearings in the warm-up games in the lead-up to the tournament. Add to it, Usman Khawaja, skipper Aaron Finch, pacers Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, spinner Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa and it gives them a formidable look. Since the inception of World Cup in 1975 (60-overs a side Prudential Cup back then), no England team has had so much of hype surrounding it as the current one, led by Morgan. Precisely due to the presence of some of the most prolific ODI batsmen that the world has ever seen. Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Morgan, Root are menacing both on paper as well as on the 22-yards.
Jofra Archer’s late addition has given them the much-needed boost alongside Mark Wood, Adil Rashid in the bowling department. Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali are the three-dimensional cricketers with multiple skill sets that can upset plans of any opposition. Pakistan are going into the tournament with a string of defeats and an unsettled feel where Muhammad Aamir and Wahab Riaz have been late entrants, more due to their experience than performance. Fakhar Zaman, Imam ul Haq, Muhammad Hafeez, Babar Azam and Haris Sohail are all talented players in their own rights but like all Pakistan teams of the past, there are no guarantees as to when they will play as a unit.
There is something about New Zealand which always keeps them in the mix at all global events. A matured captain and a world class batsman in Kane Williamson makes the Black Caps one of the most likeable teams. The likes of Martin Guptill, Colin Munro are good players in their own right and on their day could make a difference. Trent Boult is more than handful in seaming conditions and committed all-rounders like Colin de Grandhomme and Jimmy Neesham will give it their all to go one better than 2015 edition.
West Indies cricket has gone through enough turmoil but the amount of talent at their disposal easily makes them the dark horse with ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle being nightmare for any opposition. The 50 plus sixes that Andre Russell hit during IPL has scared the bowler. Batting is the strength on which the Caribbeans will rely heavily as the bowling remains a bit weak. This edition is one such when there isn’t too much hopes pinned on South Africa, who have always been eternal chokers but in Faf du Plessis, the Proteas have a quality leader.
Dale Steyn’s fitness issue will remain a worry for South Africa but Kagiso Rabada’s pace and Imran Tahir’s guile will keep rivals on their toes. Afghanistan’s rise in world cricket is a beautiful story and one would expect them to upset a few plans of the traditional powerhouses. Rashid Khan has already established himself as one of the best spinners in T20 leagues. The flashy Mohammed Shahzad, free-flowing Hazratullah Zazai, Hashmatullah Shahidi and the veteran Mohammed Nabi are capable of producing eye-catching performances.
For Bangladesh, at least a semi-final finish is something that their passionate fans expect. Mashrafe Mortaza is a very popular captain who has world’s premier all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan at his disposal along with seasoned campaigners like Tamim Iqbal, Mahmudullah Riyadh and Mushfiqur Rahim, all keen to make a mark at the global stage. The only team which is looking out of depth is Sri Lanka, who only have Lasith Malinga’s experience. Dimuth Karunaratne has big shoes to fill as the Arjuna Ranatungas and Mahela Jayawardenes will be watching.