India and England playing a high scoring and nerve wracking tie, Netherlands making a huge impression against England but unimpressive against a weaker West Indies, favourite Sri Lanka losing to unpredictable Pakistan, and defending champion Australia getting their bearings in their first 2 games are the Headlines of the first 9 days of the World cup. By now every team has played at least 1 match in this competition and it is good time to have a look at the form book of each team and look at what more might be coming our way in the next one month.
India and England played a superb One Day match at Bangalore the other night. Tendulkar set it up with an intelligent and brilliantly paced 47th ODI century taking India to 338 when at one stage 350+ was looking possible. Strauss and Pietersen started positively and Strauss produced arguably his best ODI innings to take England on a brink of highest successful run chase in World Cup history against an unimpressive bowling attack and lack luster fielding. It was Zaheer’s 3rd spell which produced 3 wickets helping India to salvage draw from a certain defeat. This match was a great advertisement for the One Day format and has definitely infused energy and excitement in this so far boring World Cup.
Going by the Form book so far no team can be considered to be a clear favourite. Indian batting has looked solid with consecutive 300+ scores but their bowling and fielding can be termed ordinary at best. Same is the story with England where their batting has been led well by Strauss and experiment of opening with Pietersen in successful so far but their bowling and fielding has left much to desire. South Africa has looked solid in their outing against West Indies and seems to have their bases covered by having 3 spinners in their rank and Imran Tahir starting well his career at age of 32. Bangladesh were unlucky to come up against Sehwag special in the opener and gave good account of themselves by defending a small target against Ireland. West Indies started well against South Africa but finished it equally bad and would be fighting for a spot in knock out stage with Bangladesh where the latter holds a definite edge. Netherlands showed some promise against England and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain the same intensity throughout this long tournament. Ireland will be match practice for the established teams.
In the other group Australia has looked solid but then they are yet to face a real challenge as they have faced Zimbabwe and low-in-confidence New Zealand. Their real test will come against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Sri Lanka looked good in their first match against minnows but came short against Pakistan and will have to have relook at their middle order and pray for Malinga to get well at the earliest. Pakistan is unpredictable and dark horses in this World Cup along with West Indies and proved it by beating one of the pre tournament favourite Sri Lanka in their own den and at their own game. New Zealand is low in confidence and a distracted side at the moment with natural calamity in their home country but will be looking to make in to knock out with a virtue of being in a relatively easier group. Zimbabwe is no where near its best and is not expected to make any upsets in this World Cup. Kenya also used to be a good side but is on a downhill and will be match practice for other teams along with Canada.
This brings to another issue raised in this World Cup where ICC has announced that there will be lesser teams in the next World Cup and is expected to be 10 or maximum 12 teams in the next edition. Associate nations, for obvious reasons, have voiced their displeasure against this but to maintain the high standards of the tournament and showcase the best talents available in the World it seems t a be a wise decision. This would also make the tournament shorter even if the same format is followed.
The most important factor in this World Cup are Middle overs. Team controlling the middle overs is more often then not expected to come out triumphs. As expected slow bowlers are playing an important part on the sub continent pitches. Teams are even opting to start bowling with a spin bowler with reasonable success. Even a team like South Africa known for its fast and fiery bowlers played three frontline spinners in their match against West Indies and leg spinner Imran Tahir proved to be a match winner by bowling tight and taking 4 wickets on his debut.
Australia seems to be the only team which is relying on its aggressive fast bowlers to take them to submit. They are backing their strength with their only specialist and known spinner Nathan Hauritz ruled out of the World Cup due to an injury they only have Krejza in spin department to fall back on. They have bought a team of fast bowlers in Lee, Tait and Johnson but with Bollinger now ruled out due to injury will have to rethink about their plans and already talks are on to get Michael Hussey back to strengthen the relatively weak middle order.
India is certainly thin in Bowling department and heavy on their feet. It will be a folly to expect batsman to score in excess of 300 in every match and in fact with the level of skills and commitment shown against England by bowlers and fielders even 300+ is not safe. Almost all fielders looked heavy on their feat against England, it is obvious that fielding standards can’t be raised overnight but the captain has to demand increased commitment level from all his players. Bowlers will have to back their strengths and at the same time bowl with in their limitations and to their strengths if they want to make right impact. Till now Dhoni has been lucky with Toss but what will happen when he losses the toss and is asked to bowl first…..how much these bowlers will bleed………will these batsman, who look so good while setting targets, able to stand good when they have to chase mountains………..will the fielding raise its standards and show flashes of brilliance. Indian players need to regroup themselves and they have enough time to do so as their next big match is on 12th March against South Africa.
All the viewers and fans are looking forward to see some keen contest between bat and ball and individual fielding brilliance and hopefully the teams will provide in the forthcoming matches.