The most defining fact about the 2019 World Cup is that even one of the lowest-ranked teams, Afghanistan, has got two players who are superstars in the world of cricket. As a team, Afghanistan is expected, if at all, to provide a scare to one or two of the biggies, or even stage an upset to add some spice to what should otherwise be a four-team race to the title.
The way cricket and its different formats has evolved -- especially T20 with a plethora of leagues around the year -- has given rise to a good number of superstars across nations. Barring the Indian ones, these A-listers ply their trade across countries, and have managed to not only continuously hone their skills against the best, but also create a global following of fans.
While their exploits will underline the dominance of their teams in England, these superstars could also prove to be the proverbial Achilles' heel for many a team during this World Cup.
Starting with the top four teams expected to reach the semi-finals -- England, India, Australia, South Africa -- we are talking over 20 players who dominate the game when they take the field. If it is Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and M.S. Dhoni for India, the hosts have an enviable top line consisting of Joe Root, Jason Roy, Jos Butler, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes.
Add to these Steven Smith, David Warner, Glen Maxwell, Mitchell Starc from Australia, and South Africans Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Cock, Imran Tahir, and Kasigo Rabada. Don't forget that ABD would be ruling this list if he hadn't opted to stay away. With this kind of star power at play these four teams would in most cases run through their opposition.
But it is here that the reverse could also be equally true. Taking into consideration the kind of pressure on them to perform, not just for country, but also with an eye on their future clubs, the chances of them cracking are higher. Their performances in the T20 format might have pushed up their value, but in a totally different format, much more is required of them, and a combination of these factors could prove detrimental to the fortunes of the team.
The emphasis on superstardom was very evident when Rishab Pant was not picked for the squad to England. There is still a large section of cricket lovers who believe that Pant should have been the obvious choice over the veteran, Dinesh Karthik. This mass perception is fostered by Pant's heroics in the Indian Premier League (IPL), though Karthik was definitely more suited for the role and was rightly chosen for it.
While these superstars will rely on their immense skill and experience to rule the arena, the fact that it is a team game will require stellar performances from the next rung of stars too. Here we are talking about the likes of Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Pat Cummins, Moeen Ali, Shikhar Dhawan, or even a David Miller, Hashim Amla, and a Dale Steyn.
How the leaders of these stars manage to elicit maximum out of their talent will separate the winners and losers. On that front, Kohli is blessed with a MSD, while Finch can draw on Smith. Eoin Morgan for England and Faf for the Proteas come with their own confidence levels and cool demeanour which should prove handy during tough situations.
Just like Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi for Afghanistan, don't ignore the superstars from the remaining teams. Leading the pack is Chris Gayle and
Andre Russell for the West Indies, Lasith Malinga for Sri Lanka, Shakib Al Hasan from Bangladesh, and a Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik for Pakistan.
Include the Kiwi captain Kane Williamson along with his key bowlers, Trent Boult and Tim Southee. These teams, especially the West Indies and New Zealand, could actually be a nightmare for many a team, including the top four, as their superstars, without too much burden of expectation on their bat and ball, could turn a game on its head. These two teams with a small sprinkling of superstardom combined with workhorses equipped to play their role to perfection under calm leaders are the dark horses for this World Cup.
On the other hand, the top four teams will need their superstars to come down to earth and work in a focused and cohesive manner to reach their potential, or each of the A-listers in these teams will be left looking at each other to bail them out.