The 1987 World Cup was primarily India's show, with the bid for the Cup having been made by India and most of the sponsorship coming from Indian sources or sources managed and activated by the Indian authorities. The 1996 World Cup has a slight shift in emphasis in so far as Pakistan is more directly involved and the final will also be staged in Pakistan. I feel, however, had the security scenario been better, it would perhaps have been worthwhile to see one of the two semi-finals being staged in Sri Lanka rather than both being played in India.
I also feel there is little justification in allowing three non-Test playing ICC members into these final rounds of the World Cup. East Africa and Sri Lanka (then not a full Test-playing nation) were allowed in 1975 to play with the "big boys'' in the inaugural competition. In 1979, the finalists of the ICC-members' tournament, Sri Lanka and Canada, qualified and in both 1983 and 1992 only the winners (Zimbabwe), competed. And later that year, Zimbabwe too had gained full Test-status. The earlier system had given the non-Test playing countries a boost and some encouragement. But the World Cup has come a long way in terms of prestige and importance since those early days in 1975. I therefore feel only one country from among the non-Test sides, making a field of 10 teams with five in each group, would have been good enough.
The real competition, in any case, will start from the quarter-final stage by which time the three non-Test nations and Zimbabwe would have been eliminated. That would leave eight sides in the tournament and these days, in one-day cricket, it is clearly impossible to designate any favourites.
In 1975 and 1979, the West Indies started and finished as favourites but since then the one-day game has known a levelling process which has brought the sides, comparatively, on a much more even keel. Thus India had one of the most unpredicted wins in 1983 and Pakistan came from nowhere to win the last World Cup. In 1987, when Pakistan and India were being favoured on the basis of home advantage, an unfancied Australian side won the day.
That said, the various strengths and weaknesses of the different sides are obviously different. This is a form of the game where strength in batting goes a long way and India has a very good batting side, with players like Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Vinod Kambli and Navjot Singh Sidhu, any one of whom are capable of tearing an attack apart. In the bowling department, India will obviously be relying on her spinners. Australia too have an excellent batting side and a varied and penetrative bowling attack, plus excellent fielders. That makes them very strong contenders.
England's batting has some good performers and just the sort of medium pacers who are supposed to be ideal for one-dayers. Yet, I would be a little surprised if they won and sadly, one has to say the same of Pakistan and the West Indies. The latter seem to be facing problems which hitherto had been the sole preserve of the Pakistanis, and that seems to be affecting their morale, though Brian Lara's return is surely a good sign.
Pakistan seem to be emerging from one of their most trying phases and one hopes Wasim Akram will be able to infuse the cohesion and team spirit which under Imran Khan made them such a formidable combination. They will depend heavily on Akram, Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed.
The South Africans are an excellent fielding and bowling side but their batting seems to lack the authority to take the attack to a good bowling side. To my mind, the real dark horses of the 1996 World Cup will be the Sri Lankans who have made great improvements in recent times.
There is very little today that divides the top cricketing nations. That, coupled with the uncertainties this game is renowned for, may confound the best of pundits gazing at the ball.