INDIA faces a major task in reaching the Super Six of the World Cup—the second round in which only three teams from the original six qualify from each group. Apart from India, Group A includes South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sri Lanka and England and this is the playing order for the Indians. It seems to be a very favourable draw.
The first match against the formidable South Africans will be a challenge. Their superb bowling is built around the attacking power of Donald, Pollock and Klus-ener, backed by the wily Cronje and Kallis, two excellent medium pacers. Their batting is impressive too, but strict adherence to a tight bowling plan can give India a real chance. The use of key bowlers—Srinath and Kumble is vital. This combination must aim at claiming, on average, 3 wickets in 20 overs for not more than 70-odd runs. Five other supporting bowlers must be utilised to provide variety. The strategy should be to try and contain South Africa to around 230. That will call for fielding of a much higher standard than India displayed on their recent tour of New Zealand. The Indian batting is strong enough to achieve this total. But much will depend on the toss, for at Hove, morning conditions can suit the bowlers, and a sea fret or mist can make batting a lively experience.
The next two matches give India a real chance for successive wins. Zimbabwe and Kenya are on paper the weakest of the group, but both have had wins against strong sides in previous World Cups and must not be taken lightly. I expect the Indian batsmen to play havoc with the bowling of these two teams, but Zimbabweans Heath Streak and Eddo Brandes can prove troublesome. Similarly their batsmen, led by the Flower brothers and Alistair Campbell, are no pushovers. Kenya also has a good cricketer in Henry Odumbe. The key to these matches is to use Srinath and Prasad to try for early breaks, and tie up the opposition with Agarkar and Kumble from the other end. This should see India win two matches out of three.
By this stage India should need one more win to be sure of qualifying for the Super Six. Sri Lanka is next and the match is at my old county ground Taunton. The Lankans are coming with their successful '96 team almost intact—just that they all are four years older! It will be the swansong for many of them and I can see the vibrant, exciting Indian batsmen dominating their modest attack on this small ground. When I played my first match there on our '83 tour of England we had a field day with the bat, making over 500 with many hits into the River Tone nearby. The county secretary jokingly presented us with an invoice for some twelve lost balls! India will probably win a high scoring match but should know better than to under-rate the Sri Lankan batsmen. By now India will have their bowling plan working and the batsmen should be in form. They'll certainly need to be, for England will certainly test them to see if they're capable of going any further.
The England team is reasonably strong, with experience in the top order and steady all-rounders thereafter. They're at home of course, but will feel the pressure if they're not at top throttle. The match is at Edgbaston where the pitch is flat and conducive to run-scoring. Having plenty of bowling options in store and slick fielding are crucial. I was amazed at the desultory way the Indians went about their practice in New Zealand. Roping in the Australian ex-coach Bobby Simpson as an advisor seemed to make little difference, although I'm sure Simpson would have done a lot of talking. Perhaps now the team is prepared to give it all in its attempt to win the Cup again in England.
The present team has some truly classic players and a great trump in the world's best batsman—Sachin Tendulkar. They should qualify for the Super Six, provided they play to their strengths and game plans. Then they have as good a chance as any to go on and win the tournament.