We are a mere three days away from cricket’s biggest tournament in the world. Four years after Australia won its fifth World Cup, the stage returns to England, the home of cricket, after 20 years. The 10 teams are well into their warmup matches, while hosts England are preparing to face South Africa in the opener on May 30th in London.

Every team has one star player – the cricketer everyone wants to see. But there’s always a dark horse, an underrated star who ends up performing and making the World Cup his own instead (For example: Shikhar Dhawan and Steve Smith in the 2015 World Cup, Zaheer Khan in 2011)

Here are 10 such players, 1 from each team:

SOUTH AFRICA
Star Player: Dale Steyn
Player in focus: Aiden Markram

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Some fun behind the lens (part 3) 😎 📷 @cricketworldcup #CWC19

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The young, prodigiously talented right-handed opener has a fan in the best batsman in the world, Virat Kohli. Markram is stylish, stable and extremely gifted, and one suspects this World Cup will be the stage that he needs to remind cricket fans of the future that awaits. Some say the Test specialist is lucky to be in the ODI squad, with only 2 fifties in 18 innings and an average of 29. But South Africa is known to punt on batsmen (Graeme Smith, Faf du Plessis) and succeed.

NEW ZEALAND
Star Player: Kane Williamson
Player in focus: Ross Taylor

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3️⃣ days to go!

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Ross Taylor has been around. He is the most experienced player in the team right now, along with Tim Southee and Martin Guptill. But Taylor’s form – excellent as it has been in the last few years – is crucial to New Zealand’s underdog chances this time around. Last time it was McCullum and Guptill, this time it’s the sedate pair of Williamson and Taylor. He holds the middle order together, more so with the waning form of Tom Latham and Colin Munro. Taylor has averaged almost 80 in the last 18 months.

WEST INDIES
Star Player: Chris Gayle
Player in focus: Shai Hope

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4️⃣ days to go!

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There are the Russells and Gayles in the team after a long time, but it’s the great young Hope that holds the key to an unpredictable West Indian team again. Shai Hope averages 51 in his 3-year-old ODI career, but 5 out of his 6 ODI centuries have come against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Ireland (1 against India). Yet, Hope is touted by many as the next Richards or Lara, a superstar in the making who perhaps needs a stage, a kickstart, to take that next step.

BANGLADESH
Star Player: Shakib Al Hasan
Player in focus: Soumya Sarkar
The left-hander is crucial to Bangladesh’s chances in this World Cup, because of his aggressive style and impressive strike-rate (of 100). With Tamim Iqbal at the top, it also falls upon Sarkar to make sure that the tempo is maintained in the middle order, which can often get bogged down by the experienced players taking their time to settle in.

ENGLAND
Star Player: Jos Buttler
Player in focus: Jofra Archer

The young bowler, who dove into public conscience through his IPL stints, has been fast-tracked into the England World Cup squad in order to bolster what is otherwise a weak bowling lineup. England is the best ODI team in the world right now, but they know that their fortunes will depend on the wily Archer being able to shore up the bowling. His spells will be crucial in restricting other teams to moderate totals so that England’s explosive batting order doesn’t face pressure.

PAKISTAN
Star Player: Fakhar Zaman
Player in focus: Shadab Khan
The young leg-spinner will find England’s flat pitches a challenge as compared to the dustbowls of the UAE. But his captain will know that most teams have not faced him enough or figured him out yet. By the time they do, it might be too late, and he could be the wild card in a World Cup that might be harsh on spinners.

SRI LANKA
Star Player: Angelo Mathews
Player in focus: Kusal Perera
Sri Lanka is probably the weakest among the test-playing nations in this World Cup. But they are brimming with talent. Perera, who played perhaps the greatest test innings of all time against South Africa earlier this year, is the wicketkeeper but also a dasher in the middle order on whom the onus is to finish off every innings in a blaze of fire.

AFGHANISTAN
Star Player: Rashid Khan
Player in focus: Hazratullah Zazai
In the warm-up game against Pakistan, which Afghanistan won, opener Zazai, only 8 games old, smashed a 28-ball 49 to set his team on the way. His innings set the platform for the experienced middle order to pace the chase. A dasher at the top, one suspects he will go at every bowler on the flatter pitches.

AUSTRALIA
Star Player: David Warner
Player in focus: Aaron Finch

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5⃣ days to go!

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Much will depend on Smith and Warner, the stars, but it is captain Finch, who has been in terrific form this year, who has scripted the team’s comeback after a miserable 2018. Australia have won 8 ODIs on the trot against India and Pakistan in the last few months, and Finch’s leadership and batting has had a lot to do with it. He needs to keep opening the innings and staying at the crease while Khawaja and Smith build in the middle.

INDIA
Star Player: Virat Kohli
Player in focus: Jasprit Bumrah

Bumrah is currently the best fast bowler in the world, and he is not low-profile anymore. The focus will be on him, just as it is on Kohli for the batting. He is both economical and devastating with old and new ball, and has grown leaps and bounds since the Champions Trophy final. His spells in England will be the key to India’s fortunes – considered by many to be the best bowling team in the tournament.

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