The last three World Cups have been won by the countries hosting the event. India started the trend by winning in 2011, followed by Australia, who beat co-hosts New Zealand in the finals in 2015, and in the last tournament in England in 2019, it was England who had the rub of the green and won the tournament for the first time, and that too in a super over.
Over the years, the World Cups have become far more competitive as players from all the countries have gained more experience playing white-ball cricket in the T20 leagues that have mushroomed all over the world. Of course, this World Cup is a 50-over side event, but the players bring the T20 boldness and innovativeness into the 50-over game and liven things up considerably. It will thus be a surprise if there are any easy matches in this World Cup. Even the Netherlands, an associate member country, have earned their place by virtue of some stellar performances in the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe, beating the huge score put up by former champions the West Indies. That the Caribbean Islands team is not in this edition of the World Cup is a lament that cricket lovers from all over the world are having. That said, they have been playing some ordinary cricket and have just not been able to win the close games.
The defending champions, England, are again the favourites to win the title. The disaster in the 2015 edition, where they were knocked out at the group stage itself, brought about a transformation in their thinking and approach to one-day cricket. They were shown the way by the runners-up of that tournament, New Zealand, who were touring England in the first half of the English summer. The swashbuckling manner in which New Zealand played under the leadership of Brendon McCullum was almost blindly copied by England, and they went on to win the one-day series by either scoring or chasing more than 300 runs in just about every game. Now, with Mccullum as the England Test team coach, their Test match batting is like in limited overs cricket, totally unafraid to take any bowling on. They are also blessed to have some of the game’s best all-rounders in their ranks. These players can change the direction of the game with both bat and ball.
The Indians have a top team too, though in recent times they have struggled to defend even big totals put up by the batters. They still have some work to do regarding who their fifth bowler is going to be with Hardik Pandya, the sixth bowling option. Pandya began to bowl a lot more than a few months ago, and not only that, but he is picking important wickets too.
They, like any team, need a bit of luck in the knockouts to get through to the finals.
There’s Australia, of course, who are always contenders for the top prize in any tournament they play, and Pakistan, who on their day can beat the world, are in the mix too, along with the South Africans, who showed admirable temperament in coming from behind to win the recent one-day series against Australia. Their temperament has been their problem in the knockouts. But if the just-concluded series against Australia is any indication, they could well be the dark horses in the tournament.
The other teams, with due respect, can be party poopers at best, winning the odd match here and there, but it’s hard to see them going on to win the competition. For several players around the world, this World Cup could mark their last appearance. Let’s hope they leave on a high, even if their teams don’t go on to lift the trophy.
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