9. New Zealand: With one or two exceptions like Martin Crowe, Richard Hadlee and Chris Cairns, The Men in Black have always displayed as much flair as Deve Gowda after a heavy meal. Their very “Rani Mukherjee without makeup”-ness however has been their greatest strength, especially in a tournament like the World Cup, since like nuts and bolts in a machine, they could be replaced without any change in team performance. This is why they have always performed above their weight class in the World Cup.
This time though I am doubtful. First of all, the tournament is in the subcontinent where the Kiwis traditionally have a tough time. Second, their side no longer has the strength of old where they always had a long-line up of multi-utility cricketers who could bowl wicket-to-wicket, hit a quick twenty or thirty and field like the Devil. McCullum, like the Lady of Shalott, seems to have the “curse is upon me” expression that all KKR-players carry on their faces, Taylor and Vettori do not have the stature to carry the team on their shoulders to the end, and my favorite New Zealand player, Jesse Ryder, looks like Kallu Mama who was wandered away from a Ram Gopal Verma film-set with one too many in his stomach, is unlikely to make it through the tournament without falling in the gutter. They may cause one or two upsets but do not have gas in their tank to go the whole way.
8. Bangladesh: Tamim Iqbal is an asset. So is the fact that they are playing on home grounds. But Bangladesh’s secret weapon are their supporters. As an example, here is a motivational fan rap video which I am pretty sure will really push the team to the limit. Titled “You Kuttas and Kuttis” (You dogs and bitches), its lyrics of proud nationalism that go “Ami daal bhaat khai niggah, I am so fresh niggah, I am from Bangladesh” [I have rice soaked with pulses and I am from Bangladesh] and which ends with lines (Panter bhetor ektoo hagoo jhorse) I dare not translate here, is simply put the best inspirational song I have heard for some time. This is one team which will be carried on pure passion. After all, how can God (who loves ilish macch I am told) not smile on fans who create “Bijoy threads” (victory threads) a week before the match begins congratulating the team on their “advanced” victory (which 99% of the time does not happen).
Even this time, the Bangladeshi message boards are full of warnings to India asking them to remind themselves of World Cup 2007 first game and how this time Bangladesh team will humiliate them even worse, in retaliation for not picking Tamim Iqbal in IPL. Some may say that absence of Mashrafe Mortaza (whom the Bangladeshi fans, who love to give their cricketers American nicknames call “Mash”, perhaps in honor of the breakfast of Bangladeshi champions, Mash Potatoes [Aloo Siddho]) and the perennial out-of-form-ness of Ashraful (whose nickname of Ash must rankle Aishwariya even more than married to Abhishek) severely compromise their chances but honestly who cares—-all that matters is whether East Coast rappers (from Sylhet) beat the West Coast ones (from Dhaka) [example insult song: Oh sala ekta bhooter baccha] (The saala is the son of a ghost) and whether India gets humiliated.
7. West Indies: This is the team of mercenaries, have-money-shall-bat traveling salesmen players who can just as well as play for you if suitably paid. The difference between them and Pakistan is that they will wear your jersey and play for you whereas Pakistanis will play for you while wearing their own colors. Be what it may, a batting line-up of Gayle, Sarwan, Chandrapaul, the two Bravos and Kieron Pollard, especially on the flat tracks of the subcontinent, sounds scary enough. Where West Indies is let down is in their bowling which is possibly one of the weakest they have ever fielded with the only point of interest being whether Gayle and Benn, who share a worse captain-player relationship than Dhoni and Sreesanth, will come to blows on the playing field. Maybe they cannot win the World Cup with a KKR-quality bowling attack , but they will definitely cause teams grief with that power-packed batting order. And oh. We made Gayle angry, kicking him where it hurts the most. On his wallet. As an Indian fan, I shudder.
6. Pakistan: Rarely has a sports team so accurately reflected the nation it represents—leaderless, volatile, angry, anarchical and totally devoid of scruples. If only to crystallize the essence of Pakistan, at the time of writing, their team has no captain, a rather bizarre state of affairs, almost as if someone in the selection process got paid the same sum of money by “both” sides. So who should be their captain? The ball-biting, pitch-scuffing, “I am sixteen going on sixteen” madman?The only physics-graduate-in-Pakistan-not-making-nuclear bomb, self-detonating under-performer? For the sake of Pakistan, I hope it will be Shahid Afridi. Why? Because he is exactly the kind of leader Pakistan needs, as deeply flawed as his team, but with that radical ruthlessness that makes Pakistani cricket so exciting.
There is however little sense of excitement as one looks at the squad. Umar Akmal needs to be paid money to play well. Shoaib Akthar, fighting the demons within and also the vegetation that grows where the sun doth not shine, is too old to carry the lightweight attack on his steroid-pumped shoulder. Mohammed Yusuf should have been in the team, considering the paucity of batting resources but then again, he might be playing under a different name or religion.
One thing though that one can say about Pakistan, that you cannot about I guess anyone else. Come the hour, they usually have the man. Unless of course the man has already dollar bills stuffed inside his federally administered tribal areas. If Pakistan can get into the knock-out stage, then you can definitely put your money on them. Mmm. Perhaps not the best choice of words. But you get the message.
5. Australia: Any time you have Vishkanya Greg Chappell associated with the team, even though technically it be the number one team in the world, you have pretty much kissed your chances goodbye. The Australian team looks much like the Indian team of 2007, carrying two major players who seem to have passed their sell-by date. Experience is all right but the recent performances of Ponting and Clarke do not justify their place in the team. We have heard a lot about Australia’s lack of sentimentalism in selection matters but one wonders why Shaun Marsh (who has an excellent knowledge of local conditions) and David Warner (who despite a pathetic ODI average of 15 is the kind of bullying batsman who flourishs on Indian flat decks) are not in the team. With Michael Hussey most possibly out due to injury, there is a shocking paucity of genuine class in the Australian ranks. Only exceptions are Shane Watson and Brett Lee, with a huge question mark over the latter’s ability to last out a tournament at top speed. Yes Watson is peerless and loves playing in India but a team cannot be borne by one or two men alone in a tournament like the World Cup. The only reason for optimism is that they are Australia, a country which more than anyone else really hates to lose.
4. India: As an Indian fan, I want India to win. But being a die-hard devotee, I am highly skeptical about this team’s chances. First of all I believe history is against them. India can go the distance when there is no expectation on them and players can perform without the burden of expectations (1983 World Cup, 2007 T20 Cup). More importantly, the team does not seem to have it. Cricketing wise. Make no mistake. This is a great batting line-up. If the World Cup was being played in 2009.
In 2011, Sachin, Gambhir and Sehwag are coming off injuries and we have no idea as to 1) how fit they actually are and 2) what injury has done to their form. Based on their current performances, Beer-Belly Yuvraj and Baraah Inch Dhoni are two big holes in the middle order, nowhere near to what they were in 2009. Kohli, the greatest man who has had that last name after Armaan Kohli from “Jaani Dushman”, is the man in form and I would hope would replace Raina in the starting line-up (stranger things have happened before in Indian cricket) but his lack of explosive power (like Raina at his best) puts the entire pressure of giving a finish to Yusuf Pathan and to an extent even on Harbhajan Singh. In the final analysis, India’s prospects depend almost solely on whether Yuvraj and Dhoni, or at least one of them, can justify their presence in the team. Else they are going home……mm staying home.
Not a bad thing if you think about it. At least they will be match-fit to party during the IPL. Which ultimately is all that matters. At least to them.
3. England: Every World Cup time, especially if it is held in the subcontinent, we hear a lot of whining from the British press——- “We would rather be playing the Ashes” and “The World Cup is over-long and boring and who cares”. The very fact that the British press and players have been by and large silent shows that after decades, they seriously fancy their chances. And why not? These guys have an embarrassment of batting riches with Bell, Trott, Strauss, Morgan in form and KP being well KP. Unlike other English teams in the past, they have good spinning options with Yardy and Swann, and a clutch of useful multipurpose players like Wright, Bresnan, Broad and of course Collingwood. What works against them is their poor record in India (yes they did make the finals in 1987) and the fact that if they are put on the field in daytime on a belter of a pitch, Broad and Anderson might be put to the sword. They would be praying for bowling under lights when England would be at their most dangerous. In all, compact and balanced. Should have a decent chance unless they adjust poorly to the conditions, lose a few at the front and get into their whining “the colonies suck” Burra-Sahib mode.
2. Sri Lanka: These people are masters in their own den, play well under pressure, have one of the most attacking one-day bowlers in World Cup today (Lasith Malinga), an all-time great (Murali) and a batting line-up centered around three of the world’s most reliable shorter form players—Sangakkara, Jayawardhene and Dilshan, the first two also being one of the best minds in the game. Unlike India which has just played a ODI series that will be of no help to them for the World Cup, Sri Lanka have a series right before the Cup against West Indies on home-grounds, an ideal warm-up before the main event. Balance, a lack of glory-hounds, solid cricketing acumen and an innate mastery of the local conditions—Sri Lanka is looking darn good.
1. South Africa: The South Africans are always strong. But rarely as strong as they will be this time. Hasheem Amla is in the form of a lifetime and given his strengths, will enjoy the conditions in India. Kallis, arguably the world’s most valuable ODI player, might be returning from an injury but this is one man who almost never seems to lose form. Add to this De Villiers, Graeme Smith and Duminy, all of whom have experience of sub-continental conditions, and this is one helluva attack battery. The sheer speed and sustained hostility of Steyn is a threat, even in India, and especially under lights when the ball jags about. He has suffered in the recent past for support but with Morne Morkel finally fulfilling his promise and Tsotsobe providing a good third option, South Africa is the team to beat at this year’s World Cup. Yes, we all know that they have this problem against one-off stand-out individual performances and would be at their weakest against unpredictable opposition like Pakistan and West Indies. But if they can get past these hurdles, it will be very very difficult to stop the Proteas.