The biggest and the most prestigious tournament in cricket history, the ICC Cricket World Cup is scheduled to begin on May 30 next year in England. Hosts England will be up against the Proteas in the inaugural game of the high-intensity tournament. Defending champions Australia will begin their title defence on June 1, when they face Afghanistan at Bristol.
The preparations for the mega-event have already started. Experimentation amidst the teams has been common in the past few months as all the teams are trying to get their team composition in order. The ten countries featuring in the 2019 World Cup are Australia, England, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies, and Afghanistan.
England are the favourites to win the tournament whereas Asian giants such as India and Pakistan are not too far behind. Almost all teams have figured out their probable squads albeit all of them have a few concerns going into the World Cup. For India, their main concern is their unsettled middle order.
All the ten teams will have a player they could rely on, one that could create significant impact in the tournament. Some of these choices may be obvious but some might be surprising, on this note, let us take a look at one impact player from each team whose performance can turn the tables in his team's favour:
Pakistan - Shoaib Malik
Pakistan's most experienced campaigner Shoaib Malik will bid adieu to international cricket after the World Cup next year. Malik made his international debut in 1999 and has been serving Pakistan since then. The all-rounder was an integral part of Pakistan's squad in their 2009 T20 World Cup triumph, he also played a vital role in Pakistan's 2017 Champions Trophy victory.
Pace bowling has always been Pakistan's forte but their struggles with the bat are well known to all teams. Malik provides stability in the middle order as he plays the role of an anchor coming in to bat at number four or five. His ability to take on the spinners makes him a permanent choice for the role. The side led by Sarfaraz Ahmed have some wonderful and fierce pacers in their ranks but their main concern is their batting.
To solve their batting issues, Malik is one of the most important batsmen in the line-up. Pakistan will have high hopes from their veteran superstar as he aims to take Pakistan to victory one last time in the World Cup.
Bangladesh - Shakib Al Hasan
The rise of the Bangladeshi tigers has been incredible in the last few years. Since the 2012 Asia Cup, Bangladesh has learnt the art of winning matches and their all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan has played a dominant role in all their victories. Shakib has led Bangladesh to victory on many occasions, he will be vital to Bangladesh's chances in the World Cup next year.
The 31-year-old's contribution with both, bat and ball, is significant. In 192 ODIs, Shakib has scored 5482 runs at an average of 34.92. He has also scalped 244 wickets in the meantime, he has the ability to dry up runs in the middle overs, he creates pressure on the opposition with his much-needed dot balls in the middle overs of the innings.
His injury in the Asia Cup weakened the Bangladesh line-up albeit they managed to give India a scare in the final of the tournament. With Shakib Al Hasan in their ranks, Bangladesh can aim to create a few upsets in the tournament. The all-rounder will be their most important bet in England next year.
Afghanistan - Rashid Khan
Afghanistan's recent teenage sensation Rashid Khan led his country in the World Cup Qualifiers where they defeated West Indies in the final to lift the Qualifiers trophy. Rashid garnered the attention of the cricketing world after his exploits in T20 cricket, later, he was picked by the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL.
His consistent performances in the IPL helped him to make a name for himself. On the back of these performances, Rashid earned a spot in the Big Bash League(BBL) and the Carribean Premier League(CPL). Recently, the 20-year-old has worked on his batting and has transformed himself into a valuable all-rounder.
Afghanistan are equipped with plenty of batsmen in their line-up but their main bets will be their spin twins, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Zadran. Rashid has picked up 118 wickets in 50 ODI innings with best figures of 7 for 18. The leg-spinner has changed the course of Afghanistan's cricket and he can further help his country to create some upsets in England next year.
New Zealand - Kane Williamson
New Zealand's skipper Kane Williamson is one of the best batsmen in the world currently. With his leadership skills, Kane has helped the Blackcaps to glory in plenty of games in the last few years. He bats at number three for New Zealand and plays the anchor role, his exploits make him one of New Zealand's most dependable batsmen.
Williamson has featured in 128 ODIs in which he has amassed 5183 runs at an average of 46.7. His statistics are even better in England, Kane has played 10 ODIs in England in which he has scored 588 runs at an average of 65.33 with his highest score being 118. His solid technique is well suited for English conditions.
The 28-year-old will have the responsibility of guiding New Zealand to their first World Cup victory. The New Zealand skipper will have an opportunity to prove himself as a batsman and as a leader when the Blackcaps take the field against Sri Lanka in Cardiff on June 1 next year.
India - Virat Kohli
This, unarguably, is the most obvious and easiest choice amongst all others. India's skipper Virat Kohli is the most vital player for India's chances. India's over-dependence on the top three batsmen is visible as their main concern is their unsettled middle order. India's solution to all these problems is one man, Virat Kohli.
Recently, Kohli became the quickest batsman to score 10,000 runs in one-day internationals. He reached the milestone in 205 innings whereas Tendulkar reached the milestone in 259 innings. The 30-year-old has scored 10232 ODI runs at a breathtaking average of 59.8. In 18 ODIs in England, Kohli has added 677 runs at an average of 52.08.
On the recent England tour, Kohli rewrote his England horrors as he negotiated bowlers like James Anderson, Stuart Broad with sheer ease. The change in his technique was evident as Kohli got the better off the England pacers. The 2019 World Cup will be a test of character for the modern day master, he will look to lead India to glory as India take the field against South Africa in their first game on June 4.
England - Jos Buttler
England's wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler has held the finisher's role for a long time. England has one of the best batting line-ups in the world and that is evident from their recent ODI scores. The English side led by Eoin Morgan posted 481 versus Australia, they surpassed their own record of the highest team total in ODIs.
Buttler's role becomes even more crucial with this aggressive batting line-up. On a few occasions, Buttler had the responsibility of preventing an English collapse, on some occasions, he had the responsibility of attacking at the back end of the innings in order to score some quickfire runs.
Butter has played 122 ODIs in which he has scored 3176 runs at an average of 39.7. The most impressive thing about his statistics is his strike rate of 116.98. Buttler's prowess will be important for England as they play the World Cup in their home conditions. The wicketkeeper-batsman will be England's most important bet. Alongside him, England will rely on players like Ben Stokes, Joe Root, and Moeen Ali.
Australia - Mitchell Starc
Mitchell Starc took the cricketing world by storm when he arrived on the international scene. Starc made his debut in 2010, he had a slow start to his international career but Starc produced some serious pace as he joined the list of the best Australian fast bowlers. Injuries acted as obstacles for Starc but the left arm pacer dodged all those obstacles to be a standout performer for Australia.
In the 2015 World Cup in Australia, Starc picked up 22 wickets in 8 matches as he emerged as the leading wicket-taker of the tournament. He earned the man of the tournament award for his heroics, due to this, the Michael Clarke led side went on to lift the World Cup. Starc has picked up 141 wickets in 73 ODIs with the best figures of 6 for 28 which came against New Zealand in the previous World Cup.
Starc has played three ODIs in England in which he has picked 11 wickets. In the 2019 World Cup, the southpaw will look to improve his statistics further. A weakened Australian side would depend on the 29-year-old to produce his magic.
West Indies - Chris Gayle
Chris Gayle made a comeback to the Windies squad recently. The team from the Carribean has been struggling off late. The two-time World Cup Champions West Indies had to play the World Cup Qualifiers to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. They suffered a defeat from the hands of Afghanistan in the final of the tournament but a top-two finish guaranteed them a spot in the World Cup.
Chris Gayle returned from the tournament where he scored 165 runs in six innings with the highest score of 123. Gayle's average of 27.50 was nominal but his top order flurry provided Windies with a decent start. Gayle has scored 9727 runs in 284 ODIs, he averages 37.13 with a strike rate of 85.83. The southpaw opted to stay out of West Indies' ongoing series against India albeit he is available for World Cup selection.
The 2019 World Cup is expected to be Gayle's last major international tournament. He would be responsible to provide a good start to the Windies. In England, Gayle has scored 953 runs at an average of 39.71. Windies' would be dependent on Chris Gayle to get off to a good start.
Sri Lanka - Angelo Mathews
Angelo Mathews, one of the unluckiest cricketers to have taken the field. Mathews emerged on the international scene in 2008, he is a handy all-rounder who can bowl medium pace and can bat anywhere in the middle order but injuries have troubled the former Sri Lankan Captain off late.
Currently, Mathews is not a part of Sri Lanka's squad but he is one of the most important players for the Island nation. The 31-year-old has featured in 203 ODIs in which he has scored 5380 runs at an average of 42.36. He has also picked up 114 wickets in ODIs. He can swing the ball in English conditions and can play the anchor's and finisher's role with the bat.
Mathews has scored 599 runs in England, he averages 54.45 with the bat in those conditions. He can be the all-rounder Sri Lanka needs to be contenders for the World Cup. The Asian side has had a horrible time in the last two years, in order to turn it around they need Angelo Mathews to fire from all cylinders.
South Africa - Imran Tahir
Recently, South Africa was taken aback by the sudden retirement of their star batsman, AB de Villiers. Despite AB's retirement, the Protean fans have something to cheer about. The South African side is currently on a tour down under, the South African bowling line-up is heavily equipped with bowlers. Their bowling line-up consists of bowlers like Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir.
On the back of their fantastic bowling, South Africa can reach a long way in the tournament next year. Protean leg-spinner Imran Tahir can prove to be a match winner for the rainbow nation. Tahir has scalped 151 wickets in 89 ODIs. In England, the 39-year-old has played 4 matches in which he has only picked up 5 wickets. He would look to better his statistics when he takes the field in England next year.
Tahir will have the job of restricting the opposition in the middle overs of the innings. He will be South Africa's main man in England. The Proteas will face hosts England on May 30 to begin their World Cup campaign.