The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bowlers hold Indiaís key
- Bichel showed how poorly modern-day batsmen handle the swingers

Luck, poor cricket, weather, penalty points and poor information all played a part in deciding the teams for the Super Six stage of the World Cup. South Africa, of course, were the silliest of them all and not knowing just how many runs they needed in the shortened game (against Sri Lanka) was crazy.

When the Duckworth-Lewis method is applied, both teams are supplied with a sheet showing how many runs are required after each over. The Sri Lanka captain knew and I just canít fathom how the South Africans confused the situation so badly.

England will no doubt whinge about missing out, but they really have only themselves to blame. Once they decided not to go to Zimbabwe they were always going to be behind the clock. Why they made this decision leaves me stunned. I always knew there would be few problems in Zimbabwe, for the locals wanted to see some cricket and even if it was just for a few hours, have the opportunity to forget their worries and problems.

ZAHEER & NEHRA: Potent left-arm swing twins

In the end, England lost out simply because they were not good enough. They had their opportunities, but as they did in Australia, threw away a winning position. English cricket has been in denial for too long. They must accept there is something sadly wrong with their game and settle on a long-term solution. At present they are adopting a fence-mending, short-term policy. Every minor thing that goes their way is grasped as though they are on the way back. They are not and tough decisions have to be made.

The World Cup also showed that the West Indies still have some way to go before they think of heading back to the top. Brian Lara played a wonderful explosive innings in their first match and the Windies did well.

It certainly is a mixed bag for the Super Sixes. Two from the East, 2 from Africa and 2 from the southern hemisphere. For the future of cricket, it is an excellent mix.

While I was delighted that Kenya and Zimbabwe have reached the next stage of the competition, I donít think they will really challenge the other nations. They have done very well, though, with a little good fortune and some free points. Right now in these troubled countries the promotion to the next stage is badly needed for the continuing development of cricket.

In reality Australia, Sri Lanka, India and New Zealand should advance to the semi-finals. With rain and Duckworth-Lewis systems however, anything can still happen.

On form, Australia must be favourites. They have had a superb tournament so far and are in top form. The last cog in the wheel was oiled in their near-miraculous victory against England when Michael Bevan regained form. Bevan had had a quiet series till then, but regained touch in that match and showed why he is regarded as the finest finisher in one-day cricket.

Australiaís depth has come to the fore in Africa. With Warne under suspension and Gillespie also out, lesser known players have grabbed their opportunities. I was delighted for and thrilled with the way Andy Bichel bowled against England. I have long extolled the virtue of swing bowling and whinged long and loud as to why it wasnít encouraged. Bichel showed just why and how poorly modern-day batsmen handle the swinging delivery.

World Cups are not won by teams sitting back and waiting for something to happen. It is inevitable that the team which seeks victory, prevails. India must heed this if they are going to be legitimate contenders. While their much-vaunted batting has gained most of the publicity, I feel their best chance of victory will lie with the bowlers and in particular with Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra.

The ball is swinging in South Africa and the Indian left-arm twins plus Chaminda Vaas have shown that the modern batsmen donít like good left-hand swing bowlers. When you couple these two with Srinath and Harbhajan Singh, India have a fine bowling line-up.

Captain Ganguly must also play his part with bowling and be prepared to stand up and be counted. Ganguly has talent as a bowler and the ability to pick up even the best batsman. He is, however, a reluctant and often lazy trundler. As captain he must show the way and not be afraid to attack and seek wickets when opportunity knocks.

Muttiah Muralidharan has for once been overshadowed in this series by Chaminda Vaas and if Sri Lanka are to win the Cup, these two will have to fire as the support bowlers are not strong. Their batting line-up now seems to be adapting better to conditions in Africa.

What I like about the extra number of teams now in the World Cup is that it provides extra matches and thus a better opportunity to find form in different conditions to those back home. This, to me, has been very obvious with batsmen, particularly from the sub-continent.

And what of New Zealand' I would certainly not underrate them for they are cussed, tough competitors who will not give an inch no matter what or who the opposition are. In reality, though, I donít think they have the talent or methods to go all the way. Their bowling will be competitive but lacks penetration, unless they get seaming wickets. Basically they will try to keep it tight and let the batsman make mistakes.

If their bowling is negative, their batting is the opposite. They are all explosive hitters and will throw the bat at anything. When they are hot they are as dangerous as any team in the world; when they are not they can be bowled out easily.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating and, as usual, should provide plenty of surprises.

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