When the World Cup kicks off on February 14th in Christchurch, seven teams can legitimately claim to have a chance of winning it. Australia and New Zealand can call on home advantage, South Africa have the world’s best batsman and the highest ranked bowler in the tournament whilst India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka can beat anyone on their day. Even England, reinvigorated under Eoin Morgan, can claim to be in with a shout.
This article will look at where this World Cup will be won and lost. Which team has the best new ball bowlers? Who can take advantage of the new fielding restrictions with power-hitting in the middle overs and which team dominates the death overs better than anyone else?
When it comes to bowling in the first 10 overs, two teams dominate the statistics. England, led by Jimmy Anderson, are statistically the best new-ball team over the last two years, closely followed by South Africa. Since January 2013, England have taken 79 wickets at an average of 28.54 in the first 10 overs of ODIs with Jimmy Anderson claiming 22 of those scalps. South Africa follow close behind with 76 wickets at an average of 28.82.
However, the reason South Africa are widely considered the best bowling unit in the world (and England are not) is how they back up their new-ball bowling. Between the 11th and 40th overs, England’s bowling attack average 40 runs per wicket – comfortably the worst among Test playing nations. South Africa, on the other hand, average less than 30 runs per wicket, with Imran Tahir and Morne Morkel proving particularly effective in that period. For England to be able to genuinely compete at this World Cup, they are going to have to find a way to maintain their bowling level throughout the 50 overs.
When it comes to batting in the middle overs, it’s India and South Africa who are streaking ahead of the rest. Since January 2013, India’s run rate between overs 21-40 is an astonishing 5.9 runs per over, well ahead of everyone else. The ability to score at a run a ball in the middle period is vital in setting up big totals. Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni all average over 50 in this time with strike rates approaching 100. It is no surprise then that India have won 22 matches since January 2013 when chasing, again, the best of all Test nations. If India are to win this World Cup, their batting will have to fire, as statistically they have the worst bowling line-up of any top level international team.
As we have seen, South Africa have no issues with their bowling, and they back this up with some formidable batting stats. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers both average over 70 in the middle overs of an ODI, at strike rates of around 100. Even more impressive than this, is since January 2013, Hashim Amla scores a century every 4.89 innings. This is a phenomenal record and means that South Africa can set up their more explosive batsmen such as de Villiers, Quinton De Kock and David Miller to bat around Amla. It would seem the only thing standing in the way of South Africa is their history of not performing well in big tournaments. If they can get over that, they have all the ingredients needed to win this World Cup.
If Australia are going to give their home fans something to cheer about and win their 5th World Cup, their performance in the last 10 overs of each innings will have had a lot to do with it. In the recent tri-series against England and India, Australia gave away just 44 and 59 runs in the last 10 overs to leave themselves comfortable totals to chase. Since January 2013, Australia have given away just 7.31 runs per over in the last 10 overs. With teams now looking to score at 10 runs per over in this period, that is a very fine effort. With Finch, Warner and Smith to set up the innings and Maxwell, Faulkner and Marsh to finish it off, the bowlers only need to be firing at half strength to make Australia favourites in most games.
We have not even looked at teams such as New Zealand and Sri Lanka, who both have match-winners that can change a game in just a few overs. Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Kumar Sangakarra and Angelo Mathews have all been in great form over the past 12 months and on their day can lead their sides to victory over any team in the competition.
Bearing all this in mind, it would be a brave man who attempts to pick a winner from this tournament. If they don’t meet beforehand, an Australia vs South Africa final would be a fitting end to the tournament, with a winner too close to call. Australia with home advantage and the best death bowlers versus South Africa’s superb batting line up and a bowling attack led by Dale Steyn. It really is too close to call!