Preview: Love for World Cup - Sport's biggest spectacle begins on Valentine's Day

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On February 14 - Valentine's Day, cricket's biggest tournament commences in New Zealand and Australia as 14 teams set out to realise their dream of owning the ICC World Cup.

World Cup Special; Tournament Guide; List of broadcasters

There is no bigger prize in a cricketer's life than the World Cup. Every four years, players arrive in different countries aiming to win the coveted trophy. But, in the end, only 1 side with 15 men succeeds. Day one features New Zealand-Sri Lanka game in Christchurch and Australia-England in Melbourne.

Who will win the World Cup?

This time, World Cup has returned to New Zealand and Australia for the second time. When it was held here in 1992, Pakistan were crowned the kings of the game. (List of commentators)

Back then, there was only Test and 50-over formats. Now, the advent of Twenty20s is threatening One Day Internationals. But this quadrennial World Cup reminds everyone that the format is safe. Though we have T20 World Championship, 50-over World Cup is the pinnacle in the sport. (Day 1 schedule)

In 2011, when the event was hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it was India's turn to regain the trophy after 28 years, at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium on April 2. (All the venues' guide)

Now as MS Dhoni and his legion gear up to defend the title, they know it won't be easy. The run-up to the tournament has not been an easy one. (10 changes for WC)

For two-and-half months in Australia, India managed to get only one win - that too against Afghanistan in a warm-up game earlier this week. So, they are under tremendous pressure to perform. (Indian team guide)

Hosts Australia and New Zealand are the favourites to win this time, the former as overwhelming one - with recent good run to back them with home conditions. (10 facts about India-Pakistan clash)

South Africa, stuck with the 'chokers' tag in World Cups, are looking dangerous this time. Many feel this could be their year. But will the versatile AB de Villiers be able to deliver the World Cup single-handedly to them remains to be seen.

The focus has stayed on the trio of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa for the top prize this year. But there are others who have the potential to go all the way.

The other two Asian heavyweights Pakistan and Sri Lanka don't figure in top-4 of anybody's list. But they can surprise as well. Sri Lanka have lost 2 consecutive finals (2007 and 2011). Will it be 3rd time lucky?

England is not considered a good ODI side but with good set of fast bowlers - Steven Finn and James Anderson in particular, they will fancy their chances of making the semi-finals.

West Indies, the winners of opening two editions of the World Cup in 1975 and 1979, are not the same force. Two big names Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard were not selected leading to controversy.

Though it is a 14-team tournament, you cannot look beyond top 8 - Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and England.

These 8 are expected to sail into the knockout stages (quarter-finals), where the real tournament starts.

Indian players with 2011 World Cup trophy

Minnows Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland, United Arab Emirates and debutants Afghanistan are capable of producing shock results but lack consistency.

With 7 teams in each group, top 4 go through to the knockouts. Many former cricketers including Sunil Gavaskar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid have criticised this format.

The quarter-final phase opens on March 18 and for over a month we could be witness to practice games for the big boys of world cricket. However, there are mouth-watering clashes in store as India-Pakistan, Australia-England, India-South Africa and Australia-New Zealand.

With big grounds and bouncy pitches in Australia, it would be a surprise if a team from the subcontinent makes the final on March 29 at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). But do not discount India's chances.

For Asian fans, next 44 days will be early start to watch cricket, some days very early as 3.30 AM IST. 49 matches will be played and 210 players will be in action.

World Cup will be the cup of joy for 15 of them next month while the rest go home to try their luck again in 2019.

Win or lose, teams need to play in the right spirit. Let cricket remain gentleman's game.

May the best team win.

Let's Play.

OneIndia News

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