Okay, I suspect that I am going to bore non cricket following readers to tears for the next six weeks. But that is what that is. I shall attempt to blog regularly about other subjects as well over the period, but I suspect that there shall be cricket related postings at least every couple of days.
This is actually not my first World Cup related post but my second. Long term readers will remember that I made some predictions a couple of months back. In particular, I predicted that Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan would make the semi-finals. I still feel this about the first three sides, although Australia do not appear to be quite as strong as I felt then. Plus, I don't think the Australian selectors have got the team selection quite right. As for Pakistan, they have been less impressive then I expected since those predictions, so I think the fourth spot is really up in the air.
However, one thing I did say in my predictions was the following
The West Indies only have a chance to get anywhere in the tournament if Brian Lara can recover from hepatitis, get fit, and then dominate the tournament like nobody has ever dominated a World Cup before. Lara is inconsistent, but goes through hot patches every now and then, and when he does he bats more like a god than any other player I have ever seen
Well, the first game of the World Cup was today, with the West Indies defeating South Africa, in an exciting last over result. Lara hit a fine 116, which took the West Indies from a terrible position of 2/64 off 25 overs to an excellent total of 5/278 off 50. I still believe that if the West Indies have any chance to win the tournament, Lara is going to have to score probably five or six centuries in the tournament, because the West Indies do not have the depth otherwise. Lara's career has been a very frustrating one to follow because he has been so inconsistent, but if today's innings is the start of a hot patch like the one he had against Australia in 1999 or the one he had against England (and then playing county cricket in England) in 1994 (that included his test record 375 and his first class record 501*) then we could really be in for quite a tournament.
At least that was what I was thinking when the South Africans were batting and were 6-160, and a West Indian victory looked inevitable. But, as Lance Klusener fought back for the South Africans and almost won the match, another thought went through my mind, which is that neither of these sides are going to win the World Cup, regardless of what Lara does. I may be harsh, but the West Indian bowling simply didn't look anywhere near good enough. Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose it wasn't. It was very pedestrian stuff, and against really good batting (ie India or Australia, and perhaps even Sri Lanka on a good day or England if Michael Vaughan can play well) the West Indians aren't going to be able to defend anything. Their best bat is to send in the opposition, let the opposition score what the opposition will score, and then send Brian out to chase it batting second. But even with Lara in a hot patch, I doubt they will be able to win against the best opposition.
As for South Africa, I thought they were really sloppy and undisciplined. Firstly, they allowed themselves to fall to 6-160 off mediocre bowling. And then Klusener scored some very fast runs and almost won the match, before they lost wickets and lost the match in the last couple of overs. The trouble with this type of situation is that I have seen South Africa do this over and over again. I have seen Klusener do this over and over again, including in the semi-final of the last World Cup. Taking risks is fine when the task looks almost impossible, as it did with half a dozen overs to go. Klusener was almost caught in the outfield a few overs before the end. (The fieldsman caught the ball, but then stepped over the boundary rope and conceded a six). If he had been out in this instance, fine. However, the South Africans got the match into a position they should have won from, and then Klusener got caught in the outfield and that was that. Such a risky shot was not necessary. He should have started going for fours rather than sixes at that point. I think the pressure got to him.
However, here are the two things that convinced me South Africa will not win the World Cup. Firstly, when Klusener was caught in the outfield, the batsmen did not cross. Klusener just stood there and watched the ball. He should have started running, simply because the fieldsman may have dropped the ball and he could have then got the run. Plus, the batsmen needed to cross so that Nicky Boje, who had is eye in and was the best remaining batsman, could face the next ball. However, they didn't do this, which suggests a lack of coaching and teamwork.
That is the first thing. The second thing is that when fielding first, South Africa bowled their overs too slowly and were consequently penalised an over when they batted. At the end, with another over to bat they would have got the runs. This is simple indiscipline, and poor planning. In a World Cup, this is unforgiveable.
Okay, I have been harsh on South Africa. Please feel free to laugh at me later in the tournament.
Finally, the West Indian win is quite interesting from the point of view of the tournament. It looks likely that four wins from six matches will be needed to make the super six stage. The West Indies have one win, and have games in their pool against Kenya, Bangladesh, and Canada. They should win all three of these games easily, so it is now most unlikely that the West Indies will miss the Super 6 stage. Assuming that South Africa also make the Super 6 stage, then South Africa will carry the points from today's win over into the Super 6. To get from the Super 6 to the semi-finals, a total of two wins over other Super 6 teams is likely all that is necessary. Therefore, if the West Indies can beat one other Super 6 opponent either in their pool or in the Super 6 matches themselves, they will likely make the semi finals. Therefore, after one day of the tournament, the West Indies have already done a significant portion of the work needed to make the semi finals. As I said, I don't think they have the bowlers to win the tournament. However, they did an excellent day's work today, and by the rules of the tournament, their chances of getting that fourth, open semi final spot are now good.