2015 Cricket World Cup Blog 1 – Top 10 batsmen

With a little over three weeks until the 2015 Cricket World Cup begins, Australia and New Zealand are preparing to host what has the potential to be the best World Cup in cricketing history.

World cricket is flush with batting innovators, big-hitters and majestic shotmakers.

To some spectators, the World Cup and its 50-over format is seen as antiquated and endangered when compared to the vibrant universe of Twenty20 cricket.

However, ODI cricket is not being given the credit it deserves, and here’s why. Watch out for the following ten batsmen who are set to light up the 2015 World Cup.

  1. Joe Root – England – middle order
  • Key stat: Scored three ODI centuries in 2014

Many see Joe Root as a future England Test captain, but at the moment he’s quite content plundering runs for England in every format of the game. Root has become so important for England that he very often finds himself to be England’s saviour when his colleagues have faltered. Root is a steady accumulator of runs, and the antipodean pitches will suit him in February.

  1. Chris Gayle – West Indies – opener
  • Key stat: Hit more sixes than fours in ODIs last year

Perhaps the most destructive opening batsman in the world, Gayle is back in the West Indies side after their recent pay dispute. His presence looks sure to lift a side controversially shorn of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo at this World Cup. Gayle will continually look to make a fast start but is in danger of being caught out by the fast and bouncy pitches Down Under, with his main weakness being the short ball. If he can survive that, he will score both quickly and colossally.

  1. Steve Smith – Australia – middle order
  • Key stat: Boasts a 49.18 average in 12 ODIs last season

Steve Smith has taken well to Test captaincy, scoring four centuries at an average of 128.16 in the recent series against India. He should be confident of transferring that form into the World Cup when he will have the chance to score big runs on home soil. For Australia, the problem lies in where to place Smith in a middle order that is brimming with runs, which is a nice problem to have.

  1. Kane Williamson – New Zealand – number three
  • Key stat: Compiled a 70.00 average in 12 ODIs during 2014

New Zealand’s latest batting talent has finally broken through, for good. Kane Williamson enjoyed a superb 2014 in ODI cricket, striking seven half-centuries in just 12 innings. He forms a profitable partnership with Ross Taylor in the top order and can also send down some useful off-spin. Williamson has carried his 2014 form into 2015, having scored 103 off 107 balls against Sri Lanka this week.

  1. Hashim Amla – South Africa – opener
  • Key stat: Hit 892 runs in ODI cricket in 2014

In normal circumstances, Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 153 against the West Indies would have made all the headlines, but he was upstaged by AB de Villiers’ record-braking innings. His 2014 form, where he recorded five centuries and a 52.47 average, has progressed into 2015 and he will look to create a solid base for the South African innings before AB, David Miller and co light the bonfires.

  1. Virat Kohli – India – top order
  • Key stat: Scored 1,054 runs off 1,058 balls in ODIs last season

Ignoring a lippy attitude and some questionable on-field manners, Virat Kohli has emerged as India’s ‘Mr Reliable’. His run-a-ball record in ODI cricket during 2014 is a by-product of some devastating T20 displays, and the pin-up boy of Indian cricket is now churning out the runs in all forms of the game. His excellent fielding adds another string to his bow – and it is in that department where India need to focus on most if they are to retain their title.

  1. Angelo Mathews – Sri Lanka – middle order
  • Key stat: Second-highest ODI runscorer in 2014 with 1,244 runs

One of the most underrated cricketers in modern times, Mathews has quickly established himself as the leading middle order batsman in ODI cricket. His ability to accelerate an innings in both clinical and efficient style is a skill keenly sought when ambitions of World Cup glory are harboured. His place in the team is as an all-rounder, but if he can replicate the form which saw him amass a tally of 1,244 runs last season he could finally gain the recognition he deserves.

  1. Rohit Sharma – India – opener
  • Key stat: Registered the world-record innings in ODIs with 264 against Sri Lanka last November

When a batsman possesses the elegance and talent to emulate the great Sachin Tendulkar, huge expectation comes with it, and Rohit Sharma has finally lived up to it. His mammoth total of 264 against Sri Lanka was a world-record in 50-over cricket, and a recent knock of 138 has confirmed the Indian opener’s super form ahead of the World Cup.

  1. Kumar Sangakkara – Sri Lanka – number three
  • Key stat: Top ODI runscorer in 2014 with 1,256 runs

Ever-dependable, rock-solid and almost impossible to dismiss, Sangakkara has confirmed his presence in the pantheon of all-time cricket greats. Having scored four centuries and eight fifties in 2014, he arrives at the World Cup in excellent knick and will again be the cornerstone of the Sri Lankan innings. Can he finally add a World Cup title to his illustrious career?

  1. AB de Villiers – South Africa – number three
  • Key stat: Scored the fastest ODI 50 and 100 in history, making 149 off 44 balls last Sunday.

There is no batsman more mesmeric than AB de Villiers when he swings at full cry. A master innovator, creating shots that previously seemed impossible, he has crafted a new way of hitting; a new way of scoring big totals quickly. That was best evidenced by his thunderous 149 from 44 balls against the West Indies this week, scoring the fastest 50 and the fastest 100 in ODI history along the way. I reckon he’s seeing the ball well, don’t you?

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89
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England melt in Ashes obliteration

Before the 2013/14 Ashes series started, much of the build-up surrounded the scoreline by which England would win the series.

Sir Ian Botham was in typically boisterous mood, predicting a 5-0 whitewash for the visitors against an Australian side who, without attracting attention, deserved more respect than they had been afforded.

The warning signs were there during the summer. England’s 3-0 victory managed to sufficiently paper over the cracks of some flaky performances – and the foolhardy had not even noticed there were cracks in the first place.

Perhaps the most common theme of England’s summer Ashes campaign was that of the bowlers rescuing their side after some flatulent displays from the batsmen placed the team in precarious positions on more than one occasion.

Too many times England were reduced to 30-3 as captain Alastair Cook’s weakness outside off stump was badly exposed and Joe Root’s inexperience gravely exploited.

Australian seamer Ryan Harris was made to look world-class by some imprudent strokeplay, while Peter Siddle dismissed Kevin Pietersen more times than English fans care to remember.

On the face of it, Botham’s prediction was mischievous and unduly confident but few could have foreseen a dismantling of such gigantic proportions that would see his 5-0 prophecy inverted in Australia’s favour.

England started the series well and probably shaded the first day, reducing Australia to 132-6. Where the tide began to turn however, was when England were skittled for 136 to concede a first-innings deficit of 159 runs.

The two Australian innings had finished and started on the same day, such was the level of England’s collapse.

It was a collapse masterminded by the resurgent Mitchell Johnson, who terrorised England’s batsmen with vicious pace, bounce and accuracy.

The latter quality had always been Johnson’s nemesis. Too often he had the tendency to drift wide – at times embarrassingly so – and he was consequently taunted by the Barmy Army.

However, in this series he made them watch with great pain as he continued a rejuvenation which had begun in April in India. Playing for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, he delivered a string of highly impressive bowling performances.

He had finally been able to rid himself of the inconsistency which had plagued his game and was showing great control of line and length in partnership with his more renowned pace and bounce.

Johnson was suddenly the cricketer England feared he would one day become, but when the two sides met in Brisbane for the opening Test the visitors were hopelessly underprepared – and they never recovered.

The left-armer succeeded in mangling numerous English innings throughout the series, stripping batsmen such as Jonathan Trott – who later flew home due to mental health problems – and Matt Prior of their confidence and rampaging through the tailend with a cruel ease.

Johnson took 37 wickets during the series – two more than Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad combined – complete with three five-wicket hauls and having snared 15 more wickets than Ryan Harris, who with 22 also had a superb series.

While it’s easy to focus on the brutality of Johnson’s form, England’s dire batting should also be spotlighted.

The previous Ashes tour was an incredible one for England as they routinely pulverised the Australian attack. They even broke records, memorably when they scored 517-1 in the second innings of the first Test in 2010.

Cook (235*) and Trott (135*) were the men chiefly responsible, while Andrew Strauss weighed in with a century himself.

How that form changed in just three years. In the 2010/11 series, England were scoring centuries almost at will. In the 2013/14 series, they mustered just one – Ben Stokes’ 120 at Perth.

Stokes, competing in his debut Test series, was by far the brightest light of England’s gloomy tour. He scored 279 runs at an average of 34.87, which was just 15 runs less than the reckless Kevin Pietersen despite playing four of the five Tests.

Australia were better than England in every department, but especially so at the crease.

The top six series runscorers were all Australian, while David Warner’s tally of 523 runs was only four runs short of the combined tally of his counterparts Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry.

Australia also notched ten centuries against England’s one, which is the most telling statistic of all.

Much credit should go to Australia coach Darren Lehmann, who has transformed the fortunes of a side who had lost seven of their last nine Tests before Brisbane.

He has crafted a new generation of cut-throat cricket, instilled a winning mentality into his side and constructed a batting line-up capable of scoring fifties right down to numbers nine and ten.

That depth of batting was perfectly illustrated by Brad Haddin and Johnson. Haddin, in particular, was a constant hindrance. He scored 493 runs at an average of 61.62 and counter-attacked at crucial times.

Just when England were looking to bowl Australia out for around 200, up popped Haddin with a typically aggressive half-century to further demoralise the English attack.

Lehmann will also be pleased that from Haddin down to Nathan Lyon at 11, Australia’s tailenders plundered 874 runs between them.

When matched against England’s top three runscorers Kevin Pietersen (294); Michael Carberry (281) and Ben Stokes (279), Australia’s tailenders outscored them by 20 runs – a truly harrowing statistic for England coach Andy Flower to ponder.

Flower will be pondering plenty after this series, for as worrying as England’s reliance on their bowlers is their lack of emerging talent.

So far only Root and Stokes have made plausible claims to a regular starting spot, but the likes of Carberry and Jonny Bairstow have not flattered themselves in a dismal situation wherein a run of confident displays could have cemented their Test berth.

The fact that Graeme Swann, England’s second-most prolific Test spinner after Derek Underwood, retired after three Tests of this tour also turns attention towards England’s spin talents.

Scott Borthwick did himself no harm by taking 3-33 in the Sydney Test, but Monty Panesar has had a damaging tour having taken just three wickets in the four innings he has bowled.

Flower and Cook have a massive rebuilding process to go through and must analyse the gory details of the series, extracting any positives they can.  England’s golden era is over, but after this Ashes obliteration Australia’s is only just beginning.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89