I'm English. Sure, over 25 years I've stepped onto green fields, said good morning and welcome, conducted a few tosses and given many a pitch report just about everywhere on the planet the game is played. I've loved the people and places almost as much as the contest between bat and ball, and been privileged to share press boxes and commentary booths with names that glitter in cricket's firmament.
I was at Eden Gardens for the opening ceremony of the 1996 World Cup, called the winning moment at Kensington Oval in Barbados in 2007, and hosted the closing presentations at the Melbourne Cricket Ground In 2015. I've commentated on India and Pakistan in knockout matches that have sent heart rates through the roof, and watched, aghast, before writing in shock, about the Klusener-Donald meltdown at Edgbaston in 1999. I was even in Melbourne when Wasim Akram did for Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis with his own version of little miracles to win the 1992 final and fulfil Imran Khan's dream. I was on a plane out of Mumbai when MS Dhoni launched Nuwan Kulasekara into the night sky to close the chapter on Kapli Dev's triumphant men of 1983 and open another of his own. I guess I kind of figured India had destiny on their side.
So it was with Sri Lanka in 1996. During the silent days when Australia and West Indies chose not to play their scheduled matches in Colombo, I sat and listened over lunch and dinner to Arjuna Ranatunga and Dav Whatmore. They had a plan: well, Arjuna did, and Dav was all over it. There was Muttiah Muralitharan, of course, but this was before the legend, and though Murali was very good, he was yet to spread fear. That was done by Sri Lanka's top-order batsmen, whose collective threat was original and imposing; and by Ranatunga, whose conformational nature refused to lie at the feet of anyone. He said his team would win the World Cup and it did. The sight of him on the heaving podium at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to his left, Ian Chappell to his right and the World Cup in his hands, is one of the game's most entertaining and exhilarating images.
But I'm English, and yes, as the old cliché goes, you can take the man out of England but...
1. England to win the title
So the first and most important thing I want from the next seven weeks is for England to win the World Cup. Three finals and no cigar suggests that the founding fathers have been let down by the generations who followed them. Now, however, may be the time - after all, the cricket played by Eoin Morgan's men these past four years has been both sensational and successful. Dead in the water of the 2015 tournament in Australia, England have risen to unimaginable heights of quality and consistency and find themselves pitch-perfect on the eve of a tournament to be played on home turf that lists them as favourites. No more is this a case of managing expectation, it is a case of fulfilling it. To do so, the players must continue to play with their sense of adventure, while allowing themselves a nod here and there to pitches and/or weather conditions that may demand something more practical.
Without putting too fine a point on it, English cricket at every level needs this. Next to no free-to-air coverage of the game led to a downturn. Too many youngsters know too little of cricket's charms. For the next 50 days and nights, the one truly beautiful game will have centre stage - excepting June 1st, when Liverpool and Tottenham wrench it back! - and by July 14th cricket must have engaged with the nation and inspired new interest among its young.
2. West Indies to smash it
The first two World Cups were won by West Indies, who lost the final of the third to India - surely an act of one God. There has been barely a whisper since. Many an explanation is given, few accepted. For whatever reason, cricket in the Caribbean lost something of its mojo: it has been played and liked but not quite so loved as of old.
Two months spent in Barbados, Antigua, St Lucia, Grenada and St Kitts during England's recent tour indicated encouraging change. Not so much in attendance but by the word on the street. There is respect again for cricketers and pride in achievement. Taxi drivers may be quick to criticise, but thankfully they are quick to cheer as well. Jason Holder is widely admired, Shai Hope impresses, Andre Russell imposes, and Shimron Hetmyer sends pulses off the dial. Some bowlers are "faaast, man" - among them, Shannon Gabriel has the heart of a lion and Alzarri Joseph, so sadly injured right now, has the instinct and skills of a cheetah.
West Indies need to smash it in front of the world. The time is right for a statement, something beyond "potential" and the casual notion that no one wants to play them in a knockout match in case it's their day, to "Ouch, it's West Indies next." If anyone can get there with this team, it is Holder, a giant of a man in more than just feet and inches. Alongside him for the tournament will be Chris Gayle, a leader by nature, whose relative dotage has brought reconciliation and a greater sense of responsibility to a model of himself he ignored for a while. West Indies have an explosive array of talent. How marvellous it would be to see it consistently explode. Meantime, it is true, of course, that no one wants to play them in a one-off. "Get 'em on the wrong day..."
3. Fewer interruptions, shorter games
In the hope that someone from the ICC is reading, can we please speed up play? There are so many interruptions - water, pills, gloves, bats, balls, sightscreens, drinks breaks, another drinks break, and another. It's a spoiler of rhythm and an insult to the ticket holder. There is really no need for officially scheduled drinks in any conditions other than extreme heat. If needs must, drinks can be hurried to the boundary edge by reserve players and backroom staff - there's enough of them. The over rates are dreadful and largely ignored. Inertia is a drug and too many modern cricketers have become addicted. Move it along, guys!
4. Watching how Australia go
Australia are back to full strength and we well know the detail of that. It's a fine thing for the tournament that Steven Smith and David Warner are here, the best of the best and all that. Justin Langer, the coach, is a good man, whose standards are driven by pride in the badge and a valuable sense of humanity. Among his number is Pat Cummins, a superb cricketer, who has something of an understated Keith Miller about him (as if there can be such a person!) Cummins has it all and will wow and woo in equal measure. While Virat Kohli may be cricket's one true superstar, other players such as Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer, Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock, Jasprit Bumrah, Glenn Maxwell, Rashid Khan and Shadab Khan, along with Gayle and Hetmyer, have stock that will surely rise in the coming weeks. If you were buying one, however, that one might be Cummins. Imperceptibly, but perhaps crucially, he has become a talisman for the cricket the Australians are looking to play, and a face for the image they are eager to display.
It has been a year for the baiting and bashing of Australians; doubtless there are plenty of fans who feel there are legs in the story yet. How the team cope will define their tournament, almost as much as whether they win it or not. Indeed, one may define the other. Individually, Australia stack up; the collective is yet to be tested. At every match and every turn, Australia will be scrutinised. Fascinating!
5. Pitches that make for good cricket
If the sun shines, the pitches will favour batsmen. Unsurprisingly groundsmen are wary of risk and so prepare the truest surfaces they can manage. In general, a good batting pitch in England is the best batting pitch anywhere, which means a mountain of runs and an unhealthy balance between bat and ball. Contrary to the idea that the 434 game in Johannesburg in 2006 was the greatest one-day game ever played, the World Cup semi-final between the same two teams at Edgbaston in 1999 had more layers, arguably more drama, and certainly a better balance between bat and ball: 213 all out in 49.2 overs played 213 all out in 49.4. The best fast bowlers in the world, and the best spinner, took wickets - the spinner, guess who, was Man of the Match - and the last over began with South Africa nine down, needing nine to win. Lance Klusener hit the first two balls bowled by Damien Fleming though the covers for four. With the scores level, mayhem took over. Off the third ball, Allan Donald should have been run out, and off the fourth ball he was. The ignominy was completed by the fact that he had dropped his bat, was way out of his ground, and Klusener had shot so far past him that he is almost out of picture. They both might as well have been naked. Try watching it on YouTube. It is close to unbearable, whatever your sympathy.
The pitch had helped all the bowlers and yet was by no means too difficult for the batsmen. By the time of a semi-final, pressure and expectation get a grip on even the most gifted of sportsmen, which is why, more often than not, the stronger minds win the day. The theatre of cricket is created by many things, each of them intricate and influential. The ability, or otherwise, to overcome conditions is among them. Thus, groundsmen must be trusted with the pitches they nurture. If some happen to favour ball over bat, the game, and the drama, are invariably better for it.
ALSO WATCH: Afghanistan: a new chapter in their fairy tale
6. For South Africa to conquer their demons
South Africa, it is time. Bury the memory, and if England cannot, make sure it is you who bring home the Cup. For all the talk of affirmative action and quotas, nothing will quite inspire young South Africans like the moment Kagiso Rabada knocks middle stump out of the ground to sign off the tournament at the home of cricket.
7. Bowlers landing it in the blockhole
The return of the yorker. Sorry lads, but when push comes to shove, it's the answer. Ask your batsmen.
8. Watching Afghanistan
You might not know the name Sarah Fane. Once a wartime doctor, in 2002 she founded Afghan Connection, a charity that provides children with education and cricket. They call her the "mother of Afghan cricket", which is about right. Cricket was prohibited by the Taliban until 2000; even after the ban was lifted, people were scared to play in public. Now, because of cricket, the young aspire to be sportsmen, which, in turn, brings popularity and reward. It is no overstatement to say that little in the country's regeneration has been so important. Certainly the world looks at Afghanistan though a new window. I don't suppose they can win this thing, but by heaven, it will be fun watching them try.
9. Some MS magic
Dhoni, just one more time! That smoker he hit to win the 2011 final put the seal on what might be the greatest of all World Cup innings: a final, at home, having not won the World Cup since 1983. Think of the baggage, recognise the intensity, imagine the expectation. He promoted himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh, the player of tournament, to specifically deal with Murali - that's balls - which he did, before moving swiftly through the gears to finish unbeaten on 91 and fulfil the dreams of a billion people. OMG!
10. Good customer service
The 2012 London Olympics was an unqualified success for many reasons, and not the least of them was the wonderful attitude of the volunteers, stewards, security and support staff. Nothing was too much trouble, which, in an age where good manners are too often ignored and the threat of terrorism leads to long delays and sometimes intrusive body searches, was a remarkable tribute to everyone from Lord Coe down to the last fellow directing folk to the underground in the dead of night.
Customer service that fosters a community spirit is not to be underestimated, and given the diversity of cricket's audience and the huge following from overseas, we can only hope that the example set seven years ago is followed over the next seven weeks. The days of Sunil Gavaskar being refused entry to Lord's have long gone but nothing should be taken for granted. Every one of us, at each venue, in each city and town, has a part to play.
Bring it on. With a smile. At Augusta, even Tiger Woods managed a smile. Nothing quite so encourages interest as an unbridled enjoyment of the subject. The greatest cricket show on earth is in town. Let's just love it.