Will it be between Aussies and Proteas?
Harare- The experts say it’s likely to be a shootout between Australia and South Africa in the battle for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, which gets underway Down Under this month, but there is so much quality, among the challengers, for this to be a two-horse race.
Defending champions India might have been poor, in their last dance on the Australian wickets before they get the defence of their World Cup title underway, but they are a team, when it comes to the real battle, who can rise to the occasion.
Sri Lanka might have been humbled in New Zealand but their key players have always shown a love for the big stage while Pakistan and even the West Indies have the capacity to put together a tournament-winning performance.
In their conditions, the Black Caps of New Zealand are dangerous opponents and while very few people are putting their money on England, humiliated in the final of the tri-series by Australia in their last preparatory match, they are a team one can dismiss at their own peril.
Then, there are the dangerous underdogs like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh waiting for their day to catch the giants, on their off days, and force their way into headlines around the world.
It’s the grand battle and that is what makes it special.
“The World Cup is everything to the game,” former Zimbabwe skipper, Alistair Campbell, who is now the Zimbabwe Cricket MD in charge of cricket operations, said on the official 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup website.
“Even Englishmen and Australians, who have the Ashes, and Indians and South Africans, who have their own, iconic series, share the unique symbolism and importance of the World Cup.
“It is critical in keeping the game healthy and prosperous.”
Former West Indies great, Sir Viv Richards, believes that of the 10 ODI batsmen that he would pay to watch playing in a limited overs match, three will be at this World Cup in New Zealand and Australia and, their form, could have a huge bearing in their sides’ quest for glory.
There is so much expectation that South Africa, led by their brilliant skipper AB de Villiers, will finally come of age in this World Cup after years of taking their fans through waves of emotional torture as they choked on the big stage.
De Villiers will go into the tournament as the number one ranked ODI batsman in the world and such is the quality in this Proteas team that his teammate, Hashim Amla, another of their top order batsmen, is ranked number two on the globe.
Young Quinton de Kock is ranked ninth in the world.
And, with so much focus on De Villiers after his record-breaking feat in the series against the West Indies, Sir Richards believes the Proteas’ skipper is one of the very special 10 batsmen that he would pay to watch play this game.
“Sometimes when I watch him, it seems like I am watching myself,” Richards told the official 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup website.
“He looks very comfortable at the crease. The shots he plays bring such joy and not just to me. It is a joy to all cricket fans who are watching him the world over.
“I like his style and he is one player who is very hard to leave out of any ODI team.”
South Africa have a very powerful bowling attack, led by Dale Steyn, who will go into this World Cup ranked as the third best ODI bowler while his teammates, Morne Morkel (10) and Imran Tahir (12) are among the top dozen.
Sir Richards believes the other special batsmen, who will be at this World Cup, are West Indies’ explosive opener, Chris Gayle, who can be very destructive with the bat, and rising Indian superstar Virat Kohli.
“There is another West Indies’ batsman who comes to mind, Chris Gayle,” said Sir Richards.
“He is a batsman that I would optimally describe as a bowlers’ nightmare. On his day, he can be very destructive. He can be a match-winner in any environment and in any match conditions.
“If he is on song, then the opposition can lose the match in the blink of an eye, that’s how destructive he can be.
“The last name on my list, but not the least by any means, is young Virat Kohli. There might be some surprise regarding this pick because he is very young and has a lot of cricket to play still.
“At such a young age he has twice the number of ODI century than in Tests and he is such a confident player in limited-overs. It is not to say he isn’t so in the longer format, but I really like his aggressive style in ODI cricket.
“Look at the way he started his career, and the batsman he has already become today, he is simply magnificent in whatever little time he has played as compared to others. He is only going to get better and better, and add to his list of achievements.”
Kohli goes into this World Cup ranked the third best ODI batsman in the world and a billion Indian fans will be hoping that their superstar shines on the big stage to lead their team to another success story Down Under.
Australia probably has the best balanced team and, as hosts, they are likely to be an indomitable force in their backyard, which explains why all the bookmakers have them as favourites to lift the World Cup next month.
But this is the World Cup and even the lightweights, who have written their special stories in the past in this tournament, know that they can cause an upset on their day.