Steve Smith has been withdrawn from the second Ashes Test after concussion testing found that he had developed symptoms overnight.
The first game of this year’s World Cup starts on 30 May and by now the brains trusts from each team would be looking at all factors in the nine preliminary games they have to play.
The most important element is the draw, and the following table shows what order the top five teams will play their nine preliminary games.
|England||India||South Africa||New Zealand||Australia|
|South Africa||South Africa||England||Sri Lanka||Afghanistan|
|West Indies||Pakistan||West Indies||India||Pakistan|
|Afghanistan||Afghanistan||Afghanistan||South Africa||Sri Lanka|
|Sri Lanka||West Indies||New Zealand||West Indies||Bangladesh|
|India||Bangladesh||Sri Lanka||Australia||New Zealand|
|New Zealand||Sri Lanka||Australia||England||South Africa|
There are some planning ‘givens’ for each of the top five teams There are no easy games. The gulf between the tenth-placed teams and the top two has decreased significantly in recent times, and this World Cup appears to be a much more even event than in previous years.
Each top five side must win the five games against the bottom five teams. It sounds straightforward, but in reality it may be difficult to achieve. Both the West Indies and Pakistan play mercurial cricket and on their day can annihilate any team, while Bangladesh are not to be taken lightly either.
Getting off to a good start in the tournament is paramount. It’s likely the teams making the finals will need at least seven wins and some teams have a tough run home, so chasing results at the back end of the tournament because of early losses could result in an early exit.
Squad depth will be tested. If any player is injured, the replacement must be game ready, again because there are no easy beats.
England and South Africa lead and both sides need to be at their best from the first ball of the tournament. England simply must win this game, otherwise the self-doubt that has hampered this team in previous world cups will reappear, helped along by the British press.
In the case of South Africa, they play the top two teams in their first three games, and a loss to both would likely mean they’d have to win every game after that to make the finals, which would be a tough ask. A win against one and a loss against another is not the end of the tournament for the Proteas.
Australia and New Zealand get to ease their way into the tournament with relatively easy games first up, but these are still must-wins, not only for team confidence but because both sides have much harder games to come.
England and Australia have the toughest run home, with their last three games being against top-three sides. Steve Waugh used to prefer this because it meant his side had to peak at the business end of the tournament, which would be a huge advantage leading into the knockout stage if the side wins all three games.
India, on the other hand, finish with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and it’s safe to assume by the time Virat Kohli’s men play them, both will know they’re not a chance to make the finals, so they might let a few other guys in the squad have a game. That would be good results-wise for India but not so good in terms of competition leading into the finals.
England and New Zealand finish their preliminary games three days before their main opposition India, South Africa and Australia play their last preliminary games. Eoin Morgan’s men and the Black Caps would be hoping they’d done enough to get through to the knockouts, without worrying about results from the last two games before the finals. If not, those three days will be a nightmare, especially if it’s England needing results to go their way.
The draw cannot be used as an excuse if Australia does not make the finals. The West Indies and India in games two and three will be tough challenges, but the rest of the draw leading into the final three games allows the team to build combinations and confidence.
We’ve got a solid team in pretty good form and we have a draw which allows the side to build to peak performance at the right time. The Aussie side now needs a bit of luck avoiding injuries to key players like Davd Warner, Glenn Maxwell, Adam Zampa and Pat Cummins. If we get that, we must be a strong chance to figure in the finals.