ICC World Cup 2023: Politics and powerplays
It goes against ICC rules for a country to be without a women's side, but the Afghanistan men's team is part of the World Cup regardless
The ICC men's 2023 Cricket World Cup begins on 5 October with a rematch of the previous final, in 2019, between champions England and New Zealand. England won the final in London four years ago by the barest of margins and will be expected to beat a New Zealand side who are always a tough proposition. The final is scheduled for 19 November.
There have been several tweaks to the format since the tournament's introduction in 1975, and this year's edition sees all 10 teams play each other once in a group, with the top four making the semifinals. If teams finish on the same points, the number of wins, followed by net run rate and then results between the sides will be deciding factors.
India are hosting solo for the first time, having previously shared hosting duties with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in 2011, with Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1996, and with Pakistan in 1987.
A partnership with Pakistan would be all but unthinkable at this point in time, though. Political tensions have often spilled over on to the field, with tours postponed and frosty relations the norm. Just days before the 2023 tournament, there have been claims of "unequitable treatment towards Pakistan" from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) against India, after a visa delay meant players were late in entering India.
Pakistan's first warmup match against New Zealand will be behind closed doors, with the visa situation for travelling Pakistani fans still not resolved.
Furthermore, the group stage match between the two sides has been rescheduled for 14 October after police were unable to guarantee security as the original date clashed with the first day of the Hindu festival of Navratri.
Matches will be played across 10 venues, from the smallest stadium, the 23,000 HPCA Stadium in Dharamshala, to the 132,000 Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, where India and Pakistan will meet.
That vast stadium, named after the Indian prime minister, will host most of the headline clashes in the tournament. With an election due in April and concerns about a number of Modi's policies, particularly his treatment of Muslim minorities, there are many who believe the tournament will be used as a political tool to prop up his premiership.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, hosts India, defending champions England, and most prolific winners Australia are the top three favourites, with Pakistan and South Africa the pick of the outsiders.
For the hosts, it has often been hard to look past Virat Kohli, long the team's biggest star. But fellow batter Shubman Gill is ahead of his compatriot in the ratings and comes in to the tournament in better form.
Other players to watch include England ODI captain Jos Buttler and returning Test captain Ben Stokes, South Africa's Quentin de Kock, who will look to go out on a high after announcing his retirement from the ODI format, Pakistan's Babar Azam and veteran Australian opener David Warner.
In bowling terms, spinners may well be key at some venues. Afghanistan's Rashid Khan has consistently been among the best of those in this format, while India have added the wily Ravichandran Ashwin to their squad. Australia will rely on the pace of Mitchell Starc and accuracy of Josh Hazelwood, while Pakistan's Shaheen Afridi is the leader of a dangerous bowling attack.
It is perhaps the absence of the West Indies, who won the first two tournaments in 1975 and 1979, that is most surprising in the list of qualified teams.
While Bangladesh's development has stalled a bit in recent years, Afghanistan are a genuine threat to the established sides. Though the International Cricket Council (ICC) player rankings may favour them because they largely play weaker sides and build points more easily, Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman are rated among top five bowlers in the world while 38-year-old Mohammad Nabi is number 2 in the all-rounder ratings.
However, Afghanistan's place at the World Cup has proved somewhat controversial. The Taliban's seizure of power in 2021 has meant women are not allowed to play sport and the Afghan women's cricket team, just like their football team, has been disbanded. It goes against ICC rules for a country to be without a women's side, but the tournament organisers have taken no action.
Australia did, earlier this year, when they pulled out of a scheduled series citing Afghanistan's lack of provision for women. Afghanistan's cricket board described the decision as "unfair" and "pathetic." The sides meet on 7 November in Mumbai.