Mahmudullah smears the ball past the wide mid-off for a boundary.
The Cricket World Cup is less than four months away and team preparations are now running at full steam.
England’s form makes them favourites, but India have been strong for quite a while in the limited-overs format under Virat Kohli’s leadership and hold a good record in in England over the last five years.
So does this tournament come down to India vs England in the finals? Can Pakistan and New Zealand be overlooked so easily? And can South Africa continue their recent streak of dominance under the inspirational Faf du Plessis?
Let’s analyse some of the challengers.
The West Indies
The Windies shocked the world when they took an unassailable 2-0 lead in a Test series against England earlier this month. Led by the inspirational Jason Holder, the first West Indian to top all-rounder charts in last 45 years after Gary Sobers, the team has a good mix of youth and experienced players – if they make themselves available.
The experienced duo of Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels will be playing their last ICC event. Evin Lewis, Shai Hope and Shimron Hetymer will make up the rest of the batting line-up. The bowling will be led by Kemer Roach and Jason Holder.
Ashley Nurse has shown himself to be a capable all-rounder during the India tour of 2018. Fabien Allen, though young, is promising. If Sunil Narine, Darren Bravo and Kieron Pollard manage to sort out issues with the West Indies Cricket Board, they’ll help form a capable team able to shock even the favourites.
The West Indies will show sparks of brilliance throughout the tournament, but the question is whether they can sustain it long enough to go all the way. Perhaps not – not against more settled sides that have been playing as a unit for last few years.
They sometimes get into self-destruction mode, and it’s hard to predict which team will turn up on the day, but expect them to show occasional flashes of brilliance – and don’t be surprised if they pull off a surprise win.
They’re not minnows anymore. The fact they directly qualified for World Cup and even reached semi-finals of the Champions Trophy in 2017 augers well for the team. If conditions suit spinners, Shakib Al Hasan will come into the game big time. Led brilliantly by Mashrafe Mortaza, the team reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup last time by beating England. In the last few years they’ve dominated at home, beating South Africa, India, the West Indies, England and Australia. Even away from home they beat New Zealand in Champions Trophy knockout matches in 2017.
Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmadullah, Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan form the core of the batting. Litton Das and Soumya Sarkar are exciting talents who can single-handedly take the team into winning positions. In their bowling stocks, Mustafizur Rahman, Mehidy Hasan, Shakib Al Hasan and Mashrafe Mortaza can break the back of any batting team.
With an experienced team that have done well in the last four years, it should not come as a surprise if Bangladesh reaches the semi-finals, and aiding them is that the pitch conditions could resemble those on the Subcontinent if last year’s British summer is anything to go by.
The team will have nine matches to make their mark and should reach the semi-finals going by their current form, assuming no injuries between now and the tournament. But getting to the final will require more mental strength, an area in which they’re lacking, so it could be curtains for Bangladesh after the semis.
The 2015 World Cup finalists have always been dark horses. Their lightning-quick ability on the field, with tight bowling and good batting, gives them a good chance. Kane Williamson finally seems to be settling into his leadership role after beating England in a Test series and, later, during the IPL season, leading Sunrisers Hyderabad into the finals.
Martin Guptill-Collin Munro forms the destructive duo at the top of the order followed by arguably the greatest batsman of the current era, Kane Williamson. The underrated Ross Taylor and Tom Latham follow. Trent Boult-Tim Southee has wreaked havoc for years now. He was the joint leading wicket-taker along with Mitch Starc in the last edition of World Cup in 2015.
Ish Sodhi and Mitch Santner haven’t been given credit for the work they do to complement the fast bowling – the spinning duo ensured the Black Caps reached the semi-finals of World T20 in 2016.
But New Zealand’s poor record in England, especially in the Champions Trophy tournaments of 2013 and 2017 and even their losing series of 2015 suggests England conditions aren’t favourable for them. But come the World Cup and the Kiwis have always managed to pull some trick out of the bag, so they remain dark horses for sure.
Their current form after losing miserably to India in a one-day series will jolt their confidence heading to the UK, so at the moment they are outside chances to reach the semi-final.
Not many will give them a chance after numerous changes to the captaincy, but if Lasith Malinga manages to rediscover his old spark, Thisara Perera continues his profitable exploits with the bat during the death overs, Dinesh Chandimal rediscovers his touch, and Angelo Matthews puts his body on the line for one last time, the Lankan Lions are in with great chance.
With Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Suranga Lakmal and the exciting Niroshan Dickwella in the frame, Sri Lanka could come out all guns blazing.
The Lankans had a miserable run in New Zealand and Australia, and perhaps South Africa will run over them too, but such losses will either make or break them. If Sri Lanka finds the spark to come to the competition with an all-out attack, everyone could be in for a surprise. Remember, India had a winless tour of Australia before the World Cup, but those losses spurred them to do what many thoughts was impossible and reach the semi-finals undefeated.
They do have a chance if they manage to put their miserable run of results heading into the World Cup behind them, so don’t rule out Sri Lanka yet. During Champions Trophy 2017, they surprised the well-oiled India machine by chasing a score of 300, and if not for some fielding lapses against Pakistan, they were set to be one of the semi-finalists of the ICC event. So write off Lankan Tigers at your own risk
The rest of the teams will be discussed in the second part of this article coming up soon.