Every four years, the world’s top cricket teams gather to play a series of one-day internationals (ODIs)—the 50-over form of the game—to determine who is the best. It’s the nearest thing that cricket gets to a competition that the entire cricketing world gets excited about and values. Twenty-fifteen’s version (from February 15th to March 29th) is no exception, and, unlike with previous tournaments, there’s no absolute favorite. Let’s take this opportunity to run down the teams and spot some talent.
As the tournament co-hosts, Australia has considerable advantage: home support, familiar pitches, and no jet lag. In David Warner and newly minted (and phenomenally successful) captain Steve Smith, Australia has two batsmen who can take the game to the opposition, with heavy-hitting Glenn Maxwell coming in down the order and the fiery (nay, terrifying) Mitchell Johnson steaming in to bowl. Their one weakness is injury: the ever-classy Michael Clarke and Johnson are prone to injury; their all-rounder Shane Watson blows hot and cold; and,if things don’t go their way immediately, they perhaps lack the psychological resilience of Australian teams of yore. That said, the Aussies are in much, much better shape than they were two years ago, and will be a very difficult team to beat.
Sharing hosting duties with Australia, New Zealand likewise have home advantages. Perennial underdogs, who have for years punched above their weight, the Kiwis will start the World Cup at the peak of their powers, having had a year that even their most optimistic fans wouldn’t have believed possible. Their bowling attack is fast and penetrating, and in Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, and Corey Anderson they have players who can take the game away from any opposition at any moment. The team is balanced and you underestimate them at your peril. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Kiwis will make it into the final four.
The also-rans to India in 2011, Sri Lanka are, I think, long-shots in this tournament, although they remain extraordinarily creative exponents of a form of cricket that they dramatically changed over twenty years ago. The Sri Lankans remain over-reliant on their batting, which admittedly contains Mahela Jayawardane, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Kumar Sangakkara—the last of whom, aged 37, is in the form of his life, and probably the greatest batsman in the world today. A lot will be resting on these three, as well as Angelo Mathews (if he can get fit) to drive up big scores and hope that the opposition won’t take apart the bowling.
A lot’s changed for India since 2011, most notably the retirement of the old titans of the game, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and Virender Sehwag. The team is now young and hungry, and in Virat Kohli has a world-class one-day player in terrific form. M.S. Dhoni, relieved of the burden of playing cricket every waking moment, should return refreshed and eager to retire at the top of his game. As with Sri Lanka, the bowling remains a worry, although Ravichandran Ashwin—a genuine all-rounder—might prove crucial in stemming runs and adding some firepower down the order. You can never rule India out; but I just don’t think they’re going to repeat their triumph of 2011.
More to come in Parts 2 and 3.