With the Cricket World Cup underway down under, Ben Pullan looks at the key players to watch out for in each side over the next six weeks.
Star player: Steve Smith
In a side full of exciting batting potential, I have chosen one man who has come of age as a cricketer over the past year. For many England fans, the name Steve Smith still conjures up images of the blond kid called up in the disastrous 2010 / 11 Ashes series supposedly ‘to raise spirits by telling jokes’. The biggest joke, then, was his dire pie-chucking and rabbit-in-the-headlight batting. But now teams should underestimate Smith at their peril, as a ‘Bradman-esque’ 2014 saw him blossom into one of the world’s best batsmen across all formats. In the 4th ODI of the recent series against England, Smith took the reins to play a captain’s knock of 102*, which saw his side to victory chasing down England’s imposing total of 303. Expect Australia’s future captain-elect to play many more big-match innings in this World Cup.
One to watch: Glenn Maxwell
Striking his ODI runs at an extraordinary 115.76 per 100 balls, Glenn Maxwell is the epitome of the T20-era cricketer. With an ability to hit shots all round the ground – and have five for any single delivery – he is a fielding captain’s absolute nightmare. Throw in the fact that he is one of the quickest fielders in the game and can bowl ten overs of tidy off-spin and you have a cricketer who is well-worth watching.
Also keep an eye on: such is the depth of talent in Australia at the moment, that the list goes on and on – Johnson, Clarke, Bailey, Warner, Finch, Starc, Faulkner to name a few!
Star player: Shakib Al Hasan
Far and away the best ever cricketer produced by the latest inductee to Test Match cricket, Shakib Al Hasan will have to perform with both bat and ball if Bangladesh are to progress out of their group. A genuine all-rounder (he is currently ranked as the world’s No. 1 all-rounder in all forms of the game), he provides a counter-attacking option with the bat, and his left-arm spin – delivered from a low, slingy action – can be hugely effective in the middle overs.
One to watch: Tamim Iqbal
A batsman of immense talent and destructive potential, Tamim Iqbal hits hot and cold in the ODI game. Like Shakib, he is now vastly experienced at the top level – could this be the World Cup when his undoubted talent translates into consistent match-winning innings?
Also keep an eye on: fast bowler Mashrafe Mortaza is returning from injury, Nasir Hossain is an exciting talent.
Star player: Ian Bell
Perhaps not everyone’s immediate answer to this question, but having hit scintillating form in the build-up to the World Cup, Bell will be considered England’s prized wicket. Despite being England’s leading all-time scorer in the ODI format, there is a feeling that Bell has never nailed the 50-over game. This seems a surprise seeing as his attacking, attractive game should be ideally suited to the one-day opener role. England fans will be hoping that Bell answers his critics in this World Cup.
One to watch: Moeen Ali
A breath of fresh air for this England side, Ali’s ultra-aggressive batting style should provide a good foil to Bell’s more measured approach at the top of the order. Throw in the fact that his off-spin recently bamboozled India – widely regarded as the world’s best players of spin – in a Test series, and you have a very exciting ODI option.
Also keep an eye on: experienced veterans Stuart Broad and James Anderson will want to add World Cup success to their glittering CVs, whilst exciting youngsters Joe Root and Jos Buttler will want to make a mark in their first World Cup.
Star player: Virat Kohli
Kohli is the diamond in a side glittering with exciting batting talent. With already 21 ODI centuries (at the age of only 26) to his name, he could potentially be a challenger in future years to Tendulkar’s record. In the short-term, however, his aim will be to bind together an Indian side that seems to have regressed recently. If India are going to mount a serious attempt to defend their title as World Champions, their premier batsman is going to have to match the expectations of his adoring fans.
One to watch: Rohit Sharma
Over the past couple of years, Sharma’s mercurial talent has transformed into consistent performance. Possessing two ODI double-hundreds (including the all-time record ODI score, a scintillating 264 hit against Sri Lanka last November), Sharma will want to bring these immense feats of run-scoring to the World Cup stage.
Also keep an eye on: which MS Dhoni shows up will play a huge role in India’s fortunes – the disinterested and lacklustre one of recent times could see an early elimination, but if he conjures up the brilliance of 2011, they could go all the way.
Star player: Brendon McCullum
The Black Caps’ inspiring captain has been key to their rise in fortunes over the past couple of years in all formats of the game. Since giving up the gloves, he has developed into one of the world’s most-feared batsmen. Capable of taking apart an attack with some of the most destructive stroke-play in the game, he could be the source of some eye-watering totals for New Zealand.
One to watch: Trent Boult
One of the best Test Match new-ball bowlers around, Boult will want to transfer his success into the shorter format of the game. He has all the tools to achieve this, being a fast left-armer with the ability to swing the ball early on and mix it up later in the innings.
Also keep an eye on: with the bat, Kane Williamson has been instrumental in New Zealand’s recent rise up the rankings; with the ball, Daniel Vettori is still bowling his left-arm spin as economically as ever.
Star player: Shahid Afridi
The epitome of Pakistani cricket: sometimes brilliant, sometimes frustratingly dreadful, always enthralling. In Afridi’s 391-match ODI career, he has seen it all. His explosive batting has always been the headline act – having played through several ‘eras’ of ODI cricket, his strike rate remains an eye-watering 116.79 – but it is his quick-ish leg-spin bowling that opposition teams will fear more, as it is usually miserly, and on the best of days, match-winning.
One to watch: Umar Akmal
Similarly to his two brothers – Kamran and Adnan – Umar Akmal is a talented batsman / keeper. His stronger suit is definitely his attacking middle-order batting. Though he has been in and out of the Pakistani ODI side, he has a decent record in the format, scoring his runs at an average of 35.2 and a strike rate of 86.47. With the gloves, he is prone to the odd howler, but, as is the trend nowadays, his ability to play match-winning innings makes him their No. 1.
Also keep an eye on: Veteran batsmen Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan should be calming influences for this mercurial side.
Star Player: AB De Villiers
Widely regarded as the best all-round batsman (taking into account all three formats of the game) in the world, De Villiers recently redefined what was possible in batting terms with a simply unbelievable 149 off only 44 balls against a flagging West Indian attack. De Villiers is a rare breed in that he combines all the technical ability of a great Test Match player with the tricks of the modern-day short format specialist. Arguably now the greatest ODI batsman of all time, expect De Villiers to light up this World Cup.
One to watch: Imran Tahir
With the South African side being known for their explosive batting and fast bowling, it may come as a surprise that I have chosen their spinner for this category. But Tahir’s ODI record speaks for itself: 55 wickets in 30 matches at an exceptional average of 20.23 and a miserly economy rate of 4.39. His mix of leg breaks, googlies and flippers provide a dangerous option in the middle overs.
Also keep an eye on: Obviously, it is hard to look past their pace trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander with the ball; Riley Rossouw and Quinton de Kock are exciting young batsmen.
Star player: Kumar Sangakkara
A 37-year-old batsman from the ‘old school’ of one-day cricket, Sangakkara continues to churn out the runs with his simple-but-elegant method for Sri Lanka in the ODI format. He also reluctantly takes the gloves in the one-day team, giving the side balance. In his final World Cup, Sangakkara would love to guide his team deep into the knock-out stages, and perhaps match their 2011 final berth.
One to watch: Sachithra Senanayake
It will be interesting to see whether Senanayake’s recently-remodelled action will achieve the same results as before he was reported. Last June in England his mix of off-breaks, carrom balls and doosras provided a stifling presence in the middle overs.
Also keep an eye on: Veterans Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan will want to end their glittering ODI careers on a high. Lasith Malinga’s lethal bowling at the death will be important.
Star player: Chris Gayle
Despite his recent poor form with the bat, Gayle remains the Windies’ key batsman, as his record of 21 ODI hundreds suggests. At his best he is one of the most destructive batsmen in the world, capable of taking any attack in the world apart. His attitude will be key this inconsistent West Indies team’s chances; if he is disinterested, they could struggle to progress out of their group, but if he is up for it, who knows?
One to watch: Andre Russell
Capable of bowling genuinely fast, smacking the ball out the ground, and taking screamers, Andre Russell is immensely talented. West Indies should be careful how they deploy him, ensuring that he is given enough time to make an impact with the bat, as he can turn a game on its head in a few overs.
Also keep an eye on: The Windies have plenty of exciting batsmen, such as Darren Sammy, Dwayne Smith and Marlon Samuels, but they all lack consistency.
And the rest
Zimbabwe have been in good form in the build-up to the competition, almost pulling off a great run-chase against West Indies in a warm-up game; their batting relies heavily on the experience of Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza.
Ireland have been the surprise package of the last couple of World Cups, recording memorable victories against Pakistan in 2007 and England in 2011. Their team is full of familiar names from County Cricket: William Porterfield, Ed Joyce, Paul Stirling, George Dockrell and the O’Brien brothers to name a few. Don’t write off another upset.
Afghanistan need captain Mohammed Nabi to perform both with bat and ball; Scotland have some decent County pros, such as Kyle Coetzer, Matt Machan and Ian Wardlaw; and who knows how the UAE will fare?