ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 Preview

Englands big chance?

The Big Picture:

Has it been four years already? Of course it has! In fact it has felt a lot longer. It is hard to pin down why, but four years is a long time in international cricket. Perhaps it is because of the never ending ICC future tours programme. So much cricket is constantly played, which means, so much can constantly change. In the four years between the cricket world cups we’ve had four other ICC events; three twenty20 competitions and the 2009 Champions Trophy. All of which have had different winners. A team has failed to stamp its authority over one-day cricket, which of course is a good thing, as it makes it all much more competitive.

The cricket World Cup currently held by Australia

This year,the  Bookmakers favourites are India with their powerful batting line up, guidance from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and skilful bowlers. They are playing at home, and the country adores cricket, especially the one-day form of the game. Yet as an ageing side, they do not stand head and shoulders above the other contenders of Australia, England, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Pakistan could turn out to be a dark horse, but it really depends which side decides to turn up, and if they can avoid controversy. I would be well pushed to predict a great tournament for either New Zealand or the West Indies; both of which are in a frightful decline. The tournament approaching though is as much about the importance of 50 over cricket as it is about which side gets the trophy. With twenty20, a packed international fixture calendar and big money in the IPL there are continuous questions over whether 50 over cricket can survive. The big question is: does the game really need three formats to flourish?

England’s Chance to Shine?

Let’s say it. England are the World Twenty20 Champions. It’s an irrefutable fact, and it is an amazing feeling to even write. England have also just won and retained the Ashes in Australia. The team is perhaps on an all-time high. The Andes, as I call them; Flower and Strauss, have turned a talented group of England cricketers into a strong, efficient and clinical unit. On their day they can beat anyone.

The Andes; victorious down under

There is a quality top 6 batting line up now full of experience. Kevin Peitersen is still a force to be reckoned with. A few big innings from him will not only keep him happy, but give the team real momentum. It has always seemed to me that if KP is happy, then so is the team, both on and off the field. Eoin Morgan appears to be the jigsaw piece England were missing. His ability to boost England’s total or finish a chase is extraordinary and nobody in international cricket does it with such consistency. If Strauss, Bell and Collingwood bat well around these two then England should get big, or at least, competitive, scores.

The bowlers have got their act together too. There are now plans on to how to bowl throughout a one day innings, with enough variation and ability in the ranks to adapt to difficult situations. Graeme Swann is arguably the best spin bowler in international cricket too. It is a huge bonus for England to finally travel to the sub-continent, known for its rewarding nature to slow bowlers, with world class at their disposal. Death bowling will, as usual, be crucial. Flat sub-continent pitches could mean a lot of high-scoring matches, so every tight over will be vital. It will be key to get the balance of the side right, as there is no outstanding all rounder. If the batsman take responsibility though, and get the runs they should do, I don’t see a problem with playing 5 bowlers. It will very much a team mentality which wins the tournament, and all of England’s players will need to be at their best.

Englands best team yet? Seen here celebrating the Countries first major tournament win in the twenty20 format last year

England’s record in the sub-continent is not one to be proud of, but I feel that this is the side which diminish all the negative preconceptions that England have been labelled with over the past twenty years. With seven group matches, I can’t see England getting through the to the knock out stage without defeat, but they will get through all the same. Finishing fourth in the group would not even be a disaster, as peaking at the right time in tournaments is vital for success. Even the prospect of Sri Lanka or Australia in the quarter finals should not faze this set of England players. Once you’re in a knock out situation, anything can happen. There is a lot of potential here, and The Andes have made it clear that this side has much more to achieve. As a supporter, I know England must grasp this opportunity with both hands. Winning the world cup, and becoming the number one ranked test side are the components to make it mission accomplished.

The Other Contenders:

It is hard for me to see past India and Sri Lanka as the favourites, and as England’s biggest threat. They are the hosts, so will get a huge amount of support. Also, through Sachin Tendulkar and Mettiah Muralitharan , the sides each have a legend of the game playing their final tournament. It would amazing if either man could lift the trophy to finish their career.

One the all time greats; The worlds career leading ODI and Test runs scorer

Muralitharan has of course won it before in 1996, so India will definitely feel it is Tendulkar’s right to gain the one prize which has alluded him. Disregarding the emotional and romantic aspects of the sides’ desires, India have the best batting line up, whilst Sri Lanka’s is not long enough.However, Sri Lanka pack their side with bowling options which means they are great at restricting teams to below par totals. Of course that leads to problems when batting first when they don’t get to past a par score themselves. Perhaps India’s balance is not quite right either, and they can sometimes be a bit stuck for a fifth bowler. However, both teams are of course used to the sub-continent conditions and have players use to playing in, and winning big matches. There are so many players in their ranks which thrive on the big occasions; Malinga, Dilshan, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni, just to name a few.

The other big contenders are of course South Africa and Australia. It is important to remember the Aussies are still technically the one-day kings, as they are the holders of both the world cup and the champions trophy. Shane Watson is now arguably one of the best one-day openers in the world, and a more than useful bowling option. His excellent form may arguably mean that Australia have the best balance to their side. Their squad still has a lot of the players that were in the last world cup. The experience of Brett Lee, Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey could well inspire some great performances. However, four years is a long time in cricket, and the team has not been at its best since the 2009 Champions Trophy. I feel Ricky Ponting’s form and captaincy will probably be an indicator as to how far they can get.

Meanwhile South Africa are certainly the major force in test cricket, but still stumble in the shorter form of the game. All their batsman have averaged over 50 in the last years of one day cricket, but men with such high averages can be slightly selfish, and bat a bit too slowly to ensure they get a decent personal score, so when they should score 320, they only manage 280. Their bowling is definitely stronger than the Aussies though, with Dale Steyn proving his potency in all forms of the game consistently. The likes of Johnson, Tait and Lee are a bit erratic. South Africa, like England, must make the most of this opportunity. Graeme Smith’s captaincy has lasted nearly 8 years, and he has helped form an international force but has little in terms of world achievements to show for it. Their best result has been beating Australia in their own back yard – but of course that was in a test series. They have built a strong and well-drilled unit, and they are definitely potential champions. Everyone fears South Africa, but they arguably fear winning, and can contrive to lose games even when they are in the best of form.

Previously Victorious; Australia in the West indies 2007. Could this be England this year?

It should be a great tournament, and the ICC needs it to be to help promote 50 over cricket. The new format, i.e. disposing of the awful ‘Super 8s/6s’ stage, will make the tournament much more enjoyable. One group stage and then knock out keeps it competitive. I can’t see a team going undefeated, like the Australians did in 2003 and 2007. I have always admired Tendulkar, and he does deserve to finish his career on a high note. If England get to the final then we would have seen remarkable progress from them in the last four years, and that must not be taken for granted. If I had to predict now, I’d say India, based on home support rather than talent, potential and skill. Many teams seem equally matched, that is how tight it is. International cricket is in a healthy position where anyone of six teams can win the world cup, the way it should be!

Watch this space for updates over the tournament.