England's players attend a practice session on the eve of their 2023 ICC men's Cricket World Cup match against New Zealand in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: It’s been 1,542 days since England narrowly won the Cricket World Cup 2019, rather controversially on the countback on boundaries. It was the first time that England, where the sport was born, managed to get a hold on the premier trophy after three failed attempts.

In the last four years, the defending champions have grown in gigantic proportions to be the team to beat on all conditions and situations.

England, who have become the world-beaters today, have a pool of quality players and a great depth of all-rounders to pull their weight during their campaign. But above all one man has made the big difference to the team. The name is Ben Stokes. It could be a stroke of luck that the ball ricocheted off his bat for a boundary to take the match to the Super Over in the final at Lord’s. You may call it luck, but fortune favours the brave.

Knight in shining armour

Stokes is England’s knight in shining armour, coming to their rescue time and again. When they were in trouble in the 2019 final against New Zealand, Stokes guided England home and so is the case against Pakistan in the final of the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia last year.

Tim Southee attends a training session along with other teammates. The New Zealand pacer has been ruled out of the opener. Image Credit: AFP

England team are in a different league now, recalibrating their thought process to suit all formats. It’s all about positive play with one word focus on “aggression”, which they have named as Bazball effect, a combined effort of Stokes and former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum.

Such is Stokes’ invaluable contributions to England, that the 32-year-old all-rounder has been talked out of retirement to have another tilt at the trophy again. Now the Jos Buttler-led Three Lions are fancying their chances to retain the crown and extend their winning run at ICC events.

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Positive sign for team India

If there is one team who could stop them, matching them closely in the talent quotient, then it is hosts India. In the last two series between the two, India have managed to win the three-match series 2-1. A positive sign, but that was in 2021 and 2022.

In between, England hammered India by 10 wickets in the Twenty20 World Cup semi-finals, that should certainly play in the minds of the 2011 champions. Still, India’s fort at home is rarely breached. India currently have a team to quell the challenge in all conditions, at home they are a different beast.

Indian team players warm up ahead of their World Cup opener. Image Credit: ANI

The Men in Blue have peaked at the right time and have shown their ruthless nature during the Asia Cup final, where Rohit Sharma’s men, led by Mohammed Siraj, decimated the Sri Lankan batting to canter to the title. The batting looks solid with Sharma and Virat Kohli being the anchor while Subman Gill is set to announce his arrival on the big stage.

And the return of Jasprit Bumrah bowling in tandem with Siraj and Mohammed Shami gives India an incisive bowling attack. Playing in front of such huge crowd can be daunting to many. The capacity of many stadiums have seen a massive increase, which means every four and a six or a wicket could reach the crescendo.

Innumerable heroes are born

While the focus remains on these two big guns, World Cup is a stage where surprises are par for the course. It is once in a lifetime opportunity for many players. Once realising their dream, they would want to make it count. There are such innumerable heroes born during the World Cups. They stand out with their match-winning efforts.

While the venue is different from Lord’s, for New Zealand the luck seemed to be not with them even after four years. Skipper Kane Williamson has been ruled out of the opener against England in Ahmedabad on Thursday, so is another senior Black Caps player Tim Southee. Both have invaluable experience on Indian wickets that could have come in handy against the defending champions. A consolation for the 2019 finalists is the fact that Stokes is also a doubtful starter with a hip injury.

New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, who will miss the opener, discussing a strategy with the team members. Image Credit: Reuters

Along with New Zealand, England, India and Pakistan are one of the favourites to make the semi-final grade.

“Pakistan are no strangers to the World Cup. We won the 50-over under Imran Khan in 1992 and then the Twenty20 World Cup in 2009 under Younis Khan. We have also reached many semi-finals. All the wonderful memories come back whenever there is a World Cup,” said former Pakistan all-rounder Mudassar Nazar. “I am confident the present lot will give their 100 per cent to guide Pakistan to victory.”

Arguably with the best bowling line-up in the World Cup, Pakistan batting revolves around skipper Babar Azam and the consistent Mohammad Rizwan. They are a dangerous side and have the capability to come back from brink, as they exhibited while winning the 1992 World Cup, which too had a similar format.

Pakistan’s players take a drinking break during the warm-up match against Australia Image Credit: AFP

Lack of spin options to prove costly

Similarly, Australians too have the experience on the big stage, winning the title five times. They know what it takes to reach there. But one big chink in their armoury is the lack of quality spin options, with just Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell to bowl the 20 overs between them. That could prove costly when they both have an off day.

South Africa and Bangladesh have the strength to stun the heavyweights, but might not have the leg to carry on in such a long tournament that goes through 10 cities across India over a 46-day period with a total of 48 matches.

It’s now over to Ahmedabad where the entire world will be watching the umpires to call play with both England and New Zealand aiming to get a good start to the campaign.