Richard Mann's 2019 Cricket World Cup betting preview...
The 2019 Cricket World Cup finally gets under way on Thursday and after seemingly endless build-up, a plethora of tedious warm-up matches and the media circus that comes with any ICC event, England will bid to take their first step towards lifting a trophy that has appeared for so long their destiny when taking on South Africa at The Oval.
In the four years since suffering an early exit at the 2015 World Cup in Australia, Eoin Morgan's side have become the dominant global force in 50-over cricket, rebranding their own style and that of the game as a whole, producing a fearless and aggressive style of cricket that has left the rest of the world clambering to keep pace.
Chasing down scores well in excess of 350 has become the norm, not the exception, for this 'new England' while with ball, the middle overs have become a period of the game where limiting runs is not the aim, instead the hunting of wickets, Morgan's creative and bold captaincy seeing him use the wrist-spin of Adil Rashid and his seamers' short balls to continually force the pace.
With the batting as deep as it is skilful - Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes batting at number seven and eight respectively - England truly are a fearsome unit and the recent addition of Jofra Archer to the side, along with Mark Wood's return to fitness and form, means that Morgan can now call upon genuine pace with the ball.
On the face of it, there would appear to be very few chinks in England's armour and their most recent performances on the field just reinforce that point, a 4-0 defeat of Pakistan coming on the back of an away series victory against Sri Lanka in the winter having felled both India and Australia in these conditions last summer.
They clearly begin the tournament as clear favourites, and rightly so, but despite all this, I'm not convinced they are bombproof at 2/1.
Even with Archer's inclusion - another smart move by the England selectors - the hosts are still liable to leak runs and while Morgan's attack-first policy has often ensured that momentum is broken by making timely breakthroughs, it won't always work and, as ever, much will depend on England's ability to chase down, or post, big scores with the bat.
In four and five-match series, that approach has served England well with the batsmen playing with freedom and the security of knowing that one implosion won't cost them dear, that there will always be the next match to put it right.
Should, as expected, England make it through to the knockout stages, they will face different pressures, one without the security of 'the next game' and one which has been the undoing of this side in the past.
England were heavy favourites to win the Champions Trophy on these shores back in 2017 but having made seamless progress to the semi-finals, were rolled out for only 211 when failing to adapt to a challenging batting surface.
I suspect groundsman around the country will be tasked to ensure there isn't a repeat performance, that England are handed flat and true batting surfaces to allow the likes of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler to play their natural games, and there is no doubt that England are a stronger side two years on from that Cardiff disaster.
Nevertheless, for all their power and strength, England will need to prove able to cope with the huge weight of expectation that comes with being hot favourites on home soil and they will need to be very brave to continue with their fearless brand of attack-first cricket with so much on the line in a semi-final or final.
As such, I simply have to look elsewhere with India's proven track record at World Cups and percentage cricket winning me over.
The 2011 World Cup winners can still call upon MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli from that fine side, the former still going strong behind the stumps and marshalling the middle order, while the latter has since taken over the captaincy, becoming the best batsman in the world in the ensuing years.
India made it all the way to the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy on these shores, having beaten England in the same competition two years earlier, and their ability to peak on the biggest stage of all means they can never be underestimated in a World Cup.
Kohli's brilliance in last summer's Test series in England will ensure he returns with happy memories and as ever, his form at number three will be key for India, as will that of openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.
India's top three is as good as it gets in 50-over cricket, Sharma's tendency to take his time early before accelerating through his innings has already seen him make three double hundreds in ODI cricket and is complimented by Dhawan's natural aggression, particularly through the off-side, before Kohli then generally takes centre stage.
Like England, India are fantastic chasers and although there have been concerns about their middle order, KL Rahul's hundred from number four in the warm-up match against Bangladesh is a huge boost to India, as was a century of his own for Dhoni.
Suddenly, things seem to be clicking into place for India and although they were beaten by Australia at home prior to the IPL, the time for experimenting is now over and the batting, in particular, looks to have a much more settled look to it than at any stage in the last two years.
Furthermore, India played really well when pushing England hard in this form of the game last summer and the experience gained by young wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal on that tour should have done them the power of good.
As always in white-ball cricket, expect spin to prove a vital weapon in this tournament, particularly in the latter stages when some of the wickets begin to get tired and worn, and the dry surfaces should offer assistance to Kohli's potent spin attack.
The seam bowling is certainly no back number either, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami meaning that India will have all bases covered if presented with seamer-friendly conditions, while in the excellent Jasprit Bumrah, Kolhi can call upon the best death bowler in world cricket.
With the exciting Hardik Pandya adding vital balance in the all-rounder role, India really do have all bases covered and unlike England, I do think they are perfectly equipped to cope with high-pressure knockout matches.
England's all-out attack mode could well leave them vulnerable in the latter stages but India tend to play the percentages more and when the stakes are so high, I can't escape the feeling that such a method might be the way to go.
That is not to say that India can't match the very best in terms of aggression and firepower, they most certainly can, and given their rich history in ICC events and their wonderful habit of peaking on the big stage, they look the bet at 10/3.
Australia have been well backed in recent weeks, a product of their excellent win over England in a warm-up game at the Ageas Bowl last week and their overall upturn in fortunes in white-ball cricket over the last year.
Rewind 12 months and Australia were routed 5-0 by England in a ODI series that demonstrated a huge gulf between the two sides but since then, coach Justin Langer and captain Aaron Finch have overseen an impressive resurgence that has seen them win in India and then against Pakistan in Dubai.
The bowling remains potent with the excellent Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc approaching the peak of their powers while the batting had a solid look to it even before the return of Steve Smith and David Warner.
That pair are back in the fold having served their bans for their part in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa and their involvement not only enriches the competition but also Australia's batting depth.
As long as Australia don't risk unbalancing their side by trying to squeeze too many batsmen into a side that needs the all-round ability of either Glenn Maxwell or Marcus Stoinis, they should be a big threat to all and much like India, the current World Cup holders can usually be relied upon to produce their best in this event.
It seems strange to be on the eve of a Cricket World Cup without South Africa being close to the top of the market. However, they have lost some of their great performers in recent years - AB de Villers and Morne Morkel heading the list - though Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla do remain and both will be desperate for one last hurrah.
Steyn has been the best bowler of his generation, if not any generation, and despite the injury problems he has suffered over the last few years, he bowled with good pace for South Africa this winter and will form a formidable pace attack with Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.
The batting certainly looks weaker than in recent years but Quinton de Kock and David Miller are two fine players who really need to come of age now while Aiden Markram will need little introduction to Hampshire and South Africa fans alike.
In a funny sort of way, going under the radar and having to shoulder far less expectation than in previous World Cups might just play into the strengths of South Africa who are brilliantly led by the impressive Faf du Plessis and could prove a real force if able to get some early results and crucial momentum. That said, playing England in the tournament opener, without Steyn, won't help on that score.
1996 winners and dual runners-up Sri Lanka don't look the force of old having also lost a number of key players through retirements recently and Lasith Malinga will need to defy father time if they are to stand any chance of making the latter stages.
Of the teams priced at double figures and above, New Zealand and the West Indies make most appeal, the Kiwis always able to pack a punch in ICC events and it shouldn't be forgotten that they reached the final in Australia in 2015.
Kane Williamson leads a talented side that includes Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor and I expect the latter to make his mark over the next few weeks having performed really well in the last 12 months, including when stroking a Test-match double hundred back in March.
With Ish Sodhi offering variety with his leg-spin, New Zealand certainly house the tools needed to make an impact, as do the West Indies who are never easy to predict but are clearly very dangerous.
This World Cup will be Chris Gayle's last so he will be desperate to finish on a high and with white-ball specialists Andre Russell and Sheldon Cottrell joining the the likes of Shai Hope and Kemar Roach in a squad laced with talent and self-belief, the West Indies certainly have the ability to make the 18/1 about them look very big.