The Cricket World Cup is back where it began in 1975 – in the United Kingdom. 10 teams, 1 group, 48 games in total, played in 10 venues across the UK and Wales. At the end of it all, one team will be crowned World Cup champions. Will there be a new winner this time? Or will we have one of the 5 previous World Cup champions lift the trophy once again? It all depends on which group of players brings their best game forward on a consistent basis over the next 46 days. Below is my list of players (one per team) to watch out for in this year’s competition
1) Mohammad Shahzad
Not Rashid Khan, not Mohammad Nabi, but Mohammad Shahzad who I think will be Afghanistan’s most valuable player in this World cup. Ofcourse, Afghanistan will need their most popular and experienced players to perform, if they have to have any chance whatsoever of making their mark in the competition. But there is something about Shahzad that you just cannot ignore. He is unorthodox, has his own way of playing the game and has no inhibitions of bringing that game forward without any fear whatsoever. If he remains fit through the tournament, I believe he will end up being Afghanistan’s top tun-getter and will also finish in the top 10 run-getters at the World Cup.
2) David Warner
Back in International Cricket after a year-long hiatus, Warner will be fired up and eager to make amends for lost time. He had a terrific IPL, bagged the orange cap in the process and continued his rich vein of form in the World cup warm-up matches. I believe he should and will open the batting in Australia’s first game against Afghanistan. Warner has had a magnificent career so far, and really has nothing to prove to anybody. But the only way he can heal the wounds he suffered over the last year or so will be to let his bat do the talking, and get Australia to the knock-out stages of the competition. With him and Steve Smith back in the team, Australia will start the competition as strong contenders for the title.
Easily Bangladesh’s best player and one of the world’s leading all-rounders, Shakib leads his country’s chances at the World cup. Despite his achivements over the years, one still gets the feeling that Shakib has more to offer, especially as a batsman. His left arm spin will be important, but he has to deliver with the bat if Bangladesh entertains any hopes of finishing in the top 4 places at the end of the league stage. Along with WestIndies, Bangladesh is my other dark-horse for a semi-final spot. But for this to happen, Shakib and the other elderly statesmen in the team that includes Mushfiqur, Mortaza and Mahmadullah have to come good. The team has time and again raised the hopes of millions of fans only to fail at the most important junctures. It is now time for them to beat the ‘big’ teams more consistently, and Shakib will have a big role to play in that.
4) Jos Buttler
Along with Kohli and Steve Smith, Jos Buttler has been the most discussed Cricketer in recent times. And that has been purely due to cricketing reasons and the damage he can cause to bowling attacks across the world. His exploits with the bat down the order can cause sleepless nights for opposition captains, and he alone can be the difference between England scoring 280 and 350 on a given day. His batting has improved leaps and bounds over the last 4 years and his role in the batting line-up has never been clearer. He is one of the few gifted players in world cricket today and there has never been a better time for one to enjoy his batting.
5) M.S. Dhoni
Celebrated around the world, except by his growing number of critics in India, Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be playing his last World cup for his country. Watching his batting over the years, I always got the feeling that Dhoni would be one of those very few guys who would never change his game due to reasons such as age, match situations etc (think Virender Sehwag). But over the last 3-4 years, there is no question that he has slowed down and is not the same batsman he used to be, before. There could be various reasons behind this, but whatever said and done, he stil continues to be an important cog for Team India. Apart from his batting and wicket-keeping, his leadership skills from behind the stumps will be absolutely vital for the team, and will immensely help Virat Kohli in the field.
6) Trent Boult
One of the nicer guys in World Cricket, Trent Boult plays, ofcourse, for Newzealand, the nicest Cricketing nation on the planet. A fast bowler, with a smooth run up, excellent release and neat follow-through, and one who is capable of moving the ball both ways, Boult is arguably the best left-arm fast bowler in world cricket today. He has constantly, over the years, increased his speed and bowls consistently in the 140-145 kph range. His battles with top batsmen such as Kohli, Warner, Smith, Gayle and Amla will be incredile to watch. Boult is my pick to finish in the top 4 wicket-takers list in this years’ competition.
Surprising choice? Not really! His numbers tell you that he is one of the best emerging players in world cricket. Averaging over 60 in 20 ODIs, with 6 centuries to boost, Imam-Ul-Haq is one of Pakistan’s leading run-getters over the last year or so. His selection to the team came with huge controversy, but he has put that to rest by letting his bat do the talking. He had a good series against England recently and will absolutely be looking forward to his first major global tournament. Pakistan Cricket continues to be riddled with unpredictability, but with Imam at the top of the batting line-up, one hopes that there will be some sort of consistency. He is my pick to finish in the top 10 run-getters in the World Cup.
8) Kagiso Rabada
At 24, Rabada is the leader of SouthAfrica’s bowling attack, which also consists of Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir. That says a lot in itself. Born to bowl fast, he has rattled many big players with his sheer pace and bounce, and will be a handful on good English wickets. With Steyn’s injury worries, Southafrica will depend on Rabada to come good against the big teams. He has played only 60-odd ODIs for his team and this will be his first World Cup ever, but one gets the feeling that Rabada has been here for a long time. This is because he has thrust himself into the limelight with incredible achivements consistently against the big teams. Rabada leads one of the most potent bowling attacks on offer at the World Cup and will hope to deliver the goods for his team starting May 30th against England.
9) Angelo Mathews
An exeptionally talented cricketer, Angelo Mathews was the man everyone in Srilanka hoped would lead them through the transition after the retirements of Sangakkara and Jayawardene. But, injuries, a lack of consistency in his performances, and various other external factors have preveted him from even cementing his place in the squad.
Having said that, it seems as if Mathews is coming back strong with some good performances, especially with the bat. In the absence of experienced players such as Chandimal and Tharanga, and the suprising exclusion of Niroshan Dickwella, Srilanka will look up to Mathews and Malinga to deliver the goods at this year’s World cup. Will Srilanka’s youngest ever test captain be able to stand up and be counted?
10) Shai Hope
It is easy to sometimes overlook talented players especially when they ply their trade in the shadows of people like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell or Jason Holder. But, Shai Hope is undoubtedly the batting mainstay of this Westindies team. At 25, he has shown to have the firepower and experience that Westindies so badly needs at the top of the order. Expected to bat at number 3, Hope will be the person that Westindies would hope bats long in the innings, but in the process of doing that, he should not curb his attacking style and intent. Looking at the WestIndies squad for the World Cup, it is tough to even imagine that they had to qualify to be in the competition. But with players such as Hope, Russell, and Gayle, they are my dark horses for a spot in the semis.