With less than two weeks to go for the ICC World Cup 2019 opener, teams are busy regrouping for preparations and the unmistakable fragrance of a World Cup is around. The 10-team tournament will give teams no chance for errors with the league format ensuring they have to stay on top of the race to qualify for the semi-finals. Each game is important and adds value to qualification scenarios.
While a few teams have engaged in ODI bilaterals, a few others have opted for a break. There are injury concerns being ironed out and last-minute squad changes being pondered. Here is how the teams have been shaping up for the big event and what awaits them before their respective opening games.
India have had a laidback time post the IPL with players given the leeway to be with family ahead of the long England tour.
Players including the captain, Virat Kohli, and vice-captain, Rohit Sharma, have just returned from holidaying after a hard-fought IPL. Though there were talks of preparatory camps after the IPL, the idea was shelved to avoid a "burnout".
While most teams have been preparing by playing short ODI series in and around UK, India have opted to rely on their two warm-up matches - against New Zealand (May 25) and Bangladesh (May 28) - for acclimatisation before their opening assignment against South Africa on 5 June. All teams except India play their opening fixture by 2 June. In fact, India's first game against the Proteas will be the opposition's third match of the tournament.
Verdict: India have a few bowling woes to fix with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav having poor IPL campaigns. After a short break, they will need to regroup and get used to the conditions in England really quickly. India need to sort out their best bowling options ahead of the tournament.
England have thrashed Pakistan 4-0 in the build up to the World Cup with them scoring 340 or more in every completed ODI of the series. The outrageous batting display by England overshadows their bowling performance which saw Pakistan also make 340-plus in three of the four completed matches.
England have a stupendous batting line-up but their bowling needs much work. They are also unsettled on their final World Cup team with Jofra Archer's inclusion remaining a question mark. One of Joe Denly and David Willey is at risk of losing a place if they decide to accomodate Archer.
Meanwhile, Alex Hales' drug ban has opened up a slot in the batting department which could be filled by James Vince who showed good form in the ODIs against Pakistan. But his inability to convert starts could see Denly retain his place with Archer coming in for Willey. There are also rumours regarding Liam Dawson making a last-gasp entry into the team ahead of Denly.
The tournament favourites and hosts have warm-up fixtures against Australia (May 25) and Afghanistan (May 27) before the tournament opener against the Proteas on 30 May.
Verdict: England are well prepared for this extravaganza at home and their batting will once again be expected to cover up for their bowling miseries. They have a few last minute changes in the offing and whether they bring in the irresistible Jofra Archer could well dictate their bowling form in the tournament.
Despite a win-less series against England on some placid surfaces, Pakistan will take heart from their batting display. Known to succumb under pressure with the bat, they managed to score 340 or more thrice in four attempts and ran England close in two matches.
Babar Azam, Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman found some form with the bat while Asif Ali, still awaiting a last-minute entry to the team, also performed. Mohammad Amir, still down with chicken pox, is expected to come back into the side if he can regain full fitness before the World Cup.
Shadab Khan has meanwhile recovered from a virus and will be available for the World Cup. Amir is expected to replace the inexperienced Mohammad Hasnain in the team while Abid Ali could make way for Asif Ali.
There are concerns regarding their apparent strength - the bowling attack - after a dreadful outing in the series against England. The fielding was also pretty lackadaisical in the series and these are two areas the team will look to pump in some training in the build up to the tournament.
Pakistan play Afghanistan (24th) and Bangladesh (26th) in warm-up matches before their first game against Windies on 31st.
Verdict: Bowling and fielding are two grey areas for Pakistan as they build up to the tournament. They have had a dreadful time in England in the ODI series but carry some valuable lessons to the World Cup and are the only team aside from the hosts to get game time on venues for the World Cup.
Injuries to main players have set back South Africa's World Cup preparations. Young Anrich Nortje was ruled out of the entire tournament and replaced by Chris Morris. Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi are all nursing injuries. Steyn and Rabada are expected to be fit for the opener according to a recent statement released by coach, Ottis Gibson.
They are done with a week-long camp which began with a hike up to the Table Mountain in Cape Town as a team-building exercise. The aim was to get the players into a good mental space ahead of the tournament where they have historically had trouble coping with pressure and expectations.
The mental aspect aside, South Africa have worrying concerns surrounding the form of Hashim Amla who stepped away from the Cape Cobras setup midway through the CSA T20 Challenge tournament. His form and mindset seem to be a headache South Africa will have to carry to the World Cup and look to sort out on the go.
They are scheduled to play warm-up games against Sri Lanka (May 24) and West Indies (May 26) before facing the daunting task of playing the hosts in the tournament opener on 30 May.
Verdict: Hashim Amla is an important cog in their wheel and his form and the mental space he is in could dictate South Africa's World Cup. The week-long camp has put the team in good spirits as evident from the social media posts of players but they still need to be at their best in big matches. Injury management of their seamers should also be top priority.
New Zealand's players had an extended IPL season while the players back home engaged in a three-match unofficial ODI series against a strong Australian side. Curiously, the last ODI series they played before this was in February, a good three months back against Bangladesh.
New Zealand opted to spend their time in quiet preparation rather than playing bilaterals against other teams or additional warm-up games around the UK. Even the team they dished out against Australia XI included just five World Cup bound players. None of their nine World Cup players in the IPL 2019 season, except Kane Williamson, got consistent gametime either.
Preparations have certainly not been adequate. The IPL players also missed two preparatory camps conducted by Gary Stead but the head coach was confident that it wouldn't hamper their preparations. On top of that, Latham, the captain in the unofficial Australian series, suffered a fractured finger in the final game and is a doubtful starter for the tournament opener. This could force New Zealand to hand Tom Blundell, a surprise pick in the team, an ODI debut in the first game against Sri Lanka.
If Latham doesn't recover, he will be replaced by one of Tim Seifert or BJ Watling, both of whom are on standby. Meanwhile, Williamson himself has been carrying a slight shoulder discomfort which ruled him out of some IPL matches. He was involved in the last leg, though, which should ease out any concerns surrounding his fitness.
New Zealand play warm-up games against India (May 25) and West Indies (May 28) before the match against Sri Lanka at Cardiff on 1 June.
Verdict: Inadequate preparations could force New Zealand to have a hectic last week before the tournament begins. They need to ensure that the players aren't rusty cometh the tournament. The wicket-keeping conundrum should also be something that New Zealand will want to sort out soon.
With the Smith-Warner saga sorted, Australia's World Cup preparations received a massive boost after an ODI series win in India. From a wretched period in ODIs, the defending champions have risen to become one of the title contenders in the last couple of months.
The bowling attack looks sharp as ever and Warner and Smith are fine-tuning their preparations with throwdowns in a school ground in South London. They played New Zealand XI in an unofficial ODI series in the build-up and though they won two matches, the one loss to a largely second-string Kiwis side would worry Justin Langer.
Jhye Richardson was also ruled out of the World Cup with a shoulder injury in the midst of that series and was replaced by Kane Richardson. Steve Smith found some much-needed form and should slot straight back into Australia's middle-order.
The Australian coach has also been closely monitoring the bowling group. They were asked to bowl to simulated match scenarios to counter the high scoring rates expected in England.
They take on West Indies (May 22), England (May 25) and Sri Lanka (May 27) in warm-up games before their opener against Afghanistan on 1 June.
Verdict: Australia have had adequate preparations for the tournament and arrive in England as a confident unit. They have strong batting and bowling units but need to sort out their best eleven in the warm-up matches.
A tri-series win just before the World Cup has given Bangladesh some momentum heading into the World Cup. That their first multi-team series win saw contributions from players outside the absolute certainties for the starting eleven should encourage the think-tank.
A side strain ruled Shakib Al Hasan out of the final but he is expected to be back to full fitness by the time the warm-ups get underway. A promotion to No 3 in the batting line-up in the tri-series seems to have kept the veteran all-rounder happy after his disappearing act at the team photoshoot a few weeks back.
His form will be crucial for Bangladesh who also have the arduous task of proving their credentials outside home conditions. After the World Cup jersey controversy and apparent disagreements with senior players, Bangladesh's campaign seems to be headed the right way.
Bangladesh play Pakistan (May 26) and India (May 28) in warm-up games before their first match against South Africa on 2 June.
Verdict: Bangladesh have had an intense preparation for the tournament in the tri-series and carry some much-needed momentum into the World Cup. Their preparations should revolve around big hitting. They have struggled to consistently make big scores and this could prove to be detrimental on the surfaces expected at the World Cup.
West Indies suffered a massive set back as they lost all three matches - including the final - to Bangladesh in the recently-concluded tri-series, also involving Ireland. While there were notable absentees for them in the series, Windies would have expected to get the better of Bangladesh at least once.
They did test their bench strength with John Campbell and Sunil Ambris coming good at the top. Shai Hope's incredible run of form should also help them decide the opening partner for newly-appointed vice-captain, Chris Gayle. They have named a few stand-by players for the World Cup with the list including big names in Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo. The 10-man list of players remain back ups while two of them - John Campbell and Raymon Reifer - will train with the squad in Southampton with a camp scheduled between 19 - 23 May.
This includes a warm-up game against Australia on 22 May, an additional one to the two existing ones - South Africa (May 26) and New Zealand (May 28). The additional warm-up is to help players acclimatise to English conditions.
Verdict: Windies need to sort out their bowling concerns with the first-choice fast bowlers yet to be identified. The vacant opening slot alongside Gayle is also still under discussion. How they use their anchors - the likes of Shai Hope and Darren Bravo - could dictate how their World Cup goes.
With a new captain, Dimuth Karunaratne, who last played ODIs in 2015, Sri Lanka are the underdogs for the tournament. They lost eight games on the trot in the format before heading down to Scotland for a two-match series ahead of the World Cup. The first game was washed out by rain and it has hampered Sri Lanka's preparations for the tournament
They have a few surprising choices in their squad with some experienced guns like Niroshan Dickwella and Dinesh Chandimal left out. The batting contingent needs to reassemble and need some matches before the tournament begins.
Meanwhile, the bowling attack also has a prominent name missing - Akila Dananjaya, their most wicket-taking option since the Champions Trophy. Malinga is yet to join the squad in Scotland but the extra slot should help identify his partners in the fast bowling group. Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep are expected to be first-choice options.
Sri Lanka play Scotland in the final ODI of the series on May 21 before a warm-up game against South Africa at Cardiff on May 24. They then face Australia on May 27 and play their first World Cup match on 1 June against New Zealand.
Verdict: Sri Lanka have concerns surrounding their best combinations for the World Cup. With them making quite a few squad changes for the big event, the discussion in the camps should revolve around how they best use the players at their disposal. The bowling seems to be sorted out given the limited options but batting positions are still being discussed. Dimuth Karunaratne needs a couple of games at the helm before the tournament begins and the warm-ups should give them that.
Afghanistan made a controversial change in leadership just ahead of the World Cup with Asghar Afghan replaced by Gulbadin Naib for the multi-nation event. Both Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan had publically condemned this last-minute change and now it seems like even coach, Phil Simmons, wasn't aware of the decision.
The West Indian had announced that he would be relieving duties after the World Cup and also stated that he "wasn't aware" of the leadership change which was heralded by the Afghanistan Cricket Board and the selectors.
The side had levelled an ODI series against Ireland earlier in the year in India (2-2) and then narrowly beat Scotland 1-0 in a rain-affected series. They are in the midst of a two-match ODI series against Ireland in Belfast with the first match going in favour of the hosts. Despite boasting compelling bowling numbers in the build up to the World Cup, Afghanistan neither have a happy camp nor confidence-boosting performances in the build up.
They have warm-up fixtures against Pakistan (May 24) and England (May 27) before their opening game against Australia on 1 June.
Verdict: They need Simmons to find his bearings and pull together the team under the new skipper. A mindset stuck in the past will only hurt them at the World Cup and they will hope to get into a good space in the week before the tournament begins. Their strength is a sharp bowling unit led by spinners and they should look to utilise them to their fullest in the tournament.