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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

It's that time again. World Cup is coming up and predictions are everywhere, people posting their favories, etc. I'm not saying anything about India this time. They don't look like a winning unit, sadly. My money's on Sri Lanka and South Africa...yes, South Africa. Sri Lanka, under Tom Moody and Mahela Jayawardene, have taken the aggressive, frenetic style of play associated with the 1996 World Cup side and more to a new level. They have exciting bastmen, effective allrounders (spinners being the strongest point) and Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga in the pace department.

On those small, turning West Indian pitches, Sri Lanka are the most likely to succeed. South Africa are the best fielding unit in the game, their pacers are in top form (oh, Pollock, thank you for the memories and the return to form!), but their batsmen are a bit dodgy against spin. I just feel there's something about them, that puts them in a good spot. They're still chokers, in some manner of speaking, but an aggressive unit under Graeme Smith. Something tells me they're going to go far this time.

The hosts have been considered wildcards, home advantage and all, but I don't see them as really challenging any of the top sides. Brian Lara will go all-out in his last World Cup appearance, Chris Gayle will threaten to dismantle attacks, but their bowling just doesn't cut it. Pakistan, as always, are potential challengers but just have too many issues to sort out, not least of them being their fielding and catching. New Zealand...well, they've just thrashed Australia 3-0 in this year's Chappell-Hadlee Series, but they rely too much on Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori. They're not exciting enough, though that Brendon McCullum has enhanced his reputation as one of the best finishers in the game. And good to see Craig McMillan storm back after being dropped. The bugger was looking for employment a few months ago! I'd like nothing more than to see Bond run through batting line-ups with the precision and accuracy with which he did when be burst onto the scene, but he's dropped a yard of pace and is likely to break down on game day, sadly.

England, heck, forget them. Australia are looking ragged, but you can never discount them. Adam Gilchrist won't join the side until three weeks into the tournament, Andrew Symonds is up in the air, Glenn McGrath is not the bowler of yore, Matthew Hayden and Brett Lee too are injured, and the bowling is pedestrian, bar Nathan Bracken, a superb one-day bowler. We have to watch this side to see what happens.

So we come to India. Ouch. Rahul Dravid's captaincy leaves much to be desired, Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan are out of form, the bowling looks ragged, and there are too many slowpokes in the field. Where is Mohammad Kaif? Here's something I wrote on their fielding for Cricinfo last month. Sachin Tendulkar, as much as I would like to see him open, needs to be in the middle order for the moment. Sourav Ganguly and Robin Uthappa can open, though Uthappa is more a front-foot thumper, so Sehwag can come up. Yuvraj Singh's return from injury is a big boost, but there's still a frailty in the middle order. Dinesh Karthik may play, Mahendra Singh Dhoni needs to find form.

Too much to think about for now. Let's just wait and see what happens next month.