New Zealand must play like they have nothing to lose

2015 Cricket World Cup Final preview

After 48 matches, 12 teams knocked out and countless memories we have reached the closing stage of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. It is time for the final, and one could not hope for a better two teams to be playing in it. Australia and New Zealand compete in numerous other sports, but historically cricket has been one of the sports in which contests between the two hold less value, mainly due to a lack of quality in the New Zealand team. Now, however, it is different, as some great young talent, aggressive captaincy by McCullum and some confidence-boosting wins early on in their campaign have set up a final with Australia, who they beat in dramatic circumstances at Eden Park earlier in the tournament.


It is likely that both Australia and New Zealand, barring injury, will enter the match unchanged. There are no real selection queries that need to be answered, especially given the effortless manner with which Matt Henry replaced an injured Adam Milne against South Africa.
Australia (likely): David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Michael Clarke, Glenn Maxwell, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.
New Zealand (likely): Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Trent Boult.


Australia must look to remove Brendon McCullum from the game early. They should look to bat first, as they will struggle to chase much more than 250 against the New Zealand attack. If they can post a 330 total and remove McCullum for less than 20 they will have gone a long way to winning the tournament. When batting they need Finch, Warner, Smith and Clarke to make it to around the 35-over mark to give Maxwell time to do maximum damage.

New Zealand will be helped by the fact that the game-plans of Australia and South Africa, who they played in the semis, are very similar with the bat. If New Zealand can get Maxwell in with over half the innings to go, like they did in Auckland, they will go a very long way to winning this final. When they bat New Zealand must not be worried by the occasion and especially not the opponent. If New Zealand start to put pressure on themselves to win then they will play less aggressively, and this does not help their cause.

Key Players

Solid Batsman: Steve Smith (Australia) and Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
Smith is by no means a defensive player, and neither is Williamson, but both will be relied upon to bat time and make as big a score as possible. After a slow start to the tournament Smith seems to be peaking at the right time, while for Williamson this is a chance to build a reputation as one of the calmest batsmen in world cricket.

Strike Bowler: Mitchell Starc (Australia) and Trent Boult (New Zealand)
These two left-armers are the most prolific bowlers at this World Cup, and it is due in no small part to an ability to strike with precise and dangerous yorkers. While Josh Hazlewood and James Faulkner have just started to fire Starc is still the one Australia rely upon for wickets. Boult bowls mainly at the start of the innings and he will be trying for the early strikes New Zealand desperately need.

Slogger: Glenn Maxwell (Australia) and Brendon McCullum (New Zealand)
Again these two players are very different in their styles. While Maxwell bats to the field McCullum uses his brute strength to muscle the ball to whatever boundary he sees fit. They also bat at different times, with McCullum batting at the start while Maxwell bats at the end of the innings. Each will be relied upon to dramatically boost the run rate throughout their time at the crease and score some decent runs.

Middle-Overs Bowler: Josh Hazlewood (Australia) and Daniel Vettori (New Zealand)
Hazlewood only established his place in the side recently after poor games against England and Afghanistan. He came back for the quarter final and since then his reliable line, length and bounce has returned. Vettori, on the other hand, has been one of the best bowlers in a tournament where unfair restrictions have led to many spinners being smashed. He has been clever and against Australia he was crucial in stopping the quick runs being scored by Warner and Finch.


I think that the outcome of this game depends on how New Zealand approach it. If they play like they have nothing to lose their chances of victory will rise, but if they put pressure on themselves the Australians will win easily. I think that against Australia it will be very difficult for New Zealand to play without inhibitions and so I expect Australia to win. As for the margin, it depends on how New Zealand play.

New Zealand and South Africa look to prove themselves

2015 ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final preview – New Zealand vs South Africa


Both sides should remain unchanged after resounding victories in their quarter-finals, although South Africa still seem to be debating which of Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott should play. As a result it is possible that Abbott could be an omission from the team.
New Zealand (likely): Guptill, McCullum, Williamson, Taylor, Anderson, Elliot, Ronchi, Vettori, Southee, Milne, Boult.
South Africa (likely): Amla, de Kock, du Plessis, Rossouw, de Villiers, Miller, Duminy, Abbott/Philander, Steyn, Morkel, Tahir.


During the World Cup both sides have had clear preferences as to batting or bowling first. The South Africans have struggled chasing, but when batting first they have scored 339, 408, 411 and 341. New Zealand, on the other hand, have looked good fielding first and knocking the other side over for less than 200. This plan may work against the South Africans, but either way New Zealand should try to avoid setting. While they fell just 7 runs short of 400 in their quarter final almost all of that was Martin Guptill’s innings of 237 not out. South Africa will look to bat first, get runs on the board and put New Zealand under pressure.

Key Players

Martin Guptill (New Zealand)
Guptill will be relied upon to make more runs than any other player in the New Zealand team. He is in brilliant form and has made scores of 57, 105 and 237 not out in his last three games. South Africa will look to knock him over quickly.

Hashim Amla (South Africa)
Amla plays a very steady hand in South Africa’s team, and their batting strategy is built around Amla and Faf du Plessis setting up AB de Villiers for the last fifteen overs. Amla will not bat particularly quickly, but his technique is unsurpassed and he will be difficult to get out.

Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
Williamson will be called upon at number three if there is an early wicket, and he will bat for as long as he can. He has a very cool head, as shown by his match-winning innings against Australia. He will be relied upon to string together partnerships and add to his one half-century for the World Cup.

Dale Steyn (South Africa)
Steyn is very economical at the start of the innings, but it is his wicket-taking South Africa will depend upon. If he can claim the prize scalps of McCullum and Guptill then he will have taken South Africa a long way towards putting New Zealand out of the tournament.

Trent Boult (New Zealand)
Boult will be looking to break the South African batting open like he did to the West Indies on Saturday. He has 19 wickets for the tournament, and he has dismissed some of the best players, including an in-form Kumar Sangakkara. He will need to knock over one or both of the openers early.

Faf du Plessis (South Africa)
Du Plessis has to occupy the crease with Amla, de Kock and possibly Rossouw so that de Villiers can do maximum damage. He is cool under pressure and his batting this tournament has been very good. If he can make a few runs he will be a big factor.

Brendon McCullum (New Zealand)
McCullum is an aggressive opening bat who will look to attack South Africa from the first ball. The Eden Park boundaries are small, and if he clears them regularly it will be very hard for South Africa. His and Martin Guptill’s are the key wickets at the start of the innings.

Imran Tahir (South Africa)
Tahir has been one of the most impressive spinners this tournament has seen. He has taken more wickets than any other South African bowler and has kept the runs down admirably. Today he will look to plug up scoring in the middle overs, much like Daniel Vettori will do for the kiwis.


While New Zealand have been practically flawless this tournament they will be under great pressure. They are still a young side, and the more experienced South Africans, having finally won a knockout match, will be very hard to knock off. South Africa to win a close one.


New Zealand edge out Australia in low-scoring thriller

Australia 151 (Haddin 43, Boult 27-5) lost to New Zealand 152-9 (McCullum 50, Williamson 45*, Starc 28-6)

In the lead-up to the much-anticipated match between New Zealand and Australia at Eden Park much was made of the big-hitters from both sides and the small boundaries, but it was two left-arm quicks who provided the fans with what was the best match of the tournament so far. The Australians won the toss and elected to bat first, and the New Zealand bowlers struggled to find early direction, against Aaron Finch and David Warner. An early wicket to Tim Southee did not aid the run rate, and New Zealand were under pressure when veteran spinner Daniel Vettori was introduced into the attack. What ensued was some spin bowling of the highest order, which dramatically slowed the run rate. The score was sitting at 80-1 when Vettori struck, removing Shane Watson after a 50-run stand with Warner. Watson was out as he so often is, caught playing a rash shot, and it only took one ball for the partnership between Warner and Michael Clarke to be broken, the opener trapped leg before by Southee. Clarke and Steve Smith looked to consolidate, but when Smith edged Vettori behind the collapse began. Trent Boult had both Glenn Maxwell and Mitch Marsh chop the ball on to their own stumps within 3 balls, and then had Clarke caught off an uppish drive. Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc were also out in quick succession, and so Australia found themselves at 9-106 and wondering what had happened. A last wicket partnership of 45 between keeper Brad Haddin and Pat Cummins dragged the Australians over 150, but it did not look like enough against a dynamic Kiwi line-up.

Things started badly for Australia, as Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum attacked the bowling, with 40 on the board after around 4 overs when Guptill chipped Starc to the waiting arms of Cummins. McCullum continued to attack despite a painful blow on the arm, reaching his 50 off 21 balls to come close to beating the record he set on Friday with a half-century off just 18. He was out to Cummins a few balls later, and when Starc knocked over Ross Taylor for one it was 79-3 and New Zealand looked slightly shaky. Nerves really began to set in when Grant Elliot, playing more like a tentative tail-ender than a number 5 batsman, was bowled first ball, but Kane Williamson and Corey Anderson consolidated. The pair put on 52 to take the score to 131 when Anderson was out chipping the ball straight to Cummins at mid-wicket. At that stage, and even when keeper Luke Ronchi was out to Starc, it looked a case of too little too late. When Vettori was out to a Cummins full toss with just 7 needed, however, Australia looked like they could just be back in it. This was when Mitchell Starc struck. He knocked over Adam Milne with a yorker many top batsmen would struggle to dig out, and he smashed Southee’s off stump with a ball of equal vigour. The equation was now 6 runs with one wicket in hand, and Boult was the man in. Boult played out the hat-trick ball, before Starc missed his line, and the stumps, with the final delivery of his ninth over. This gave Williamson a chance to finish it against Cummins, and with a gutsy shot over long on he did it, confirming a victory that all but confirms a top-placed finish for New Zealand in Group A.

Australia innings

Batsman How out R B SR 4 6
A Finch b Southee 14 7 200.00 1 1
D Warner lbw Southee 34 42 80.95 2 1
S Watson c Southee b Vettori 23 30 76.66 2 0
M Clarke c Williamson b Boult 12 18 66.66 1 0
S Smith c Ronchi b Vettori 4 11 36.36 0 0
G Maxwell b Boult 1 3 33.33 0 0
M Marsh b Boult 0 2 0.00 0 0
B Haddin c sub (Latham) b Anderson 43 41 104.87 4 2
M Johnson c Williamson b Boult 1 7 14.28 0 0
M Starc b Boult 0 3 0.00 0 0
P Cummins not out 7 30 23.33 1 0
Extras (4b, 2lb, 6w) 12
Total (all out, 32.2 overs) 151

Fall: 30 (Finch), 80 (Watson), 80 (Warner), 95 (Smith), 96 (Maxwell), 97 (Marsh), 104 (Clarke), 106 (Johnson), 106 (Starc), 151 (Haddin).

Bowling O M R W E
T Southee 9 0 65 2 7.22
T Boult 10 3 27 5 2.70
D Vettori 10 0 41 2 4.10
A Milne 3 0 6 0 2.00
C Anderson 0.2 0 6 1 18.00


New Zealand innings

Batsman How out R B SR 4 6
M Guptill c Cummins b Starc 11 14 78.57 1 1
B McCullum c Starc b Cummins 50 24 208.33 7 3
K Williamson not out 45 42 107.14 5 1
R Taylor b Starc 1 2 50.00 0 0
G Elliot b Starc 0 1 0.00 0 0
C Anderson c Cummins b Maxwell 26 42 61.90 2 1
L Ronchi c Haddin b Starc 6 7 85.71 0 1
D Vettori c Warner b Cummins 2 3 66.66 0 0
A Milne b Starc 0 2 0.00 0 0
T Southee b Starc 0 1 0.00 0 0
T Boult not out 0 2 0.00 0 0
Extras (10w, 1nb) 11
Total (9 wickets, 23.1 overs) 152

Fall: 40 (Guptill), 78 (McCullum), 79 (Taylor), 79 (Elliot), 131 (Anderson), 139 (Ronchi), 145 (Vettori), 146 (Milne), 146 (Southee).

Bowling O M R W E
M Johnson 6 1 68 0 11.33
M Starc 9 0 28 6 3.11
P Cummins 6.1 0 38 2 6.16
M Marsh 1 0 11 0 11.00
G Maxwell 1 0 7 1 7.00

New Zealand won by 1 wicket (with 161 balls remaining)
Toss: Australia, who chose to bat
Player of the match: Trent Boult (New Zealand)
Umpires: Marais Erasmus (South Africa), Richard Illingworth (England)
Points: New Zealand 2, Australia 0

2015 ICC Cricket World Cup Preview – 1 day to go

Tomorrow the World Cup kicks off, and I have looked at all of the teams. Now, with one day to go until the World Cup I close out my preview with my final predictions as to who will win the World Cup.

Group A

Group A combines Australia, Sri Lanka, England, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland. The Australians and New Zealanders will be expected to do very well at their home tournaments, and while that could prove too much both sides have performed well recently and you would expect them to progress. Sri Lanka and England are both strong, but have both struggled in matches against New Zealand and Australia respectively. Bangladesh should be able to beat Afghanistan and the Scottish but will struggle against the other countries. Expect a close contest between Afghanistan and Scotland, as it is very likely that both teams will be pushing for their first tournament win.
Prediction: 1. Australia, 2. New Zealand, 3. Sri Lanka, 4. England, 5. Bangladesh, 6. Afghanistan, 7. Scotland.

Group B

Group B brings together India, South Africa, Pakistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and the UAE. The Indians have struggled for form in their recent tri-series, and this is a worry heading into such an important tournament. By contrast the South Africans have had no such qualms, comfortably beating the West Indians at home in their most recent series. The West Indies are still feeling the impact of the player boycott during the tour of India, with senior players not being picked and the side in general disarray. Pakistan may well struggle on the Australian wickets, but they are not to be underestimated. The Zimbabweans and the Irish will see the recent struggles of the West Indians as an opportunity to possibly sneak into the quarter-finals, and that will lead to a competitive and evenly-matched battle between the sides. The UAE will be keen to impress but will struggle at the highest level.
Prediction: 1. South Africa, 2. India, 3. Pakistan, 4. West Indies, 5. Ireland, 6. Zimbabwe, 7. UAE.

This leaves the quarter final match-ups of: Australia vs West Indies, New Zealand vs Pakistan, India vs Sri Lanka, South Africa vs England. The Australians should comfortably dispose of the West Indies, and while New Zealand and Pakistan were evenly matched in their series in the UAE the New Zealanders should have the edge at home. India and Sri Lanka are evenly matched, but Sri Lanka should win on batting depth. South Africa should just have too much class for the English. With those results Australia would play Sri Lanka in the semi-final. The Australians are probably the better team at home, and Sri Lanka would struggle. The other semi-final would pit South Africa against New Zealand. South Africa probably have too much experience and class for New Zealand, and that leaves a final match-up of Australia and South Africa. On paper the two sides are very evenly matched, and are probably the best two sides in the world. In the end the Australians depth with the bat should win out, and so I predict that the Australians will take out the World Cup on home soil.

My Predictions
1st: Australia.
2nd: South Africa.
Semi-Finals: New Zealand, Sri Lanka.
Quarter-Finals: England, India, Pakistan, West Indies.
Group Stage: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland, UAE, Zimbabwe.
Most Runs: AB de Villiers (South Africa).
Most Wickets: Mitchell Starc (Australia).

Thank you for reading my eight-part World Cup preview, and be on the look out for more posts during the World Cup.


2015 ICC Cricket World Cup Preview – 2 days to go

With two days to go until the World Cup begins in Australia and New Zealand there are only two more sides to look at. Those sides are India and Australia, the latter ranked number 1 in the world for ODIs. Enjoy.

India (Group B)

Fixtures: vs Pakistan, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, vs South Africa, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, vs UAE, WACA, Perth, vs West Indies, WACA, Perth, vs Ireland, Seddon Park, Hamilton, vs Zimbabwe, Eden Park, Auckland.
Squad: MS Dhoni (c/wk), R Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Akshar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

India come into the tournament as one of the best one-day sides in the world. Their batting is very strong, and key players like Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have all experienced batting on Australian wickets during their recent Test series. Kohli and Rahane both played very well in the Tests, and Rohit comes in to the tournament on the back of an innings of 264 against Sri Lanka. In Rohit, Dhawan, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni the Indians have players who can take the game away from the opposition in an instant, and Dhoni now has more time to focus on this format following his retirement from Test matches. In Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, R Ashwin and others the Indians have quite a strong bowling attack.

The number 7 position is a worry, however, as the Indians often enter games with a fairly long tail. Their recent tri-series against Australia and England was less than impressive, the side losing three of their four games (the other being washed out). The Indians will often only pick 5 bowlers for any given match, with Suresh Raina, a fairly harmless off-spinner, to make up the rest. In the test series against Australia their batting was really good, but Shami, Ashwin, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma all struggled with the ball. They will need to find their form again, and the selection of bowler Dhawal Kulkarni for their pre-World Cup tri-series did not necessarily help. All things considered, the Indians are capable of winning everything, but must find their form fast.

Australia (Group A)

Fixtures: vs England, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, vs Bangladesh, The Gabba, Brisbane, vs New Zealand, Eden Park, Auckland, vs Afghanistan, WACA, Perth, vs Sri Lanka, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, vs Scotland, Bellerive Oval, Hobart.
Squad: Michael Clarke (c), George Bailey, Pat Cummins, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin (wk), Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Shane Watson.

Australia will come into their home tournament with plenty of confidence, but there will also be very high expectations that come with it. David Warner and Aaron Finch form a dynamic opening partnership, and Steve Smith is batting confidently and piling on the runs while he’s at it. Glenn Maxwell, Mitch Marsh and James Faulkner are all-rounders who can perform when it matters and Brad Haddin’s glovework is sublime, not to mention his batting. George Bailey has become a mature middle-order batsman, and if Michael Clarke is ruled out with his hamstring injury he will be ready to step in as captain. Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood form a formidable pace attack, and Australia will be tough to beat, especially on home turf.

There are, however, a few question marks. Clarke has been selected as captain but he is injured and he will most likely miss Australia’s first game. If he has to leave the squad it could throw the side into disarray. Shane Watson will most likely play at number three, but his recent form has been poor, and this could lead to a repeat of their recent series against South Africa, where one wicket often quickly turned to two or three. Spin bowling is where they encounter their main issue. While the pace attack is strong Australia have struggled for quality spinners for years, and recently they have just used Maxwell’s off spinners. If he is smashed by opposition batsmen it could lead to difficulties. Despite this, Australia have a very strong chance of success.

Tomorrow: I wrap up my preview with my final predictions for the tournament.


2015 ICC Cricket World Cup Preview – 3 days to go

Welcome to the sixth instalment of my World Cup preview. In this preview and tomorrow’s I will finish off my team-by-team previews by looking at the top four teams in the World Cup. Today I look at Sri Lanka and South Africa, two of the best one day sides in the world.

Sri Lanka (Group A)

Fixtures: vs New Zealand, Hagley Oval, Christchurch, vs Afghanistan, University Oval, Dunedin, vs Bangladesh, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, vs England, Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, vs Australia, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, vs Scotland, Bellerive Oval, Hobart.
Squad: Angelo Mathews (c), Dushmantha Chameera, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Tillikaratne Dilshan, Rangana Herath, Mahela Jayawardene, Dimuth Karunaratne, Nuwan Kulasekara, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Sachithra Senanayake, Lahiru Thirimanne.

Sri Lanka are a very strong side in limited overs cricket, and they should be able to mount a charge for the title. Angelo Mathews has developed into an all-rounder whose batting is good enough to grant him selection to any side in the world, and Kumar Sangakkara is a class performer who can also keep. The experienced Mahela Jayawardene can combine well with Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal in the middle-order, while Tillikaratne Dilshan and Dimuth Karunaratne should provide a great start to the innings. Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara and Thisara Perera lead the bowling attack, and Sri Lanka should be able to keep the runs down when in the field, a quality which could win them plenty of matches.

Finding another bowler could prove difficult, however, as while Mathews can bowl they will want another alternative. This will most likely be Sachithra Senanayake and his off-spin, but the other issue is the fitness of Malinga. He is injured, and he may well miss parts of the tournament. Dushmantha Chameera and Suranga Lakmal will have to fill the hole he leaves, and this is a fairly big hole. If Malinga is completely ruled out of the tournament it could become even more of an issue for the Sri Lankans, especially as Mathews would be deprived of his main strike bowler. Death bowling could also prove an issue, as Malinga is definitely their best at this stage of the innings, but the batting is complete and the bowling is still fairly strong.

South Africa (Group B)

Fixtures: vs Zimbabwe, Seddon Park, Hamilton, vs India, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, vs West Indies, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, vs Ireland, Manuka Oval, Canberra, vs Pakistan, Eden Park, Auckland, vs UAE, Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington.
Squad: AB de Villiers (c/wk), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Vernon Philander, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir.

South Africa have been one of the best teams in the world for years, and they have reacted very well to the retirements of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, who were mainstays of their team for years. The one-day side has stayed strong, and in Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock they have the best ODI opening partnership in the world, and AB de Villiers recently smashed the record for the fastest ODI century with an innings of 149 off 44 balls. David Miller, de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy form the backbone of the middle order. It appears likely that de Villiers will keep in de Kock’s absence and youngster Rilee Rossouw will open the batting. In Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel the Proteas boast a formidable pace attack.

While the pace attack is very strong there are a couple of very important issues they need to solve before the World Cup. The South Africans lack a first choice spinner, and neither Imran Tahir or Aaron Phangiso have mounted a particularly compelling case for selection. The other choice is to pick Kyle Abbott and play five pacemen, but that would leave an attack without variety. The other worry is the fifth bowler. A year ago Ryan McLaren looked like the answer, but now Wayne Parnell and Farhaan Behardien will look to fill this role. Behardien, however, can only be described as a part-timer, and he is not a penetrating bowler. It could be a real worry, but if the South Africans can make the runs to protect their bowling attack they will do very well in this tournament.

Tomorrow: I look at the top 2 ranked one day sides in the world when I preview India and Australia.


2015 ICC Cricket World Cup Preview – 4 days to go

Welcome to the fifth instalment of my eight-part World Cup preview. Today I look at New Zealand, the host nation whose performances in 2014 were brilliant, and England, who come in to the tournament following a torrid twelve months.

New Zealand (Group A)

Fixtures: vs Sri Lanka, Hagley Oval, Christchurch, vs Scotland, University Oval, Dunedin, vs England, Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, vs Australia, Eden Park, Auckland, vs Afghanistan, McLean Park, Napier, vs Bangladesh, Seddon Park, Hamilton.
Squad: Brendon McCullum (c), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, Luke Ronchi (wk), Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori, Kane Williamson.

New Zealand should be considered a serious contender for this World Cup, as their form in ODIs has been very strong. Corey Anderson is an explosive player who is lethal at the back end of an innings, and his left-arm pace is also quite strong. Brendon McCullum leads the team, and he is one of the best batsmen in the world. He is joined by the likes of Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and rising star Tom Latham in a strong top order that provides a great platform. If that doesn’t happen then Anderson and also Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi can pick up the pieces (Elliott and Ronchi put on 267 against Sri Lanka after the side collapsed to 5 for 90). Veteran Daniel Vettori leads the spin attack, and Trent Boult and Tim Southee form a great new ball combination.

While the New Zealanders are a better chance in this tournament than they have been for years, the side is still quite inexperienced at this level, especially when it comes to the pace attack. The lower middle order will have plenty of pressure placed on them, and if they fail to deliver the side could be placed in some sticky situations. The combination of the side is still quite uncertain, as there are lots of players who bat from 5-7, like Anderson, Elliott, Ronchi and Vettori. It will be interesting to see how the pace attack hold up, and also who is picked as the third seamer. Mitchell McClenaghan and Kyle Mills are the obvious options, but they could prove a weak link. All things considered, New Zealand have plenty of depth, and this puts them in very good stead.

England (Group A)

Fixtures: vs Australia, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, vs New Zealand, Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, vs Scotland, Hagley Oval, Christchurch, vs Sri Lanka, Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, vs Bangladesh, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, vs Afghanistan, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney.
Squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler (wk), Steven Finn, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Joe Root, James Taylor, James Tredwell, Chris Woakes.

England come into the World Cup after a disastrous 2014 that left them in the dumps. Alastair Cook was dumped as captain, a move which came too late, but was the right call. Eoin Morgan has taken the reins, and he has previously played very well in Australia. Ian Bell and Moeen Ali open the innings, and they can both play very dynamically at the start of an innings. James Taylor, Joe Root and Morgan will be expected to carry the middle order and set it up for Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes at the back end of the innings. There are plenty of pace bowling options available to them, with Woakes, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Chris Jordan and James Anderson all fairly strong bowlers and Ali and James Tredwell are both available as spinners in a fairly strong side.

Despite this, England come into the World Cup down on confidence after a 5-0 whitewash in the Ashes, a World T20 where they lost badly to the Netherlands and a tour of Sri Lanka which led to the sacking of the captain and the dropping of Ben Stokes, despite Stokes being touted as the next big hope for English cricket. That confidence will not come back easily, and while they picked up a couple of wins in their recent tri-series in Australia their performances against the hosts left a lot to be desired, especially with the bat. The top-order is generally hit and miss, and when it is a miss they are often playing the game on the back foot. The bowling is also not as strong, and this is a worry for when the English come up against the best in the world.

Tomorrow: I look at Sri Lanka and South Africa, two of the best one day sides in the world.


2015 ICC Cricket World Cup Preview – 5 days to go

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.


2015 ICC Cricket World Cup Preview – 6 days to go

Welcome to the third instalment of my Cricket World Cup preview. Today I look at the first of the test-playing nations in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Zimbabwe (Group B)

Fixtures: vs South Africa, Seddon Park, Hamilton, vs UAE, Saxton Oval, Nelson, vs West Indies, Manuka Oval, Canberra, vs Pakistan, The Gabba, Brisbane, vs Ireland, Bellerive Oval, Hobart, vs India, Eden Park, Auckland.
Squad: Elton Chigumbura (c), Regis Chakabva (wk), Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Tafadzwa Kamungozi, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Solomon Mire, Tawanda Mupariwa, Tinashe Panyangara, Sikandar Raza, Brendan Taylor (wk), Prosper Utseya, Sean Williams.

Zimbabwe come into the World Cup with an experienced side, led by all-rounder Elton Chigumbura. Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor have been the stars of the side in all three formats for a few years now, and they will again lead the batting. Taylor is a class player and last year became the first Zimbabwean to be awarded an IPL contract. Sikandar Raza and the experienced Stuart Matsikenyeri will most likely open after Matsikenyeri replaced the out-of-form Vusi Sibanda. Solomon Mire, Chigumbura, Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Regis Chakabva and Sean Williams provide plenty of batting and bowling options in the lower middle order, and the side definitely has the capacity to win a few games.

From a bowling point of view, however, there are a few questions still remaining. The pace attack seems to be lacking a leader, and while Tendai Chatara, Tawanda Mupariwa and Tinashe Panyangara are good bowlers none of them are particularly dominant. The other issue is that of the frontline spinner. Prosper Utseya would fill this role, but his off-spin was deemed illegal, and he can only bowl his slow or medium pace deliveries. It raises the issue of why he was picked, but he won’t be much use as a spinner. The other spinner picked, Tafadzwa Kamungozi, has a modest international record, and may struggle against the best players in the world. Overall, Zimbabwe are a strong batting side, but it will be interesting to see how the bowlers perform.

Bangladesh (Group A)

Fixtures: vs Afghanistan, Manuka Oval, Canberra, vs Australia, The Gabba, Brisbane, vs Sri Lanka, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, vs Scotland, Saxton Oval, Nelson, vs England, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, vs New Zealand, Seddon Park, Hamilton.
Squad: Mashrafe Mortaza (c), Al-Amin Hossain, Anamul Haque, Arafat Sunny, Mahmadullah, Mominul Haque, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Nasir Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Shakib Al Hasan, Soumya Sarkar, Taijul Islam, Tamim Iqbal, Taskin Ahmed.

Bangladesh bring a strong side to the tournament, and while there are many in it who have never played in a World Cup before there is still an experienced core of players. Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan are both world-class, and Shakib will be ably supported in the middle order by Mushfiqur Rahim, Mominul Haque, Nasir Hossain and Mahmadullah. The bowling attack is led by captain Mashrafe Mortaza, and includes Al-Amin Hossain and Rubel Hossain. The spin attack includes Shakib and Mahmadullah as well as Taijul Islam and Arafat Sunny. Anamul Haque will join Tamim at the top of the order and Soumya Sarkar will likely bat at three. Sarkar will also be relied upon to become a back-up opener and back-up seamer if needed. This could prove too much, as he is still young.

There are, however, many young players in the squad, and this inexperience could cause some issues. Al-Amin and Nasir Hossain are returning from recent form slumps, and this is not ideal considering their importance to the side. Plenty of pressure will be placed on Anamul at the top of the order, and this could prove too much considering his fairly modest international record. Bangladesh will most likely aim for the quarter-finals, but the attack lacks a strike bowler, and this will hurt their chances. They will also not have a long time to adapt to the extra pace and bounce of the wickets, and the batsman and spin bowlers performance may be affected. Despite this, Bangladesh have a strong side and have a fairly strong chance to progress.

Tomorrow: I start previewing the top 8 teams in the world when I look at the West Indies and Pakistan.


2015 ICC Cricket World Cup Preview – 7 days to go

Welcome to the second instalment of my ICC Cricket World Cup preview. In this preview I look at Ireland and Afghanistan, the two sides who have dominated outside the test arena for these last four years.

Ireland (Group B)

Fixtures: vs West Indies, Saxton Oval, Nelson, vs UAE, The Gabba, Brisbane, vs South Africa, Manuka Oval, Canberra, vs Zimbabwe, Bellerive Oval, Hobart, vs India, Seddon Park, Hamilton, vs Pakistan, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide.
Squad: William Porterfield (c), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Andrew McBrine, John Mooney, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien (wk), Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson (wk), Craig Young.

The Irish bring an experienced side to Australia and New Zealand, with a few young players thrown in as well. Many of these players play in County Cricket, and Ed Joyce has been one of the most prolific scorers at that level over the past few years. The experienced opening partnership of William Porterfield and Paul Stirling should ensure that the Irish get off to a great start, and they will be well backed up by the likes of Joyce, Niall O’Brien, Kevin O’Brien and Gary Wilson. The bowling attack may be more of a worry, however, and although Tim Murtagh and Alex Cusack are quite strong it is fairly inexperienced. If first-choice spinner George Dockrell struggles to fire, it will be up to the occasional spin of Stirling to pick up the slack, and that could be an issue.

The side may also struggle to strike the right balance between experience and youth. While the majority of the team are very experienced, with 6 players in for their third tournament, the others have not played many matches. Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, Andrew McBrine, Stuart Thompson and Craig Young are all fairly inexperienced, and there are very few players who fall in between. The abundance of County cricketers is a really good sign, and it is these players who have formed the core of a side whose success amongst the associate nations is incredible. In the end the Irish have the potential to cause a few major upsets, like their remarkable win over the English in the last edition of the tournament. If Ireland play well then a spot in the quarter-finals is a possibility.

Afghanistan (Group A)

Fixtures: vs Bangladesh, Manuka Oval, Canberra, vs Sri Lanka, University Oval, Dunedin, vs Scotland, University Oval, Dunedin, vs Australia, WACA, Perth, vs New Zealand, McLean Park, Napier, vs England, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney.
Squad: Mohammad Nabi (c), Afsar Zazai (wk), Aftab Alam, Asghar Stanikzai, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Javed Ahmadi, Mirwais Ashraf, Najibullah Zadran, Nasir Jamal, Nawroz Mangal, Samiullah Shenwari, Shapoor Zadran, Usman Ghani.

Afghanistan are a fairly exciting side coming into their first World Cup, and while consistency has always been a struggle they have a chance to win some matches. At 18, opener Usman Ghani already has an ODI century to his name, and he will form an exciting partnership with Javed Ahmadi, with Nawroz Mangal probably moving down the order to four. Wicketkeeper Afsar Zazai will bat at three, and he has also made runs since replacing Mohammad Shahzad in the side. Asghar Stanikzai is a strong middle-order player, and Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari, Gulbadin Naib and Mirwais Ashraf ensure the tail is as short as possible. Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran form the base of the attack.

One worry the Afghans have, however, is a lack of continuity in the batting order. The order is very regularly shuffled around, and so a player could bat 5 one game and 8 the next. This does not allow the players to get comfortable in a position for much longer than a couple of games, and if it happens in the World Cup it could lead to absolute pandemonium. The side also lacks a first-choice spinner. While Nabi, Gulbadin and Shenwari all bowl some variety of spin none are quite good enough to fill that mantle. While Afghanistan are probably not consistent enough or good enough to pass the group stage they have the potential to spring a major upset at some stage during the tournament. The side are young and this is a chance to impress on the world stage.

Tomorrow: I look at the first of the Test-playing nations when I preview Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.