2015 Cricket World Cup group guides: Australia and New Zealand should be the top two in Group A

The Cricket World Cup begins in New Zealand and Australia on February 14. The National previews the two groups, with Osman Samiuddin breaking down Group A.

Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand face off at the 2015 Cricket World Cup on February 28. (Photos: Matt King / Getty Images and Marty Melville / AFP)
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The Cricket World Cup begins in New Zealand and Australia on February 14 (see here for a schedule in UAE time) when New Zealand meet Sri Lanka. Ahead of the tournament, The National previews the two groups of competing teams, with Osman Samiuddin’s look at Group A below.

The Group

On paper, qualification to the quarter-finals from this group is a straightforward affair. Australia, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka to go through and that is that. That is why the format of this World Cup, and others before it, comes in for criticism, that the preliminary group stages are an elaborate and elongated plan to basically ensure that big-money teams like India go through and that they play big-money matches, against Pakistan in this year’s case.

There are similar dynamics in this group. Australia and England play, as do Australia and New Zealand but the order of power ultimately is far less certain than Group B. On form, Australia and New Zealand should occupy the top two spots. But the wildcards are not Afghanistan as much as England and Sri Lanka.

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If things go bad for them, they could get really bad, maybe even an Afghanistan upset bad, even if that sounds far-fetched right now. Sri Lanka away in these conditions are a different side and when England start to unravel, few teams can match them.

Conversely, if either gets on a roll and takes advantage of the home pressure the co-hosts will be under, then who knows how the group pans out?

The rational expectation should be that it will be a pretty predictable group as far as the four to go through are concerned. But the hope is that the positions they go through in are not as clear-cut. The irrational hope is that Afghanistan grace their first-ever World Cup with at least one shock.

The Players

The All-rounder

Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh)

For the heavy burden of keeping Bangladesh afloat on a cricket field, Shakib Al Hasan is the perfect Atlas. He has had his run-ins with the board and some might say he has become too big for the sport in the country.

But can anyone doubt that he is their leading player, that most hopes in any given game, rest on his shoulders? And by the by, he is also the world’s top-ranked Test and Twenty20 allrounder and third in the ODI rankings.

The Big Fish (in a small pond)

Kyle Coetzer (Scotland)

Scotland, it is likely, will struggle to make an impression in this tournament. They will be happy enough to break their World Cup duck and win a first-ever game at the tournament.

But one man likely to shine is Kyle Coetzer, a former captain and among their most-established top-order batsman. Coetzer has a pretty established county record for Durham and Northamptonshire and though removed as Scotland captain after an injury, it has hardly mattered. He was the leading run-getter from four Associates in a World Cup acclimatisation tour, with 333 runs at over 55.

The Cool Head

Eoin Morgan (England)

The ice-man they call him but it is only now, with the heat on him as England’s captain, will we know the full extent of his iciness.

Morgan has been, for some years, the best batsman in the England ODI side, a master judge of an innings and its perfect pace. He has finished games and he has set them up. He has more shots than Cristiano Ronaldo on his more selfish days.

Until recently he had been in mystifyingly poor form but taking over from Alastair Cook has turned things around. It should not be a surprise: he averages nearly 69 in the ODIs he has captained.

He is in charge of an England side that, suddenly, is looking halfway decent. The bowling could well be suited to Australia conditions and finally, their batting is not looking as one-paced as it has. Morgan will be more important than ever before.

The Wild Card

Adam Milne (New Zealand)

The answer to the perennial what-if of Shane Bond’s career could be Adam Milne. On his day, when he was fit, Bond was probably the quickest and most beautiful fast bowler in the world to watch and one of their stars in their 2007 World Cup semi-final run.

As bowling coach now, he is charged with turning the young, precocious Milne into a more durable prospect than he was himself. Milne has a lot going for him. He is young, he has Bond, he has a solid action and he has pace. Lots and lots of pace.

Already in his short career he has impressed. Most recently he has troubled Younis Khan and Kumar Sangakkara, dismissing the latter three times in three games in New Zealand. A side strain ruled him out of the rest of that series but those are the risks New Zealand will have to take. The rewards that he potentially brings, in a strong pace attack, are easily worth it.

Mr Dependable

Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)

If you transposed Donald Bradman onto the modern age, with its newer formats, geographic growth and administrative foibles, chances are he would look something like Kumar Sangakkara.

Sangakkara is a modern giant, there is no doubt about this. Increasingly in this age of batting plunder, he has elevated himself to a different level. The reflex reaction is to think of him in Test terms, but his one-day batting is no less limited.

His consistency in this format is mind-boggling. He averages over 50 with a strike rate of nearly 90 in the last two years with one fifty-plus score almost every other innings. The last year he averaged less than 43 was 2009. This will be his last World Cup but it is difficult to imagine him limping to the end line. That is just not his style. Expect runs. Lots.

The Big Hitter

Glenn Maxwell (Australia)

The Big Show. Glenn Maxwell has dipped just a little from the phenomenal form fans in the UAE would have witnessed when part of the IPL was played here in 2014.

But he is still easily one of the biggest hitters around in world cricket. Few batsmen can hit sixes in as many styles as Maxwell either. The reverse sweep, the reverse pull, the ramp, the scoop, the switch hit – he has every modern-day bling shot in the bag.

The Spin Demon

Sachithra Senanayake (Sri Lanka)

Once his action was found to be illegal and he was suspended, it would have been easy to assume that Sachithra Senanayake’s meteoric rise was at an end. That he may even struggle to return.

It would have been wrong. Senanayake has not only remodeled his action, but he has come back with some success. His height is a natural advantage but nine wickets from seven ODIs after a re-jigged action bode well. He may not ever reach the heights he once did, but he will be a threat.

The Pace Ace

Mitchell Johnson (Australia)

The pace has dropped touch, as has the meanness over the last few months. But a little break after the India Test series might be exactly what Mitchell Johnson needs ahead of the World Cup.

If he gets it right, in fact, this could be his World Cup to win. He is playing in familiar conditions, with big crowds behind him. He is also leading an immensely strong attack. And it was in ODIs – against England – that he began his latest revival.

The Wild Horse

Shapoor Zadran (Afghanistan)

There are better and faster bowlers in the world but no bowler running in creates as much awe as Shapoor Zadran.

He has a Shoaib Akhtar-esque run-up for a start, in terms of distance. But he runs in with greater abandon and a kind of menace as well. Throw in the long hair on top of a big, well-built body and he will be, if nothing else, one of the great sights of the tournament.

The Teams

England

Previous best: Runners-up 1979, 1987, 1992

Coach: Peter Moores

For so long coming into the World Cup England looked so, so ordinary as an ODI side. Dropping Alastair Cook, however, has changed the outlook a little. With Cook gone and Jonathan Trott also not around, suddenly England do not look a bad side.

It helps to have fresh, untethered talent in the shape of Moeen Ali, Joe Root and, most excitingly, Jos Buttler. But the really impressive thing about England, especially in these conditions, could be their bowling attack.

James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and a resurgent Steven Finn can and should win England games, especially in Australia and New Zealand. They will be key to England’s progress.

Australia

Previous best: Winners 1987, 1999, 2003, 2007

Coach: Darren Lehmann

The one thing really working against Australia is history. The last time they played a World Cup at home, they were overwhelming favourites. But 1992 did not turn out the way they wanted, or expected. It turned out badly in fact.

Other than that, everything about Australia right now is screaming winners, or at least finalists. The depth they have in their squad is bordering on the unfair. They bossed the tri-series with India and England in the run-up with a number of regulars absent.

Even the uncertainty over Michael Clarke’s fitness seems barely to have affected them. George Bailey, Steven Smith or David Warner could – and have – take over at a moment’s notice.

Sri Lanka

Previous best: Winners 1996

Coach: Marvan Atapattu

On paper the second-best side in the group. In familiar conditions Sri Lanka can be an awesome ODI side, brimming with experienced genius, fresh unorthodox youth and solid workhorses.

But as the ODI series against New Zealand has proved, in unfamiliar conditions they are more hit and miss. Much will depend on the trio of veterans Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, as well as Angelo Mathews, who has been outstanding as captain.

They could do with Thisara Perera going berserk at some stage with bat and ball. And if some bloke called Lasith Malinga can return fit and firing from injury, then their prospects will brighten up many times over.

Bangladesh

Previous best: Super Eights 2007

Coach: Chandika Haturusingha

When will Bangladesh arrive? Not at this World Cup is the most credible answer. They have the makings of a decent side still but a lack of experience in these conditions work against them.

They replaced Mushfiqur Rehman with the veteran Mashrafe Mortaza as captain back in September but whether that produces tangible change is difficult to say. They beat Zimbabwe in a series this winter but have not beaten a top eight full member since beating New Zealand in November 2013.

They will rely heavily on the class and experience of Shakib Al Hasan, as well as Tamim Iqbal opening but in these conditions, it is hard to see them make any real impact.

New Zealand

Previous best: Semi-finalists 1975, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2007, 2011

Coach: Mike Hesson

South Africa have a bum rap for choking. New Zealand have made the last four six times and not progressed beyond even once. There is some high-quality choking for you.

This could be a strange World Cup for them. They are playing down their own chances, as ever, but Brendon McCullum’s side, in the form they are in, are one of the favourites. Getting to the last four should be their minimum target with the squad they have.

Publicly they may be happy to once again reach the semi-finals but deep down, you suspect, they know this is an ideal opportunity to finally break through that glass ceiling.

Afghanistan

Previous best: First appearance

Coach: Andy Moles

If prizes were being handed out for the most romanticised side in world cricket, Afghanistan would win it hands down. Unfortunately, prizes are for matches won so Afghanistan may not win that many, but they will impress a lot of watchers.

This is their first appearance at cricket’s biggest event but they are not there to make up the numbers. More than any associate side bar Ireland, Afghanistan want to move beyond their story now and onto real, substantial performances.

Their form is inconsistent, winning five and losing five of their last ten ODIs. It includes impressive wins over Zimbabwe but also casual defeats to UAE.

Scotland

Previous best: Group stages 1999, 2007

Coach: Grant Bradburn

It is difficult to envisage Scotland as being anything other than the whipping boys in this group, the team against whom the stronger ones will aim to up their net run-rates.

Which, conversely, is probably no bad thing for Preston Mommsen and his men. Any little hiccup, any little scare they can induce – remember the 1999 World Cup game against Pakistan? – will be a triumph in itself.

Bear in mind also that they have a couple of recent, heartening results to fall back upon. In the last few months they have beaten Ireland in Dublin and Afghanistan in Sharjah.

Team most likely to cause a shock

Afghanistan

The only other time Afghanistan played in a major 50-over event with the big boys of world cricket, they did better than expected. They said before the 2014 Asia Cup they could beat Bangladesh and they did just that, in Bangladesh as well.

They gave Pakistan a little scare as well and at times, they only seemed to be lacking a little nous in the field and with the bat beyond the top order. They will fancy their chances against Bangladesh this time too, and fully expect to beat Scotland.

Beyond that, who knows? England, of the big sides, seem likeliest to have a bad day when Afghanistan come to town.

Can’t miss match

New Zealand vs Australia, February 28, Eden Park

There are a number of little rivalries to be played out in this group, not least the opening clash between Ashes contestants Australia and England.

But this game, between the Trans-Tasman rivals, feels like it could be a seminal one in the tournament. Australia are already established as favourites and New Zealand, in their own low-key way, are as well.

These are world cricket’s two form teams as well, however, and if, say New Zealand win this, the boost to their confidence means it will be extremely difficult to play down their chances of winning the entire tournament.

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