By Rex Clementine
India: Virat Kohli
At the age of 34, it’s unlikely the best batsman of this generation will feature in another World Cup and Virat Kohli would want to bow out on a high. He was a 22-year-old young prodigy when India last hosted the World Cup and won it. Today he’s a former India captain and the team’s leading batsman.
India have used Kohli sparingly this year in white ball cricket as he has featured in only 15 ODIs. He has made most of the limited opportunities this year averaging 55 with three hundreds and one half-century.
Kohli is an inspiration for the whole team. Not just with the volume of runs he makes, but his electric running between the wickets, energy on the field and leadership qualities have been all a godsend for India and one billion fans will be pinning their hopes on one of sport’s most iconic figures.
England: Ben Stokes
As England won their first ever ODI World Cup at home in 2019, Ben Stokes was their hero. Although the defending champions have all bases covered before their title defence, when Stokes announced his ODI retirement in July last year there were concerns.
However, he has reversed that decision and made himself available for the title defence and there is a sigh of relief in the England camp.
The manner in which Stokes can change gears is what makes him a dangerous player. England have enough batting depth and primarily he is expected to play the finisher’s role at number six, something that Michael Bevan used to do so well for Australia. But if there’s a collapse, he can easily adapt and accumulate as well like Steve Waugh. Unlike Bevan and Waugh, Stokes has got plenty of flair in the mode of Brian Lara and he will be one of the players to watch out during the series.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson
The New Zealand captain was ruled out from cricket after suffering an ACL injury during the IPL, but has recovered just in time for the sport’s showpiece event.
One of the modern-day greats of the sport, Williamson’s presence means a lot for the Kiwis averaging 47 in ODIs.
Williamson is also the best player of spin in New Zealand ranks and there will be plenty of spin bowling to be countered with in India.
Although not one of the favourites to win the title this time around, how New Zealand fare in this World Cup is in the hands of their captain. His off-spin is quite underrated but could come in handy in India.
Australia: David Warner
Although his form in Test match cricket had been patchy, David Warner has been quite prolific in ODIs in recent months.
Only Ricky Ponting with 29 ODI hundreds has more three figure scores than David Warner (20) for Australia and if he gets a start he will be deadly as he has proven time and again.
On the flat Indian surfaces his prolific batting could hurt teams during the Power Plays and there’s no better striker of the cricket ball than the southpaw.
Pakistan: Shaheen Afridi
Pakistan have been never short of fast bowling talents, but this Shaheen Afridi is a special talent indeed.
A left-arm quick is any captain’s delight and the angles he creates at high speed is a nightmare for batters.
Pace is not just Afridi’s strength as he’s got impeccable control too. With an ability to move the new ball alarmingly, opponents will be content to survive his opening burst come the World Cup.
What has separated Afridi from other bowlers is that when he comes back for his last spell during the death overs he rarely sends down loose balls and batters need to take high risks to score runs against him and eventually end up playing into his hands.
South Africa: Marco Jansen
These are early days for Marco Jansen but the six foot seven inches tall all-rounder could make a major impact during the ICC Cricket World Cup. The Proteas are quietly confident that this is Jacques Kallis in the making.
Given his huge presence, everyone will talk about Jansen’s ability to bowl fast, but he is an equally capable batter as well and he’s becoming an indispensable member of the South African line-up.
As South Africa completed a series win over Australia last week, Jansen was Man of the Match in the final ODI in Johannesburg where he picked up five wickets coming in as first change and smashed 47 off 23 balls.
Jansen’s left-arm seam gives variety into South African bowling and his big hitting at number seven seals the deal for a team that is searching for their first world title. Jansen’s isn’t just a slogger, but a proper batsman in the mode of Kallis. Filling those big boots though remains a huge task.
Why people consider Bangladesh a dark horse in this World Cup is because three of their players have featured in the last five World Cups. Shakib-al-Hasan is one of them,
Bangladesh’s leading wicket taker and third highest run scorer in ODI cricket, Shakib has become an integral part of the side ever since making his debut in 2006.
A canny left-arm spinner, Shakib is able to dry up the runs on flat decks with his disciplined bowling and when there is some assistance he is quite handful.
Shakib’s nine hundreds and 55 half-centuries in ODIs have mostly come in the middle order but in recent times he has been pushed to the number three slot with the expectation of batting through the innings.
Afghanistan: Ibrahim Zadran
Leg-spinner Rashid Khan is the star attraction in the Afghan side but look out for this Ibrahim Zadran as well for he could easily catch up the attention of the world.
A tall right-handed opening batsman, Zadran has only featured in 19 ODIs so far in his brief international career, but he has impressive numbers. In those 19 ODIs, he has ranked up four hundreds and four half-centuries. Among those hundreds is a career best 162, the highest score by an Afghan in an ODI. Not bad for a 21-year-old.
The manner in which Zadran scores those runs is what is pleasing the most. Easy on the eye and with a solid technique he can easily play the anchor role or when the situation demands cut loose in a bid for quick runs.
An insatiable appetite for big runs makes Zadran a player to watch for during the World Cup.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Mendis
With a depleted bowling attack, not many fancied Sri Lanka’s chances in the recent Asia Cup, but they went onto qualify for the finals and the efforts of Kusal Mendis were invaluable.
Mendis finished as the second highest run getter in the tournament behind Shubman Gill. The 92 he scored in Lahore knocked Afghanistan out of the competition while the 91 he made in a virtual semi-final against Pakistan crushed the organizers hopes of an high profile India-Pakistan final.
Gifted with many elegant strokes, when on song Mendis dominates the bowling and one area he would want to improve is to convert 50s into hundreds. So far he has got 25 half-centuries in ODIs but only two hundreds.
Mendis is Sri Lanka’s captain in waiting and with him keeping wickets as well, Sri Lanka have been able to balance the side.
Netherlands: Bas de Leede
The son of former Dutch cricketer Tim de Leede, Bas was one reason for Netherlands excellent show during the World Cup Qualifiers. The Dutch surprised many teams indeed as they qualified over West Indies, Zimbabwe and Scotland.
The Dutch cricket is so strong because so many of their players engage in county cricket in England and so does Bas, who represents Durham.
Although Bas is not Netherlands first choice with the new ball, he hasn’t let the side down with the ball making breakthroughs early and pretty solid with the bat whether he is sent down at number four or seven.
In the epic World Cup Qualifier against Scotland, a virtual semi-final, the Scots had been restricted to 277 after Bas had starred with a five wicket haul. Netherlands needed to chase down the target in 44 overs to go through on Net Run Rate. Bas then blasted 123 off 92 balls to take the Dutch home with seven balls to spare.
We could see more inspirational efforts like those in the World Cup.