Christopher Clark previews the flagship event of the international cricket calendar.

Australia and New Zealand host the 2015 World Cup, across 44 days of one-day international cricket.  Fourteen of the top cricketing nations take part in the tournament, however there is an argument that the format is to long (for example, the football World Cup only lasts 32 days).  A tournament in which a team (England) plays six matches in the first month and theoretically only have to beat Afghanistan and Scotland to qualify for the quarter finals must be flawed.

Alastair Cook the former England ODI captain suggested that the much derided ICC Champions Trophy is the best one day competition “because it only lasts two weeks”.  However despite the long group phase of the competition there is still plenty to be excited about.  There are three teams entering the tournament on top form, hosts Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa who contain the best batsman and bowler in the world.

Bubbling under these three are teams like Sri Lanka, India and deep breath, England who on any given day can give the three favourites a real game.  Throw into the mix the Pakistanis and West Indians who can veer from the sublime to the ridiculous from one game to the next, there is plenty to be excited about.

The 2015 World Cup is split into top groups of 7, which are as follows:

Group A
Australia
Bangladesh
England
New Zealand
Sri Lanka
Afghanistan
Scotland

Group B
India
Pakistan
South Africa
West Indies
Zimbabwe
Ireland
United Arab Emirates

Each team plays each other once, and the top 4 qualify to play each other in the quarter finals.

When it comes to the World Cup’s England’s default setting is one of underachievement.  They have been runners up on 3 occasions, the last of those more than two decades ago, when the tournament was last held in Australasia (1992).  A quarter final should be a formality this time around, and if they can avoid South Africa in the quarter final, then there is no reason why they cannot make the semi-finals.  Group A is by far the stronger of the two groups and England will have tougher matches in their groups, then their prospective quarter final opponents.  Ian Bell was surprisingly selected ahead of Alex Hales in the tri-series tournament to open the batting, however Bell excelled.  He has given England’s innings a fluent and technically sound start.  On his day, Ian Bell is one of the best batsmen in the world, and England will hope that he continues this form into the World Cup.

England’s star man
Whilst Broad, Woakes and Finn pitched in with plenty of wickets in the tri series, James Anderson is undoubtedly the leader of English attack, and his temperament and economical bowling will be key, when Australia’s, New Zealand and Sri Lanka’s attacking batsman look to explode in the opening 20overs.

England’s one to watch
Jos Buttler has the potential to be the next great wicket-keeper batsman.  In a generation where his peers Kumar Sangakkara and Brendan McCullum come to the end of their career, Buttler is at the start.  His deft touch, dynamism and power have a chance to cause real damage for England, in the latter overs of matches.

 

…and the rest:

Group A

Australia
World Champions in three of the last four World Cups, Australia will be the team to beat.  Blessed with as an explosive opening pair as the world game can offer (Warner/Finch), backed up by a strong middle order, getting plenty of runs shouldn’t be an issue.  They have an army of seamers, to wreak devastation and havoc in the opposition, their only weakness is they have no front-line spinner.  However with their seamers and the pitches in Australia, this is a minor weakness.

Australia’s star man
David Warner – Belligerent and magnificent.  His power at the top of the innings makes for compelling viewing, and he is a real box office player.

Australia’s one to watch
Mitchell Starc – Bowling at 90mph this left arm fast bowler has perfected bowling at the beginning and end of one day innings.  Expect him to take plenty of wickets.

 

New Zealand
Sliding under the radar has always been the New Zealand approach, but this tournament they are now one of the favourites, led by the excellent Brendan McCullum.  The batting has plenty of firepower, and the bowling whilst not having a world-beater are workmanlike and effective.  With Daniel Vettori adding guile with his spin bowling expect the Kiwis to come close.

New Zealand’s star man
Brendan McCullum – The best captain in world cricket, his aggressive and fearless captaincy has inspired confidence throughout his side.  Meanwhile his batting remains as irrepressible as ever.

New Zealand’s one to watch
Kane Williamson – The glue in the New Zealand batting line up.  Whilst his team mates tee off at one end, Williamson pushes the ball around at a run-a-ball. A hugely under-rated player.

 

Sri Lanka
Their victory in the 96 World Cup changed the way one day cricket was played.  Their aggressive style approach is now the blueprint for every side.  Two runners up spots in the last two tournaments, show their pedigree.  However this is an aging side, and time may finally be up against them.

Sri Lanka’s star man
Kumar Sangakkara – One of the true greats of the modern game.  Sangakkara will be aiming to end his one day cricket with a real flourish.  An expert gloveman, a batsman that oozes class.

Sri Lanka’s one to watch
Suranga Lakmal – On the Australian bouncy wickets, expect this tall paceman to cause opposition real trouble.

 

Bangladesh
On the sub-continent Bangladesh are always a threat.  However in pacier conditions their batsman may suffer, and their bowling is not strong.  Although a side which contains Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al-Hasan and Mahmudallah should never be under-estimated.

Bangladesh’s star man
Shakib Al-Hasan is the third ranked all rounder in one day cricket, and his slow left arm bowling is impressive in 50over cricket.

Bangladesh’s one to watch
Tamim Iqbal – When this guy is in full flow he is a class act.  However hugely inconsistent,

 

Scotland
Scotland under Paul Collingwood deserve great credit for qualifying for their third world cup.  They will be aiming to beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and will obviously have one eye on the game against England.

Scotland’s star man
Preston Momsett – The captain scored 139 in the final of the qualifying tournament, and he will need to produce more of the same.

Scotland’s one to watch
Paul Collingwood – ECB officials will be watching Collingwood’s coaching performances very closely, with one eye on his role in future England coaching set ups.

 

Afghanistan
If you’re looking for a fairytale story, then look no further.  As recently as 2008 they were playing in Division 5 of the World Cricket League, but they have climbed the ranks to become one of the stronger Associate teams.  Whether they can test the established teams is debatable, but they are a welcome addition.

Afghanistan’s star man
Mohammed Nabi – The experience all rounder will have to produce with bat and ball if Afghanistan are to have any impact

Afghanistan’s one to watch
Aftab Alam – Took wickets against Zimbabwe in 2014, he will need to chip in here as well.

 

Group B

India
Third favourites in the betting behind Australia and South Africa, however they have had an awful few months.  They have been in Australia for 80 days playing a combination of tests and one-dayers primarily against Australia, and have not won a match.  Confidence is fragile, and they start up against Pakistan and South Africa.  If they lose both of those, heads certainly will drop.  India have undoubted world stars, but will hold no fears for their prospective opponents in the quarter finals

India’s star man
Virat Kohli – The new Indian superstar.  He already has an incredible 21 one day centuries, and he’s easy eye on the batting will be a joy to watch.

India’s one to watch
Umesh Yadav – Yadav bowls quick, not necessarily accurately, but he offers genuine pace. After the injury to Ishant Sharma, he could prove key for India.

 

South Africa
South Africa enter every World Cup as one of the favourites, but invariably they choke at the vital moment, most memorably in that epic semi final against Australia in 1999.  South Africa boast the best batsman (AB De Villiers), and best bowler (Dale Steyn) in the game.  Like the Australians they have a stellar line up, and the lack of a top line spinner is the only weakness.

South Africa’s star man
AB De Villiers – The greatest cricketer in the game.  The current No 1 ranked batsman in the world has the all-round game to lead South Africa to their first World Cup triumph.

South Africa’s one to watch
Kyle Abbott – Whilst as not as quick as Steyn and Morkel, Abbott has developed the vital skill of being able to bowl at the end of the innings.  His temperament may prove vital in tight matches

 

Pakistan
Enigmatic.  They have talent to burn, but they do not always deliver.  One game likely to hit 350, the next likely to get out for 120.  You never know what you’re going to get.  However they did win the World Cup last time it was held in Australia…so you never know.

Pakistan’s star man
Shahid Afridi – Explosive batting, dangerous leg spin bowling.  Afridi’s change of pace and accuracy will be key for Pakistan in restricting their opponents.

Pakistan’s one to watch
Mohammed Irfan – The tall pace bowler should be a threat in these conditions.  However with Pakistan, you never know.

 

West Indies
Beset by problems between their own board and players.  The following first choice players are not going to the World Cup; Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo.  Under inexperienced captain Jason Holder, West Indies have some firepower, but internal fighting may cost them dear.

West Indies’ star man
Chris Gayle – Gayle saves his best performances like the rest of his team-mates for the 20/20 competitions, however in his last World Cup he may want to go out with a flourish

West Indies’ one to watch
Jason Holder – How will this young captain manage this team of mercurial players.  A real test for the inexperienced quick bowler.

 

Ireland
If a push for full Test status is the Irish aim, then a good showing in this tournament is imperative.  With 4 sides qualifying for the quarter finals, Ireland will be looking to prey on the West Indies weaknesses.  With experienced county players in their line up, they have a chance to upset the apple cart.

Ireland’s star man
Ed Joyce – A stylish batsman, a prolific run scorer for Sussex, Joyce could squeeze Ireland into the knockout stages

Ireland’s one to watch
George Dockrell – Four years ago bright things were expected of Dockrell, it never quite happened.  Could this be the Irishman’s moment now.

 

Zimbabwe
In the past Zimbabwe would have been the team all the big sides wanted to avoid, the prosperous side of the late 90s has given way to a side battling to keep it’s head above the water.  A recent thrashing by Bangladesh hardly inspires confidence.

Zimbabwe’s star man
Brendan Taylor – The wicket-keeper batsman is Zimbabwe’s most experienced player, and his knowledge will be vital when the side will undoubtedly be under pressure.

Zimbabwe’s one to watch
Solomon Mire – An explosive hitter, his big hitting style could cause damage.

 

UAE
In their second World Cup, they will be hoping to improve on their last appearance, when they only won one game.  A favourable start against Zimbabwe and Ireland may assist them, before they have to play the big boys.

UAE’s star man
Khurram Khan – In just nine international matches, he already has one century and two fifties.

UAE’s one to watch
Aaqib Javed – Ex Pakistani world cup winner Javed will be looking to inspire his side to victory.