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The 2015 World Cup represents a debut on the biggest stage for Afghanistan. After qualifying through the World Cricket League Championship, they are not expected to challenge the more established teams in Pool A. However, this is not to say that they will present teams with a guaranteed win each time they step onto the field; in their last few ODIs they have beaten Zimbabwe and Ireland, both of whom have far more experience of high-level international cricket. In the form of Najeebullah Zadran and Shafiqullah Shafaq they have two exciting players with the potential to inject pace into an innings. However, the likelihood is that they will simply not have the ability to deal with world class performers, particularly the Australian fast bowlers who will be relishing the opportunity to bowl at the Afghan line-up. They should collect a win against Scotland, however.
One to watch: Najeebullah Zadran
Prediction: 2nd bottom in Pool A
With home advantage, a settled line-up (injuries permitting) and Mitchell Johnson raring to go, it would be a brave person to bet against an Australian win in the World Cup. Murmurs about their squad being disrupted by injury were put to bed with the recent match against England, where, with captain Michael Clarke injured and a number of other key players absent, they still chased down 300 to win. They should have no trouble getting out of Pool A, and indeed will be expected to make it to the final with such an important home advantage. In Steve Smith they have the form player in world cricket at the moment and their bowling attack has variation and sheer pace in the form of Johnson and Mitchell Starc. All in all, they are a very talented side, and one that should make it all the way to the final.
One to watch: Steve Smith
Prediction: Tournament winners
Bangladesh are often a difficult side to make predictions on. In the 2007 World Cup, to the surprise of the cricketing world, they reached the Super 8 format of the competition, knocking out pre-tournament favourites India along the way. Despite a recent string of victories against Zimbabwe, their stock is not that high in world cricket at present owing to a number of heavy defeats against the West Indies and others. However, they will be hoping to register a couple of victories against Afghanistan and Scotland to put the pressure on England, who know that a defeat against Bangladesh could be disastrous for their World Cup hopes. In Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al-Hasan they have two genuinely talented players – if they both fire, Bangladesh could be a dark horse in the tournament. More likely, however, is a first round knock-out.
One to watch: Tamim Iqbal
Prediction: 5th in Pool A
England are now one of the most unpredictable teams in world cricket. After correctly disposing of former Captain Alastair Cook, Eoin Morgan has stewardship over a potentially very dangerous side. With Ian Bell firing at the top of the order, and a beefy middle-order of Jos Buttler, Ravi Bopara and Captain Morgan, England finally have the ability to set big targets. The bowling line-up potentially provides issues: four right-arm fast bowlers may not give enough variation to trouble international batsmen. The current team is also wildly hit and miss – to achieve success in the World Cup, they will need to string together a number of consistent and confidence boosting performances. Fundamentally, England should qualify from Pool A, and, with a generous quarter-final draw, the semi-finals are not out of the question, but still remain unlikely. However, compared to just a month ago, there is a lot more hope surrounding this England team.
One to watch: Ian Bell
As co-hosts with Australia, as well as being one of the form teams in international cricket, New Zealand will certainly be pushing for success. Two semi-final appearances at the last two World Cups confirm their pedigree and aptitude on the biggest stage, and they will be hoping that the added bonus of a home crowd allows them to push on to the final. After dominating Sri Lanka in the recent one-day series, New Zealand will fancy their chances against any team. With Brendon McCullum leading the line with some powerful hitting, and the dangerous trio of Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee and Trent Boult leading the bowling, New Zealand has quality throughout the side. They should have no problems qualifying from Pool A, and should similarly cruise through to the quarter finals. They have the talent to go all the way but must demonstrate that now on the biggest stage. In this writer’s opinion, if New Zealand avoid South Africa in the knockout stages, a final beckons, but, erring on the side of caution, they are predicted a semi-final spot.
One to watch: Brendon McCullum
Having qualified through the 2014 ICC World Cup Qualifier programme, Scotland are, with all due respect, simply making up the numbers at this tournament. They have lost all eight of their World Cup matches to date, have never beaten a full member of the ICC and have stopped participating in the English domestic one-day cup, further reducing their chances to play cricket. They do however have some hope in relation to the match against Afghanistan, who they beat in their most recent match-up by 150 runs. Their current player of note is 30 year old Kyle Coetzer, who had a one-day century to his name. The best Scotland can hope for is a win against Afghanistan and a close-fought encounter against Bangladesh – anything more will be a major shock.
One to watch: Kyle Coetzer
Prediction: Bottom of Pool A
The runners-up from the past two tournaments will be hoping that this year will finally be their year. There is an added impetus to achieve at this tournament: both Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, two of the greatest ever players in ODI cricket, will be hanging up their boots at the conclusion. Sri Lanka have, on the face of it, a strong team. Lasith Malinga is tipped to be fit for the first game, and he joins a familiar looking Sri Lankan line up with the likes of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Rangana Herath. The team’s recent form has been patchy; after defeating a lacklustre England side at home, the team then travelled to New Zealand but were easily beaten. On their day, they can beat anyone, yet the fast, bouncy pitches of Australia may not be to their liking. Sri Lanka should make it through Pool A, but owing to the Australian conditions, a quarter-final spot seems the likeliest outcome.
One to watch: Angelo Matthews
The defending champions go into the World Cup under something of a cloud. At the time of publication, the Indians are yet to win a game on their tour of Australia – indeed, their last win came in mid-November. Despite that, they possess a team of immense talent. Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma are some of the most talented and dangerous batsmen in world cricket – if they fire, India should succeed. The bowling line-up once again appears to be India’s weak link, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar down on pace and Umesh Yadav seemingly underused. They should have no trouble getting out of Pool B, and would be expecting to reach the semi-finals at least. However, on recent performances, this writer feels that the final will be a step too far for this team.
One to watch: Virat Kohli
After qualifying through the ICC World Cricket League Championship, Ireland will be hoping to do much more than simply make up the numbers. A Super 8 finish in the 2007 World Cup remains their greatest achievement, and whilst it would be a major surprise to see them progress from Pool B; they possess the raw talent to cause the more established teams some issues. Kevin O’Brien, the star of their famous 2011 win over England makes the squad, as do seasoned performers such as Captain William Porterfield and left-arm spinner George Dockrell. Their recent form has been patchy at best – after sneaking past Scotland by just 3 wickets, they went on to lose by 71 runs to Afghanistan. However, Ireland are known to save their best performances until the biggest stage. Wins should be collected against Zimbabwe and the UAE, and if they can pull off a win against the West Indies, a place in the quarter-finals surely beckons. However, erring on the side of caution, the prediction is that they will fall just short.
One to watch: Kevin O’Brien
Prediction: 5th in Pool B
As usual, predicting how Pakistan will fair in a major tournament is exceptionally difficult. After leaving the competition at the pool stages in 2003 and 2007, 2011 represented a change when they reached the semi-finals. Their squad possesses some familiar names, with Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younus Khan the standout players. The news that Misbah and Afridi, two outstanding players, will be retiring after the World Cup indicates that this may be Pakistan’s last chance for a while to win the tournament. Unfortunately, whilst the spine of the team may be strong, the XI is not the strongest and this, coupled with the fast, bouncy pitches of Australia that will not be to their liking, suggests that this may not be their year. A quarter-final placing seems most likely.
One to watch: Shahid Afridi
The view of many is that 2015 will finally be South Africa’s year. Perennial chokers in major tournaments over the years, there is a steely determination about this side that has led many to predict success in Australia. Led by captain extraordinaire AB De Villiers, and spearheaded by Dale Steyn, South Africa look a menacing prospect. They have exceptional players throughout the side; indeed it is hard to find a weak-link. The prospect of qualifying from Pool B should not faze them in the slightest, and anything less than a final appearance will surely be considered a failure. The only team that at present seems capable of standing in their way is Australia, setting up the potential of a mouth-watering final. Despite their clear pedigree, this writer feels that beating Australia at home may just be a step too far, and thus they will come in as runners up.
One to watch: AB De Villiers
Prediction: Runners Up
United Arab Emirates
The UAE have not appeared at a World Cup since 1996, and, having qualified through the same programme as Scotland, there is little to suggest that they will be making waves at this tournament. Their team possesses only one pace bowler in Mohammad Naveed, and they will struggle to cause teams any problems with their ranks of medium pacers. The batsmen will be unused to the quicker pitches of Australia, and with so much pressure put on Captain Khurram Khan, clear problems will emerge if he becomes injured or out of form. Having only played ten games in the whole of 2014, it is difficult to assess whether the UAE are in any sort of form. They will hope to challenge Ireland and Zimbabwe when they meet, but, aside from that, their chances of success appear remote.
One to watch: Khurram Khan
Prediction: Bottom of Pool B
Problems have surrounded the West Indies cricket team for many years, and these came to a head last year with the player’s revolt in India. The fall-out from this is ongoing, with two of their star players, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, being omitted from the World Cup squad because of it. Although Chris Gayle remains, the team appears weak. A difficult warm up series in South Africa has demonstrated their limitations further, and whilst they will be hoping and expecting to qualify from Pool B, the chance of an upset is there. If they start the tournament poorly, both Ireland and the UAE will look at them as an upset in the making.
One to watch: Chris Gayle
After three consecutive pool stage departures at World Cups, very little is expected from this Zimbabwe side. After a morale-sapping tour of Bangladesh, where they lost every game, confidence will not be high at present. There are a few familiar names within their squad, with wicketkeeper Brendan Taylor and batsman Craig Ervine making up the numbers. They would hope to challenge both the UAE and Ireland when they play, and indeed should hope to record a victory against the UAE. Their chances of progressing past the pool stage, however, appear exceptionally slim at best.
One to watch: Brendan Taylor
Prediction: 2nd Bottom of Pool B