Australia's unbeaten record is getting better and better. That string of successes was almost snapped by England, but you know a team is playing good cricket when they win even when they are not playing their best cricket. It's not easy to win every game by a whopping margin, and this aberration in their campaign would be a good wake-up call. For the third time in recent memory, England did all the hard work of getting into a winning position against Australia, before giving it away. Overhauling a small target can prove tricky, but Bevan and Bichel finally closed it out for us.
It's hard to compare world cups as they are played in different conditions, but there have been fewer exciting games this time. Weather and other external factors have affected quite a few games, and only the West Indies-South Africa, and Australia-Pakistan games were stand-outs. Without meaning any disrespect to Kenya and Zimbabwe, the absence of some of the top powers in the Super Six may mean that cricket of the highest calibre may not be on show even in the next round.
One area that has achieved high standards so far is the batting. The best three so far, in no particular order, were Symonds against Pakistan, Davison against the West Indies and Tendulkar against Pakistan. The last knock would have sent warning signals to the Australian camp. He is the biggest danger to the defending champions at the moment. If Sachin fires against Australia, he can win the Cup for India. Should the two teams come face to face once again, he is capable of taking on the Australians single-handedly. His odi record against Australia is outstanding, and he showed glimpses of that even during India's poor batting performance against us in the opening game. He may have got only 30-odd, but he did look the best player on show by far. Sachin can fire in any match, and the Australians will be hoping that it won't be against them. India are the biggest challenge to Ponting's men now.
It's sad that one run was the difference between elimination and qualification for South Africa once again. This puts into question their ability to play under pressure. There is a tendency within the team to get nervous at the crunch, and the absence of Rhodes seems to have hit them hard. The last two Cups show that they are close to the best, perhaps only a step away. All they need is some luck, and the ability to hold their nerve. The hosts will also have to own up that the first defeat against the Windies seems to have deflated them, and they never really got going after that.
The exit from the Cup will also bring Pollock's captaincy into sharp focus. His record would suggest that he isn't doing too badly; after all, his team wins most of their odis and ended 2002 as the best Test team. Perhaps he's a little too structured in his planning, and does not go with his instincts as often as he should. This sometimes seems a little negative, and given the resources Pollock has, he can take risks more often. Perhaps it's the way they're brought up—discipline and order counts for a lot in the SA unit. This serves them well in most situations, but when it comes to the big games where some flair and innovation are required, they invariably fall short. This must be something they should look to correct before WC 2007.( Gameplan)
As an observer of cricket, Waugh shows the same depth that made him one of the finest batsmen. He is covering the World Cup exclusively for Outlook.