14 teams, 8 of who are almost assured to reach the quarterfinals after the meaningless group stages—which is quite frankly an extended warmup session for most teams.

The traditional minnows—Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, UAE, Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan—will play the top teams in their groups, and perhaps pull off an upset at best. The format may be controversial, but this won’t stop teams from putting on their best show right from the opening game. Not many players from the minnows are well-known, but like Ireland in 2007 and 2011, who have retained most of their team, it could be a tournament of fairytale moments.

Who can forget John Davison of Canada, Kevin O’Brein of Ireland, Eddo Brandes and Paul Strang of Zimbabwe, Eoin Morgan (now captain of England) of Ireland, Collins Obuya, Maurice Odumbe and Steve Tikolo of Kenya, Gavin Hamilton of Scotland, Shakib of Bangladesh?

They have all stood up and gotten noticed on cricket’s biggest stage in various editions, and have even contributed in some of the greatest underdog moments in cricket history.

It could be a difficult task to do in alien conditions Down Under, but one can never count them out. Early during the first stage, there will be certain players that will be watched by the entire cricketing world with bated breath and great interest.

Kane Williamson (NZ)
The 24 year old has blossomed, as expected, into one of the finest young batsmen in world cricket over the last two years. He started early, and many say he could become New Zealand’s finest ever batsman. He has been in stunning form, helping his team defeat the likes of Pakistan and Sri Lanka with assured centuries. Both, his ODI and Test Highest scores, have come in the past year, and he has peaked—carried the middle order and built up a fire-and-ice partnership with Ross Taylor after the aggressive exploits of McCullum and Guptill at the top. This could be his time.

Rohit Sharma (IND)
The disappointment of missing out on the 2011 World Cup, when Yusuf Pathan and Virat Kohli replaced him after he fell woefully out of form in the two tours prior to the tournament, has propelled the ‘talented’ batsman to hit back at his critics. He now has the highest and third highest ODI scores in cricket, and despite his inconsistent test form, he has adapted as an ODI opener and has made the spot his own. He is yet to prove his credentials overseas, but his 139 at Melbourne last month is the reason Virat Kohli singles him out as the X-factor at this year’s cup.

Steve Smith (AUS)
The most improved cricketer on the planet, Smith is now in Bradmanisque form. He is probably Australia’s most resourceful and audacious batsman, and seems to maneuver the ball wherever he wants. He is their AB De Villiers, raw talent and urgency, and never seems to look uncomfortable at the crease. Only a year ago before the Ashes, he was destined to be a forgotten cog in Australia’s blonde wheel, but he made the Ashes his own, and went from strength to strength. He is such a good bat now, that many have forgotten that he broke into the fold as a baby-faced blonde leg-spinner, and their next hope after Shane Warne.

Faf Du Plessis (SA)
He was a newbie in the 2011 World Cup, where one fifty was good enough to get him into the squad. Since then, he has played second fiddle to the aggressors that surround him in the batting order, but he is now the new no. 3—around which they bat. AB is the glamorous one, De Kock the talented kid, Duminy the all-round master…but Faf is the solid guy around which his team will launch yet another assault on an ICC title. He may not be their most successful batsman, but he will definitely be their most important player this season.

Virat Kohli (IND)
He is India’s best ODI batsman by a mile. He will be disappointed after his tri-series failure, and will be looking to make up for India after being one of their youngest World Cup winners in 2011. He was a rookie then, and is now the batting mainstay. He exemplifies raw passion and desire, and can will his team towards the most unlikely victories. Simply put, he is their only hope.

Adam Milne (NZ)
A lovely throwback to the days of Shane Bond and Brett Lee, Milne is pure pace and intimidation. He is young, agile and has bowled well in the last year, helping his team defeat Pakistan in Sharjah. He has been chosen instead of Henry, the other fast bowler, and will look to shock and surprise—a la Shaun Tait in 2007—and his clean action makes for great purist viewing. He is a rising star, and will definitely add great value to the experienced trio of Southee, Mills and Vettori.

Moeen Ali (ENG)
England’s successor to Andrew Flintoff is the most un-Andrew all-rounder they could have hoped for. Bearing the gentle grace of Hashim Amla, Ali is a part-time spinner but is probably the most ominous part-time off-spinner in cricket. He takes wickets almost ways, and top-order bats too—ask India about him. He is also a free-flowing left-handed opener who throws caution to the wind. He is aggressive, and fails more at batting than bowling, but adds superb value to a team desperate for a utility player.

Angelo Mathews (SL)
Captain and Sri Lanka’s best all-rounder, Mathews has single-handedly defined their fortunes for the last year after taking over the leadership from the experienced duo of Sangakkara and Jayawardene—both of whom will retire from ODIs after this World Cup. They remain the most experienced players in the tournament, and the most important, but Mathews—with his wily medium pace and stunning game awareness—will look to add to his own legacy. Sri Lanka rarely fail in ICC tournaments, and this could be the beginning of Mathews’ era.

Paul Stirling (IRE)
Ireland’s opening batsman is also their most important. He gives them their starts against the bigger teams, and his strike-rate is crucial to their ability to chase down big targets, which they almost always concede. The pudgy right-hander is a useful bowler too, but his pinch-hitting technique at the top is what sets the stage for the O’Briens and captain Porterfield.

Mahmudullah (BANGLA)
Bangladesh’s most influential all-rounder after Shakib is an explosive batsman. He has turned games for them consistently, and will be the aggressive fulcrum around which his team launches an assault on the likes of England and Australia. It won’t be easy, but the pocket-sized dynamo is the man that can pull his team through against all odds.

Nasir Jamshed (PAK)
The talented left-hander has replaced the injured Hafeez at the last moment. After hitting the scene running against India a few years ago, he faded into oblivion before trying to make a comeback last year. He has more misses than hits, but is the closest natural talent to Saeed Anwar they will ever have. He isn’t their only hope, which makes him even more dangerous at the top.

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