Ben Stokes has made it a habit of making up headlines.
Cricket fans are offering opinions about which sides will make the finals and which ones won’t.
And though there seems to be a lot of debate about the two sides that will make the finals alongside India and England – even the bookies believe India and England are certainties to make the finals – is this realistic?
Cricket fans have few tools to line-up where sides stand. The ICC ratings for ODI teams are one measure. It suggests the top sides are:
On paper it looks like a big gap between the top two teams and daylight between the bottom three sides and Bangladesh in seventh.
This table considers results stretching back to 2016. To gauge how teams are going now, this piece will consider results for the top five sides over the past six months.
England have played only eight games in the past six months, winning five and losing three in Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
The Brits didn’t score more than 278 in Sri Lanka, and the only time they had to chase a sizeable total they were 9-132. The follow-up trip to the West Indies produced a drawn series, and again there was some indifferent batting – including another batting collapse – mixed with some very high scores and expensive bowling against the eighth-ranked side.
England’s looked shaky in recent times. Their batting’s become fluky and their bowling has been average to very poor.
The Indians have had series wins over the West Indies, New Zealand and Australia, but they also suffered a series loss to the Aussies. The series against the Windies highlighted the risks with having such a strong top three when they fail. The all-out for 92 against New Zealand was further evidence of a batting issue.
The bowling took a while to get it right, with the West Indies putting on two scores over 300 and another over 280 before the Indian attack came good. The recent series loss against Australia must be a major concern. India might argue it was understrength, but this was the case for Australia as well.
India’s strengths became its weaknesses. Virat Kohli was outstanding, but even he can’t make a winning contribution every game. The other batsmen had indifferent series for their high standards, which cannot occur in England.
But the bowling was the biggest worry, with Australia comfortably scoring off the spinners in the key middle overs and doing enough off Jasprit Bumrah and co to win games.
The Kiwis would have had high hopes against India after a comfortable series win over Sri Lanka, but poor batting in the first three games coupled with an inability to take wickets – the Black Cap bowlers managed only nine wickets in the first three innings – gifted this series to the visitors.
To New Zealand’s credit they fought back, dismissing India for 92, but a 4-1 series loss at home when they didn’t make 240 in five games must leave fans shaking their heads. The three-nil result against Bangladesh at home would have been welcome, but the India series was a huge blow to the Kiwis’ World Cup hopes.
They can’t have been more impressive on paper, winning all four series contested since 30 September last year, but the problem is that one series was against Zimbabwe and another against a rebuilding Sri Lankan side. They did beat Australia 2-1 before Christmas, but the Pakistan series must have been cause for concern.
South African batted first on two occasions, scored only 266 and 164 and lost both games. They won one game by the Duckworth–Lewis–Stern method after Pakistan put over 300 on them, and they probably won the series on the strength of their bowling rather than their batting
The Aussies looked completely dead and buried after successive series losses to South Africa and India. It wasn’t just the fact they lost; it was the manner in which they were playing, which was certainly not as a team and certainly not with confidence.
Two months in India and Pakistan brought about a stunning turnaround. Batsmen are now in very good touch and the bowling has shown it can win games, but above all, the team now has the confidence it can beat any team in the World Cup.
What to make of all this?
First of all, there’s no clear form guide. This makes deciding which teams will make the finals and who will win it next to impossible to predict with any accuracy.
Each team has to play nine games to reach the finals, so teams would be aiming to win at least seven games to be sure of a place. The chances of one or more team going through this many games undefeated must be slim at best.
Any thoughts this World Cup is a two horse race between England and India should be dispelled. Both have shown they are very beatable if the right tactics are executed well.
It makes not one bit of difference where sides rank on the ODI world list. All teams have players capable of getting their sides home against any other team. The West Indies have conclusively shown this against both England and India. In other words, there are not likely to be any (or many) easy games.
If there aren’t any easy games, the roster depth and player management of each country will be tested. Players will still need to be rested, so those coming in need to be ready to go physically and mentally. The selectors will need to choose sides carefully, making sure they get the right guys playing based on the opposition and the ground conditions.
This World Cup has the potential to be the best yet. There are so many quality players spread across all ten teams that an upset could come from any game.
Best of luck picking a winner on form. As it stands, there are at least six teams with genuine chances of making the knockout stage, and once in the finals, anything can happen.