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After the controversial exclusion of key players by boards, the removal of some prominent spinners for their bowling action, fielding changes to make life even harder for the bowlers, removal of the super overs, the reinstatement of super over for the final, the blocking of associate nations and the reinstatement of them, the ICC 2015 World Cup is finally ready to begin.

A few new associate members will be joining the 14 in this year’s World Cup. Of those in the 2011 World Cup, only Ireland remains to fight another day. Hopefully they will cause a few more upsets this year to make the group stages just that little bit more tantalising. Ireland will be fired up especially after they weren’t even given the chance to qualify even though they had scored more runs than England in ODIs when the squads were announced. As unlikely as it might be, Ireland could make it past group stages if they play well and have a little luck, especially with West Indies missing three key players including Sunil Narine and Pakistan missing their top ranked bowler Saeed Ajmal. Also with the associates in question for the 2019 World Cup, Ireland have nothing to lose.

Bar the small possibility of Ireland qualifying, there is no room to question the other nations. Australia and New Zealand both have home advantage and are coming into the tournament on a high. South Africa have been smashing more and more records and as usual are expected to fly through the group stages with ease. India will need to work a lot harder than they did for the 2011 World Cup, their bowlers lack the pace required in Australia and with the new fielding rules their front line bowlers will have a much harder task. Dhoni’s men will be relying heavily on their batsmen who though are all match winners, will need to step up if they want to retain the Cup. Especially Shikhar Dhawan who appears to be completely out of sorts. However it is never so easy to rule India out when it comes to a World Cup. Sri Lanka have the experience and skill to get through the group stages but if Lasith Malinga’s fitness keeps him out, they are not likely to make it through the quarter finals unless Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara can work some magic. England under the leadership of Eoin Morgan look fresher than they have looked in a while. Their bowling side looks invigorated and they have had a chance to get a feel for the Aussie conditions. Though overall this year there appear to be three main contenders for the title.

The 2015 World Cup is probably the best shot New Zealand have ever had of winning. Led by the vastly skilled and experienced Brendon McCullum, the black caps could easily be heading to the MCG on the 29th of March. For the first time in a long time, New Zealand look like a competitive team. For once, when talking about the squad there is more than one name worth mentioning in both bowling and batting, Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson are both at the top of their game and the side has been blessed with a solid middle order who could each take New Zealand over the line. However, they haven’t had the easiest of rides, nerves have played a huge part in the past and if the team don’t start fresh and push those memories out of their minds, the may end up on the same path again.

Australia under the leadership of Michael Clarke most definitely have what it takes to win the Cup. With David Warner in full form and explosive players like James Faulkner they wont have much to worry about, especially with bowlers like Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazlewood to back them up. With the home side advantage, it would have been easy to say this would be Australia’s year. However, there is one major problem Australia face, Michael Clarke’s hamstring. The entire outcome of the tournament could well change from this one muscle of this one man. In his absence, Steve Smith who played superbly during the India series would captain the side. Smith captained Australia through the Test series against India and has shown his skill as a batsman but under tight pressure situations, he showed cracks and became agitated more than once. With the pressure on through the series and the fiery nature of the Aussie side, Clarke’s calming presence might be necessary for Australia to win.

Last but by no means least, possibly the most entertaining World Cup side who have missed out on so many occasions due to dropped catches, run outs and rain rules. South Africa, the top ranked Test team, with some of the best batsmen and bowlers in the world right now will always on paper look competitive. However, that is just not enough, South Africa have made a habit of getting themselves into situations where one minor slip knocks them out of the tournament. It is surprising that haven’t ever won an ICC World Cup especially with batsmen like Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers who just recently broke roughly four records in one match and bowlers like Dale Steyn. Though this time round, South Africa look much more settled with their side even through the middle order. If they can hold onto their catches and if de Villiers can avoid any run outs, South Africa may have more than a chance of claiming their first title.

Overall, Australia seem to have a slight upper hand though. Even without Michael Clarke the hosts appear to have found a well balanced team with a lot of fire and they could well pull it off.