Wednesday, March 07, 2007

World Cup Preview - Group B

  • Opinion: They are old and unathletic. The fast bowlers have lost a yard of pace after crossing the ripe old age of 21. The batsmen can't run singles. And they left out Mohammad Kaif. And yet they will saunter through the tournament simply because you can't repress class in the preliminary rounds of anything. Just like the Spanish will always make it to the quarter-finals of the football world cup before being eliminated. If the pitches continue to be slow and low, then having an army of batting spinners to support Kumble and Harbhajan is going to be a phenomenal asset.
  • Ones to Watch: Irfan Pathan's form with the ball is going to make the difference for India, I suspect. His presence in the side batting at #7 will allow them in some games to play both Kumble and Harbhajan, which could make all the difference. With the bat, it's hard to shake the feeling that Sachin Tendulkar is going to want to go out on a high, but will be the opening partnership of Ganguly/Sehwag/Uthappa which will dictate the tone of each game.
  • Prediction: They will edge the group in a tight one over Sri Lanka, and grab one of the semi-final spots. The final looks a step too far in the absence of a real match-winner with the ball.
Sri Lanka
  • Opinion: There's every chance that the Sri Lankans will feel at home with the pitches, and even the crowds and the overall atmosphere. They have a wonderfully balanced outfit, and even their older cricketers contribute in the field. The variety in their bowling attack will make them one of the real crowd-pleasers of the tournament - at least for those in the crowd who watch something other than the batsman.
  • Ones to Watch: The usual suspects - Sangakkara, Jayasuriya, Murali and Vaas will no doubt all do their bit, but I think the extra pace, oomph, and character that Lasith Malinga brings to the table will be key. On sluggish pitches, he may just have enough to strike a few telling blows.
  • Prediction: Although I have them coming a close second in the group stages, a semi-final spot is still theirs for the taking.
  • Opinion: Now that Javed Omar is the only Bangladeshi remaining against whom I played, my soft spot for them is really a thing of the past. They continue to remind me of a group of talented schoolboy cricketers, in so far as that they don't ever seem to have discovered the temperamental maturity to translate talent into consistent performance. They'll probably be wishing they had been paired with Pakistan, the West Indies, or England, all of whom would have been a lot more susceptible to the upset victory. I wouldn't read too much into the warm up game with New Zealand.
  • Ones to Watch: Mashrafe Mortaza is going to have to lead the way with the ball, and he warmed up nicely for that task against the Kiwis yesterday. They will look to the talents of Shahriar Nafees and Mohammad Ashraful with the bat, and hope that those two can show up for the entire tournament (likely three matches). The interesting one though, will be the young all-rounder, Saqibul Hasan. Although CricInfo seem to be struggling to figure out whether he bowls left arm orthodox spin, or medium pace (see his player profile for the contradictory statements), his stats with both bat and ball are outstanding. Unfortunately, all his performances have been against Zimbabwe, Kenya, Scotland, Bermuda and Canada, and in his two outings against real opposition (WI and SL), he has no wickets, a duck, and a 50 in a lost cause to show for it. His true worth will be found out in the next fortnight.
  • Prediction: It will be a shocker if they finish anything other than third in the group.
  • Opinion: They are likely to be everybody's favourite minnow, thanks to the presence of the 270lb Dwayne Leverock. That's about all they can hope for - it's about experience for them, and for a nation of 60,000 to come up against the billion people of India is about as good as it gets. Like all the other weak sides, they will probably put on a good enough show with the ball - a score of 300 or so against is certainly not embarrassing. The worry is what they will do with the bat, given that you only get one chance in that department. Their capitulation for 45 against England might provide a few clues.
  • Ones to Watch: Let's face it, we're all going to be watching Leverock, who is actually not a half bad left arm spinner. I was speaking to the former UAE coach yesterday, and he told me how at the 2005 ICC Trophy, his team literally laughed when they saw Leverock in the opposition (he was 300 lbs back then). They weren't laughing when the man took 3 wickets, two slip catches and earned the Man of the Match in guiding his side to a shock victory. At 100-1 to be the "best performing full-figured cricketer" of the tournament (against 5-2 for both Inzi and Sehwag), he may be worth a punt. The other player to watch here will be David Hemp, a county cricket journeyman who has found an alternative path to the World Cup.
  • Prediction: Fourth in the group, but they'll provide a talking point.

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