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3rdThe 10th edition of the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup begins in Australia, on February 14, Valentine’s Day, with Sri Lanka – the 1996 champions – squaring off against co-hosts New Zealand, who have yet to claim the trophy.

Although off the pitch the day will be characterised by flowers and chocolates for loved ones, there will no love lost on the pitch. The Sri Lankans have endeared themselves to fans with their resilience, while the Kiwis are the perennial under-achievers who will be hoping that the Lankans have an off day on the field.

The second match on the opening day also promises some thrilling action as England, the originators of the game, face off against decades-old rivals, and perhaps the most dominant force in world cricket for over a decade – the fire-brand Australians.

Over the years, cricket has become extremely unpredictable, especially with the addition of T20 tournaments, with minnows such as Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland and the UAE managing an upset or two. This is why an outright favourite is difficult to pinpoint, with Australia, England, India, Pakistan, South Africa and even the West Indies waiting to stake claim to the throne of world cricket.

For Pakistan, the World Cup will hold special meaning, especially for captain Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Khan Afridi, as both will be playing their last World Cup. From a team perspective, fans will hope that Misbah will display the same form which saw him score one of the fastest centuries in Test Cricket, while for ‘boom boom’ Afridi, this will be his opportunity to go out with a bang.

Pakistan will face a high-pressure test on February 15, when they play arch rivals
and defending champions, India, at the Adelaide Oval.

For people whose loved ones might support a team other than yours, it is time to splurge on chocolates and roses and gear up for six weeks of pulsating cricket action.

– Haroon Rasheed

First published in the Aduzzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on February 8, 2014.