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.