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World Cup runners & riders

The Cricket World Cup, which kicks off on 19 February, could be one of the most open for years. We've picked out a few teams we think may have a say in destination of the trophy.

The tenth edition of the World Cup promises to be one of the most open yet, with no clear favourite for the tournament.

The hosts & favourites

India are the side perhaps most suited to the favourites tag.

After kicking off the tournament with clash against co-hosts Bangladesh in Dhaka, India play their next five group matches on home soil.

Despite a late injury to seam bowler Praveen Kumar their squad, captained by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, is an eclectic mix of youth and experience.

Sachin Tendulkar, playing in what will surely be his last World Cup, will be desperate for a fairytale victory in his home city of Mumbai.

On the docile tracks of the sub-continent, the big-hitting prowess of Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and openers Gautam Ghambir and Virender Sehwag could assist Tendulkar in realising that dream.

The bowling relies perhaps a little too heavily on the majestic Zaheer Khan and experienced off-spinner Harbhajan Singh though, with an assortment of part-time spinners chipping in.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage will be the enormous pressure on the team to succeed on home soil. In a cricket obsessed country the sheer weight of expectation could cripple the Indian’s.

Verdict: Have the raw materials and local advantage to make the competition theirs - but must avoid the same fate that befell them in 1996, when they lost out in the semi-final at home to Sri Lanka.

Star man: Sachin Tendulkar - Utterly incomparable. The 37-year-old is arguably in the form of his life and has a home final to aim at.

World Cup history: Winners 1983; Runners-up 2003.

The outsiders

England were being talked about as potential favourites after their comprehensive Ashes win in early 2011 but their 6-1 ODI series defeat and ongoing injury crisis has quelled that optimism.

While post-Ashes fatigue can be blamed for much of their poor effort Down Under, there is no guarantee they will be able to rouse themselves in the sub-continent.

If there is an advantage to having suffered so many injuries during the long tour to Australia it may be that key players such as Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan have now had an enforced rest.

Star ODI batsman Eoin Morgan will be sorely missed in the middle order with more pressure now placed firmly on the shoulders of Kevin Pietersen.

Pietersen was lacklustre in the ODIs in Australia but has a history of excelling in high pressure situations.

He was the man of the tournament in England’s ICC World Twenty20 win last May and a repeat performance could lift his side to similar heights.

Verdict: Look unlikely winners at the moment but in such a long competition England have time to rediscover the form which led them to five ODI series wins in 2010.

Star man: Kevin Pietersen is the one proven destructive batsman in the middle order.

World Cup history: Runners-up: 1979, 1992 & 1997.

The holders

Australian cricket is in an unusual state of flux in the aftermath of their first Ashes series defeat at home since 1986/87.

While their efforts in the Test arena have been increasingly disappointing, Ricky Ponting’s side have retained their place at the top of the ICC ODI rankings as they search for a fourth successive World Cup win.

Their 6-1 ODI destruction of England has provided the ideal momentum, though Ponting’s absence for that series and imminent return may disrupt their rhythm.

Then again 'Punter', like Swann and Broad for England, may have benefited from the time off.

Their best spinner Nathan Hauritz and outstanding Ashes batsman Mike Hussey will both miss the tournament through injury but, in the ODI arena at least, Australia have a ready supply of reserves.

Verdict: Hardly the vintage side which won the last three competitions - but underestimate Australia at your peril.

Star man: Shane Watson - Destructive at the top of the order and a miserly fifth bowler who should excel on slow tracks.

World Cup history: Winners 1987, 1999, 2003 & 2007; Runners-up 1975 & 1996.

The dark horses

Pakistan remain the most unpredictable side in world cricket.

Despite controversy in the lead-up to the tournament, they recently beat perennial World Cup over-achievers New Zealand 3-2 away from home.

Their resources have been vastly diminished with Sohail Tanvir the latest player to drop out of the squad with a knee injury.

But there are match-winners galore in all departments with the likes of Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Akhtar in the 15-man squad.

Seam bowlers Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz are star performers too but the conditions may not favour them.

It is less than two years since they won the World T20 at Lord’s, and regardless of their personnel, they remain capable of igniting at any point.

Verdict: Who knows? A repeat of four years ago and a first round exit or a thrilling run to the final seem equally likely.

Star man: Abdul Razzaq - The all-rounder's big hitting can change a match in moments and has a handy nack of picking up wickets when his team need them too.

World Cup history: Winners 1992; Runners-up 1999.

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