England favourites as Cricket World Cup comes home

London (AFP) –


The World Cup returns to its birthplace when the 12th edition of the one-day international showpiece starts in England later this month, with many predicting a batting bonanza.

The inaugural 1975 tournament saw West Indies beat Australia in a memorable Lord's final and it is 20 years since England last staged the event, when Australia overwhelmed Pakistan in a lopsided final.

Reigning champions Australia, who won their fifth title on home soil in 2015, come into tournament boosted by the returns of star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner after both served bans for ball-tampering following the "sandpapergate" scandal.

England, boasting a plethora of big-hitting white-ball specialists, are the top-ranked team in the 50-over game, while Virat Kohli's India are also packed with superstars who have honed their skills in the Indian Premier League.

New Zealand and South Africa will also harbour hopes of World Cup glory in the 10-team tournament, in which each side will play all the others before the semi-finals.

Former winners Pakistan can never be ruled out and West Indies, featuring self-style "Universe Boss" Chris Gayle for the final time in ODIs, will fancy their chances of a first World Cup triumph since 1979.

In an age in which astonishing run-scoring feats have become commonplace in limited-overs cricket, it may be the hard-pressed bowlers who determine the destiny of this year's title, depending on the conditions for the event, which runs from May 30 until July 14.

"If it's a damp summer then the team with the best seam attack will start with a huge advantage, as batting will be a challenge," former Australia captain Ian Chappell wrote on espncricinfo.com.

"If, on the other hand, it's a dry summer, the batsmen will have the upper hand and it'll be the attacks with plenty of variety -- the accent on genuine pace and spin -- that are likely to make the final."

- England tipped for glory -

Top-ranked England will undoubtedly start the tournament as favourites.

They were, however, strongly fancied to win the 2017 50-over Champions Trophy, which they hosted, only to lose to eventual winners Pakistan in the semi-finals.

That match saw England fail to adjust to a slow Cardiff pitch that was not ideally suited to attacking strokeplay.

But England one-day captain Eoin Morgan said his side had learned their lesson.

"We are very realistic about the pitches we might play on," he said. "They might deteriorate as the World Cup goes on and we are planning for that."

England have never won a men's World Cup, with the last of their three losing appearances in the final coming in 1992.

A limp first-round departure at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was the catalyst for a transformation in England's white-ball game based on aggressive batting, as exemplified by the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler.

England are now even threatening to smash the 500-run barrier for the first time in an ODI innings, having set a new record total of 481 for six against Australia in Nottingham last year.

And their attack now has an extra threat in recently qualified Barbados-born fast bowler Jofra Archer, who is likely to be named in England's squad of 15.

"England have the strongest side they have ever had, and the inclusion of the exciting Jofra Archer is only going to strengthen that," former England skipper Mike Gatting told the Cricketer magazine.

"England will not have a better opportunity to win it," added Gatting, the losing skipper when Australia won the 1987 final.

India upset the odds to beat West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final at Lord's under the captaincy of Kapil Dev and now boast another inspirational skipper in star batsman Kohli.

They can also call upon high-quality fast bowlers in Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah as well as spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.

South Africa will be desperate to shed their tag of World Cup chokers while consistent New Zealand, losing finalists in 2015 and repeatedly in the last four, boast a clutch of match-winners -- batsmen Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor as well as seamers Tim Southee and Trent Boult.