May 5, 1999
South Africa scores on consistency
On current form, I think South Africa and Pakistan should start as favourites for the World Cup. South Africa, for sheer consistency, would be THE favourite. To add to that, they have had sufficient match practice in New Zealand, which would provide the wickets and weather very much like the one England would offer during the Cup.
Pakistan's problem lies in their erratic performance. Wasim Akram looks charged and is in command of his side. In Shoaib Akhtar, they have discovered a genuine pace bowler, who has amazing control, especially at that pace. In many ways, one is reminded of the Akram of World Cup 1992, when he used to charge in at full pace, and Imran used to give him a field of 2/3 slips and a gully. This time around, the roles have changed and Akram is encouraging and fine tuning the young fast bowler. Also, most of the Pakistan batsmen have played in England and have a fair idea of the wickets. It remains to be seen how Afridi copes up with the swinging ball, but he is increasingly coming out with mature performances with the bat.
Australia's greatest advantage would be the fact that most of its players have the experience of playing in England. Personally, I have not been too happy with Steve Waugh's captaincy. He seems to lack the imagination of a Taylor. Also, the performance (or rather the lack of it) of Shane Warne over the last six months makes Australia's bowling look average. But, mind you, in the triangular series in Australia (Australia/England/Sri Lanka), Warne was back among wickets and bowling at the death, and always got those vital wickets to turn the tide in Australia's favour. Also, the form of Mark Waugh would be crucial to their success.
Sri Lanka have been having problems. But they cannot be ruled out, and Ranatunga is the kind of man who would extract performances from his men so that they can give him a parting gift that he would like to remember.
New Zealand, to my mind, is the dark horse of the tournament. In the recently-concluded series against South Africa, they provided good competition to South Africa, and most of South Africa's wins were close ones, which could have gone either way till the last over.
England seemed to be building up a good side, their one-day performances in Australia were good. Hick seems to be getting runs every time he is out in the middle. Same for Nassir Hussain. Alec Stewart is trying to play like Jayasurya, and the earlier he realises his folly, the better. Nick Knight has been pretty consistent too. With Darren Gough bowling like a champion, England, I am sure, would fancy their chances. At the moment though, I am not backing them too much.
The West Indies, after the recently-concluded Test series against Australia, should be pretty confident about themselves. But then, I still feel they depend too much on Brian Lara. If Chanderpaul can be consistent, their batting would be decent. It would then depend on how effectively their bowlers can support Ambrose and Walsh (nobody would even doubt them).
India should be a separate chapter, and I won't deal with it now. The groupings, I think, would give the West Indies a chance. Presuming Australia and Pakistan are the two top teams in their group, West Indies and New Zealand would have to battle it out for the last berth. In India's group though, it might be a fight to the finish. I would give only South Africa to walk into the Super Six. England/Sri Lanka/India would be fighting to get the remaining two spots. The problem out here is that Zimbabwe could create an upset or two and spoil somebody's chances....
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