Cricket World Cup 2019 lowdown: Less than a month to go - how the 10 countries are shaping up
A look at the injuries, form and other selection issues facing the contenders for the action in England and Wales from May 30 to June 14
With less than a month to go until the Cricket World Cup starts, the best-laid plans of some of the leading contenders appear to be unravelling. How does the land lie for the 10 sides that will be vying for the title in the UK this summer?
After reinventing the way they play one-day cricket over the past three years, England are heading into their home World Cup as the No 1 ranked team. Hopes of winning a first-ever World Cup title were beginning to feel realistic.
And then, Alex Hales. Initially banned for 21 days for recreational drug use, now jettisoned from the squad altogether, England will be without one of their best ever short-format players.
Beyond that, Jason Roy suffered a back spasm, and there is the ongoing issue of whether or not Jofra Archer merits a late promotion to the full squad, given his excellence in the Indian Premier League.
India’s lead in to the World Cup has not been quite as dramatic as fellow favourites England, but they have certainly been given reason to think.
They threw away a 2-0 lead to lose to Australia on home soil last time they were together as a team. Including the IPL that has followed, captain Virat Kohli has overseen just four wins in his past 15 matches.
Not that that will have any effect when the World Cup rolls around, if Ravi Shastri is to be believed.
“You wear that blue jersey [of India] and you are a different man,” Shastri, the India coach, said in Dubai last week.
Flying under the radar. As is typical. Even when they are the third-ranked side in the world.
The runners up four years ago only have minor concerns. Kane Williamson, their captain, has struggled first with injury and then form at the IPL.
He has three single figure scores and a best of just 14 this season for Sunrisers Hyderabad. But, given this is Kane Williamson, expect it to be a minor blip.
The Proteas have hardly been talked of as contenders, but they will be eyeing the podium, given the form of some of their leading players.
Most notably, Kagiso Rabada is out on his own as the leading wicket-taker in the IPL, while Imran Tahir has been one of the tournament’s most effective bowlers.
David Warner and Steve Smith could have done little more to assuage doubts that their year-long suspensions might have an adverse effect on their productivity.
Warner has been extraordinarily prolific in the IPL, while Smith has shown few ill-effects from either his long absence, or his recent elbow injury.
This is Pakistan. So, obviously, they are already involved in controversy.
Even while playing the most nondescript practice match imaginable, they have managed to court drama.
Video has circulated online of Hasan Ali, their fast-bowler, apparently dropping a simple caught and bowled chance in their tour match against county side Kent, but celebrating the wicket anyway.
The noise over that will likely pass well before the serious action starts at the end of May.
Of greater concern is whether Shadab Khan, the young leg-spinner who has quickly established himself as a vital cog in Pakistan’s limited-overs side, will be fit and well. Currently, he is absent and undergoing rehab for a virus.
Minimal game time and meagre returns at the IPL could be a mixed blessing for Shakib Al Hasan. At least the star all-rounder has not been overworked.
A side with other more serious matters beyond cricket on their minds will probably arrive at the World Cup without a great deal to lose.
They have been hopeless in recent times, way off the standards they set in winning in 1996, or even playing in the finals of 2007 and 2011, so expectations will be low, especially given they are arriving with a squad shorn of plenty of established names.
Only playing at the tournament after a tense qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe last year, which could easily have seen them exit had the weather – and one conspicuous umpiring decision - not conspired against Scotland.
And, yet, the Windies arrive in the UK as a very serious threat, with “Russelmania” at fever pitch, plus a variety of other West Indian starring in the IPL besides.
Andre Russell’s return – a wrist injury notwithstanding – is the headline story. But Windies will be equally buoyed by the solid spell captain Jason Holder had acclimatising in county cricket in the early summer, while the likes of Chris Gayle and Evin Lewis have been ticking along nicely.
The least heralded side in the competition have had just as volatile a lead in as any other side. That manifested itself in Asghar Afghan being replaced as captain by Gulbadin Naib for this tournament, and by Rashid Khan in the Twenty20 side.
It was such a shock that even Rashid spoke out in support of the deposed leader – despite his own personal elevation.
The turmoil might not matter a jot, though. The Afghans are used to dealing with administrative turmoil.
Updated: May 1, 2019 02:49 PM