Ok, so the 2015 World Cup is finally underway. Here are some random thoughts and off-the-cuff predictions as to what may occur:
Winners: Hard to look beyond either of the hosts. Australia have a formidable batting line-up soon to be bolstered by the return of Michael Clarke. In Mitchell Johnson they have the tournament’s premier strike bowler who will cause any team problems. But I’m going to go for New Zealand to take the crown. They have everything – an explosive hitter at the top of the order in Brendon McCullum, followed by Ross Taylor (who can hit a ball) and the in-form Kane Williamson. Luke Ronchi is a very dangerous lower-order hitter and they have superb bowlers in Southee and Boult. Expect them to go far.
Next up: South Africa will be there or thereabouts, Amla and De Villiers are extraordinary players and Dale Steyn is one of the all-time bowling greats. Can they overcome their choking tag this time?
The other semi-finalists is harder to predict – any of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would be my pick, particularly the latter if slinger Malinga can work his magic with the ball.
England’s chances? As an Englishman I go into this World Cup with the usual healthy dose of pessimism. We’ve not had the greatest of preparation with Alistair Cook’s sacking on the eve of the tournament and his replacement Eoin Morgan not setting the world on fire either. A nagging inability to bowl well at the death will see scores of 300+ to chase which sadly I don’t think we are capable of. I fully expect them to lose their opening 2 matches to Australia and New Zealand. Ordinarily that would put them under the cosh but given the stupid format of the tournament they can still qualify for the quarter finals with wins over the associate sides in their group, plus Bangladesh. Which they should do.
The rest: West Indies are in disarray going into the tournament, mostly over selection issues. I fully expect them to be beaten by Ireland in their opener, and it could be a long way back from there. Zimbabwe are the weakest of the full members but have beaten Australia in recent times so will have their moments. Bangladesh fall roughly into the same boat, but they appear most at risk of falling to an associate due to their inconsistent and often brittle batting.
Speaking of Ireland, you would expect them to be the strongest associate. They have pedigree in World Cups and a decent batting order, with plenty of county experience. I think Scotland might surprise a few too. Afghanistan have to play England in their last game which, depending on results, could be a cracker. The UAE are probably the weakest side, but they are more than capable and are a tidy bowling and fielding unit.
Random thoughts: 300+ scores will be the norm in this World Cup. The strength of batting line-ups these days plus the fielding restrictions are the main reasons. Look out for some slog-fests and some lightning fast innings (De Villiers, Ronchi, Buttler, Maxwell etc).
The tournament goes on way too long. Only one match a day for the majority of it, down to TV rights. Two matches a day until the knockout stages would knock loads of time off and save us all from death by boredom.
Linked to this, and is a point I made before, the format is crap. Teams can afford to lose a couple of matches and still make the quarters at least. This will lead to games where the intensity and urgency levels are not what they should be, which isn’t conducive to decent cricket. Best format – four groups of five, which allows more associates in, two matches a day, top two qualify from each qualify for quarter-finals. Would open the World Cup to more teams and still be over quicker than this snoozefest.
Commentary – most of the time I’ll be watching the games with the sound muted. Expect a lack of knowledge of the associate players, some condescending remarks on their ability, and a lot of general banter on display rather than insight into what is going on. At least some of the Channel 9 crew have been discarded, particularly Healy and Brayshaw who take the crass, jingoistic blokey banter to appalling depths. (On a side note, you simply must read thisfantastic piece on C9, it’s a coruscating, damning piece of work which sums up the appalling standard of commentary in this country.
Having said all of that, I’m looking forward to the tournament. Despite all its problems this is cricket’s flagship world event and still its showpiece. For the next couple of months it is cricket’s turn in the spotlight, so let’s grab it with both hands and enjoy it.