LONDON: Lined up on the stage like targets, the 10 captains of the ICC World Cup teams laughed uncomfortably at the question posed to them by a kid with a microphone here on Thursday.
“If you could add one player to your squad from another team, which player would you choose?”
Eoin Morgan and Virat Kohli, captains of England and India and sitting together, treated the question like a bouncer to duck at, only to receive light dissent and raised eyebrows from media at the gathering with the trophy in a trendy London basement.
Pakistan learned a lot from England ODIs: Sarfraz
Morgan finally plucked out Ricky Ponting, who hasn’t played for Australia for seven years. Seeing the reaction to Morgan, Kohli chose his South Africa counterpart Faf du Plessis because A.B. de Villiers had retired.
Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed went for England’s Jos Buttler, who hit a rapid unbeaten ODI century against his side two weeks ago.
West Indies’ Jason Holder, the youngest on the stage at 27, spoiled the fun and avoided answering. So did Afghanistan’s Gulbadin Naib.
Bangladesh’s Mashrafe Mortaza went with “that guy,” looking at Kohli, the world’s top-ranked batsman.
Sri Lanka’s Dimuth Karunaratne chose England all-rounder Ben Stokes, and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson named Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan, who “would be welcome in my team anytime.”
Australia’s Aaron Finch chose South Africa spearhead Kagiso Rabada, while Du Plessis had time to think and picked more than one: India paceman Jasprit Bumrah, Rashid as well, and Australia paceman Pat Cummins. They revealed Du Plessis’ belief that bowling will win the World Cup, which his team opens against host England next Thursday in London.
“The teams towards the end of the tournament will have done really well with the ball, and have the ability to take wickets even on flat pitches,” Du Plessis said.
Kohli agreed. He didn’t think the tournament will be the run-fest that is predicted. England are ranked No. 1 thanks to an aggressive attack which has broken the scoring record twice in the last three years.
“England seem to be obsessed with getting to 500 before anyone else,” Kohli said. “It could be high-scoring, but I think 260, 270 will be as difficult to get in the World Cup as 360, 370. I see 250 being defended, too. I don’t see many high-scoring games happening in the latter half of the tournament. That’s the kind of pressure the World Cup brings.
“Not all teams are going to be in a great position. Teams that have to get a result [to make the semi-finals] will be under the most pressure. It won’t be gung-ho from ball one.”
One of the mid-tournament games will be the biggest in the group stage, India vs Pakistan, on June 16. Since Pakistan beat India in the 2017 Champions Trophy final at The Oval, London, they have met only twice for two easy India wins last September in the Asia Cup.
“Just another game to the players,” Kohli said of the upcoming match against the arch-rivals.
“My answer is the same,” Sarfraz said.
Meanwhile speaking at the same joint press conference, Sarfraz said that his team can defeat any opponent in the World Cup due to the fast bowlers-friendly pitches in England.
While acknowledging that the World Cup is not an easy tournament, the wicket-keeper/batsman said his team’s record is very strong in England.
“We won the 1992 World Cup. Then we clinched the ICC Champions Trophy here. We have come here to prove ourselves in another challenge,” he said. “We have learnt a lot in the recent England [ODI] series.”
Sarfraz said the team is passionate to win the tournament and have the potential to deliver in batting, bowling and fielding. “We have addressed our shortcomings,” he said.
On Wahab Riaz, Sarfraz said the left-arm pacer has been included in the squad due to his vast experience.
Kohli at the presser said “world-class” England fast bowler Jofra Archer can be the X factor that gives the World Cup hosts an additional edge in the tournament.
Archer, born in Barbados and who represented West Indies at youth level, was named in England’s 15-man squad on Tuesday, despite only having made his ODI debut around three weeks ago.
Kohli, who will captain an India side looking to win their third World Cup, believes Archer has the pace to cause batsmen plenty of problems.
“He [Archer] is a world-class bowler and there’s a good reason why he’s been fast-tracked into playing for England at the World Cup,” Kohli told reporters at the press conference.
“He has the X Factor and bowls a skill set that is very different from everyone. I’ve seen him the last couple of years at the IPL. It’s going to be really exciting to see him at the World Cup.
“He has a lot of pace and is a great athlete the England team will be excited. I’ll be watching him as well because from what I’ve seen he has really impressed.”
Even though Archer took only two wickets in England’s World Cup warm-up ODI series victory over Pakistan, he earned plenty of praise from team mates including Joe Root, Liam Plunkett and Jos Buttler over the pace — which can reach over 90mph — he brings to the bowling attack.
England captain Eoin Morgan agreed with his Indian counterpart Kohli that Archer can make a real difference this summer.
“He’s come in and performed exactly as he has been around the world,” Morgan told reporters. “He’s good in all three parts of the 50-over game and plays a part in all three areas. He’s exciting. It’s a huge opportunity, he’s very young, very ambitious and confident. He wants to play.”
At the same presser, Australia captain Aaron Finch said everything had been put in place to protect disgraced pair Steve Smith and David Warner during the World Cup in England.
Former skipper Smith and fellow star batsman Warner only returned to international duty earlier this month after completing one-year bans for their roles in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.
There have long been concerns the players could be on the receiving end of crowd taunts during a lengthy tour of England that also includes an Ashes series, although England all-rounder Moeen Ali has called for home fans to show restraint.
A report in the Daily Mirror on Thursday said Warner’s manager had sought security assurances from Cricket Australia, with the batsman’s wife wanting to give birth to their third child in Britain.
But Finch was confident both Smith and Warner would be able to concentrate on their cricket.
“Since they’ve come back into the squad and the set-up the last couple of weeks they’ve been fantastic,” said Finch.
“They’ve contributed as much as they can and the morale has been unbelievable.
“Once the World Cup gets under way and you start getting into the tournament, probably the game against England, and then further on the Ashes there’s no doubt the crowd will start to play a bit of a part but that’s expected.
“No matter where you go the fans play a big part. No doubt personally and as an organisation they’ve got things in place for that, but how they’ve been in the run-up to the tournament has been fantastic,” added the Australian skipper.
(all matches start at 2:30pm PST)
May 24: Pakistan vs Afghanistan (Bristol).
May 24: South Africa vs Sri Lanka (Cardiff).
May 25: England vs Australia (Southampton).
May 25: India vs New Zealand (The Oval).
May 26: Pakistan vs Bangladesh (Cardiff).
May 26: West Indies vs South Africa (Bristol).
May 27: Australia vs Sri Lanka (Southampton).
May 27: England vs Afghanistan (The Oval).
May 28: India vs Bangladesh (Cardiff).
May 28: New Zealand vs West Indies (Bristol).
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2019