The World Cup is a one-horse race in 2019, with the small and picturesque grounds of the United Kingdom sure to provide high-scoring cricket and great entertainment.
Despite losing their latest ODI series 4-1 at home to an Indian team resting a couple of stars, New Zealand is the team that looks set to take over and pull off an upset result.
The Kiwis are one of the most hot-and-cold teams in world cricket, stemming from the x-factor many of its players possess.
New Zealand has a reasonably good record in limited overs games in the UK – they’ve won seven of its past 13 games.
A swinging ball and big-hitters playing on small grounds is a perfect recipe for the team to emerge as a true contender in this edition, after its well-known performances in the Australia/New Zealand World Cup last time.
Of course, experts will tip the host nation and India as the two teams most likely to be successful, with South Africa just behind them as the gun teams of the tournament.
Come May, however, there is no doubt that New Zealand will be in the top echelon of contenders.
There is great potential for the Kiwis to commence the tournament with three straight wins, playing Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan first up.
These teams provide stern Tests with spin bowling options, however the bonus about the conditions in the United Kingdom for New Zealand will be the lesser impact of spinners – being able to play through the ball is what this team is best at.
At the present time, England looks a shaky prospect given its failures away from home have highlighted an instability that can be perfectly exploited by a good bowling attack.
Australian batsman Aaron Finch walks after he is bowled by New Zealand’s Tim Southee (AP Photo Ross Setford)
India had its fair share of collapses against the Kiwis despite the lopsided series result, and there is a question mark over the true effectiveness of its bowlers in English limited overs conditions if they are hit around early.
South Africa and Pakistan fought hard in a good ODI series in the last month, but they both had inconsistent patches throughout matches with some good fortune assisting players to post reasonable numbers.
Perhaps the Australians enter the tournament as the other unknown quantity with strong potential, but off-field politics tend to suggest that it won’t be successful.
It isn’t unfathomable to imagine New Zealand goes all out with its bowling attack in a couple of matches, picking Boult, Henry, Southee, Ferguson and Sodhi/Santner, a combination that has rarely been seen.
With sheer pace, strong movement in the air and smart, yet aggressive spin bowling, it’s an attack that can certainly thrive in English conditions.
The issue New Zealand has faced previously is an inability to fight back if the opposition batsmen get right on top, particularly Ferguson.
What the team will continue to show in the lead-up to the World Cup, however, will be better in-game tactics from Kane Williamson, maximising the overs of those bowling well, while throwing the ball around if the situation requires it.
With some combination of Munro, Neesham, De Grandhomme and Bracewell likely to feature, New Zealand will enter the World Cup in better shape than their most recent series against India – they’ll have at least four reliable front-line bowlers, allowing for the all-rounders to have a greater impact in bursts.
Where in recent times, these players have had to bowl too many overs (Bracewell excluded as a bowling all-rounder), there won’t be enough room in a full-strength New Zealand XI for a part-timer like Munro to bowl ten overs.
Tactically, the depth is frightening, even considering Williamson isn’t afraid to bowl Boult all the way through if he’s on fire. Teams will look to target the all-rounders, Ferguson and whichever spinner they go with, which only serves to further increase New Zealand’s chances skittling teams cheaply.
The sheer number of solid-to-elite bowling options in the XI will be key to New Zealand’s impending successes, yet it’s the batting that can set records.
New Zealand has some of the most dangerous ODI batsmen in the world, all waiting for a grand stage to prove that combined, they’re the best line-up on the globe.
Martin Guptill’s record speaks for itself, and once he gets his eye in, he’s unstoppable. He, more than any other batsmen, will love the potential form he can get himself into by playing three easier opponents first-up.
New Zealand’s Grant Elliott, left, reacts after running out Australia’s Usman Khawaja. (AP Photo /Tsering Topgyal)
His opening partner is the one spot in the top six that isn’t locked in, with the next few months sure to provide some clarity. It seems as though either the powerful Colin Munro, who has a poor ODI record, or the compact and busy Henry Nicholls, will grab that spot.
Kane Williamson is a well-known star, while veteran Ross Taylor is perhaps the most underrated player in world cricket.
Taylor has averaged 68.8 in 39 ODIs since the start of 2017. With 15 50s and five centuries over that period, and an average of 46 in England throughout his career, Taylor is the one every team will need to prepare for.
Tom Latham’s confidence is sky-high at the moment, and Jimmy Neesham is hitting the cricket ball as cleanly as any aggressive all-rounder we’ve seen in recent times.
Regardless of whether they go with an extra batsman, or rely on De Grandhomme or Santner at 7, this is the most explosive batting line-up in world cricket today, and perhaps the most overlooked.
India attracts all the headlines, justifiably, but all teams know what to expect from them.
New Zealand has rarely had its best XI ODI cricketers on the park in recent times and recency bias drives predictions in the current landscape of social media experts.
Yet, when they have players with excellent batting records in England such as Guptill (54.3), Williamson (62.7) and Taylor (46), and a bowling attack suited to the conditions with guys like Boult (9 wickets at 26) and Southee (35 wickets at 28), it’s hard to go past New Zealand as a genuine contender.
It’s rare to be able to confidently predict the results of a tournament months in advance, however the strength of the squad and the numbers players have put up in the United Kingdom leave this in little doubt.
We’ll all be in awe come July, when New Zealand win the World Cup with the most stylish and destructive team on the planet.