If allowed four picks, I would go for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. If forced to put my money where my mouth is, I would probably pick Australia and hope neither their Prime Minister’s supposed incompetence nor Michael Clarke’s ability to divide loyalties would affect the team near the summit.
New Zealand are the eternal bridesmaids and South Africa are the out notorious chokers of the world game, which means Australia and India are left as the big two with the best chances who have to be wary of the banana skins of the big games. Two white balls would, however, favour Australia more as they have the big fast bowlers, significantly two quality left armers.
On current form and fitness, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are the pick. The Sri Lankans who were runners-up in the last two events and a semi-finalist in the previous one are not to be written off. England had their best chance 23 years ago Down Under but since then they have faded out as a one-day force.
Indians expect Dhoni to wake up in time to make a difference as captain and batsman in the knockouts at least. Otherwise, it would be too late not only for his team but also for the former Test captain. Until then, the new kid on the block, Virat Kohli would have to carry the batting on young shoulders.
Like the previous edition, this Is also a quarter-final knockout World Cup, which means three tense, do-or-die games rather than just two as in the Super Eights format. The team which can take the whirlwind route with the bat would probably have the advantage.
This might be the definitive bat-first World Cup, at least in Australia where the conditions will be flat in late afternoon starts and totals of 300 can be put up and the gauntlet thrown at the chasers.
The field placement restrictions might just put the premium back in the old slog overs, which means teams keeping wickets will prosper more, rather than those who try to make too much of the Powerplays and end up losing more wickets than gaining runs.
Two white balls means spinners may not enjoy the old trick of taking the pace off the ball by giving it a bit of air, nor will the dibbly-dobblers of the kind Martin Crowe employed so effectively to give one-day cricket a new spin as it were in 1992 be as effective.
This might just be the World Cup of the big boys – the big hitters and the big fast bowlers. India has a set of the former but none of the latter given that the fast bowlers are like mobile advertisements for the national lottery – they just don’t know what number will turn up when they let the ball go.
Even so, the modern one-dayer is a batsman’s game and an Australia-India final would be the icing on the cake of this World Cup, which also faithfully followed the game’s pattern of not allowing the opening ceremony to get bigger than the game.