| MURALIDHARAN: ‘More effective than Warne in ODIs’
Among the 14 teams, the one which will lift the World Cup on March 23 at Johannesburg, does not necessarily need to be the best on the planet. But it will prove to be the strongest in terms of commitment and the will to win at the end of a six-week tournament, which will bring out the best and the worst in players.
In pool B, I feel South Africa, playing in home conditions and also having selected the venues where they could perform better, would be the team to qualify as group toppers.
On paper South Africa’s batting seems to be rather thin. They would definitely depend on players like Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Jonty Rhodes and Gary Kirsten. In my opinion, they have done a mistake in dropping Graeme Smith.
Among the batsmen, Rhodes could make a lot of difference. He is not a great hitter of the ball but he is the best in running between the wickets. He can also urge his partner to convert singles into twos. Plus, he is an enthusiastic cricketer who motivates his mates by his sharp fielding. He can make a lot of difference to the side in the middle.
The bowling is dependent a lot on Allan Donald. He is not getting younger these days and is also, to a great extent, injury-prone. Given the occasion, playing before his home crowd, he can be the danger to any team. South Africa also have a useful pinch hitter in Nickey Boje, who has proved his worth on many occasions. The way the South Africans approach their fielding is phenomenal and it is akin to the Australians. Considering these, South Africa should comfortably head the pool and qualify for the Super Six.
As for the Sri Lankans, Sanath Jayasuriya’s return to form augurs well for the team. Despite their disastrous outing in the tri-series in Australia, Jayasuriya was back to his old ways — of scoring runs at will.
The manner in which he scored back-to-back centuries recently was an indication that he was getting back to the top form ahead of the World Cup. With Kumar Sangakkara also showing lot of promise alongwith Maravan Atapattu, they have a decent batting line-up.
Apart from their openers pair of batsmen, Muttiah Muralidharan is the best in the business when it comes to off-spin. In one-day games, Murali is much more effective than Shane Warne. He always comes on to bowl at the death and usually makes a mockery of the tailenders’ defence.
If you look at New Zealand’s record in the Cup, it has been phenomenal. They have made it to the semis in four out of seven World Cups. Apart from 1983, the only time they could not make it to the semis was when the tournament was played in the Indian sub-continent — perhaps, the conditions did not suit them.
But they have a few injury problems. Their key player is Chris Cairns, a brilliant allrounder and he is expected to be fully fit by the time the World Cup gets rolling. One cannot forget his superb century in the ICC KnockOut final in Nairobi, which helped his team win the tournament pipping India.
They also have another dependable allrounder in Scott Styris. Though they have no big names, they are capable of surprising other teams with bowlers like Shane Bond, Andre Adams, Daryl Tuffey and offie Daniel Vettori. They have given every side a run for their money and wickets in South Africa should suit them better.
The West Indians are seemingly finding their moorings after a prolonged lean patch. Particularly, the seven match one-day series in India, which they won 4-3. Chris Gayle, for that matter, can be as hard hitting as anyone in the business today. If he is on song, he can be a bowler’s nightmare. Mind you, the team has found success even without Brian Lara.
Now that Lara is also back the Calypso kings have a strong batting line-up. The opening pair of Gayle and Wavell Hinds could pose problems to their rivals providing the team with a good start. Next in line are batsmen of the calibre of Lara followed by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels and skipper Carl Hooper.
I doubt whether the same could be said of their bowling, which is inexperienced. Their best bet is Mervyn Dillon and I doubt whether they would be able to trouble the rival batsmen. Fielding is also the area, they have to attend to. But at the same time, one cannot rule out the West Indies.
It will be a contest between New Zealand and Sri Lanka or the West Indies, with two of them joining South Africa in the Super Six. (PTI)