ICC Cricket World Cup 2011: Clash of the Titans

So, the Cricket World Cup (CWC) is around the corner, and this time it’s being staged in the Indian sub-continent.  The 2011 CWC

Stumpy, the official mascot for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.

would be held between 19th February & 2nd April. The tournament will be co-hosted by Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. This is the 10thedition of the CWC and there are 14 teams vying for one of the most coveted trophies, in the world’s fourth largest sporting event (in terms of viewership).

Everybody is excited, the organizers are all geared-up, the stadiums are looking pretty, tickets are sold out, the media is already blaring out their predictions on the prime contenders, and the teams have already arrived and are currently playing warm-up games at various venues across India. Cricket pundits have stuck their necks out and made their predictions and India is touted to be the favorites to raise the cup in this edition. All their predictions are based on the performance of teams and individuals in the past few years but when it comes to seizing that one moment of glory, statistics go out of the window. Cricket is a funny game, it’s always been that way, and performances by some of the underdogs in the previous editions stand testimony to this. So as a cricket enthusiast myself, I thought I’ll also place my money on the line and make some calculated predictions, but before that, I would like to run through all the 14 contenders once and talk briefly about their chances.

So here we go:

AUSTRALIA: The Aussies are on a high after their 6-1 series win against England in the One-days. This came after a heart wrenching defeat in the tests, as a result of which Ricky Ponting became the only Australian captain to have lost 3 Ashes series. Mind you, since 1990 – 2003, the Aussies hadn’t let the Ashes trophy leave their shores once.

However, the Australian one-day side is an all new avatar of sorts; they have a good mix of experienced campaigners in the form of Ponting, Brett Lee, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson. The rest are a bunch of promising newbie’s, many of whom were in the news recently for being bought for big bucks by IPL franchise owners.  Overall it looks like a very competitive side who can give any opposition a run for their money. Steven Smith and Jason Krejza are two players to watch out for. The weakness with this team is that it’s not been doing that great in recent times and it is a relatively inexperienced side. Their batting is particularly weak, there might be short burst of brilliance but I don’t see them fetching huge scores. The bowling line-up does look strong with a good balance of fast bowlers and spinners. Fielding is one of the factors that’ll set apart the Aussies from the sub-continental teams.

BANGLADESH: They are my giant-killers in this tournament, they’ve created upsets in the past (remember that they were the team that knocked India out of the 2007 edition of the CWC) and they have the potential to repeat history. This team is on a high after demolishing the black caps (New Zealand) 4-0 in their backyard and then toppling Zimbabwe by 3-1. They have a good batting line-up and a decent bowling attack that can pose stiff competition to the giants of the game. While Shakib Al Hassan, Tamim Iqbal and Mohammad Ashraful remain to be the pillars of this team, players like Mushfiqur Rahim and Abdur Razzak are the ones to watch out for.

CANADA: This team doesn’t look like it’s going to create any upsets in this tournament.  Their players are mostly par-timers, many of whom haven’t played a single ODI till date. Another interesting fact to note is that this Canadian team has the most no. of Asian players than the previous ones. Out of the lot, the only players I can see leaving some sort of impression are Rizwan Cheema and John Davison.

ENGLAND: This English side has had a decent run in the past year and the new look side shows a lot of promise. The batting has definitely improved under the guidance of Andy Flower, but their bowling is still questionable.  England is one of the serious contenders in this tournament but it all depends on how well they perform in the sub-continental conditions. One of the positives with this side is that more than half have been part of IPL matches played in India and would make use of that experience to their advantage. Andrew Strauss, Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen would lead the England attack but Jonathan Trott could prove to be their trump card.

IRELAND: Like Bangladesh, the Irish have created a few upsets in the past and they may manage to beat a couple of lower ranked test playing nations. They did reach the super eights in the last edition after packing off Pakistan, but may not go onto play the quarter finals this time. Their captain William Porterfield is the player to watch out for.

KENYA: This is a team that showed great promise during the early part of the last decade, but somewhere along the line they lost the plot. The only two known faces remaining in this side is Steve Tikolo and Thomas Odoyo. Seren Waters is said to be an exciting talent to watch out for, I certainly hope so!

NETHERLANDS: This team would have been better off playing the soccer world cup but you never know, on their best day, they might just drag a top side out of tournament along with them.  Tom Cooper may be a party-pooper for some of the bowlers.

NEWZEALAND: They’re coming off back-to-back defeats and would be psychologically crushed but I’m sure they have enough fuel to drive them into the quarter finals. This is one team that has made it into the semi-finals on 5 occasions, but has never gone beyond that. I don’t see that happening this time either. Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum are the key players for the black caps but keep an eye out for Tim Southee and James Franklin. In case you didn’t know, guess who’s their coach? John Wright 🙂

PAKISTAN: The sheen has been wiped off the Pakistani side after many a controversy that has been clouding them in the past few years, the last of which was the spot fixing scandal. As a result of which, this team is sans 3 good match winners. Even then I think Pakistan is going to be the black horse in this tournament that could spring a surprise or two. The opposition teams would be taking Pakistan flippantly at their own peril. This team is packed with power-hitters and strike bowlers, if they can play as a pack putting their differences aside, they might just slide all the way through. Ahmad Shahzad and Abdur Rehman are the players to watch out for.

SOUTHAFRICA: They’re one of the leading contenders to lift the cup this time; they’ve been doing really well off-late and have finally found the right mix of players who can win them games. They can no longer be tagged as chokers since they’ve been winning a lot of nail-biters; couple of their wins against India recently is testimony to this.  This is one of the best teams that South Africa has ever fielded in a CWC, apart from the big names we’ve seen already seen a lot of; Du Plessis and Colin Ingram are the new kids on the block to look out for.

SRILANKA: This is a power packed team, each and every one of them being a matcher winner by their own right.  They’ve been doing all the right things in the lead up to this CWC and have had some consistent performances. This is a team that reached the finals of the previous edition and they have almost retained the same team.  Age maybe the only worry for this team but having said that, there is a fine mix of young blood as well. Thilan Samaraweera and Sangakara would provide mettle to the batting line-up with Murali, Malinga and Fernando spear-heading the bowling department.

WESTINDIES: This Caribbean side is a far cry from the ones that lifted the cup in 75 and 79. Batting is the only positive that I can see with this side; they have Sarwan, Chanderpaul and Gayle who could prove to be a nightmare for any bowler. Then they have the quick guns in the form of Pollard and Bravo but their bowling is not even close to the fiery talent they used to have in the late 90’s. I don’t see West Indies going past the group stages.

Zimbabwe: Politics has had adverse affects on Zimbabwe cricket, poor form and constantly changing players haven’t helped either. It ‘s sad to see a team who was not so long ago awarded Test status, being thrashed by even lower ranked sides. The only note-worthy player in this side is Elton Chigumbura.

India: Well, what can I say about the home team that all of us don’t know already. This is the best Indian team that we’ve ever fielded, not just on paper, recent performances by this team are proof enough. After Gary Kirsten took over as head coach post the 2007 CWC, we’ve experimented with a lot of permutations & combinations. All that is now down to 15 players that have been picked to represent India in this CWC and there are 1.2 billion people hoping and praying that this team can do it for us.

We’ve the fire power to create havoc for any bowling line-up, bowlers who can do a decent job defending a modest total, the prowess in fielding powered by some young guns and most importantly, the biggest factor that makes India a force to reckon with is that this team, has gelled together and has been playing as a unit for a very long time. Injuries may be a concern though, but as long as each player in the 15 member squad comes good and delivers when it’s most needed, I think we will be alright. My money is on Pathan & Kohli to provide fire power and Sachin & Zaheer to see the team through when it matters the most.

So following is my prediction on who is going to make the finals:

I have intentionally not picked a winner because I’m not able to make up my mind; my heart definitely wants India to win!

So here’s hoping that this is going to be a cracker of a tournament with all the twists and turns that lend to the excitement. It’s going to be 42 days of mouth-watering cricket, packed with high adrenaline action and intense drama. Move over reality shows, the mother of all sporting events is here. I don’t know about everybody else but I’m definitely going to savor every bit of this sumptuous feast! May the best team win. I leave you with the official theme song for the ICC CWC 2011. Enjoy Maadi!

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