The ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 is right around the corner and the final 15 from every country are already in England and Wales. Australia are the defending champions but the home side will be looking to break their World Cup duck in front of their fans.

A new format changes the dynamics and possibilities with the group stage set to be a 10-team round-robin where every team faces the rest once. Subsequently, the top four teams qualify for the semifinals.

Thus, the format gives teams the chance to recover and still stay in contention in case of a slow start. In fact, this could prove to be a blessing in disguise for the favourites as the chances of a shock exit are lower than before.

Now, keeping the format and the conditions in mind, let us take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the top 5 favourites to win the tournament.

#1. England

The host nation are the in-form team coming into the tournament. Eoin Morgan’s side found their rhythm in the 50-over format over the last 4 years and are the no.1 team in the world. In fact, they are yet to lose a series since coming up short in the ICC Champions Trophy semifinal back in 2017.

Their biggest strength lies in their batting reserves with Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Morgan among the top 20 in the ICC ODI rankings. Their multifaceted batting is complemented by a bunch of quality allrounders who can do the job with both the bat and the ball.

In a tournament expected to see a lot of runs, England are well-equipped to chase any total. However, their weakness arises when the wicket is worn out or dry. Usually, such pitches have been their downfall in recent years as the players struggle to hit those big totals.

Finally, England’s ability to cope with the favourites tag will be a big factor, considering they have never won the World Cup. However, there is no doubt this is the best opportunity for one of the oldest countries in the sport to finally win one.

#2. Australia

Talking about dealing with the favourites tag, no one does it better than the Aussies. The five-time world champions are the most successful team in the history of the tournament and ended up winners in four of the last five editions. However, they do not start as the absolute favourites due to England’s form and the entire Steve Smith-David Warner saga.

In terms of strengths, Aaron Finch’s side possesses the batting depths needed to both score and chase big totals this summer. Including the captain himself, Warner and Smith are in great form in recent months as the latter duo are expected to slot in seamlessly after the one-year ban. Mitchell Starc is back to lead the bowling line which consists of good quality quicks along with the spinning options in Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa.

On the flip side, Australia’s lack of a set batting order could hinder their progress. Currently, Usman Khawaja and Finch are opening the innings with Warner playing at no.3 and Smith dropping down to no.4, not an ideal situation. Further, dropping an in-form batsman in Peter Handscomb could come back to hurt them in the end.

Nevertheless, the Aussies have a solid team for their title defence and will look to assert their way to continue their dominance over the coveted trophy.

#3. India

The only time Australia did not win the World Cup in the last 5 editions, they lost to India. The Asian powerhouse reached the semifinals in the previous edition and will look to do better this time around. While the recent series loss to Australia dampened spirits, Virat Kohli’s men are known for their mental fortitude and can be expected to be fit and firing when the tournament kicks off.

Talking about strengths, India have the rare luxury of having the no.1 and no.2 batsman in their lineup. Kohli and Rohit Sharma are two of the greatest batsmen ever and along with Shikhar Dhawan, they will be expected to score the bulk of the runs.

Further, the Men in Blue possess the world’s best bowler in this format, Jasprit Bumrah. Supporting him ably is Mohammed Shami, who rediscovered his mojo in the past year. Further, India boasts of excellent spin reserves and good allrounder options, giving them the necessary balance in these conditions.

However, the entire talk over the last few months revolved around the no.4 spot and the position is yet to be locked down. This could come back to bite them yet along with the inability of their middle and lower orders to get big runs if the top three fail to fire in a crunch game.

Thus, India need to play to their full potential if they want to win the World Cup for the third time.

#4. New Zealand

Finalists in the previous edition, New Zealand come into the tournament with a set squad who know their roles to perfection. No wonder, they were the first team to announce their World Cup squad. While there is not much fanfare around their chances, Kane Williamson’s side cannot be ruled out either.

The Kiwis possess solid batting options combining experience with guile. Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and Williamson are expected to be consistent while the likes of Tom Latham, Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme provide the finishing options.

Their batting goes deep with Mitchell Santner and Tim Southee capable of chipping in when needed. Santner along with Ish Sodhi are the spinning options while the likes of Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson bolster the fast-bowling ranks.

While there are no definite weaknesses, the Black Caps do not stand out either. Further, their death bowling is not among the best and there are doubts over teams ability to consistently score over 300 if Williamson and Taylor fail.

Thus, the Kiwis have the balance and experience to succeed in these conditions, however, their success will eventually boil down to how the support cast aid the main men in the side.

#5. West Indies

While South Africa and Pakistan can offer compelling cases for their inclusion here, West Indies come into the tournament with an air of positive uncertainty about them. Forced to play the qualifiers due to their poor ICC ranking, Jason Holder’s side turned the gears and now look like closer to the teams of yore than ever.

In batting-friendly conditions and smaller boundaries, West Indies can back themselves to score as big as needed with the likes of Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran and Andre Russell in their ranks. Darren Bravo along with the in-form Shai Hope provide the batting solidarity around the mavericks.

The bowling attack led by Holder is as quick as they can get and will trouble any batsman in the tournament. The presence of Holder, Russell and Brathwaite give the West Indies a deep batting lineup, ticking another key box.

In terms of weaknesses, the Caribbean outfit do not possess enough spinning options with Ashley Nurse and Fabian Allen not impressing enough. Further, the temperament of their swashbuckling batsmen to build innings along with their pacers’ ability to defend totals are question marks ahead of the quadrennial event.

Therefore, the West Indies’ journey will strongly hinge on how they seize the big moments against the top teams.

Thus, these are the top 5 teams who possess the required tools to go the distance this summer. Depending on how they enhance their strengths while masking the weaknesses will ultimately decide where the trophy ends up come July.

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Saketh Ayyagari

Loving sports since childhood. Writing about sports in my adulthood. YNWA!

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