LONDON – With the clock ticking on the start of the ICC World Cup some of the principal players have been contemplating the challenges ahead and previewing the format and conditions that await the teams.
West Indies captain Jason Holder said today the new World Cup format meant teams would have to work harder to win the competition but added West Indies had fully embraced the changes and believed their chances were as good as any other side.
For the first time in nearly three decades, each of the 10 teams will play each other in a round-robin preliminary round format, with the four top teams qualifying for the semi-finals.
“You only had five or six games previously, with a few more if you made the knockout stages so it’s exciting to play every other team this time,” Holder said today at an ICC event.
“You’ll have to work hard to win the World Cup by playing every other team – it’s the top ten in world but you want to play all the other nine to give yourself a chance.
“We’re taking it one game at a time – it’s a pretty level playing field and cricket is a game played on the day. Everyone is up to the task and knows what standard the competition is, so it comes down to who plays better on the day.”
West Indies are currently in a camp in Southampton and travel to Bristol shortly where they take on South Africa on Sunday in their first official warm-up match before clashing with New Zealand at the same venue two day later.
The Caribbean side have stern tests in their two opening encounters when they face Pakistan in their first match next week Friday in Nottingham before clashing with world champions Australia on June 6 at the same venue.
And Holder said that would be his side’s focus in the coming days as they put the finishing touches on their preparations.
“When the schedule came out, we didn’t look for one fixture in particular – we just looked at the first half of our schedule and turned our focus to the first few games,” he said.
West Indies are considered one of the outsiders in the May 31 to July 14 showpiece. They are ranked number eight in the world and are without a series win in five years, since they beat Bangladesh in the Caribbean in 2014.
Last year in bilateral series, they won just three of 11 ODIs and in 2017, also managed just three victories in 22 outings.
However, their 2-2 draw in the five-match home series against England earlier this year has offered hope of a turnaround in fortunes, and Holder said the squad was upbeat over the World Cup challenge ahead.
“We’re all excited for this tournament and we want it to start tomorrow. I’m pretty happy with my squad as a whole, so hopefully we can play well and enjoy ourselves.”
Already there is a suggestion this will be a batsman’s World Cup with flat tracks and kookaburra balls offering bowlers minimal assistance. In the 59 matches since the last World Cup, 350-plus scores have been crossed 13 times in England. The hosts have led the way, scoring 16 350-plus scores in overall matches, while all the other teams put together have managed 37 times. As Virat Kohli, India captain, put it, “These guys (England) seem obsessed with getting to 500. They keep smashing from the first ball and keep going.”
His Australian counterpart, Aaron Finch, doesn’t see things too differently either, where he pins hopes on batsmen having a merry time in the upcoming tournament.
“If you look at the trajectory of the scores in the country in the last few years, it has kept going up and up,” he noted at the pre-World Cup captains’ conference in London today. “We have been at the receiving end of the highest one. I don’t want to put a number on it (the highest total this world cup), because it is going to be so hard to tell. On some really good wickets, on some really small grounds, if the top orders get going for 50 overs, it can be anything.”
But even as talks of big scores and a possibility of 500 being scored in an innings looms large, Faf du Plessis, the South Africa skipper, said there were a few X factor bowlers with all the teams who were going to play pivotal roles. “Your bowling attack and the kind of wicket-takers you have in your resources is going to be important for all of us as captains,” du Plessis said, adding: “With good wickets come boundaries, so you have to find a way to keep the bowlers nice and calm.”
Kane Williamson, New Zealand captain, also felt along the same lines. “We have spoken a lot about the batting, but a lot of it also depends on how the bowling attacks operate to keep the batsmen in check. There might be some free flow play but we are playing a lot in similar grounds where the pitches and blocks might deteriorate, where some are suited for the bat, some will be suited for the ball.”
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne agreed and added: “We all need to do that (work hard to keep the morale of the bowlers up). We all saw in the last England-Pakistan series. It is not going to be an easy job.”