Does New Zealand have any chance of winning the Cricket World Cup? Wood and leather enthusiast Alex Braae casts his eye over where every team stands heading into the tournament, and puts his credibility on the line with some predictions.
You might think it’s rugby season, but in fact the greatest summer sporting event on the planet is about to start. That’s right, it’s time for another edition of the ODI Cricket World Cup.
A radical change in format for 2019 World Cup will be very different from the last one. Slashed down to 10 teams and played in a round robin format, on paper there won’t be any easy wins.
It’s also looking likely to be the highest scoring World Cup in history, partly because of tactical changes in ODI cricket, and partly because English pitches are generally now extremely hard, fast and juicy for batting.
So who will collapse, and who will plunder? Will New Zealand be able to avenge their loss in the 2015 final by going all the way? The games will be on mostly overnight, and I hate to break it to you, but some of it really won’t be worth missing sleep for. Here’s where every team stands.
Listen to The Spinoff’s new cricket podcast, The Offspin, where our resident cricket tragics (in the truest sense of the concept) keep you company through the long nights of the World Cup.
England (Prediction: 1st on the table, losing finalists)
For a country that invented cricket as a means to preserve and export the values of the aristocracy, England have proven to be remarkably progressive in the ODI format. Their major innovation has been to just go absolutely hard as hell throughout the whole innings with a long batting lineup, and they’ve regularly made chases above 300 look like jokes recently. Their bowling is a bit mediocre, but as the tournament is likely to consist of a long series of batting shootouts, that’s unlikely to matter so much. And while pressure on the home team will be extreme, those in team management have shown extremely clear heads recently (particularly in exiling disruptive batsman Alex Hales after a failed recreational drug test went public) so that shouldn’t be too big a factor.
Key players: Opener Johnny Bairstow is coming off an absolutely dominant IPL, and the monster scores England put up depend on muscular, fast starts. With the ball, legspinner Adil Rashid could be surprisingly crucial – he offers their otherwise somewhat stagnant bowling attack some variation, so could end up rattling teams looking to accelerate.
India (Prediction: 2nd on the table, winning finalists)
You just can’t go past India as the tournament winners, as the most complete team by far. In almost every key position, they can make a reasonably claim to having the top player in the world right now in it. And even playing in England, most of their games will feel like they’re being played at home, because of the huge diaspora crowds that turn out to see Team India. The one possible weakness is in lower order batting – MS Dhoni isn’t the finisher he once was, and more and more frequently he ends up chewing through valuable deliveries and then failing to get the job done. A prediction – they’ll lose to England during the round robin, but will be mentally strong enough to win the final.
Key players: This is probably the tournament where Virat Kohli finally claims the mantle of greatness that he is so ambitious for. Expect him to score multiple hundreds. With the ball, Jasprit Bumrah’s weird, whippy action and perfect accuracy will cause huge problems on otherwise batsman-friendly wickets.
Australia (Prediction: 3rd)
Sorry, but they’ll definitely be back around the top now that David Warner and Steve Smith have returned. A strong pace attack and top order will result in a few of Australia’s games being over almost as soon as they’ve started. But outside of the batting stars, their lineup is seriously shaky, and their spinners (test specialist Nathan Lyon, low-turning Adam Zampa and part-timer Glenn Maxwell) will probably be feasted on.
Key players: Mitchell Starc’s thunderous swing bowling was a major reason why they won the last World Cup, but weirdly since the Sandpaper Incident, he has been a shadow of his former self. His form could matter a lot for Australia’s chances. And with the bat, someone else apart from Smith and Warner will need to score a few – the likeliest candidate to play a destructive, match-turning innings is new captain Aaron Finch.
West Indies (Prediction: 4th)
The West Indies don’t suck anymore. Despite only just qualifying for the tournament, the team is probably the strongest it has been in a decade. They showed in a ODI series against England that they were more than capable of going toe to toe in high scoring slugfests, and have mastered the art of opportunistic six-hitting (no really, this is a real strategy, at the expense of constant running of ones and twos) which means that they won’t ever truly out of chases until all 10 wickets have fallen.
Key players: Captain and all-rounder Jason Holder is probably the toughest cricketer in the world right now, having dragged his team back to respectability in all three formats. Playing a similar role, Andre Russell is coming off an IPL tournament in which he gave probably the greatest consistent display of boundary hitting the world has ever seen. Almost certain to win a few games at the death.
Pakistan (Prediction: 5th)
Good, but not good enough to go all the way. Pakistan have improved a lot in their tactical approach to ODI cricket after a really poor tour of New Zealand in 2018. And yes, they are the current holders of the ICC Champions Trophy in the ODI format. But the tournament structure – heavy on constant grinding and light on one-off knockouts – could really hurt such an inconsistent team. Most recently, they’ve been losing game after game to both England and Australia, and will probably lack the bowling depth needed to restrict teams to manageable totals.
Key players: Pakistan’s fortunes could rest on two young guns who carry the hopes of a nation’s cricketing future. Batsman Babar Azam, 24, and deceptive seamer Hasan Ali, 25, could theoretically put in tournament winning performances. Outside of that, Fakhar Zaman is capable of the sort of brutalisingly big centuries that are now required for big ODI totals.
New Zealand (Prediction: 6th)
Sorry again, but this doesn’t look like it is going to be our year. Respected South African cricket commentator Neil Manthorp said the other day he thought New Zealand would win it, and frankly it’s impossible to figure out why. But hey, once the tournament starts it will be a lot more fun if we all delude ourselves into thinking it’s winnable.
The pitches will probably be too flat for Tim Southee and Trent Boult to make mischief on, the batting is thin by world standards, and the Black Caps have shown a worrying recent tendency of allowing themselves to be bullied off the park by top teams. It won’t be a disaster, but the squad is simply not strong enough, man for man, to match the big teams. Expect a few comfortable wins against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to start, followed by it all going south from the 4th match against India onwards.
Key players: The form of Kane Williamson has been worryingly poor over the IPL, and it comes off both nagging injury concerns and a muted summer by his standards. If he doesn’t turn it around, there will be collapses, unless Henry Nicholls, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham (under an injury cloud) can pick up the slack. With the ball, Mitchell Santner probably won’t take many wickets, but he could do a deceptively important job in limiting the damage from big hitting opponents.
South Africa (Prediction: 7th)
Forget the choking tag – South Africa are just going to be straight up disappointing at this tournament. Former matchwinners like Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn are probably over the hill, the quality of players coming out of the domestic circuit is pretty mediocre, and they’ve shown a comparable inability to make huge scores in recent months. Their one chance is if the pitches are extraordinarily friendly towards fast bowling, but that’s almost certainly not going to happen.
Key players: Believe the hype about Kagiso Rabada – the 23 year old tearaway really is as good as people say he is. But he’s also under a serious injury cloud that could limit his involvement in the tournament. With the bat, Quinton de Kock is who South Africa will be praying for, but the diminutive destroyer probably doesn’t have the consistency to really carry his team.
Afghanistan (Prediction: 8th)
This sounds like a joke, but the rise of Afghanistan has been easily the most remarkable story in world cricket over the past few years. Some of their players literally learned how to play in refugee camps, and their style is suitably fearless as a result. Their biggest weakness is likely to be a lack of batting depth, but if they find themselves playing on a turning pitch, almost any team in the competition could be in line for a pantsing.
Key players: The reason for this is Rashid Khan – a 20 year old (he looks like and bowls like and probably is a 30 year old, but forget that) spinner who has become arguably the most fearsome limited overs bowler in the world. Put it like this: when he plays in the IPL, teams tend to opt for blocking him out to focus on clobbering everyone else. Apart from that, Mohammad Nabi has played almost every single ODI Afghanistan has played, and could be influential with either bat or ball.
Bangladesh (Prediction: 9th)
They’re getting better, but not a lot about this tournament really suits them. They’re coming off a few wins against Ireland and an IPL-depleted West Indies, and an absolute savaging at the hands of New Zealand, and a lot of nothing in between. A horrendously weak pace bowling attack will mean they’ll spend a large proportion of the time playing catch-up.
Key players: Mustafizur Rahman is one of the best death bowlers in the world, with an impressive bag of left arm medium variations – but it’s entirely possible Bangladesh won’t still be in the contest at the death all that often. Keeper Mushfiqur Rahim has developed into a steady rock of the middle order, and man, Bangladesh are going to need that.
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Sri Lanka (Prediction: 10th)
Their greatest generation are long gone, and Sri Lanka have been in huge decline ever since. Yes, there was that remarkable recent test series win against South Africa, but what made that so remarkable was how insipid they’ve been in pretty much every series on either side of it. There’s also off-field turmoil, with Lasith Malinga being replaced as captain by Dimuth Karunaratne in the last few weeks, despite Karunaratne not actually playing ODIs since 2015. The squad is also lacking the experience of the likes of Dinesh Chandimal and Niroshan Dickwella, who weirdly weren’t picked. They’ve got a series of weaker opponents to start the tournament (NZ, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and if they can’t get any cheaper wins, it’s going to get very ugly.
Key players: Fast bowler Lasith Malinga still has the goods at T20 level, but he’ll have to bowl a full 10 over quota every game here, and is still just one man among a paper-thin bowling attack. Kusal Perera can hammer it around, and showed immense mental fortitude against South Africa, but is likely to be swimming against too strong a tide to make a difference.
The ICC Cricket World Cup begins on May 31 NZ time