As any true cricket fan knows, the World Cup is probably the only time you should care about One Day cricket.
Apparently this year there’s only two groups and no Super Sixes. Outrageous. We thought it would be better to separate them into these groups.
The Just Happy to Be There Group: Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the associate countries.
I’ll go out on a limb and say these guys are definitely not going to win the tournament. But just because they can’t win the World Cup, it doesn’t mean these underdogs can’t have an impact on the tournament.
Traditionally the group stage of the World Cup is that period where everyone hopes that a major nation (except the one they support) gets beaten by one of the underdogs. They often bring the best moments of the tournament. Think Ireland beating England in 2011 and Pakistan in 2007, Kenya beating a still good West Indies in 1996 or Sri Lanka in 2003, or Zimbabwe beating Australia in 1983, England in 1992 and South Africa and India in 1999. There’s been one major side upset by a minnow at every World Cup. To paraphrase and mangle Highlander, there is always one.
So who is it going to be this year?
Zimbabwe have defeated legitimately good teams on a routine basis at World Cup’s and in recent times they have beaten both Australia and Pakistan – Australia as recently as last year.[i] They beat Sri Lanka in their warm up game this week also. Bangladesh once beat the West Indies in an ODI series, and thoroughly pumped Zimbabwe in both Tests (3-0) and ODIs (5-0) at home at the end of last year. But that masked a difficult year for them, in which they lost to pretty much everyone (including Afghanistan).
Ireland have only played in two World Cups, but they beat Bangladesh and Pakistan, tied with Zimbabwe and made the second round of the tournament in 2007; and of course beat England in 2011. If Scotland can beat England in their match on March 23, it will mirror Ireland’s defeat of England in 2011 in worldwide schadenfreude stakes.[ii]
Afghanistan clearly is the side we all want to win – even Americans are guilt-cheering for them. They’ve beaten Zimbabwe and Bangladesh but don’t really have much of a shot of victory against a proper team here.
And the UAE have a cricket team. It’s amazing what petrodollars can buy.
The Great Pretenders Group: Windies, India, Pakistan and England
West Indies (Last 12 months: 7W 8L) Look I don’t know what to tell you. The West Indies are awful. Chris Gayle is in awful form. Marlon Samuels is the key to their World Cup. They were annihilated by South Africa AB De Villiers. They got skittled by Chris effin Woakes in the lead up. Don’t let that record fool you either. Four of those wins came against Bangladesh and Ireland. To paraphrase Rick Pitino: Viv Richards is not walking through that door. Curtly Ambrose is not walking through that door. Brian Lara is not walking through that door.
India (Last 12 months: 14W 7L) Their lack of bowling in the test matches was almost undersold by the deadness of the wickets. Since they’ve moved to the faster wickets to be used in the shorter forms they’ve discovered their bowlers are horrible. The only way they can be competitive is if Sharma, Kohli and Dhoni all fire, and even then their bowlers are so awful they’ll probably lose anyway. Have lost more than they’ve won outside the subcontinent in last 12 months (3 wins 4 losses).
Pakistan (Last 12 months: 6W 12L) We all have this story in our heads that Pakistan can magically be good at the drop of a hat. Some would argue that’s what happened in the test series last year against Australia. But they’ve not displayed any consistency in the fifty over game in the last 12 months and didn’t look like they were about to start in their struggling warm up win over Bangladesh. Victory against England was notable, if only for its ease.
England (Last 12 months: 10W 15L): I’ll be honest. I think England could be good at this tournament if things break right for them. They’ve got a solid batting line-up – I think Bell and Morgan in particularly will do well in this tournament. Anderson and Broad are still excellent bowlers and Steve Finn should love Australian conditions[iii] Their first game against Australia looks to be set up perfectly for them: no expectations, a likely overcast day and an Australian team short of Michael Clarke and James Faulkner. But being objective, they’re missing an all-rounder (which is particularly gutting given Ben Stokes and Ravi Bopara’s relative reversals in form) and whilst their top order lacks the exceptional players that the big name teams have.
The Real Contenders of the World Cup Group: Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and Australia
Sri Lanka: (Last 12 months: 22W 16L)
Sri Lanka only really snuck into this group because the amount of love I have for Kumar Sangakarra’s cover drive.
They won the Asian Cup in early 2014, but since they’ve only won against England, Pakistan and Ireland. In the last 12 months they’ve lost series’ to South Africa in Sri Lanka, New Zealand in New Zealand and India in India.
But they have Sangakkara, Mathews, Jayawardene, Dilshan and Lasith Malinga. With some help and a bit of luck that could be enough to get to the last day of the tournament.
New Zealand (Last 12 months: 12W 7L)
We made our thoughts about New Zealand’s potential pretty clear here. They are what some like to call a high upside team – if things go right they have the horses in McCallum, Taylor, Williamson to chase down anything anyone puts in front of them. In Boult, Southee and Vettori they have a surprisingly effective bowling squad that will be particularly difficult in the games they play in New Zealand. Potentially could be playing a home semi-final at Eden Park which would give them a substantial advantage that may finally propel them into the final.
Australia (Last 12 months: 13W 4L)
Australia come into the tournament in excellent form at home, defeating South Africa 4-1 in November 2014, and then going undefeated in the tri-series with India and England. They have all the class (in a skills sense) in Warner, Smith and Clarke, the X factors in Maxwell and Mitch Marsh, the proven closer in Faulkner, and the dynamite bowling attack in Johnson, Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins.
So why not the winner?
Two reasons: first – the injuries to Clarke and Faulkner have to worry you. If Clarke can’t be fit, Australia lose its most astute captain, best player of spin and one of its best fielders. His likely fill-in, George Bailey, is in awful form with the bat, is nowhere near as competent against slow bowling as Clarke, and while a solid captain, is more a ‘leader of men’ than a tactician. Faulkner is Australia’s best death bowler, its best death batsmen and the only player on the team that could be mistaken for a member of Bros. Without him the marbles all go in the Mitch Marsh basket. That’s a lot of pressure for a young man with limited international experience.
The second reason is the draw. If Australia makes it to the semi final it will either be at the SCG or Eden Park. Both grounds are small, and the SCG has a tendency to be a bit slow, which makes Australia’s likely all-out pace attack seem a bit more vulnerable. The final is at the MCG and will likely be against South Africa, who have shown no difficulties winning at the MCG in the past.
South Africa (Last 12 months: 16W 7L)
South Africa have the two best batsmen in One Day cricket (AB De Villiers and Hashim Amla) and De Kock is also in the top 10. South Africa have two of the top ten bowlers (Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel). In the last twelve months they’ve beaten Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, Australia in Zimbabwe, and the West Indies at home. The only series they’ve lost recently was to Australia in Australia. They’ve proven themselves capable of winning in Australia in recent times.
And choking. Sure it’s happened before. But I don’t think that will happen this time. Because they have AB De Villiers. You know. This guy.
[i] in 1999 they were a legitimately good side, beating India and South Africa
[ii] And they looked in good form pumping Ireland this week.
[iii] At least moreso than he did last time he was here.