The teams have been picked, the analysis is on, questions are being asked, often haltingly sometimes dismissively, about home team chances and by now everyone has favourites anointed. I was at a cricket event recently and none of the experts there was willing to look beyond four teams: Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India. Some might think the presence of the fourth there as a bit charitable but form in the build up to a World Cup isn’t always the best indicator of performance within it.
But beyond favourites the World Cup is also about searching for key players because unlike Australia in 2007, when they just owned the tournament, every team will be up against it at some stage. Who will pull them out? Who does the opposition least want to see in a team? Your selections might be different but here is a short list.
AB, Amla: SA’s twin towers
South Africa are the easiest from which to nominate players because they have two of the all-time great limited overs batsmen in their side. AB de Villiers could well make this his tournament but I fancy that if South Africa are to break their jinx, they will need the calmness and the reassurance of the coolest player in the game. Hashim Amla doesn’t get the crowds stomping or the headline writers excited but he wins more matches than most. His numbers are staggering. These are South Africa’s pilots on this inevitably turbulent odyssey.
Buttler, a rough diamond
England isn’t a tough call either. When Jimmy Anderson is bowling well, England look formidable. If he doesn’t deliver, the bowling doesn’t seem as threatening. His ten overs, indeed his first spell, will give you a good indicator of England’s chances. I am going slightly left field with my second choice. My temptation was to go with Ian Bell and some might fancy Eoin Morgan but I think there is another outstanding player that England are wasting. There is simply no way Jos Buttler should be loitering around at No.7. The more balls he plays, the more matches England have a chance of winning.
Sanga still shining
I know Tillekaratne Dilshan is providing a bright spark as his career tails away and Mahela Jayawardene silken skills are going to be packed in too. But it is the third of the senior citizens on whom Sri Lanka will rest their ambitions. Kumara Sangakkara just doesn’t seem to go out of form and quietly, he is telling the young arrivals that the old brigade still rules. I believe Sri Lanka will need a solid World Cup for Angelo Mathews to make an impact. He likes bowling with the new ball which is a huge bonus but his calm demeanour at the end will win them games. Keep an eye out for Malinga’s fitness for that determines how effective those yorkers will be but without him Sri Lanka’s bowling is, much like their neighbours across the Palk Strait, efficient rather than threatening.
Corey brings balance to NZ
Kane Williamson, with Steve Smith the breakout player in world cricket, bats at number 3 which is a wonderful position for a lead player to be in. He has McCullum and Taylor on either side and both those can be match-winners too but for me, the key player could be Corey Anderson who, in home conditions can play a decisive role with the bat and slip in key overs with the ball. He is the balance player in the side. I was very tempted to go with Daniel Vettori too because with very little fuss, he is playing a crucial role in the middle overs in recent times but to me Williamson and Anderson, even if that raises a few eyebrows!
Samuels, class apart
The West Indies are self-destructing and there are more than 20 overs in this contest but in recent times their fortunes have revolved around the enigmatic Marlon Samuels. There isn’t a lot of class there and so he stands out as does the expressive Andre Russell. It is fair to say Russell wouldn’t have made a lot of West Indies teams from what we have seen so far but with greater responsibility on his bowling he is becoming a more complete player.
Pak’s old warhorses
A couple of years ago I would have gone with Umar Akmal and Junaid Khan as major matchwinners for Pakistan but one is out with injury and the other is unsure of how good to be. Ahmed Shahzad is a fine young player and Mohd Irfan will be very difficult to handle. But I am going with the two old warhorses, actually putting them in a sentence is a feat in itself for they are such different characters. But for Pakistan to go far Misbah ul Huq and Shahid Afridi will have to play big roles.
Much has been written about India and Australia in recent times and they enter the World Cup on opposite ends of the form spectrum. India are limping and the bowlers are in hiding currently. But a World Cup is very different from a bilateral event and I will be surprised if India are insipid. But Virat Kohli will have to come good and so will, in his own style, Ajinkya Rahane. Dhoni is still the master of the limited overs game and the way he approaches the World Cup will determine how he plays it. But if you want to back a wild card, go Rohit Sharma.
Maxwell, the x-factor
The hosts have match winners scattered all across their dressing room. There are many who can make this World Cup theirs; people like David Warner and Steve Smith but I am very excited by two others. Glenn Maxwell plays the game like no one else but there is much more to him then people give him credit for. So too with Mitchell Starc who blows hot and cold too often for comfort. Both can turn the match around very quickly and neither is the backbone of the side the way a Kohli or a Dhoni is and that means they can play with a lot more freedom.
So there you are. Hopefully this will stoke a debate in your neighbourhood. That is part of the fun of the World Cup!