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Difficult to pick a favourite for World Cup 2011

Posted By Suneer Chowdhary On Oct 27 2010 @ 6:56 am In Cricket | No Comments

The 2011 cricket World Cup is less than four months away and the signs are that it could be one of the most closely fought tournaments since 1992 – the last occasion on which the tournament wasn’t dominated by a single country. Of course, Australia had to huff and puff to a win in 1999, but a purportedly held catch, a back-to-the-wall century and a lion-hearted performance by a champion bowler did enough to trigger such a revolution in Australian cricket that they have gone unbeaten since then. In the process, they have walloped all their opposition since.

However, it may not remain the case this time despite being ranked the number one in the ODIs. Not only have the Aussies lost their sheen that went by the names of Glen McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist but the other teams have also caught up with them rather well.

Fortunately for Australia, unlike their slide in the Test match cricket, their ODI cricket has shown much more resilience. What adds to the fact that the bookies are still offering Australia as joint-favourites to lift the trophy is their record in India – in 2007 and in 2009, Australia won seven-match one-dayers by identical 4-2 margins.

To give a context of how strong India has been at home, apart from these two series, India last lost a home ODI series in 2004-05. That is six years of not losing at home to any opposition but Australia. It is a different issue that India beat Australia in Australia the last time the two sides met in the ODIs down under.

There are three other main contenders apart from India and Australia in England, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had won their only World Cup in 1996 when it was played at home and they surely have the team to grind the non-sub-continental oppositions to dust; their batsmen revel on tracks which are slow and do not bounce much while the Lankan surfaces also afford turn for their spin bowlers.

Where Sri Lanka need to toughen up is their batting which relies far too heavily on captain Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Guys like Chamara Kapugedera, Upul Tharanga and Thilina Kandamby have not yet filled as much inspiration as their counterparts in the 1996 World Cup had and that is a huge improvement area for the side.

On the other hand, South Africa’s case gets weirder with each passing World Cup. Every tournament they seem to find newer ways of getting knocked out of the World Cup and they seem to have seen it all. Strange rain-rules, freak performances, celebrating without holding onto catches, silly running between the wickets, uneducated captain on another set of rain-rules and capitulation against a stronger side – they seem to have their plates full. Unfortunately for them, the Indian conditions do not suit them as well as the likes of India, Australia and England and they will look to AB de Villiers to guide them through.

Graeme Smith’s lack of runs in recent times – or at least in the manner one knew him to – will be compensated by the selection of a run-machine that goes by the name of Hashim Amla. On the other hand, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn will be the other keys to the magic box that could contain the World Cup trophy.

England is almost a dark horse. Their last two series in India resulted in them losing ten of the 11 games they played in and the last time they won a series there was in 1984. Eons ago. What augurs well for the English is that they have won their last six ODI series since losing in the final of the Champions Trophy last year and their ODI form seems to be on the rise. Again, they had beaten Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka 3-2 in 2007 and with spinners Graeme Swann and Michael Yardy shaping up well, they look to have the arsenal to do better than their 1996 World Cup performance. The question is whether they have the batting to dictate terms in the sub-continent conditions.

This leaves us with India, which we will discuss in the next piece.

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