Their Cup runneth over

2011-02-26 00:00

ANYTHING is still possible in this World Cup. Not too much notice need be taken of the first round. Admittedly India looked red-hot, England were dreadful, West Indies looked dangerous and Pakistan remained incalculable.

South African seemed to pick the wrong side, and Robin Peterson did not look dangerous even on another Delhi dustbowl. Morne Van Wyk might be handy.

But the Cup is not going to be won or lost in the first week. The field remains wide open. It will go to the team that keeps improving. Overall, it’s been an interesting start. As Africa needed to rid itself of diabolical autocrats, so cricket has been searching for fresh champions.

In both regards things have been going surprisingly well. One by one the dictators have been toppled. Meanwhile, new cricketers capable of uplifting the game have been emerging.

Already several gifted youngsters have displayed relish for the game’s greatest stage. Darren Bravo and Imran Tahir emerged in the Protea’s first match and before that Umar Akmal and Virat Kohli had caught the eye.

It’s up to them to show that cricket is alive and well and safe in their hands. Movie stars can be manufactured. Sport offers no such licence. It’s the real deal or it’s nothing.

Between them the Bravos held the West Indian innings together. Had the elder brother not been lost in a foolish run-out caused by an ageing partner, they might have taken their team to a formidable total.

Dwayne’s abilities have long been recognised, but rumours that his younger brother was even better were discounted. In his first World Cup outing, though, the svelte left-hander confirmed he is a top class player in the making.

The Bravos come from a wee inland village in Trinidad that produced another lefty of some repute — Brian Lara. Naturally Bravo junior is eager to avoid comparisons with his prodigious compatriot. At present he is a shrimp beside a shark. But their styles are uncannily similar. In both cases wrists and feet work in perfect harmony.

Dwayne also showed his hero’s ability to find the gaps. If he continues to rise he may take West Indian cricket with him.

Imran Tahir was closely watched alike by the batsmen and his forthcoming opponents. Although he had had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus, still he is something of an unknown quantity. Few Australians had clapped eyes on him. On this evidence he has much in common with Abdul Qadir, not least a springy action and the sort of fast arm that bemuses batsmen. Imran revealed a googly, a top spinner and a strong competitive spirit. Better batsmen than these West Indians will find him a handful.

Incidentally, it was wonderful to find South Africa put its faith in spin after so many years of pace. It was no less uplifting to find a boy born in Karachi, Pakistan, representing this nation. It could not have happened two decades ago and the change has come without the anticipated bloodbath.

For that matter it was no less inspiring to observe a lad from Islamabad batting at first wicket down for Australia. At its best sport scorns boundaries. And cricket’s ragged history has made it the most diverse game of them all.

Take a look at the 14 teams taking part in this World Cup and argue otherwise. Pity Afghanistan did not make it. It is a huge opportunity. Alas, cricket has not understood it and intends to cut out the extras from the next World Cup.

Virat Kohli batted majestically in India’s first outing. Still only 22, the right-hander averages 48 in these capers and manages to combine spirit and composure, a pairing usually about as compatible as Simon and Garfunkle. Far from relying on the older fellows, Kohli fearlessly asserted himself.

Over the last few years Delhi has replaced Mumbai as the home of Indian batting. Perhaps youth in Mumbai has become distracted by the fast lane.

It’s been a long time since a young Indian batsman has established himself. Admittedly places have been as hard to find as benevolent dictators, but chances have been given to lots of candidates and, till recently, none has imposed himself.

Now Cheteshwar Pujara looks like a well organised top-order batsmen and Kohli shows signs of class.

Umar Akmal is another exciting prospect. Certainly he has all the shots in the book and plenty of time to play them. Only the impetuosity often detected in youth holds him back — that and the curious customs of some mercurial not to say mercenary colleagues. If Pakistan is to spring a surprise then the 20-year-old needs to play long innings.

Meanwhile, the stalwarts will keep churning out the runs and wickets.

Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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