South Africa are emerging as serious contenders for next month's World Cup. Although Shaun Pollock has been lumbered with more passengers than can fit into a rickshaw, his top side is strong and capable of beating any opponent.
The pressure of playing at home will not intimidate his team. South Africa won the rugby tournament on their own patch and with Nelson Mandela wearing the captain's spare shirt.
Pollock's side has been playing in Africa these past few months and will be fresher than opponents living out of suitcases. He and his chums have been playing vigorously as the magnitude of the approaching competition puts political considerations in the backs of their minds.
Not long ago the country's cricket was in disarray as frustration grew among established and aspiring players about the role colour was playing in the selection of the side. Even now the squad has been compromised but the heart remains intact and beats strongly. Pollock's key men will be running out beside him, hearing the roars of the crowd and shouting "death or glory".
Balance is the strong point of this South African outfit, as it is the weak point of an Australian side determined to retain its trophy. Most of the finest all-rounders around will be wearing the green of Africa as this prestigious competition begins.
Of course, the 1980s were the time of the all-rounders, as the '90s were the period of wicketkeeper-batsmen. Among contemporaries, Pollock and Jacques Kallis stand out, with Mark Boucher ever ready to chivvy the tail along. Lance Klusener will be back with his fearful power and enigmatic look, ready to scare opponents with lusty blows. Fewer hitters than expected have made a mark in the 50-over game. Ian Botham has an especially poor record and this countryman, raised among Zulus, stands high among them. These fellows will ensure that South Africa bat and bowl well for the entire 100 overs, a feat beyond rival sides burdened with crocodile tails or pie-chuckers posing as respectable leather-flingers.
Accordingly, the Proteas can be relied on to put up a solid performance. It takes only one inspired innings to decide a 50-over contest but the hosts will not be brushed aside because they can recover from a poor start and will bowl accurately and field athletically.
Provided the top men stay fit, the South Africans will reach the semi-finals and then it will be a matter of nerves holding. In the past they have frozen within metres of the winning line, as if unable to take that final step. Pollock's team is more relaxed than its predecessors, to a fault in some estimations, and less likely to crack. It is an experienced and powerful team full of hungry cricketers used to winning. The South African captain must be delighted to have in his line-up Jonty Rhodes, an elfin-like cricketer, a match-winner towards the end of an innings and a fieldsman capable of inspiring an entire ground.
Among the floundering Australians only Ricky Ponting is as much of a flibbertigibbet, and as captain he occupies positions where the traffic is thinner. As far as all-rounders go, Australia cannot match their hosts and closest rivals, despite pretending otherwise.
After 30 years Australia are still searching for their first genuine all-rounder of the one-day era. The Waughs, who filled the gap serviceably, have been put out to pasture. So Ponting's team will be relying on strong performances from its leading men.
Weariness may hold back the champions and it's surprising that Adam Gilchrist and others have not been sent home for a week's rest and recuperation.
Other teams remain in the doldrums. Pakistan have played without pride, and have more mavericks and aging warriors than can ordinarily be accommodated. India could not raise 170 in New Zealand; Sri Lanka blow hot and cold. These countries play on emotion and cannot be discounted. As the battered bard croaked, 'things can change'.
The West Indies show signs of improvement but Zimbabwe have gone to the dogs. England and the Kiwis appear the likeliest teams to challenge the hosts and Australia.