Hot on the heels of the The Cricket World Cup: A Preview, Part 1, here comes the second installment, featuring the four other top teams.
It’s fair to say the biggest hurdle that South Africa has to overcome is its own self-belief. This has been the case for decades, especially in one-day internationals (ODIs), and it’s still the case today. In fact, given South Africa’s strength and depth, it may be even more so. When Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis retired in 2014, many assumed that South Africa would need time to rebuild and would be knocked off the top position as the best Test team in the world. They weren’t. Instead, with the silky genius of Hashim Amla, the destructive brilliance of Dale Steyn, the infuriating consistency of Vernon Philander, and the ever-inventive swashbuckling of AB de Villiers, South Africa consistently outperform all-comers. With David Miller, Faf du Plessis, and Morne Morkel also in the line-up, South Africa are, to my mind, the best side in the tournament. If this team believe in themselves, I see no reason why they can’t finally fulfill the hopes of Proteas fans everywhere and finally win the Cup.
The sad decline of Test cricket in West Indies has been balanced by the inventive brilliance of their T20 side. Unfortunately for fans of this very uneven side, ODI is neither short enough a form to allow for the free expression of the likes of Chris Gayle and Darren Sammy or long enough to allow their anchor, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, to rescue his side from yet another debacle. On any given day, Gayle, Sammy, Dwayne Smith, and others can wreak havoc. Unfortunately, those days are getting fewer and fewer, and I see no reason to believe that West Indies will miraculously turn their fortunes around in this world cup.
I (Martin) cannot imagine a single person—even the most avid Indian fan—who wouldn’t want to see Pakistan perform in the way that everyone knows they could perform, if that team actually showed up. There’s talent to burn and inventiveness and skill in spades. Pakistan thrashed Australia, for heaven’s sakes! Yet Shahid “Boom Boom” Afridi is getting long in the tooth; and their bowling line-up—despite the literally enormous asset that is Mohammad Irfan (he’s reputed to be 7 foot one inch tall)—is vulnerable, especially with the artful Saeed Ajmal sidelined because of a dodgy action. You’d be foolish to write Pakistan off, but I don’t see them going far in the competition.
Ah, England! Rarely can a team have prepared for a major tournament so poorly. Having finally ditched their underperforming, but much-admired, captain, Alastair Cook, England will start the competition with few expectations of success. I actually think that’s a mistake, since England has a young side with a lot of talent: Joe Root and Jos Buttler join Moeen Ali and an inform Ian Bell to provide an enviable batting depth, while Steven Finn and Stuart Broad‘s height and bounce will pose problems on Australia’s fast pitches. England have a tendency to subside in the middle order and find it naggingly hard to defend defensible totals. That said—and not just because I’m an England fan—I’m not going to write off this side. If everything works right, England could make it through to the final stages.
The final teams will be profiled in Part 3.