The Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is now agonisingly close with many of the top players in action for their countries over the next six weeks in what is sure to be an entertaining time for connoisseurs of the game.
The modern day one-day international games have moved on apace, even since the last World Cup, as teams are now scoring 300 runs in an innings regularly and, even then, they are not necessarily assured of victory.
Whilst selecting the top five players who I feel will make the greatest influence on this World Cup I look to have discounted bowlers, which is not intentional, but I believe that the bat will favour the ball in most games this time round unless the weather intervenes and makes conditions more favourable for the bowlers.
Australia’s pitches will invariably have pace and bounce in them which will aid stroke players and fast starts and huge finishes could be a common them for batting sides.
AB de Villiers (South Africa)
This was a close call between De Villiers and his compatriot Hashim Amla but De Villiers has rightly earned his place in my top five.
He is regarded by many as the best batsmen in the World right now, in all forms of the game and can play in both a classical style as well as unorthodox way making him nearly impossible to bowl to. If South Africa are to shed their tag as chokers in World tournaments they will need De Villiers to be on form throughout the six week tournament.
Having scored nearly 7,500 ODI runs at an average over 52 De Villiers is the senior player in the side and the stand out performer. He was the fastest man to reach 7,000 runs in ODI cricket. His recent innings against the West Indies last month was nothing short of phenomenal. In his innings of 149 in just 44 balls he became the fastest man to reach fifty (from 16 balls) and a hundred (from 31 balls) as he struck a record equalling 16 sixes. An innings like that during the World Cup will take some beating.
Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
New Zealand are one of the less-fashionable teams in World cricket but they could prove to be the side who many tip for World Cup glory this year. Williamson has been fundamental in their resurgence and has made over a thousand runs in the last twelve months in ODI cricket, establishing a great understanding with fellow batsmen Ross Taylor.
Williamson is not one to go looking for the limelight, instead he goes about his business very methodically but no less affectively. New Zealand have a fantastic squad now, with strength in depth, and have built their batting around Williamson who, if he can anchor the inning as he has done in recent series victories over Sri Lanka and Pakistan, his side could go far. Williamson could cement his position as one of the World’s leading emerging stars.
Steve Smith (Australia)
No words can describe the unbelievable run of scores that the young batsmen has achieved in recent months. He has emerged as perhaps the most improved player in World cricket and has matured immeasurably.
Australia are keen to build their star-studded side around him at Test level and I am sure, even with the potential return of Michael Clarke, Smith will be a fundamental part of the team. I have no doubts that Smith will continue his rich vein of form in the World Cup and will continue to impress all onlookers.
Virat Kohli (India)
Kohli struggled hugely in English conditions last summer but he has worked hard between that series and the recent Australia tour to rediscover the form that had singled him out as potentially Sachin Tendulkar’s replacement.
His form in Australia, in a side that were woeful at best, was remarkable. He almost single-handedly stood up to the Aussie pace barrage and scored runs aplenty. He finished as India’s leading run-scorer by a country-mile and did so whilst carrying the burden of captaincy. Kohli will need to be at this best if India are to defend their crown in Australia.
Moeen Ali (England)
I couldn’t name a top five without including an Englishman and at present there is nobody better equipped that Moeen Ali in the England ranks to make a better impression during this World Cup.
His rise to prominence in the last 12 months has been nothing short of remarkable in all formats of the game and his ability to attack the new ball could give England the fast starts that they will undoubtedly require against their better opponents. He has made promising starts to most of his innings’ so far and will now need to kick-on if England are to compete in the latter stages of the tournament. He could prove a good foil for Ian Bell who will go about his work in a less dramatic fashion.
Ali could also find himself as a huge asset with the ball. His off-spin has improved during the last twelve months and he has become a match-winner in the Test arena. England may look to Ali to be their number one spinner in this tournament ahead of James Tredwell and he could well have a huge influence on England’s chances as he will be involved throughout the matches.
There will be others
I realise that every country has a player who they feel can light up this World Cup, and some even have more than one, but I believe these five players will produce some outstanding cricket that will leave supporters on the edge of their seats.
Feel free to come up with your own alternative list...