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CWC: Proteas just one of SEVEN contenders!

Cape Town – Seven
into four definitely won’t go … you don’t have to be much of a maths boff to
work that out.

But, roughly
two and a half months from its start, seven is how many teams I fancy will be
seriously in the running for the key semi-final spots at the 2019 Cricket World
Cup in the UK.

The
tournament will be the fairest in many ways that it has been since 1992 (South
Africa’s dramatic first), as this is the first since then featuring every team
playing each other on a round-robin basis and the top four cracking the semis.

A return to
that model, which is hard to fault, also coincides with a situation where the
clear majority of the 10 participants arguably have a good shout at the title …
unlike the period, for example, when Australia very clearly ruled the global
roost and gobbled the World Cup four times in five attempts between 1999 and
2015.

At this
point, I am inclined to rule out only three sides from a realistic stab at the
honours: Sri Lanka, currently so insipid in the five-match series on our shores
and with a terrible recent 50-overs record more broadly, plus Bangladesh and
Afghanistan.

That means
all of the Australians, hosts England, India, South Africa, New Zealand,
Pakistan and West Indies will fight particularly tooth and nail to make the
semis cut, potentially creating a thrilling bottleneck toward the round-robin
climax.

Here are my
snap current thoughts on all seven at this relatively long range, starting with
the Proteas:

South Africa (current ODI ranking 4th)

The Proteas
aren’t being too highly fancied by either their enthusiasts or local pundits
for elusive World Cup glory this year: there are some reasonably obvious chinks
to their team armoury, including the still-felt AB de Villiers void, decreased
general reliability at the crease and a long tail which hardly helps that
department.

Yet how can
you possibly under-estimate the potential of a side still possessing such
illustrious surnames in white-ball cricket as De Kock, Amla, Du Plessis,
Duminy, Miller, Rabada, Steyn and Tahir?

South Africa
are also on the brink of sweeping Sri Lanka 5-0, which represents a fifth ODI
series triumph (including two away, and one of those in Australia) in a row for
them.   

England (1st)

They had
some degree of a comeuppance recently (see West Indies, below!) but the home side
at the World Cup, still heading the ICC global pecking order in this format,
will undoubtedly be hard to eclipse.

England had
won nine bilateral series of at least two-match duration in a row ahead of
their Caribbean difficulties – there was a once-off reverse to Scotland with a
very experimental outfit in between – but they will certainly be deemed among
the hottest favourites.

They
positively ooze versatile, explosive cricketers and bat a long way down their
order: being five down for not too many isn’t necessarily an impediment to a
major total for them.

India (2nd)

Perhaps
succumbing to a wee dose of complacency from a commanding position of 2-0 up,
India have just ended their home combat with Australia stunned 3-2.

But they had
won three series in a row ahead of that hiccup (including in both Australia
itself and New Zealand), plus boasted supremacy in the 2018 Asia Cup in the
United Arab Emirates.

They boast a
bold battery of stroke-players headed by the incomparable Virat Kohli, plenty
in the way of spin wizardry and these days a penetrative and skilful seam
arsenal as well.

Maybe the
latest series outcome will represent a constructive, ominous (to the rest of
the planet) wake-up call for them?

New Zealand (3rd)

The Black
Caps must be feeling pretty good about general international cricket life at
present.

They have
won five Test series in succession since their unlucky, weather-influenced home
2016/17 loss to the Proteas, and hit back from a 4-1 home ODI drubbing from
India earlier this season to pulverise Bangladesh 3-0.

Kane
Williamson heads an experience-laden batting arsenal, and the New Zealanders
also boast a seam cupboard tailor-made to prosper in England, especially when
conditions are overcast and damp.

I have a gut
feel that SA v NZ at Edgbaston on June 19 may be particularly influential to
both teams’ progression chances at the CWC …

Australia (5th)

Until a few
days ago, the once-imperious Aussies hardly seemed primed for a serious push at
the World Cup.

They’d
unusually surrendered six ODI series on the trot, seemingly indicating
deep-rooted residual issues from the Test ball-tampering shenanigans in South
Africa last summer.

But even
with disgraced Messrs Smith and Warner yet to reinfuse their batting ranks – quite
enormously, of course – for CWC 2019, the men from Down Under have made the
world sit up and suddenly take fresh notice of them through their Indian
heroics.

Australia,
the holders, just know how to win darned World Cups (five so far), don’t they?

Pakistan (6th)

The fickle
Pakistanis will have a chance at the World Cup for the very reason that they
are so famously enigmatic; the current crop aren’t especially different in that
regard.

Bear in mind
that in their most recent series, in South Africa, they stretched it to the
last ODI before the Proteas won the decider at Newlands.

While the
squad for CWC won’t contain the calibre of legendary names we have seen from
them in the past, they have something quite powerful in their favour: knowledge
that they won the Champions Trophy “mini-CWC” on English soil as recently as
2017.

West Indies (9th)

OK, some
might exclude them from this “contenders” exercise.

Yet while the
Caribbean outfit may still nominally lie one berth behind Sri Lanka on the ICC
ladder, their most recent showing was a highly credible 2-2 stalemate (they’d
also won the immediately prior Test series, against the odds) with the
visiting, highly-touted English.

There are
some dynamic young stars coming through for the so-long-in-the-doldrums
Windies, although their headline figure at the World Cup will be veteran
top-order mega-blaster Chris Gayle, fresh off bruising scores of 77, 162, 50
and 135 in the England series.

He had also
been part of the furniture when (the team was acknowledged already then to be
in sharp decline from an illustrious heyday) West Indies unexpectedly won the
ICC Champions Trophy on the very terrain of the looming World Cup, back in
2004.

So it IS
possible for them, lingering warts and all, to prevail in major limited-overs
events in England …  

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter:
@RobHouwing

 

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