It’s anybody’s Cup

2011-03-12 00:00

A BLANKET can be thrown over the top eight teams. All of them are on track to reach the quarters and then it’s anyone’s game. A critic could name four sides without picking the winner of this World Cup. It’s been a long time since that was the case and it’s healthy for the game.

Kiwi supporters are waking up at dawn to barrack for their boys. John Wright is coaching them these days and he has the common sense needed to cut through the claptrap. Every sport suffers from empire builders, just that they used to be called hangers-on. In the end it is just a bat, a ball and a scoreboard. Everything changes, everything stays the same

By some miracle the Kiwis have been able to bring their strongest side; usually four or five of them are injured. They bat a long way down and include several hard hitters. Assuming Daniel Vettori’s wrenched knee heals quickly they will fancy their chances. Everyone fancies their chances

Even the West Indians are not immune to hope. Admittedly Dwayne Bravo was a serious loss. For some reason cricketers are breaking down at the rate previously reserved for Skodas. West Indies have lost most of their pace attack and are hardly alone in that. Even spinners and batsmen are going down like ninepins. Old hands put it down to soft living, but they’ve been saying that since Moses parted the waves.

West Indies have a few match-winners and under Otis Gibson’s coaching are showing signs of consistency. Gibson is another of these no-nonsense types. By his reckoning the team that bowl the straightest and build partnerships have a good chance of prevailing. It’s the same with cooking. Eventually they realised that nouvelle cuisine was a lot of hooey. The old recipes work best. They’ve withstood the test of time.

Pakistan seems to live on another planet, but in some respects that makes them more dangerous. Shahid Afridi is an old-fashioned captain constantly cursing his players and then himself and generally disregarding fashionable soft-soaping. Critics claim that he is a good captain but a poor man manager. That is another fad. Men don’t need managing, they need inspiring and the rest will take care of itself.

Australians are not exactly cock-a-hoop about their prospects, but the mood has changed in the last few weeks. They have been playing an aggressive game and an injury has allowed them to call on Mike Hussey, omitted in a moment of madness. After a miserable winter things are falling into place.

The Poms have been the Jekyll-and-Hyde side of the tournament. So far they have played against three powerful sides and two weaker outfits and endured nail-biters against all of them. On their present form they could play Keynsham under-15s and produce a tight finish. Now Kevin Pietersen has packed his bags and by all accounts he will not be missed. Pietersen has greatness in him, but his brain has been malfunctioning. England have called up Eoin Morgan and Chris Tremlett and seems to be improving

South Africa suffered their first setback with a chaotic collapse against England. Usually they lose their heads in the later stages, so this early folly might be a blessing in disguise.

Alas, Imran Tahir has broken a digit and might miss the rest of the tournament. But the real question goes to nerve. Dare the Proteas keep attacking? Or will they start to play the percentages? If they go into their shells they won’t win a CWC in Schabir Shaik’s lifetime.

Sri Lanka have fallen below expectation. Playing at home is not always an advantage. Anticipation hangs heavy in the air. At present the batting is held up by the two pillars at three and four. Mind you, St Paul’s Cathedral is propped up by only a handful of pillars — the rest end a few inches below the roof and were erected to placate sceptics. Still, the Lankans seem to lack heavyweight operators and that might count against them.

Someone has to win the damn thing! What about India? It’s easy to find flaws with them. After all, they cannot field or run between wickets and the bowling does not exactly cause sleepless nights to anyone except their captains and coach. Moreover, no host nation has won a CWC. Admittedly the batting is formidable, but suppose they find themselves chasing 285 in the quarter-final. What then?

Probably the best strategy is to tip about seven different outfits at one time or another and afterwards say, “I told you so!” Let’s not grumble. West Indies dominated the game from 1976 to 1993 and Australia from 1993 to 2008. The field is open to the side that dares.

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