'India, Australia favourites for 2015 World Cup'
Former India cricketer-turned commentator Ravi Shastri believes the 50-overs World Cup, to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand next year, would be a very open tournament because of the surfeit of limited overs cricket, including T20 events like the Indian Premier League.
"I think this is a very open World Cup. Australia have bounced back in a brilliant fashion. After the win in the Ashes series, they won in South Africa. It might be Test cricket but that confidence will bounce into one day cricket as well. So they will be a big threat to any opposition," Shastri said in Mumbai, on Wednesday night.
"This is going to be a very evenly matched World Cup because of the volume of limited overs cricket that is being played, the amount of T20 cricket that's being played. It has made batsmen more innovative and fearless. They have got a new trick up their sleeves coming up all the time.
"That's why I feel this World Cup [scheduled from February 14-March 29, 2015] in Australia [and New Zealand] is going to be very exciting," said the former India player, who won the Man of the Series award in the Champion of Champions ODI tournament held in Australia in 1985.
Image: Team India
'It's going to be one heck of a World Cup'
Regarding India's chances of retaining the crown they won for the second time at home in 2011, Shastri felt that it depends on how mentally and physically fit the players would be after completing an exhausting tour of Australia where they will play Tests and ODIs against the hosts.
"Because the pitches will have a little bit of bounce, the grounds are big, so you will have to come up with new ideas. You have to be fit, strong. India will embark on a very long tour of Australia [prior to the World Cup]. It will be interesting to see how fit the players will be, how mentally fresh the players will be when they decide to compete. But it's going to be one heck of a World Cup," he said.
The former player is of the opinion that the IPL has broadened the boundaries of support for the Indian team.
"Australia pulls out a lot of things...pajama cricket, night cricket, India..the IPL. India can be innovative. It's all there, the number of Australians who have embraced the IPL, the mix between India and Australia.
"A lot of people in the Australian hub, when they watch Indians play, identify those players with different teams in the IPL, so that's a big stuff that kicks off during World Cup. They will be out there even if India not playing Australia and if they support a certain team that has an Australian in IPL, they will root for India in that game," Shastri said.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Photographs: Phil Walter/Getty Images
'India are definitely one of the favourites along with Australia'
Former Australia pace bowler Shaun Tait ranked his country along with India as the favourites for the World Cup while taking a dig at South Africa's infamous 'choking' in big events.
"I think India are definitely one of the favourites along with Australia. South Africa always go in as favourites, but always conk out at the last minute, never mind South Africa. India and Australia are going to be up there. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are dangerous sides at times. It's going to be pretty exciting," he said.
John Harnden, CEO of the tournament, remarked about the February 15 game at the Adelaide Oval between arch-foes India and Pakistan as a massive game in the tournament, just one rung below the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
"The India-Pakistan game in Adelaide on February 15 is going to be massive. Tickets have been sold out and we expect big support for both teams," he said.
"We have worked with the Indian community to make that home game for India and the same with Pakistan. Australia is a very big multi-cultural community and the India-Pakistan is one game in the tournament where I would like to be present other than the final.
"All tickets have been sold out, but we still have lots of travel packages and hospitality packages. We don't have to build new venues. New Zealand and Australia are fortunate to have great cricket grounds. The real challenge is how to spread the tournament across two countries, from MCG, which has capacity of 1,00,0000 people, to the great picturesque venues in New Zealand," he added.
Image: Glenn Maxwell
Photographs: Scott Barbour/Getty Images