Calypso Cricket has long thrilled fans with its cavalier approach to an often unnecessarily complicated gentleman’s game. ‘Why find a gap in the field when you can just hit over the top,’ argued West Indian great Sir Vivian Richards. Likewise, as a spectator sport, cricket in the Caribbean has always been a world apart. It is best described as a ‘lively party’ painted with colour and equipped with seasoned conches, drums and various other instruments to add to the rhythmic flavoured day. Just imagine, in Australia even beach balls are confiscated upon entrance; in Barbados, ushers guide ‘loud’ fans to mounds where lively spectators and DJs are jamming to calypso and soca chutney.
Hosting cricket’s showcase event is an enormous task for any nation, let alone a region as distinct as the West Indies.
“Ten years ago if you said that nine governments would combine to pass legislation for the World Cup, and that this scale of construction would happen, people would have said you were mad. Since the 1930s we have taken cricket in the Caribbean for granted but now we have the chance to change the game for ever. We have spent more than $300m and used it to overhaul everything. It has been a fantastic exercise.” -Chief Executive of the World Cup, Chris Dehring
Whether Dehring’s enthusiasm translates to a smoothly run tournament is a matter of some concern for an anxious cricket public. One thing is for certain though, when the tournament opens in Jamaica on March 13th, any speculation about the fate of the 2007 Cricket World Cup will fade away seamlessly into the rhythm of the diverse crowd as all eyes focus on that shiny red ball.
So, who will win the 2007 World Cup? Well…
The reigning World Cup holders are in ominous form. They secured the Champions Trophy in India in November, then trounced England and New Zealand at home. Their belligerent on-field approach has won them some critics, but it’s also won them a lot of tight matches. Captain Ricky Ponting is a tactical master who knows how to choke opposition teams. Wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist is capable of destroying potent attacks, Brett Lee has matured into a devastating one-day bowler, and Michael Hussey has built a reputation as a clinical finisher. World domination never gets old for this mob. Reason enough to keep them very safe.
Player to watch: Andrew Symonds
An electrifying exponent of the modern game, Symonds is a dread-locked, zinc-lipped master – look for his middle-order mayhem with the bat. Symonds is more than handy with the ball too. He can bowl either darting off-spin or probing medium-pace, and his fielding is quite simply the finest in world cricket.
2. South Africa
South Africa remains a well-drilled unit, with an experienced top shelf. Captain Graeme Smith heads a talented batting line-up that relies on the stroke-making of Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs. Throw in two tough all-rounders in Justin Kemp and Andrew Hall, plus the bouncy Makhaya Ntini, and most sides will find them hard to keep out.
Player to Watch: Mark Boucher
Vice-captain Mark Boucher is a tremendous lower order batsman, and a world-class glovesman who marshals an excellent fielding side. The 30-year-old thrives in difficult situations, but can also accelerate an innings at the death. If called upon, he rarely fails.
Coach Bob Woolmer will be looking for consistency from his fresh-faced Pakistan side that showed promise on 2006 tours to South Africa and India. Only the much-maligned captain Inzamam-ul-Haq remains from the star-studded 1992 World Cup winning side, but key batsmen Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf (currently rated #1 in the world) are a formidable middle-order presence. Plus young speedster Mohammed Asif has emerged as a big wicket taker. If the opening batsmen can settle, then Pakistan will surely threaten the big boys.
Player to Watch: Shoaib Akhtar
Pakistan’s chances of World Cup glory were given an enormous boost recently when speed demon Shoaib Akhtar had a two-year ban for steroid use lifted by the Pakistan Cricket Board. Love him or hate him, the high-flying playboy is a proven match-winner. He has sheer pace and a mysterious ability to reverse swing the ball. If fit and firing, Pakistan will go a long way.
4. New Zealand
A one-day specialist side, the Black Caps are a tenacious defensive team, with enough firepower to cause upsets. The bowling attack boasts a world-class spinner in Daniel Vettori who has developed into a fine artist of flighted left-arm orthodox, the rejuvenated paceman Shane Bond, and underrated seamer Mark Gillespie. Captain Stephen Fleming fronts a flexible batting line-up, with a lower order full of dash. If the top order can shake off a tendency to self-destruct, then New Zealand will take advantage of their weak grouping.
Player to Watch: Jacob Oram
Oram is crucial to his team’s balance. A muscular left-handed batsmen, he has resurrected countless Black Caps’ innings with a mixture of power and grace. Importantly, Oram also bowls useful medium pace, which enables the Kiwi selectors to include another specialist batsmen, or promising spinner Jeetan Patel. An injury-free Jacob Oram holds the key for New Zealand.
5. West Indies
Prediction: Super 8’S
The host nation can rarely be discounted in a major tournament, and the West Indies are the kind of team to win it just for kicks. Or at least they used to be. This current crop has talent, inconsistency continues to baffle their legion of frustrated fans. The ever-present Brian Lara will make one last hurrah, but it’s the opening pair of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle who could well dictate how far the team progresses. Jerome Taylor is developing quickly as a strike bowler, and Ian Bradshaw has a good one-day record, but the West Indies lack frontline bowlers to keep opposition batsmen in check. Given an all-round team performance though, and who knows what home ground advantage might bring?
Player to Watch: Dwayne Bravo
Bravo is exactly what the West Indies have been looking for – a genuine, athletic all-rounder. Bravo made a huge impression on debut in England in 2004, and hasn’t looked back since. An attacking though technically astute middle order batsmen, and a deceptive medium-pace bowler, Bravo has injected some timely enthusiasm into Caribbean cricket.
Prediction: Super 8’s
Expectation weighs heaviest on Team India, and their form is often harder to gauge than a winter monsoon. Yet coach Greg Chappell seems to have turned them around in recent months, with axed captain Sourav Ganguly returning to the fray as an opening batsmen, and poster boy Sachin Tendulkar enjoying yet another purple patch. But scoring runs has never been India’s problem; stopping runs has proven harder. Harbajan Singh and Anil Kumble give them attacking slow bowling options, but the conditions in the Caribbean won’t suit their sharp turn. Likewise pace duo Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar are too erratic to regularly trouble the world’s best top orders. If India tighten up in the field though, don’t discount the sleeping giant.
Player to Watch: MS Dhoni
The glamour boy of Indian cricket, MS Dhoni gets the crowds jumping, the girls swooning, and the selectors licking their lips. The long-haired wicketkeeper is also a punishing middle-order batsman as he proved in both Sri Lanka and Pakistan in 2005.
7. Sri Lanka
Prediction: Super 8’s
The 1996 World Champions have done well to stay competitive after a golden era. This well-coached, flamboyant side continues to produce impressive results. Their solid away record is due to batting depth, sharp fielding, and a couple of star bowlers, namely world-record wicket taker, Muttiah Muralitharan and veteran leftie, Chaminda Vaas. With Jayawardene as an uncompromising, positive captain, and stalwart slasher Sanath Jayasuriya still getting his team off to a flying start with the bat, look for Sri Lanka to cause a few serious headaches.
Player to Watch: Lasith Malinga
This fiery fast bowler has been a revelation for the small island nation. His round-arm action leaves batsmen with little time to sight the ball, and his reputation for toe-crunching yorkers and searing bouncers has cricket fans lining up to see him play. Malinga is sure to relish the West Indian pitches too, so look for him to make a real impact at World Cup 2007.
Prediction: Super 8’s
The tragedy of international one-day cricket, England has won only a handful of matches in the past two years. Conservative and short-sighted selections haven’t helped the cause, such as the latest Australian tour which saw three players in their mid-30’s make their debut. There are some positives though, namely the brave stand-in captain Andrew Flintoff and dashing batsman Kevin Pietersen. The return of opener Michael Vaughan will make an enormous difference too, as will the continued development of cagey spinner Monty Panesar and swing bowler James Anderson.
Player to Watch: Kevin Pieterson
The out-and-out star of English cricket, charismatic Kevin has rocked the establishment with his natural aggression and powerful stroke-making. Pietersen has the confidence to lead from the front, and without him England are a timid and miserable bunch. When he’s in the mood though, there are few better exponents of the art of batting.
2. South Africa
Warner Park Stadium, St Kitts & Nevis
2. Sri Lanka
Queen’s Park Oval, Trinidad & Tobago
1. New Zealand
Beausejour Cricket Ground, Saint Lucia
2. West Indies
Sabina Park, Jamaica
Sir Vivian Richards Oval, Antigua & Barbuda
Queen’s Park, Grenada
Providence Stadium, Guyana
Kensington Oval, Barbados
* The top two teams from each group will progress to the Super 8’s stage. From there, another set of round-robin matches will determine the semi-finalists.
April 24th – Sabina Park, Jamaica
April 25th – Beausejour Cricket Ground, Saint Lucia
April 28th – Kensington Oval, Barbados