Dubai: It was around early July last year when during the football World Cup in Russia, English fans chanted ‘It’s coming home.’ It finally didn’t as the Three Lions lost in the semi-finals, but the International Cricket Council (ICC) can still hijack that line to promote the game’s biggest showpiece as it begins in England on Thursday.
As the ICC World Cup goes back to the country where it all began after a gap of two decades, it was time for me to ponder five things which I will be looking forward to at the 12th edition of the Cup.
Here we go:
No prizes for guessing that all eyes will be on the Indian captain, indisputably the best batsman in the world. It will be Kohli’s third 50-overs World Cup and the journey completes a cycle in his career — from the cherubic, youngest member of the team during the 2011 triumph to the team’s leading batsman in 2015 and now a captain and the best batsman rolled into one.
The last four years since the World Cup Down Under has seen Kohli conquer one peak after the other with his batsmanship, and the onus will be on him to replicate the form in England.
Time for redemption
Yes, one is talking about Steve Smith and David Warner. The script cannot be more perfect than the duo holding the trophy up one more time at Lord’s in mid-July, with healthy contributions from the pair as they come back after serving an agonising one-year ban for being complicit in the ball-tampering scandal.
They were no saints, but their ‘crime’ has been an age-old practice in cricket — and developed into an art form in some countries. If you want the latest lowdown on it, ask former England spinner Monty Panesar, who has come up with some startling disclosures in his book.
Amir’s biggest hour
It has been the biggest gamble by the Pakistan cricket establishment to name him in the final shortlist at the eleventh hour, but a worthwhile one. The prodigal left-arm fast bowler had been having a down time since his sensational performance in the ICC Champions Trophy two years back, but he can make a huge difference to the relatively inexperienced bowling line-up of the green shirts.
There can be few better sights in the game then Amir breaking into that angular run-up and inducing the edge from the right hander with the left-arm bowler’s natural away swinger — or getting one to zip back and catch the batsman by surprise in front of the wicket.
The admission of cricket pundits that a full-strength West Indies team can be a contender for one of the last four spots is indication enough that the Caribbeans are being taken seriously after a long time. Any sport needs characters and if you have got the likes of Chris Gayle and Andre Russell in one package, then you don’t need to look further.
The maroon shirts have won the World T20 twice in a row in this decade and charmed the fans all over the world in franchise leagues — and it’s time they are taken seriously. The intent seems to be there if a total of 421 in the warm-up match against New Zealand is anything to go by.
What makes the Afghanistan team so endearing in recent years is they are in awe of no side in the world — may be, it’s something in the DNA of the cricketers who have grown up in a war-torn country. Take the Asia Cup in the UAE last year when they tied a league game against a formidable India or the thrashing they gave Pakistan in their first warm-up tie on reaching England.
They are 100-1 odds to win the title, but then, no one is expecting them to win the cup really. It’s their capability to pull off the surprise time and again which fascinates me — and I vouch for them to come up with a few in the coming weeks!