| Australia's come-uppance at the hands of England and New Zealand has gladdened the hearts of not just the other aspirants for the World Cup but also the followers of the game. There is not the slightest doubt that in the last decade or so the Aussies have been awesome in batting, bowling and fielding which has taken them to the top of the cricketing ladder in both Test and limited overs cricket, but they have also been awful in the way they have sometimes behaved on the field much to the chagrin of the traditional fans of the game. |
Unlike the West Indian teams of the 1970s and 1980s which dominated world cricket in much the same way as the Australians are doing now, the Australians are not popular winners.
The Windies were feared for the ferocity of their attack and the aggression of their batsmen but at the end of the playing day the West Indian player was not only admired but also liked. They went about their job in a no fuss manner and hardly, if ever, had anything to say to the opponents unlike the Aussies who have plenty to say and seldom in a humourous way.
|Pre-Cup Choices |
The UK's leading bookmakers have picked the following players to be among the top performers in the 2007 World Cup:
Ricky Ponting (Australia)
Graeme Smith (S. Africa)
Chris Gayle (West Indies)
Sanath Jayasuriya (S. Lanka)
Kevin Pietersen (England)
Makhaya Ntini (S.Africa)
M. Muralitharan (S. Lanka)
Shane Bond (New Zealand)
Shaun Pollock (S. Africa)
Nathan Bracken (Australia)
Banter works, abuse doesn't, and if the late Fred Trueman was a legend in the verbal stakes it was because the odd four-letter word was part of a truly funny jibe and had even the opponent laughing rather than wanting to wrap his bat around the great man's ears.
Having said that, it would only be a fool who would rule out the Australians as the favourites to win the World Cup for the third consecutive time. If anything, their batting is still as destructive as it has been and it's the bowling which has lost its sharp edge and finding it tough to defend even huge totals. The number of times opponents have overtaken 300-plus totals that the Australian have set, is an indication that there is not the awe about the Aussie bowlers that was there a season or so ago.
South Africa, who have replaced them as No. 1 in the ICC rankings, have been pretty unbeatable at home but their one-day record overseas is not as impressive as their home record. Their batting is a bit wobbly and in the absence of a quality slow bowler they may struggle to keep the runs down on the flat batting pitches of the West Indies. They also don't seem to have the flair players who are so essential to turn the limited overs game around.
England surprised themselves by beating Australia three consecutive times to win the tri-series in Australia. With Pietersen back in the squad the batting will be bolstered and if England can make use of Flintoff cleverly in the batting order then they may get the momentum earlier than expected. In Panesar they have a spinner of the highest class and though on the smallish West Indies grounds he may bowl the occasional expensive over, his flight will lure more batsmen to their doom.
|Australia: 3.25/ 1 |
South Africa: 5/ 1
Sri Lanka: 7.50/ 1
West Indies: 8/ 1
India: 8/ 1
New Zealand: 9/ 1
England: 9/ 1
Pakistan: 11/ 1
Zimbabwe: 251/ 1
Kenya: 351/ 1
Scotland, Netherlands, Ireland, Canada, Bermuda: 1001/ 1
Source: William Hill
New Zealand, who beat Australia 3-0 in the recently concluded Chappell-Hadlee series, will be the team to watch. They have tremendous flexibility in their team with a batting depth that is matched only by India. Daniel Vettori has developed his batting skills so much that he bids fair to be recognised as an all-rounder. His bowling will be crucial in the middle overs and if Jacob Oram gets fit then the Kiwis will have another top class all-rounder in their ranks.
The teams from the sub-continent will enjoy playing in the West Indies for most of the pitches there should be good for batting and there should be enough turn for their spinners to feel good in a format of a game which they normally dislike. The biggest test for all teams in limited overs cricket are the middle overs and it is here that the sub- continental teams have an advantage.
Apart from their regular world class spinners like Muralitharan, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Danish Kaneria, the teams have the bonus of some of their most demolishing batsmen also being able to roll their arm over. Sri Lanka will no doubt turn to veteran Jayasuriya and even Dilshan and India will use Tendulkar, Sehwag and Yuvraj and the Pakistanis have in Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi bowlers who can not only stop runs but break irritating partnerships.
The side that manages the middle overs will be at an advantage for with the field restrictions not in place the ones and twos will have to be plugged. It is here that stamina and fitness will count as the boundaries will be covered and batsmen will have to do the lung-burning in trying to convert ones into twos and twos into threes.
And finally what about the hosts, West Indies? The only occasion when a host country has won the World Cup was in 1996 when Sri Lanka won in Lahore in a tournament jointly hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The Windies have come on well after Lara's reinstatement as the skipper but they are far from being consistent and have some horrible lows as was seen in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy in November last year.
So who are my four semi-finalists? I'll give five teams and they are Australia, India, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka. In 1983 India won the World Cup by beating the best team in the world then, West Indies. Wouldn't it be fantastic if Dravid's men do the same by beating Australia in the finals?
Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar will be writing an exclusive column for INDIA TODAY all through the World Cup.