Let us now look into the chances of four teams whose fortunes depend a lot on some key players. Sri Lanka, England, Pakistan and Bangladesh would fancy their chances in the tournament simply because they have the players who can deliver the results.
Sri Lanka is undoubtedly the strongest of these four. The team looks very formidable and they have very little worries. Muthiah Muralitharan would be hoping for an ideal parting gift in the form of one more World Cup. It will be up to skipper Kumar Sangakkara and his men to perform for Murali who has been the mainstay of their bowling for a very long time. Their openers wear a settled look – Upul Tharanga and Tilakaratne Dilshan can provide the solid starts. The middle order looks very strong with two experienced campaigners in Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
The only spot in the team which would be debatable would be their choice of a No. 7 batsman – Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera can equally lay credentials to the spot. Thisara Perera would be the better choice because of his bowling which is at a better level than Mathews’. The first choice bowlers would be Malinga, Kulasekara, Muralitharan and Mendis.
Sri Lanka should progress very far into the tournament with the kind of team they have. This is their best chance to regain the cup that they first won in 1996 in the Subcontinent.
England would be hoping their frontline batsmen learn from the mistakes they made in Australia during the one-day leg of their grueling tour. If at all there is anything that England need to fix, it is their batting. Barring the exception of Jonathan Trott at No. 3, all of their other batsmen are in need of big runs. Andrew Strauss and Matt prior are expected to open the batting with Trott, the charismatic Kevin Pietersen and the ever reliable Ian Bell to follow.
The bowlers pick themselves – James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ajmal Shahzad and Graeme Swann should be the ideal choice for skipper Andrew Strauss. In the event they decide to play two spinners, then Michael Yardy could come in for Shahzad. That leaves one position open – the choice would be between Paul Collingwood who has not been in the best of form these days but is very experienced and Luke Wright who can be very handy with the bat as well as ball. I believe Strauss will opt for the experience of Collingwood.
England can progress far if their batsman get into run scoring mode early on in the tournament. Kevin Pietersen needs to show them the way by playing as long as possible with minimum risks. He needs to cut out the kind of bizarre shots that he attempted in Australia.
Pakistan is a team in turmoil but their cricket is a way for them to forget the past. They have very explosive players and I will not be surprised if they make it to the finals. Like past Pakistan teams, bowling is their strength and they need to play to their full potential as far as bowling is concerned. Umar Gul, Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq are world class. The spin department could be led by Abdur Rehman following his good showing in New Zealand. Captain Shahid Afridi and opening batsman Mohammad Hafeez can chip in for some spin to support Rehman.
Ahmed Shehzad can provide the pyrotechnics at the top of the order with the experienced Younis Khan, and vice-captain Misbah-ul-Haq leading the middle order supported by the wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal. Umar Akmal, Kamran’s younger brother, has lost his way after a promising start to his career and needs to make way for Asad Shafiq who has impressed in the limited opportunities that he has been given. Afridi and Razzaq can provide the fireworks at the end overs.
The team has a tendency to self destruct. If they can curb this and stay together as a team, they can progress very far in the tournament. A World Cup win will provide redemption to a team that has been plagued by scandals.
Bangladesh have come a long way in terms of how they play their cricket. There used to be a time when they were regarded as minnows and could be easily passed over. That is not the case now. Their confidence is high following series win over New Zealand and Zimbabwe. They have some key players whose performance will be crucial.
The finest player to have played for Bangladesh, captain Shakib al Hasan leads by example. His consistency in both bowling and batting over the last couple of years has been remarkable. He will be the fulcrum around which their batting and bowling revolve. Bangladesh’s top order looks strong with the Sehwag like demolisher Tamim Iqbal leading from the front supported by Junaid Siddique and Imrul Kayes.
It is their middle and lower order that is a cause for worry. Aside of Shakib, there is no one who can take the mantle of guiding them through the middle and end overs. If Mohammad Ashraful returns to form which has been long due, then half of their worries on this front would be solved. Wicket-keeper Mushfiqur Rahim picks himself in the side.
Spin remains Bangladesh’s potent bowling weapon. Abdul Razzaq and Shakib al Hasan will be supported by Mahmudullah and Suhrawadi Shuvo. Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain should lead the pace attack.
Making the quarter finals should be the first aim for Bangladesh and from then on they should take it match by match. If they can get their act together in all the three departments, they can give any team a run for its money. They can make history on April 2 and what a history would that be.