As the players and fans gear up for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 to get underway at The Oval on Thursday, 30 May, the ten warm-up matches have given us a fair idea of how the teams shape up before the tournament proper.
Opponents, beware, for the defending champions are back to their ruthless best. Australia go into the tournament as the only side to have won both their warm-up matches. Having inched past the much-fancied England by 12 runs, the Aaron Finch-led side stormed past Sri Lanka to complete their World Cup preparations in the best possible manner. The bowling unit lived up to its reputation, successfully defending 297 against the might of England’s batting unit, a rare occurrence in recent times, and then restricting Sri Lanka to 239/8 on Monday, 27 May. While Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja’s form come as the biggest positives on the batting front, a strong pace battery gives them every chance of lifting one-day cricket’s premier trophy for the sixth time.
Currently ranked first in the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Team Rankings, England gave further evidence of their strengths as they stormed past Afghanistan by nine wickets after a narrow loss to arch-rivals Australia in Southampton. The opening pair of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow continued their rich form, putting up another dominant performance on Monday. With Jofra Archer all set to announce himself at the biggest stage, the bowling attack, too, looks well-settled, with plenty of options on offer. The hosts will be relieved as skipper Eoin Morgan has recovered from his finger injury and has been declared match fit for the tournament opener against South Africa.
The top order’s failure in both matches leaves worrying signs for the 2011 World Cup Champions, as it has been their biggest strength in recent years. Openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who managed only 24 runs collectively in their two outings, will hope to put those failures behind and emulate their performances from past tournaments, such as the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013 and 2017. While KL Rahul seems to have made the No.4 spot his with the century against Bangladesh on Tuesday, MS Dhoni’s form spells ominous signs for other teams in the competition. One of India’s prime weapons with the ball, the pair of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal also announced themselves before the tournament by sharing six scalps between them against Bangladesh.
Like India, New Zealand’s warm-up results were contrasting, as they went down to West Indies by 91 runs after comprehensively beating India by six wickets at The Oval. While Trent Boult looked in prime form, with eight wickets from two matches, the other bowlers, spinners, in particular, failed to create an impact. Kane Williamson would expect more control from Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi during the middle overs in batting-friendly conditions. Tom Blundell made a strong case for himself with a fluent century against West Indies, and looks set to make his debut against Sri Lanka on Saturday. Martin Guptill, who topped the run charts at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2015, will be eager to find some form after successive failures.
Form and fortune seem to be running out for Pakistan, as their second warm-up game, against Bangladesh, got completely washed following defeat to Afghanistan in the first. Pakistan, who lifted the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 in England, come to the tournament having lost each of their last ten completed one-day internationals. The fast-bowling department, which has traditionally been their strength, failed to create significant impact against Afghanistan. Sarfaraz Ahmed will hope that the arrival of the experienced Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz can inspire the bowling attack to produce match-winning performances. With Babar Azam extending his good form with a century at Bristol, and the experience of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik in the middle order, the batting looks well-settled.
Hashim Amla addressed concerns surrounding his form with a pair of fluent half-centuries, giving the South African top order a well-settled look ahead of the tournament opener. Even so, South Africa will need some consistency from their younger lot, such as the promising Rassie van der Dussen, who will bat alongside David Miller and JP Duminy in the middle order. The bowling, despite Dale Steyn’s unavailability for their first match, against England, appears lethal, with Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi in their ranks.
A monumental 421 against New Zealand was testament to their batting form. While Shai Hope continued his dream run with a stroke-filled century, Andre Russell demonstrated power hitting of the highest quality with a whirlwind 54 pff just 25 balls. Kemar Roach, one of their main weapons with the ball, made his presence felt at Bristol, conceding at 3.6 runs per over in a chase of 422. The other bowlers seem to have plenty of room for improvement, as most of them lacked control on Tuesday, and in the rain-affected game against South Africa earlier. Having drawn the ODI series against a strong England side at home earlier this year, West Indies come into the World Cup as one of the most dangerous units.
Bangladesh have slowly but surely established themselves as a tough side to beat in multi-nation tournaments. They knocked England out of the World Cup in 2015 to make their first-ever quarter-final appearance at the event and then made it to the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017. Most recently, they prevailed in the Ireland tri-nation series, which also featured West Indies, to record their first-ever win in a multi-nation tournament. While their bowling has a lot of room for improvement, as they allowed India to pile up 359/7 despite having reduced them to 83/3 at one stage, contributions from Mushfiqur Rahim and Liton Das come as a huge positive. Under the inspirational leadership of Mashrafe Mortaza, Bangladesh head into the tournament a confident unit.
The 1996 World Cup winners have plenty of things to look upon after their defeats to South Africa and Australia in the warm-ups. The batsmen, on both occasions, failed to convert their starts, as losing wickets at crucial junctures cost the team dearly. While Nuwan Pradeep has been a consistent strike bowler in recent times, he has got very little support from the other end. Lasith Malinga, who didn’t bowl in any of the warm-up games, would be expected to lead the inexperienced bowling unit, thereby reducing the burden on Karunaratne’s shoulders. The speedster, alongside Angelo Matthews, would hold the key to Sri Lanka’s progress in the tournament.
Currently ranked 10th in the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Team Rankings, Afghanistan have taken giant strides in international cricket over the last few years. They defeated West Indies comprehensively in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers last year, tied against India in the Asia Cup, and edged out Pakistan in their first warm-up game in Bristol. They were comprehensively beaten by England at The Oval, which comes as a reality check for the newly-appointed captain Gulbadin Naib. However, with a number of match-winners in their ranks, like Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Ahmed Shehzad, Afghanistan can potentially upset any side in the competition.