Cricket World Cup 2015: An Overview

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As Team India is bogged down match-after-match by their bowling woes, they at least have a proud hashtag “we won’t give it back”. India’s dismal performance in the past 14 months, especially in ‘down under’ makes that slogan an ironic, pitiable joke. But, still the flawed format of World Cup fixtures could give any test-playing nations, a free-ride into the quarter finals, and then Team India just need a good three days to get themselves into the semis. Yeah, it still would be an arduous journey for Dhoni & Co to even reach the semis.

If you remember the 2003 World Cup, the build up for India is something similar. They arrived at South Africa after having a very poor series in New Zealand, and started the tournament by capitulating to Ricky Ponting’s Australian team. Eventually, there was a big turn-around as India reached the Finals (once again to face the invincible Australia). Dhoni’s team could take a cue from their predecessors. But, even Ganguly has stated the big difference between 2003 and the present scenario: “We might have had a bad tour of New Zealand, but the lead-up, otherwise was very good. We almost won everywhere else…….. I led a team of champions”. But, the former Indian captain didn’t rule out India’s chances of reaching semi-finals.

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Unlike the Dhoni-led fabulous teams of the past, this Indian team is not only losing, but also not fighting. Perhaps, the hapless Indian bowlers are not giving any chances to fight. There’s also the looming fitness issues that has already kept Ishant Sharma away. The batsmen and the runs they have scored may give the illusion of a formidable line-up. But, only Kohli and Dhoni averages more than 40 in the matches played between December 2013 and January 2015. Nevertheless, Dhoni’s ability is the only fuel that kindles India’s hope.

Injuries and suspensions have played a spoil-sport on Pakistan as the team is now heavily relying on seasoned players like Shahid Afridi and Misbah-ul-Haq. Pakistan has been grouped along with India, South Africa, West Indies, Zimbawe, Ireland, and UAE (Pool B). The ruling out of fast-bowlers Umar Gul, Junaid Khan would cost Pakistan’s chances in the bouncy wickets of New Zealand and Australia. While the critics have written off Pakistan’s chances of winning the World Cup, the head-coach Waqar Younis doesn’t feel worried: “I am happy that we are not favorites because it’s a big pressure of being favorites”.

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If there is one team that every cricket fan would support to win the world cup, then it’s South Africa. Since their return to World Cup Cricket in 1992, the South Africans have never reached the finals. As usual, this time also they have the best batsmen and bowlers. The team has the coveted AB de Villiers (who recently scored a record-breaking 31-ball century against West Indies). They also have the highest-ranked ODI bowler –Dale Steyn. For quite some time, the team even possesses a good spinner, in the form of Imran Tahir (who averages 20 and econ.rate of 4.4). Names like Hashim Amla, du Plessis, JP Duminy adds invincible strength to the batting line-up. And, let’s not forget Morne Morkel, who enjoys bouncy pitches and the solid all-rounder Vernon Philander. If history doesn’t repeat itself in the form of nerves or rain, then South Africa most definitely should win the title.

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Hosting nation Australia is powerfully heading into this World Cup, recently winning India, England, and South Africa (4-1 series win in November). They have a very strong 15-man squad, which includes the likes of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Maxwell, and Mitchell Marsh. The muscular hitters and quality pacemen would lay path for their team to win the record fifth World Cup title. The superstition of ‘hosting country never wins a title’ was broken by India in the last world cup. So, nothing is stopping them from dreaming the title glory.

England has neither gone with optimism to win a World Cup title nor has it showed bolstering performances to arouse critics’ hopes. The captaincy contributions from Eoin Morgan may not bring a terrific turn-around. Novice middle-order player James Taylor seems more competent, and England’s bowling attack with the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Moeen Ali gives a reassuring feeling. But, the Captain and coach have great work ahead of them to convert peripheral players like Ravi Bopara into formidable all-rounder.

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Seen from the perspective of World Cup, co-hosts New Zealand are the perfect companions to South Africa. New Zealand has reached six semi-finals (out of 10 – 1975, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2007, and 2011). Like South Africa and Australia, the kiwis are entering the tournament with great confidence, as they have won ODI series against India, Pakistan, South Africa, and West Indies in the past two years. Brendon McCullum is one of the best cricketing brains and under his captain-ship, the team boasts a lot of youthful talent like Kane Williamson, Corey Anderson and also veterans like Vettori (who is playing his 5th World Cup). Many cricket followers and former players have named New Zealand as their favorites, next to South Africa and Australia.

Sri Lanka has failed to cross the final hurdle in the past two World Cups (2007 against Australia and 2011 against India). Although, the Kiwis, in their home turf have won Sri Lanka (4-2) in the recent series, their chances for winning the title haven’t waned a lot. Sri Lanka has the daring, innovative captain Angelo Matthews. They have the most successful ODI batsman in Cricket, Kumar Sangakkara (In 2014, he scored 1,256 runs in 28 innings, averaging around 47) and the veteran match-winner Mahela Jayawardene. Devastating, sling-arm bowler Malinga could wreak havoc upon the opponents in the tense situations.

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West Indies, the champions of first two World Cups, once again gets into the tournament with a largely unpredictable squad. Their warm-up match score of 122 all-out (against England) doesn’t say a lot about their chances. The pay dispute has already kept away two match-winners – Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo—from the team. The newly appointed captain, 23 year old Jason Holder doesn’t seem to hold optimistic prospects for the team. Perhaps, their first target must be not to lose a match against Zimbawe, Ireland, and UAE.

Then we have teams like Zimbawe, UAE, Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, who must stay until the start of quarter-finals. Their aim would be to finish with at least one win. Who knows may be Ireland or Bangladesh could give us a shocker by beating a test-playing nation.

Personally, I dream about India winning the Cup, although I hope that AB de Villiers holds the 2015 Cricket World Cup at MCG on March 29th.

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