World Cup Cricket News 22/02/03
Report By Jon Cocks
Aussies on Track
With half the first round completed, Australia is the clear favourite for the World Cup, with its anticipated Final opponent likely to be one of India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka or possibly the West Indies.
Australia’s dominance in its first two matches against Pakistan and India has set it apart from all the opposition. Its professional performance against the ultra-positive Dutch at a soggy Potchefstroom ground highlighted how it was in South Africa on serious business:
Holland won the toss in a match that was ultimately shortened to a 36-over contest – with a one-hour rain delay before the match and two further breaks in play during the Australian innings. Dutch captain Roland LeFebvre sent Australia (2-170) in to bat in the first ever meeting between the World Champions and the ICC affiliate minnows.
Maher, standing in for Gilchrist, was dismissed for 26 and Hayden for 33 as the Dutch seamers found a fair detail of assistance from the pitch, under heavily overcast skies that assisted movement through the air. Roland LeFebvre (7-2-13-0) bowled a highly commendable opening spell, impressing all the pundits with his control.
Halfway through the Australian innings, the runrate had not climbed a lot past four, as medium-pacers Schiferli, Lefebvre, de Leede and Kloppenberg – using the conditions well - maintained a disciplined line, not allowing the trademark extravagant Australian strokeplay. Keeper Smits impressed, standing up to all four seamers.
Resuming after the rain delay at the 25-over mark, Lehmann and Martyn set about taking the singles to rotate the strike, as left arm spinner Esmeijer came into the attack, bowling to a five-man on side field. Three overs were bowled before the rain returned, with Australia 2-123.
After a near two-hour delay, Lehmann (29*) and Martyn (67*) resumed, at first rotating the strike as if there had been no delay. Although Esmeijer managed to keep things quiet at his end to the tune of just one run from the 35th over, the Australian batsmen made sure they didn’t lose any further wickets.
Australia squeezed 20 overs into the first hour of the Dutch reply, with spinners Lehmann and Symonds coming to the bowling crease after just six overs to ensure the match would count in the case of rain returning. Australia needed 25 overs to be bowled before any rain might cause the points to be shared.
Gillespie removed Van Bunge, caught by Martyn for 1, with his second ball - an outswinger from a short run - and Zuiderent (5), caught by Maher. Lehmann (8-0-27-2) hustled hard and bowled a tight line, capturing van Troost and van Noortwijk.
Bichel trapped Scholte and de Leede. Schiferli hit Harvey for six and was bowled by Harvey’s slower ball with the very next ball. Bichel (5-0-13-3) captured Kloppenberg (caught Ponting at slip) to make it 8-112 after 28. Smits and Esmeijer didn’t last long, as Harvey (4.2-0-25-3) wrapped Holland up for 122.
As Holland found in its brief meeting with McGrath and Gillespie, Australia's opposition has to deal with the relentless pacemen. Lee will get the new ball a lot to blast out the upper order, but the biggest difficulty for opposition upper orders lies in the skill of Gillespie and McGrath. Both have the ability to bowl the suffocating off stump line and length that the captain wants at 135+ kph.
They also have the height to gain the disconcerting bounce, which, allied to their immaculate line and length, creates an imposing challenge. Conventional batting almost inevitably will allow the Australian pacemen –
supported by the ever-improving and difficult-to-read chinamen of Hogg and the crafty left-arm twirlers of Lehmann - to dictate proceedings. Then come the maidens, then the desperation, followed by the collapse.
Opposition upper orders could well be forced into high-risk strategies like hitting on the up from the word go and batting four feet out of the crease. Moving around a lot during the bowlers' approaches might be disconcerting. Seeking to walk across and try to find the open expanses of the leg side will buy a few runs but open up the stumps.
The brilliance of Gilchrist, Hayden and Ponting at the top of the Australian batting order is well-documented, but many make the mistake of underestimating the middle order. With the Waughs are gone, Australia isn't automatically dragged back to the pack.
Martyn, Lehmann and Bevan all bat well together, rotating the strike and building on the platform supplied by the stellar top three. Martyn can get bogged down at times, but otherwise these three batsmen are at least as effective as any equivalent 4,5 and 6 around and better than most. With Symonds at seven and Hogg/Harvey at eight, the batting order is long. Jim Maher is a more than capable reserve.
A current World ODI XI would be half-Australian. Three individuals from different countries would probably force their way into the middle order, as would a non-Australian allrounder or two.
Only individuals of surpassing brilliance can deny Australia - and, even then - only on a good day. Jayasuriya, Lara and Tendulkar can do it. Wasim and Shoaib have managed it a couple of times. Michael Vaughan did it in a Test.
Man for man, though - in a straight contest - no team matches Australia on paper. On its day, another side can get close, like England did in the second VB Series Final. Whether or not everything can go right for whichever team plays Australia in a semi-final or the final is entirely in the lap of the cricket gods.
It’s beginning to look like Group A’s Super Six contenders will be Australia, Pakistan and India. The fate of the two teams - from Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan and England - to join Australia from Group A in the Super Six stage of the tournament more than likely hinges on the results of the following games:
England v Pakistan at Cape Town
The wicket at Newlands looks good for batting, which suits England's upper order, as Wasim, Waqar and the injury-suspect Shoaib may be blunted. If England’s bowling and fielding is disciplined and consistent, Pakistan’s notoriously brittle batting could succumb. England might edge out Pakistan in a thriller, keeping them in the hunt. If England goes down, its chances of progressing to the next round would be virtually nil.
England v India at Durban - a day/nighter
India's greater experience under lights might help them here and its much-vaunted batting order might find England's seamers to its liking. The Zimbabwe match and a percentage-booster against Namibia behind them, the Indians might well fire here to stay in contention on twelve points. If this happens, England would have to defeat Australia at Port Elizabeth to have a chance of qualifying.
Pakistan v India at Centurion
This match is to be played on a wicket likely to be good for batting. Pakistan's greater firepower vs India's better batting on paper creates an enthralling scenario too close to predict a result. With the extra politically-motivated needle, the side that best holds its nerves in the crunch moments will prevail. The winner will probably go a game clear of the vanquished after this pivotal clash.
Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Bulawayo
Zimbabwe and Pakistan may well be level on three wins. It may come down to being an elimination final - the winner goes through; the loser goes home. I'd back Pakistan, if it has some reasonable form going in, although the Pakistanis are without peer at ignoring form to be either sublime or ridiculous.
Head-to-head results will be crucial in determining which two other teams from Group A join Australia in the Super Sixes. India has the advantage over Zimbabwe, having won the match at Harare. Pakistan will be desperate to emulate their sub-continental rivals, as the winners of head-to-head confrontations are promoted to the Super Sixes, in the event of being level on points.
India looks a chance to go through, given its two wins – that will become three after its next match against Namibia – but it must win at least one of its last two against England and Pakistan. Zimbabwe’s low Net Run Rate will be punctured even more after its meeting with Australia at Bulawayo, so repair work would be needed against the feisty Dutch, before its crunch meeting with Pakistan on March 4.
England has a tough run home and must find two wins from its last three games against Pakistan, India and Australia, or its troubled World Cup campaign will be abruptly terminated. Pakistan is best placed – before its imminent clash with England – to join Australia. The Pakistanis are masters of their fate, with games against Zimbabwe and Holland to come and needing to beat either India or England, but not necessarily both.
South Africa is in huge danger of missing the Super Six cut after its shock loss to NZ, although the West Indies-Bangladeshi washout has given the hosts a major lifeline. Given that four wins will be necessary to push
through to the second round, South Africa must win all of its remaining three matches. Having lost to both the West Indies and New Zealand, victory is not just everything – it’s the only thing.
The Proteas shouldn't be troubled by either Bangladesh or Canada, but must slaughter them both by as a big a margin as possible, since Net Run Rate looms as a potentially deciding factor as to which team of the four obvious candidates misses out. If South Africa beats Sri Lanka at Durban, it will go through courtesy of the ‘head-to-head’ rule.
Two key day/night matches - both involving Sri Lanka in the third phase of the preliminary group B round - stand out as being the ones which will decide the final three:
Sri Lanka v West Indies at Capetown
A win to Sri Lanka would wrap up a Super Six berth but a win to the Windies would keep then in touch. The Capetown batting wicket should make this an exciting runfest, the difference between the two sides might come down to how well - or not - the Windies play Murali. With the Windies robbed by the capricious weather at Benoni of two precious points, there's extra pressure on them to beat Sri Lanka at Newlands.
South Africans will barrack frenetically for the Sri Lankans in this match. Ironically, they would have been barracking for the Windies, before the rain in Benoni. Given the Windies’ last fixture is against Kenya, a victory in Capetown could be enough to see them through.
South Africa v Sri Lanka at Durban
South Africa must win this match to get through. If it loses, its controversial selection policy will come under the microscope as the probable cause of its humiliation, as it will bow out with just three wins against the Group B minnows. And Allan Donald will retire on a low, playing perhaps in one World Cup too many.
The winner will make it through to the Super Sixes. Ironically, the home fans' whole-hearted embrace of the Sri
Lankans on Feb 28 at Capetown will go stony cold at Durban on March 3, as that match will almost certainly be an elimination final between the hosts and the Sri Lankans.
NZ – having given the four points to Kenya - should finish on four wins. Importantly – head-to-head - two of those were against the hosts and the West Indians. If South Africa beats Sri Lanka it should finish on four wins. Kenya looms as a dark horse, if it can defeat Bangladesh and pull off an upset over either Sri Lanka or the West Indians, but this must be seen as only an outside possibility.
New Zealand and Sri Lanka appear best placed in Group B to go through to the Super Sixes, with the last place to fought out between the two teams that opened the Cup so dramatically – the West Indies and South Africa.
If the West Indies defeats Sri Lanka on Feb 28, it will all over bar the shouting for the hosts, unless Kenya repeats its 1996 upset over the Windies on March 4 at Kimberley. With a place in the Super Six up for grabs, that seems about as likely as Robert Mugabe embracing democracy, giving back the farms and becoming a Mandela-like statesman.
South Africa may well be jinxed this World cup as the major host - just as Australia was in 1992. No host nation has ever won the Cup and only one has ever reached the Final - England, flogged in the 1979 final by the Windies.
My Super Six – based on form and results to Friday Feb 21 – is: Australia, Pakistan, India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.