It is the time when the big cats wake up, stretch, arch their backs, twitch their tails and scan the savannah for prey while letting out grunts and roars. With the ICC World Cup just around the corner, most of the big teams seem to be in this predatory mode and begin to stalk.
The Aussies are talking about unleashing the furious pace of Lee, Mitchell and Tait on the opposition as if expecting the rival batsmen to cower and cringe. Perhaps, Ponting and his merry bunch are overlooking the fact that the matches are to be played on the flat tracks of the sub-continent where four out of five pitches barely help the faster bowlers. Whatever, it's all fun and games in the lead up to the World Cup.
India have plenty of match-winners: Harbhajan Singh
The South Africans are in Chennai and looked pretty cool in their team suits. They too are hoping that their quick bowlers, notably Steyn, would provide them the early breakthroughs. Steyn has had some experience bowling in this region of the planet and on his day, can work up scorching pace that can trouble the best of batsmen. The difference is that Steyn bowls with greater control than say Mitchell and Tait, and he could well end up being South Africa's savior.
England, the other team that is being projected as a title contender, has none of express pace although Anderson can make the batsmen hop around. It is a side packed with bits and pieces cricketer and in the past 24 hours, another one has made it to the squad, Bopara replacing an injured Morgan. We are yet to hear any roar emanating from the English camp that is far too busy crisscrossing the globe on conclusion of their tour of Australia.
The England team has arrived home from Sydney following a long, long flight and even before they can unpack, freshen up and refill their suitcase with fresh clothes, it is time to head out to India within three days. Is it any wonder then that we are hearing groans and moans from the English camp rather than strong, brave words?
Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the other two sides that feel they are in with a chance to win the Cup for a second time in the history. The Pakistani players were made to wait awhile before being told who their captain would be. Not surprisingly, it was Afridi whom I feel is critical to the team, not just as a captain, but more as a batting all-rounder.
Afridi has never been an inspirational leader from what we have seen so far, having to deal with a couple of rotten apples in the basket. Also, he is no dictator like Imran Khan was to have his players treat every wish as his command. A couple of quick bowlers and some spinners lend the team balance and potency to go far in the tournament.World Cup will be a fight among India, Pakistan and SL: Raina
The Sri Lankans are drawing inspiration from their 1996 triumph under Ranatunga and thus far, have been happy to keep a low profile, busy as they were with a home series against the West Indies that was marred by rains. The islanders took a tough call in dropping Jayasuriya, one of the heroes of their 1996 campaign, but it is still worth keeping a sharp eye on these Lions who are playing all but one of their six group matches at home where they are difficult to beat.
As for India, we are still obsessed with one man, Tendulkar, as if the side is made up of just him. I feel, there is far too much focus on Sachin who is already under pressure to score three more centuries to get to 100 international tons. There is also a lot of emotional outpouring as it is generally believed that this World Cup would be Sachin's last.
Of course, Sachin is quite used to the situation that puts him ahead of the team, almost all the time, even if India were to be touring Bangladesh! But then, unless others too chip in, there is little prospect of the team making progress in the tournament.
Having said that, one of the Board officials has already gone on record admitting the World Cup format was changed to ensure that the ''favoured'' (read Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Australia) get past the league stage to ensure TV eyeballs and exposure that translate to revenue. So, there is not even a pretense to hide the fact that the tournament is another exercise to fill the coffers, something that they were failed to four years ago when Pakistan and India were knocked out in the first round itself.
So, at the moment, there is a lot of pre-tournament cacophony of voices and perhaps, the warm-up games in the coming week should provide some data on the teams to assess their prospects, and that is another story for another day.