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Proteas are the pick in Pool B

Srinivas Venkataraghavan | January 24, 2003 21:48 IST

Any team among the 14 which wins the World Cup on March 23 at Johannesburg need not necessarily be the best team on the planet. But it will prove to be the strongest in terms of commitment and the will to win at the end of the six-week tournament, which will bring out the best and the worst in players.

As for Pool B, I feel South Africa, playing in home conditions and also having selected the venues where they could perform better, would be the team to qualify on top of the pool.

Jonty RhodesOn paper, South Africa's batting seems to be rather thin. They would definitely depend on players like Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Jonty Rhodes and Gary Kirsten. In my opinion, they have made a mistake in dropping Graeme Smith.

Among the batsmen, Rhodes could make a lot of difference. He is not a great hitter, but is the best in running between the wickets. He can also urge his partner to convert singles into twos. Plus, he is an enthusiastic cricketer who motivates his mates by his sharp fielding. He can make a lot of difference to the side in the middle.

The bowling is dependent a lot on Allan Donald. He is not getting younger these days and is also, to a great extent, injury-prone. Given the occasion, playing before his home crowd, he can be a thorn in the side to any team. South Africa also have a useful pinch-hitter in Nicky Boje, who has proved his worth on many occasions.

The way the South Africans are preparing is phenomenal; it is akin to the Australians. Considering this, South Africa should comfortably head the pool and qualify for the Super Six.

Sanath JayasuriyaAs for the Sri Lankans, it augurs well for the team that Sanath Jayasuriya has found back his golden touch in batting. Despite their disastrous outing in the tri-series in Australia, Jayasuriya was back to his old ways -- of scoring runs at will. The manner in which he scored back-to-back centuries recently is an indication that he is getting back to top form ahead of the World Cup. With Kumar Sangakkara also showing lot of promise along with Marvan Atapattu, they have a decent batting line-up.

Apart from their impressive opening pair of batsmen, Muttiah Muralitharan is the best in the business when it comes to off-spin and most of the sides are scared to face him. In one-day games, Murali is much more effective than Shane Warne. He always comes on to bowl at the death and usually makes a mockery of the tailenders' defence and technique.

At present, Sri Lanka have found their feet, though they failed to make the final of the tri-series. Since they have been playing well these days, they have a genuine chance to progress to the second round.

If you look at New Zealand's record in the Cup, it is phenomenal. They have made it to the semi-finals in four out of seven World Cups. Apart from 1983, the only times they could not make it to the semis was when the tournament was played in the Indian sub-continent -- perhaps, the conditions did not suit them.

But they have a few injury problems. Their key player is Chris Cairns, a brilliant all-rounder, and he is expected to be fully fit by the time the World Cup gets rolling. One cannot forget his superb century in the ICC knock-out final, in Nairobi, which helped his team win the Cup, pipping India.

They also have another dependable all-rounder in Scott Styris. Though they have no big names, they are capable of surprising other teams with bowlers like Shane Bond, Andre Adams, Daryl Tuffey and 'offie' Daniel Vettori. They have given every side a run for their money and wickets in South Africa should suit them better.

The West Indians are seemingly finding their moorings after a prolonged lean patch. The seven match one-day series in India, which they won 4-3, must have given them tremendous confidence.

Chris Gayle, for that matter, can be as hard-hitting as anyone in the business today. If he is on song, he can be a bowler's nightmare. The opening pair of Gayle and Wavell Hinds could pose problems to their rivals, providing the team gets a good start. Next into the middle are batsmen of the calibre of Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels and skipper Carl Hooper.

I doubt whether the same can be said of their bowling, which is inexperienced. Their best bet is Mervyn Dillon and I
doubt whether they would be able to trouble the rival batsmen. To offset this weakness, the team from the Caribbean has to use their batting strength to post a sizeable total and make it difficult for the rivals to chase.

The fielding is also not top notch barring a few who could be considered brilliant. Most of them are lethargic. Fielding is one area they have to attend to. But, at the same time, one cannot write off the West Indies.

It'll be a contest between New Zealand and Sri Lanka or West Indies, with two of them joining South Africa in the Super Six.

Pool A analysis tomorrow

Venkataraghavan led India in the first two World Cups, in 1975 and 1979. He is now on the ICC's elite panel of Umpires.

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