With the ICC [ Images ] Cricket World Cup 2011 now upon us, the big question being asked is: Who will win? Which captain will stand beside his team in Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai [ Images ], on 2 April and lift the Cup that Counts?
Some have argued that home advantage will benefit Bangladesh, India [ Images ] and Sri Lanka [ Images ] while others suggest it's South Africa's [ Images ] or England's [ Images ] time and others still say the winner will come from a more surprising source.
Well, if you look at the consistent form of the teams over the past year or two then there is one clear favourite -- the Reliance [ Get Quote ] ICC ODI Championship suggests that Australia [ Images ] is on course to lift the trophy for the an unprecedented fourth time in a row.
Ricky Ponting's [ Images ] team currently sit on top of the log, a full 12 ratings points clear of its nearest rival and having just beaten a fancied England team 6-1, confidence will be high within the camp of the defending champion.
But it's one thing to win a home series convincingly in front of your own adoring crowds, another completely to go to the sub-continent and deal with the challenges presented by conditions in this part of the world. And if the warm-up matches are anything to go by, where they were soundly beaten by India and South Africa in Bengaluru [ Images ], the Aussies still have some work to do.
Its nearest rival, India, looks composed and ready to go in second position. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's [ Images ] men are used to playing under pressure and the support they will receive at home will be a huge motivating factor, if extra motivation were required when playing for the biggest prize in cricket.
Sri Lanka always pop up as many people's one to watch or favourite surprise package but that is perhaps a little unfair to what is the third-ranked ODI team in the world. This is a team used to doing well in ICC events and Kumar Sangakkara [ Images ] and company will be determined to go one step further than they did in the West Indies [ Images ] four years ago.
With the Proteas looking poised just behind, it is interesting to note that only one ratings point separates second position from fourth.
England is some pundits' favourite to take the title for the first time in its history and Andrew Strauss's [ Images ] men currently occupy fifth position, nine points ahead of the unpredictable champions of 1992, Pakistan.
And that's before we get to New Zealand [ Images ], which made the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 and the ICC Champions Trophy [ Images ] 2009 and, over many years, has proved itself to be as formidable an ODI team as there is. With experienced campaigners like Daniel Vettori [ Images ], Jacob Oram [ Images ] and Ross Taylor [ Images ] in the team, there is no discounting the Black Caps, despite what recent results might suggest.
Bangladesh comes next in eighth place and the Tigers will not consider it too much of an upset if they turn over higher-ranked teams, especially seeing as they will be playing at home starting with the opening fixture against India on Saturday.
Although the West Indies lies in a lowly ninth position, the team is not short on potential match-winners. Chris Gayle [ Images ], Shivnarine Chanderpaul [ Images ], Kemar Roach, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy the list goes on.
With Ireland, Netherlands, Canada [ Images ], Zimbabwe and Kenya all having demonstrated their skills over the years leading to some notable successes in ICC events, the so-called "big teams" will not go into those games with the complacency of previous encounters. Or, if they do, they could just find themselves on the end of beating.
So, there it is. Australia is the ICC ODI Championship favourite but we know the reality is a lot more complex than that. The truth is that this is perhaps the most open ICC Cricket World Cup in history with any number of teams able to construct an argument why they are contenders. Only one will do it and, as well as lifting the coveted cup above their heads, they could also end the tournament in the number-one position.
ICC ODI Championship (as of 18 February, before the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011)
Rank Team Rating
1 Australia 131
2 India 119
3 Sri Lanka 119
4 South Africa 118
5 England 109
6 Pakistan 100
7 New Zealand 91
8 Bangladesh 66
9 West Indies 66
10 Ireland 39
11 Zimbabwe 37
12 Netherlands 17
13 Kenya 0