The Group Stages of the 2015 World Cup will begin on Saturday with traditional rivals Australia and England locking horns, followed by co-hosts and surprise favorites New Zealand taking on Sri Lanka.

Before that, there have been a bunch of warm-up ODI ties. They are unofficial, of course, and aren’t meant to be taken too seriously—mostly for teams to find their groove and best combination before the tournament. 15 players get to play from each team in these matches, where virtually every bowler and batsman tries to get a hit. Each team gets two matches.
However, as is the norm, certain trends are difficult to ignore. After all, even if these are practice games, they are a good indicator of form and temperament.
Here are some conclusions from these games:
India remains the weakest bowling unit in the tournament. They were not only looted for 370 runs by the Australian batsmen in the first game, but they failed to bowl out Afghanistan in 50 overs (211/8) after putting on a high 350+ score. While their batting can blow hot and cold, it is the bowlers that will cost India their defense very early on in the tournament.
Zimbabwe is the surprise minnow package this time. They had New Zealand in trouble in the first game at 160/7 before actually defeating Sri Lanka with 4 overs and 7 wickets to spare in the next game. Their all-rounders, including wicket-keeper and captain Taylor, are firing—and they could just be the joker in the pack in Pool B, which incidentally has England, West Indies and India, all of who are capable of being outplayed on the day by this spunky Zimbabwean team.
Australia is on cruise control. They destroyed India, and truly warmed up against UAE—where their bowlers flexed their muscles and bowled the minnows out for less than 120. They are yet to lose an ODI this year, and have sealed their spot as joint favorites with South Africa and New Zealand.
West Indies is in shambles. They were embarrassed by an average English team, and could find themselves crashing out of the group stage if they don’t find a way to get through either Zimbabwe, UAE or Ireland. No Pollard, no Bravo—and they’re going to pay.
Pakistan almost lost to Bangladesh, but then outplayed England impressively. However, Nasir Jamshed at the top remains a concern after the injury to Hafeez. They remain the most dynamic and unpredictable side, with a mercurial bowling line-up that operates on pure instinct and talent instead of experience.
South Africa may have the most consistent reputation, but come ICC tournaments, something goes wrong. New Zealand humiliated them in the second game, and made a mockery of their feared bowling line-up. Agreed, they didn’t take it too seriously, but this is a telling statement by the Kiwis, and a not-so-pleasant wake-up call for AB and his men.
New Zealand are favorites to reach the final. They look stellar, and their batting seems to click more often than not. Add to that the very effective bowling line-up, led by Southee and Boult, and we have a world-class team looking to finally go one better and shock the world. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the pressure of the favorites tag though.
Scotland doesn’t look too bad, and neither does Bangladesh. Afghanistan look very rusty, as do Ireland. UAE will be the first casualty.
The Lankans have a problem. Their bowling looks toothless down under, and the way Zimbabwe dismantled them, it could be a long and frustrating tournament for them. Hopefully, they step up and challenge the likes of Australia on the big stage.
England looks mildly competitive. Joe Root and James Taylor could be their main guys at the top, while the likes of Anderson, Finn and Broad will have to pull them through on more than one occasion. They would love to begin with a shock win, after being defeated by Australia twice over the last month—both times by convincing margins.
Favorites: Australia, New Zealand
Contenders: South Africa
Dark horses: Pakistan, England
No-hopers: India, Sri Lanka, West Indies
Surprise Package: Zimbabwe

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