We can talk of bowling and batting performances till the cows come home. At the end, World Cups should be viewed for what they are: competition between the top teams of the world. The teams have to work together as units, achieving result percentages in the high 60s across matches, never giving up, players pulling more than their share of the weight when their team-mates are not able to, fighting to the end in losing matches, and so on. It is essential to look at the past in terms of how teams performed across the World Cups. It is also essential to look at what sort of form the teams are carrying to the World Cup. In this article I will be looking at the teams from all these angles.

Home advantage is quite significant in a bilateral series. India are never going to blank Sri Lanka out away nor be blanked out by England at home. However, in World Cups the home teams have not really enjoyed home advantage. Only two home teams have managed to reach the finals of the ten World Cups, and one of these was a win for the home team (India in 2011) and another for the away team (West Indies in 1979). The remaining eight finals have been contested by neutral teams. Out of 352 World Cup matches, only around 30%, 109 to be precise, can be classified as home-away matches. More than a third of these 109 matches have been won by "away" teams. The other 254 are "neutral" matches. Hence for these analyses I have only looked at results per se and not results based on location.

1. Team analysis across all World Cups: Results
Team Matches Wins N/R-Ties Losses Result %
Australia7655 21973.7%
South Africa4730 21566.0%
England6639 22560.6%
West Indies6438 12560.2%
India6739 22659.7%
New Zealand7040 12957.9%
Pakistan6436 22657.8%
Sri Lanka6631 33249.2%
Bangladesh26 8 11732.7%
Ireland15 4 11030.0%
Zimbabwe5110 43723.5%
Kenya29 6 12222.4%
Canada18 2 01611.1%
Netherlands20 2 01810.0%

In the first table I will look at the performance of teams across all ten World Cups. This is ordered on the result percentage, determined on a 2-1-0 basis. Simple calculations but very effective. The only criterion is that a team should have played in a minimum of ten World Cup matches.

It is not a surprise that Australia top the table and have also played in the maximum number of matches. Their four World Cup wins mean that they won all those knockout matches and also went deep into the tournament in the other six events, barring two. Their result percentage of 73.7 is very good, since achieving a two-thirds score is very good. They have a near three-quarter result. An important fact is that Australia have lost only one in four matches across 40 years of competitive, often attritional cricket.

Since they missed the first three World Cups, South Africa have played only 47 matches. But their result percentage is very good - around the two-thirds mark. A loss in one out of three matches is not outstanding but very good. England and South Africa have not won the World Cup even once. However, their result percentage is quite good, at just over 60%. West Indies swept everything in front of them during the first three World Cups, barring the loss in the final and then had reasonable World Cups next four times around but have done very little in the last three tournaments.

Then come India. They have had particularly bad World Cups in 1975, 1979, 1999 and 2007. This clearly shows in the results, which could be better. They are just short of 60%. The two wins have certainly helped them. New Zealand, despite never reaching the final once, have always fought well and reached the later rounds almost always. They are a middling team, with 58%. They are just ahead of Pakistan, who have had one victorious run and good runs in many other World Cups.

During the first five World Cups, Sri Lanka did very little of note. Since then, they have done very well, with a win in 1996 and reaching the finals in the last two editions. Overall they are just short of 50%. In the last five World Cups, their result percentage is well in excess of 60. They are followed by the lower-tier teams, led by Bangladesh and Ireland. Most of Kenya's wins came in the 2003 World Cup, in which they reached the semi-final.

2. Team analysis across all World Cups: Performance
Team Matches Avge PP Run wins Avge run win Wkt wins Avge balls left
South Africa4759.71412616 67
Australia7658.534 8221 91
West Indies6455.718 7520 78
New Zealand7053.915 8225 65
England6654.320 6619 65
India6753.824 8315 61
Pakistan6452.323 7113 53
Sri Lanka6649.41610415 81
...
Ireland1539.3 1 74 3 18
Zimbabwe5138.4 8 75 2 50
Bangladesh2636.5 4 45 4 30
Kenya2936.0 3 53 3 65
Netherlands2033.2 1 64 1158
Canada1831.3 1 60 1 28

In this table I have looked at the average of Team performance points, which are determined using the type of win, margin of win and the resources still available. South Africa are at the top with an average of 59.7 points, which is the equivalent of a win by five wickets or 50 or more runs. This shows that South Africa have always had something in the tank. Australia follow close behind with 58.5 points. Again, a fair bit to spare. West Indies and England follow with an average either side of 55: equivalent of a win by 30 or more runs or three wickets.

New Zealand, India and Pakistan have average performance points just above 50. This is a result of their losses, as also the fact that their wins were probably not as comprehensive. The other teams have average values below 50 points.

I have also analysed both types of wins. If won by runs, the average run margins, and if won by wickets, the average balls left. This gives an idea of how comfortable the wins were. Unlike the average performance points, this ignores the losses. So it will be possible for teams to post good numbers. When South Africa won, they won very well. Their average run-win was by a huge 126 runs. This is helped by the fact that three of their wins were by over 200 runs. Australia's average run-win was less comprehensive: by 82 runs. India and New Zealand, won well when they won by runs, with similar averages. Sri Lanka's average was over 100 and they are second only to South Africa. This tells you that South Africa and Sri Lanka had very good bowling sides. England, Pakistan and West Indies post numbers around 70.

The number of balls still left in the match in case of wicket-wins is a good measure of the balls-resource situation. One important tweak has been done. A win with 100 balls left in a 50-over ODI match during 2007 is more significant than a win with 100 balls to spare in a 60-over balls match during 1975. Similarly a win with 35 balls left in a 42-over rain-affected ODI match is more significant than a win with 35 balls to spare in a 50-over match. Hence the balls-left figures have been normalised to a base of 300 balls. This is a logical and mandatory requirement for any such table.

Australia have been most comfortable in the wicket-win category with an average of 91 balls left: that is 30% of the total balls available. Sri Lanka follows with 81 balls. West Indies are close behind with 78 balls. The other teams are around 60. Overall the wicket-wins have been quite comfortable with an average of over 20% of the ball resources still available.

3. Team analysis for important matches: Results
Team Matches Wins N/R-Ties Losses Result %
Australia2016 1 382.5%
India1611 0 568.8%
New Zealand14 3 11025.0%
Pakistan13 5 0 838.5%
Sri Lanka12 7 0 558.3%
England10 3 0 730.0%
West Indies 9 6 0 366.7%
South Africa 8 2 1 531.2%
Zimbabwe 6 0 1 5 8.3%
Kenya 4 1 0 325.0%

This is an analysis of the teams in key matches. How do I define key matches? Simple. All knockout matches and all Super Six matches. Makes eminent sense since the contest becomes tighter in Super Six matches and the knockout matches are win-or-quit encounters. I have decided to exclude the Super Eight matches in 2007 since that was a completely unsound and lengthy tournament. Having 16 teams and reducing them to eight was unnecessary. Also, there were 24 Super Eight matches. Too many when I have only 56 matches other than these. Lest anyone say I have done this because India and Pakistan were dumped out, let me point out that there have been other tournaments in which both teams have been knocked out in the early rounds. I do not want to dilute the concept of key matches.

This table is ordered on the number of key matches played. Australia lead this table with 20 matches. They have an excellent 82.5% result. Their only losses have been the 1975 final, the 1996 final and the 2011 quarter-final. The other four World Cups were won by them. These are phenomenal numbers, which the other teams should respect.

India have had fair results in these key matches but have also lost many of them. The most significant of these losses would probably be the two semi-final losses in 1987 and 1996, when they were favoured to win and were playing at home. The other losses were in the 2003 final and both their 1999 Super Sixes matches.

South Africa have also lost five games, but that is out of eight matches. One can only count wins and ties for South Africa. This explains why success has eluded them. New Zealand, Pakistan and England have had more losses than wins in these key matches. Sri Lanka have been better. They have reached three finals and won one.

West Indies have not made too many of these matches: nine in all. They lost to India in the 1983 final, South Africa in the 1996 quarter-final, and Pakistan in the 2011 quarter-final.

4. Team analysis for important matches: Performance
Team Matches Avge PP Run wins Avge run win Wkt wins Avge balls left
Australia2059.410 57 6 96
India1654.9 6 72 5 24
New Zealand1442.2 1 50 2 14
Pakistan1350.7 2 86 3 66
Sri Lanka1253.4 3 92 4 39
England1041.4 3 22 0 0
West Indies 951.7 4 43 2 78
South Africa 845.9 1 74 1 6
Zimbabwe 631.3 0 0 0 0
Kenya 444.9 0 0 1144

Here you see the real reason for Australian domination. Even when the competition toughens up they have played well, with an average of nearly 60 performance points. Their average run-win is by 57 runs and average number of balls left is a huge 96. Barring West Indies, the other teams have had close matches while winning when chasing. India and Sri Lanka have also done well. Barring Australia and India, the other teams have not played enough matches to draw any meaningful conclusions. Note how South Africa's stock drops, as also those of New Zealand and England.

5. Team recent form analysis for matches from 1.1.2014: Results/Performance
Team Matches Wins N/R-Ties Losses Result % Perf Pts Avge PP
Australia23171 5 76.1%1220.353.1
South Africa24161 7 68.8%1366.756.9
New Zealand25153 7 66.0%1269.250.8
Sri Lanka3922116 57.7%1965.250.4
India2814311 55.4%1443.951.6
West Indies18 8010 44.4% 868.048.2
England3011019 36.7%1402.846.8
Pakistan18 6012 33.3% 810.345.0
...
U.A.E. 7 40 3 57.1% 359.051.3
Scotland11 51 5 50.0% 525.347.8
Ireland 9 41 4 50.0% 375.441.7
Afghanistan18 8010 44.4% 822.145.7
Bangladesh18 5112 30.6% 810.045.0
Zimbabwe16 3013 18.8% 639.340.0

We have seen how teams have fared in World Cups over 40 years, both across all matches and when the stakes were higher. I can hear a reader say, "Look here, there are two players, the UAE captain and vice-captain, who were born in 1975 when England and India faced up for the first ever World Cup match at Lord's. So what is the use of these nice tables? Say who is going to win this World Cup." She would be right. Now that we have got the history out of the way and established who did wonderfully well in the past, let us look at today. Who is going into the World Cup in good form? Who are in my shortlist? And who do I pick?

I have taken the period of about 14 months preceding the World Cup for consideration: in other words, matches from 1 January 2014.

Australia are going into the World Cup in excellent form. Their result percentage is 76. That is outstanding. One loss every six matches. They are also playing at home. They are going to be tough nuts to crack.

South Africa are right there at the top. Their result percentage is nearly 69, and a similar loss frequency to the Australians. New Zealand are behind the top two teams. But their recent form has been excellent and they are playing at home. Teams will ignore them at their own peril.

Then come Sri Lanka and India. Result percentage around 55. India's recent form has been appalling. But they swamped Sri Lanka at home. For Sri Lanka, it is the other way around. After the washout against India, they have been winning around half their matches. West Indies have been their usual inconsistent selves. However, the form of England and Pakistan should worry their supporters.

It is no wonder Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are on everybody's shortlist. They are also in mine, for the analytical reasons mentioned above. I also feel strongly that these three are the only teams that are capable of winning three consecutive matches on these bouncy pitches and huge grounds. The other teams could win a match, possibly two, but there is very little chance of winning three consecutive matches.

Who will win? I would put my shirt on South Africa. No real weakness and the burning desire to prove their sceptics, within and outside South Africa, wrong.

However, astute readers will have noticed one subtle change. Note the performance average. That figure is lower than the World Cup matches. Australia's average is around 53%. South Africa have maintained a figure around 57%. The other teams are around or below 50%. That shows that the matches are won by narrower margins by these top teams.

Bradman memorabilia

A momentous piece of Australian cricket history. The scan of a letter from New South Wales cricket association to Bradman on his decision to move to South Australia. A poignant letter: NSW is shattered but does its best not to show it, but their immense sense of loss comes through. To view this, please click here.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems