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World Cup prays for giant killing
Tony Lawrence in London |
January 29, 2003 10:01 IST
Giant killing fuels all major sporting tournaments and Bob Woolmer, for one, is convinced the cricket World Cup in South Africa next month will provide one.
"There's going to be an upset," Woolmer, the International Cricket Council's high performance manager, said.
"The disparity [between the sides] is big but not that big. It's not much more than a 20 per cent gap."
If Woolmer, who has been helping to coach and prepare the non-Test sides for the tournament, is to be proved right, then Kenya, Namibia, Canada or the Netherlands will have to do something extraordinary -- just as Senegal did in last year's soccer World Cup.
Senegal defeated their old colonial masters and defending champions France in the opening match of the tournament.
Bangladesh can also be added to that list of cricket minnows, considering their woeful one-day record. Since the 1999 World Cup, they have not won in 26 matches, that run comprising 25 defeats and one match rained off.
Woolmer said of the smaller sides: "We will see a more professional approach. They are much fitter than a year ago. Skill levels have improved, even if not enough."
There is a counter argument, however, that these sides can expect such a mauling -- the Dutch and Canadian amateurs in particular -- that their very participation should be a matter of debate.
Of the 42 matches in the first round of the World Cup, 26 will feature at least one minor side. The six-week event could have been cut down to a month if these teams had not been included.
It is, of course, in Woolmer's and the ICC's interest that there should be a legitimate giant-killing, just as there was in 1979 when Sri Lanka, then without Test status, won their first game against India, or in 1983, when Zimbabwe won their very first World Cup match against Australia by 13 runs.
Kenya's win over West Indies in 1996 was as huge a shock.
Concerns about match-fixing, however, have led to wide dissatisfaction with the other great World Cup upset in 1999, when eventual finalists Pakistan lost to Bangladesh.
The ICC, committed to broadening the game worldwide, remains optimistic.
Spokesman Brendan McClements said: "We've… seen in previous World Cups that the underdog can come and bite the more established side and that makes for entertaining cricket.
"They have their opportunity, they've worked hard to get there and it's important those teams are able to play against the best in the world as it brings them up to standard."
Woolmer said Kenya, who already have official one-day status, are the most likely side to surprise.
"Kenya are professional, so they are favourites to do something. They won the Six Nations challenge last year [including Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe A teams, Namibia, Canada and the Netherlands], and, although their facilities need improving, they want to become a Test-playing nation."
That argument was backed up during the Champions Trophy in September, when the Kenyans made 232 to push the West Indies close. In five other matches at the event, however, they and Bangladesh and the Dutch failed to pass 150.
Ironically, however, the ICC's attempts to help the minnows prepare might just work against them, as Woolmer himself concedes.
"Most of the Test-playing nations know they have been working hard this year," he said. "They are likely to take them much more seriously."
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