Saturday, March 17, 2007

Things I didn't mean, and walks in the park

Yesterday, I said "This should be very interesting, as it is our first chance to see if England are genuinely improved or if the Commonwealth Bank series was a walk in the park. Also, South Africa open their campaign against the Netherlands. That game should be a walk in the park for the South Africans". That of course is not what I intended to say. My mind was a sentence ahead of my fingers, and I put "a walk in the park" in the first sentence when I meant "a false dawn". I should probably use fewer cliches.

However, we did get the answer to the question. It was a false dawn. When I was composing my preview, I thought long and hard about what I thought about England. Their record in one day cricket is abysmal, except for that fine four game streak against New Zealand and Australia going into this tournament. Did that streak mean anything. Had they somehow overcome their manifest failings on most of the Ashes tour and had the professionalism that they showed in 2005 suddenly come back at the same time they had finally learned to play one day cricket.

It was in truth a tall order, and yesterday I think they proved it was a false dawn. New Zealand simply outplayed them. England lost Joyce off the first legitimate ball of the match and Bell and Vaughan not too long afterwards. (3/52). Collingwood and Pieterson then took the score to 133, but then there was a collapse. They were both out, so was Flintoff first ball, and then was Dalrymple. 7/138.

At that point it looked terrible for England, but they then took advantage of New Zealand's big weakness, which is that they are a lesser side when Simon Bond has no more overs to bowl. He bowled superbly yesterday (as he almost always does - he is really a fine player) to take 2/19 off ten overs. But he was bowled out, and New Zealand couldn't finish off the English. 42 to Nixon and 29 to Plunkett too England to 7/209 off their 50 overs. That was something to bowl at, and when New Zealand were 3/19 it looked like England had turned around a disastrous situation.

But they hadn't. From that point, New Zealand did what was needed with embarassing ease, only losing one more wicket. 27 to McMillan, 63 not out to Oram, 87 not out to Styris. England's bowling was ineffective. New Zealand got the runs with six wickets in hand and nine overs to spare, to win in the end with embarassing ease. New Zealand have their advertised weaknesses, but play well within them. England are not going very far in this tournament.

And it was indeed a walk in the park for South Africa. Not much to say really. The game was reduced to 40 overs due to rain, but South Africa scores 3/353 regardless. Kallis scored 128 not out, Smith scored 67, Gibbs scored 72, Boucher 75 not out. The Netherlands could only manage 9/132 off their 40 overs. The notables thing about the match was the Gibbs scored six sixes off an over against van Bunge, the first time it has been done in a one day international, and Boucher hit the fastest fifty in world cup history (from 21 balls). A rather brutal example of how a strong side can destroy a weak one if it really wants to.

Today India are playing Bangladesh and Pakistan are taking on Ireland. Ireland are on a high after their tie with Zimbabwe and Pakistan on a low after losing to the West Indies. A boilover would almost certainly be enough for Ireland to make the next roung, and Pakistan are unpredictable, but I don't really believe it will happen. Pakistan to win comfortable. India v Bangladesh has started, and Bangladesh are giving India a torrid time, and have them at 2/24 off ten overs. In my tournament preview, I only covered the top eight, and lumped Bangladesh with the minnows. This perhaps wasn't fair, as they are clearly the best of those eight sides. If they prove that it wasn't fair by winning criket matches, then I will be delighted to see it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bowlers have a fighting chance in the 2007 World Cup, and I'm pleased.

Prior to the start of the 2007 World Cup, there was a lot of media speculation about some very high scores being made by the batting sides. There was even talk of 500 being possible. This would seem insane even a few years ago, but in the last 12 months it has been shown that 400+ scores are quite possible.

To score 500 would be very difficult, and a lot of things need to go right for it to happen, but there's so much limited overs cricket being played, and mostly in conditions strongly favouring the batsmen, that it seems that it is bound to happen eventually. However, from the early exchanges this week, it seems most unlikely that it will happen in the 2007 World Cup. As I write, New Zealand are giving England's batsmen a torrid time in their group game in St. Lucia. England will probably be content to get 200 at this rate, never mind 500.

There are plenty of people that think high scoring matches are a good thing- the game where Australia scored 434 and still lost last year was widely acclaimed to be one of the greatest games of all time. However, I think that is nonsense- the bowlers were reduced to mere bowling machines, and it is a form of cricket that is reduced to a mere batathon.

The majority of casual cricket viewers seem to like this form of cricket, but for me, cricket is a contest between bat and ball. So I've been delighted with the early games, where teams that are evenly matched fighting out moderately scoring games. The match between West Indies and Pakistan was a classic match- runs were possible for batsmen of talent, but there was enough in the wicket for bowlers to do well if they were good enough.

And with the scores likely to be more even, there is more chance of getting matches like the thriller between Zimbabwe and Ireland. And it is in the really close games that the real skill and character of the cricketer is revealed. In World Cup matches, this can mean the difference between becoming a part of cricket history and a legend of the game. Just ask Lance Klusener.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

It probably doesn't matter for the tournament, but a first exciting match

The two games to conclude today had completely contrasting finishes. Sri Lanka finished off bowling out for 78, to complete a 243 run victory. Top order wickets to Lasith Malinga are encouraging for Sri Lanka - he is an exciting bowler when in form.

The other game was an absolute nailbiter. Set 222 to win, Zimbabwe lost wickets along the way, but looked for most of the time like they would probably ultimately scrape the runs. At 5/133 they were perhaps in a little trouble, but Stuart Matsikenyeri steadily compiled runs. At 5/203 off 43.4 overs they looked to be crusing home, and even at 6/212 off for 47.3 it did not look especially hard. Then, however there were wild swings. From needing 10 off 15 balls with four wickets in hand, three wickets fell for one run in ten balls, and suddenly Ireland were in the box seat, with Zimbabwe needing nine runs off the last over with one wicket in hand. However, Matsikenyeri was still batting and he managed to gain strike and Zimbabwe got eight runs off the first five balls of the over. Matsikenyeri only needed one run off the last ball and it looked Zimbabwe's game again, but he couldn't get it. Rainsford was run out in a suicidal attempt at a run, and Zimbabwe were all out for 221. The match was tied - only the third tie in World Cup history. The last such result was of course the extraordinarily memorable semi-final between Australia and South Africa in 1999. Zimbabwe were disconsolate and the Irish ecstatic, indicating the perceived positions of these sides. Matsikenyeri must have been livid considering all the wickets that fell at the other end - three of them run outs. His partners panicked - it is that simple.

Either of these sides have a clear task to achieve a place in the Super eight - they just have to beat Pakistan. If either side can do so, their three points will be above Pakistan's maximum of two points. It is a very tall order, but Pakistan are the most unpredictable and most vulnerable of the strong sides. It isn't likely, but it is not quite beyond the realms of possibility.
A day when everything went as planned

There were of course two games yesterday. I have written about Australia v Scotland. The other was Kenya versus Canada. Canada scored a fairly respectable 199 - losing their last wicket off the last ball of their 50 overs. I think we are seeing fewer sides collapse terribly than was the case a couple of World Cups ago. Some sides might be a little short on talent, but they are better coached and better trained. This is leading to more solid batting performances, but I think less has changed in the bowling. That is more about raw skill.

However, that was not nearly enough for Kenya, who are better coached and have more talent. Kenya coasted home to 3/203 from 43.2 overs. Captain Stephen Tikolo - who always performs well at World Cup time and it would be interesting to know what he would have done for a stronger nation - scored an unbeated 72 after taking 2/34 with the ball. Kenya are in the same group as England and New Zealand, both of who they will find tough going. A combination of defaults, good performances, and home ground advantage rather amazingly got Kenya to the semi-finals last time, and although they looked solid today they will get nowhere near them this time.

Today we have Sri Lanka v Bermuda and Ireland v Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka scored 6/321 (runs to captain Jayawardene) and as I write Bermuda are being hopelessly outclassed and are 7/46. It has not been a good day for Bermuda. In the third over Kevin Hurdle bowled eight wides and noballs to make it a 24 ball over. Nobody should do that in any class of cricket. In the other game Ireland scored a respectable 9/221 off their 50 overs thanks to a century from opener Jeremy Bray. Zimbabwe are 0/24 off 4.2 overs. Zimbabwe should win this (although I am not convinced they should be playing in the tournament) but a slip or two and this could be the first close game of the tournament.

Everything is very predictable so far, however. We haven't had the remotest sign of an upset. However, England play New Zealand tomorrow. This should be very interesting, as it is our first chance to see if England are genuinely improved or if the Commonwealth Bank series was a walk in the park. Also, South Africa open their campaign against the Netherlands. That game should be a walk in the park for the South Africans.
Ponting is pissed off. Good

Australia opened their campaign yesterday with an easy win against Scotland. Gilchrist and Hayden ticket along at six an over until Gilchrist was out lbw to a messy attempted sweep. Scotland bowled tidily and accurately but without any great menace. (Someday I hope to see Gilchrist bat for a full 50 overs and score a double century. He always gets out in some silly fashion, however). Ponting then came in at three. And the best thing about it was that Ponting looked really annoyed. Annoyed with the criticism of the team going in to the tournament. Annoyed with the losing. Annoyed with Sunil Gavaskar. And the great thing about Ponting is that he likes to get annoyance out of his system by scoring lots and lots of runs. He batted solidly and powerfully, looking in superb form with some cracking hook shots. He was starting to accelerate and hit a few sixes, but unfortunately the players went off due to rain at 3/241 in the 41st over. At that point he was on 91 it looked like he was going to smash the players all over the place and score 150, but he didn't really get into it when the players game back. He got the hundred but got out for 113 not too long after. Australia batted solidly for a bit, and then Brad Hogg hit a quick 40 off 15 balls at the end. (Could someone explain to me why Hogg has been out of the side? He is a key player, and he was always obviously going to be a key player in this potentially low scoring tournament, both with the ball and the bat. He did it in the last World Cup for heaven's sake, and he is just as good a player now). Of the other Australian batsmen, Hayden got a useful 60 and Hodge and Clarke a few runs. (Clarke out bowled to a dreadful rush of blood shot. He still does that a little. He needs a good coach to get him to stop it.

I wish that we had Allan Border in some authority position. The fact that he came back and left again after some ridiculous dispute with the board does not make me happy). Still 6/334 off 50 overs was a good effort. No complaints from me.

Glenn McGrath was too good for the Scottish batsmen, taking 3/14 off six overs and reducing them to 5/42. That was that really. Ponting experimented with his spin attack now, bringing Brad Hodge on for a few overs. While experimenting with the spin attack now is a good idea, what the blazes were the Australians doing messing around with a mediocre all seam attack for the last six month. (Might I ask exactly why Brad Hogg was out of the side?). Hopefully though, some sort of sensible attack will be in place in time for the game against South Africa next Friday. Still, this one was way too good for Scotland, and they were bowled out for 131 off 40.1 overs and Australia won by 203 runs. Australian fams cannot complain about this. It was exactly the right opening to the tournament.

I have two questions though? First, what can we do to keep Ponting pissed off for the entire tournament? If he is really pissed off, he might score seven centuries and win the World Cup single handedly. He is good enough. Perhaps we could pay Sunil Gavaskar to continue making idiotically inflammatory remarks. Second, is Glenn McGrath going to be too good for batsmen from better sides than Scotland. Whether he is still himself or is essentially past it is one of those questions we don't know the answer to, but we probably will in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Thoughts on the World Cup format, and the opening match

While this World Cup follows recent tournaments in being too long, I think the present format is a substantial improvement on the previous ones. The last two tournaments divided the teams up into two pools, and played a round robin in each pool. The leading three teams in each group went through to the "Super Six" stage, in which they played the teams they had not played already. Points scored against teams that also went through were carried over, and points against teams that dropped out were not(*). At the end of the Super six, the six teams would have then played each other once in total, and the points table would reflect this.

The advantage of this system is that the relative strength of the two groups would be less of an influence on the semi-finalists than in a system with a longer knock-out stage. (For the ICC, the advantage was that it would make the tournament longer).

However, once the 1999 tournament started, various other issues came to light. For one thing, it meant that the results of very early games were still important quite late in the tournament. Some sides like to start relatively slowly and then raise their form as the important games arise. However, in this format some of the important games were very early. (Although some sides complained about this, in practice, this may have actually improved the tournament. Australia lost two games early, and then discovered that they could not afford to lose another game in the entire tournament. This led to an air of do or die desperation on their part that allowed them to raise their game to a point they might not have been able to in an easier situation, and led to some classic cricket).

Worse, than that, nobody knew which were the important games until later. As there were only six teams in the super six and as then (as now) there were eight strong teams, there was considerable doubt as to who would go through, and therefore from which games the points won would ultimately count. For a side that had qualified, the number of points carried over could be quite different depending on the results of other matches that were entirely out of the control of that side. In 2003, several games were defaulted by sides refusing to play games in Kenya or Zimbabwe, which led to weaker sides going through to the super six, points from these defaults ultimately determining places in the semi-finals as well as the super six, and points from very easy matches being carried over into the super six and points from very difficult ones being dropped.

This time, the format is a "Super Eight". The teams have been divided into four pools of four. Two teams go through to the super eight. Points against other teams that go through are carried over as with the super six, but this will only be points from one game. The lesser teams get to play three games each: enough to give them a taste of the tournament, but not so many games that they become a distraction in the more serious parts of the tournament. It is fairly clear which games will have points carried over in the early stages - those against the other strong teams. If it does not ultimately work out this way, it will be the fault of the side that doesn't carry over the points. Unpredictable events involving third parties are much less likely to come into it. When it comes to decide the semi-finalists, the vast bulk of the points taken into consideration (six sevenths) will have been played in the super eight stage and not the pool stage.

This all means that there are three kinds of matches in the pool stage. Firstly, there are games between two sides that are likely to go through to the super eight - these are important matches for the later stage of the tournament and the competing teams know this. Secondly, there are games between a likely qualifier and a non-likely qualifier. These are important in the sense that the likely qualifiers have to make sure not to lose them in order to make sure that they do in fact make the super eight, but how they manage it does not matter much. (Even if a strong side does lose one of these, they can still go through if they ensure they win their other games convincingly, and if this happens, the results of the upset probably do not cascade through). And there are games between two likely non-qualifiers. These are probably not big games from the perspective of the outcome of the tournament, but they are big games for the teams involved, as they are their best chance to play positive and winning criket in the tournament.

However, the carrying of points over does make at least some of the early round matches more important for the good sides. If there were no points carried over, the games between the two stronger sides would be of virtually no significance at all. As it is, they are games that they must concentrate on winning. One question applying to the first round of the tournament is one of the order of matches. Do strong sides prefer to have their "important" match first, then play the lesser sides, then get back into the series stuff, or do they prefer to play the weaker sides first, and then play the seven stronger sides one after another. Pakistan and the West Indies had the first situation, playing yesterday. South Africa and Australia, and also India and Sri Lanka have the second, playing each other right at the end of the first round. (India and Sri Lanka have the tougher group, as Bangladesh might be able to cause an upset earlier. If that happens, the final game in that group becomes a desperate scrap). England and New Zealand play in the middle of the group.

As it happens, in the first two days of the tournament, the schedule has given us one game of each of the three kinds. Yesterday, the opening game of the tournament was the first kind. Hosts the West Indies took on Pakistan. Pakistan's preparation has been terrible, and of the "big eight" teams, they are the one I was most likely to write off going in to the tournament. They lived up to that yesterday. Pakistan were able to take some early wickets (but not really enough to put them on top), and this was enough to slow the West Indian start, getting to a modest 3/77 off 23.5 overs. Pakistan also prevented any West Indian from getting a big score. However, the West Indians put in a solid team effort, with Lara, Bravo, and Samuels scoring runs, and Smith and Collymore doing the sometimes difficult thing of boosting the run rate when wickets fell at the end. 9/241 looked a decend score, although the question still remains as to what is and isn't a good score in this tournament. In this game, it was plenty. Pakistan just didn't get into it. They didn't try to go for much of a run rate, and lost wickets anyway, fallying to 6/116 off 32.5 overs. After that Shoaib Malik scored 62 off 54 balls, but the match was already lost and he didn't get Pakistan back into it. It was a pretty pathetic effort from them, but a good effort from the West Indies. Smith had a fine game taking 3/36 off his ten overs after scoring 32 off 15 balls. The West Indies completed an easy 54 run win.

Today we have Scotland v Australia and Kenya v Candada. Australia really need to win this one very easily to demonstrate that they are at least something like a little over their recent bad form. Scotland have been making remarks about fancying their chances, but Australia will be much too good. The question is by how much. Kenya v Canada should be more intersting, although Kenya have much more experience of this level of cricket than do Canada. Kenya should easily win this one. If they do not, then they have wasted quite a bit of ICC development money and the development they should have got out of quite a few games against good opposition.

(*) Note to purists. Yes, I am aware this that this was changed slightly in 2003. I am simplifying a little to make a point. For practical purposes the change made no difference.
Musing on the Minnows

Yesterday Michael discussed the prospects of the strong cricketing nations. The winner of the 2007 World Cup will almost certainly come out of those teams. It would be a massive upset if they did not.

However there are eight other participants in the tournament. This is a change for the World Cup- in the past, the minor cricketing countries did not play a great role in these tournaments. As recently as the 1992 tournament, only one participant was not a serious contender.

This more inclusive style of tournament is not to everyone's taste- both Michael Holding and Ricky Ponting have come out against it. Both men have played in winning World Cup sides and may approach the tournament from the point of view of the players- they want the best to go up against the best.

But minnows have been present in every tournament, and the 1975 minnow Sri Lanka grew into the 1996 World Cup Champions. While it is hard to imagine Bermuda or Holland ever becoming a serious contender, it is possible that one day Kenya or even Canada could develop into serious cricketing nations. This is why ICC likes to include them.

And, given their resources, I think that the minnow nations have a good enough record to justify their inclusion. The 1975 Sri Lankans did well, although they didn't win a game in the tournament; in 1983, Zimbabwe won their first ever World Cup game against Australia. In 1992, Zimbabwe were again competitive and won their game against England, who came runners up.

In 1996 came the biggest shock, when Kenya beat West Indies; 1999 brought Bangladesh's victory over Pakistan, and in 2003 there were no end of suprises- Canada beat Bangladesh, and notably, Kenya beat Sri Lanka and manged to make the semi-finals.

In 2007, there is some scope for upsets. Each pool consists of two minnows and two major nations, so there is a total of 16 games between minnows and majors. Of course, some victories would not be as surprising as others. Bangladesh have improved markedly in the past few years and if they beat either India or Sri Lanka it will be more an 'upset' then a 'boilover'.

Group C and Group D have mixes of nations that could cause upsets; both England and Pakistan have the sort of erratic form that leaves them vulnerable if a minnow nation catches them on a bad day.

And if by chance a minnow makes the 'Super 8' there is a chance of more boilovers.

So while the 'big boys' will fight it out for the 2007 World Cup, I think that the presence of the minnow nations is a positive for the tournament, adding to its entertainment value. Tonight, Kenya play Canada, a contest that Kenya should win. But it isn't a sure thing, and it should be more of a contest then Australia's match against Scotland.

But then Australia's form has been bad lately. Scotland beating Australia at cricket seems totally unthinkable, but they'll never get a better chance then tonight. Game on!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Welcome to my World Cup blogging

Here are my brief portraits of the eight "good" sides in the cricket world cup that began today. I have a few more thoughts on Samizdata.

  • The West Indies are hosts of the tournament. The English speaking countries of the Carribean have fielded a single cricket team for about 80 years. This team slowly rose through the ranks of cricketing nations for its first decades of existence, and was extremely competitive from around 1960. In the mid 1970s it rose still further, and through having great fast bowlers and spectacular batsmen it dominated international cricket until the early 1990s. Since then it has suffered many defeats, but the team still contains some very impressive players. In full cry, present West Indian captain Brian Lara is one of the most awe inspiring players in world cricket. However, there are questions about his and the team's attitude. One sometimes thinks the players would rather visit nightclubs than cricket grounds. The West Indies will probably flame out at some point, but they may well play some great cricket before doing so. If they make the later stages of the tournament, this may concentrate their minds well enough to do well in those later stages.
  • Australia are the defending champions, and are attempting to win the tournament for the third time in succession and the fourth time in total. Australia have lost a number of good players since the last World Cup, and have several injuries to key players. The lost of fast bowler Brett Lee is a big blow. Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden are important players, but will be back hopefully fit in time for the later stages of the tournament. Australia's batting is strong regardless of this, with Adam Gilchrist and Hayden destructive at the top of the order, Ricky Ponting in the middle order, and Sydmonds and Michael Hussey as finishers. However the bowling looks weak. Glenn McGrath (playing in his last tournament) was a great player but is not any more. Stuart Clark is a fine test bowler, but is untested in one day internationals. Andrew Symonds is unlikely to bowl much due to his injury. Brad Hogg is an effective spinner (and played a big role four years ago) but is curiously out of favour with the selectors and is low on confidence. Australia have lost their best finishing bowler in Lee. In truth though, Australia's middle over bowlers lost the plot about a year ago. Sides with decent batting can score an outrageous number of runs between the 20 and 45 over marks when Australia are batting. This has been obvious for at least a year, but team management has carried on as if there is no problem. Australia have been thoroughly found out in recent games, and go into the tournament having lost five games straight. They are very vulnerable to smart opposition who can outthink them and take advantage of the conditions. Although Australia are still favourites with bookmakers (although their odds have lengthened considerably over the last couple of months) I do not expect Australia to make the semi-finals. I hope I am wrong, but I do not really believe I am. It is almost beyond description how much I wish Shane Warne were playing.
  • South Africa are second favourites with bookmakers, and have by far the best form of any team coming into the tournament, having destroyed Pakistan and India at home in their most recent series. Their batting side is very impressive, with players like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, and Herschelle Gibbs having taken them to very large scores in recent games. Their bowling is good, but relatively unimaginative, being based around pace. This may not suit them in the West Indies. Their captain Graeme Smith is rather unimaginative and not a greet tactician. If there is a side that is going to power through the tournament and win it easily, the the South Africans are it. However, they stand to be surprised by a side that out thinks them at some point. If this happens prior to the semi-finals, it does not matter, as they should make the semi-finals easily enough with their present game. If it happens in the semi-final or final, they lose. History does not help. They have often played well at early stages of previous tournaments, but have then been out thought, out sledged, and overwhelmed by the occasion later on. And I am not sure what to make of their ability to be eliminated from previous world cups in truly bizarre circumstances, other than to see it at a tremendous source of amusement. They cannot possibly beat the previous world cup, in which they were eliminated after a rain shortened game was tied on the Duckworth-Lewis rule after the captain got his calculations wrong. Or can they?
  • New Zealand are a side with a history of making the most of rather limited resources. Cricket is a very poor relation to rugby in New Zealand, which is a small country. None the less, its cricket team has a history of being very well captained and coached. In World Cups it has often played very well early in the tournament, but upon reaching the semi-finals the lack of depth and the lack of really top notch players has showed. The present side fits this description well Captain Stephen Fleming is the best captain in world cricket (and a good batsman). All rounder Jacop Oram has been playing superbly recently, and the middle and lower order have been batting with a wonderful never say die attitude. (New Zealand come into the tournament having beaten Australia 3-0 at home). Shane Bond is one of the great tragedies of modern cricket: a wonderful, technically correct seam bowler who would be one of the best bowlers in the world if injuries had not shortened his career. The conditions in the West Indies will suit him, and he will once or twice take five wickets and win a game for New Zealand. However, he is only allowed to bowl ten overs and the rest of New Zealand's bowling may not be good enough to finish the job. The Australia v New Zealand game from four years ago probably summarises the problem. Bond took 6/23 and reduced Australia to 7/84, but he was not allowed to bowl any more overs and Australia recovered to 208 and won the game easily. That kind of thing may happen again. New Zealand will make the semi-finals, but probably don't quite have the class to win the tournament.
  • Sri Lanka revolutionised one day cricket with their performance in winning the 1996 World Cup, in which the quality of their batting and their strategy of attacking from the first ball when fielding restrictions in place surprised much of the rest of the cricketing world. (It shouldn't have, because they had been playing the strategy effectively for at least six months going into the tournament). It also marked their transition from the easybeats of world cricket to a powerful, dangerous side. Since then they have beaten and embarassed a lot of other teams, have annoyed and frustrated a lot of opposing players with their ruthless and forceful attitude to the game, and have caused considerable controversy by selecting spin bowler Muttiah Muralithuran, whose bowling action is considered by many to be of questionable legality. Still. they are a smart and canny side who can exploit difficult batting conditions. Whatever the merits of his action, Muralithuran will be a dangerous bowler in these conditions. Jayasuriya is back in the side for one final swing at the World Cup. There is plenty of batting talent in the side such as captain Mahela Jayawardene, Marvan Atapattu, and Kumar Sangakkara. Sri Lanka are going to be very dangerous indeed in this tournament. I wouldn't be very surprised if they won it.
  • Not much can be said about Pakistan other than that they are Pakistan. They produce a large number of greatly talented and exciting players. However, the players seldom appear united on the field. They have an endless series of match fixing scandals, drug scandals, dressing room rebellions, weird political intrigues involving corrupt government ministers, and goodness knows what. Going into the world cup, the most recent problem is a drug scandal (steroids). Pakistan also lack the bowling strength of a few years back. There is nobody of the talent of Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis. The most exciting bowler than do have is Shoaib Akhtar, who was involved in the doping scandal, was "acquitted" and is now out "injured". In their most recent series Pakistan were horribly beaten by South Africa. The only captain who could ever make Pakistan play as something resembling a united team was Imran Khan, who took them to World Cup glory in 1992. Many of us have fond memories of a very young Inzamam al Haq playing spectacular shots under the MCG lights in that tournament. Inzamam is today captain of Pakistan, and in the years since has been consistently one of the world's finest batsmen. However I cannot sensibly see Pakistan overcoming their problems to get far in this tournament. On the other hand, sense and the Pakistan cricket team seldom seem to go together.
  • India are the great enigma of world cricket. They won the World cup completely unexpectedly in 1983, when unbackable favourites the West Indies failed in the final . That inspired a huge party in India in response, but that would be nothing compared to what would happen if they did it in these days in which modern media and economic growth has drenched India in cricket to an extent that is hard to describe. India have great batsmen in Sachin Tendulkar, captain Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, and fine spin bowlers in Harbhajan Singh. Their seam bowling is perhaps a little weaker and I am not sure they are a great tactical side, but if everything comes off they are likely to be extraordinarily likely to beat. They have a frustrating inconsistency about them, however. Some days (particularly in test series against Australia) they can be brilliant. In others deeply disappointing. Their form is mixed going into the tournament: they have recently beaten South Africa and the West Indies, but were badly beaten by South Africa over Christmas. That was in very different conditions though. I think if India get momentum going, they will be hard to stop. but it is very questionable whether they will get momentum going.
  • And last, England. England are widely being predicted as being a dark horse in the series. after playing utterly terribly for most of the Australian summer, England turned around at the last possible moment in the Commonwealth Bank series, winning four games straight to take the tournament. The return of captain Michael Vaughan appears to make a huge difference to England. With him they believe in themselves. Without him they do not. Generally, though, England are well led, fit, and well coached. They played outstandingly to win the Ashes about 18 months ago.

    That is the rub, however. Other than the last four matches, England's good performances in recent years have come in test cricket. In one day cricket, they have generally been terrible. I do not think they have enough tactics, enough game planning, and enough skill in one day games to win the tournament. Perhaps they will make the semi-finals. I think though that strategically better teams will come through in the end.

    On the other hand, Vaughan is a very good captain. And the conditions will suit Monty Panesar. So who knows?
That is team by team analysis. Who do I think will win? Okay. Predictions.

Semi-finalists: South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and India.
Finalists: South Africa and India
Champions: South Africa

However, the tourament is the most open I can remember. In the last five minutes I have changed the side I have predicted to win from Sri Lanka to India to South Africa. I really have no idea.

Blog Archive