We are nearly there. The 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup is upon us. Over the next 45 days, we will witness the top 10 ODI teams in the world battling it out for cricket’s Holy Grail.
With 48 matches set to take place in the tournament, we can certainly expect the ICC Cricket World Cup to generate some compelling narratives and storylines over the next month and a half.
Before the powder keg finally ignites tomorrow, let us dwell on some key talking points ahead of international cricket’s biggest extravaganza.
Kolpak shadow looms over tournament opener
Hosts England will face South Africa at The Oval in the World Cup’s opening match on Thursday, May 30. While the hosts are expected to be at full strength for this contest, the same cannot be said for the visitors.
Over the past decade, several South African cricketers have taken early international retirement in order to play for county cricket franchises in England because of the Kolpak Ruling.
In 2003, the European Court of Justice ruled that anyone with a work permit from a country which has an associate trading agreement with the EU had the same rights as a European worker. This is what is known as the Kolpak Ruling. Under this rule, a cricketer is prohibited from playing for his native country while he is contracted to an English domestic franchise,
Several prominent South African cricketers such as Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Duanne Olivier, Wayne Parnell and Hardus Viljoen have switched their allegiances under this ruling. In an interview last week, AB De Villiers revealed that he convinced current South African captain Faf Du Plessis to continue playing for the national side and not take the Kolpak route in 2010.
Considering Cricket South Africa’s inability to offer lucrative contracts to national team prospects and the UK’s impending exit from the European Union, the Kolpak Ruling perhaps represents the biggest short-term threat to South African cricket.
Afghanistan to make their World Cup debut
Afghanistan cricket’s rise over the past decade has been nothing less than extraordinary.
This is a country where playing the sport itself was considered as a heretic act by the barbaric Taliban regime. 18 years later, the Afghanistan cricket team is on the brink of making its debut at the grandest stage of them all.
The current crop of Afghan cricketers has somehow managed to overcome the scourge of war and performed minor miracles on the cricket field.
And they are certainly no pushovers. With quality players such as Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi in their ranks, Afghanistan possesses the firepower to upset any team on their day.
Whatever the final outcome, participating in the 2019 World Cup will represent a major step in the right direction for Afghan cricket.
A hostile English summer awaits Warner and Smith
Australian cricketers often carry a target on their backs whenever they visit the English shores at the best of times. However, as Steve Smith and David Warner get ready to make their international return for Australia after serving a one year ban, they can expect a pretty hostile reception from the English fans and the local press.
More than a year ago, Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft were found guilty of ball tampering during a test match against South Africa in a major scandal that came to be known as the “sandpaper controversy”.
When it comes to getting under the skin of the Australian cricketers, English fans can be absolutely relentless. During an ODI match at The Oval last year, English fans were handed cards labeled “4” and “6” made of Australian ball-tampering grade sandpaper. In 2005, Aussie legend Shane Warne was brutally vilified by the English fans and the press alike after details about his promiscuous lifestyle were published by some local tabloids.
In order to prepare their players for the expected backlash, Cricket Australia has enlisted the help of some UK-based PR firms such as Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
Regardless of how far Australia progress in the tournament, Steve Smith and David Warner will be bracing themselves for a rough English summer.
India, England set to benefit from World Cup format
India and England are widely considered by many as the two favourites to win the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup. Barring an absolute disaster, most of us expect these two sides to at least make it to the semi-finals of the tournament.
The new tournament format arguably makes it easier for quality sides such as India and England to rise to the top. Under the current format, all 10 teams would get a chance to face each other once in the group stage of the tournament. This format was last adopted during the 1992 Cricket World Cup when Pakistan, under Imran Khan, lifted the trophy,
For India and England, two teams who pride themselves on their consistency, this format offers the possible chance to make it out of the group stage. The Indian players, in particular, are expected to benefit from this format as they have the propensity to be slow starters but generally improve as the tournament progresses. It will present an opportunity for the players to take their time in adjusting to the playing conditions.
Furthermore, the format of the group stage will give the top teams an opportunity to fine tune their playing combinations ahead of the semi-final and the final of the tournament.
While it is largely inconceivable that the other 8 teams won’t pull off wins against these 2 sides as the tournament progresses, the format of the 2019 Cricket World Cup ensures that the cream will always rise to the top.
Rakshit Chopra is the founder of the fantasy sports platform The Choralist. He specialises in exploring the complex interplay between sports and politics.
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