The Web


Earlier Tours
Domestic Season

Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Daniel Laidlaw

Ready to roll

February 06, 2003

The prestige of an event often seems to be reflected in the attention given to its peripheral issues.

Without wishing to downplay Zimbabwe's plight, the question of whether or not to play there appears to have been given disproportionate emphasis in Australia and England because this is the World Cup. Were it an ordinary tour, one suspects it either would have been cancelled or approved with only a fraction of the fuss. Indeed, Australia dubiously postponed their 2002 tour of Zimbabwe without nearly so much deliberation.

The debate over whether or not to play in Zimbabwe on moral grounds is strange from the point of view England played five one-dayers there in 2001 under the same oppressive government. If you believe sport can only be played in a humane social environment between friendly nations, then, of course, cricket should not be played in Zimbabwe.

However, if nations are to be deemed unsuitable on human rights grounds, then cricket would hardly be played at all. We don't expect to see teams refusing to play Australia and England because their governments are leading supporters of the forthcoming United States "party" (as a US commander phrased it to the UK's Sunday Times, 5/1/03) in Iraq.

Because this is the World Cup, longer and taken more seriously than ever before, one can expect all issues to be heightened. Reports have it that you could be thrown out of grounds simply for wearing clothing that conflicts with the official sponsors. This is serious. Here we go.

Steve WaughOne of the interesting features of the World Cup should be to see what new trends or tactics emerge. In 1987, Steve Waugh unveiled the slower ball to good effect. In 1992, New Zealand opened the bowling with off-spinner Dipak Patel. In 1996, Sri Lanka revolutionized the shortened game with sustained hitting inside the first 15 overs and in '99, Hansie Cronje brazenly took to the field wearing a earpiece in one game. The Aussies claim to have tricks up their sleeve; doubtless others do too. Only time will tell what, if any, affect these have either on this tournament or in the longer term, but on the biggest stage it pays not to be caught behind the times.

Conventional wisdom would have it that fast and seam bowlers will dominate this World Cup. However, other experts point out that this is February, not October, and that South Africa's pitches at this stage of the season should suit batsmen, and pace-based attacks will not necessarily possess an advantage. Only time will tell on this, too.

It's a typical World Cup paradox that the most prestigious event will see some of the worst international mismatches ever: Australia-Namibia, South Africa-Canada. 62 per cent of the group stage is comprised of such David vs Goliath or minnow vs minnow contests, not including Zimbabwe's games. That's partially what the tournament is about, though, and cricket is not such a globally significant sport that it can afford to scorn developing teams, though one would think meaningful development through a steady diet of competitive games (as Kenya appealed for last September during the tri-series against Australia and Pakistan) would ultimately be much more beneficial than the fleeting glory of Cup participation.

Each group of seven is in effect a four-way competition for three second phase places. Zimbabwe, Holland, Namibia, Bangladesh, Kenya and Canada should, realistically, not win a match against the top four seeds in their respective groups, with the greater anti-corruption focus, hopefully, ensuring there are no dubious 'upsets' this time.

The points format used for the tournament, as in '99, is untested. Four points will again be carried into the Super Six for each win against a fellow qualifier. The new twist is that teams will now carry over one point for each win against a non-qualifier from the group stage, a change that won't close the loophole which saw Australia deliberately bat slowly against West Indies in an attempt to take some points into the Super Six.

The group stage, lasting 24 days, could prove slightly tedious, with India-Pakistan, Australia-India and South Africa-New Zealand some obvious pre-tournament standouts. Hopefully, the pageantry and propaganda in South Africa is kept to a minimum, and the focus is on producing an efficient, considerately run tournament for players and spectators (which, for a start, would include not setting the dogs -- literally or figuratively -- on fans for a "conflicting" piece of clothing). From the Super Six stage on, the tournament should showcase the best one-day international cricket has to offer.

Here's how the leading teams might finish:

Group A:

Ricky Ponting1. Australia: The pre-tournament favourites want to go through the competition undefeated, which is not beyond them. If they can win their opening two games against Pakistan and India, the rest of the group stage should be a breeze, setting up passage to the semi-finals.

Hayden, Gilchrist and Ponting should flourish, and if Hogg is selected they will have an imposing five-man attack which can punch holes in the opposition. Over-confidence may be a concern, but if Ponting maintains their focus they will have little stopping them from going all the way.

Australia must hold the advantage in any potential meeting with South Africa, and have no-one to really fear. Though never immune from an upset, the Aussies can play brilliant, dominating cricket in big games.

Predicted finish: Champions.

Sourav Ganguly2. India: India may not be playing at home, but, as ever, will be under as much pressure as anyone with the weight of a nation on their backs.

This might be the tournament for Sehwag and Dravid as India's batting takes them all the way to the semi-finals. Big totals should be what India uses to exert pressure on the opposition, but if ever there was a time to get collective performance out of the bowling attack, then this is it.

Matches against Australia and Pakistan will be a stern test, while lapses against England and Zimbabwe must be guarded against. Early wickets and the resilience to reverse fortunes with the ball, when momentum shifts against them, will be key. Sehwag, Dravid and Tendulkar will carry India far, but an untimely collapse or a wayward spell in a crucial situation might be their undoing in the semifinals.

Predicted finish: Semi-finalists (third).

Waqar Younis3. Pakistan: As ever, highly confident, and as ever, just as unlikely to deliver on it. Pakistan played dreadfully in the latter part of 2002, though it is not unrealistic to expect the motivation of the World Cup to bring out their best. Despite that, Pakistan look in no shape for this one.

Their first game against Australia will be crucial. If they win, it may establish some momentum, while if they lose it could derail their campaign. Pakistan possess a potent attack and with the likes of Saeed Anwar, Youhana and Inzamam, their batting is dynamic. However, temperament is questionable, and they are prone to collapse.

Should reach the Super Six on ability, but no further. Still, there's always the feeling they are a wildcard, and will be one side others won't fancy playing.

Predicted finish: Fifth.

Group B

Shaun Pollock1. South Africa: South Africa will be under immense pressure to hoist the trophy on home soil. Initially, this should have little affect, as their skill sees them past New Zealand, Sri Lanka and West Indies without being unduly tested. However, by the time they meet Australia, potentially in the elimination stage, this could be a different scenario.

Recent history has shown that the combination of being placed under pressure and playing Australia has found South Africa wanting. Despite their unquestioned talent, skill and discipline, there is little reason to believe it will be different this time around.

South Africa could lay claim to being the best ODI team of the 1990s, yet ultimately failed at both the '96 and '99 World Cups. They may not countenance it, and will have many quite legitimately backing them to win, but they actually have something to prove.

Predicted finish: Runner-up.

Stephen Fleming2. New Zealand: Like Australia and South Africa, the Black Caps apply discipline and thought in their cricket. Well-led by Stephen Fleming, they are perennially considered a dark horse, though it's a little unjustified -- they're a legitimate contender in their own right.

Difficult to know how much to read into a bowler-dominated home series against India, but the Kiwis should at least have confidence, and in Bond, Tuffey and co. the bowlers to shove aside Sri Lanka and West Indies. The return of Chris Cairns as an all-round force would be a significant boost to a team short on star power.

Must start the competition well against their three main challengers; an upset of South Africa would be an enormous fillip. Should continue to hold their own in the Super Six before being narrowly overcome in the semi-finals.

Predicted finish: Semi-finalists (fourth).

Sanath Jayasuriya3. Sri Lanka: Reversed their recent poor form in Australia, yet still managed only two wins. Sri Lanka appear confident of doing well at the Cup and putting their troubles behind them, but their recent results suggest they will continue to struggle.

Spasmodically brilliant, Sri Lanka lack consistency, and will be exposed if they play on wickets with excessive bounce. Their match with West Indies could decide which team qualifies for the Super Six. While they should be good enough to win it, once there, the Group A teams should prove too much for them.

Jayasuriya and Muralitharan badly need support, from the middle order and the pacemen, to fare better than this.

Predicted finish: Sixth.

More Columns

Schedule | Interviews | Columns | Discussion Groups | News | Venues

Article Tools

Email this Article

Printer-Friendly Format

Letter to the Editor

Copyright © 2003 rediff.com India Limited. All Rights Reserved.