Agnel Pereira in his cricket outfit in Bahrain Cricket League
Its time to wear your guards (meaning, the excuses at office for watching the matches), pads (protection against the boss), gloves (for grip on the remote), helmet (to save yourself from bouncers from your spouse)? Time and Play.
By the time some of you read this article, the 2007 cricket world cup would have started, with the hosts and twice champions West Indies and the 1992 champion Pakistan playing their first match at Kingston, Jamaica. As Chris Gayle takes guard to faceShall I predict who will win? Very simple, the team that plays better than the other on the day will win! Its not rocket science really.
This article tries to analyse the relative strengths and weaknesses of the 16 participating teams, and in between will attempt at some ?predictions’ which appear to be more like unreliable fortune telling at best.
I have divided the 16 teams into four sections (not groups):
The Minnows – Last Four: Bermuda, Canada, the Netherlands and Scotland
The Occasional Shockers – Penultimate Four: Ireland, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh
The Challengers – the Lesser Four in the Super 8’s: Sri Lanka, England, West Indies, Pakistan
The Top Cats – Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India
These are the grades as I assess these teams, may defy any other rankings. Readers may have their own. You may share your own grades and views with me.
Lets start with the Minnows first:
Location closer to the West Indies (like Ireland and Scotland being close to England) might just be something for Bermuda to claim home advantage! The advantage just stops there. Yet, its best chance can only be against Bangladesh in Group B and even if it achieves that, we can say Bermuda has arrived on the international cricket scene. Don’t expect them to do too much, but don’t forget to applaud individual brilliances on the field. Watch out for the left arm spinner Dwayne Leverock, especially if he has to tumble on the ground to save a four. You may wonder what a boxer doing on the cricket field, but Leverock’s physical features might help him vary his pace unintentionally! Will Leve Rock?
Dwayne Leverock on the right
Scotland, in a tough group A involving World no.1 and 2, South Africa and Australia, will learn it the most hard way and by the time their league encounters end, would have garnered some pity (for the players) and criticism (of ICC’s decision to field the minnows against champions) from conservative cricket pundits. All that Scotland will hope for is to beat the Netherlands and last at least 40 overs against the two stronger opponents or to take more than 4 wickets against them.
If they go beyond this, just chill out with a peg of Scotch on the rocks.
Holland (the Netherlands):
And if Holland does more than beating Scotland in the group encounter, you may replace that Scotch with Heineken. Pitted against Australia and South Africa in Group A, they will be even-steven with Scotland as far as their chances are concerned and the match between the minnows will be the maximum interest they will have before they sign off. We need to pray that these minnows win the toss and bat first, so that a 400+ record score from the No1 & 2 in the world be avoided!
In any case, this group of amateur cricketers must consider themselves lucky to play at this level ? an opportunity which millions in other countries long for (and toil hard to achieve it), but only 15 from their country can play!
Canada has been the earliest of the outsiders, to play in a world cup, having played in the 1979 World Cup. But still, there is hardly any progress in their cricket I feel. John Davison played one memorable 100+ knock in the last world cup, but unless they have some surprise new talents this time around, the match against Kenya (Group C) could be the most hard fought. However, with England in indifferent form, Canada may have some plans.
The Occasional Shockers:
Ireland has already shown its capability or the shock element, if the practice matches were of any indication. Ireland made the No.1 ranked South Africa sweat in the practice match, which was tottering at 91 for 8 wickets at one stage, only to be rescued by Andrew Hall and two tailenders. My expectation is that, Ireland can beat Zimbabwe in its league encounter (I think even my club team can beat this Zimbabwe team), but may find it a little hard to put it across Pakistan and West Indies. I know that many Irish players have the English County experience, but they may need a bit of luck with the toss which may prompt them to use the early morning bowler friendly conditions (on some grounds and on some days). Don’t be surprised if it achieves all this, because cricket has been played in this country as early as the origin of the game itself, they surely have cricket in their blood. Mark my words, against an inconsistent West Indies, which can sometimes lose to a club side and can beat world No.1 on another day, Ireland may have its best chance.
In any case, I will be one of the keen watchers of this country’s progress in international cricket. By the way, the Irish Malt could be a way to hide from any mauling this team might receive from the stronger outfits, so keep your mugs ready.
As per the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, it should not be an automatic choice to play the world cup. Like the 5 other minnows that have qualified, Zimbabwe should also be required to go through the qualification rounds. They say past performance is no indication of future results. Yes, a strong Zimbabwe side has shown that ability in the past with some great players ? they defeated Australia in the 1983 world cup (and blame Kapildev for not achieving another upset victory), they have beaten England in the 1992 world cup, but in today’s context, where mass exodus of star players like the Flower brothers, Neil Johnson, Murray Goodwin, Tatenda Taibu and Heath Streak has significantly affected Zimbabwe’s cricket. In this background, they should be happy if they beat Ireland. However, Pakistan and West Indies in their group are the teams with inconsistent form and if they have an off day, Zimbabwe may win against any of these and that will be sufficient to take it to the Super 8 level.
Bangladesh’s finest moment in a world cup so far was its victory against Pakistan in 1999. Despite a huge following and a cricket crazy backing, Bangladesh is still struggling to catch the imagination of the world. Odd successes here and there notwithstanding, I think Bangladesh may need to sustain that killer instinct to upstage Sri Lanka or India in Group B. I hope people have taken note of the fact that they defeated New Zealand in the warm up game last week.
Also, in cricket you cant say too much too early, and it so happens on a given day, the ground conditions change and some main teams have a off-day which is sufficient for teams like Bangladesh to sneak in. They have a tactical coach who has built this team with sheer hard work (though he does not have a great talent pool to choose from) and secondly, they do not have the political or board squabbles the way Zimbabwe or Kenya have faced in the past. So, Bangladesh does have an opportunity to sneak in, and one only hopes that, it is not at the expense of India!
So if you miss a heart beat when India play against them, cough hard (that’s what they say you return to having normal heart beats!). India needs to be fully on guard to thwart Bangladesh’s progress. It is better for them to remember that they have lost to Bangladesh in the past, and this team had also defeated Australia in 2005 in England.
Kenyans are as exciting as the Sri Lankans or the West Indians and are as dangerous as the tigers we come across in their famous Safaris. I feel the ICC should invest more in this team to build them up for the future rather than backing a turmoil hit Zimbabwe.
With Sandeep Patil as coach, this team made the semi finals (lost to India there). Kenya now has West Indian off spinner Roger Harper as the coach and an off spinning allrounder in Steve Tikolo at the helm, expect some surprises in this group. Kenya is pitted against New Zealand and England, along with Canada in Group C. This team is a dark horse and is in a relatively easier group so to say. My prediction is that Kenya has a 51:49 chance to beat England or New Zealand which will help it to qualify to the next round (Super Eight). The field is wide open in this group.
Steve Tikolo is back in action as the captain after some problems with the board and they have capable veterans and exciting youngsters to create a stir in their group. However, progressing beyond the Super 8 to semi finals could be a bit difficult as they have to sustain their form when they play against 6 other teams at this level.
The Challengers in Top 8:
The Challengers and the Top Cats form the top 8 literally. However, remember, we are discussing cricket, the game of glorious uncertainties and if you see a couple of names from the previous group (of Occasional Shockers) ? especially Kenya or Ireland making the Super 8, don’t be surprised. However, on current form and past reputation, here are the challengers.
The 4 teams mentioned here and the 4 in the next section ? a total of 8, it is very hard to choose as to who will not make the semifinals. I am just using a gut feel and I may be wrong. If you want to contest my judgement, do that now, but not after the semifinalists are chosen!
Why the odds are so much against them? Well you will know the answer as much as I do. Despite being a team that has recently beaten Australia with a late surge, England lacks big time consistency which could jeopardize its chances. Having Michael Vaughan back as the captain is not considered as a strength due to his repetitive injury problems. This is creating a confusion for Andrew Flintoff who must be wondering as to when he is the skipper and when he is not! It would have been better if someone else was made the stand in captain than spoiling Flintoff’s focus and concentration. England lacks consistent bowling armoury and that for me is their weakness. The main strengths are of course Flintoff, Bell and Collingwood and the never say die approach of the new & old wicket keeper Paul Nixon. I think that will not be sufficient to stay alive in the competition in the Super 8 (where it has to win at least 4 matches out of 6). Even to reach Super 8, England will have to play really well against Kenya in their league encounter.
Can he be fit enough to motivate his team?
West Indies as the hosts, West Indies as the two times champions and West Indies as one of the ICC Champions trophy winners will be the team everyone is looking for. They have the experienced players, they have fighters and they have youngsters. Still, they are as inconsistent as England and have proved to be "Collapso" as much as a "Calypso". I predict West Indies some tense moments against Zimbabwe and Ireland in its group (D). Fortunately for them, they don’t have teams like Bangladesh or Kenya in their group. As discussed already, Ireland has made South Africa sweat & struggle and West Indies were thrashed by India by 9 wickets in the warm up games. Home ground pressure and disadvantage also lurks on the horizon as well.
He is considered the no.1 in the world, but can he take his team to glory?
This will be Adieus Amigo for Brian Charles Lara and if the Caribbean Calypsos wish to give him a farewell gift, then the Windies should defy my rankings and reach semifinals at least. They need Chris Gayle and Sarwan to fire while Lara and Chanderpaul keep the middle order intact. The bowlers need to strengthen the hands of Jerome Taylor, though I have no hopes on anybody.
Whatever happens to them, one thing is sure. There will be thousands of Caribbean Calypsos on the ground watching and enjoying cricket at the best with their coloured suites, beer cans, dancing and drums.
Pakistan ranks third in terms of being inconsistent along with England and West Indies. It’s a team of champions no doubt, but like England, it lacks a penetrative bowling attack. As both Mohammed Asif and Shoaib Akhtar are out (more due to drugs scare than injuries), its bowling attack will be very weak to make any significant mark. Umar Gul and Sami could make some impact, but can they sustain it longer? Only time will tell. Also, they have an inconsistent opening combination ? whoever goes into open (will they send Shahid Afridi again? Or will it be Shoaib Malik to join Mohammed Hafeez?), will not be doing so in great confidence.
Inzamam, Younis and Woolmer need to pull out some magic from the hat to win this time.
Their middle order will have the strength of Mohammed Yousuf and Younis Khan, but they will miss the reliable Abdur Razzaq in the late middle order. If Shoaib Malik is not made to open, then he will join Inzamam Ul Haq to hold the middle order together. However, I think Inzibhai is past his prime. Shahidi Afridi sparkles have become very rare, but if he clicks whether with bat or ball, that match should be considered won.
This will be the team that can beat any other team in a big match occasion. Its trump cards remain to be the veterans Jayasuriya and Muralitharan. In Sangakkara they have perhaps the best wicket keeper batsman in the world (I rate him ahead of Gilchrist, Boucher and Dhoni) and in Jayawardene, they have a tactical captain as well as a solid middle order batsman. Chaminda Vaas brings a lot of experience to the pace attack in his last world cup, but the bowling attack is not much in the frontline (barring Vaas & Murali), but the spinning allrounders (Jayasurya, Dilshan) may use the familiar ground conditions to their advantage.
These guys are dangerous..watch them keenly.
When Sri Lanka plays, I feel I am in Mangalore. The famous drum beats, the Baila (suraangani) and the dancing. Though the world cup is in West Indies, the atmosphere will be quite like in Colombo, so if you see the Sri Lankans dominating the rest with their tail up, the world cup will be on fire for sure.
Though I have listed Sri Lanka in this category, Sri Lanka has the capability to enter the semifinals and do more than just that. They have the batting depth to tide over their bowling inadequacies.
The Top Cats:
Here are the 4 teams most likely to enter semifinals:
They are now ranked number 1 in the world, but if anyone has seen the way they played the two warm up games (against Ireland and Pakistan), they surely wont give the Springboks any chance. However, South Africa has the most formidable pace attack, with so many allrounders and a good batting line up, South Africa may still reach the semi finals. I am amazed by the long list of bowlers they have ? Pollock, Ntini, Nel, Kallis, Hall, Kemp, Telemachus, Langeveldt!! Eight fast bowlers, six are sure to play and 4 of them are all rounders! What a line up. They wont miss a spinner anyway (though they have recalled Robin Peterson) considering this pace battery. Batting will revolve around captain Smith, Kallis, back in form Gibbs, resilient keeper Boucher and the all rounders. Remember, Andrew Hall batted at no.8 to rescue South Africa against Ireland in the warm up game!
The big time chokers tag is still being worn prominently by South Africa. For one reason or the other, this team has missed a chance to win glory in a big event ? starting from that rain-rule loss in Australia in 1992, a splendid Brian Lara century in 1996, the Gibbs dropped catch & Donald run out in 1999 and a forgettable performance in 2003, South Africa has to do much more if it wishes to reach crowning glory in April. This choker tag affects them mainly in a knockout scenario, but considering the Super 8 super league with matches to be played against 6 teams from other groups, South Africa will be sitting pretty to reach semi finals. However, in the semis, its back to the Choker tag?
Well nothing is permanent really, so it may be the time South Africa hopes the law of averages helps it indirectly and it may be the time for them to clear their blemish and rewrite cricket history by going on to win the cup. This country needs this cup badly, but will they achieve it? Time will tell.
This team does not have even one superstar but this is the real team to beat. Which resembles the Indian World cup winning team of 1983. Its progress to Super 8 should be easy, but getting into semis will depend entirely on how consistent they stay and how fit they are by the time they start playing the Super 8. In Jacob Oram they have the most reliable all rounder, in Shane Bond they have a very good fast bowler and Daniel Vettori is perhaps the best spinner in this world cup, but the other bowlers have to rise up to the occasion each and every time they go to bowl. You cant find any specific strengths in this team, nor can you find any weaknesses, but give them a challenge, they are the most likely to click as a team. With the sharpest brain for a captain, New Zealand team can give Stephen Fleming a good gift in perhaps his last world cup, if they could reach the Finals.
Recently, New Zealand defeated Australia 3-0 and two of the matches involved 2 of the 3 largest targets chased! I am always scared of my wallet when teams like New Zealand come from behind to win ? because, the Pereiras celebrate such historic moments with a KFC full bucket meal and a sparkling wine!
Do you think it is patriotism at the highest that prompts me to put India so high on the pedestal and into possibly the Finals? I would be happy if you find another reason, because when watching or analyzing cricket, I keep my patriotism far away. The reasons for India’s higher chances are many, like:
One, the pitches in West Indies would suit India (like Sri Lanka). Second, the come back heroes Ganguly and Zaheer Khan are firing on all cylinders. Third, I somehow feel that if India uses Robin Uthappa properly (rather than giving Sehwag too many chances), he will win us many games with his care free youthful exuberance. Yuvraj’s fitness will be vital as well, but in Kaarthick, we have a good replacement to Yuvraj. Our bowling attack is reasonably sharp with Munaf and Zaheer leading from the front, though Agarkar gets as weak as he is powerful on another day. Dhoni is as powerful and destructive as Sangakkara or Gilchrist. I am not so sure as to what the spinners, rated as the greatest on paper, would achieve, but I hope they deliver whenever the odds are against India and when it requires experience to bail them out. In surely their last world cup, Dravid & Tendulkar should manage to hold the middle order together. These two guys have to show the world why they are considered among the best in the world and work around this highly talented team to achieve the greatest prize for just one more time.
Can the super two-some motivate a young team to World Cup glory?
Well, I seriously feel that India had its best chances in 1987 and 2003 world cups, it may be a bit too late for many of the above referred cricketers to consistently deliver. Though the 2003 coach John Wright feels that the current team is better prepared than the 2003 one, in which case, India should go on to win the cup.
Nevertheless, ?Kingfisher’ and chicken chilly should be at hand to celebrate whenever the flamboyant youngsters, Uthappa, Yuvraj and Dhoni sparkle.
The point to note, irrespective of whether India achieves anything in this world cup will be: Will India manage to beat Pakistan for the 5th time (out of 5) in the world cup? Or will Pakistan reverse the trend? India v/s Pakistan will still be a final, irrespective of where and when they play.
Despite their recent setback losses to England and New Zealand and the injury scare to their star player Andrew Symonds, Australia will be the team to beat. I wont go and analyse why that is, because every reader is well aware of the sporting system, history and tradition Down Under which makes this team a cut above the rest. However, the gap between the top 4 teams is not much and once 4 teams reach semifinals, it will be anybody’s game from there. Champion teams like Australia are most likely to succeed in those circumstances, though they are not a much liked team anyway. Whatever I have said above, it wont please me if Australia wins its 4th World cup just the way I am not such a fan of ?Fosters’ or Kangaroo meat.
As it happens in each world cup, some greats have to call it quits and this world cup will have the largest exodus in terms importance of the players and their mammoth records ? I may miss a few names, please bear with me ? Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Sanath Jayasurya, Rahul Dravid, Shaun Pollock, Glenn McGrath, Inzamam Ul Haq, Adam Gilchrist, Muralitharan, Anil Kumble? the list is so big. All these players are not likely to play the next world cup and many of them may not play beyond 2007. So its one last chance for these players to show that they are still at top and at the same time, its one last chance for fans to have a glimpse of them in their last world cup.
Answer these simple questions:
- How will Ireland play against Ireland in this world cup?
- What is a ?Bosey’ in cricket?
- How many pairs/sets of similar surnames (for example, two Amarnaths or two Crowes or two Flowers etc) you can find in the 16 teams playing in this world cup? How many of them are brothers?
Send in your answers and feedback to my email:
Happy viewing. May Cricket win!
(Photographs courtesy: AFP and Getty Images)
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Author: Agnel Pereira- Team Mangalorean