Every World Cup brings along with it some favourites. West Indies were clearly expected to win the first three editions, India were the favourites for the 1987 edition, Australia were tipped to win the 1992 edition, South Africa began the 1996 edition as the team all opponents must fear, and Pakistan were among the firm favourites to clinch the title in 1999. Starting 2003, Australia were the safe bet to lay hands on the trophy, and the tables only turned in the late 2000s, when the Aussie giants retired. In comparison, no team had emerged as the clear favourite for this year's mega edition.
The key reason behind why no particular side will go in having the best chance of winning cricket's most cherished trophy is because a number of the sides are so evenly matched that there is nothing much to choose between them. No particular side, at present, seems to have the perfect balance desired to win a World Cup. On the contrary most teams seem in a deranged state, still trying to figure out their final eleven, even though less than a month is left for the World Cup. A lot of this can be put down to the non-stop cricket that the teams have been playing across formats.
In spite of being the defending champions, India will not begin as favourites to win the title. Ever since the 2011 victory at home, they have struggled overseas. And, while that has mostly been in Tests, their ODI record isn't much better either. They were beaten in the shorter formats in Australia and England back in 2011-12. The Indians did register a 3-1 series win recently, but that was against a weak English outfit. India will again battle it out against England and Australia in the ongoing tri-series, which will give us a rough idea of what to expect from the teams.
Australia may be playing at home, but that doesn't guarantee that they will do well. They have a strong batting line-up for sure, but there is still that uncertainty over leadership, with Michael Clarke recovering from injury, which might end up causing some confusion in the team. Also, the present side is missing a match-winning spinner like Shane Warne. Xavier Doherty is a reasonably good bowler, but whether he can come up with game-changing spells like Warne did in the 1999 edition is the big question. The amount of cricket they have played in recent times may also take its toll.
Among the other sides, South Africa will again be expected to make it to the knockouts, but whether they can progress beyond that instead of choking is what remains to be seen. Will the tide change for the South Africans under AB de Villiers? New Zealand, the co-hosts in the event, will also be confident of doing well, like they did back in 1992, but Kiwi fans would want Brendon McCullum's side to go all the way this time. Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq will retire after the World Cup, and has expressed his desire to emulate Imran Khan. Does his team have enough fire in the belly though? West Indies might in with an outside chance, but in the absence of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, things would be doubly difficult. A lot of these riddles will be answered only as the games begin.
--By A Cricket Analyst