Hardman's Thoughts

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New World Champions or same old, same old?

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The 11th edition of the cricket world cup is about to start, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Unfortunately for English cricket fans, it will be difficult to watch much of it. The nature of 50 over cricket and time zones of the different continents mean the matches are starting late at night and finishing early in the morning or starting early in the morning and finishing around mid-day. Unlike the last world cup, it won’t be possible to watch all the matches as some start at the same time. That being said, the competition is always worth following and hence I shall attempt to predict all the results of the matches. I should mention that I’m notoriously bad at predictions and wouldn’t take my word for it should you wish to use my tips for bets!

However, this tournament may well be one of the easiest to predict for a long time. For years now, the ICC has failed to get the format correct for the primary world competition in cricket. There are too many matches in the pool, and it is easy to predict who will get through. Shocks rarely occur in 50 over cricket (although don’t mention that to the England attack that got pummelled by Kevin O’Brien) so many see the world cup as a foregone conclusion and take no interest in the group stage.

What exactly is the format? The field is made up of the 10 test playing nations along with 4 associate nations. These nations qualified through the cricket league championship of 2011-13 (top 2 – unsurprisingly Ireland and Afghanistan) while the other 2 come through the qualifier of the sides outside of the top 2 in the cricket league and the best sides in division 3 (test sides are classed as div 1, the world cricket league div 2). The winners of this qualifier were Scotland and UAE. There are 2 pools of 7 with the top 4 coming through both and playing a standard knockout competition. The purpose of the format is so every team can play at least 6 matches, which is admirable yet flawed. Unfortunately, as we’ll see later, the drawing of the pools has left the 8 qualifiers in almost no doubt and so the tournament will come down to which of those can put together a run of 3 wins on the bounce.

I can’t criticise without suggesting a better format so here is my idea. If you want 14 teams then have the 4 associate nations play a mini-group before the tournament to see which 2 sides progress. Then, with the 12 remaining sides separate them into 4 groups of 3 (or 3 groups of 4 – more complicated but more matches and so a fairer result). With 4 groups of 3, it is simply the top 2 who make it through to the quarter finals, 3 groups of 4 would be the top 2 plus the 2 best 3rd placed sides. To draw the groups, you could use a seeding system based upon the world rankings of the sides. Every side will play at least 2 or 3 matches, the associate sides will play more and have a chance to win matches on the biggest stage plus there is the added bonus of the tournament not lasting for too long. The ICC seem obsessed to play matches such as Australia v Sri Lanka in the first week, instead of leaving that for the final stages. You didn’t see Germany v Argentina in the football world cup groups! An ODI can take 7 hours; no one has the time or patience to watch 49 matches of that length. In fact, you could go further and use the 49-match format for the T20 edition. More matches are good for T20 and there will be more chance of a shock quarter finalist so the group stage will be more watchable.

I digress; if my idea was so wonderful I’m sure one of the leading people in cricket would have thought of it. For now, let’s take a look at all the teams involved in this year’s edition:

Making up the numbers:

 UAE:
World Ranking: 14
Pool: B
Previous best: Group stage (1996)

I admit to knowing little to nothing about UAE cricket. I am vaguely aware that, thanks to Pakistan playing their matches there, cricket has been on the rise again for the last few years and it’s no surprise that they are back in the world cup. It’s unlikely they will win a match however with Ireland being the other associate member of their group. Don’t expect much from them, a good tournament would be to not get thrashed in all their matches.

552654745  Scotland:
World Ranking: 13
Pool: A
Previous best: Group stage (1999, 2007)

Scotland have never won a match at a World Cup and are unlikely to again this time around, although an impressive victory over Ireland in the warm-ups suggest there is potential. Their second match against England will be the one they desperately want to win, and given England’s insecurities at the moment they might well. If there is any romance left in the world cup, Scotland might provide it but it’s more likely they’ll get bowled out for less than 150 every time they bat first. Might be competitive against England and Afghanistan

Potential to shock:

 Zimbabwe:
World Ranking: 10
Pool: B
Previous best: Super 6 (1999, 2003)

Zimbabwe will be incredibly grateful they are in the easier group, however that has meant being drawn with Ireland. They should beat the UAE and could beat Ireland and the West Indies. India aren’t the best in Australia and so if they get under the skin of the Indians that might well be the closest we get to a shock in the group stages. Unfortunately, this Zimbabwe side is a mere patch on ones in the past and it’s unlikely they will make much of an impression this year.

 Afghanistan:
World Ranking: 11
Pool: A
Previous best: –

Afghanistan’s cricket story is quite remarkable. Back in 2000 they didn’t exist yet now they are in a World Cup and there is even a chance they will walk away with one or two victories. If ever any good can come out of war then this is it. What are their chances? Well, they should beat Scotland. Past that, it’s plausible to see them getting a positive result against Bangladesh and pushing the more established nations closer than they would like. This will be a learning experience for them but I expect more than I do from Scotland, UAE and Zimbabwe.

 Ireland:
World Ranking: 12
Pool: B
Previous best: Super 8 (2007)

Ireland have genuine pedigree in the world cup. Not only have they made it out of the groups before, they beat England in the last edition and will want to impress in 2015 given the precarious position the associates find themselves in. I for one are very glad they Irish aren’t in England’s group, and as an admirer of Irish cricket am hopeful they could upset West Indies, India and possibly Pakistan. This won’t be a tournament for spinners hence why India and Pakistan’s stock is lowered. Ireland should beat Zimbabwe and the UAE and if they win one more match, they will make the quarterfinals. It’s possible, it’s possible…

 Bangladesh:
World Ranking: 9
Pool: A
Previous best: Super 8 (2007)

I was tempted to put Bangladesh in the making up numbers category. They always underachieve on the world stage and usually exit stage left before they have properly entered. I don’t expect much different this year however they should beat Afghanistan and Scotland leaving them only needing one more result to qualify for the quarters. England, Sri Lanka and the two hosts are tough opposition but not impossible to beat. Their pneultimate match is against England, it’ll be a must win for both.

Dark horses:

 West Indies:
World Ranking: 8
Pool: B
Previous best: Champions (1975, 1979)

The Caribbean nations are in disarray. As usual, player debates have dominated the build-up to the tournament and they have brought a much weaker squad than usual. England hammered them in the warm-up and without Dwayne Bravo, Pollard or Narine it’s tough to see how they can win matches. That being said, Gayle remains a powerful man at the top and with Ireland, Zimbabwe and UAE in their group, they will feel they should make the quarters. That should be as far as they go however it’s worth not writing them off as all it takes is one Gayle special and they will be in the semi-finals.

 India:
World Ranking: 2
Pool: B
Previous best: Champions (1983, 2011)

Don’t let the reigning champions tag and world ranking fool you here, India are in no position to be classed as favourites for this world cup. They can’t buy a win in Australia, losing every match they’ve played (apart from v Afghanistan) including in the tri-series with England and Australia. They will make it out of the group but then will face one of the co-hosts or Sri Lanka. All three sides are better than India at the moment so I highly doubt they’ll reach the last four. Their only hopes lie with Kohli and Dhoni.

 England:
World Ranking: 5
Pool: A
Previous best: Runners-up (1979, 1987, 1992)

If England hadn’t sacked Cook and vaguely impressed in the tri-series then I would have moved them down a category. But lets not kid ourselves, beating India and West Indies doesn’t mean they will win the World Cup. At the moment, they need to think about purely getting out of the group. A lot will rest on their matches with New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. If they can win two then they will qualify 3rd rather than 4th meaning avoiding South Africa in the quarterfinals. Playing India or Pakistan gives them a chance of being in the semi-finals, which would be a fantastic result. For me, a lot relies on how well Joe Root plays. If he fires then he is the glue that holds an exciting middle order together. If he doesn’t then Morgan, Taylor and Buttler will have too much to do. Also, it’s worth keeping an eye on Steven Finn and Chris Woakes.

Chris Woakes may have a good tournament, West Indies probably won't

Chris Woakes may have a good tournament, West Indies probably won’t

 Pakistan:
World Ranking: 7
Pool: B
Previous best: Champions (1992)

Are Pakistan ever anything other than dark horses? They are hardly being mentioned this year yet with the easier group and the potential to play England in the quarters, they could be in the last four before people have noticed. Of all the dark horses, they will be the side the big four fear the most. With Afridi still knocking around, there is always a chance of victory however Pakistan, as usual, could just as easily implode. One thing is for sure, Pakistan are never dull on the world stage!

Likely Winners:

 Sri Lanka:
World Ranking: 4
Pool: A
Previous best: Champions (1996)

With Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Malinga and Mathews, Sri Lanka just have to be classed as a favourite. More than that, Kulaesekara will love Australian and New Zealand conditions so Sri Lanka are a side for all continents. Easily the best sub-continent side in Oceania, the only downside for them is the group they are placed in. They will need to bring their A-game from the start and hope to win or finish second in the group. If they do that, I reckon they will make it to the final. If they don’t, then it will be a lot tougher.

 New Zealand:
World Ranking: 6
Pool: A
Previous best: Semi-finals (1975, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2007, 2011)

I love this New Zealand squad. Brendon McCullums, Tim Southee, Kane Williamson, Corey Anderson and Ross Taylor are all match winners. They’ve even brought Daniel Vettori out of retirement. A lot of people have tipped them to go all the way and in home conditions, who can argue with that? The Kiwis are impossible not to like (unless you are an Aussie I guess) and no one would begrudge them a maiden title. This could be the making of them, and I for one sincerely hope it is.

Could this be the World Cup final?

Could this be the World Cup final?

 South Africa:
World Ranking: 3
Pool: B
Previous best: Semi-finals (1992, 1999, 2007)

The bridesmaids of cricket could finally be ready to become the bride. The already formidable talent of AB De Villiers (and likeable character) recently bludgeoned the fastest ODI century in history. Hashim Amla remains an unmovable force, De Kock is one of the biggest young talents around, every team fears Steyn and Morkel and in David Miller they have the best finisher in the world. Even their lack of spinners shouldn’t hurt them too much in these conditions. They’ll cruise through their group and should make the semi-finals, from there it all comes down to whether or not they believe they won’t choke yet again.

 Australia:
World Ranking: 1
Pool: A
Previous best: Champions (1987, 1999, 2003, 2007)

A sickeningly good world cup record, home conditions, a world class bowling outfit and the best captain in cricket – only a fool would bet against Australia winning. If all that wasn’t good enough, Warner and Smith can take the match away from anyone and they start with England and Bangladesh, two easy victories for them. Everyone will be playing catch up and it’s likely to remain that way for the rest of the tournament.

So now that I’ve given you an outline of all the teams involved, I shall predict every match. The tournament starts with New Zealand v Sri Lanka, which is probably the hardest match to predict in the whole of the pool stage!

Pool A:

 New Zealand beat  Sri Lanka (just!)
 Australia beat  England
 New Zealand beat  Scotland
 Bangladesh beat  Afghanistan
 New Zealand beat  England
 Australia beat  Bangladesh
 Sri Lanka beat  Afghanistan
 England beat  Scotland
 Afghanistan beat  Scotland
 Sri Lanka beat  Bangladesh
 New Zealand beat  Australia (mainly because it’s being played in NZ)
 Sri Lanka beat  England
 Australia beat  Afghanistan
 Bangladesh beat  Scotland
 New Zealand beat  Afghanistan
 Australia beat  Sri Lanka
 England beat  Bangladesh
 Sri Lanka beat  Scotland
New Zealand beat  Bangladesh
 England beat  Afghanistan
 Australia beat  Scotland

My table:

Team Pld W L T NR Pts
 New Zealand 6 6 0 0 0 12
 Australia 6 5 1 0 0 10
 Sri Lanka 6 4 2 0 0 8
 England 6 3 3 0 0 6
 Bangladesh 6 2 4 0 0 4
 Afghanistan 6 1 5 0 0 2
 Scotland 6 0 6 0 0 0

In Pool A, as expected New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and England qualify.

Old foes meet in the pool stage and possibly again after

Old foes meet in the pool stage and possibly again after

Pool B:

 South Africa beat  Zimbabwe
 Pakistan beat  India
 Ireland beat  West Indies (just)
 Zimbabwe beat  UAE
 Pakistan beat  West Indies
 South Africa beat  India
 West Indies beat  Zimbabwe
 Ireland beat  UAE
 South Africa beat  West Indies
 India beat  UAE
 Pakistan beat  Zimbabwe
 South Africa beat  Ireland
 Pakistan beat  UAE
 India beat  West Indies
 South Africa beat  Pakistan
 Zimbabwe beat  Ireland
 India beat  Ireland
 South Africa beat  UAE
 India beat  Zimbabwe
 West Indies beat  UAE
 Pakistan beat  Ireland

My table:

Team Pld W L T NR Pts
 South Africa 6 6 0 0 0 12
 Pakistan 6 5 1 0 0 10
 India 6 4 2 0 0 8
 West Indies 6 2 4 0 0 4
 Ireland 6 2 4 0 0 4
 Zimbabwe 6 2 4 0 0 4
 UAE 6 0 6 0 0 0

In Pool B, South Africa, Pakistan and India qualify. Now, in my scenario West Indies beat Zimbabwe, Ireland beat West Indies and Zimbabwe beat Ireland with all losing to the top 3 and all beating UAE. All 3 are on the same amount of points so the qualifier will be decided by net run rate. I’ve given the West Indies the edge in this regard due to their tight loss to Ireland and the fact I think they’ll beat UAE more comfortably than the other 2. I’ve also assumed Ireland would beat UAE more comfortably than Zimbabwe will, given the nature of Zimbabwe’s unpredictability.

The Knockout:

For the next stage of the tournament, the winner of A1 v B4 will play the winner of B2 v A3 in the last four and hence the winner of A2 v B3 will play the winner of B1 v A4.

For my tournament, the quarters:
 New Zealand beat  West Indies
 Sri Lanka beat  Pakistan
 Australia beat  India
 South Africa beat  England

The semi-finals:
 New Zealand beat  Sri Lanka
 South Africa beat  Australia

The final:
 New Zealand beat  South Africa

So there we have it, in the battle between the sides who never make it past the semi-finals I  think New Zealand will prevail and become World Champions for the first time. The last four were indeed the four I tipped as likely winners at the start and that is no coincidence, to me these four seem the outstanding teams in the conditions Oceania provide. Pakistan and England could be the sides who force their way into the semi-finals however it’ll depend on who they face in the quarters. The biggest shock for me was South Africa beating Australia in Australia. The reason I plumbed for that is that I think South Africa’s batting is better than Australia’s and that is what it could come down to in the crunch moments of this tournament. Bat will almost certainly dominate ball.

This won’t be the most exciting world cup, it’s unlikely to be remembered in 10 or 20 years time (especially in England), however it could be the world cup where we see NZ or SA rising to their potential. It strikes me as almost a fore-gone conclusion that we will see those two plus Australia and Sri Lanka in the semi-finals with the only shock being the possible exit of the West Indies in the pools. I hope I’m proved wrong for I would love to see the associates fight the test nations and win, propelling them to greater things. As things stand, this is the last world cup to feature associates (or more than one at least) which is a sad reflection of how tough life is for them. With all that being said, let’s enjoy Cricket’s golden tournament and hopefully marvel in some fantastic cricket. Let me know what you agree/disagree with!

I hope to provide regular updates from the tournament on this blog. I admit I won’t be watching much of it, so I’m not sure in what form the updates will take however I will strive to have something up every now and then.

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Author: GHardman42

Mancunian. Main passions are Sport and Mus(e)ic. Huge Everton, AM, Lancashire, JB and England fan! I play tennis like Dolgopolov (except nowhere near as good). Josh has said "You just don't know what will come next"

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