The 2015 cricket World Cup is set to be the closest ever, when the first ball is bowled tonight. There are a handful of teams which all have the potential to lift the trophy, but what can you expect from the tournament?
Situated in New Zealand and Australia, the tournament sees two pools of seven teams, with the top four in each pool qualifying for the quarter finals, and so on.
The tournament is one of the longest World Cups in sport, with the first game taking place tonight, and the final being held on Saturday March 28, a total of 44 days.
In comparison, the 2014 FIFA World Cup lasted 32 days, and the 2015 Rugby World Cup will last 42 days.
This begs the question, how can the World Cup keep everyone interested for such a length of time?
But with only two pools, there is rarely a day when one of the top teams is not playing another.
The opening day sees New Zealand take on Sri Lanka and Australia and England resume their historic rivalry.
Current champions, India, face Pakistan and many peoples’ favourites, South Africa, play Zimbabwe on Saturday evening.
The bookies’ favourites are Australia, and understandably so. They have home advantage and have been in sparkling form heading into the competition.
In a recent tri-series with England and India, the Australians won every game, barring one no result due to rain.
In November of last year, they took on South Africa and defeated them 4-1 in a one-off ODI series, stamping their authority on the Proteas ahead of the World Cup.
In their first game of competition, they take on England at the Melbourne cricket ground. A crowd in excess of 90,000 is expected for the Valentines’ day clash which, if recent history is anything to go by, will be far from romantic.
Obviously the rivalry between Australia and England stretches back to the 19th century, but it has significantly swelled in the past few years.
In the latest edition of the saga, posters have been plastered around Melbourne with the caption: ‘Missing: Pair of balls. If found please return to the England cricket team.’ The poster refers to the England batsman being scared of Australia fast bowler, Mitchell Johnson.
Away from the media frenzy focusing on Australia and England, fellow co-hosts, New Zealand, are the dark horses for the tournament.
The Black caps have won 10 of their last 13 ODI games, they take on Sri Lanka tonight and will be confident going into the game after beating them 4-2 in a recent ODI series. New Zealand also have home advantage, every one of their group matches is played on home turf.
South Africa are tipped, along with Australia to reach the final. The Proteas have shown outstanding form of late, beating the West Indies 4-1 in the latest ODI series.
They also have, on paper, the strongest line up in the competition. Boasting the top two ranked ODI batsman in the world, AB De Villiers and Hashim Amla, they also have two representatives in the world’s top 10 bowlers in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
With Amla averaging a remarkable 56.41 in ODI cricket, and De Villiers off the back of his record breaking 149 off 44 balls, the South Africans are the team to beat this year.
Current champions, India, have had a tough time recently. Losing every game in the tri-series with Australia and England, their team fails to inspire whenever it takes to the field. They will have a tough job in retaining the trophy.
Other sub-continent sides such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka are also in the same boat as India. Their form has been up and down, and unlike Australia and South Africa, they lack the world class players which those sides possess in abundance.
England have been gaining poor press ahead of their campaign, perhaps unjustified. Despite losing to Australia three times in the tri-series, they also beat India, twice.
They trashed the West Indies in a warm up game and will be hopeful of replicating that sort of performance against Australia.
However, after being whitewashed in the last Ashes, and with Australia’s current form, it is doubtful that they will come out with a win.
England are expected to qualify for the knockout rounds, and they should, but England supporters should not be too hopeful going into this World Cup.
Even if England fail to impress, there is plenty to get excited about in this year’s World Cup, and with huge crowds anticipated, it should be one of the best ever.
By Elliott Dalton – @Elliott_Dalton