Afghanistan (A): Prediction= Group Stages
It is hard to believe that at the turn of the millennium, the Afghanistan cricket team did not exist, and yet now they are participating in a World Cup. They have won the hearts of neutral cricket fans worldwide due to the nature of their journey, and will be hoping to cause an upset or two at the World Cup. The team is mainly compromised of those who learnt how to play cricket in Pakistani refugee camps, and it is truly and inspirational story. The Afghanis play their own brand of cricket, with explosive wicket-keeper batsman Mohammed Shahzad providing the initial burst. They will be led by one of the best Associate players (Mohammed Nabi), while former captain Nowroz Mangal will provide the calmness and assurance of being one of the senior players. Afghanistan will be praying that their fast bowlers stay injury-free, for both Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran will cause problems on the pace-friendly tracks down under. Afghanistan’s challenge will be to maintain the same level of cricket throughout the tournament, but they will certainly threaten the full members in their group and might even cause a shock upset or two.
Scotland (A): Prediction: Group Stages.
Scotland will be hoping to avoid being the whipping-boys of Group A. They are comfortably the weakest team in the group, but managed to qualify as one of the strongest associate nations. The Scots have plenty of experience in the county game, with Calum MacLeod playing just down the road at Chester-le-Street for Durham. Captain Kyle Coetzer was also a Durham player in the past. Interestingly, four of the Scotland team in the last squad have represented Loughborough University 1st XI at cricket. In Matt Cross, Scotland have one of the best upcoming wicketkeepers, and he will be hoping to make a good impression on the world stage. Majid Haq will be expected to contribute with both bat and ball in the spin department- having had a decent showing in the 2011 World Cup, he will be hoping to continue that in 2015. It is hard to see Scotland winning a game in their group, but their best chance will come against Afghanistan in the match between Associates.
Ireland (B): Prediction= Group Stages.
Ireland are comfortably the strongest Associate side at the World Cup. After beating Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup and announcing themselves on the world stage, they then went on to claim another scalp by beating England in the 2011 World Cup. The Irish will feel good about being in Group B as they will fancy themselves to cause a few problems. They have a settled squad who have done well in all the opportunities they have been given, led by the mature and experienced opener William Porterfield. Kevin O’Brien is vice-captain and has been groomed to take over from Porterfield. O’Brien is probably the most famous Irish cricketer, especially after the astonishing 100 to defeat England in 2011. He plays in T20 competitions worldwide, and will therefore be familiar to some of the opponents. Paul Stirling is my tip for the best Associate player of the tournament- he has been known to dominate opening bowlers by taking them apart, and also contributes with some handy off-spin. Ireland also has a Durham connection- Stuart Poynter, who has a Durham contract. While Ireland’s pacers are not express, they will all be tasked with keeping the runs down for George Dockrell to then spin his magic. Ireland will fancy themselves to beat Zimbabwe and the UAE, and to upset Pakistan and the West Indies. As four teams go through to the quarter-finals, three wins might be enough for the Boys in Green.
UAE (B): Prediction: Group Stages
The United Arab Emirates have been spending time in Australia and New Zealand to get used to the conditions ahead of their first World Cup since 1996. Captain Khurram Khan will be almost certainly playing in his last international tournament, and at the age of 43 will want to leave his mark on the World Cup. He has been the cornerstone of UAE cricket for the past 15 years due to his leadership and batting, and has the trust of the entire team. The UAE team might struggle in Australia with pace bowling, as the three seamers are not quick. They will however swing the ball, and will take the pace off it in the death. The Emiratis will be hoping to get spinning tracks, for Mohammed Tauqir, Ahmed Raza, and Shadeep Silva will be a handful with their relatively quick spin. UAE will also need to be careful with their batting, as Middle Eastern nations are not the best at facing pace bowling overseas. Rohan Mustafa, Vikrant Shetty, and skipper Khurram Khan will be tasked with carrying the batting lineup. UAE (like Scotland) will also find it tough to avoid losing every game. It will be emotional for them to face India and Pakistan in those games, as all of the UAE squad are originally from the subcontinent.