The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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South Africa won’t win unless they shed English approach
- Bowlers hold key for India - Allrounder obsession may hurt Australia
Cutting Edge / Bobby Simpson

Never have I heard, viewed or read from the “cricketing experts” so many prescriptions, which have to be followed for a team to win the World Cup. Limited overs cricket is a simple format. Unfortunately, like most sports or indeed life, it is made difficult by those who participate in it.

One of the theories being bantered around is that for a team to win they must come up with totally new and radical tactics. They support this by pointing to India’s 1983 victory and Sri Lanka’s success in 1996.

Also getting plenty of airing in discussions is home advantage. History will show that no team has won at home in the World Cup. South Africans have developed more pacers than swing bowlers, mainly because their pitches have more grass on them. However, I doubt whether grass will be on display in 2003. All countries produce good batting surfaces for one-day matches and I doubt whether South Africa will be an exception.

New Zealand recently prepared grassy wickets at home and the result was a series that saw both sides battling to reach 150. The pitches were a disaster and far too helpful to the seamers.

Gimmicks and tactics will not be enough to take the 2003 World Cup. One-day cricket is a fickle game and a poor umpiring decision or the loss of a toss can lead to victory or defeat since the shorter version of the game seldom allows time to remedy positions.

The World Cup is generally won by the team who is the most consistent and who has a little luck on their side. For example, Australia’s freakish tie against South Africa in 1999 at Headingley saw them gain a point to finish in the final on averages. Such is the fickleness of our wonderful game.

Who then should be the main contenders for world champion'

Changes with the programme now allows more teams to go through, so even a few losses in the first round can be overcome. The semi-finals can now be reached by a good performance in the Super Six, so the knockout system applies only from the semi-finals. Australia took advantage of this new system in 1999, where they lost their first two matches, regathered and reorganised tactics.

They deserve to start favourites but they still have to decide on their best 11. Their all-rounders somewhat limit their thinking. On paper they must go in with six batsmen including Gilchrist, four bowlers and an all-rounder. Only Brad Hogg, among the all-rounders, has shown consistency. A left-hand chinaman bowler, Hogg could be a surprise package. At 30 he is experienced, a wonderful fielder, consistent with the bat and may surprise with the ball. We have seen so few decent chinaman bowlers in recent times that I suspect he will provide a number of problems if he drops them on the spot.

South Africa have gone close in World Cups, but I don’t think they will win until they develop their own style. At present they are far too English in tactics and style. They are easier to bowl to than many teams and their bowling is very predictable. They will field well, but I would like to see them be a little more adventurous.

It is being suggested that the subcontinent teams will struggle in South Africa. Certainly Pakistan’s recent poor tour and below par performance in South Africa raises doubts but I wouldn’t write them off. Pakistan won in Australia in 1992 and they still have good players, though a little older. They are and always will be unpredictable for that is the nature of their cricket, but they should never be underrated.

I am discounting India’s record in New Zealand for the pitches played too big a role to get an accurate assessment. If they are to win, the key will be bowling. India have a powerful batting line-up, but any score is possible to chase if the bowling is wayward.

Sri Lanka is a tough, uncompromising challenger. They know how to win as they proved in 1996, but I don’t think their bowling is as good as it has been in the past.

The real sleeper in the contest may be New Zealand. Their game is well-suited to the one-day format and they have done well in recent World Cups. They have a solid bowling line-up with the left-hand spin of Daniel Vettori vitally important. To succeed, the quicker men will need a little help from the pitches to go all the way. While the New Zealand batsmen have the flair to score quickly, they may not be consistent enough.

I still have reservations about the West Indies. Their bowling to me lacks variety and penetration. They need lively wickets to be successful.

If the West Indies are to do well, they will need the inspiration of Brian Lara. The mercurial Lara is returning from a mystery illness and has played very little cricket in the last six months. The West Indies batting can be exciting but a little brittle, and Lara could be the man they need to provide with consistency and extra iron. They also must improve their fielding by about 20 per cent.

I would for the sake of world cricket like England to perform well. Unfortunately, for some time they have been very brittle both in form and fitness. Batting has been the major worry but catching and some wayward bowling hasn’t made life easy for Nasser Hussain’s men.

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