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'India should win the World Cup'
Arjuna Ranatunga
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March 03, 2007 16:17 IST

India should win the World Cup. I have never seen a stronger Indian one-day side: it's well-represented in batting and its bowling crop is very, very impressive. It's so good, I guess, that raising the issue of fielding appears a bit improper.

I see a lot of similarity in this side to the one I captained in the World Cup triumph of 1996. It starts at the top and Robin Uthappa showcases the feel-good factor. I was really charmed by his strokeplay in recent weeks. Uthappa and Virender Sehwag are team's openers in my book. Rahul Dravid should occupy the position I did in the 1996 campaign: hence his slot is between Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Only a player of his quality can shift the gears so effortlessly.

True, a lot other things go into making a champion side. You need to be an extremely smart fielding side; in a long campaign such as this the longest ever consistency will be critical as well as the number of injuries you can avoid.

India, it is in my estimation, who would take some beating. Dravid is a fine captain and he must let his match-winners, Tendulkars and Sehwags, Gangulys and Yuvrajs, perform with freedom. They must be unfettered for their creativity to take the centrestage.

As a captain, Dravid needs to get the maximum out of his men, even a per cent's loss of their ability wouldn't reflect well on him. It should be true not just of 11 but all 15 members of the squad.

Luck is no small issue either: even in our campaign in 1996, we were very lucky to lose the toss in Kolkata in the semi-finals. I would have surely fielded had we won the toss. Fortunately, it was Indians, who had to bat second on a crumbling pitch on that fateful evening.

As I see it, India, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand will be the semi-finalists in this edition. Sri Lanka, because it's bowling attack is better than it was in 1996. Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan need no introduction and Lasith Malinga could be the flavour of the team's campaign.

I still feel they should have had Upul Chandana and Nuwan Zoysa in the squad for in a campaign of this order, you need members who can fulfill more than one role: an all-round side and that's one invariable the best sides of different eras have shown.

Australia you can never discount. They didn't have 5-6 of their best players in New Zealand and I sometimes wonder if it was pure bluff or real fatigue and other issues which kept them away. But now all of them, except Brett Lee, will be back and they would be a force to reckon with. Australia has it in them to win four of five of their Super Eight games, an essential to qualify for the semi-finals.

I would have had South Africa as the fourth semi-finalist but for a disturbing trait they show in big tournaments. They crumble in big matches. I am also not convinced about their bowlers as match-winners. Shaun Pollock on average tracks is no longer a force: I see only Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs as their true match-winners.

New Zealand on the other hand are blessed with that essential quality of all-round ability: their batting runs deep and there is really no tail-ender. They also though suffer from the big-match syndrome and hopefully their recent run of successes would take care of such inconsistencies.

Pakistan's has been a curious and sad case. They have a very strong middle order and there was a good mix of all-round cricketers, but bowling has taken a beating in the absence of Abdul Razzaq and now Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif. If the word about the absence of the last two from the squad is true then they alone are to be blamed for it. It has hurt their team badly.

West Indies will be the dark horse who can upset the applecart of the best sides. They are a top-notch fielding side and have a good mix of youth and experience. Chris Gayle and Brian Lara will hold key to their fortunes. They too suffer from inconsistency as we all know and it can stop them in their tracks. If they were to start well, and in this context their opening game against Pakistan on March 13 would be the key, they could be unstoppable.

England, despite their impressive wins against Australia this year, don't appear to be cup contenders yet. But it was very impressive to see the spirit of the side in the final weeks of one-day series in Australia after the mauling they had in the Ashes.

Spirit can do wonders and if they were to remember the lesson, they would be alright.

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