Countdown to 2019 World Cup, Part 2: Can New Zealand, South Africa finally achieve CWC glory?
Kane Williamson and Faf du Plessis would want to be their country's first World Cup-winning captain. (AFP Image)

With Tuesday marking 100 days to go before the start of the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England and Wales on May 30, here’s a look at who will be hot – or not – at the showpiece event.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand hope to shed their tag as the World Cup’s nearly men and claim the title after making the semi-finals six times and the final once – in 2015 when they suffered a heavy loss to Australia. While Kane Williamson has replaced Brendon McCullum as captain, the core of the team that powered New Zealand to the 2015 decider remains, although a recent strong run of form was marred somewhat by a 4-1 series loss to India in January.

New Zealand’s best performance at the World Cup was in the last edition where they finished runner-up. (AFP Image)

GAMECHANGER: Speedster Lockie Ferguson adds genuine pace to New Zealand’s seam attack, regularly sending down 150 km/h thunderbolts and troubling batsmen with an array of bouncers and blistering yorkers.

Ferguson has added some much-needed consistency to his game and the Black Caps will be looking for the 27-year-old to ramp up the aggression and give them an intimidation factor at his first World Cup.

PAKISTAN

It’s certain that Pakistan will be unpredictable. At the Champions Trophy in England two years ago, they were routed by India by 124 runs in the opening match before thrashing their arch-rivals by a massive 180 runs in the final.

Under Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan have some exciting talent – from Mohammad Amir to Usman Shinwari to Hasan Ali. If their vulnerable batting comes good they could repeat the exploits of Imran Khan who led the team to their only World Cup in Australia in 1992.

GAMECHANGER: Babar Azam, just 24, has been compared to India superstar Virat Kohli. Babar has an ODI average of over 51 and has hit eight centuries and 10 50s.

SOUTH AFRICA

Ever since losing on a bizarre rain rule in the semi-finals of their first World Cup campaign in 1992, South Africa have seemingly been jinxed in knock-out matches. They have only won one such match, a quarter-final in 2015, but have been beaten in four semi-finals and two quarter-finals, sometimes in circumstances that have been heartbreaking for their supporters.

The Proteas will go to the 2019 tournament with modest expectations, lacking the depth of all-rounders that made them a formidable force in the late 1990s and early 2000s and hit by the retirements of star batsman AB de Villiers and fast bowler Morne Morkel. They have won 12 and lost ten ODIs since the start of 2018.

South Africa’s batting must revolve around David Miller (L) and captain Faf du Plessis. (AFP Image)

GAMECHANGER: Hard-hitting left-hander David Miller is a powerful batsman capable of changing the course of a match and an outstanding fielder. He was man of the series in a recent T20 series win against Pakistan.

Breakout star could be Lungi Ngidi, a 22-year-old fast bowler with the physique of a heavyweight boxer. He has missed most of the current season with a knee injury but is back and bowling quickly in franchise cricket.

SRI LANKA

With allegations of match-fixing and corruption plaguing Sri Lankan cricket, the 1996 World Cup champions are not a threat to top international sides despite their recent Test win in South Africa. The islanders crashed out of the 2015 edition after a big loss to South Africa in the quarter-finals and have since witnessed a decline in their cricketing fortunes.

Sri Lanka hit a new low in 2017 after a visiting Zimbabwe team beat them 3-2 in a five-match ODI series and the island nation has not won a bi-lateral rubber in the last two years. Performance apart, Sri Lankan cricket has been at the centre of allegations including attempted match-fixing ahead of a Test against England last year. But their one-wicket win over South Africa in Durban this weekend will give them hope to cause a few upsets in the World Cup.

GAMECHANGER: Old warhorse Lasith Malinga still remains Sri Lanka’s best bet in the bowling department and key to any chance of Sri Lanka making an impact in England and Wales. The 35-year-old paceman returned as the team’s best with seven wickets in their recent 3-0 loss in New Zealand. He was also captaining the side.

With 318 wickets in 213 matches since making his ODI debut in 2004, Malinga can still inspire a struggling Sri Lankan side with his experience and his ability to stifle runs in the death overs with his slinging yorkers.

WEST INDIES

Champions of the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979, the West Indies appear doomed to endure a tortuous tournament despite their recent Test series win over England on home ground. Failed to get past the quarter-finals in 2011 and 2015 and were forced to qualify for 2019.

West Indies won eight of 18 ODIs in 2018, losing a home series against Bangladesh and coming off second best in India and a return trip to Bangladesh. In 2017, they managed just three wins in 22 games.

GAMECHANGER: Chris Gayle, edging closer to his 40th birthday, is the man expected to provide the fireworks before he retires but it is 22-year-old Shimron Hetmyer who could be the team’s standout star.

Already attracting breathless comparisons to Brian Lara, the dashing left-hander from Guyana has already made three centuries in his 20 ODIs with a strike rate even better than the masterful Gayle. Hetmyer led West Indies to the world under-19 title in 2016.