With cricket’s biggest showpiece event – the ICC Cricket World Cup underway in England and Wales, the excitement certainly cannot get any bigger than this for cricket fanatics.
This edition of the coveted tournament remains a bit different, owing to the fact that 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 ten, which means each team will 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. The top team after the group stage will play the fourth team in one semi-final, while the second and the third team will play each other in the other semi-final. Now, coming into the contenders’ part, well, some teams really look good on paper but cricket still remains a sport where your performance in the middle determines the result. The biggest example is none other than Kapil’s Devils’ triumph in the 1983 Prudential World Cup final. India upset the favourites – the mighty West Indies, to set off a revolution in the one-day game.
This time, England has certainly entered the tournament as a favourite to lift the Cup. England, the place where cricket was born, has made it to the finals thrice before, in 1979, 1987 and 1992. Playing at home, England has arguably their best chance to win. They have a highly impressive lineup of attacking hitters in Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and, of course, Jos Buttler. Of the three, Buttler could be key to the team’s fortunes, given his rich vein of form and his ability to completely shut out the opponents. Skipper Eoin Morgan has held the team brilliantly since the 2015 World Cup debacle, while the experience of Joe Root should also come in handy, while the all-round skills of Ben Stokes is an added advantage.
Apart from the hosts, India is one of the firm favorites too. The two-time World Champions has a formidable top-order and a lethal bowling attack of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, among others; the side looks solid in all departments. I don’t think India has ever had a better attack heading into a World Cup. The most lethal weapon in India’s armory is Bumrah. With his slinging action off a short run-up, he can pose a great difficulty to any batsman on any kind of 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. Meanwhile, Shami has staged a remarkable comeback to be in the mix, along with Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar as India’s new-ball attack. His form and improved fitness level make him an important factor in India’s pace attack. Defending champions Australia too, aren’t lagging far behind and they seem to be picking up at the right time. This wasn’t the case a year back at the height of the ball-tampering scandal. But they have recovered brilliantly. Steve Smith and David Warner are back in the mix and, more importantly, are in good form. Till a
Termed as ‘Chokers’, the Proteas arrive in England as a mixed bag. 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.
But, no matter how good one is on paper, the end result will surely depend on the performance on the ground. All teams who have qualified for this edition are the finest, which can be seen from the fact that this is the first time that 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.