Cricket’s showcase event gets underway in Australia and New Zealand this weekend with the first balls being bowled in the 2015 Cricket World Cup. The flagship competition for the one-day, 50-over-a-side version of the game takes place over a grueling six weeks and begins with New Zealand taking on Sri Lanka in Christchurch and a heavyweight contest between Australia and England in front of 90,000 fans at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Helped by home advantage, it is Australia, ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Cricket Council (ICC) that start as favorites to reclaim a trophy they won three times in a row between 1999 and 2007. Australia have been placed in Pool A for the event, where, as well in England, they’ll be up against Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Scotland, Sri Lanka and co-hosts New Zealand. Each team plays each other once, with the top four going through to the quarterfinals along with their counterparts from Pool B.
For Australia that should be a mere formality, although they continue to have an anxious wait over the fitness of captain Michael Clarke. The only member remaining of the last victorious Australia team eight years ago, Clarke underwent surgery on a hamstring injury eight weeks ago and will miss the opener with England, but is expected to return later in the tournament’s group stage. Even without Clarke, the Valentine’s Day clash promises to be something special, with Australia batsman David Warner’s assessment of England reinforcing the belief that there is no love lost between the teams.
“I don't think England at all,” he said, when asked about whether England are among the main contenders for the title, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. “I think when you look at teams like South Africa, Sri Lanka, even the West Indies, they can come out on their day and beat us. You've got to be careful of these teams -- these teams play smart, they play a great brand of cricket and we've got to play a better brand of cricket.
“I feel that for England to go on and go close to this they've got to go on and play at least 50 to 60 per cent better than what they have been in the previous games.”
New Zealand, beaten semifinalists in three of the last four World Cups and blessed with a strong batting lineup, have ambitions of at least matching that achievement this time around, especially given they could play every match up to the final in front of their own fans. Sri Lanka, runners-up in the last two World Cups, and England, despite coming into the event with limited expectations, will anticipate joining the host duo in the last eight, although Bangladesh will be looking to cause an upset. The same is true for Afghanistan, the undoubted fairytale team of the competition in their first World Cup.
In Pool B, defending champions India will take on fierce rivals Pakistan, hotly tipped South Africa, the West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates. For South Africa, it is another chance to become world one-day champions for the first time and to finally put behind them a history of spectacular and often agonizing failures in the tournament’s latter stages. With the two top ranked ODI batsmen in the world in AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla in their lineup, this could be their time. Captain De Villiers hopes to thrive rather than wilt in the face of expectations.
“We’re certainly one of the favorites, there’s no hiding from that fact and we enjoy being one of the best teams in the world,” he said earlier this week. “We’ve beaten the Aussies not too long ago in Zimbabwe, so to have that kind of confidence that we can be the best team in the world and to be at a tournament where we have the opportunity to prove it gives us a great opportunity.”
South Africa begin their campaign against struggling Zimbabwe on Sunday, on the same day as the eagerly anticipated matchup between India and Pakistan. Both rivals will expect to make the quarterfinals alongside South Africa, but the prospects are less secure for the West Indies. The winners of the first two World Cups in the 1970s, the West Indies continue to be shrouded in chaos and have chosen to leave some of their best players out of the squad. Ireland, with a history of causing upsets at the World Cup will be aiming to snatch their place in the knockout stages.
Schedule (All times EST)
Feb. 13: New Zealand vs. Sri Lanka (5 p.m., Hagley Oval, Christchurch)
Feb. 13: Australia vs. England (10:30 p.m., Melbourne Cricket Ground)
Feb.14: South Africa vs. Zimbabwe (8 p.m., Seddon Park, Hamilton)
Feb. 14: India vs. Pakistan (10:30 p.m., Adelaide Oval)
Feb. 15: Ireland vs. West Indies (5 p.m., Saxton Oval, Nelson)
Feb. 16: New Zealand vs. Scotland (5 p.m., University Oval, Dunedin)
Feb. 17: Afghanistan vs. Bangladesh (10:30 p.m., Manuka Oval, Canberra)
Feb. 18: UAE vs. Zimbabwe (5 p.m., Saxton Oval, Nelson)
Feb. 19: New Zealand vs. England (8 p.m., Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Feb. 20: Pakistan vs. West Indies (5 p.m., Hagley Oval, Christchurch)
Feb. 20: Australia vs. Bangladesh (10:30 p.m., Brisbane Cricket Ground)
Feb 21: Afghanistan vs. Sri Lanka (5 p.m., University Oval, Dunedin)
Feb. 21: India vs. South Africa (10:30 p.m., Melbourne Cricket Ground)
Feb. 22: England vs. Scotland (5 p.m., Hagley Oval, Christchurch)
Feb. 23: West Indies vs. Zimbabwe (10:30 p.m., Manuka Oval, Canberra)
Feb. 24: Ireland vs. UAE (10:30 p.m. EST, Brisbane Cricket Ground)
Feb. 25: Afghanistan vs. Scotland (5 p.m., University Oval, Dunedin)
Feb. 25: Bangladesh vs. Sri Lanka (10;30 p.m., Melbourne Cricket Ground)
Feb. 26: South Africa vs. West Indies (10:30 p.m., Sydney Cricket Ground)
Feb. 27: New Zealand vs. Australia (8 p.m. EST, Eden Park, Auckland)
Feb. 28: India vs. UAE (1:30 a.m., Western Australia Cricket Association Ground, Perth)
Feb. 28: England vs. Sri Lanka (5 p.m., Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Feb. 28: Pakistan vs. Zimbabwe (10:30 p.m., Brisbane Cricket Ground)
Mar. 2: Ireland vs. South Africa (10:30 p.m., Manuka Oval, Canberra)
Mar. 3: Pakistan vs. UAE (8 p.m., McLean Park, Napier)
Mar. 4: Australia vs. Afghanistan (1:30 a.m. EST, Western Australia Cricket Association Ground, Perth)
Mar. 4: Bangladesh vs. Scotland (5 p.m., Saxton Oval, Nelson)
Mar. 6: India vs. West Indies (1:30 a.m., Western Australia Cricket Association Ground, Perth)
Mar. 6: Pakistan vs. South Africa (8 p.m., Eden Park, Auckland)
Mar. 6: Ireland vs. Zimbabwe (10:30 p.m., Bellerive Oval, Hobart)
Mar. 7: New Zealand vs. Afghanistan (6 p.m. EST, McLean Park, Napier)
Mar. 7: Australia vs. Sri Lanka (11.30 p.m., Sydney Cricket Ground)
Mar. 8: England vs. Bangladesh (11.30 p.m., Adelaide Oval)
Mar. 9: India vs. Ireland (9 p.m., Seddon Park, Hamilton)
Mar. 10: Scotland vs. Sri Lanka (11:30 p.m., Bellerive Oval, Hobart)
Mar. 11: South Africa vs. UAE (9 p.m., Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Mar. 12: New Zealand vs. Bangladesh (9 p.m., Seddon Park, Hamilton)
Mar. 12: Afghanistan vs. England (11:30 p.m., Sydney Cricket Ground)
Mar. 13: India vs. Zimbabwe (9 p.m., Eden Park, Auckland)
Mar. 13: Australia vs. Scotland (11:30 p.m., Bellerive Oval, Hobart)
Mar. 14: UAE vs. West Indies (6 p.m. , McLean Park, Napier)
Mar. 14: Ireland vs. Pakistan (11:30 p.m., Adelaide Oval)
Mar. 17: Quarterfinal 1 (11:30 p.m., Sydney Cricket Ground)
Mar. 18: Quarterfinal 2 (11:30 p.m., Melbourne Cricket Ground)
Mar. 19: Quarterfinal 3: (11:30 p.m., Adelaide Oval)
Mar. 20: Quarterfinal 4: (9 p.m., Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Mar. 24: Semifinal 1 (9 p.m., Eden Park, Auckland) Mar. 25: Semifinal 2 (11:30 p.m., Sydney Cricket Ground)
Mar. 28: Final (11:30 p.m., Melbourne Cricket Ground)
Betting odds (via bovada.lv)
South Africa: 3/1
New Zealand: 9/2
Sri Lanka: 12/1
West Indies: 25/1
TV channel: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch the World Cup via pay per view. More info here.