5 Players to watch at the Cricket World Cup

The Feb. 14-March 29 Cricket World Cup will be staged in New Zealand and Australia for the first time since 1992, when Pakistan won the title. Expect to see some clean hitting and high strike rates in conditions that are expected to give the bat slight advantage over the ball. Here are five players to watch:

A.B. de Villiers

Country: South Africa.

Age: 30

The South Africa captain is clearly the most feared batsman heading into the World Cup. The versatile de Villiers sounded a warning to bowlers around the world as he recorded the fastest ever century in a limited-overs international during a breathtaking knock of 149 off just 44 deliveries against the West Indies at Johannesburg last month.

De Villiers reached triple figures from just 31 deliveries, after setting the record for the fastest ODI half-century - his 50 coming off 16 balls. He also equaled Indian batsman Rohit Sharma's record of 16 sixes in an ODI innings.

The kind of incredible impact de Villiers can have is gauged from the fact that he had walked in to bat only in the 39th over!

His ability to judge the ball and move into position quickly gives him a vast advantage over other batsmen, particularly with the restriction of only four fielders outside the 30-yard circle through the 50 overs.

The top-ranked ODI batsman goes into the World Cup with two centuries and six half-centuries in the last 11 games.

He can sweep, reverse-sweep or hit pre-meditated heaves to the leg side - even to deliveries pitched outside the off, irrespective of the ball speed.

With second-ranked ODI batsman Hashim Amla batting before him, there is every chance de Villiers will get opportunities to start whacking the ball straight away.

De Villiers, who has 7,459 runs from 179 ODIs at an average of over 52, has scored three centuries in his two previous World Cups, including back-to-back hundreds in 2011.

If South Africa is to end its drought in World Cup knockout matches, much will depend on de Villiers.

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Virat Kohli

Country: India

Age: 26

The fact that all-time great Viv Richards has described the Indian vice-captain as ''already legendary'' is a fair indication of the potential Kohli carries into his second World Cup.

Kohli is a proven performer in all forms of the game and recently notched four centuries in a four-test series in Australia.

He failed to get into double-figures in four innings during an ODI tri-series that followed the test series, as captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni tinkered with the batting order, although Kohli can control any game from his customary No. 3 position.

Kohli was a youngster at the last World Cup but still tallied 282 runs including a century and a half century.

With the likes of retired great Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh not around, Kohli is expected to take command of the batting lineup.

Kohli has the ability to dominate bowling without taking undue risks and that can prove vital on the grounds of Australia and New Zealand which can be a challenge for batsmen from the sub-continent.

Though the team also boasts the only two-time double-century maker Rohit Sharma and acclaimed finisher Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the batting line-up, Kohli remains the vital cog in the wheel with his consistency and ability to blend caution with aggression.

Kohli, ranked No. 3 among ODI batsmen, has slammed 21 centuries in only 150 ODIs at an average of almost 52.

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Mitchell Johnson

Country: Australia

Age: 33

Mitchell Johnson is not the type to worry about exactly when he enters the attack. Be it with the new ball or first change, the left-arm paceman can change the complexion of a game rapidly with his menacing blend of express pace and aggression.

Johnson can not only swing the ball late but also extract sharp bounce to unsettle the best of batsmen. He has proved himself in crunch situations with both bat and ball in tests and ODIs.

He was recently out of action for a month due to a hamstring injury but returned in style for a tri-series final against England, when his three-wicket burst put Australia on track for an easy win.

That spell came after left-armer Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were used to open the bowling.

Home conditions and the aim of regaining the Cup should be incentive enough for Johnson to be at his best.

Johnson, who has 224 wickets and 920 runs with a highest score of 73 not out from 145 ODIs, will be part of the World Cup for the third time - though he did not get to play a game in 2007 when Australia won in the West Indies.

In 2011, he took 10 wickets from seven matches, including four-wicket hauls against Zimbabwe and New Zealand.

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Brendon McCullum

Country: New Zealand

Age: 33

The Black Caps captain could be the best batsman on view if he can even get close to the form he hit in tests last year, when he scored more than 1,000 runs.

McCullum became the first New Zealander to score a test triple-century and also notched two double-hundreds to join a select band to have done so. He capped the year with another huge knock of 195 off 134 balls against Sri Lanka.

Co-hosting the World Cup also presents McCullum the opportunity to ensure people remember him as much for his ODI efforts as for his test and Twenty20 performances.

McCullum, who also kept wickets until recently, is among the most feared T20 batsmen.

His lofted shots, scoops and reverse-sweeps make him a tough customer. He is the only player to have scored two T20 international centuries and also the highest scorer in the format with 2,105 runs from 70 games.

McCullum averages over 35 in T20s but only around 30 in ODIs - a figure he's determined to improve.

In three previous World Cups, he has 414 runs from 25 games with only one century.

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Shahid Afridi

Country: Pakistan

Age: 34

The veteran allrounder will take on extra responsibility in a squad missing the off-spin of Saeed Ajmal and useful allrounder Mohammad Hafeez.

Ajmal has withdrawn from the team while Hafeez will not be able to bowl, leaving Afridi to lead the spin attack with his fast leg-spinners.

While the focus will be on seam bowlers in Australia and New Zealand, leg-spinners can always benefit from the bounce.

Afridi is capable of creating and seizing opportunities and was the joint highest-wicket taker at the 2011 World Cup with 21 wickets.

A former record-holder for the fastest ODI century - off 37 balls - Afridi has failed to notch a half-century in four previous World Cups but he is the kind of player who can inspire his lineup.

He gave glimpses of his erstwhile batting with two decisive last-over sixes against India in last year's Asia Cup and more recently during a half-century against New Zealand.

Afridi, who led Pakistan to the semifinals last time, has announced that he will retire from ODIs after the World Cup and wants to go out on a high.

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