Three weeks today, on the 13th March, the whole jamboree begins, although it does look like being a phoney war for the first stages. The big eight countries are pulling away from the minnows as Zimbabwe move backwards at a rate of knots, only Bangladesh look like they have the experience and know-how to pull off an upset. In this preview, I will look at the teams ranked 9 to 16 according to the official World Cup seedings.
They’ve made the Super Six stage in the last two tournaments, but that was with a very different line up to the one that is now in place. The last World Cup was a catalyst for the turmoil that Zimbabwean cricket finds itself in, with the public displays of Henry Olonga and Andy Flower in denouncing the government. Since then, most of Zimbabwe’s better players have been discarded, including the Flower brothers, Heath Streak and Tatenda Taibu, leading to their teat playing status being suspended. The team has been thrashed by the other test playing countries, although they did manage a tight series win at home to Bangladesh last year, which was reversed earlier this year.
Grouped with West Indies, Pakistan and Ireland, their first game, against the Irish, is their only realistic hope of any success
Semi-finalists last time round, although that was helped by the number of forfeited matches involving themselves and Zimbabwe. Heavily reliant on Stephen Tikolo in probably his final World Cup, Kenya have warmed up by winning the WCL trophy for the second rank of cricket playing nations. New talent is also coming through into the team, notably batsman Tanmay Mishra and left-arm spinner Hiren Varaiya
In the same group as England, New Zealand and Canada, they may have been hoping for an upset against a demoralised England team. However, it now appears that the best they can hope for is a comfortable win over Canada and to continue to dominate the non-test playing nations.
A test playing nation since 2001, with definite signs of improvement being made since their debut, particularly in the sub-continent. They are still trying to break in with the big boys, however, and have spent a lot of the past year playing (and beating) Zimbabwe and Kenya. Under the astute coaching of Dav Whatmore, the team has recently beaten Sri Lanka (losing the One Day series 2-1) and memorably defeated the Australians in England during 2005. A lot will depend on the more experienced players, such as Ashraful, Rafique and Bashir, the captain, but they will be hopeful of causing an upset.
In the same group as Bermuda, India and Sri Lanka, the draw has not been unkind. Bangladesh have beaten both India and Sri Lanka over the past four years, and both of the bigger teams are prone to having an off-day. If an upset does happen, this is the group.
A tremendous run of run of late saw them beating Kenya to reach the final of the WCL trophy, only to lose to the same opponents in the final. Firmly established as the next best team after Kenya, they are less reliant on their county stars, Gavin Hamilton, John Blain and Dougie Brown, than they used to be. Their introduction to the Pro40 league has helped to develop a squad which has now qualified for the 20:20 World Cup and will be looking to grow the game north of the border.
In the same group as the world number one team, South Africa and everyone’s whipping boys Australia. Similar to Kenya, they will be looking for a comfortable win against the other minnow in their group, the Netherlands, and to give one of the other teams a fright.
Ireland are unfortunate in that their star batsman from the qualifying stages, Ed Joyce, has defected and should be opening the batting for England in the tournament itself. Disappointing in the ICC tournament in Kenya, they made up for matters by reaching the final of the Intercontinental Cup, the longer format of the game for non-test playing nations. Eoin Morgan, now on the books with Middlesex, and Andre Botha will be key to their batting.
In the same group as Zimbabwe above, that game will be their best chance of success.
Like Ireland, Canada have made the final if the Intercontinental Cup. They are heavily reliant on John Davison, a big hitting batsman, who scored 111 in 76 balls against the West Indies in the last World Cup.
Coached by former Notts bowler, Andy Pick, they will be targeting Kenya as their best chance of glory.
Captained by current Glamorgan captain David Hemp, Bermuda find themselves in the same group as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. This is Bermuda’s first appearance at the Cricket World Cup and their most competitive game could be a warm up match against Zimbabwe .
The Dutch have the unenviable task of making up the numbers in the Australia, South Africa, Scotland group. This at least will give their players of South African descent, including Essex’s Ryan ten Doeschate, a chance to shine against the country of their ancestry.