The 2023 Cricket World Cup gets underway this week with England looking to defend their crown from 2019. But who are some of the key men to watch? We recruited the very best of Opta’s cricket data editors to answer just that. They pick one player from each team to keep an eye on as the action kicks off.

The Players

Ishan Kishan (India) • Josh Inglis (Australia) • Maheesh Theekshana (Sri Lanka) • Matt Henry (New Zealand) • Gus Atkinson (England) • Heinrich Klaasen (South Africa) • Iftikhar Ahmed (Pakistan) • Shoriful Islam (Bangladesh) • Ibrahim Zadran (Afghanistan) • Bas de Leede (Netherlands)

Ishan Kishan

Ishan Kishan’s remarkable journey to the Indian ODI squad for the 2023 World Cup is a testament to his talent and resilience. Very few would have predicted his inclusion just a year ago, but wider circumstances pried open the door. Kishan promptly smashed it wide open. Rishabh Pant’s unfortunate accident and KL Rahul’s fitness issues gave Kishan the opportunity to lay a stake for the team’s wicketkeeper-batter role, and he’s seized his chance.

Ishan Kishan 210 Wagon Wheel

Kishan’s defining career moment to date came at the end of last year when he smashed the fastest double century in men’s ODI history against Bangladesh (126 balls). This marked Kishan’s maiden ODI hundred and put him in elite company alongside legends such as Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, and Rohit Sharma on the list of Indian batters to log a double century in men’s ODIs. At the time, he became only the seventh batter in international cricket to hit 200+ in men’s ODIs.

In a subsequent three-match ODI series against West Indies, Kishan’s consistency shone as he scored three consecutive fifties (52, 55, and 77) while opening the batting. His performances secured his place as the team’s second-choice keeper-batter and also landed him the Player of the Tournament award across that series.

Kishan’s versatility with the bat means he’s able to perform roles up and down the order. He willingly accepted the challenge of batting at number 5 in the Asia Cup encounter against Pakistan. Despite challenging circumstances, he scored 82 from 81 balls against a formidable bowling attack, rescuing India from a precarious situation of 66 for 4.

With India lacking left-handers in their top seven, Kishan’s inclusion provides a valuable asset. As the World Cup unfolds, he has the potential to make a significant impact and emerge as a star performer for the hosts.

Ayaktan Roy

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Josh Inglis

Alex Carey is firmly ensconced as Australia’s wicketkeeper for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023.

However, if Carey was to go down with injury, or another opportunity presented itself in Australia’s batting lineup, then backup keeper-batter Josh Inglis is a more than suitable replacement to fill the void.

In the Australian men’s one-day domestic competition, Inglis has a batting dot ball percentage of 40% from 405 balls faced since the beginning of the 2021 Marsh One-Day Cup season, the best rate of any player in that time (min. 130 balls faced). That stat demonstrates his ability to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

In addition, Inglis’ batting average (50.5) in the competition over that time is the best of any wicketkeeper. He has proven explosive during the death overs (41st-50th) too, smashing six sixes – the third most of any player in the competition during this time.

Josh Inglis viz

In the field, Inglis’ 20 catches is the second most of any player in the Marsh One-Day Cup across the last three seasons behind only Jimmy Peirson (21). Inglis’ catch success rate (95% – 20/21) is the best of any of the top six players for catches in the competition in that time. Furthermore, no wicketkeeper has made more than Inglis’ three stumpings during this period (tied with Sam Harper – 3).

If Inglis is called upon during the tournament, the skills he’s displayed on the Australian domestic scene in recent seasons have him well and truly ready to make an impact.

Data correct prior to the start of the Marsh One-Day Cup 2023-2024 season on 24 September 2023.

Lukas Zaher

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Maheesh Theekshana
Sri Lanka

Even though Sri Lanka will be missing the services of Wanindu Hasaranga in this year’s World Cup, Maheesh Theeksana’s performances in ODI cricket in the past two years will ensure that the Lions are still very much a threat.

Sri Lanka’s leading wicket-taker in the format in 2023, Theekshana (31 wickets) has picked up wickets for his side with regularity. Not only that, but they have come at a truly miserly cost too – his bowling average has come way down from 50.4 in 2022 to 17.5 in 2023. In fact, his bowling average this year is second to only India’s Kuldeep Yadav (16) among spinners who have bowled at least 30 overs so far.

Maheesh Theekshana Viz

Among Sri Lanka players to have bowled at least 20 overs in ODIs this year, Theekshana has the best economy rate (4.5), strike rate (23.2) and average (17.5). He’s bagged four or more wickets in an innings in the format on three occasions – the joint-highest total of any bowler in this calendar year.

Theekshana’s ability to take timely wickets will come in handy for Sri Lanka as they enter the tournament with hopes of winning the title for the second time.

Akhil Khatri

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Matt Henry
New Zealand

Matt Henry is set to play a key role for New Zealand at the Cricket World Cup.

A talented contributor with both bat and ball, Henry has a batting strike of 160 in the Ford Trophy since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the best of any player in New Zealand’s men’s one-day domestic competition in that time (min. 20 balls faced). He has demonstrated an ability to find the rope with ease, scoring a boundary every 4.4 balls faced – the most frequent of any player (min. 40 balls faced).

Matt Henry Viz

With the ball in hand, he has proven to be very economical; only two players (min. 85 overs bowled) in the Ford Trophy across the last four seasons have recorded a better bowling economy rate than him (4.5). Batters have played and missed at 20% of Henry’s balls bowled during the death overs (overs 41-50) in the competition since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the highest rate of any player (min. 11 overs bowled).

Lukas Zaher

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Gus Atkinson

England’s strength in depth in white-ball cricket is scary. The reigning T20I and ODI World Cup champions have such riches they could afford to leave Jason Roy out of their squad and draft in new multi-format superstar Harry Brook. The rest of their lineup is covered in stardust from top to tail, with the exception of one unheralded but highly-touted bowler going by the name of Gus Atkinson.

The 25-year-old only made his England debuts in T20I and ODI cricket this year, and in fact only has five List A appearances to his name. A four-fer on his T20I debut against the Black Caps at Old Trafford this summer stole the headlines though and now he has the chance to play a part in a World Cup campaign.

England have seamers to rotate but Atkinson can offer something a little different. The old adage that there is no match for raw pace lives on. A rare commodity that even the toughest batters will fear and a skill that can rip apart a top order and blast open a match in just a few balls. Mark Wood and Jofra Archer (reserve player) both have that talent, but both are injury-prone (as Atkinson has been), so chances will come up.

A career bowling average under 20 (19.1) in T20s and a strike rate of 13.2 show what he is capable of and a First Class batting average of 28 indicates he might be able to contribute with the bat, too.

They’re traditional statistics though and Atkinson isn’t a traditional player.

During the 2023 Men’s Hundred, Atkinson was one of just seven bowlers to bowl 40+ balls (from a list of 58 bowlers) and induce a false shot from more than half of their deliveries. More than a fifth of his rockets resulted in a play and miss, while 7% saw the batter just avoid any sort of mishap by leaving the ball entirely.

Atkinson Viz

An untamed force, it is as of yet unclear how Atkinson will be used as a weapon in India at the 2023 Cricket World Cup, but if he does appear on the team sheet, expect opposition batters’ heart rates to creep up.

Nick Bentley

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Heinrich Klaasen
South Africa

Nothing portrays Heinrich Klaasen’s story in ODIs better than the scores of his last three innings in the format: 0, 174, 6. Consistency issues have bugged him since his international debut in 2018, but the 32-year-old seems to be coming of age now, having only found his footing in the format in 2023.

Batting largely as an enforcer for South Africa at number 5, Klaasen has accumulated 527 runs so far in 2023, his most in a single calendar year, at an average of 58.6 and a strike rate of 151.4. He is only the third batter to score 500+ runs in men’s ODIs in a single year at a strike rate of over 150 alongside Shahid Afridi (2005) and Brendon McCullum (2015), but he is the only one of the three to do so at an average of over 50.

Klaasen’s ability to go big is his calling card. Among batters from full-member sides who have faced at least 200 balls in men’s ODIs this year, only Australia’s Mitchell Marsh (4.6 balls per boundary) has hit a boundary more often than Klaasen (4.8 balls per boundary). His strike rate is also the highest among all batters (200 balls faced) and over 22 points higher than the next best batter on the list (Sean Williams – 129.3). Klaasen doesn’t waste balls either, with his dot-ball rate of 31.9% being the lowest of any of these batters.

Heinrich Klaasen viz

Klaasen’s record this year only improves if we consider just his performances against spin bowling. He has hit a boundary every 4.2 balls, logged a strike rate of 169.7, and has a batting dot-ball rate of 31.1%. But his willingness to target spinners also means that he gets out to them more often, with an average of 41.4 in this category.

Given his ability against spin bowling and his penchant for hitting top gear rather quickly, Klaasen could be South Africa’s match-winner on more than one occasion in the upcoming World Cup in India.

Raunak Jaiswal

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Iftikhar Ahmed

Pakistan were top of the ICC men’s ODI rankings not long ago and despite a poor Asia Cup tournament, remain one of the contenders for this World Cup. Their explosive all-rounder, Iftikhar Ahmed, can be a hidden star for the team in green.

He recently showcased his power-hitting against Nepal in the Asia Cup 2023, smashing an unbeaten 109 at a strike rate of 153.5 which included 11 fours and four sixes.

The 33-year-old has scored 348 runs in 2023 at an average of 69.6, the highest for Pakistan in the men’s ODIs in 2023. He comes alive in the slog overs, having scored 143 runs this year in overs 41-50, the fourth highest among batters from the competing nations at the World Cup, having done so at a strike rate of 160.7.

Iftikhar Ahmed Viz

He loves to deal in boundaries towards the end of the innings, with 63% of his runs in the slog overs coming via that method in ODIs this year. Only Mushfiqur Rahim (19) has hit more fours than Pakistan’s all-rounder (15) in the slog overs in men’s ODIs in 2023.

While his batting qualities are admirable, Ahmed can also be handy with the ball. The right-arm off-spinner recently took three wickets against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup.

Iftikhar can prove to be a handy game-changer from the lower order for Pakistan if they are to repeat their heroics from 1992 and win the World Cup for a second time.

Yash Thakur

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Shoriful Islam

In a high-stakes competition like the Cricket World Cup, it is important for teams to have some weapons up their sleeve and Shoriful Islam serves that purpose for Bangladesh. In his ODI career – spanning 22 innings since he debuted in May 2021 – he has only failed to take a wicket in three innings.

Apart from his wicket-taking ability, the left-arm pacer’s competence in the powerplay phase will ensure that the Tigers keep opponents’ top orders in check. Islam’s performance in this phase of the format has been remarkable this year – he has recorded the highest dot-ball rate (76.5%), best economy (3.4), best average (10.1) and second-best strike rate (18) among full-member side players who have bowled at least 20 powerplay overs.

In fact, batters have left 20% of his deliveries in the same phase, the highest rate among bowlers in this category and six percentage points more than the next best (Ireland’s Mark Adair – 14%).

Shoriful Islam viz

Islam is sure to cause problems for top-order batters, specifically, with how he’s able to generate both pace and variable swing. Only India’s Mohammed Siraj (14) and Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Kumara (13) have recorded more top-order dismissals in ODIs in 2023 than Islam (11).

Akhil Khatri

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Ibrahim Zadran

In the world of One Day Internationals, the importance of solid foundations and efficient run-building at the start of an innings cannot be overstated. One emerging talent from Afghanistan’s ranks, Ibrahim Zadran, has been showing recently just how important that is.

His consistent record of accumulating runs highlights his considerable potential as a top-order batter. Indeed, since the beginning of 2022, he has averaged over 40 in five of the six multi-game ODI series he has had a chance to bat in, aggregating more than 50 in four of them.

Ibrahim Zadran Viz

Zadran’s contribution to the Afghanistan cricket team, particularly in the context of Asian conditions, holds immense importance. Among the batters from teams competing in this edition of the World Cup who have accumulated over 500 runs in Asian conditions since 2021, Zadran stands out with an impressive batting average of 55.4. In fact, only Shubman Gill (69.6), KL Rahul (60.9), Babar Azam (60.1), and Imam-ul-Haq (59.1) have posted higher batting averages in this category.

His remarkable ability to adapt and thrive on demanding subcontinental pitches, especially when encountering bowling attacks with a heavy emphasis on spin, has solidified his status as an indispensable asset.

Zadran’s proficiency in Asian conditions will be pivotal to Afghanistan’s pursuit of success at the 2023 Cricket World Cup.

Ayaktan Roy

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Bas de Leede

With several senior players unable to report for duty, the Netherlands had little more than an outside chance of emerging victorious in the 2023 World Cup qualifiers. The Dutch persevered through the group stage, though, and Logan van Beek’s heroics against the West Indies in the Super Six gave them real hope. But it was Bas de Leede’s performance for the ages against Scotland that scripted the nation’s very own cricketing Cinderella story. They shall go to the ball.

In what was essentially a qualifying play-off against Scotland, 23-year-old De Leede had already played his part by recording a career-best 5/52 in the first innings. The Netherlands then needed to chase Scotland’s total of 277 in 44 overs and De Leede walked in at 72/2 after 14.5 overs. He was still there at the crease with his side needing 45 in four overs to qualify for the 2023 Men’s World Cup.

It was then that Bas de Leede went into all-out-attack mode, smashing four sixes in the next two overs before being run out to end his career-best knock of 123 off 92 balls. The Netherlands reached the promised land in 42.5 overs, with the all-rounder becoming just the fourth player to take a five-wicket haul and score a century in men’s ODI cricket, joining the likes of Viv Richards, Paul Collingwood, and Rohan Mustafa.

Bas de Leede viz

Aside from this performance, De Leede has had a breakout year in the format. His 15 wickets in the 2023 World Cup qualifying tournament were the most by any seamer and he scored 285 runs as well. He was just one of two players to score 200+ runs and take 10+ wickets in the qualifiers (along with Brandon McMullen).

De Leede’s batting average of 47.5 in men’s ODIs this year is the second highest by a Netherlands player to have batted a minimum of five times in a single calendar year in the last 10 years (behind Scott Edwards’ 47.6 in 2022). Meanwhile, his bowling strike rate of 23.4 in 2023 is the third-best of any Dutch bowler in the format in a single calendar year (min. 50 overs bowled).

While Netherlands will rely on other experienced campaigners to lead the side, Bas de Leede’s ability to make the difference with both the bat and the ball makes him their trump card heading into the World Cup.

Raunak Jaiswal

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