Will a team score 500?
With small grounds, big bats, two new balls and a forecast of flat pitches, the 2019 Cricket World Cup is set to be the batters' tournament. The flurry of high scores since the last World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, most of which have come from England's power-packed batting order, has the magical mark of 500 a real possibility. England came within touching distance 12 months ago when they racked up 6-481 against a depleted Australian side at Trent Bridge. And the West Indies smashed 421 against a full-strength New Zealand bowling unit in a warm-up game at the Bristol venue where Australia start their Cup campaign against Afghanistan on Saturday night (10.30pm AEST Kayo, Fox Cricket, GEM). Former Australia batsman Mark Waugh can see 500 being scored this tournament. "It sounds unbelievable, you just don't think you could get 500 but I think you could, yeah," Waugh told cricket.com.au. "I think one of the better teams against one of the weaker teams it might happen. The bowlers are going to cop some pasting I think."
Will England live up to the hype?
Has there ever been a team in better form heading into the World Cup? England, far and away the No.1 ODI side in the world, play host to the World Cup having won their past eight bilateral one-day series on home soil. The past two World Cup tournaments have been won by the host nation. Their batting line-up is unmatched, their bowling attack is diverse and vast and they are led by Eoin Morgan, one of the top three ODI captains in the world, according to former Australia skipper Allan Border. Add all that up and you've got the red-hot favourites to take out the title and claim England's maiden World Cup championship. With expectation comes pressure, and now it's whether Morgan's men can handle that pressure and deliver on the grandest stage.
Will South Africa shake their hoodoo and make the final?
The last World Cup was a breakthrough tournament for the Proteas. While they didn't return home with the silverware, what that South African team did achieve in 2015 was to win their first-ever knockout game in World Cups. Their quarter-final win over Sri Lanka at the SCG would not have erased the memories of the 1999 semi-final tie or the 2011 quarter-final loss to New Zealand but it's an important step nonetheless. Sadly, the knockout win streak ended at one after South Africa suffered a heartbreaking semi-final loss to the Black Caps in Auckland to end their tournament. In 2019, there is no quarter-final stage. Once the group games are over, the top four teams square off in two semi-finals. So should Faf du Plessis's charges finish in the final four, there is only one knockout game to overcome to make it to the final at Lord's. That 2015 semi-final loss was followed by recriminations that the nation's transformation targets had forced selectors to play a half-fit Vernon Philander, but Cricket South Africa's chief executive has publicly stated the Proteas will be exempt from meeting those racial quotas during this tournament. With the knockout match hoodoo off their back, 2019 could be the year South Africa feature in their first World Cup final.
How will Smith and Warner handle their international return?
One of the most intriguing plotlines of the World Cup is how Steve Smith and David Warner will fair in their return to international cricket. While they've spent a year in the international wilderness after the events and fallout of Cape Town, the pair have been playing T20 cricket around the world and staying in good touch. Warner was the dominant batsman in the Indian Premier League this season, leaving the subcontinent early as the leading run-scorer and looking in career-best touch, according to former Australia quick Brett Lee. Smith has posted four scores of more than 50 in his past four warm-up games, including a 102-ball 116 against England in Southampton. There is no doubt Smith and Warner will cop plenty of attention from the UK crowds, but it's how they perform out in the middle which will really count.
Is this MS Dhoni's international swansong?
Three years ago after India lost their semi-final at the T20 World Cup in Mumbai, India captain MS Dhoni was asked if he was keen to continue playing having achieved practically all there is in his career. In his own unique way, Dhoni declared his was fit enough to go on to 2019 World Cup. Now he's here, and without youngster Rishbah Pant in the squad, it could be time to ponder whether the master wicketkeeper-batter will bow out after India's campaign concludes. If Dhoni does call time on his career, Indian cricket will lose one of their most dominant white-ball finishers, one of the fastest gloveman to play the game and an inspirational leader. Whoever asks Dhoni if he's done playing, prepare for anything.
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