The ICC World Cup - everything you need to know
The ICC World Cup is just a couple of weeks away, and though plenty fear for the health of ODI Cricket, the anticipation surrounding this tournament suggests that it’s still well and truly alive. Just ten teams will take part this year after the ICC removed associate nations - and even a couple of Test Playing ones - leaving no groups as there has been in previous years. Instead, each team will play each other once for a total of nine group games apiece, before the top four advance to the semi-finals, and of course, the two winners of those games to the final.
The tournament will be played entirely within England and Wales, the fifth time it has been played in the United Kingdom - though it is the first occasion on which Wales will host games as well. This will be limited to five matches, however, all of which will be played at the Welsh capital of Cardiff. All of the three finals will be played in England, with the two semis to be played at Manchester and Birmingham, and the final to be played at Lords, the home of cricket.
England heads in as favourite, and there’s plenty of reason for that. Not only are they the number one ranked side in the world, but the home ground advantage which they will be hoping to exploit has seen three of the past six World Cup hosts end the tournament victorious - Australia won at the MCG in 2015 while India won at Mumbai in 2011, and back in 1996 Sri Lanka won too (though they didn’t host the final, they shared hosting duties throughout the tournament with India and Pakistan).
Despite their favouritism, there are plenty of other nations with good reason to be hopeful heading in. India boast the top two batsmen in the ODI world rankings (Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma) as well as the top bowler (Jasprit Bumrah), and are second to England in the ICC world rankings by a virtually negligible amount. South Africa and New Zealand, at third and fourth respectively, are very competent teams capable of competing with anyone on their day, and will be desperate to break an extraordinary combined record of 11 semi-finals for just one victory - that victory came when the Kiwis beat South Africa in New Zealand at the most recent World Cup, and they subsequently lost to fellow host Australia in the final.
Afghanistan will play in just their second World Cup, a testament to the continued growth of the game in that nation, while notable absentees will be Zimbabwe - who have played in nine in a row - Ireland - who have played in the last three and ruffled plenty of feathers along the way - and Scotland - who have played in three of the last five.
Though their inability to qualify as a result of the reduced number of participating teams is a tough pill to swallow for those nations and they can certainly count themselves unlucky, it does mean that the teams which are involved are guaranteed more games than ever. The simplified format giving each team at least nine games is significantly more than the six games which were guaranteed at the last World Cup - the top four from each pool then advanced to the finals, of which there were seven - and subsequently a greater chance to make their mark at the event.
The first delivery of the 2019 World Cup will be bowled on Thursday, May 30 at Lords when England faces South Africa, and the last will take place at the same venue seven weeks later, on July 14. The two semi-finals will run on July 9 and July 11, with the top ranked team after the Group Stage getting the extra two days rest before the final, assuming, of course, that they win. In the lead-up to the tournament it appears there are five teams with genuine aspirations to challenge for the trophy, and with just four spots available for them (or whichever of the remaining five nations can spring a surprise on us) it’s shaping up as compelling viewing.