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Serious business of the World Cup begins
John Mehaffey | March 26, 2007 12:25 IST
Antigua produced Viv Richards, one of Wisden's five cricketers of the 20th century, and a new ground named in his honour will host a match between two sides who have produced some memorable contests in the past.
"It's a very exciting game in the World Cup," Australia captain Ricky Ponting said after his team's 83-run over world number one side South Africa on Saturday. "The West Indies are a very dangerous team and they are on home soil."
Australia take two points through to the second round as a result of Saturday's win and at this stage of the Cup the four first-round group winners appear the likeliest semi-finalists.
Each team plays the other sides in the second round once, with the exception of the side they met in the group stages, with Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies starting the Super Eights with a two-point bonus.
The next round starts in Antigua and Guyana then shifts to Grenada and Barbados before the top four teams meet in the semi-finals scheduled for Jamaica and St Lucia with the final in Barbados on April 28.
Australia are back in the form they showed early in the year before their unexpected slump when they lost the tri-series final 2-0 to England followed by a 3-0 loss in New Zealand.
Their top-order batting is the strongest in the tournament and has been further boosted by the return of all-rounder Andrew Symonds. Although Symonds made only 18 against South Africa, while Michael Hussey has yet to get out of single figures, Australia still amassed 377 for six, the third highest total in the tournament's 32-year history.
The fielding, particularly in the circle, is sensational and an inexperienced bowling attack is maturing by the day.
West Indies started the Cup with a convincing win over Pakistan, a result put into a different perspective when the sub-continent side then lost to Ireland.
On paper they have the players to go all the way to the final with the dangerous Chris Gayle opening the batting, the experienced and prolific Brian Lara in the middle-order, a sprinkling of all-rounders and one of the few genuine fast bowlers in the tournament in Jerome Taylor.
They are, though, potentially brittle and Ponting will ensure they are put under pressure throughout the 100 overs.
Sri Lanka did nothing in the first round to erase impressions that they can repeat their 1996 triumph on pitches suited to both their batsmen and bowlers. Sanath Jayasuriya remains a match-winner as opener and a more than useful left-arm spinner and wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara can be sensational.
Neither player got going in the Group B win over India, where Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas were the match-winners. Muralitharan's power of spin are undiminished and he is accurate enough to both contain and take wickets in a series of two-over spells. Left-arm pace bowler Vaas is equally effective with the new or old ball.
New Zealand have strength in depth through their consistently successful fast bowler Shane Bond, the spin, flight and intelligence of left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori and all-rounders Scott Styris and Jacob Oram. They can field as well as the Australians but may suffer through the lack of true world class batsmen.
South Africa are still the world's top-ranked team and victory over Sri Lanka in their opening match in Guyana would throw the competition wide open. Saturday's match highlighted the potential strength of their batting but revealed again the one-paced predictability of their bowling.
England, Bangladesh and Ireland are the remaining qualifiers with the first two capable of upsetting the form book but probably lacking the consistency to finish in the top four.
The Cup: The Complete Coverage
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