Come the 13th of March, 2007, everyone’s attention will turn towards the tiny countries in Central America, collectively called, the West Indies, to follow the progress of the biggest & most-awaited event in any cricket enthusiasts’s schedule – the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup.
Although the opening ceremony will be held on the 11th of march at Jamaica, the matches do not start off until West Indies play Pakistan on the 13th. Both of these teams belong to the Group D; Zimbabwe & Ireland being the other two teams. West Indies are having a decent build-up to the WC, hampered a little bit by their 3-1 series loss to India. But, they do play well in WI, with the backing by their jovial crowd. Brian Lara, playing in what-should-be-his last WC would want to make this 1 a memorable 1. His leadership skills has improved a lot in this captaincy stint.
Pakistan, on the other hand, are an unpredictable outfit, being wounded by their 4-1 away loss to South Africa. But, as we have seen time & again, on their day, they are capable of beating the best. Pakistanis would be looking up to their old warhorses – Inzamam & the tremendous Mohd. Yousuf to fire consistently. Absence of Shoiab Akthar & Mohd. Asif will definately be felt in the bowling department.
Moving over to the Group A, there is a mouth-watering clash between the current No.1 & No.2 ODI teams in the world, namely, South Africa & Australia respectively. Although, Australia have been outclassed in their previous 5 encounters, it wouldn’t be wise to rule them out of WC contention, especially with the return of their Captain Consistent – Ricky Ponting & the wicketkeeper-batsman, Adam Gilchrist. They, however, are bound to miss the services of the in-form but injured, Brett Lee, who has been gradually developing into a deadly fast-bowler.
South Africa is a team which has been performing consistently in the past few months, easily beating India & Pakistan in the home series. Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis & Shaun Pollock are their proven players. They will also rely on the services of Makaya Ntini & Mark Boucher to come-up with a clinical performance.
Group C includes two teams which must have gained immense amount of confidence after recently beating the World Champions Australia, ie. New Zealand & England. New Zealanders have a nice team, packed with all-rounders, because of which they bat deep. But, they might have a little problem in the middle order, which lacks experience. Their greatest strength is their fielding & their team-work…many players chip in with runs & wickets in most games.
England played wonderfully well to win both the finals of the Commonwealth Series against Australia, but, their form in the matches before that isnt very encouraging. Apart from those two gritty games, they have been struggling in Australia. Andrew Flintoff & Kevin Peterson alongwith Paul Collingwood, are bound to be their players to watch.
Group B is where our primary interest lies, with sub-continent teams like Sri Lanka & India battling it out here. Sri Lanka might have looked a bit out of sorts in their last ODI series against neighbours India in India, but, their team will be boosted by the return of the tremendous bowling war-horses, Muttiah Murlitharan & Chaminda Vaas. Batting line up appears strong, but, they will require players like Sanath Jayasuriya, Sangakkara & Jayawardane to fire consistently.
Indian team, after its terrible outing in SA, has managed to recover its confidence, beating both WI & SL at home. Their main concern will be the batting. Although, most batsmen were among runs in the past two home ODI series, but, its while playing away that they manage to falter. Captain Dravid has made a courageous, but, right move by picking Sehwag in the team; because, he is the kind of batsman who can murder any kind of bowling attack, if he stays in the wicket for a while. In the 3 practise matches & agaisnt minnows, if he gets close to a hundred, then, that’s what will get him going. Sourav Ganguly, who has looked very good since his comeback, should hold the top order together. In my opinion, Sachin Tendulkar should still be opening; but, in order to fill in the lacuna in the middle order, he has had to drop down the order. He should have a good WC campaign, if India are to do well in this WC.
Bowling prospects are in the hands of Zaheer Khan & Agarkar, with new comers like Sreesanth & Munaf Patel fully raring to go. If Irfan Pathan gets back to his earlier wicket-taking ways, it is going to help the team a lot, as India will get a decent all-rounder as well.
Among the minnows, if any upsets can be expected, it should come from Bangladesh or Kenya. Zimbabwe have had very few matches in the last couple of years & most of the seniors are also gone. Canada, Holland & Scotland would be aiming at improving on their past performances & giving more of a fight to the test playing nations, all the while hoping for an upset. Ireland and Bermuda will be be feeling ecstatic, just being part of the major cricketing event.
All said and done, the league matches might not draw in too many audiences, save for the 1 or 2 matches in most groups between the test playing nations. The party really gets started on March 27th, when the Super 8 matches begin. It’ll make for some good TV viewing!!!