Vantage point

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Statuatory Warning: All that follows may seem like rich horse-refuse two months down the line. Your own views, are most welcome


Satyen wanted me to express my views about the cup. Which cup? The ICC 2003 World Cup slated to start in a little over 3 weeks in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. If the controversies preceding a tournament are any parameter, this one is way ahead of most tournaments ever held, and not just cricket. Firstly, you have the whole contracts imbroglio, with the ICC slugging it out against the BCCI, in what is an anti-replay of the period before the 2002 ICC Knockout Cup. Anti-replay because this time the BCCI is standing up for the players. They realise that India is too important for the sponsors to muck around with. It's almost like America taking advantage of its superpower status. Without the top Indian players, the main sponsors LG, Pepsi and Hero Honda will gain nothing from the world cup. So I expect this controversy to be sorted out in India's favour like the last time.

Then there is the whole 'Mugabe is a bad guy' thing that Australia started. I think John Howard is very whimsical. He does not mind that Musharraf was not the legit ruler of Pakistan when they were gonna tour. But sudenly the Zimbabweans have to cop it. Anyway, that matter is ending too with England agreeing to play in Zimbabwe.

So on to cricket. India is again being touted as a 'favourite' like everytime by the Indian press. In 1999, that was ridiculous, but this time, it is just about realistic. We are not THE favourites, but one of the. This may seem ridiculous coming a day after we were whipped 5-2 in New Zealand. But consider the conditions! Ganguly has been THE prime force behind almost every major Indian one-day win the past half a decade. And he failed miserably in Kiwiland, with a single digit average. But the pitches were atrocious as even Fleming said, and Ganguly is not an all-wicket-bat like Dravid. He does well on flat pitches where 275 plus scores are a given. And recently, South African pitches have been very flat. Remember India's last tour to SA. Ganguly got 2 hundreds, a ninety and hit the maximum sixes in the tourney, mainly off the fancied Pollock. So he can handle the best bowlers in South African conditions. With him, we have Sehwag. Now this dude is weird! He does well everywhere! He goes all guns blazing, without looking at the pitch or the bowler. He did it in India, Lanka, England and New Zealand, all different sort of pitches. He is in great nick, and assuming and hoping that his form lasts through the World Cup, things are great. Throw in Tendulkar and Dravid to score during the 20-40 phase, and Yuvraj and Kaif to save the day and you have a pretty reliable batting order.

Now the bowling. That's gonna have me baaaaaaaaawling. That is the Achilles' heel. We can't bowl for nuts. Zaheers gets in his 10 quite well, and Srinath shows flashes of brilliance and Harbhajan can keep thing tidy, but that is not enough. Somehow we tend to give our opposition 20 easy overs and that's where we lose it. Our fielding needs to improve too.

In our group, there are Australia, England, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Holland. The other group is South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Canada, Kenya and Bangladesh. Historically, the team from a tougher group has won the cup. Survival of the fittest I guess. This time, you can't call any group tougher. Unless there are any major upsets (which there always are), the super six round-up should be Australia, Pakistan, India, South Africa, New Zealand and Sri lanka. We need to win 4 matches out of 6. We should win against the two minnows, Zimbabwe and England (unless Vaughan gets stuck in bigtime). Our first big match is against Australia on Feb 15th. Now if we manage to somehow win this one, that will help us in the super six too, cos Aussies are sure to be there and points against those teams are carried forward into the next round. We square off against our friend the Pakis on 1st March. History is with us since we've never lost to them in a World Cup, but history is just the past. I think if we win at least one of the matches against Australia or Pakistan, we have a good chance of making it to the semis. Of course what we could do (following our reputation) is lose some easy match Zimbabwe and end up in a must-win situation somewhere. Champs are made of gritty stuff so they gotta get out of this hole if they wanna win the big one.

I stick my neck out to say this, but NZ in South Africa will be a piece of cake. I can see Sehwag carting Shane Bond all over the park. Sri Lanka should be an even fight, and I don't think the chances are very bright against SA unless Harbhajan(or some bowler) works up some magic.

Once a team reaches semis you take your predictor hat off and watch the match, cos anything can happen in big matches. Remember South Africa's quick surrender last time? Or Pakistan's collapse in the finals?

So if India reaches the semis, it's like the menu-card of an Irani restaurant (all guts, brains and heart).

I'd give India a 50.00002% chance of winning the Cup at this moment. Other contenders are Pakistan (never know what they can pull off), Australia and.......the dark horses (pardon the pun) Sri Lanka.

The last cup was Klusener's cup, the one before was Jaysuriya's. I am reasonably sure this one will be Sehwag's cup, whether we win or lose.

So those are my views on the cup. We will find out how accurate I was, come the Ides of March.