The guessing game has received a fresh impetus with the ICC Cricket World Cup scheduled to start this weekend in Dhaka with India taking on Bangladesh. But first up, it will take a brave heart to forecast or predict the winner although in my opinion, the odds seem to favour the three sub-continental giants - India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan - far more than others.
The huge advantages the trio enjoy include familiar playing conditions and the crowd support. While teams such as Australia, South Africa and England seem to put all their eggs in the pace and seam baskets, I feel, it will be the spinners who will be calling the tune given the low bounce and turn the pitches are likely to afford.
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May be the odd fast bowler like a Steyn or Lee or Johnson might still trouble the batsmen with their sheer pace, but eventually, the very nature of the surface would blunt that edge while bringing into play the spinners. So much for theory, but cricket has the nasty habit of throwing eggs on the pundits' faces and we need to make due allowance for such unpredictability.
Thus far, a majority of the experts have dubbed the CWC as the most open in its 36-year history, but I would still like to believe that it would be one of the three top Asian teams who will take home the Cup.
Champions Australia are at a low ebb and I wouldn't read too much into their recent series win against touring England. In the warm-up game against India in Bangalore on Sunday, the Aussies looked all at sea and in their next game against South Africa, they were all but outplayed. Regardless of the brave words emanating from the Aussie camp, I suspect they have a lot of hard work ahead of them even to justify the tag of title favourites.
As for the South Africans, it is obvious that they are keen to wipe off the tag of chokers. Their captain Smith said as much last week. However, they need to be playing at a different level altogether. They have the players to do that, but under pressure, it is a different ball game. In their favour is the fact that the core group has survived difficult times and it is only logical to expect that the seniors would be wiser.
England and the West Indies would be the dark horses, but neither team seems to have the balance required to win in the sub-continent. The presence of a quality spinner is mandatory in these conditions, as against a predominantly seam-up attack. Both these teams seem to rely heavily on pace and that could be their undoing.Wizcraft promises spectacular World Cup opening gala
Further, the England players are already complaining about the absence of rest between their tour Down Under and the CWC, with just four days at home in between before flying out to Asia. Also, England haven't had happy memories of their recent visits to the sub-continent where they struggled to deal with the spinners and there is little reason to believe that it would be any different in the CWC.
Similarly, the West Indies cricket overall is in poor health with frequent altercations between players and their Board over payments and what have you. It is hardly makes for an amiable environment for team development, but clearly, the West Indies' best days are behind them although they are capable of tripping a few teams.
As for New Zealand, it boils down to getting the team together and shrugging off the recent off-the-field distractions involving a couple of their key players. The Kiwis do not have star players, but as always they depend on a collective effort that we are yet to see.
Their recent trip of the sub-continent was an unmitigated disaster and the loss to Pakistan at home only rubbed salt into their wounds. It remains to be seen whether the Kiwis have the strength of character to rise to the occasion, erasing the past. At best, they have been consistent performers in the CWC, but never quite looking the team that could actually win the Cup. There is little reason to believe that it would be any different this time around.World Cup 2011
Thus, any which way you look, the short list of potential winners boils down to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. These three teams are rich in talent and balance that is so crucial to succeed. The trio also boasts of quality spinners and a seam attack that is capable of achieving breakthroughs first up. Add to the mix an array of stroke players and you end up looking at teams that the neighbours would envy.
We can discuss endlessly on the prospects, but it is best to remember cricketâs home truth - you begin every match and innings from zero. Forget the records, the reputations and such factors, but for me, the CWC begins from March 23 when the quarter-final shootout commences. Along the way, we will get some indication on how well the teams are prepared.
For sure, the 2011 CWC will be the swansong for the older generation of players, including our own Sachin, who are hoping for a successful last hurrah, but rarely has Sport is about performance and not fairytale ending as there is always a sting and twist in the tail.