The 2019 Cricket World Cup is expected to be one of the most competitive tournaments in many years.
While the standard was set in 2015, all 10 teams arrive in England and Wales confident that there are no whipping boys, and not one side that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
That said, the warm-up matches have helped to categorise those outfits who can be expected to go all the way, and those who should prepare for an early exit.
England – The hosts are looking to win the tournament for the first time and are buoyed by their status as the number one ODI side in the world. According to the ICC rankings, a fifth of the best batsman right now play for England, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler all featuring in the top 20. Plus, they have the advantage of playing on home soil.
India – The warm-up matches have been mixed for the Men in Blue. First, they were sloppy against New Zealand but batted very comfortably against Bangladesh. Ravi Shastri’s men are often accused of complacency but their line-up really is fearsome. Virat Kohli silenced a few of his doubters, who had pointed to his patchy record in England, last summer while Rohit Sharma is also in fine form. India will get runs right down the order and boast the best bowler in the world in Jasprit Bumrah.
Australia – To the outside world, the Aussies are still licking their wounds from the ball-tampering scandal. In reality, though they have ostensibly dispensed with that win-at-all-costs mentality, they will be relishing the chance to shove the returns of David Warner and Steve Smith in their critics’ faces. Both batsmen are formidable presences, the ex-captain scoring a century on English soil last weekend and Warner having shone in the IPL. A difficult two years in ODI matches shouldn’t be forgotten, but Australia have largely put that to bed with series wins against India and Pakistan. Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch are a huge threat at the top of the order.
The Dark Horses
South Africa – The Proteas’ campaign has got off to the worst possible start with the news that Dale Steyn will miss the opener against England with shoulder pain, so it will fall to Kagiso Rabada to get the wickets. It shouldn’t be forgotten that South Africa have won six of their last seven ODI series. And who can forget how Hashim Amla loves playing in England?
Pakistan – They’re often spoken about as a new-look side but they have plenty of experience, a third of their 15-man squad over 30 years of age. Their triumph in the Champions Trophy two years ago suggests they shouldn’t be taken lightly.
New Zealand – The Black Caps have earned an unfortunate reputation for falling at the final hurdle, whether that’s in the semi-finals or an uncompetitive final in 2015. Yet with the likes of Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, and Trent Boult in their ranks, they’re equipped to do some serious damage.
West Indies – The question of which Windies will turn up is one that always causes pause for thought. Chris Gayle will want to go out on a high and though he won’t want to be overshadowed, the brilliant Jason Holder will enjoy the pace of the wickets after spending the early part of the summer with Northants.
Sri Lanka - On the back of a squad selection that was, for want of a better word, bizarre, the Lions have installed Kurunaratne as the man to lead their quest. Why? Nobody is entirely sure, but what we do know is that they’ve won two of their last 16. No chance.
Bangladesh – English pitches are unlikely to be kind to them and they shouldn’t keep too many teams awake at night. They reached the quarter-finals last time around and that’s probably as far as they’ll go again, though Tamim Iqbal will frustrate bowlers.
Afghanistan – Make no mistake, the ‘big’ teams won’t look forward to playing such an unpredictable banana skin. Their win against Pakistan was a reminder of that. They’re the obvious minnows nonetheless after qualifying at the expense of Ireland.