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England launches Cricket World Cup party

LONDON. – England launch the Cricket World Cup today as favourites to bludgeon their way to victory for the first time but will fear a Virat Kohli-inspired India and a hungry Australia. The host nation have never won the tournament, with the last of their three losing appearances in the final coming in 1992, but there is a growing sense their current crop of players can end 45 years of pain.

England take on South Africa in the first match today. Boasting a plethora of big-hitting white-ball specialists, England are the top-ranked team in the 50-over game, while Kohli’s India are also packed with superstars who have honed their skills in the Indian Premier League.

Reigning champions Australia, who won their fifth title in 2015, are boosted by the returns of star batsmen Smith and David Warner after both served bans for their role in a ball-tampering scandal.

New Zealand and South Africa will also harbour hopes of World Cup glory in the 10-team tournament, in which each side will play all the others to decide the semi-finalists.

Former winners Pakistan can never be ruled out and West Indies, featuring self-styled “Universe Boss” Chris Gayle for possibly the final time in ODIs, will fancy their chances of a first World Cup triumph since 1979.

In an age in which astonishing run-scoring feats have become commonplace, it may be the hard-pressed bowlers who determine the destiny of this year’s title, depending on the conditions for the event, which runs from today until July 14. Top-ranked England will undoubtedly start the tournament as favourites. They were, however, strongly fancied to win the 2017 50-over Champions Trophy, which they hosted, only to lose to eventual winners Pakistan in the semi-finals. England captain Eoin Morgan has urged his side to enjoy the pressure and expectation that comes with opening the World Cup at home.

“Everyone is going to feel that anticipation and excitement of playing the first game and it will be different than any other day and I will be encouraging guys to embrace it,” he said.

A limp first-round departure at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was the catalyst for a transformation in England’s white-ball game based on aggressive batting, as exemplified by Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler.

England are even threatening to smash the 500-run barrier for the first time in an ODI innings, having set a new record total of 481 for six against Australia in Nottingham last year. And their attack now has an extra threat in recently qualified Barbados-born fast bowler Jofra Archer.

India upset the odds to beat West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final at Lord’s under the captaincy of Kapil Dev and now boast another inspirational leader in star batsman Kohli. – AFP.

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