The Wizards Of Oz

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

To the uninitiated, it might even look like “cockiness” but the truth is it suits them. They are bullish all the way and there is no “bull****”. It’s one team that does not even know what it means to give up or not try and confidence is writ large on their face. In case, you didn’t recognise them — they are the Australian cricket team.

Of the 10 previous World Cup editions, they have won four and been in the final of two others. Curiously, on the other four occasions, they did not even get to the semi-finals — one of them when they played co-host in 1992.

So, this time as Australia and New Zealand play co-hosts for the second time, the Aussies would be very keen to set a record or two straight as they gun for a fifth title.

No doubt, there are 14 teams in the fray, but the fact remains that not more than three or four can be seen as major contenders. Leading the pack are Australia, as I said at the start, and then there is South Africa, perennial favourites and perennial chokers all rolled into one.

Defending champions India, currently in a state of disarray, can always bounce back. New Zealand and West Indies look like this edition’s dark horses.

So, what is it about Australia that make them the favourites and why am I still putting India among the contenders when they are in such miserable form?

Read on to find out…

safe_betAUSTRALIA

First Australia. They decimated India in the Test series and then outplayed India and England in the tri-series without losing a match. A measure of the confidence they have in themselves can be seen as they begin their campaign on 14 February against the West Indies with all-rounder James Faulkner set to sit out the match.

Then there is still a question mark against skipper Michael Clarke, who has been given a deadline of 21 February (their second match against Bangladesh) to ensure full recovery from his hamstring injury.

Australia have an incredibly explosive top order with David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell. Any one of them is capable of taking the team past 300 on a given day and this time around, the team may not need to dread the prospect of being caught on a spinning track like four years ago.

Recently, Warner was quoted as saying on Cricket Australia website, “We can’t be too complacent, we have got to keep backing ourselves, and this tri-series was a great message to the rest of the world coming out here that we mean business. People think there’s a lot of expectation and pressure on us, but we don’t see that at all. We see it as another game and we have got to win every game to win that World Cup.”

The focus of the team is clear as he added, “I know me and Finchy (fellow opener Finch) have spoken about it as opening batsmen that we can really dominate and see a clear message that we mean business.”

If these two batsmen can get off to an electric start, the match could end as soon as it starts. And if they fail, there is enough to fall back on. Oops, and who can forget that run-machine called Steven Smith.

Then, the bowling attack led by Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood is in cracking form. Ask the Indian batsmen, if you don’t believe me!

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa are an amazingly talented side. In AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis with Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy to fall back on, they have the stars to take apart any bowling attack. In Dale Steyn with Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell as his partners, they have an attack that can be a nightmare for any opposition. And there is spin merchant Imran Tahir to boost them.

Yet, their inconsistency in crucial games, a tag that has dogged them since their return to international cricket in 1992, can bring them down like a pack of cards. Also, remember, there is no Jacques Kallis this time.

So, the question is can de Villiers do what other South African captains could not in the past two decades? Wait and watch.

INDIA

If Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a skipper was the team’s weakness in Test cricket, he is undoubtedly the team’s strength in the one-day format. Also, he knows that this may well be his swansong in international cricket.

Dhoni has already announced his retirement from Test cricket and after a World Cup, there is little left to prove — though the World T20 championship in India next year could be a temptation.

But Dhoni has won it before and his ageing bones and a series of controversies are likely to see him hang his boots and set shop as a successful ‘sports businessman’, a skill that has already been seen amply.

On the face of things, the odds are stacked against Team India with a series of injuries, not to talk of abysmal form. Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar all need to go through fitness tests in Australia. And these are key players.

These uncertainties have resulted in the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Murali Vijay, Robin Uthappa, Mohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni being put on standby. The next few days will see the drama unfold.

Availability and injuries apart, the ability to play on bouncy wickets will be India’s biggest problem.

If India can get past the quarters, their first ‘major’ test, they could well be up against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground and that would be their best chance of getting into the title clash once again.

If there is one strength India have, it is their unpredictability in the one-day format. And, then there is that man called Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

DARK HORSES

NEW ZEALAND

The Kiwis have been to six semi-finals, but not a single final. Back in 1992 on home soil, they rewrote the way one-day cricket was played, with a spinner opening the attack, but lost in the semi-final to Inzamam-ul-Haq’s quickfire 60 in 37 balls.

WEST INDIES

Remember the team that won the first two World Cups and made the final of the third, which they lost to no-hopers, India? Yes, the same West Indies. But the team have never made it to the semi-finals ever since.

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