Saturday, February 3, 2007

Who can topple the Australian applecart? - I

Countdown to ICC Cricekt World Cup 2007

If you ask anyone in the cricket world, who the favorite is to win the world cup this time around, 90% of the time you would get the answer as Australia. If at all anyone gives a different answer it could be because: his judgment is clouded by patriotism, the person drunk or he is just about insane.

So it would seem that we are going into a two month long exercise so futile that we might a well give the cup to Australia now itself, right? Wrong. For if it was not for the off chance that David can defeat Goliath why would anyone be watching sport. The greatest USP of any sport let alone cricket is its unpredictability. Any team/sportsman can have a superlative day and anyone can have an off day. On a day when the biggest underdogs, by a combination of factors, begin to play out of their skin is the day when miracles happen. It requires just one magical moment to topple the biggest of them all. Remember Kapil Dev’s catch to get rid of Vivian Richards in the 1983 World Cup Final?

So let’s examine the underdogs and see who among them have the best chance to get past the Aussies.

South Africa

To many neutral observers South Africa seems to be the side most capable of getting it past Australia. This is supported by the remarkable successful 438 run chase that these guys mounted on the Aussies last year.

However South Africa will have to prove that it was not just a remarkable flash in the pan. If at all anything it is their batting that looks brittle. On those days when either Kallis or Boucher is having an off day South Africa would struggle to stem the rot of a collapse. However Ashwell Prince may just turn out to be the answer for that if he can cement his place in the one day side. The wild card would be Gibbs. If he is on song nothing else would matter as he can be destructive as hell. However he tends to press the self destruct button more often than not. Smith is a capable enough captain. However one just gets the feeling that he is a bit lost when the opposition is on top and gets frustrated a bit too quickly. Not to mention that he leads one of the most one dimensional bowling attacks in world cricket.

But the reason I feel South Africa wont mount a big enough challenge for Australia is not because what was said earlier. It is because of their dislike for pitches which take them out of their comfort zone. They somehow convey the feeling that they do not like playing in pitches which are not having a bit of bounce and pace in them. This current South African team starts cribbing about the pitch unlike Hansie Cronje’s men used to. Cornje’s men would simply get on with the job and had won matches all over the world in all sorts of conditions. This could be because South Africa rely a bit too heavily on their pace attack which will be blunted in the slow and low bounce tracks around the world. As these are the kind of tracks that can be expected in the West Indies, I very much doubt if they have the fire power to beat Australia, a team that has just won the Champions trophy in the subcontinent. I expect the South Africans to reach the semi-finals beyond which would be difficult.


England is a team in disarray at the moment. Gone are the momentum and the confidence they had built following their ashes triumph of 2006. Injuries and bad form have hit them hard, more than any other side in world cricket. The ashes have been surrendered rather meekly and their one day form for the past year is nothing great to write home about.

The main problem with England is that they seem to have lost quality bowlers who can win matches. Flintoff has just started bowling and will need a bit more match practice to get back to the form of old. Harmisson has quit one dayers. The rest of the bowling line up does not inspire enough confidence in one to say that they would cause problems for any of the other quality sides in world cricket.

Their batting too seems to be filled with concerns. Nobody knows what the problem with Trescothick is. Strauss is out of form and Flintoff has become reliable. But their major worry would be the injuries to Vaughan and Peterson. Without these stars back in form and fitness it would be difficult for the English team go far in the tournament. If Vaughan's injury is not healed in time can cause trouble in the captaincy department as well.

Although things are looking bleak the discovery of Ed Joyce and the spinning option in Panesar should give the English team some hope. And unless things change quite dramatically it is hard to imagine the English team going past the Super Eight stage of the tournament.

New Zealand

New Zealand is a team that I have always admired. They always seem to do extremely well even in the absence of superstars in their team. Their qualities are their resilience, determination and hard work. But they always have one thing lacking, a bit of flair. It is very difficult to win a big tournament unless you have this quality as well. The only time a New Zealand team looked like winning the world cup was when Martin Crowe led the side with some inspired captaincy and panache in 1992.

Having said that, the current Kiwi team, do have some quality players who can really turn it on when they get into the mood. Shane Bond is deadly on his day with his ability to generate good amount of pace. The only worry is the alarming regularity with which he picks up injuries. If he can stay injury free and if he gets some support from the other end New Zealand could go far in this tournament.

The Kiwis have an experienced and capable batting line up. The development of Oram into one of the big hitters in the game is a tremendous boost to their prospects in the world cup. Led by Stephen Fleming, widely acknowledge to be the best captain in the world the kiwis will give a tough fight to any team that come across them in the tournament. However they will have to play really well to book a semifinal berth in this world cup.

To be continued....

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