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World Cup 2019: ESPNcricinfo's fantasy cricket tips

KL Rahul raises his fifty Associated Press

So you are an avid fantasy cricket player looking for recommendations for your XI before every World Cup game? Look no further than ESPNcricinfo's rolling fantasy blog, where we bring you picks from our expert fantasy players, including the global IPL 2019 fantasy champion, ESPN staffer Arjun Namboothiri, and Gaurav Sundararaman, the former analyst for various T20 teams and a fantasy cricket nerd. If you're playing daily fantasy contests, our five must-haves and trump cards should have you covered. Also, we'll keep track of how our picks fare in each game. Here we go!

Game 22, India v Pakistan, Old Trafford

Gaurav Sundararaman, June 16

The most anticipated clash of the tournament is finally here. Pakistan are looking to open their account against India in the World Cup while India would want to continue their good run, and make it seven wins in seven World Cup games.

Your five must-haves

  • Virat Kohli - In any India match it is very hard to not pick Virat Kohli. If India chase, picking him is a no-brainer, and even if they bat first, he rarely fails. If Kohli can get through the Mohammad Amir phase early on, he should be able to go big. If there's anything going against him, it's the fact that he blows hot and cold against Pakistan. He has two centuries and an unbeaten 81, while in other nine innings he has as many as six single-digit scores.

  • Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar - Pakistan are very dependent on their top three and India would look to get them out early. The two men responsible for this could be India's opening duo. While Jasprit Bumrah hasn't dismissed any of the Pakistan top five so far in his career, he has managed to choke the run flow - Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam only strike at around 55 against the Indian pacer. Bhuvneshwar, on the other hand, has dismissed the Pakistan openers, who have also struggled to score against him.

  • Mohammad Amir - After the Champions Trophy final, it is very hard to leave out Amir. Currently the third-highest wicket-taker in this World Cup, after bagging his maiden ODI five-for against Australia, Amir has been in good form through the tournament and has easily been Pakistan's best bowler. If the conditions are overcast, Amir could be a handful for those crucial wicket and maiden points

  • Mohammad Hafeez - In a crucial match against India, Pakistan would want the experience of Mohammad Hafeez to play a big role. Hafeez showed his skill in the game against England and also looked in good touch against Australia. He has been Pakistan's most reliable batsman this tournament and would look to hold that middle order together

The budget buys

  • KL Rahul - In a team filled with superstars, India's budget buy is KL Rahul. Rahul is playing his first World Cup game against Pakistan and is set to open the innings. The chances of the game being a rain-affected are also pretty high and Rahul's T20 exploits could come in to play. With all the focus on Kohli and Rohit, Rahul could be the guy who comes out with flying colors

  • Fakhar Zaman - Can Fakhar come good once again against India? In Pakistan's only win against India since 2015, he was the gamechanger. After his century, he got out for a duck and 31 in his next 2 innings against India. In many ways, the longer he stays at the crease, the greater the chances of Pakistan piling up a huge total. He has one of the highest strike-rates in the team. Should he repeat his heroics from a couple of years ago, it will be game on!

What we're watching out for

The possibility of having a full game. Kohli and Rohit versus Amir. Pakistan's top order against the short ball. Old Trafford's recent history of low-scoring games. And then some more.

Game 21, Afghanistan v South Africa, Cardiff

Arjun Namboothiri, June 15

South Africa need this game more than ever to get their blood pumping at this World Cup. Afghanistan have an outside chance you'd imagine, but it's hard to picture anything but a South Africa win.

Your five must-haves

  • Quinton de Kock - The only South African in the top order who looks confident, and gives the impression that he has a 2019 World Cup hundred in him somewhere. His mastery over spin makes him our first pick for this game

  • Kagiso Rabada - Afghanistan's weakness against the short ball and, in general, quality pace bowling was exposed against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. So expect Rabada, who is now well rested, to come steaming in and get a few wickets. He bowled well against India and is looking to move up a gear since his return from a back injury

  • Rashid Khan - Yuzvendra Chahal's flight and deception bamboozled South Africa at Southampton. Who better than Rashid Khan, the master of deceit, then to match or even better Chahal's four-for? The pressure is on South Africa and, even if they try and play his overs out, Rashid is a threat

  • Faf du Plessis - With plenty of problems to contend with within in the team - not to mention a wobbly top order - the South Africa captain has already said he himself needs to make more significant contributions with the bat. This might just be the game that allows him to get that big score and inject a semblance of self-belief in South Africa's World-Cup campaign. A 62-run knock against Bangladesh is proof he is in good touch, and a not-so-threatening bowling attack could work in his favour in this game

  • Andile Phehlukwayo - South Africa's best bowler this World Cup will be Afghanistan's biggest threat. Cardiff has seen Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson, Jofra Archer and Nuwan Pradeep (against Afghanistan) tear up oppositions, and having Phehlukwayo can only make your team stronger. He can get you some runs lower down the order, especially if Afghanistan manage to run through the South African batting core

The budget buys

  • Hazratullah Zazai - The 21-year old opener has got starts in the previous games, but has been unable to convert them. Against a South African side short on confidence, this might be his chance to shine. He is a risky choice for this game, but a 50-plus score from him can fetch you points for a differential pick, especially with the added points his strike rate usually brings

  • Rassie van der Dussen - Averages an impressive 66 in 2019, and the last time he played in Cardiff, he scored a fluent 40 against Sri Lanka in a warm-up game. With runs on offer, van der Dussen can be your extra South African batsman

What we're watching out for

When one team is relatively stronger than the other - at least on paper - the toss is crucial to pick your captain. South Africa batting first might make things easier for you, but if it's the other way around, give their pace bowlers some love

Game 20, Australia v Sri Lanka, The Oval

Srinath Sripath, June 15

Sri Lanka find themselves closer to the qualifying spots than most would have imagined when they started off the tournament, thanks in part to two abandoned games against Pakistan and Bangladesh. While Australia go in as the in-form team cruising through the league phase, a Sri Lankan win here could set the cat among the top four pigeons.

Your five must-haves

  • David Warner - Two Player-of-the-Match performances in three wins so far make him Australia's talisman. If his slow-scoring was an issue in the first few games, he got over that with a characteristic authoritative performance against Pakistan. Get him in

  • Lasith Malinga - Malinga should return to the XI after a short trip back home, and has troubled the likes of Warner and Maxwell in the past. On an Oval surface where pace bowlers have had early assistance, especially in the first innings, Malinga could be the man with the most impact in Sri Lanka's bid to spring a surprise

  • Mitchell Starc - The bowler captain Aaron Finch has turned to when Australia have been desperate for wickets. He's delivered game-changing performances against West Indies and Pakistan so far and, against a Sri Lankan line-up that isn't the most comfortable against express pace, he could even be an outside choice to be your captain, maybe?

  • Steven Smith - Another very obvious choice. The runs have been flowing for Smith and, against West Indies and India, he played out the oppositions' best bowlers when his team-mates couldn't. He doesn't have a ton against Sri Lanka yet, and in good batting conditions, he could fill his boots

  • Glenn Maxwell - Not a form-based pick; he's more of a punt-based choice made on the glimpses of his hitting form he's shown so far. Maxwell bats low down the order, but should he get going, could bring you crucial strike rate points

The budget buys

  • Thisara Perera - Sri Lanka's best ODI player over the past 12-15 months hasn't really made a mark at the World Cup so far. He had his best year as an allrounder in 2018 (batting average 34.6 at SR 115.6, bowling average 20.72 at ER 5.78), and is yet to replicate that in 2019. Worth keeping in your XI, in the hope that a solid performance isn't too far away

  • Kusal Perera - Along with captain Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal has been the Sri Lanka batsman who has found some form so far at this World Cup. What separates him from Karunaratne, though, is the rate at which he makes those runs. Sri Lanka's hopes of making a 300-plus score rest on him to a significant extent

What we're watching out for

Malinga v Warner and Co. The fast bowler has had some success against Australia's big guns in the past, and would like to make it count on a big day. Starc v the Sri Lankan top order could decide the game if he has one of his days

Game 19, England v West Indies, Southampton

Gaurav Sundararaman, June 14

If the ODI series between England and West Indies earlier this year was an indicator of things to come, fasten your seat belts, because we are in for a very high-scoring match.

Your five must-haves

  • Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow - It is very hard to figure out who is going to score among the two. The best way to solve this problem is to pick both. The chances of both of them failing in a game is very remote (well, there, I've jinxed it now!). Only in five matches since the Champions Trophy in 2017 have they both scored less than 20 runs together. You'd be a brave man to leave both out of your fantasy team

  • Chris Gayle - 2019 has been a great year for him. It all started off with the series against England where he amassed 424 runs at an average of 106. Gayle's average of 82.5 and SR of 134.9 in 2019 is the best for him in a year in ODIs. He has started to attack early in the innings this year and that has paid rich dividends. England, though, have Jofra Archer to attack him with short balls and fast yorkers. If Gayle can survive Archer, he could go on and have a ball. In short, he's a risk worth taking

  • Joe Root He has looked in good touch through the tournament and would be looking to pile on the runs. Root is the third-highest run-getter for England and is a safe pick. He often gets lot of time to build an innings with England's middle order attacking around him. Hampshire Bowl is one of the larger venues in the World Cup and Root's ability to rotate strike and use the dimensions to his advantage helps

  • Sheldon Cottrell - If the conditions are slightly in favour of bowlers Cottrell seems to be the go-to man at the start for West Indies. His record of picking up top-order wickets continues in the World Cup - he's had two really good games so far. The bounce of Oshane Thomas at one end and the swing of Cottrell makes them a power opening combination. He is economical and will most likely get you points for wickets as history suggests

The budget buys

  • Jofra Archer - After leaving West Indies and opting to play for England, Archer will now line up against them for the first time. If West Indies plan to bowl short balls at the English batsmen, Archer won't be far behind either. In fact, England's hopes of getting Gayle out early have received a boost with Archer's inclusion. In T20s, he's dismissed Gayle twice, conceding 35 runs from 25 balls. This will be the battle to watch out for and it will be interesting to see whether experience trumps youth

  • Jason Holder - Holder is a unique fantasy pick. Bowls first or second change and bats lower down the order and you're really not sure what to expect from him. There are other allrounders in Andre Russell, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali to pick from. However, Holder has a good record against most of England's batsmen. He has dismissed Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler twice each and not conceded too many. If their opening bowlers can get the early breakthroughs, Holder may just be the man to trouble the deep England middle order

What we're watching out for

A full game, most importantly. And the Gayle - Archer battle, as detailed above.

Game 18, India v New Zealand, Nottingham

Arjun Namboothiri, June 13

You mix blue and black, shake it all around, and you get grey! Expect the pitch to be different from what we have seen so far - the one that offered bounce (West Indies v Pakistan, Russell and Starc in Australia v West Indies). Expect bowlers to get you some more points than your batsmen with grey skies all around.

Your five must-haves

  • Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult - Overcast conditions mean the occasion is tailor-made for Bumrah and Boult. Bumrah could be the first-choice pick, but Boult, who wreaked havoc on the Indian batting order during their warm-up clash, should slot in there without a doubt.

  • Kane Williamson - Williamson's technique makes him a good pick for the game, but his temperament and form lead to him being an overwhelming favourite for captain

  • Hardik Pandya - He hit form with the 48 against Australia, and if we are looking at reduced overs and a bit of swing, you don't have to look beyond Pandya for a genuine allrounder. He has points written all over him

  • Virat Kohli - Are you even a cricket fan if I have to really explain to you why Kohli needs to be in your fantasy team? Okay, here's one stat to convince you: he averages over 68 against New Zealand in ODIs

The Budget Buys

  • Lockie Ferguson - New Zealand's highest wicket-taker this World Cup so far will love bowling in Trent Bridge. While India batsmen are wary of bouncers and have quite a few batsmen who hook and pull well, Ferguson could threaten to expose the middle order

  • Jimmy Neesham - Get as many allrounders in your XI. A five-for in the last game means the medium-pacer comes into this game in prime form, and a top-order collapse from New Zealand could see Neesham among the runs too. A differential pick for this game

    What we're watching out for

    A cricket game, as opposed to another soggy afternoon spent on rain-watch.

    Game 17, Australia v Pakistan, Taunton

    Gaurav Sundararaman, June 12

    Your five must-haves

    • Steven Smith - He has looked better and better with each match. Smith's ability to build an innings consistently makes him a safe pick in your team. And if not Strike Rate points, he will guarantee some points for the runs he scores. With two fifties in three games, Smith would be looking to get past the three-figure mark soon.

    • Babar Azam - Babar has been hitting the ball cleanly in the two matches he has batted and has had good starts. A contribution from him will be important for Pakistan, who are coming after a long break and would be looking for their second win before their all-important match against India. Against Australia, Babar averages 56.4 from five matches.

    • Mohammad Amir - Amir has had a brilliant start to the World Cup, picking up 5 wickets at 18.6 apiece in the two matches he has played so far. If conditions are overcast, he could be the trump card Pakistan want early in the innings to break open the top-heavy Australian batting order.

    • Pat Cummins - Cummins is not the kind of bowler likely to have too many poor days with the ball. He had one of those poor days against India, where he picked up just one wicket. Against Pakistan, he has 10 wickets from 55 overs, and will be looking to snap up a few early on.

    • David Warner - The Warner we've seen is not the batsman he was leading up to the tournament. Warner has made two of his slowest fifties in his career in the World Cup so far. While he can adapt well to conditions and bowlers, he will be looking to set things right in terms of strike rate as soon as possible. He has two centuries against Pakistan and averages 47.41 from 12 innings.

    The budget Buys

    • Glenn Maxwell - Maxwell's average of 55 against Pakistan is his best against any opposition in ODIs and he's scored fifty-plus seven times in 15 innings against them, once again his best against an ODI opponent. He showed glimpses of his form against India the other day and would be looking to continue the same. If it ends up as a rain-shortened game, Maxwell could be a force to reckon with. And if Australia decide to play the extra batsman, he might end up bowling ten overs, which could mean some more valuable points.

    • Fakhar Zaman - Fakhar has got off to rapid starts in both the matches he has played so far, but he hasn't been able convert them into a big score. Just like Maxwell, if rain is a factor, Fakhar could be the man to go to. He is playing his first ODI against Australia and if he can survive the spell from Mitchell Starc, he is due for some runs.

    What we're watching out for

    Australia are missing Marcus Stoinis for this game and it remains to be seen if they play Shaun Marsh or the extra bowler in Jason Behrendorff. Both these players could play a big role in this team and would look to make their case for more chances in the XI against other teams.

    Game 16, Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, Bristol

    Arjun Namboothiri, June 11

    Let's be honest, Bristol's overcast weather today is ideal for a book/movie, your choice of beverage and a view of a rainy window. The gentleman's game can wait. If cricket is anywhere in the rain gods' plan, here's what you need to thank us for later.

    Your five must-haves

    • Mushfiqur Rahim - One of Bangladesh's best batsmen going up against a lacklustre bowling unit minus Nuwan Pradeep is an exciting prospect. An easy pick for every Bangladesh game. He already has scores of 78 and 44 so far and the last time he played Sri Lanka, he made a mammoth 144 in Dubai last year.

    • Lasith Malinga - Pradeep's injury puts some more onus on Malinga to pick up wickets. We know he can deliver at the top, as well as the death overs. Joffra Archer and Ben Stokes picked three wickets each and wrecked Bangladesh's edgy middle and lower order in their last game. With Malinga hitting his stride against Afghanistan, don't be surprised if he does something similar.

    • Soumya Sarkar - With Shakib Al Hasan's inclusion in doubt, Bangladesh will rely on their openers to fire. Mushfiqur can't do it all by himself if Bangladesh need a huge total, and Sarkar, who looked excellent against South Africa, might have huge part to play against a limping bowling unit.

    • Mustafizur Rahman - Landmark 50th ODI. Sri Lankan batting in tatters. Overcast conditions. The Fizz is not in top form, but this might just be the perfect game for him to set his World Cup journey alight. An outside pick for your adrenaline needs.

    • Kusal Perera - The only in-form Sri Lankan top-order batsman in this World Cup rounds up the top five. He's had a good year as well, averaging 40-plus, while also scoring at a brisk pace. Risky, but if Sri Lanka have any chance of crossing the 300 mark, Kusal could be among them runs.

    The budget buys

    • Mohammad Saifuddin - With six wickets already to his name this World Cup, Saifuddin has been Bangladesh's surprise package. Bowled excellently against a quality New Zealand batting line-up, and got Buttler and Root in the last game. Might go for runs, but he's a good shout for some valuable bowling points thanks to his knack of picking up wickets.

    • Suranga Lakmal - The biggest reason you need to pick Lakmal is the overcast conditions that could be on offer in Bristol. He's not had a great time in England otherwise! Honestly, you might want to pick another batsman in the team, but we are giving Lakmal a chance. What's life (fantasy) without a bit of hope?

    What we're watching out for

    The toss. If Bangladesh bat first, a high-scoring game is likely, but the opposite might come to pass if Sri Lanka bat. Choosing your captain for a daily fantasy team after the toss could prove crucial. Also, we all want the old Sri Lanka back, don't we? Get in that dressing room, Sanga!

    Game 15, South Africa v West Indies, Southampton

    Arjun Namboothiri, June 10

    The World Cup isn't getting any easier for South Africa with a fiery West Indies side knocking on their door. Given their form and rhythm, fans should witness some Caribbean magic, but then again with West Indies, you never know, right?

    Your five must-haves

    • Shai Hope - West Indies' most reliable, most in-form batsman is an easy pick. Wicketkeepers generally are a good fantasy option anyway, with points on offer for catches as well. Hope took four catches in the last game against Australia, scored 68, and he averages 60-plus in 2019. Hope(fully), he should continue delivering.

    • Quinton de Kock - The short-ball barrage that West Indies have ramped up so far this World Cup could put him to test right away, but de Kock doesn't shy away from a bouncer. With South Africa needing a win to stay alive in the tournament, their most in-form batsman will be looking to take the responsibility.

    • Andre Russell - Russell is among the wickets this World Cup, thanks in part to Jason Holder bringing him on to bowl early in the innings. With South Africa's batting troubles for all to see, Russell becomes an automatic selection. Leaving Kagiso Rabada aside, South Africa are also feeling the pressure in the death overs, and we know Russell loves a good smash late into the innings. A must-have.

    • Kagiso Rabada - Rabada bowled excellently for his 2 for 39 against India at the same ground and after Mitchell Starc's five-for against West Indies, picking Rabada on a pitch that has something for the pacers is not a bad idea.

    • Nicholas Pooran - Pooran, batting at No.4, is looking in great touch so far. His 40 against Australia was effortless and fluid, and so was his unbeaten 34 to finish things off against Pakistan. He is someone who looks confident in his batting and there's a big score in him somewhere. A differential pick for the game.

    The budget buys

    • Jason Holder - As in real life, allrounders change the complexion of fantasy teams as well. Holder was among the wickets (3 for 42) against Pakistan, and among the runs against Australia (51). The West Indies captain is looking sharp and confident leading the men in maroon this World Cup. Points are written all over him against a bruised South African team.

    • Andile Phehlukwayo - Phehlukwayo has been South Africa's best bowler this World Cup, with Jason Roy, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and a certain Virat Kohli among his scalps. He will mean business if keeps finding the right lengths as he has, and the West Indies top order may have some issues.

    What we're watching out for

    South Africa against the short-pitched stuff from West Indies is definitely a starter. South Africa might be better off chasing, but in a must-win game, how they manage the pressure is something to look forward to. West Indies emerging as contenders for the top four is also another narrative that makes this a feisty contest. I'm predicting a thriller in Southampton.

    Arjun Namboothiri is an ESPN India staffer who won the IPL 2019 global fantasy competition. Gaurav Sundararaman is a fantasy cricket nerd who has won ESPNcricinfo's office fantasy league multiple times. Srinath Sripath is a fantasy game veteran who makes the odd podium finish across cricket and football leagues