Baptism by fire for the Indian juggernaut against lethal Proteas
Wednesday, June 5: India V South Africa
India had a rude awakening in their opening warm-up game against New Zealand. Virat Kohli’s men struggled against New Zealand swing bowlers and only a late rearguard by Ravindra Jadeja took them to a scarcely respectable 179 which the Kiwis overhauled with ease. The South African bowling will arguably pose an even bigger challenge. India will hope that Skhikar Dhawan continues his love affair with ICC tournaments and Rohit Sharma passes 21 in most of his innings — stats show that the Mumbai man’s chances of posting a high score, at a fast clip, increase exponentially once he crosses the 21-run mark. Kohli, of course, is Kohli. India’s biggest concern is an unproven middle order with Dhoni the only bankable batsman and even he may struggle in swinging conditions. On the bowling front, Jasprit Bumrah needs to be wrapped in cotton wool until the tournament begins — while the rejuvenated Mohammad Shami is likely to get the nod ahead of an off-colour Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. The ‘Kulcha’ spin twins — Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal — are likely to play a critical role against a shaky Proteas batting line-up which is not known for its prowess against the turning ball.
Prediction: India to win
Australian craft likely to be too much for mercurial West Indies
Thursday, June 6: Australia V West Indies
The defending champions have yet to open their campaign at the time of going to print – but more likely than not, will find it easy going against an inexperienced Afghanistan side. Australia’s second match, against the West Indies will be the first real test of their championship credentials. The two sides haven’t met on cricket’s biggest stage in two decades – their last clash was in May 1999 when the Aussies thumped the two-time champions by six wickets en route to winning the tournament and establishing a 12-year stranglehold on the trophy. Things have changed a bit since then. The Kangaroos, despite having David Warner and Steven Smith in their ranks, are a far cry from their dominant days in the first decade of the century while the West Indies appear to be on their way back up, having plumbed the depths for so long. They will no doubt be the netural’s favourites. There’s just too much nous in the Australian side though and short of a Chris Gayle or Andre Russell special, they are likely to even the World Cup head-to-head at 5-5.
Pakistan likely to be brought down by English firepower
Monday, June 3: England v Pakistan
England got their campaign off to the prefect start with a 104 run thrashing of South Africa. Apart from Jonny Bairstow’s golden-duck, it was a match full of positives for the hosts. The top and middle order got runs, new kid on the block Jofra Archer cranked up the pace to 90 mph and leggie Adil Rashid had a great day out as well. England would have been most encouraged by the return to form of talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes who scored 89 off 79, took two wickets and grabbed what may turn out to be the catch of the tournament. Not bad. And they have a score to settle with Pakistan who inflicted the last of their three final losses — at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1992. Sarfraz Nawab’s may not be the most fancied team around but they surprised all by winning the 2017 Champions Trophy and certainly have it in them to go deep in this tournament as well. The hosts must be wary.
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