Nearly 200-odd players will don their national colours this World Cup, all eager and rearing to showcase their talent in a tournament jointly hosted by eight nations, perhaps a record of some sorts. On the relaid tracks and newly-built stadiums in the West Indies, one still has to wait to determine which type of bowlers or batsmen will excel, but this is just an attempt at highlighting the players who may make a mark.
Two-time defending champions Australia goes into this World Cup with pace bowler Brett Lee ruled out and an injured Andrew Symonds hoping to make it in time for the Super Eight stage. The Aussie middle-order will be controlled by the two Michaels – Clarke and Hussey- who will be making their World Cup debut. Clarke, also known as ‘Pup’, might still be considered a youngster but he has already featured in 101 ODIs, and with some success that is. In the absence of Symonds, Clarke may be called upon to bowl his arm over as well; the left-arm spinner has best figures of 5/35 and 6/9 in ODIs and Tests respectively. Having lost on the finisher’s role to his namesake Bevan in the ‘Australia’s Greatest ODI XI’, Michael Hussey will be looking forward to succeeding in this World Cup, and if his ODI average of 66.81 is sustained during the campaign, Australia will surely be in the reckoning.
South Africa is on top of the one-day rankings, and many will be featuring in their first World Cup. Amongst them are AB De Villiers and Ashwell Prince, two players who have performed well in the recent past. De Villiers will most likely open the batting with skipper Graeme Smith, while the left-handed Prince along with Jacques Kallis will be entrusted the responsibility of handling the middle-overs. Both are also good fielders, especially the agile De Villiers, who has also kept wickets for his side in Test cricket.
In a side that boasts of batsmen such as Kumar Sangakarra, Mahela Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya, Tilakaratne Dilshan has stood tall and cemented his place. His records may not look that impressive, but he surely is electrifying on the field. He effected four run-outs in the 2005-06 VB Series final against Australia, forcing the home team to concede a rare lead in the best-of three series decider. His off-spin bowling will be handy if the wickets are conducive to spin, in addition to his cool presence in the batting line-up. Lasith Malinga has a round-arm action that looks scary to most even on a television set, more so if coupled with hair streaked in a hue between brown and blond. Sri Lanka’s fastest bowler can be erratic and expensive, but has the ability the pick up wickets, especially with the yorkers.
India brings a relatively experienced squad to this World Cup, with nine of the 15 in this squad having been around in the 2003 edition. The side includes Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the most exciting wicketkeeper-batsman post Adam Gilchrist, the one who made teams realise the all-round potential of a ’keeper in an age where genuine all-rounders are hard to come by. Dhoni may be restricted to a lower middle-order role in this World Cup, but many Indians will sit up the entire night only to watch the lad from Jharkhand clear the boundary ropes. Left-arm swing bowler and a handy bat Irfan Pathan could have done no wrong in his first two seasons of international cricket; however the 2004 ICC Emerging Player of the Year will have to fight the demons of poor form and fitness if he wants to do more than warm the benches.
New Zealand’s Jeetan Patel is no relation of Dipak Patel, the former off-spinner who defied convention when skipper Martin Crowe made him open the bowling for the Kiwis in the 1992 World Cup. The young Patel - an economical off-spinner with a good record to boot - will be hoping that his captain Stephen Fleming will take a gamble and play two spinners, as he would find it hard to win a place in the side ahead of the experienced vice-captain Daniel Vettori. Ross Taylor only made it to Team Black Caps last year, but the exciting 22-year old batsman is a crucial component in the Kiwi top-order, in the wake of Nathan Astle’s retirement.
England may be on the rebound following their convincing win in the tri-series over Australia, but will be looking forward to the return of their star batsman Kevin Pietersen, who injured himself during the tournament. An explosive batsman, Pietersen not only won the ICC Emerging Player of the Year but also the ICC One-Day Player of the Year for 2005. Along with the man of the moment Paul Collingwood, Pietersen will need to fire in order to propel England to its first World Cup. The other man to watch out for will be Mudhsuden Singh (Monty) Panesar. Panesar was the first Sikh to play for England, and has not even played a dozen ODIs for England. But the man whose first scalp in Test cricket is Sachin Tendulkar, will be vying with Daniel Vettori for the title of the best slow-left arm spinner at present in the world.
Pakistan’s unpredictably as a side has even begun before the team takes the field in the West Indies. Their top bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif are under the cloud of dope suspicion, and all-rounder Abdul Razzaq is out injured. Asif is a promising youngster and is a seam bowler who can trouble most batsmen. Shoaib Akhtar will spearhead the bowling if available but it is Shoaib Malik who could well lead the way for the side. A useful batsman, coach Bob Woolmer has smartly used him either as a mainstay at one-down or No.4 or as an aggressive bat lower down to finish off the innings. His off-spin bowling is modelled on the style of Saqlain Mushtaq, effective though not as successful.
The pressure of playing at home will be on Brian Lara and his boys. All-rounder Dwayne Bravo could play an important part in the team’s World Cup prospects. He’s a matchwinner with both bat and ball; his slower ones kick-started a disastrous run for a till then successful Indian one-day side when the team’s last visited the Windies. Jerome Taylor took a hat-trick in the side’s exciting win over the Aussies in the group stages of last year’s Champions Trophy. The Jamaican pacer will be looking forward to repeating that success at home.
The Last Hurrah
At 37, Brian Lara and Sanath Jayasuriya will for sure be playing their last World Cup. It’s a certainty that this World Cup will see many cricketers who will most probably either bid adieu to the game or at least the shorter version after the carnival ends in the West Indies.
This World Cup will see the defending champions say goodbye to Glenn McGrath, perhaps the game’s most accurate bowler since the great Sir Richard Hadlee. It will also be the last one for wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist and his opening partner Matthew Hayden. At 32 and with the phenomenal record he has in recent years, Ricky Ponting might wait to bow out in 2011. Brad Hogg and Brad Hodge might also see their position in the Aussie side handed over to youngsters once this World Cup is done with.
South Africa’s tried and tested players- Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock- are all in their thirties, and a success here might convince a couple to perhaps walk off in style, at least from the shorter version of the game. Kallis and Boucher will only be 35 and 34 at the next one, so might hang around till then. However, Gibb and Pollock, both 33, will find it a tough battle to survive, more so for Pollock, South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in both forms of the game.
The stalwarts of Sri Lankan cricket over the years – Chaminda Vaas, Marvan Atappattu, Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan – along with Russel Arnold look set to feature in the last World Cup of their careers, unless Murali can continue bowling his off-spinners till the island nation hosts the World Cup along with Bangladesh, India and Pakistan in 2011. Sri Lanka is considered a favourite by many, and these five will need to perform if they want to repeat their success of 1996, a side which had Jayasuriya, Murali and Vaas.
Anil Kumble has made his intentions clear for his career after the World Cup. Kumble will quit ODIs for certain. ‘The Big Three’ in the batting – skipper Rahul Dravid, vice-captain Sachin Tendulkar and former captain Sourav Ganguly- won’t be around till 2011 unless they can prolong their careers keeping the target in mind. Ganguly will turn 35 this year and had it not been for the woeful run of the side last year, would not have made it to this World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar may play the World Cup semi-finals on his 34th birthday, if India manages to qualify that is. Injuries have plagued the highest run-getter in ODIs and World Cups; though the team would be hoping that he can repeat the exploits of 2003.
For the Black Caps, 33-year old skipper Stephen Fleming might hand over the reins to a worthy successor after the World Cup. The man at the helm during the Kiwis’ two previous campaigns will be hoping to better the nation’s semi-final finishes in 1992 and 1999.
It’s uncertain whether England captain Michael Vaughan will play in the upcoming World Cup, forget the next one. Interestingly, wicketkeeper Paul Nixon, aged 36, will most likely be playing his first and last World Cup.
Pakistan skipper Inzamam ul-Haq will turn 37 on March 3, and would be looking to erase memories of his woeful run in South Africa, where he scored 16 runs in six matches. Inzamam has been suffering from indifferent form of late, but fans will wish he leaves the stage with many more great innings like the cameo that send the Kiwis crashing out of the World Cup in 1992. It remains to be seen if the ‘Rawalpindi Express’ Shoaib Akhtar will make it to this World Cup, which in all probability will be his last. Although one should not hazard predicting anything about a man involved in more action off the field rather than on it.
Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul will hope to end their careers by doing what no team has achieved before, a win on home soil. West Indies has not reached the finals of the World Cup since their loss to India in 1983. Both Lara - the greatest left-hander of all-time and perhaps of his generation as well- and Chanderpaul’s careers have come at a time when the West Indies slumped from world-beaters to almost minnows. Though the team has had sort of a revival with youngsters performing well under Lara’s leadership, the onus will be on the left-handed batsmen along with Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan.