Cricket World Cup preview

The Format

As was the case with the 2011 event, the 2015 World Cup will see the competing countries split into two groups of seven teams each. Teams play all the other nations in their group in the prelimanary stage, after which the four top teams from each section move to the quarter-finals. Standard knock-out rules apply from this stage, with four teams advancing to the semi-finals and two to the final. 

There are a few changes to the format from, though.

The Decision Review System (which has always been opposed by holders India) will be used in all 49 matches and will make use of Real-time Snicko and Hawkeye ball-tracking. Hot Spot was largely ruled out due to the logistical involving the transport of the equipment used across two countries in a short space of time.

Super Overs will also be used in knock-out matches if they finish as a tie. If the final is tied, however, the finalists will be named as joint winners.

The Favourites

Four-time winners and co-hosts Australia go into the tournament as massive favourites to lift the World Cup trophy once more. Darren Lehmann's side has won 12 of their last 13 ODI matches, with their sole defeat occurring in a 4-1 victory over the Proteas at the end of last year. Blessed with a strong batting, bowling and fielding side, what sets the Aussies apart from other sides going into the 2015 World Cup is the multitude of batsman they have who bowl and bowlers who can contribute with the bat.

The Dark Horses

New Zealand

Another side blessed with a strong batting line-up and a handful of bowlers capable of winning matches for the team on their own, the six-time losing semi-finalists New Zealand might go all the way this time around. After losing at home to South Africa at the end of last year, the Kiwis have made short work of their opponents, beating Pakistan (twice) and Sri Lanka without being troubled too much.

South Africa

Although the South Africans have yet to win a knock-out match at a World Cup, they are perennial favourites and are expected to do well in Australasia again this year. They go into the event with arguably the most explosive batting line-up in the world and a bowling attack capable of performing well in any conditions, although question marks remain over their middle order and reserve bowlers.

India

Despite struggling to impress during the recently completed Tri-series against Australia and England, where they failed to reach the final, it would be foolish to write the defending champions off at this stage. Whilst their batting and bowling attack have flattered to deceive during their time Down Under, the experience of competing in foreign conditions over a longer period of time than usual may serve them well come the knock-out stage.

Players to watch

AB de Villiers

Regarded by many as the best batsman in the world today irrespective of the format, the right-hander broke the world record for the fastest century ever scored during the recent series against the West Indies, managing the feat in just 31 balls. What sets him apart from his peers is his ability to switch gears from circumspection to destruction.

Virat Kohli

The other batsman with a legitimate case to be regarded as the best batsman in the format. Already regarded as one of the best players in the history of the game at chasing down a score despite only being 26 years of age, Kohli is particularly harsh on anything on his legs or that allows him to free his arms.

Steve Smith

He was far from sure of his place in the side as recently as six months ago, but since then Steve Smith has firmly established himself as of the finest players in the game today.  Another player capable of playing low-risk cricket if the need arises, it is his invention at the crease when set which makes him the prize wicket in the Australian line-up currently.

Mitchell Starc

A left-arm fast bowler capable of swinging the ball both ways, the 25-year-old bowls a mean Yorker as well.  Dangerous with the new ball, the Power Plays and at the end of the innings, Starc has become the go-to man for Australia in pressure situations.

Dale Steyn

Without a doubt the best Test bowler in the world over the last decade, it has taken Steyn some time to establish himself as one of the leading bowlers in the shorter form of the game.  A wicket-taker extraordinaire, a large part of South Africa's hopes rest on his shoulders.

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