As the World Cup warm-ups are underway, everyone is getting a glimpse of what the English conditions are like and how the teams play their cricket accordingly. We’ve already seen some interesting results within the last week, such as Afghanistan continuing Pakistan’s losing streak or Steve Smith quieting England. South Africa, from the previous preview, also found a comfortable victory against Sri Lanka.
Of the four being previewed today: Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the Black Caps look the strongest after New Zealand’s warm-up win over India. The first team on the list, Pakistan, are doing the opposite of New Zealand as their poor form isn’t doing them justice. Afghanistan is capable of so much damage, but can easily falter, as we saw in their warm-up against England. And Bangladesh will look to go far into this tournament for once, as they can threaten to. So without further ado, let’s get started on this preview, starting with the underdogs, Pakistan.
Last World Cup: Quite disappointing, actually, for Pakistan fans. After losing their opening group stage matches against India and the West Indies by 76 & 150 runs respectively. Pakistan turned the tables and a 29-run win against South Africa ensured Pakistan went on to the Quarter-Finals. However, Pakistan was no match for Australia and the Kangaroos chased down their opponent’s 213 with six wickets remaining. Wahab Riaz was the pick of the bowlers for Pakistan that night and his pace and bouncers have made a comeback in this year’s tournament.
World Cup best: The last time England made the World Cup Finals in 1992, Pakistan was the champions. Wasim Akram’s back-to-back wickets and captain Imran Khan’s half-century led Pakistan to their only ever World Cup title. Pakistan will be hoping to strike such luck again this year, but it will be much harder.
Strong point: Very rarely is it the batting of Pakistan which sides need to be wary of. Coming into this tournament, Pakistan has done a wonderful job boasting established batsmen. From the experience of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik to Champions Trophy Final centurion Fakhar Zaman, Pakistan looks capable of chasing down any target that comes their way.
Weak point: This Pakistan team must be the opposite of what most people were expecting. It seems that heading into this tournament, the bowling will be the coaching staff’s worry. The inexperienced bowling has costed Pakistan so far in series against Australia and England. The failure to produce famed yorkers and the need for pace from Shaheen Afridi and Mohammad Hasnain has led to the inclusions of Mohammad Amir and Riaz in the squad. Riaz and Amir looked brilliant against Afghanistan, but hopefully Hasan Ali, Hasnain and Afridi will find success in this year’s tournament.
Player to watch: I’m going to take Riaz’s name again. He’s a late inclusion. Most people will probably bat an eye. But his recent form is reverberating. His yorkers slay batsmen and his bouncers install fear. He could be crucial in Pakistan’s campaign this year, especially in their opening fixture against the West Indies, who’ve just scored 421 in their warm-up against New Zealand.
Prediction: If Pakistan comes to the show, they are good enough to be in the Semi-finals. Personally, I think Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men will finish fourth and leave in the semis.
Last World Cup: This has got to hurt. Title-less New Zealand made it all the way to this Finals in Melbourne against the hosts and arch-rivals Australia only to be bowled out for 183. The Aussies ended up winning by seven wickets, but New Zealand has been in fine form since then.
World Cup best: The last World Cup held many positives for New Zealand fans, excluding that final. New Zealand’s fast bowlers have only improved since then in the form of Trent Boult and Tim Southee. They have developed a spinning department thanks to Ish Sodhi. And the batting looks secure up top.
Strong point: Every time New Zealand wins a match, you can thank the fast bowlers. They’ve already shown their intent since arriving in the UK by bowling out both India and the West Indies. If the pitch offers a little bit of support, New Zealand could be able to provide us with some low-scoring encounters, something which this World Cup needs.
Weak point: Even though New Zealand has a primary spinner in Ish Sodhi, he can be expensive at times. Unfortunately, not all the pitches this year in England will be fast-bowler friendly so New Zealand will have to turn to spin. Ish Sodhi will need to be at his best in this tournament to give New Zealand hope of making it far in this tournament.
Player to watch: Trent Boult’s been brilliant so far in his warm-up games. New Zealand’s prime fast bowler picked up eight wickets in two matches, adding to his already impressive 147 ODI wickets.
Prediction: Despite New Zealand being capable of beating any opponent that comes their way, if the fast bowlers can’t always provide for them, they will lose some matches. I’m pitting New Zealand to finish mid-table at sixth in this tournament.
Last World Cup: From Bangladesh’s perspective, last World Cup could’ve been seen as a success. But this year, they’ll be looking to do better. They rose to the occasion knocking England out and qualifying for the Quarter-finals, only to lose against rivals India by 109 runs. Since then, their ODI form as drastically improved, defeating Pakistan and India in ODI series, making Independence and Asia Cup finals and defeating New Zealand to end up in the Champions Trophy Semi-finals.
World Cup best: In 2007, Bangladesh did make it past the group stages after beating Pakistan and did so again in 2015. The Tigers are yet to see a Semi-finals entrance in a World Cup. Maybe this is their best opportunity yet?
Strong point: Similar to India, Bangladesh has built a confident batting line-up. From wicket-keeper Liton Das to Bengali legend Tamim Iqbal, from politician and captain Mashrafe Mortaza to no. one ranked allrounder Shakib Al-Hasan, Bangladesh looks in it to win it.
Weak point: The fast-paced attack isn’t as reliable as it should be. They can often be quite expensive such as in their last warm-up game in which they conceded 359-7 from India. However, Bangladesh does have good quality in spin through Al-Hasan and Mahmadullah which can assist the Bengalis in their matches.
Player to watch: Personally, I’m going with Iqbal. He’s typically a reliable run-getter and is smart with his adaptable batting. If Bangladesh needs him to stay at the crease, anchoring the wicket, he’ll do so. If Bangladesh needs some quick runs, he’ll find the fence.
Prediction: Bangladesh will win some games, they’ll lose some. They’re definitely capable of making a Semi-finals spot but sides like Australia or India will likely end up bowling better than Bangladesh. For that reason, I have Bangladesh finishing fifth.
Last World Cup: The 2015 World Cup was Afghanistan’s first ever World Cup. They weren’t able to make it out of the Group Stages but they were able to find success in their one-wicket win over Scotland, in which Samiullah Shinwari’s 96(147) led the Afghans to victory.
World Cup best: Just that one win over Scotland in 2015, but Afghanistan are a much more formidable side this time around. Afghanistan has won tri-series in Ireland and Bangladesh, have seen series wins against West Indies, won the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe, finished fourth in the Asia Cup last year and beat Pakistan in their first warm-up game at Bristol.
Strong point: Although Afghanistan is famous for their spinning duo Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur-Rahman, I was particularly impressed by their controlled and calm batting, especially against Pakistan.
Weak point: At times, also the batting. When Afghanistan don’t have the batting under control, they lose wickets very quickly, such as in their nine-wicket defeat against England in which Afghanistan was bowled out for 160.
Player to watch: Afghanistan aren’t known for their middle-order batting but Hashmatullah Shahidi looks promising. After his 71* against Pakistan, a batsman like Shahidi is exactly what Afghanistan needs to pull them through the entire 50 overs.
Prediction: They’re still new, young and raw. Although they definitely do have the capabilities of dethroning any team on any given day, compared to other teams, I think seventh place makes sense for Afghanistan.
All four of these teams could have exciting or scary World Cups ahead of them. Pakistan will be the first of these four teams to begin their World Cup campaign against the West Indies on Friday, May 31 at Trent Bridge in Nottinghamshire. New Zealand will have to face Sri Lanka at Cardiff on Saturday, June 1 and Bangladesh open up against in-form South Africa the next day at The Oval in London. Finally, Afghanistan will have to stand up to mighty Australia at the same time in Bristol.
Stay tuned for our final preview of this year’s World Cup in which the Indian, Sri Lankan and West Indian teams will be focused upon tomorrow!