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March Of The Champions

March Of The Champions
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The 1996 World Cup champions could come from one of the three host nations. I believe that India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka hold a tremendous advantage over other countries and have all proved difficult to beat in their own conditions. They will obviously be used to the hot, humid conditions, as well as the pitch conditions, in addition to having lively crowds supporting their endeavours.

The three host nations would not be expected to suffer from the same dietary upsets and general health problems which all teams inevitably face when playing in these countries. With a touring party of only 14 players, visiting teams may struggle at times to field a healthy and fit side. It would be devastating not to have key players available for crucial matches.

I see India as a threat as they will have a number of talented players available, allowing for the selection of a very well balanced team suited to playing in their conditions. Stroke makers, an experienced and useful pace attack, some handy all-rounders and excellent spin bowlers, who will exploit the pitch conditions and cause the batting team some problems. Sachin Tendulkar is a wonderful bats-man to watch, Vinod Kambli enjoys home conditions and Manoj Prabhakar adds balance and depth to the team by opening both the batting and the bowling. Mohammad Azharuddin has captained India well and bats admirably. J. Srinath is a splendid bowler with the new ball while Anil Kumble is a matchwinner with his leg spin deliveries. India won the World Cup in 1983 and could very easily repeat that performance.

Pakistan have the potential to beat anyone. However, their performances of late have been well below the standard of which they are capable. In Aamir Sohail, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Salim Malik and Rameez Raja they have attacking batsmen, who like to hit the ball, whilst in Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, they have two of the best pace bowlers in the world who can destroy any batting line-up and win matches with brilliant performances.

Although Pakistan are the current world champions, they will have to improve on recent performances if they are to do well. During the 1992 World Cup, some of their performances were mediocre. They were able to produce a winning form when it mattered.

Even in the semi-final against New Zealand at Eden Park they looked to be struggling but Inzamam's 60 scored off 39 deliveries finally won them the match. Under Imran Khan, they played well in the final against England to take the championship. Especially witha "home town advantage", they must be taken as serious contenders.

Another host nation, Sri Lanka, are the most improved international team over the last 12 months at both Test and one day levels. Justifiably, they will be quite confident of their chances of taking out a major international tournament. New coach, Dav Whatmore, has no doubt been an inspiration to the team, but it is the batting talent which could allow them to win any match from any position. Roshan Mahanama is sound and technically efficient; Sanath Jayasuria, an adventurous and exciting player to watch, is a match winner on his day. Asanka Gurusinha is steady, while Aravinda De Silva is a world class batsman who is a delight to watch in full flight. Arjuna Ranatunga has been the unsung hero in many ways. He is not a flashy player but his experience and calming influence are vital to Sri Lanka's success. He appears to be an astute captain and as a batsman he keeps the scoreboard ticking over as he collects his runs, often at the pace of a run a ball.

Hashan Tillekaratne is very handy as a wicket-keeper/batsman as is Romesh Kaluwitharana and the improving Chaminda Vaas looks to be an impressive and effective new ball bowler. Sri Lanka lack world class pace bowlers, but they do have bowlers available who are quite handy and their spinners should bowl quite well in their conditions. Sri Lanka could easily go all the way in the 1996 World Cup and such a result would certainly surprise many cricket enthusiasts.

Common sense suggests that Australia are the best Test and one day side in the cricket world today. They have been very consistent and effective, as well as have been playing with a great deal of confidence, which has grown out of their victories at home and overseas. Australia were win-ners of the World Cup held in India and Pakistan in 1987 and believe they can win the 1996 tournament, especially as they have been victorious in the same conditions.

With the contrasting styles of the solid and reliable Mark Taylor, the wonderful anchoring role that proven performer, David Boon, has fulfilled over 10 years, Mark Waugh, a beautiful batsman to watch as he has so much time to play the ball, I have little doubt that they will make an impression on the tournament. The depth of talent carries on through the team in Steve Waugh and Ian Healy, two talented all-rounders who add a wonderful balance.

Finally, in the bowling department, the pace attack of McDermott, McGrath Reiffel is effective while spin bowler Shane Warne, is certainly their trump card. Warne is a magnificent master of spin and has baffled and bemused batsmen all over the world. It is great to see spin being used as an attacking bowling weapon and with such success.

Australia are a magnificent fielding team who pride themselves on sticking to the fundamentals of the game and playing to a game plan. They certainly have the depth of experience in their armoury to regain the title in all conditions.

The West Indies have a proven record in World Cup history, being winners in 1975 and 1979, and the runners up in 1983. Quite clearly, they were the premier team of the 1970s and '80s in both Test and one day cricket. However, since the retirement of players like Viv Richards, Greenidge, Haynes, Marshall, Garner and Holding, they are not as formidable, proven by the fact that other nations have emerged victorious in clashes against them in recent times. No doubt they still have magnificent players like Brian Lara, but what support does he have, apart from Jimmy Adams, who has been consistent, and Carl Hooper, who has produced some fine knocks?

In the bowling department, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh are in a class of their own; however, again the level of support they require is missing. The West Indies are clearly going through a rebuilding period and like New Zealand, young players are being given the chance to prove themselves.

The West Indies will always be a team to be respected because of their flamboyant playing style and their competitive nature. When they play well they are destructive and totally unbeatable but they can be very ordinary when they are under pressure. I would be surprised to see them make the final.

England haven't done themselves justice at these tournaments. They were finalists in 1979, 1987 and again in 1992 but have yet to go all the way despite the one day cricket which their players are exposed to in their home competitions. In Mike Atherton, they have an astute captain and a very organised and successful opening batsman. Players like Stewart, Hick, Thorpe, Smith and Ramprakash are capable of scoring runs and being match winners. Their bowling is steady, without being penetrative.

Like the Australians, South Africa will always be competitive. They would dearly love to emulate the success of their international rugby team who won the 1995 World Cup. Their bowling is exciting, with Donald, Shultz, De Villiers (if fit), McMillan and Matthews, all complementing each other well. New star Shaun Pollock is also an outstanding prospect.

South Africa's batting will rely on the effective Gary Kirsten and Hansie Cronje, while Cullinan and Rhodes, who have yet to produce their best consistently, could find the atmosphere and competition of the World Cup provides them with the opportunity to come of age. It appears that the South Africans have yet to produce a spin bowler of world class and this will be a limiting factor for them in the sub-continent conditions.

New Zealand nearly caused an upset in the 1992 World Cup. They made the semi finals, playing well enough to beat their opponents, Pakistan, but failed under the pressure. However they should qualify for the quarter-finals and maybe even the semis. But Crowe's retirement is a big blow.

Zimbabwe now have true international status. Their chances will depend on David Houghton and the Flower brothers as well Heath Streak, who is improving.

Holland, Kenya, Zimbabwe and the United Arab Emirates may not feature highly on the Honour's Board, but they will gain valuable experience for players and exposure for the game in their countries.

For many players, having the opportunity to watch and compete against some of the best cricketers in the world and to mix and mingle with them, will be the highlight of their careers, and provide the chance for any talented players, who are as yet unknown, to emerge. No opposition can be taken lightly and as my father once said to me, "Never give a mug an even break."

I would place the following odds on the team to be the 1996 World Cup champions. India and Australia 2/1, Pakistan and Sri Lanka 3/1, West Indies and England 4/1, South Africa 5/1, New Zealand 6/1, while the other countries will probably struggle to make the quarter-finals.

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