What with the Super Bowl and the NBA , I’d forgotten about cricket . I was surprised , therefore , to find that the 2011 World Cup is almost upon us . In fact , the warm up matches have already begun and the opening ceremonies are next weekend.
The World Cup has been awaited for months , for years , by cricket -hungry Indians who are rooting for the home side to pull off a win and write a storybook finish to Sachin Tendulkar’s glorious career. Indeed , this does seem like a golden opportunity for the Men In Blue because the tournament is more wide-open than it has been for a long time . The last two times Australia were the clear favorites and justified their ranking by winning both times . This time they are a diminished , though still dangerous, side giving hope to the other contenders. A month ago , the Aussies were in disarray after having been soundly thrashed by England in the Ashes . They have since staged an emphatic come-back by demolishing England in the ODIs. Does this mean they are all the way back ? It is too soon to tell but , in my book , they are definitely among the favorites to chalk up another triumph.
Back in 2007, one of the ” minnows ” knocked off one of the senior teams and qualified for the quarterfinals . It is unlikely to happen this time . Four years ago , some of the established teams were complacent and didn’t take the minnows seriously . That’s not going to happen again even though Bangladesh and Kenya are capable of pulling off the odd upset. I think it’s almost a given that after the preliminary rounds , the teams moving on to the quarters will be, in alphabetical order, as follows :
Group A : Australia , New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
Group B : England, India , South Africa , West Indies
Australia will have an easier task of qualifying for the semis because Group A seems much the easier group. Of Australia’s Group A opponents , Pakistan is unpredictable , much like their captain Shahid Afridi , worldbeaters one-day and absolute push overs the next . Sri Lanka is talented and Ajantha Mendis maybe a handful on subcontinental pitches that will aid spin but overall I dont think they’re a match for the Aussies . As for New Zealand , I love the Kiwis and think they are great sportsmen , but I think they are overmatched in this company.
In Group B , assuming that these four teams qualify for the quarters, I think England , India and South Africa will be fighting it out for the two places in the semis. West Indies are an exciting team but I don’t feel they are disciplined or good enough to beat the other three. A month ago , I’d have picked England as one of the favorites but after their dispiriting performance against Australia in the ODIs , I’m no longer sure how good they are. On paper , they have the most balanced bowling attack in the world, and their batting line-up is imposing, but I’m unwilling to make any predictions at this stage . The round robin stages of the World Cup will give a clearer picture of how good the team really is .
On sub-continental pitches , the pace attacks of England , South Africa and Australia will be blunted and none of the teams has a truly match winning spinner , not even India . There is no Shane Warne around this time . It seems a given that matches will be high scoring and the teams with the best batting line-ups will be favored to win . Australia , India , South Africa and Pakistan would seem to be the front-runners for places in the semis but I’ll wait until the round robin stage is over before making any predictions .
As far as India’s chances are concerned , it seems to me that it depends on how well they bowl and field , the batting being pretty much a given. If Sehwag, Gambhir and Sachin have fully recovered from their injuries they backed up by the explosive Yusuf Pathan , Virat Kohli and Dhoni are a match for anyone in the world. The bowling though is awfully thin and has a tendency to leak runs in the death overs . The fielding during the South African tour was much improved and it will need to be at the same elevated level if India are to have any hope of lifting the trophy.It should be a very interesting tournament. May the best team win ( and please let it be India !)
P.S I was looking at the sports pages of the Manchester Guardian and found not a single article on cricket ; it was mostly about football ( soccer) and the English Premier League. By contrast , the Times of India had four articles about cricket and the World Cup , illustrating how cricket-mad Indians are . I wish it weren’t so because it results in the other sports being starved for followers and money and, ultimately, success.