Who will win the cricket World Cup? Robot picks Afghanistan
Cricket is still looking for its own Paul the Octopus after Kiwi robot makes bizarre choice of World Cup winner
Paul the Octopus achieved worldwide fame for his uncanny ability to predict the outcome of football matches, but it looks as if cricket is still looking for a reliable oracle after a robot decided that 1,000-1 outsiders Afghanistan would win the cricket World Cup, which starts this weekend in Australia and New Zealand.
The University of Canterbury robot, nicknamed Ikram, made the unlikely prediction after studying the flags of all 14 competing countries, reports the New Zealand Herald.
His leftfield forecast is almost guaranteed to be wide of the mark, as the chances of Afghanistan even winning one game are slim. So in the absence of a reliable non-human soothsayer who do the experts think will triumph Down Under?
The reigning champions are a very generous 10-1 to retain their title. They were in dire form during the tri-nations warm-up tournament and have been written off by several experts including former Australian opener Matthew Hayden, who told the Mumbai Mirror there was "no way" the holders would retain their trophy.
"They did have two years of indifferent results before the 2011 tournament yet went on to win it," says The Guardian. "But you can't escape the sense that in Australian conditions the India bowling attack... needs big totals to defend." Unfortunately the batting line-up has been "hopelessly out of nick in the face of aggressive pace bowling".
The hosts are favourites at 2-1 and have impressed in their warm-up matches. However, captain Michael Clarke has been ruled out of their opening match against England and if his suspect fitness fails again during the tournament they will have lost one of their key players.
On the bowling side Mitchell Johnson has the pace to rip through any batting line up but the hosts real strength lies in their all-rounders according to Jesse Horgan of the Sydney Morning Herald. Yuvraj Singh's performances with bat and ball helped India win in 2011 and "Australia are hoping their bevy of seam-bowling all-rounders will prove the difference in this tournament, given the significant change in pitch conditions from 2011".
One day cricket has never been England's forte and their build-up to the tournament has hardly been ideal. Alastair Cook was sacked as captain and dropped from the squad late last year and Eoin Morgan's form has been a concern since he took over. England's best one-day player is Kevin Pietersen, but his international career came to an abrupt end last year. That helps explain why England are a 10-1 shot.
However, former captain Michael Vaughan still believes England have a chance. "They've got a settled team which is starting to play more consistently," he told the BBC. "I really believe that they believe they can cause a few shocks in this World Cup."
But the first game against Australia could be crucial. "They need confidence from the group stages, they need to beat one of the big teams just to give themselves that feelgood factor," said Vaughan.
The co-hosts are being tipped as the dark horses of the tournament and are a 9-2 shot to win the event for the first time. "This is a side now boasting the depth to leave a player as talented as Jesse Ryder out in the cold," says Russell Jackson in the Guardian. "Complacency is at an all-time low."
Their strength is in the batting he says. "In Ross Taylor, the recently-unstoppable Kane Williamson, all-rounder Corey Anderson and even hard-hitting keeper Luke Ronchi, this side boasts plenty of dynamic, versatile and fast-finishing batting and also the most productive tail-enders in ODI cricket."
The bowling may lack stardust, adds Jackson, but it is efficient. "The Kiwis have coughed up only two 300-plus scores at home in the four years since the last World Cup."
Still tarnished with the "choker" tag the Proteas will be hoping that 2015 can be their year, and with the incredible AB de Villiers in their ranks South Africa have the ability to blast any bowling attack to smithereens – witness his spectacular 44-ball 149 against the West Indies last month.
"Fewer stars than in previous World Cups, Jacques Kallis' absence to be keenly felt. Then again, who needs him when you have De Villiers?" asks Sky Sports. Their point about star quality is a little unfair as South Africa are blessed with other talented matchwinners in the form of batsman Hashim Amla and fast bowler Dale Steyn.
It never pays to write off Sri Lanka, although they have drifted to 14-1 in the betting. The team is based around a core of veterans, but there are few teams in the world who wouldn't like to have Kumar Sangakkara and Lasith Malinga on their side.
"The experienced batting trio of Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene may be getting on but they can still set up victories despite a weak bowling line-up – Malinga apart," says The Independent. If Sri Lanka are to challenge some of the support acts will have to make an impact.
Of the other teams Pakistan represent the biggest threat, and it is impossible to guess how they will perform at the tournament. They are "personified by the sometimes destructive, sometimes careless [Shahid] Afridi, who bows out of ODI cricket after the tournament," says Sky. Chris Gayle of the West Indies has the ability to provide the fireworks down under but his team are unlikely to progress beyond the quarter finals.