Hello again and welcome to the fourth instalment of my ICC Cricket World Cup preview. Today I will start previewing the top 8 teams in this tournament when I look at the West Indies and Pakistan.
West Indies (Group B)
Fixtures: vs Ireland, Saxton Oval, Nelson, vs Pakistan, Hagley Oval, Christchurch, vs Zimbabwe, Manuka Oval, Canberra, vs South Africa, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, vs India, WACA, Perth, vs UAE, McLean Park, Napier.
Squad: Jason Holder (c), Sulieman Benn, Darren Bravo, Jonathan Carter, Sheldon Cottrell, Chris Gayle, Nikita Miller, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith, Jerome Taylor.
The West Indies enter the World Cup in turmoil, having boycotted a tour of India in October. As a result the captain of that tour, Dwayne Bravo, and another senior player, Kieron Pollard, have been left out of the one-day side, and new captain Jason Holder is quite inexperienced. The side still contains many of the players from that tour, however, including dynamic opener Chris Gayle and batsman Marlon Samuels. Those players are strong, but the West Indies still seem to be a specialist batsman light. Their all-rounders will be the ones to fill that void, and Holder will certainly be able to call upon many bowling options. Kemar Roach, the leader of the pace attack, will love the bouncy conditions, and the West Indies are capable of doing well.
The omissions of Dwayne Bravo and Pollard could prove divisive within the camp. They have also lost two players who can bat and bowl well, as well as two very strong fielders. At the top of the order Gayle can be slightly hit-and-miss, and while there are plenty of bowling options the attack would not be described as strong. They still appear to be susceptible to beatings like the one dished out by AB de Villiers (149 off 44 balls) and South Africa during their one-day series in South Africa. The West Indies need to make both their bowling and batting line-ups more reliable, and also not so dependent on all-rounders, to do well in this World Cup. All things considered, the West Indies are easily good enough to get through the group stage and in to the quarter-finals, but will struggle to get much further.
Pakistan (Group B)
Fixtures: vs India, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, vs West Indies, Hagley Oval, Christchurch, vs Zimbabwe, The Gabba, Brisbane, vs UAE, McLean Park, Napier, vs South Africa, Eden Park, Auckland, vs Ireland, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide.
Squad: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Ahmed Shehzad, Ehsan Adil, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Shahid Afridi, Sohaib Maqsood, Sohail Khan, Umar Akmal (wk), Wahab Riaz, Yasir Shah, Younis Khan.
Pakistan come in to the World Cup with a fairly strong side that is young with an experienced core. This core includes Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and big-hitting all-rounder Shahid Afridi. Misbah and Afridi are set to retire from ODIs after this tournament, and they are key to the success of the team. Sarfraz Ahmed is a big-hitting keeper batsman, and he can bat anywhere from 1 to 7. Sohaib Maqsood and Haris Sohail are also key players in the middle order, and there are plenty of pace-bowling options. Yasir Shah, Afridi and opener Mohammad Hafeez form the spin attack, and they are all capable bowlers. With Ahmed Shehzad and Hafeez capping off a strong batting line-up, the Pakistanis could mount a serious title charge.
While there are plenty of pace options, the attack lacks a leader, and the combination of bowlers that will be used is also uncertain. None of the pacemen seem to be quite good enough to guarantee a spot in the team, and this is a worry. The attack is not as strong as that of some other sides, and if the combination of pace bowlers used fail to fire and get hit around then Afridi, Hafeez and Yasir Shah will have to bear the brunt of the work. The batting will also be placed under extra pressure, and this is not good. The attack may also struggle to find wickets at the start of the innings, and that leads to more pressure placed upon the batsmen and spinners. All things considered, Pakistan have a strong side, but one of their pacemen needs to step up.
Tomorrow: I look at hosts New Zealand and an English side keen to prove the doubters wrong.