Cricket World Cup Preview

With just two days to go before the start of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, the anticipation is mounting. The warm-up games are drawing to a close and soon the tournament will be in full swing. Comprising forty-nine matches, taking place over six weeks, and covering thirteen different venues in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh it promises to be nothing if not hectic.

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that the tournament has to be a success. Following the much criticised 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, the 50-over game is in need of a major boost. Looked down upon by test cricket purists and lacking the glamour and excitement of 20Twenty, an enthralling tournament would go a long way towards helping to restore the reputation of the game’s ‘middle’ format.

One thing that the coming World Cup certainly does have in its favour, however, is unpredictability. Unlike the previous two competitions, when only a fool would have put money on anyone other than Australia claiming the title, this is year it is anyone’s guess as to which two teams will meet each other in the final at Mumbai on April 2. Even England might have a chance.

Co-hosts India are most peoples’ favourites for the cup, and it’s easy to see why when you consider the batting riches they possess. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, MS Dhoni and the evergreen Sachin Tendulkar are all established players in all formats of the game and are easily capable of playing match-winning innings. Add to that the big-hitting of Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and Suresh Raina, as well as rising star Virat Kohli, and you have a formidable line-up. India will also benefit from home support and conditions favourable to their spinners.

Holders Australia will of course be strong contenders. Buoyed by their recent thumping of England in the post-Ashes one day series, they are blessed with a fearsome, if erratic, pace attack including Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait. Their batting will be more of a concern to them, with question marks about fitness and age hanging over skipper Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke’s form in serious doubt. Michael Hussey is out injured, as is first choice spinner Nathan Hauritz, so much will depend on their Player of the Year Shane Watson.

South Africa will also be in the mix. Despite earning something of a reputation as chokers in big tournaments, their batting line-up, including Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, is probably stronger than everyone’s but India’s. In Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, they also have two of the world’s finest, and most aggressive, fast bowlers. Their fielding is also electrifying, but the lack of a top class spinner and of back-up for Steyn and Morkel is an issue. One should also watch out for young left-arm seamer Wayne Parnell.

Now we come to England. A few weeks ago they would have been among the favourites. Having secured the Ashes in style, to go along with the 20Twenty World Cup they won in the Caribbean last May, everything was looking rosy. Then came the 6-1 defeat to Australia in the recent one day series. Admittedly for much of this they were without their first choice bowling attack, but the alarming loss of form amongst the batsmen is a big worry. Eoin Morgan, so often a match-winner in the shorter forms of the game, has gone home injured so all eyes will be on Kevin Pietersen (for a change…) to take the attack to the opposition. The return from injury of Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann is, however, a big plus and England certainly cannot be written off completely.

The final team with a realistic chance of reaching the final is Sri Lanka. In Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan they have three top class batsmen, whilst Angelo Mathews is one of the game’s most promising all-rounders. Paceman Lasith Malinga is always a threat and then there is Muttiah Muralitharan, who will be hoping to retire from international cricket with a bang. Despite such talents Sri Lanka probably lack the strength in depth to go all the way.

Of the remaining top-tier nations Pakistan undoubtedly possess some gifted individuals, but they are also well known for their unreliability and capacity to self-destruct. If the captain, Shahid Afridi, can refrain from biting the ball and hold his team together, they could cause some upsets. New Zealand, having lost a one day series against Bangladesh 4-0 in October, will struggle, as will the West Indies, although with Chris Gayle in the side you can never be sure. Co-hosts Bangladesh have two quality players in Shakib-al-Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, but little beyond them.

The non-test playing nations: Zimbabwe, Canada, Kenya, the Netherlands and Ireland, will no doubt relish the opportunity to test themselves against the world’s best and. Ireland’s shock defeat of Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup showed that these nations can prove to be awkward opponents. Who knows what surprises the next six weeks could throw up and, with the Indian Premier League due to start just days after the final, an exciting tournament will be vital in helping to justify the place of 50 over cricket in an already packed schedule.


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