Gavaskar's thumbs up to 2019 World Cup format

In the current format all the teams have to play one another and so whoever lifts the trophy on July 14 will truly be the World champion, says Sunil Gavaskar.

What sets England apart from other teams at the moment is that its squad is full of all-rounders.   -  AFP

That the cricket World Cup fever is spreading was seen when the immigration officer at London’s Heathrow airport asked who was likely to win the World Cup this time. With England playing some incredible cricket, it was easy to say that the home team has its best ever chance in years.

The regularity with which the team has been successfully chasing 350-plus scores is astonishing especially when it does it with wickets in hand and deliveries to spare. The bowlers have also not done badly when under the pump and so England certainly looks a strong favourite to lift the cup.

However, we all know that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip as was seen in the Champions Trophy held in England two years back when the host lost its nerve against Pakistan and folded in the semifinals. India didn’t do much better either in the final, being beaten by a big margin by Pakistan.

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What sets England apart from other teams at the moment is that its squad is full of all-rounders. This is a huge plus for the captain and the team management as they have the flexibility and options depending on how the match is unfolding.

The two World Cups that India won was mainly due to the number of all-rounders that were there in the team. There were batsmen who could bowl and bowlers who could bat. So, if a bowler was having a bad day, a batsman who could bowl could roll his arm over and help finish the bowler’s quota of overs. If the batsmen were struggling, a bowler could swing his bat and get useful runs.

India’s case

India, this time around, doesn’t have too many all-rounders. Hardik Pandya is the only genuine all-rounder in the squad, with Vijay Shankar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja who could loosely be termed as such. As always, India will look to its batting muscle to power it through, and in Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, it has a top three that most teams would like to have in their colours.

Lining up at the immigration counter were some South African visitors to England and they also were keen to know their team’s chances.

The best part for the Proteas is that they are flying under the radar and that is great since the pressure of expectations is much less than if the team had brilliant players and was expected to win. The kind of form A. B. de Villers was in the IPL would have made the South African selectors wish he was available for selection.

Who knows, an approach from some senior player like skipper Faf du Plessis or Dale Steyn could well have made the genius change his mind. The Proteas have regularly stumbled in world events and this time they will have to play out of their skins to get their hands on the one trophy that the entire country wants.

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Doughty fighters

Australia is playing some top cricket, too, and with the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, it looks even stronger. No game is lost against the Aussies till the last ball and the defending champion won’t let go of the trophy easily. New Zealand is like the South African team — quietly confident. It has the advantage of playing in similar conditions as in England and its bowling attack can rattle any team. It also has good all-rounders and its batting is capable of chasing as well as putting up big totals.

West Indies’ problems

These five would be the favourites to reach the semifinals. The West Indies has once again started to win, but whether it will be able to maintain the performance in this format of the World Cup remains to be seen. Like the teams from the subcontinent, if the sun is out, then it will be at its best, but if the weather cools down and gets overcast, then the light seems to go out of its performance. Fitness will also be an issue as for some strange reason the current Windies players seem to pull muscles regularly, especially when under pressure.

Pakistan won the Champions Trophy two years ago and, as always, will be a threat, but its bowling this time looks a bit inadequate.

The ease with which England chased down the 350-plus scores the Pakistanis put up is proof enough. Sri Lanka, like Pakistan, has a problem with its attack and its inconsistency in batting doesn’t bode well for a format where each team plays the other once.

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A much-improved team

Bangladesh has progressed wonderfully in the last few years, especially on the temperamental aspect of the game. There are classy players with skill, but when it comes to handling pressure situations, it has been found short. If it can cope with the unique pressures that a World Cup brings, then it could cause more than a surprise or two.

So also Afghanistan, whose bowling will be its trump card. If the batting also fires then it will upset more than one team in the tournament.

The format this time — each country playing against each other — is a great one. When there are groups drawn, there is the chance that a bogey team of a country could be in another group and so they may never play each other. But in the current format, all the teams have to play one another and so whoever lifts the trophy on July 14 will truly be the world champion.