FYI’s World Cup 2019 Preview
Predictions, upsets and likely contenders – FYI presents its take. By: Mudassir Anwar
Setting the Stage
Sports as a whole has become data centric, Cricket hasn’t been far behind the race either. Statisticians might not be able to control the exact action that happens on the field but they have a huge influence in what team is picked, what lines are to be bowled at different stages of the innings, how to negate tricky bowlers and what not.
One might think that these technicalities and the massive increase in franchise Cricket would reduce home advantage but it has actually the other way round. Touring teams have struggled to cope up with foreign conditions and home teams have mastered their pitches, boundary sizes and even the ball they choose to use. If the last two world cups are any evidence, home advantage does not only help teams win series but the most prestigious trophy in Cricket has been won the team hosting the tournament. Even if we look at the Win/Loss record since 2010, India and South Africa are the only two teams which have a positive number (excluding Afghanistan and Nepal) and compared to the decade before this (2000 – 2010) there were five teams (Australia, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan) who shared this feature.
For an England fan this is yet another reason to be hopeful to finally lay hands on a trophy they have been striving for so long. England’s abysmal performance in the 2015 World Cup actually worked as a blessing in disguise, for a team that was getting known for neglecting the shorter format in their focus to become a dominant test side. Soon after the World Cup ended ECB decided to open a new position called ‘Director England Cricket” and the main task for the job was to structure a failing side. Andrew Strauss was offered this position and was given a lot of independence and power so that he could take tough decisions that would help the long term interest of the team.
England might have a lot going in their favor but their ability to clinch victory on the big stage is yet to be seen. The Champions’ Trophy in 2017 at home was the perfect opportunity for England to tell the world that the new look England have the capability to take one step further and win the tournament but they failed yet again. However a team that does know how to bring their A-game at a world stage tournament is Australia. They certainly do not have a lot to brag about, in their preparations leading up to the tournament, but they have surprised the entire cricketing fraternity by beating India and Pakistan in away series. What’s more astonishing, is the fact that they were without the services of arguably their two most consistent batsmen of the current era. Justin Langer’s track record of transforming teams seems to be reflecting well in the national side as well. A team that looked like a broken unite a couple of months ago, has become so competitive all of a sudden that both Warner and Smith might find it hard to ensure a place in the starting eleven, if they’re picked for the World Cup side. With almost a month left before the start of the World Cup it would actually be a bit of a pickle for the Australian Cricket Board and coaching staff whether or not to pick the two.
|Highest run scorers for Australia since World Cup 2015|
On paper India and New Zealand are the only two teams who are expected to hinder England’s chances of getting their maiden World Cup trophy. Having beaten New Zealand at their home, India might have slight advantage in this case but with India losing their last ODI series (at home) before the world cup, and that too against a weak Australian side, wouldn’t do too well to their world cup plans. While India would hope to get the best out of a their middle order, which is usually underexposed with the top three scoring the bulk of the runs, New Zealand would want their struggling openers to find some form during the tournament. Both teams would also heavily bank on their all-rounders to provide pinch hitting at the end of the innings and be able to bowl as the fifth bowler if need be.
The usual favorites South Africa are yet to find the right balance for their team ever since Ab de Villiers announced his retirement. Van Dusenhas provided the much needed stability for but he’s far from a like-for-like replacement for one of the finest batsman of the modern era. Nortje and Ngidi’s injury is another headache the South African selection committee will have to handle. Lack of match practice for Duminy and Amla will also be a major concern for Proteas leading up to the World Cup.
Despite winning the last major ICC Tournament (Champions Trophy 2017) Pakistan will start yet another World Cup campaign as an underdog, given their unpredictability. Excluding the series against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, Pakistan has managed to win just 5 matches out of the 26 (completed) they have played in this period. To Pakistan’s credit, however they have managed to build a relatively stable looking unit in a very short period of time, since most of the players who have regularly featured for Pakistan in recent have made their debut after the 2015 World Cup.
Pakistan’s mantra, however will be the same as it has always been, that is to bowl out opposition cheaply to cover-up for an inconsistent batting unit. Pakistan can perhaps take inspiration from their 1992 World Cup victory, because that was the last time ICC made it a one group tournament where finishing in Top Four meant a direct qualification for the semis.
It would be unfair to group West Indies with Sri Lanka, Afghanistan or Bangladesh but you never know which West Indies side will turn up until their squad is announced. Both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will have their morale low after being white wash at the hands of South Africa and New Zealand respectively. Afghanistan on the other will look to punch above their weight like they did in the Asia Cup and the World Cup qualifiers’ final. West Indies on the other hand made a shocking comeback against the number one ODI side, drawing the series two all thanks to Chris Gayle’s exceptional form. It still remains to be seen if the West Indies Cricket manages to bring back the likes of Russel, Narine and Pollard ahead of the World Cup. The return of Darren Bravo and Gayle have provided the much needed experience to the side, while the discovery of Shimron Hetmyer and Oshane Thomas have helped plug-in the missing holes for West Indies.
Afghanistan and Bangladesh might find it hard to make it to the top four but they are more than capable of producing upsets against higher ranked side. Thanks to the Bangladesh Premiere League the national side now has the one thing they have always wanted, that is exposure against international players/teams. They managed to beat New Zealand in Champion’s Trophy and were the finalist in the last Asia Cup therefore teams shouldn’t be righting them off. Similarly, Afghanistan’s spin trio of Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi might become too hot to handle for teams which have had a poor record against spin.
The Final Say
With a round robin format, this World Cup promises to be a delight for all cricket lovers. Round robin means that each team will play the other participants once and the four teams with highest points (and NRR in case of equal points) will make it directly to the Semifinals. For the players, however, fatigue and injuries would be very common and would have to be dealt carefully by the support staff. It would also be very crucial for teams to pick the right replacements in case of injuries, or to manage the workload of individual players.
Like all previous ICC Tournaments it’s very likely that the pitches and boundary sizes will be tailored heavily towards batting, pertaining to the commercial value of the game. Like the previous World Cup the viewers should expect a lot of scores to go beyond 400 and yet not be enough for the side batting first. Spinners are also likely to dominate the tournament despite England’s reputation to have conditions ideal for seamers. This still doesn’t mean a cloudy day wouldn’t help the seamers get some movement from the surface. It would be important for teams to make the most out of the warmup matches and the quicker they cope up with the conditions the better their chances would be to make good progress in this tournament. Fans would also hope that rain becomes less of a factor in a country where it’s hard to predict the sudden weather changes. The tournament will last for over a month, starting from the 30th of May and ending on the 14th of July and 10 teams will play a total of 48 matches in this period.