In exactly a year’s time, the reigning champions will fight it out in the Asian sub-continent against some of world’s leading one-day sides. Three years have elapsed since the last World Cup final was played in complete calignosity at Barbados. Since that day in 2007, cricket has witnessed a lot of changes, both in technical and administrative part of the game as well as in the set up of teams around the world. Batting power plays have made the game even more intriguing. The switch-hit shot has been legalized by the MCC. Apart from all this, the administrators have understood the failures of 2007 World Cup and have, since then, worked on other ICC tournaments extremely well to ensure unadulterated success.
Most teams have started gearing up for this mega event already. While the whole tournament is a 14-team affair, only a few teams possess the potential to win this cup hands down, as on date. With just a year to go (exactly), only Australia looks the brightest star in the sky. They very much look the part to retain this coveted trophy for 4 more years. If there are a couple of teams who can actually break Australia’s run in World Cups since 1999, then it would be one of the main hosts of this World Cup and the chokers from South Africa. The whole world hopes that Smith’s team would make others choke, this time around.
SERIOUS TITLE CONTENDERS – AUSTRALIA
There is no other team in the world that has been preparing as Australia has been doing since July 2009. Rob Steen believes that Australia will never lose the aura in them, even after losing the legends in Hayden, Langer, Martyn, Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath. Steen’s opinion might not find him a favor in some quarters. There is certainly a loss in indomitability among the Australian cricketers of today. Most of the players, who have come in to fill the places of their esteemed seniors, are mortals and look equals in international cricket. There is no disrespect in most of us feeling this way. It is least surprising to see men like Andrew Strauss and even Chris Gayle, with a depleted unit, believe and speak openly that this Australian team can be beaten. Gayle, however, went way too far in proclaiming that his team would go on to thrash Australia 4-1 in the series down under.
No one would have dared to speak like this when an Australian unit was once called the Modern Invincibles. That is the difference that oppositions see in the Australia of the past and in the Australia of the present.
It is that much amazing to see how Ponting’s team has primed since the ODI series loss at home to South Africa last year. The real revival of Australia started when they beat England, black and blue, after the Ashes debacle. Pakistan was beaten 3-2 in the five match series in United Arab Emirates by a team led by Michael Clarke. That series win was followed with the 6-1 drubbing that the visitors inflicted on England. Ricky Ponting rose to great form in this series, hitting a couple of ODI hundreds.
Nathan Hauritz took time to find his groove. But, by the end of this 7 match series Hauritz’s confidence grew as the team-management started to trust his skills and ability. Michael Clarke continued his good form in England too. But, the find of the tour for Australia was Cameron White. He topped the batting charts for Australia with 260 runs at an average of 52.
Bowling wise, Brett Lee was firing all cylinders with 12 wickets at an average of 22. Watson, Johnson, Hauritz and Bracken were among the top wicket takers during this bilateral series.
After beating England quite handsomely, the Australians took home the ICC Champions Trophy yet again. India tour followed, and this was probably the only closely-fought series since the loss to South Africa earlier in the year. India lost two ODIs by a close margin. The final score line read, 4-2 in favor of the Aussies. Their young and inexperienced brigade seized some of the most important moments of the series, thus helping Australia to continue its dominance in colored clothing in India. Doug Bollinger, Tim Paine, Shane Watson, Clint McKay, Ben Hilfenhaus, Moises Henriques and many other Australians contributed to the team’s success. This must be one of Ponting’s sweetest victories for the sheer reason that he had a team of eleven players flying out of India citing injuries. By the end of the Australian season (which incidentally ended today), the Australians convincingly whitewashed Pakistan and West Indies with total brutality.
There were days when news channels raked in the moolah whenever Australia lost. Now there is not much of a surprise in it. But, even without that aura, Australia continues to dominate the one-day format extremely well.
Countries usually bring together a group of 20 players among whom the whole World cup team would be built on. The strong Australian domestic arena has helped the selectors build this unit really well. Just have a look at the list of players who could possibly find a spot in the World Cup squad. There is some talent in this line up. Whoever comes in as replacement is more than an able replacement.
Doug Bollinger, Michael Clarke, Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, Michael Hussey, Brett Lee, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Steven Smith, Andrew Symonds, David Warner, Nathan Bracken, Callum Ferguson, Nathan Hauritz, James Hopes, Mitchell Johnson, Clint McKay, Dirk Nannes, Ricky Ponting, Shane Watson, Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Moises Henriques, David Hussey, Ben Laughlin, Graham Manou, Marcus North, Peter Siddle, Adam Voges and Cameron White.
There is no other team in the world, currently, which can boast 30 of its best players like how Australia has done in the recent past. It would be a sweet headache for selectors to drop 15 of these men when the selections for the World Cup will happen. But, by giving a chance to prove themselves, in the international arena, the selectors have already seen the real potential in the selected Australian players over the past 10 months. It will be of little surprise if Australia holds on to the World Cup until 2015. The men in green-and-gold are ready!
HOSTS AND THE CHALLENGERS – INDIA
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men could probably give Sachin Tendulkar his best gift till date if they end up winning the 2011 World Cup. While it is not sure as to how long Sachin might keep playing, 2011 World Cup probably looks as if it would be his last World Cup.
India has done reasonably well in the last 6-10 months to believe that they can win the World Cup next year. They have moved up the rankings very well up until now. The most important thing behind all their ODI wins has been their batting. India has been lucky to get so many entertaining batsmen in its line up. Be it Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir, or Tendulkar or Dhoni himself or Yuvraj Singh or Raina! This is a batting line up which can chase any quantity of runs at ease and with an inexplicable regularity. The depth and the talent are so deep and high that a prodigious left-hander like Suresh Raina gets his chance very low in the batting order.
The format has been modified since the 2007 World Cup. This format enables the teams to stage a comeback into the tournament, even after a couple of early losses. This was never going to happen in the 2007 WC format. The format has been updated in such a way that teams like India and Pakistan don’t miss out the knock out stages of the tournament.
The Quarter final concept was such a huge success in 1996 but it was never a part of the World Cup formats since 1999. This World Cup would witness the quarter-final stages come into picture again.
Bowling looks extremely weak for India. Over the last 10 months, the team has regularly been leaking in excess of 280 runs in 50 over games. While the pitches could be blamed to an extent, the real problem lies with the bowlers. They have been totally off color and when the form dips for a few main bowlers, at the same time, it is extremely tough for the captain.
The next immediate series is going to be an interesting one against South Africa. 3 of India’s premier bowlers in the last 10 months are not going to play the first 2 ODIs. Without Zaheer, Harbhajan and Ishant, it remains to be seen how the likes of Nehra, Sreesanth, Tyagi, Mishra and Ashwin deliver the goods for the team. In any case, the trio missing this ODI series has done little to restrict the run flow in the last 10 months.
This is a concern for the Indian team and Dhoni would love to get all his bowlers into top form by the time, they play the opening match against Bangladesh on Feb 19, 2010.
The other gray area for this World No.2 ranked team is its fielding woes. They are nowhere near the level of No.2 ranked team’s fielding levels. Its been their batting that has constantly been bailing them out. There would that odd day when India’s batsmen would collectively fail. That is when the fielding issues would be glaringly seen.
With Tendulkar giving his full for one last time in the World Cups, India look the second best team to win this World Cup. But, they are at a distant second in the race, as on date. Remember Hyderabad?
THE CHOKERS – SOUTH AFRICA
Jacques Kallis recently said that IPL has helped foreign players adapt to the Indian conditions very easily. If his assessment is true, then South Africa should be one of the favorites to win the World Cup. But, there is always risk whenever you put money on South Africa. They find one way or the other to lose and be chucked out of the tournament. Even if they don’t find, the bloody rains create mayhem in their plans.
Smith and his men will have a fight, starting this Sunday, which could well be showcased as the curtain raiser for South Africa’s World Cup chances. It could be a little trailer for what South Africa can show a year from now.
Just like their disappointing test performances, their ODI performances have been quite ordinary in the last year or so. After beating Australia down under, South Africa has lost both their ODI series played at home against Australia and England. A bigger event like ICC Champions Trophy saw them bowing out in the first stage itself. They have been so woefully bad in winning ICC events.
Smith and Corrie van Zyl will look to change fortunes in this aspect, an aspect Mickey Arthur failed to cover during his tenure. South Africa has historically been deprived of good spinners. But, with Johan Botha and Roelof van der Merwe, South Africa’s chances certainly get a boost.
Fielding is one of the biggest pluses for this team from Africa. They are very natural to fielding and it is very rare to spot a bad fielder in their team. It looks so strange to see such a high quality team not win a major tournament. But, as on date, they look good to fight along with India and Australia to win this tournament. But, as always South Africa come with that “C” tag!
Sri Lanka and Pakistan could spring a surprise or two by seizing important moments in the tournament. But as on date, both look awfully short of resources and plans to win a World Cup. England has done a reasonable job since the Australian debacle at home. But, they aren’t yet ready to win the cup.