Ten teams will gun for cricket’s top prize in two weeks' time. But embedded within those contests are these five riveting subplots.
Virat Kohli v Adam Zampa
In their last seven limited-overs meetings, Zampa has dismissed Kohli three times. He has also found different ways to outdo the Indian captain each time. In the first T20I on Australia's limited-overs tour of India earlier this year, Zampa pitched full to Kohli, who stepped down the track, but dragged an aerial shot off the inside part of the bat to hole out to long-on. Drift had accounted for him.
In the first ODI of the same tour, he fell lbw after pressing forward to a length ball that simply straightened onto him instead of spinning away. Lack of turn had accounted for him. And finally, in the third ODI, he fell to a googly that snuck under the bat and clipped leg stump. The wrong'un had accounted for him.
In that same match, however, Kohli had absolutely laid into the leg-spinner, tonking him for four fours and a six, making for a seesaw battle between two expert practitioners of their respective art. The one aspect of Kohli's batting that works in his favour here is that he rarely sweeps, so that is one shot less against the turn. However, Zampa brings drift, variation, deceptive trajectory, and tricky angles, making this a mouth-watering one-on-one.
Jasprit Bumrah v Jos Buttler
The No. 1-ranked ODI bowler in the world versus the closest thing to a 360-degree batsman in one-day cricket today – Bumrah v Buttler could be a battle of skills, and wits, unlike any other.
Bumrah is almost everything a captain could ask for at the death. He nails inch-perfect yorkers, gets into the batsmen’s heads with his variations, and can generate enough pace to unsettle the best of them.
Buttler on his day can make the best of attacks look pedestrian. His unbelievable range of strokes, and ability to pace innings, results in breathtaking performances and can shatter bowlers’ confidence.
A bowler who is uncompromising with his accuracy against a batsman who can upset and throw the best of operators off their lines and lengths. If things come to a pass, who will blink first?
Kagiso Rabada v Kane Williamson
The ultimate battle between fire and ice – Rabada v Williamson offers just about everything you’d wish to see in a batsman taking on a fast bowler. Speed against judgement. Bounce against reflex. Harsh stimuli against measured response.
The two are set to be the lynchpins for their respective sides. Rabada’s ability to hurry batsmen with his raw pace will make him a threatening prospect on the flat but fast tracks of England.
As for Williamson, nothing brings out the best from him like defying menacing threats in the opposition and stoically negating them, like only he can.
Trent Boult v Chris Gayle
Gayle loves it when he is afforded room outside his off-stump. He can expect to find that against Boult. Except that it comes with a rider. Boult possesses a lethal outswinger to the left-hander, which makes any attempt at going after width exponentially more risky than it would be under normal circumstances.
Gayle has been in marauding form ever since he began his final run as an ODI cricketer, in the home series against England. But Boult is a master at swinging the ball both ways, and conditions in England are the perfect complement for his art.
A devastating six-hitter who is largely unfazed against pace versus a fast bowler whose range of skills can sweep batsmen off their feet, making him an unpredictable and intimidating prospect.
Mujeeb ur Rahman v Tamim Iqbal
Purely in the context of the match itself, this is the clash that could perhaps have the most impact on the result. Tamim Iqbal is among Bangladesh’s best batsmen. He comes into the tournament in rich form, with two half-centuries in three innings of the ongoing Ireland tri-nation series. Tamim is a big-match performer and Bangladesh rely heavily on him to build a foundation.
But to do that, Tamim will have to keep Mujeeb at bay. The Afghanistan bowler possesses more variations than perhaps any spinner in the modern-day game. He also largely operates in the Powerplay, where he is supremely effective at keeping the runs down.
However, Tamim is well-known, and valued, for his ability to build up momentum early in the innings. This is a battle where both men could practically be trying to scupper what the other is meant to do. Which way will it turn?