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Hosts and hot favourites England will know this is their best chance to lift the crown for the first time, when they take on perennial underachievers South Africa in the World Cup opener at The Oval here on Thursday.

England, who are still in search of their first trophy like South Africa, have risen from the ashes of their poor campaign in the showpiece last time, following that group-stage exit by ascending to the summit of the ICC ODI rankings.

Eoin Morgan’s side boast of the most dominant batting unit in 50-over cricket and their bowling too oozes the firepower few teams can rival.

Such has been England’s dominance that their 4-0 whitewash of Pakistan earlier this summer meant the Three Lions haven’t lost a multi-game series for two-and-a-half years.

In the warm-up games, England faltered in their first outing losing to fellow title contenders Australia before chalking up an easy win over lesser lights Afghanistan.

But other teams would very well know that these matches mean little when it comes to tournament proper where the English bat as deep as anyone with the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy boasting the highest strike-rates of any openers in ODI history to have posted more than 1,000 runs, yet still have the highest average of any pair topping the order in the competition.

Joe Root is one of the world’s best batters in all formats with skipper Morgan, in-form Jos Buttler, all-rounder Ben Stokes following him to lead a talent-laden cast of cricketers.

In men’s ODI history, only 20 players have ever averaged over 25 with the bat at a strike-rate over 100. Four of them — Buttler, Roy, Bairstow and Moeen Ali — currently play for England.

England’s bowling might not be as breathtaking as their batting, but with the inclusion of Jofra Archer — who has just qualified to represent the team but was fast tracked into the fold — their pace battery could make a considerable difference.

On flat decks, spinners could play a role and it is then that leggie Adil Rashid comes into the picture, having taken more wickets than any other bowler since the tournament’s 2015 edition.

Talking about South Africa, the Proteas received a body blow on Tuesday as pace spearhead Dale Steyn was ruled out for the first game with a shoulder injury.

South Africa, always considered one of the favourites, have also had injury concerns over their two other main strike bowlers, Lungi Ngidi (side) and Kagiso Rabada (back), though both played in the warm-up win over Sri Lanka last week.

Branded as ‘chokers’ due to their failure to make the final despite making the knockouts of every edition they have participated in — barring 2003 when they were also the hosts — the Faf Du Plessis-led side this time have one of the best bowling units of the tournaments but lack depth in their batting.

In pacer Rabada, South Africa have one of the best in the business and the wily old fox Imran Tahir also adds variety with his deadly leg-spin.

As far as their batting is concerned, Du Plessis will have to shoulder a lot of responsibility along with stumper batsman Quinton de Kock. Hashim Amla’s international career appears to be winding down as this could be his last World Cup.

Rassie van der Dussen has had a terrific rookie year so far, with four half-centuries in his first eight ODI innings. Aiden Markram, 24, has already captained South Africa, and 23-year-old Andile Phehlukwayo adds value in more ways than one, with his all-round capabilities.

Overall, many experts have said this will be the most exciting World Cup in recent times with each of the ten teams playing each other in a marathon round robin format. Besides England, Virat Kohli’s India and Aaron Finch’s Australia are the other favourites with West Indies and New Zealand tipped as the dark horses.

There will be considerable focus on Steve Smith and David Warner as the pair are making a comeback into international cricket since their ball tampering scandal in Cape Town last year. Former Aussie skipper Smith was booed during a warm up game and this could be the norm as they look for their sixth title.

Kohli’s India, boasting of perhaps the best bowling attack in the tournament with Jasprit Bumrah in their ranks, are also expected to fire on all cylinders with the hype they have brought along. Arguably the best batsman of his generation, 31-year old Kohli will also look to make this World Cup his own by racking up runs.

Former captain M.S. Dhoni could be playing his last World Cup but at 37, he showed no signs of ageing in the warm-up game against Bangladesh by scoring a brilliant century (113 of 78).

With run fests expected in every other game, there could be upsets along the way too as Afghanistan showed by beating Pakistan in the first warm-up.

The Windies posted a total of more than 400 against New Zealand, in a game where more than 750 runs were scored in less than 100 overs.

This will also be a World Cup where many first timers like Afghanistan star spinner Rashid Khan and Bumrah, who have already made a name for themselves, will want to make it count.

Unfancied Pakistan, who have done precious little since their 2017 Champions Trophy win, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will look to shrug aside the tag and over perform. Debutants Afghanistan have nothing to lose and will be expected to express themselves freely.

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We were shocked by Sohail’s behaviour, says Younis on ’96 WC incident

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Waqar Younis

Lahore, July 11 : Fast bowling great Waqar Younis has said they were shocked at how Aamer Sohail behaved on the field during Pakistans 1996 World Cup quarter-final against India.

India won the tie by 39 runs in Bengaluru but Sohail, captaining the then-defending world champions, was at one point going strong as Pakistan chased 288 for victory.

With Pakistan on 109/1 in the 14th over, Sohail smacked Venkatesh Prasad through cover point for a four and then, infamously pointed his bat towards the boundary showing the bowler that is where he is going to hit him again.

But that turned out to be his final contribution in the game as Prasad uprooted his off-stump in the very next delivery, and coupled it up with a send-off of his own.

“To be very honest, we were shocked by the way he (Sohail) was behaving on the field,” Waqar said speaking on The Greatest Rivalry podcast.

“He was tonking the ball all over the park, why did he need to do that? I guess, the pressure got to him.

“He batted superbly, he was looking really good and I think he scored 55 off not many deliveries (55 off 46). And Saeed Anwar also. We lost our first wicket when Pakistan were 85-odd (84) in the first ten overs. We were cruising, and then once we lost Saeed Anwar and then Aamir Sohail straightaway, it just went wrong.”

“Inzamam-ul-Haq and Ijaz Ahmed, they went into a shell,” Waqar, a former captain, said.

“And full credit should be given to Anil Kumble, when he came in and Prasad came in for his second spell, he sort of started nipping the ball a little bit. And Pakistan got so much pressure and once we lost Ijaz and Inzamam within an over or so, it became very very difficult.

“We made quite a few mistakes in that game. Javed Miandad was there, he could have gone in at number four but we kept him at number six, there was no use because he was approaching the end of his career. We kept him for very late, he should have batted at number four. Overall, a good game for cricket and India were well-deserved winners.”

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Happy Indian cricket got Dhoni because he is unbelievable: Ganguly

Dhoni has played 90 Tests, 350 ODIs and 98 T20Is for India, amassing over 17,000 international runs.

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Sourav Ganguly

Kolkata, July 7 : Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not only one of the best finishers in world cricket, he is a destructive top-order batsman too who should bat higher up, feels former India captain and BCCI President Sourav Ganguly. Dhoni, regarded as one of India’s finest leaders, turned 39 on Tuesday. It was under Ganguly that the Ranchi wicketkeeper batsman made his debut and went on to win all ICC trophies for India, the only captain to do so.

During a chat with India Test opener Mayank Agarwal which was shared by BCCI with hashtag #DadaOpensWithMayank, Agarwal asked him: “Your word got Mahi bhai picked in the Indian team and the rest is history. Is that a myth or a reality?”

“That”s true but that”s my job isn”t it. That”s every captain”s job…pick the best and make the best team possible,” Ganguly replied.

“You go by your instincts. You go by the faith of that player that he will deliver for you.

“I”m happy that Indian cricket got Mahendra Singh Dhoni because he is unbelievable.”

“One of the great finishers in the world, said Agarwal.

“One of the great players in world cricket. Not just a finisher, I think everyone talks about the way he finishes lower down the order…he batted at No. 3 when I was captain. He got 140 against Pakistan in Vizag..I always believe that he should bat up the order because he is so destructive,” Ganguly opined.

“You know the best player in the shorter format has the ability to hit boundaries at will. You look over a period of time, the history of one-day cricket…the best players can find the fence under pressure consistently and M.S. Dhoni was one of them,” he added.

Cricket fraternity thronged social media to extend birthday wishes for Dhoni who led India to an ICC 50-over World Cup, T20 World Cup and Champions Trophy in 2013. He even led India to the number one ranking in both Test and ODI formats.

Dhoni has been on a sabbatical ever since the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup where India lost to New Zealand. It”s been almost a year that he has been away from the cricket field, yet conversations about his return or future retirement have never died out in the time since and he still remains one of the most talked about cricketers in the present era.

Dhoni has played 90 Tests, 350 ODIs and 98 T20Is for India, amassing over 17,000 international runs.

Speculations about his retirement from all forms of international cricket have been on ever since the 2019 World Cup. But Dhoni has still not made any such announcement. However, one thing is for certain, whenever he hangs his boots, it will be a day when the entire country will have tears in their eyes, just like when Sachin Tendulkar drew curtains on his 24-year-old long career in Mumbai.

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Eng vs WI: Anderson & Broad deserve to play 1st Test, says Hussain

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Nassar Hussain

London, July 6 : Former England captain Nasser Hussain feels veteran pacers James Anderson and Stuart Broad deserve to be in the playing XI for the team’s first Test against West Indies starting Wednesday.

The first Test of the three-match series is scheduled to be played at Ageas Bowl, followed by two matches at the Old Trafford from July 16 and 24 respectively.

Hussain stated England are going to rotate the bowlers around, considering workload management, as they will take on Pakistan right after the conclusion of the West Indies series.

“A lot will be made of the first Test selection, but the bowlers are going to be rotated. I would start with Anderson and Broad because they deserve it. Then I”d leave (Chris) Woakes out and pick one of (Mark) Wood or (Jofra) Archer,” Hussain was quoted as saying by Daily Mail.

“I”d probably go for Wood because he bowled very well in his last two Tests in South Africa, but Archer is a serious bowler so I”d have no problem with him instead,” he added.

However, according to a report in The Guardian, Broad “faces the prospect of missing a first home Test match in eight years as England give serious consideration to unleashing the dual pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood at the earliest opportunity”.

West Indies Test skipper Jason Holder had earlier warned their opponents against taking them lightly and Hussain agreed with him.

Pointing towards their potent bowling attack, Hussain stated they will pose a big threat to the high-profile England line-up in the forthcoming series.

“They are a threat, especially the bowling. With Shannon Gabriel alongside Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Holder (left), nobody is going to get easy runs,” Hussain said.

“But the batting looks flimsy with no Darren Bravo or Shimron Hetmyer. Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite will have to repeat their Headingley form of last time.

“England are very difficult to beat at home and West Indies haven”t won here for a long time, so I”m going for an England win — but you”d be a fool to write off West Indies because they thrive on being written off.”

West Indies had famously beaten England during the previous series between the two sides that was played in the Carribbean Islands. A draw in the series would be enough for them to retain the Wisden trophy.

–IANS

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