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Cricket World Cup – 6: Who will win?

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International cricket’s showpiece tournament, the World Cup, opens tomorrow (Feb. 19) in Bangladesh, with the home team entertaining co-host India. It will be the third time that the Indian sub-continent has co-hosted the tournament. In 1987/88 the International Cricket Conference took the bold step, in the face of opposition from the traditional ‘old guard,’ and awarded the tournament between India and Pakistan. Finance was a major consideration, given the sub-continent’s sizeable population and appetite for cricket.{{more}} Such was the success of this move, in spite of the fact that both hosts lost disappointingly in the semi-finals, depriving fans of a mouth-watering Final, that a mere eight years later the sub-continent again hosted, this time Sri Lanka sharing the hosting with its neighbours. The Sri Lankans did not disappoint, scoring a stunning win in the Final at Lahore, Pakistan.

This time, though the hosting will be again a three-way affair, Pakistani fans will not have the pleasure of cheering on their team on home soil. The terrible political and security situation in that country has resulted in it being bypassed, and Bangladesh it is which will share with Sri Lanka and India. Cricket passion burns brightly throughout the sub-continent, and crowds will be guaranteed particularly for the final stages, and such juicy early round clashes as the opener, India vs South Africa and Sri Lanka against Australia.

The fourteen teams are split in two groups, with the West Indies in Group’B’ along with India, Bangladesh, South Africa, England, Ireland and the Netherlands. Group ‘A’ brings together defending champion team Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya. Four teams will qualify from each group for the quarter-finals, beginning on March 23. From then on it will be knock-out all the way to the Final scheduled for the famous Wankhede stadium in Mumbai (Bombay) on April 2.

The pundits have been making their predictions, but the World Cup is noted for upsets, some big ones in the past. However, based on form and past performances, Sri Lanka, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand will be favourites to reach the quarter-final from Group ‘A’. The West Indies, now ranked below Bangladesh in ODIs, will have their hands full to reach the quarter-final stages. One expects the world’s two top cricketing nations, India and South Africa, to qualify, so the West Indies will have to compete with England and an improving Bangladesh for the other two places.

Given recent performances and showing in the World Cup, hopes will not be high in the Caribbean for major honours. A quarter-final berth is, however, not beyond them, but the batsmen will have to bat exceptionally well to compensate for an unpenetrative attack. Not much encouragement has come from warm-up matches and the recent tour of Sri Lanka. The tournament will be a major test for new skipper Darren Sammy, whose personal performances have been below par since assuming the captaincy. He needs runs and wickets to back up his obvious enthusiasm in the field.

So who will win? Everything points in the direction of two Asian teams, Sri Lanka and India, getting to the semi-finals along with South Africa and Australia. But the champions are a shadow of previous all-conquering Aussie sides and could stumble somewhere along the road. Pakistan can be unpredictably dangerous when not imploding and the solid New Zealanders have impressive World Cup credentials. If all goes true to form, a “dream” Final, where the sub-continent is concerned, India vs Sri Lanka could well be on the cards on April 2.

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