Forces to be feared
Bob Willis selects the power-players he believes will leave their mark on Group A of the 2011 World Cup.
Last Updated: 15/02/11 7:36pm
Three co-hosts, 14 teams and 42 group matches can only add up to one thing - the 10th ICC Cricket World Cup.
Over the next six weeks all eyes will be on India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as they stage a feast of 50-over action which gets underway on Saturday.
Can England - buoyed by their World Twenty20 and Ashes triumphs - stop Australia from claiming their fourth title on the trot or will one of cricket's other major powers hold sway?
Find out by following the tournament live on Sky Sports and skysports.com, where our pundits and in-vision commentaries will keep you abreast of every development.
As part of the build-up, we asked Bob Willis to give us the lowdown on who he thinks will be the players to watch in Group A. Now he shares his thoughts on the players to watch from...
Run-day wonder - Ricky Ponting: I'm backing the defending champions' proud and fiercely-determined captain to come good after a nice lay-off. This may be his World Cup swansong and he'll love to get his hands on that trophy one more time. He's certainly got the class, experience and ability to do so.
Appealing - Shane Watson: I don't go along with Australia's theory that their three-man pace attack of Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Tait and Brett Lee will do the damage - I think they will go all over the park. So without a top-class spinner Watson's subtle changes of pace and unerring accuracy will be crucial.
Run-day wonder - Misbah-ul-Haq: The vice-captain is something of a re-emerging star in this unpredictable side; his heavy run-scoring was a feature in New Zealand, where Pakistan showed in glimpses that they are still a very capable outfit. Often unconventional, he's an incredibly tough man to bowl at when his eye's in.
Appealing - Umar Gul: Resourceful Gul gets the nod ahead of Saeed Ajmal and Shoaib Akhtar because day-in, day-out he is Pakistan's most consistent performer. The bat will be on top of the ball most of the time in this tournament so bowling accurately to a field will be very important indeed. Spray it around and you'll be carted.
Run-day wonder - Brendon McCullum: He may have had a quiet time of late but he remains well-equipped to produce fireworks in the one-day game. Now is the time for him to stand up and be counted again as an international batsman. He's so strong that he can whack the ball out of most grounds, never mind just over the boundary. On his day he is as good as anybody up the top of the order.
Appealing - Daniel Vettori: The skipper has always been right up there in the world rankings and with good reason - chiefly, his clever variations. He's admitted that his days as an international captain are now numbered and, like Ponting, he'd love to go out on a high. The Black Caps used to be brilliant one-day cricketers but they've gone downhill in recent years and one can only hope that John Wright can get them back on the right track.
Run-day wonder - Kumar Sangakkara: A very intelligent, competent cricketer with vast experience, Sangakkara has the know-how and craftsmanship to dissect any attack. This veteran of 282 ODIs more than holds his own in a very strong batting line-up and will no doubt lead the side with distinction.
Appealing - Lasith Malinga: Home advantage should count for a lot and that will play into the hands of Malinga, who can bowl fast yorkers at will as well as reverse swing when the ball gets roughed up. I imagine he will be a real handful for most batsman and if he can stay fit I've no doubt he'll be one of the stars of the tournament.
Run-day wonder - Tatenda Taibu: It's good to see Zimbabwe in a world competition again but they'll need all the experience they can get. Taibu is back after a falling out with the Zimbabwe cricketing authorities (who hasn't, you might say) and he should be one of the leading lights in a side that has a nice mix of experience and youth. There will be a lot on his plate but he plays spin well, so should find his feet.
Appealing - Ray Price: An ultra-reliable performer who knows exactly what he is doing in the middle. He very rarely gets slogged around the park and sets a tremendous example to the younger players in the side in terms of professionalism and focus - all of which counts for a lot in these types of tournaments.
Prospects: Group stages
Run-day wonder - Ashish Bagai: With two World Cups behind him, Bagai brings some much-needed experience to the squad. He's failed to do his talents justice with the bat in previous tournaments, but with the big-hitting John Davison long in the tooth now he needs to make his presence felt in that top-order.
Appealing - Balaji Rao: Born in Chennai, leg-spinner Rao may become a fans' favourite. This larger-than-life 32-year-old could chip in with some valuable wickets along the way, much as Dwayne Leverock did for Bermuda in 2007 - and Canada will need them, too, because their attack won't strike fear into the hearts of many top-orders.
Prospects: Group stages
Run-day wonder - Alex Obanda: Kenya have been over-reliant on the likes of Steve Tikolo for too long and are crying out for someone to contribute big runs. Organised Obanda is well-equipped to do that and I hope he goes well but his form is patchy at best. He - and Collins Obuya for that matter - will have to up their game fast if Kenya are to have some totals to bowl at.
Appealing - Thomas Odoyo: With Jonty Rhodes on board as fielding coach, Kenya have no excuse not to take every chance that come their way - but will their bowlers be able to create enough opportunities? With 138 one-day international wickets at a shade under 30 under his belt, medium-pacer Odoyo remains Kenya's best bet for a breakthrough and it would be unwise to underestimate this wily campaigner.
Prospects: Group stages