Before the first ball is bowled: World Cup favourites and dark horses

Before the first ball is bowled: World Cup favourites and dark horses
England captain Eoin Morgan and his team celebrate after beating New Zealand in the 2019 Cricket World Cup final at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. (Photo: Clive Mason / Getty Images)

Reigning champions England and No 1-ranked ODI side India are on top of their games heading into the global tournament.

The first ball of the 2023 edition of the Cricket World Cup in India will be bowled on 5 October. The opening clash is a rematch of the 2019 final, when New Zealand and England face off at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.

England – who currently hold both the T20 World Cup trophy and the 50-over ­trophy – head into the tournament as favourites to retain their title.

England basically reinvented the white-ball game under the leadership of skipper Eoin Morgan after their dismal 2015 Cricket World Cup campaign, when they finished fifth in their seven-team group and failed to reach the knockout stages.

They have reaped the rewards of their high-risk, all-out-attack philosophy of play, becoming title holders of both the 50-over and T20 cricket world cups, having won the 2019 edition as hosts with a dramatic boundary countback after a tied match and tied super over with New Zealand before clinching the T20 World Cup trophy at the end of last year.

The English are also boosted by the availability of Ben Stokes, who was player of the match in the final in 2019 after striking an unbeaten 84 off 98 deliveries. The 32-year-old Stokes retired from the one-day international (ODI) format last year, citing “workload” is­­­sues, but reversed the decision in August this year in a bid to secure an­­­other World Cup trophy for his country.

Hosts India are the other favourites for this year’s title. The last time the tournament was played in the country (jointly hosted by Bangladesh) was in 2011, when the Gary Kirsten-led side went on to win the Cricket World Cup after a six-wicket win over Sri Lanka.

India have a welcome addition to their World Cup cohort in unorthodox fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah. The right-arm quick has been struggling with a back injury since last year and only made his comeback to international cricket in August after nearly 12 months on the sidelines.

The 29-year-old has picked up eight wickets in six ODI matches since his return. Those are modest numbers for the supremely talented Bumrah.

India will need him at his best if they are to repeat their exploits of 2011.

World Cup overview

Jasprit Bumrah of India in action during the second Royal London Series One-Day International against England on 14 July 2022 at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, England. (Photo: Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)

The dark horses

This year’s World Cup will follow the same format as the one in 2019, with each of the 10 teams playing every other side in a single round-robin format. The top four sides from the round-robin stage move on to the semifinals. The winners of each semi­final will clash in the final on 19 November.

The fact that a Cricket World Cup final – in just under two months’ time – is a possibility for na­tions such as Sri Lanka and the Netherlands must be reminiscent of a dream after coming through a gruelling qualification phase in Zimbabwe earlier this year.

Sri Lanka went unbeaten in group play and in the Super Six stage of the Cricket World Cup qualifiers to go through to the main tournament.

The Netherlands qualified by squeezing past Scotland and Zimbabwe on net run rate in the Super Sixes.

The Dutch managed to chase Scotland’s target of 278 quick enough to overtake them to book India tickets.

West Indies, Cricket World Cup regulars and champions in the first two editions of the tournament in 1975 and 1979, failed to qualify for the tournament for the first time in their illustrious history.

The Proteas’ chances

World Cup overview

Proteas skipper Temba Bavuma. (Photo: Gallo Images)

South Africa scraped through automatically to the World Cup 2023 after finishing eighth in the Cricket World Cup Super League standings, the qualifying process for this year’s tournament.

The Proteas pipped West Indies, who were only seven points behind in ninth place – a victory counted 10 points.

For this reason, South Africa head into the tournament under the radar, without the favourites tag they carry begrudgingly so often.

“If I look at the group, the way we’ve been going about our business has been in stark contrast to what people perceived us to be a year back,” skipper Temba Bavuma said before the team left for India.

“We’ve spoken a lot about being bold, fearless and positive. We’re always looking for moments to move the game forward. That’s what the guys have challenged themselves to do. That’s the biggest thing.

“The performances the guys have put up have given us a strong sense of confidence among ourselves.”

The Proteas are in India off the back of a morale-boosting 3-2 come-from-behind ODI series win over Australia.

“Coming off the cricket we had recently and the momentum we gained, it gives us belief to give our best. However, we have to understand it’s a marathon,” Bavuma said.

“To be honest, playing our best cricket [from the outset] might not be ideal. You want to play winning cricket, but you want to peak at the right time.”

South Africa have had a few minor setbacks before the tournament has even kicked off. Fast bowlers Anrich Nortje and Sisanda Magala have both been ruled out of the competition because of injury.

All-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo and fast bowler Lizaad Williams have been called up to replace the two quicks.

Proteas head coach Rob Walter has selected eight bowlers in his 15-player cohort – six of whom are fast bowlers – with a plan to rotate the quicks across the group-stage matches.

Bavuma will miss both of the Proteas’ warm-up matches in India against Afghanistan and New Zealand respectively, for ­family reasons.

South Africa will face off against Sri Lanka in their first match of the tournament on 7 October at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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