The countdown to the ICC World Cup 2019 has officially entered its eleventh hour — and if the 'official' warm-ups are anything to go by, we are heading into a cracker of a tournament.
Half of the completed matches saw results go against the grain, only twice was the supposedly expected 350+ total breached, there was just one team which finished with two wins out of two (Australia), and just one which lost both outings (Sri Lanka).
In keeping with English tradition, two of the listed 10 games were also abandoned.
Here are the key takeaways from the last of the warm-up matches, which saw West Indies smash 421 against New Zealand at Bristol — and emerge victorious by 91 runs.
Meet the 'other' 500 contenders
The talk ahead of the 12th edition of cricket's showpiece event has centered around how hosts and tournament favourites England could become the first team to breach the 500-run mark in ODIs this summer.
It wouldn't have been very difficult to imagine one particular team quietly licking its own lips about that prospect, and they laid down their marker on Tuesday.
A batting lineup that begins with Chris Gayle and ends with Andre Russell always needed to be feared — West Indies had given a glimpse of what could be in store while smashing 350+ twice in four matches in a drawn series at home against England earlier this year — and the Caribbean show against the Kiwis wouldn't have gone unnoticed by any camp presently in the UK.
For sheer number of proven power-hitters, the West Indians are perhaps ahead of even the mighty English order, and the gung-ho approach witnessed at Bristol will send shivers down the spine of most bowling units.
Between Gayle and Russell, there are Evin Lewis, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Jason Holder, and the West Indians could potentially bat Ashley Nurse at number eight (strike rate after 50 ODIs: 98.97).
As if all that isn't enough, West Indies will start their World Cup campaign with games against Pakistan and Australia at Trent Bridge — a venue where the average ODI score since the end of the 2015 World Cup is nearly 350.
If you want to make a funny punt ahead of this edition, place it on the West Indians blasting the highest total of the summer.
In Hope they hope
Shai Hope has been the beacon of West Indian batting in the last 30 months since making his ODI debut in November 2016. His average of 51.06 after 50 innings is good enough to make him stand out even at global levels; coming as it does for a team that averages 28.68 per wicket since the 2015 World Cup, it reads all-the-more impressively.
Hope's 86-ball 101 was his third century, and fifth 50-plus score, since West Indies arrived in the UK, and he's hit 592 runs in seven innings at an average of 84.57 in this three-week period.
At 76.35, his strike rate comes across as a bit of an anomaly for the dashing West Indian order, but that's down to him often playing the role of consolidator/anchor more than an inability to go big; be sure to sample his ridiculous flicked six off Trent Boult for an example of his striking powers.
In a power-packed lineup, Hope's steady approach — and consistency — could go a long way in keeping the West Indian innings together, and that, more than any of dominant displays, is likely to prove more telling to the hopes of the two-time world champions.
Kiwi Bowling: Boult, and some loose bolts
On one hand, New Zealand have Trent Boult — arguably the most dangerous exponent of a white ball in semi-helpful conditions, and the leading wicket-taker of the warm-ups with successive four-fors against India and West Indies.
On the other, they have quite a concern.
Even coming into the World Cup, Mitchell Santner was expected to be the second-most reliable bowling option in the Kiwi camp. But finger spinners have found the going difficult on English shores off late, and the slow left-armer got a glimpse of the challenge he awaits if the batsmen stick into him, conceding 71 in nine overs.
Santner was, still, the second-best Kiwi bowler on the day.
Fellow spinner Ish Sodhi leaked 43 in five overs; all-rounders James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme went for 60 in a combined seven overs; then, there were the back-up pacers.
Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson — potentially auditioning for one spot in the XI — were smashed for 193 runs in their 19 overs, with Henry seeing 107 belted off his nine overs.
One would assume Tim Southee, who wasn't asked to bowl on Tuesday, is a certain starter alongside Boult, but that assumption would be rooted in past glories. In 45 ODIs since his superb 2015 World Cup campaign, Southee has averaged 41.46 and conceded 5.72 runs per over.
All of which points to some head-scratching for Kane Williamson and the New Zealand think-tank in the days leading up to their opener against Sri Lanka on Saturday.
Blundell boosts NZ batting cover
With the batting department, the Kiwis do have happier headaches as they enter the 2019 World Cup.
Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor remain among the leading batsmen around the world in the format, and Martin Guptill, despite seemingly waning levels, provides a solid and dangerous option at the top.
Guptill's opening partner could be Henry Nicholls if the Kiwis decide to play it safe or Colin Munro if they wish to go all guns blazing.
The one concern was around Tom Latham, who is uncertain of assuming his vital role of wicket-keeper/number five batsman after fracturing a finger during an unofficial warm-up game against Australia in Brisbane earlier this month.
Tom Blundell's stroke-laden century against West Indies, however, will ease some nerves in the New Zealand contingent. The back-up wicket-keeper hit eight fours and five sixes in his 89-ball 106, and could well be in line to become the first New Zealander to be handed a maiden ODI cap in a World Cup game since 1987.
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