South Africa bowling damns them
Without a ball bowled there is a creeping realisation if you're an afficionado of these things that India, the bully boys of the game in every respect, already have a hand on the World Cup trophy.
In a tournament which could have been designed for them (spoiler: it was designed by them because they are the true power brokers at the ICC) it would look exactly like this.
They're at home where they are dominant and they can afford to lose three games to make the semi-finals in a competition structured to hamper the smaller nations, guaranteeing maximum TV revenue from 1.4 billion sets of Indian eyes.
And if things to start to go awry, they can throw their toys out the pram and manipulate the rules to get their way. See the Asia Cup reserve day fiasco or, with our crystal ball shimmering, preventing Pakistan from playing a semi-final in Mumbai.
Of course, the connoisseurs know all this. The real question, as ever, is whether India are value to win the World Cup. The answer to that is no, if only because of the passage of time. They are now no better than 3.1085/40, a cut from 3.3512/5 a couple of weeks back. It's always hard to take an inferior price. Betfair Sportsbook go 9/52.80.
The good news is that there is better value. The standout price - and best way to get with the hosts - is to back them to reach the final at 1.9210/11 (5/61.84 with Betfair Sportsbook). There's two chunks of rationale for that.
Why India will make the Cricket World Cup final
First, they are a cracking outfit with fewer negatives than any other team. In the build-up there were lingering doubts about the No 4 slot and whether they truly had enough power. Well, KL Rahul has proved he can keep runmachine Shreyas Iyer out of the side while Suryakumar Yadav has emphatically shown he can finish in this format.
They are ranked at Nos 4 and 3 for batting power and bowling economy respectively. On the latter, their options are superb with Ravi Ashwin and Shardul Thakur (one of their most reliable men on the top bowler markets) not even likely to make the XI.
The maths stacks up, too. This is chunk two: India have won 78% of their matches at home in the last two years. Consider they need to win at a rate of at most 66% to make the semi-finals and they're tough to stop.
And if they're in that semi-final you can be pretty sure, they won't be better than 1.804/5 to make the final (and that's conservative). That's a significant edge in our favour. Remember the price for the final is 1.9210/11.
Picking out a team to stop them is hard. Australia, who are 5.609/2 (4/15.00 with Sportsbook), know this lot inside out having beaten them three times in India this year. Their nous and spirit has huge appeal. Less so their choice of squad which could be criminally light on spin.
South Africa's brilliant, bullish batting could take anyone out in a one-off semi. They will be well-backed at 11.0010/1 (Sportsbook: 15/28.50) but as discussed in the team guide a worse bowling economy rate than even the Netherlands and injuries to Anrich Nortje and Sisanda Magala are huge negatives.
Perhaps if this tournament was anywhere but India we'd be all over Pakistan at 9.28/1 (Sportsbook: 13/27.50). But underestimate the size of Babar Azam's task at your peril. They're not just playing the XI men in front of them as discussed previously here.
That leaves runners-up New Zealand at 12.011/1 and the holders England at 4.804/1. The Kiwis, one suspects, have had their shot with two failures at the final hurdle in the last two tournaments. Are they really a better team?
At least we can answer with an emphatic 'no' on that question about England. Their win rate is 52% in the last two years, ranking them equal fifth and their bowling economy is equal sixth. When they came into the 2019 edition they were winning at 74% and Jofra Archer had bolstered the bowling.
Listen to our Cricket...Only Bettor World Cup Preview here...
What they do in the field could be a major issue. Mark Wood and Reece Topley are injury prone while there are statistical signs of decline in Adil Rashid's game since. Sam Curran was fodder on these pitches in IPL.
The famous batting power seems to be retained with a No 1 ranking on strike rate. There's another 'but', though. Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan are untested and untried as an opening pair and Joe Root is on a horror run.
When you consider that they had everything in their favour in 2019 and still lost three times, it is hard not to question second-favourite status. Those who are prepared to have a gutsy bet can do so by laying them to make the top four at 1.402/5
Ed Hawkins' top four
*Read our unmissable team-by-tam guide with all they key betting data here
*Read How to Bet the World Cup Part I here
*Who to follow in the top bat and bowler markets here