The first country I look at today, Pakistan, is probably the least predictable in world cricket. Currently led by Misbah ul-Haq, he looks set to hand the reigns over to Mohammad Hafeez. Hafeez could make a success of leadership, or he could just be one in a succession of prospective skippers to try their hands at controlling a temperamental side. Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Irfan are all ageing, so the bowling attack will have a very fresh look to it.
However, with names like Junaid Khan, Aizaz Cheema and whichever new young left-armer is in the headlines this week, there should be ample support for Mohammad Amir, who looks set to walk out of his ban and straight back into the Pakistan dressing room. There is also a plethora of young batsmen like Nasir Jamshed, Azhar Ali and Umar Amin, who have established themselves to varying degrees, but who look unlikely to make a world class batting line-up. Umar Akmal could also be crucial if he can get himself together, and his seizure doesn't prove to be serious.
Pakistan's bowling production line may have to prop up the batting.
In Test cricket, Pakistan are and always will be a temperamental side. Their bowling will be capable of winning them matches, but their batting will be equally capable of losing them. With the white ball, they will win and lose individual series in equal message because of the risky nature of their play, but at world events, I think that if they find the right skipper, they could be a tricky proposition.
South Africa's present strength is owed much to a core of six or seven players. Philander, Steyn, Morkel, Duminy, de Villiers and Amla will all be reaching their retirements in five years time; much the same stage that the Australians have just been through. Over those five years though, they will continue to pretty much dominate Test cricket alongside India, and those two sides will be competing for the number one spot.
The next generation of players doesn't look quite so imposing though. Reeza Hendricks, Dean Elgar and Farhaan Behardien aren't as good, and aren't much younger than, the set of players they will have to replace. Quinton de Kock is much talked about as the next great 'keeper-batsman and has found much domestic success already, although at 20 years of age he has not found the step up to the domestic side to be as seamless as he would have hoped. He will be very important very soon, though, as AB de Villiers struggles with the combined captaincy, batting and glovework.
Quinton de Kock is a highly talented player who is trying to find his feet for his country.
In Test cricket, South Africa's golden era looks set to continue, although Smith and Kallis may not be around for much longer; they and India will stand at the top on their own, with daylight between them and the rest. In one-day cricket, though, wins will depend very much on whether or not de Villiers or Amla hits a century, and Twenty20 cricket doesn't seem to quite be the South Africans' bag. The specialists for that format simply aren't of the same quality as the Test specialists.
Sri Lankan cricket is an interesting case. On the one hand, you have a Board that is struggling to find desperately needed rupees, and a team that is hugely reliant on four veterans. On the other, you have young, talented and exciting cricketers coming through. Sri Lanka's fortunes could be very positive in the coming years with a bit of good management.
Tharindu Kaushal and Akila Dananjaya are the most exciting pair of young spinners anywhere in the world at the moment. While Rangana Herath monopolises the Test spot and Sachitra Senanayake makes the white ball his own, these two wait in the wings. Dananjaya was plucked from his school to play in the World Twenty20 where he didn't look at all out of place, while Kaushal made the Test squad straight out of the under-19s. Both have made a big splash domestically. Many other youngsters are in and around the large squads that the board selects. Angelo and Kusal Perera look like they have fruitful careers if they have the temperament for them, and Angelo Mathews as captain should be able to tell them a thing or two about the pressure of high expectations at a young age.
Kusal Perera is the natural successor for Kumar Sangakkara, and those are huge boots to fill.
Sri Lanka are always difficult to beat at home, owing to tailor-made pitches and draining conditions. Away from home, their often-inferior seam bowling is quite easily exposed, and much will depend on their spinners and batsmen. I believe that they will be more suited to the shorter formats where they can take the pace off the ball and use their wristy techniques to work the gaps.
The West Indies actually have the makings of a very good side. Kieran Powell is classy but slightly loose, Adrian Barath is supremely talented, and Kraigg Brathwaite is gritty and talented. All three openers were elevated to the Test side before they were really ready, thanks in no small part to a lack of suitable alternatives (look how many recalls Devon Smith has had) but they are all still young and now all have Test experience. I expect them all to find a place in the Test side in the coming few years, and probably to form an excellent top three.
There is a slight lack of middle-order talent coming through, but Darren Bravo and Kirk Edwards could forge Test careers. I expect Nicolas Pooran to rise through the ranks and take the gloves, while the captaincy may be moved away from Darren Sammy. I, personally, rate him as a leader, and think that the Windies would be much weaker without him. A battery of pace talent, Shannon Gabriel foremost among them, may be a mere shadow of the '80s, but could form a very competent team.
He's not Michael Holding, but I think Shannon Gabriel looks pretty damn good.
Of course, the limited overs personnel will remain pretty much the same as it is now. It will remain equally hit and miss, but always a threat for global titles if they all hit form at the same time. The Test side, I think, will be a competent rather than conquering one, the kind where batsmen average in the 30s but score runs when the team needs them to.
Sadly, I haven't saved the best for last. As I have written previously, Zimbabwean cricket is imploding on itself, and it really isn't pretty. Whether they will even have Test status in five years is doubtful, as their first-class set-up teeters on the edge of collapse. If they do keep it going in some form or other, then the constant departure of players will probably leave them fielding a third eleven at best.
Zimbabwean players could be enjoying fruitful international careers - Nathan Waller, Craig Ervine, Gary Ballance and Colin de Grandhomme for instance - just not for Zimbabwe. They look all too feeble, and the next generation of players simply isn't there. Zimbabwe are a prime example of everything that can go tragically wrong in a cricketing structure.
If Zimbabwe can find eleven players they can afford to pay, they might not be playing Test cricket.
If they do keep playing Tests, they will prove themselves to be very much the inferior of Bangladesh. Not in terms of the talent coming from the country, but in terms of the talent they can get onto the field. They are guaranteed a place in the next World Cup, but it may be their last as I expect them to put in a Bangladesh '03 style performance.