Tag Archives: South Africa

England’s Root ahead starts here

Some people would say that the toughest job in sport is the captain of the England cricket team. And they are probably right. Since Mike Brearley retired in 1981 fourteen men have been appointed England captain* and on Thursday Joe Root will become number fifteen. In 36 years! For comparison there have been fourteen different UK Prime Ministers since the war! The nadir was reached in 1988 when England had four captains in six Tests that summer. No doubt about it this job does not have long term security. Even in recent years the captain tends to have a shelf life of four or five years before the pressure of the job gets to them and they end up as broken men as anyone that saw former captain Alistair Cook on last year’s tour of India will testify.

So how will Joe Root fare? The fixture list has not helped him. In a normal summer the weakest of the two touring teams (this year West Indies) would have toured first in May/June and the stronger team (this year South Africa) would have toured in July/August. But because England hosted the Champions Trophy in June this year the fixture list has been reversed with South Africa touring first – still in July/August – while West Indies have been moved to August/September. So instead of the luxury of a debut against a poor West Indies team he has been plunged into a tough debut series against South Africa. 

South Africa are so tough that the last three times they have been here the England captaincy has either changed hands mid series (2003 and 2008) or immediately after the series (2012). At least we know this won’t happen this time – Root has only just been appointed so he won’t be removed after four Tests regardless of what happens – but only an Ashes series or a tour of India could have offered a tougher debut. 

The remarkable thing about South Africa is they will be without argubaly their best batsman – AB de Villiers – and their best fast bowler – Dale Steyn. Had one been told a year ago that South Africa would be without these players one would have anticipated an easy win for England. But it won’t be. This past winter South Africa won 2-1 in Australia, 1-0 in New Zealand and whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0 at home to climb to number 2 in the World Test rankings. De Villiers did not play in one of those nine Tests and Steyn only one – and he broke down after two days in that match. The fact is South Africa have moved on from the Steyn/de Villiers era. 

Their strength is still the pace bowling. Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander were key parts of the team who won in 2012 to which can be added the best young fast bowler in the world today Kagiso Rabada and another youngster in Duanne Olivier. They also have the best counter attacking wicket keeper batsman in the world in Quinton de Kock – who is as dangerous coming in at 80 for 5 as 300 for 5 –  a promising spinner in Keshav Maharaj who was their leading wicket taker in the New Zealand series and who could make England pay if they fall into the trap of underestimating him – easy to do as he will seem like light relief after the fast bowlers. And another strength is Faf du Plessis’ captaincy which is so impressive that South African fans wanted him to stay captain even if previous captain de Villiers was fit and available. 

But there are weaknesses too and I think South Africa’s batting could be vulnerable. Only Hashim Amla of South Africa’s top seven batsmen has played Test cricket in England before – even captain du Plessis hasn’t. Plus they have never really replaced former captain Graeme Smith in the opening position. Dean Elgar is a solid opener but they have struggled to find a partner for him. Stephen Cook has been dropped and Elgar’s new partner will either be a debutant (Heino Kuhn or Andre Markham) or a player with only one unsuccessful Test (Theunis De Bruyn). Add to that Duminy and Temba Bavuma could be vulnerable at no 4 and 5 respectively and there is plenty of hope for the England bowlers. 

But England have their problems too. One good thing to come out of a dreadful tour of India was that England had appeared to solve their opening batting problems with the emergence of Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings. Unfortunately Haseeb has had such a nightmare season so far that he has not scored a first class fifty for Lancashire never mind a hundred. Unsurprisingly he has not been picked but I’m surprised that the selectors have recalled Gary Ballance who has been picked and dropped twice in three years and is in danger of being this era’s answer to Grahame Hick or Mark Ramprakash. Yes he is averaging 100 for Yorkshire but has he sorted out his technical flaws? We’ll only find out when he steps back into the Test arena…

But the main worry for England is their pace bowlers – or rather their fitness (or lack thereof). James Anderson and Stuart Broad have missed parts of the season, Chris Woakes and Jake Ball are out, Mark Wood is fit at the moment but cannot be relied upon to last a full series and all rounder Ben Stokes is struggling with a knee injury which only affects him when he is bowling apparently.  Because of these injuries England are likely to go in with four pace bowlers plus Stokes which is really too many but the selectors are probably thinking that if we play five pace bowlers at least three of them should last the game! As for spin Liam Dawson is a depressing safety first selection when they should have kept faith with Adil Rashid or more bravely picked Hampshire youngster Mason Crane who got AB de Villiers out in the recent T20 series between the countries. 

Both teams are not going into this match in great form. England had a nightmare tour of India and have only won three of their last twelve Tests while South Africa might be undercooked having had only one (rain affected) first class warn up match plus captain du Plessis might not make it back to the UK on time to play in the first Test because of the difficult birth of his first child back in South Africa. 

This series could go either way. But in English conditions I would say England’s batting line up might be marginally less incompetent than South Africa’s. England have already beaten South Africa 2-1 in both 50 over and 20 over series this summer. It would not surprise me if England completed a hat trick of 2-1 wins in a hard fought series that would mean England’s new “Root” in Test cricket gets off to a good start…

*I have not counted Allan Lamb or Andrew Flintoff in the number of England captains as although both did the job they were never officially appointed as England captain. Both only captained when the appointed captain (Graham Gooch for Lamb, Michael Vaughan for Flintoff) were injured. 

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Stick to your season

Time was that in August the only international cricket that was played was in England. All the other Test countries – mainly in the southern hemisphere – were in winter hibernation unless they were touring England.

That started to change in 1992 when Sri Lanka – where the climate was suitable for cricket most of the year – hosted Australia in August. The main reason they did that was the traditional winter months of November to March were overcrowded and countries found it hard to fit in tours to Sri Lanka in that time. For a long while after 1992 Sri Lanka hosted Test series in August and September but they were the only other country to do so (apart from England obviously).

But that has totally changed. This August – apart from England v Pakistan and Sri Lanka v Australia – there have been Test series in Zimbabwe (v New Zealand), West Indies (v India) and South Africa (v New Zealand). Of the ten Test teams only Bangladesh have not been in action this month. To think that twenty five years ago in 1991 the only Test teams that were in action where England, West Indies and Sri Lanka and the only country that Test cricket was played in was England! 

But there are consequences of doing this. This past week saw Test matches scheduled between West Indies and India in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and between South Africa and New Zealand in Durban. Both Tests were the first played in these cities in August and both were total disasters. In Port-of-Spain only 22 overs were bowled-all on the first day – while in Durban only 99.4 overs were bowled-all in the first two days. So combined the two Tests lasted for 121.4 overs – lees than two days – and seven of the ten scheduled days were completely washed out. A total mess.

And an avoidable mess. The game in Port-of-Spain was arranged for Trinidad’s rainy season. So is anyone surprised when it rained? And although Durban has below average rainfall in winter the numbskulls that run South African cricket obviously don’t know that when it does rain in winter it is heavier than in summer. An example : Between 1899 and 2007 there were 135 floods at Worcestershire’s New Road ground – which is on the banks of the River Severn – but only nine occurred during the prime cricket months of May to August. And sure enough Durban was hit by record floods in late July and the wet weather continued into early August.

And another problem with playing out of season is that the grounds are not prepared for rain because they usually play in the summer where there is less of it. In Durban’s case the outfield was relaid recently which made the outfield soft and harder to dry. It was relaid at the end of May after the Comrades Marathon – soon enough if the cricket season stuck to its normal time but too late for a Test starting in August. This meant although there was no rain after overnight on the second day the combination of a soft wet outfield and a weak sun – again Cricket South Africa should know the sun is weaker in winter meaning it takes longer to get rid of water – meant that despite three dry days the outfield could not dry and the Test limped to a watery grave.

And the same thing happened in Port-of-Spain. Again a spell of rain again the outfield could not cope. Again the reason is the people that run the ground are not used to rain since they usually play in the summer when it doesn’t rain so when they were moved to what is normally the off season they were not prepared for it. The rain in Durban and Port-of-Spain is mother nature’s way of telling cricket to stick to its season. 

There is another reason not to play in your off season. The public is not interested. The attendances in both Durban and Port-of-Spain were tiny. Hardly surprising considering cricket was competing with the Rio Olympics where both the West Indies (Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson) and South Africa (Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya) had significant athletic successes and in South Africa’s case the start of the Rugby Championship featuring the Springboks, the Wallabies, the All Blacks and Argentina – a big deal in rugby mad South Africa. The public were not ready for cricket. Again the authorities should know this. When Australia tried playing winter Tests in 2003 and 2004 the public didn’t want them and the attendances were tiny so Australia had the sense to abandon them and go back to playing in summer.

The fact is cricket has an off season for a reason. In most countries the weather in August is simply not suitable for cricket. Playing cricket in South Africa and West Indies in August is about as sensible as playing baseball at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium in January. The weather and the attendances in Durban and Port-of-Spain should convince the cricket authorities in both countries that off season cricket is a disaster. Cricket has been a summer sport throughout its existence. It needs to stay that way. It needs to stick to its season.

Political Games

A blog post written by Dennis Freedman in “The Quint” caught my eye. In the post he criticised the governing body of world cricket the International Cricket Council (ICC) for its inconsistent decision making in regard to weak and strong countries. He rightly condemns them for suspending Nepal – a small cricket country –  for government interference with its cricket board but not punishing India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and (especially) South Africa – all big cricket countries –  for exactly the same offence. Freedman is quite right to attack the ICC for its inconsistency on this issue but he misses out on a fundamental point. Not only is  the punishment wrong but so is the ICC’s insistence that governments keep out of the affairs of cricket boards. To be fair cricket is not the only sport that does this – FIFA among others do too – but they are all wrong. And here is why.

Governments govern a county. Like it or not sport is part of a country. It is part of society. It cannot – or should not – be detached from society. If a government interferes in other parts of society – which it does – surely it should interfere in sport too?

Now in an ideal world a government would not have to interfere in sport because governing bodies would be competent and reflect their society. But they are not. In the case of cricket the reason governments in Nepal, Pakistan and India (and in India’s case the Supreme Court) interfere in the affairs of their cricket boards is that they are corrupt. In India for example the Supreme Court ordered Narayanswami Srinivasan to step down as Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) while they investigated a spot fixing scandal. Incredibly that did not stop him becoming ICC chairman. He was eventually forced out of his ICC role too and his Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Chennai Super Kings was suspended for two years after the Supreme Court found out that his son in law was guilty of placing bets on the 2013 IPL. The BCCI was corrupt but if the Supreme Court had not investigated no one would be the wiser.

Same with FIFA. I’ve gone over FIFA’s corruption problems before but the corruption would not have been exposed if the FBI in America and the Swiss authorities had not investigated it. Can corrupt bodies police themselves? No. Someone has to do it for them. That means government agencies and courts.

Now it is true to say that sport in the UK, US, Australia and Europe (well Western Europe anyway) does not have as much of a corruption problem. The problem here is racism, sexism and homophobia (as this week’s sexism scandal in UK cycling and the resignation of head coach Shane Sutton shows). While that it is true that these problems are in society as well as sport at least society outside sport is trying to do something about it. For example last year a report by Lord Mervyn Davies recommended a target of 33% women on boards of UK FTSE 100 companies by 2020. Has anybody suggested that 33% of employees or board members in UK football, cricket or rugby clubs be female? No. What a surprise. They should. Meanwhile in 2014 then head of BBC television Danny Cohen announced a ban on all male panels on BBC television programmes. But surprise surprise that did not include sports programmes like “Match Of The Day” which still has the same old male, stale panel (even ESPN baseball has Jessica Mendoza). Why were all male sports panels not banned?

The other reason governments need to interfere in sport is accountability. Human beings being what we are we cannot control ourselves. If we are allowed to do whatever we like we will do. FIFA became arrogant and corrupt because it was accountable to no one. Football, cricket and cycling are full of sexism and racism because they are accountable to no one. The UK MPs expenses scandal of 2009 showed that politicians can’t behave themselves and that Parliament needed an independent regulator. The gas, electricity and TV industries in the UK are regulated independently to make sure they are fairly run and prices are kept down (In theory. The energy regulator is awful but that is a different issue). Former Lib Dem politician founder of the homeless charity Shelter and former England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) member Des Wilson once wrote “Is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be almost unique in its ability to be so?”

And he is right. Sport is a part of society must play by the rules of society and must be regulated by society. The way the ICC has treated Nepal is a disgrace. It should stop. And sport should submit to government regulation. The party is over.

Quotas in sport can only work in non playing roles

The start of 2016 sees the England cricket team flying high after an impressive 241 run over the world’s number 1 Test team South Africa. However as impressive as England were South Africa did not look anything like the world’s number 1 Test team. The batting especially was quite pathetic and on their perfomance in Durban I reckon Australia, India, New Zealand and Pakistan – as well as England – are better than South Africa who on the evidence of Durban will soon fall as low as number 6 in the world.

Apart from the fact that Dale Steyn the world’s number 1 ranked bowler is injured again and will miss today’s second Test in Cape Town and that the batting – AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar apart – is still traumatised by their Indian nightmare South Africa have a uniquely South African problem which in my opinion they should not have to face and will definitely hinder their chances of coming back into the series against England.

The problem is the quota system in South African cricket. To compensate for the fact that non white South Africans were discriminated against in the country’s pre 1991 apartheid system there is a process in South African cricket called “transformation”. There is a target of four non white players in every South African XI. This caused a problem in the Durban Test where star player de Villiers was forced to keep wicket against his own wishes. This was to accommodate two non white batsmen – the hopelessly out of form JP Duminy and the out of his depth Temba Bavuma. Coincidentally – or not – rumours began to appear in the press that de Villiers would retire after the England series because of being overloaded and that he did not want to keep wicket. Coincidentally – or not – (white) wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock has been recalled to the squad for the second Test. But in order to play de Kock they will probably have to drop either Duminy or Bavuma which means they would be one short of their target number of non white players. In turn that means the injured Steyn will be replaced by (black) fast bowler Kagiso Rabada in order to keep the number of non white players at four. Now Rabada is a promising young bowler but how on earth will he feel knowing he is in the XI to fill a quota?

It is interesting to note that baseball and UK football – both of which have past histories of discrimination against blacks – never used quotas on the playing side. When Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the Major Leagues for 60 years in 1947 he was not signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers to fill a mandatory quota or a target. He was signed because the Dodgers thought he was good enough. The same applied to the first black players in the English football Leagues. Now it was hard enough for Robinson and the first black footballers in England. Robinson (as I wrote earlier) got spiked and shoved on the baseball field and in the 1970s and 80s black footballers in England had to listen to monkey chants  and had bananas thrown at them. And they were picked on merit. Imagine what it would have been like if they had been picked to fill a quota. The pressure on Bavuma and Rabada especially (since South Africa want more black (as opposed to coloured)) players in the team is huge. Both are young players who might be Test players in the future but are not Test players at the moment and have been rushed into Test cricket too soon just to meet a target. To my mind quotas have no place on the sports field and the International Cricket Council (ICC) should tell South Africa in no uncertain terms that teams must be picked on merit.

That does not mean quotas have no place in sport but they can only work in non playing roles. Again an example from another sport. In American football the “Rooney Rule” – which insists that franchises must interview non white candidates for jobs – only applies to non playing roles like coaching and senior football operation jobs not to playing jobs. In UK football people have called for the “Rooney Rule” to be brought in but only for manager’s jobs not for the playing side. And the same when it comes to gender. Jean Williams has asked (in “A Game For Rough Girls?” page 132) “why are women not more represented* in non-playing professions?”. In the same book she also writes (in page 146) that “Quotas would also assist in opening the full range of coaching opportunities”. There are plenty of people who want more women in men’s sport – even suggesting quotas – but only a tiny minority (Natalie Bennett, Charlotte Proudman) want that applied to the playing side. Most want it applied to non playing jobs.

The reason quotas are not needed on the playing side of sport is shown in the book “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. In page 126 they point out that “markets tend to work when they are transparent – when you can see who is doing what and place a value on it”. This applies to the playing side of sport – where we can see players play and it is easy to spot who is not good enough – like Bavuma in the South African cricket team – but not to managers, coaches etc where we can’t see their work. Kuper and Szymanski again “Inefficient markets can maintain discrimination almost indefinitely”.

This should tell South African cricket there is no need for quotas or targets because if everyone in South Africa is given opportunities the best will come through regardless of colour. I know South Africa is a special case in that non whites were banned by the law of the country – not by a  gentlemen’s agreement as in baseball (in UK football non whites were never banned it was just a case of waiting for the children of black immigrants to grow up) but history shows that if you are patient the talent will come through.

England must not be complacent in this Test series. On both their last two South African tours they were 1-0 up going to Cape Town. One game they lost the other they drew with nine wickets down. In both cases South Africa’s best and most experienced batsman Jacques Kallis scored a first innings century and lead the fightback. The precedent of 2005 and 2010 suggest South Africa are an AB de Villiers century away from being right back in this series. But it would help if they did not handicap themselves with a quota system that other sports have shown is not necessary.

*In men’s football.

Thoughts on England’s African Safari

The England Test team’s 2015 has resembled one of those gauntlet matches Mr McMahon used to put wrestlers he hated through where the wrestler would fight five men in succession with each opponent getting progressively harder. England’s schedule has also involved five opponents and has got progressively harder. Their year started away to the West Indies, then went on to a home series against New Zealand. The challenge got harder with the home Ashes series against Australia and harder still with an away series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emarites. And while the rest of us are recovering from the Christmas festivities England will be starting another challenge. And in theory this series is the toughest of the lot. On Boxing Day England will start a four Test series away to South Africa the World’s number one ranked Test team. It should be their toughest test yet.

And yet there is hope for England. For South Africa start this series in total disarray. Their last Test series was a complete disaster. The Proteas were humiliated 3-0 in India. Their batting was an absolute disaster. In the four Test matches in India South Africa’s batsmen produced totals of 184, 109, 214, 79, 185, 121 and 143. The brilliant AB de Villiers – arguably the best batsman in the world – coped reasonably well with India’s spinners – averaging 36.85 with two fifties. No other South African who played two Tests or more could average even 20, or score fifty in an innings. Captain Hashim Amla only averaged 16.85 in India and has not scored a Test century in a year. The opening partnership struggled horribly. Stiaan van Zyl and Dean Elgar were hopelessly out of their depth so much so that van Zyl was dropped and replaced by Temba Bavuma even though he is usually a number five. South Africa are struggling to replace Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis both of whom have retired since the Proteas easily beat England 2-0 in England back in 2012. Since then South Africa have lost two great batsmen – Smith and Kallis – and one good one (Alviro
Petersen) while producing only one good batsman (Faf du Plessis). The batting is vulnerable and James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn must fancy their chances. Plus the disastrous batting perfomance of South Africa’s A team against England in a warm up match suggests there is not a queue of young batsmen waiting to break into the Test team.

South Africa’s bowling is still formidable however. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are arguably the best new ball pair in the world and although Vernon Philander will miss the first two Tests Kyle Abbott and 20-year-old Kagiso Rahada offer useful back up.

This means the key for England will be their batting line up which has not exactly been reliable – Alistair Cook and Joe Root apart. After the UAE series the selectors took action dropping Ian Bell – probably for good – and recalling Nick Compton and Gary Ballance. But for some reason they look like opening with Alex Hales who is a 20 20 specialist who looked out of his depth against Australia’s fast bowlers in fifty over cricket never mind Test cricket. They should open with Compton – who had some success as a Test opener in 2012-13 and was probably dropped prematurely. England’s best batsman Root should bat at three, James Taylor at four and Ballance should bat at five where he bats for Yorkshire. Add Jonny Bairstow and fit again Ben Stokes and it is probably the best batting line up England can field.

It is still not reliable though. Like South Africa’s batting it is horribly dependant on two players (Cook and Root for England, Amla and de Villiers for South Africa). The key will be if – and for how long – the other players give them support plus which “big two” fires the most.

England do have a chance. But they must hit the ground running. South Africa struggle on Boxing Day – one home Boxing Day win since 2003. Plus their confidence must be in tatters after the trauma of India. If England get stuck in early they can keep South Africa’s wounds fresh. I reckon England must be ahead by the end of the Second Test in Cape Town. The precedent of England’s last South African tour in 2009-10 suggests South Africa will get better as the series goes on. Plus South Africa do better in the Highveld altitude venues of Johannesburg and Centurion and Philander – a formidable bowler – could be back by then.

Back in 2009-10 England were 1-0 up after two Tests but South Africa fought back to draw 1-1 and but for number eleven Graham Onions they would have won the series. This suggests if England don’t start well they will have no chance. But on the eve of the series it is clear England do have a chance away to the best Test team in the world. And when England started this gauntlet in Antigua back in April no one would have given them a hope of winning in South Africa.

Finally I would just like to wish everyone who reads me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks for reading me!

Who will rule the World?

The first if the three major sport World Cups played this year starts tomorrow (actually today in the UK because of the time difference) namely the Cricket World Cup which is being held in Australia and New Zealand. The first point is that the tournament’s format is terrible. A 14 team event lasts 44 days (the FIFA World Cup last year had 32 teams and lasted 32 days) and it takes a month to reduce the number of teams from 14 to 8 (and it is highly likely that we know who the last eight will be). With that said how will the tournament go?
A key feature of One Day international (ODI) cricket in recent years is that scores have been rocketing upwards. Two examples of this from this winter were Rohit Sharma’s 264 for India and AB de Villiers’ amazing 31-ball century for South Africa last month. Paradoxically that makes bowling more important. It is clear that unless a fielding side can take early wickets with the new ball, have a wicket taking spinner and have good “death bowling” then they will be hammered. Since the top eight sides all have destructive batting the sides that do well will be the ones that have the bowling to stop these strong batting line-ups.
So let’s take a team-by-team look at the teams in the World Cup.

Group A – Australia – The hosts are the favourites and rightly so. Aaron Finch, David Warner, Shane Watson, the vastly improved Steve Smith, captain Michael Clarke(when fit) and six hitting machine Glenn Maxwell make up a scary batting line up even by this tournament’s standards. And the fast bowling is formidable. Mitchells Johnson and Starc plus youngsters Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Two weak spots. They don’t have a wicket taking spinner. Maxwell’s bowling is far less scary than his batting and Xavier Doherty is average at best. And will the hype get to them? They flopped in 1992 as hosts. Could history repeat itself?

England – When England left Sri Lanka last year with their tails between their legs their World Cup chances looked slim. But the sacking of Alistair Cook and his replacement by Eoin Morgan has produced some improvement. Probably not enough. They were outclassed three times by Australia in their warm up tournament. There are signs of an exciting batting line up of Ian Bell, Moeen Ali, James Taylor, Joe Root, Morgan and the explosive Joss Buttler. However they are inconsistent. The bowling is a worry. If James Anderson and Stuart Broad don’t take wickets with the new ball and Steve Finn does not bowl quick it is very batsman friendly. If England can get to the Semi Finals – and they haven’t done that since 1992 – it will be an achievement.

New Zealand – New Zealand are usually the Oakland As of cricket. A team of underdogs punching above their weight. Not this time. This New Zealand team is seriously good. Three world class batsmen in captain Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, plus big hitters Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi make a formidable batting line up. The bowling has depth in pace with Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Adam Milne and Mitchell McClenaghan plus a vetran spinner in Daniel Vittori. If they cope with the pressure this is the best chance New Zealand has ever had of getting to the Final.

Sri Lanka – One man holds the key to the 2011 Finalists chances. The batting is strong and experienced lead by Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardane and captain Angelo Matthews. They also have a reliable spin attack. But Sri Lanka in order to perform well need Lasith Malinga the best death bowler in the world to be fit and firing. He is just coming back from injury and went at six an over in both Sri Lanka’s warm up games. If he is at his beat Sri Lanka could get to the last four at least. If he is not they will not get beyond the last eight.

As for the other three teams in the group Bangladesh could cause an upset – but only one – the fact that Afghanistan are here at all is a fairy tale – in 2008 they were in Division Five of the World Cricket League playing the likes of Jersey – but they and Scotland probably have no more realistic hope than to win the game against each other.

Group B – India – the holders have a strong batting line up led by Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikar Dhawan and captain MS Dhoni but the bowling (especially the fast bowling) is not as good and their form is awful – they haven’t won an international match on their tour to Australia and confidence is low. If they lose their first two games to Pakistan and South Africa they will be under huge pressure from a demanding public(India is as fanatical about cricket as Brazil is about football and over a billion people in India will be watching them). Could get to the last four but unlikely to go further.

Pakistan – What Winston Churchill said about the USSR – “A riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped inside an enigma” – could well apply to Pakistan. They could win the whole thing – or suffer a humiliating defeat by Ireland and go out before the last eight. One suspects they will struggle this time. Apart from two recent games in New Zealand they haven’t played outside Asia since 2013 and will need experienced players like captain Misbah-ul-Haq , Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi to fire to have a chance of a last four place. Still they beat England in a warm up match and can’t be written off.

South Africa – based on talent this team should be in the Final. AB de Villiers – the best batsman in the world – Hashim Amla , Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are a world class core, Quinton de Kock, Rilee Rossouw and David Miller are exciting young batsmen and Imran Tahir is a wicket taking – if sometimes expensive – spinner. However they have a reputation for being “chokers” – not performing well in big games. A reputation is very hard to get rid of. South Africa could yet again win all their group games look unbeatable and then blow up when the pressure of knock out sport comes in the last eight (perhaps even losing to England?).

West Indies – Oh dear. From 1975 to 1983 they were the team every one wanted to beat. Now they could be the team everybody beats. For some reason best known to themselves they appointed a 23-year old rookie Jason Holder as captain and left out Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard – probably because they lead a players’ revolt in India last year. They still have world class batsmen Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels but the bowling is awful – as de Villiers showed in South Africa. There is a chance they don’t get out of the group. If they get beyond the last eight I will be amazed.

Of the other teams in the group Ireland humiliated Pakistan and England in the last two World Cups and if anyone is to stop the last eight comprising of the “big eight” it will be them. Zimbabwe beat Australia last year and could cause another upset while the UAE are probably the weakest team here and are unlikely to win a game.

So who will win? If I had to predict I would say that the Semi Finalists will be Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka with the Final on March 29 in Melbourne being between the hosts – Australia and New Zealand – with the Aussies favourites to win. But it is not a certainty by any means. Let the cricket begin…