Four week countdown to the 2015 Cricket World Cup
Cricket World Cup 2015 number 11 begins four weeks from today. It is time to consider possible outcomes.
World cup pitches
Firstly, the cricket world cup groupings are well balanced and there is no real advantage to where one is placed. The fact that the event is being held in two countries is not as significant a factor as it might have been. The difference in the nature of the pitches in Australia and New Zealand is not what it once was, as New Zealand pitches appear a little more lively this season, producing some pace and bounce, while Australian pitches are notably slower. This will not suit the home team, so perhaps we can expect groundsmen to come up with something more traditionally Australian before the tournament begins.
Quarter finals are scheduled, which is not always the case and barring a major upset, one can expect the top eight to be Australia, New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka, West Indies, India, Pakistan and South Africa. The tournament really begins here. Three quarter finals are scheduled for Australia, one for New Zealand, the two countries share the semi finals and the final is at the MCG.
The fact that the pitches best suited to the host nation, Australia, Woolloongabba in Brisbane and the WACA in Perth are not featured at all in the knockout stages seems a very curious decision by the host nation. It certainly shortens the odds on the teams from the sub-continent. Let us now consider the chances of the various teams.
Team selection review
The West Indies we can discount immediately. The small minded vindictiveness of Clive Lloyd and company in omitting Bravo and Pollard, two of the better all rounders in limited overs cricket, has sunk any chance it had. The return of Roach and Narine will greatly strengthen the bowling but that will not be sufficient to overcome the batting frailties, poor fielding and depressed morale. They are capable, perhaps, of one upset but no more than that.
Pakistan has performed quite well in recent times but it is an aging side and will be hurt by the absence of Ajmal and the fact that Hafeez will not be permitted to bowl. It is a reasonable batting and bowling side but as so often, fielding is likely to be a problem and the team seems to be short of a finger spinner.
England is a fair side on paper but it is struggling with confidence. There are several capable batsmen, a pace attack led by Anderson and Broad, a useful spinner in Tredwell and a number of all rounders but there is no match winner. More youthful energy would have been helpful and the omission of Stokes may be regretted.
The stars of the Sri Lankan team are all men well on the wrong side of thirty. Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Dilshan and Malinga have all been outstanding performers but are nearing the end of their careers and there is not sufficient depth of talent to mount a serious challenge. It is a solid batting side with useful spinners but lacks a quality pace attack.
The likely semi finalists are the following teams: South Africa is a well balanced side. Two of the best batsmen in the world, de Villiers and Amla are backed by Miller, Duminy and du Plessis. In Steyn, Morkel and Philander it possesses a high quality pace attack and this is wrist spinner Tahir’s favourite format. The standard of fielding is likely to be good and Australian pitches should suit them. Weaker selections are Phangiso, Parnell and Behardien and those three are unlikely to play a significant role. Opposition teams will be well aware of their reputation as ‘chokers’. Incredibly, South Africa has never won a knockout match at a world cup tournament.
New Zealand regularly perform well at the cricket world cup and are six times semi finalists, without ever making the final. The current New Zealand team is probably its best ever ODI team and playing at home, must be full of confidence. Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson are both in the form of their lives, Southee, Boult, Mills, McClenaghan and the new and very quick youngster Milne form a very good pace attack and Anderson and Nathan McCullum are useful all rounders. There is an attacking attitude and the side is riding high on success. However, sooner or later, the sheer belligerence of the top order is likely to lead to a batting slump and it is then that New Zealand’s character will be tested. Elliott and Vettori are weak selections and the omission of Neesham is likely to be regretted.
Two months ago, India did not seem to be a major threat. However, the tour of Australia has come at exactly the right time and although the test series was lost, for the first time in many years, India’s batsmen have done well against one of the best fast bowling attacks in the world, on Australian pitches. This has imbued them with considerable confidence. The fielding has improved and the fast bowling has real pace. However, the necessary control is not yet there and there is no match winning spinner. It may be that this is one tournament too far for Dhoni and it is a pity that the brash, confrontational approach of Kohli as captain is not being utilised, especially given the possibility of a final against Australia.
The host, Australia, is a much improved outfit from the one four years ago. A big question mark is their ability to remain uninjured for the period of the tournament, as, in stark contrast to the past, Australia’s cricketers appear to be the most fragile in the world. The batting talents of Warner, Smith and Clarke, if he is fit, allied to the fast bowling of Johnson, Cummins, Starc and Hazelwood, together with a host of all rounders and the fielding talents of Maxwell, Smith, Warner, Johnson and Clarke, give Australia the edge over most countries. However, there are still weaknesses. Haddin is probably not the best wicketkeeper batsman in Australia, Maxwell is unlikely to be successful against the top sides, Watson remains his irresponsible self and the selection of Bailey, particularly as captain if Clarke is unfit, is incomprehensible.
There will, no doubt, be upsets but usually in this tournament the best side holds up the cup at the finish. It is to be hoped that the weather plays no part in determining the outcome, which was unfortunately the case when the tournament was last played in Australasia.