The ICC Cricket World Cup begins in Australasia on Saturday with hosts Australia playing England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and New Zealand playing Sri Lanka in Christchurch. The Proteas start their campaign in Hamilton against Zimbabwe on Sunday. The table has been set for a feast of cricket, not only this weekend but for the next six weeks, as the top fourteen ODI teams battle it out for the World Cup.
However, realistically there are only three teams who can lift the World Cup on the 29 March at the MCG. The three teams are Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and in that order. It is hard to see the reigning champions India defending their title. The greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are gone and their recent performances don’t suggest much, especially, away from the sub-continent. The same applies to the other sub-continent teams.
New Zealand will have a realistic chance as they have a well balanced team and match winners in the likes of Brendan McCullum, Kane Williamson and Corey Anderson. They also have the advantage of playing at home and have recently once again proved that they are hard to beat in New Zealand. Their real challenge will be their self-belief and whether they can shed the minnow tag that has bogged New Zealand cricket its whole history.
South Africa has a side that is not ideal for ODI cricket because of its lack of all-rounders and balance. However, the team has some of the best match winners in world cricket in the captain AB de Villers, Hashim Amla, and Dale Steyn. They also have very good support players in Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and JP Duminy. If South Africa is to win the world cup, these players will have to enjoy a very good tournament.
The Proteas biggest test still remains their mental strength. There has been a lot of talk of “chokers” in the past, whether, this is right or wrong is not important. The facts prove that the Proteas do have a problem in knock out games and the best way to prove the “chokers” critics wrong is to perform strongly in the knock out stage of the World Cup. The Proteas have their best chance of winning a World Cup since 1999.
Australia must start as favourites because of home ground advantage and also a successful history. They have won the World Cup four times, more than any other cricketing nation. Also, playing at home has to be an advantage, it is hard to see a repeat of 1992 by the current side when they failed to qualify for the semi-finals. They have a very well balanced team in all aspects and many match winners in the likes of David Warner and Glenn Maxwell, to name but two.
The team that wins the World Cup will have to play consistently and also have a fair share of the “rub of the green”. My heart says the Proteas will win the World Cup, but my head says Australia. Win or lose, we cricket fans are in for an exciting and memorable six weeks.