Handicapping the teams in the Cricket World cup

I have to apologize to regular readers of this blog who are not fans of cricket and are understandably mystified by the appeal of the game and wonder if I am going to talk about nothing else up to and during the cricket World Cup that runs from February 14 through March 29. This is going to be my last substantive post on it, at least until the tournament begins and I provide some brief comments on the games as they happen.

I thought it might be fun to discuss the chances of the 14 nations that have qualified for the tournament. The preliminary round consist of two groups of seven teams that will each play each other once, which gives 21 matches for each group. This round ends on March 15 and the top four teams from each group move on to the next quarterfinal stage where it will be knockout format, with the final being on March 29.

The groupings are below, with numbers in parentheses being the latest rankings of the teams.

Group A: Australia (1), Sri Lanka (4), England (5), New Zealand (7), Bangladesh (9), Afghanistan (11) and Scotland.

Group B: India (2), South Africa (3), Pakistan (6), West Indies (8), Zimbabwe (10), Ireland (12), and the UAE.

I would expect the four top ranked teams from each group to proceed to the quarterfinal round. The one team that is in real danger of not making it is West Indies. This once all-conquering team in the era when the great Clive Lloyd captained them has been in a sorry state recently, with turmoil between the players and administration resulting in their recent tour of India being abruptly canceled midway and they are clearly in a transition phase, leaving veterans out of their squad and bringing in new faces. Zimbabwe or Ireland may well be able to beat them in their qualifying round match and if that same team can pull off another upset win over another higher ranked team, then they will go through to the next round.

My own prediction for who will make it to the semifinals are SA, Australia, and NZ, with either India or SL getting the last spot. Pakistan is a wild card and could create an upset and make it to the final four. They have a talented side but are mercurial, playing well one day and tanking the next. They should make it out of the preliminary rounds and into the quarterfinals but I cannot see them being consistent enough to play well in the next three consecutive games to take the trophy.

I think that SA will win the trophy, defeating Australia in the final.

One odds-maker gives Australia the best chance of reaching the final with SA close behind and India and NZ in joint third place. England is surprisingly the next most likely to make the final. This may be because this bookmaker is based in the United Kingdom and the English fans there may be letting their hearts rule their heads and betting on them to win, thus tilting the odds. I just don’t see England as a serious contender this time. (Note that the odds change daily.)

Who am I hoping to win, as opposed to expecting to win? Here the tribal instinct kicks in and I hope that SL does. This will likely be the last chance for three of its veterans Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and Tillakaratne Dilshan, all of whom are either 37 or 38 years old, to win this trophy. They have provided yeoman service to cricket and it would be nice to see them rewarded with the trophy. Sangakkara and Jayawardene are two of the best batsmen to ever play the game. Sangakkara’s cover drive is a thing of beauty that I never tire of witnessing and Jayawardene is a very stylish batsman and superb fielder.

If I leave aside the tribal attachment to SL, who would I like to see win? In any given game, I cheer for the underdog and thus would be rooting for the lowest rank team. But as far as winning the championship goes, let me limit myself to just those teams that I think have a realistic chance. In that case, my team of choice would be NZ. They are a team that has shown itself to have a deep batting line up with some explosive hitters, a balanced bowling attack with some pretty quick and accurate fast bowlers, good fielding, and important to me, show good sportsmanship on and off the field. They also have never won the trophy. They had convincing wins over SL and Pakistan recently and the team seems to be largely injury-free. This could well be their year and their relatively low-ranking (7) does not do them justice.

Next to SL and NZ, I would cheer for SA. They have fielded consistently good, even top-ranked, teams in past World Cups but have somehow managed to blow all their previous chances, not even making it to any final, and I think they deserve to win the title at least once.

I think it is a safe bet to say that most non-Australians are cheering against that nation. Their dominance in this tournament (winning four times and being runner-up twice), coupled with their hyper-aggressive style that has led to a reputation for poor sportsmanship like sledging, has made them the New England Patriots of cricket, grudgingly admired for their skill and determination to win, but not loved.

I know the readership of this blog consists of cricket followers from many continents and nations and was curious as to your thoughts about the tournament.


  1. Brian E says

    I thought the New England Patriots were the Australia of NFL. 😉

    I think your semi finalists is probably right. As a jingoistic Aussie, I’d like to see NZ win, they’re how Aussies could be, when we behave. After that, SA, they have some great players and haven’t won it. Any subcontinent team is a chance. The Pakistanis can surprise, SL are good, even India. Perhaps not Bangladesh…

    In short, it’s Australia’s to loose with the final at the G. 😉

  2. says

    What I don’t understand is how people are able to form an emotional connection to a group of athletes that, really, they have nothing to do with (“Oh, look, that guy has my tribe’s name on his jersey!! Go team GO!”) In the abstract I can always appreciate the skill of the players but I see no basis for rooting for one team or another. On the occasions when I’ve been stuck having to watch professional sports I usually cheer for whoever’s behind -- and switch ‘loyalty’ if they manage to get ahead.

    It’s also interesting that you throw in a sideways refutation of the whole concept of watching sports -- for the glory of the sportsmanship. If the Aussie team is disliked for a win at all costs attitude, why would anyone give a shit about them? They sound like horrible sportsmen. I guess it’s not actually about sportsmanship, really, is it -- it’s about tribalism.

    Humans scare me. Especially large groups of them thinking more or less the same thing. That’s when they are most dangerous, which is why you’ll never find me at a live sporting event. A jihad might break out.

  3. sundoga says

    I have to admit, an evil little part of me wants Australia to have a collapse and not reach the finals…just to watch the one-eyed commentators here have a meltdown trying to talk about two other teams!
    I’d love to see SL or Pakistan come through, but as long as I can experience the delicious feeling of despair at an Aussie loss, I can live with NZ or SA.

  4. Brian E says

    Marcus, it is tribalism. I wouldn’t mind seeing Australia loose, I just don’t think they will before the final.
    If I were to make a case for feeling pride for the national team, it would be that tax payer money provided health, infrastructure, training so that these lucky sods could b virtue of a genetic lottery and tax payer funding be lauded and over paid for using a willow stick and leather bound ball. Not much of a case…

  5. DsylexicHippo says

    @2 Marcus: I think tribal instincts kick-in the most in inter-tribal events. Substitute country for tribe and sports for events -- same thing. Not so much in most of the “world” championships that take place in the US which are not international in any sense. The closest it comes to that here in the US is rooting for the US team in the Olympics.

  6. Holms says

    I remember being an avid follower of the sport in the late 80s into the 90s while I was in school. I started out being a fan of the team as it represented Australia, but gradually over time that changed, and I became more a fan of the highly characterful players than the team itself. Thus I found my interest steadily waning as my favourite players began retiring (David Boon, Merv Hughes, Allan Border) in the mid 90s, and this coincided with a reduction in patriotism in general.

    Shane Warne (and Lleyton Hewitt over in the world of tennis) being a massive tosser might have hastened that change.

    Gone are the days where I supported a team simply because I was born on the same continent as the players, now I just take the attitude that whoever has the most to overcome in order to win, deserves the win more because of the difficulty of getting it, and congrats to whoever was better on the day.

  7. Holms says

    Humans scare me. Especially large groups of them thinking more or less the same thing. That’s when they are most dangerous, which is why you’ll never find me at a live sporting event. A jihad might break out.


  8. Phillip Brown says

    I used to be an avid follower of the Australian Cricket team, growing up watching Lillee and Thomson (not to be confused with that great female fast bowler) pound England, and the heroics of Allan Border and Geoff Thomson grimly trying to save a test (and almost pulling it off only to come up 4 runs short), or Rick McCosker batting with his jaw wired having had it broken by a bouncer earlier in the match, or Dean Jones double century in India while frequently vomiting on the pitch due to dehydration and the oppressive conditions. (He wanted to go off the field “retired ill” which led his captain Allan Border to say that if he could not handle the conditions, “then let’s get a real Australian”). I think my connection with the game has wained largely with the emphasis on ‘professionalism’, and as a consequence it stopped being sport, and became an entertainment business (*cough 20/20 cough*).

  9. Keith Miller says

    Mano, no need to apologise about mentioning the cricket! after all, we are showered with plenty of stories about the NFL or the so-called World Series baseball, or the NBL, where it is assumed ALL must be interested in some parochial US sports….
    My 2 cents is, I just really abhore the constant sledging in cricket, and am ashamed that the Australians are among the worst at this these days. Guys like Bradman or O’Reilly or Benaud would never even consider this type of behavior!

  10. mnb0 says

    “I have to apologize to regular readers of this blog who not fans of cricket”
    I’m not a fan of cricket but here I think you’re silly. You apologize for writing about something you love! Look, if it doesn’t interest me I skip it. But very often I don’t and that means you do an excellent job: you write interesting stuff about something that doesn’t interest me at all (I don’t understand cricket either -- the two go hand in hand).

    My only thought about the tournament is that my tribal instincts are not satisfied -- The Netherlands do not participate.

    @2 “What I don’t understand is how people are able to form an emotional connection to a group of athletes that, really, they have nothing to do with”
    It starts with liking a sports. The enjoyment is enhanced when you are rooting for one (group of) athletes and against another. Any reason to do so is good enough, no matter how silly. Being a fan doesn’t need to be reasonable.

    “On the occasions when I’ve been stuck having to watch professional sports I usually cheer for whoever’s behind – and switch ‘loyalty’ if they manage to get ahead.”
    That’s one excellent option.

    My silly reasons sometimes lead to conflicts. The last time was at the WCh in Brazil. As a Dutchman I rooted for Oranje. As a lifelong fan of FC Twente I also rooted for Bryan Ruiz, the excellent player who made my favourite team national champion for the first and until now only time.
    Much easier is Cristiano Ronaldo. I dislike the man so much that I automatically root against any team he’s playing for. The fact that he is a world class player only increases my dislike. The fact that all women think him attractive increases it even more. Like I wrote, reason is not mandatory here. In fact I welcome all kinds of logical fallacies. They allow me to argue that FC Twente is the best in the world. Screw the facts.

  11. Mano Singham says


    It must be nice to share a name with one of the Australian greats!

    I too thought that Richie Benaud was a classy guy as a cricketer, one of the wiliest of captains, and then later as a commentator and analyst he was one of the best.

  12. says

    Who are the New England Patriots?

    I wouldn’t be so sure of England struggling in this one, they have just beaten India quite comprehensively, leaving aside the traditional opening collapse and inability to bowl the tail, and we will find out more on Sunday when they play Australia.

    England’s poor ranking is down to 3 years of trying to make their tried and trusted Test side into one day specialists, in the last few months after being bombarded with criticism the selectors have done a 180 (although it was obviously their idea and part of a cunning plan) and chosen short form specialists for this world cup.

    And although I am a follower of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s first 11 (I’m not entirely sure that in this case the team represents the nation), I have a soft spot for the Aussies.
    Watching England getting humiliated by Lillee, Thompson and Chappell in the 70s/80s then Ponting, Waugh ,Warne and Mcgrath 90s/00’s at least when you were beaten, you were beaten in style.
    And the sledging, meh. At least with the Aussies its not just “fuck off you wanker”, there are jokes about biscuits and Ferraris.
    Problem for we in the UK is, it is all going to happen in the wee small hours.

    Mnbo, Don’t know if you are aware or not but the Neatherland’s have an excellent developing cricket team, and they do take part in the world cup but didnt qualify for the finals in Australia. IIRC they beat England in the last T20, and in the last world cup although they lost to England it was a fantastically entertaining match.

    And I would also like to see SL go through. They were a lovely team to host last summer and there were some real edge of the seat test matches and beat England well in the T20 warm ups. Unfortunately SL have had a few key retirements.

  13. says

    @2 “What I don’t understand is how people are able to form an emotional connection to a group of athletes that, really, they have nothing to do with”

    If that was the only reason for watching or following sport, it would be difficult to explain why anyone would watch a sport or match that their own group of friends or relatives aren’t involved in.

    During the last Olympics I came in one afternoon and put on the TV just to see what was on, fully intending to just catch five minutes before going about my business.
    I’m not a fan of the Olympics as I prefer team games to individualistic sports (its a class thing) and I can at best take or leave association football, but 2 hours later I was still sitting riveted to one of the best football games Ive watched in years. I am neither Canadian or from the USA, I am also a man rather than a woman so there was no tribal feelings involved, it was just a fantastic engrossing drama played out in a fair and honest way (unlike many of the men’s games, particularly those involving Christiano Ronaldo eh Mnbo 🙂 between two completely committed teams.

    The reason many billions of people get this while you don’t, might not be something like a need for “tribalism” that’s missing in those many billions of people, it might just be your inability to turn off your cynicism.

  14. Holms says

    Or more simply, that people are different and are entertained by different things. Though, Marcus sure does enjoy showing a streak of ‘bah humbug’ these days.

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    Danny Butts @13:

    it was just a fantastic engrossing drama played out in a fair and honest way

    Nothing fair and honest about the refereeing, though.

  16. jockmcdock says

    Keith Miller @9

    Is that your real name? Great name.

    Keith Miller was once asked on a talk show (I think it was Parkie) about how much pressure there was playing test cricket. His reply was along the lines of “Pressure? Pressure is having a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not.” He had been a pilot in WW2.

    Says it all.

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