One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Now that the first round of Super Six matches has tken place, let us take stock of the situation. Let us see how the teams have performed in their matches.

Australia: Australia played Sri Lanka in their first match and looked every bit the champion team that they are. They showed why they have performed so well over the last few years. Racking up a huge total of 319 against the Sri Lankan bowling comprising of Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Murilatharan is no mean feat. The Aussie batsmen are looking in prime form. Except for Hayden, almost all the Australian batsmen have performed consistently in this tournament. The batting always looked formidable and now looks even more menacing with Michael 'the Finisher' Bevan coming back into form with a beautifully compiled match-winning innings against England. The bowling is looking sharp and deadly too. Even though they are missing the services of two of their leading bowlers, Warne and Gillespie, due to various reasons, Hogg and Bichel have stepped into their shoes with elan. The only Achilles heel is that, against a quality batting line-up, Bichel, Hogg, Symonds and Lehman will struggle and Australia might have to pay for losing Warne and Gillespie. But McGrath and Lee break the back of the opposition thus easing the pressure on their second line of attack. So, teams which recognize this will look to play it safe against the opening burst by McGrath and Lee, and then look to attack the backup bowling. Only thus can the Aussie juggernaut be stopped in its tracks. But then, that is easier said than doen.

India: Perhaps the most enigmatic team in the Super Six is the Indian team. You can never tell how the Indian team will play on a given day. It will soar to uncharted heights on one particular day while scrape the absolute bottom on another. Right now, the Indian team is on a roll, having won the last five matches it has played, defeating teams like Zimbabwe, England and Pakistan on its way to the Super Six stage. So emphatic was its victory over Pakistan, thet is was almost impossible to believe that it was the same team that was doddering at 24/3 against lowly Kenyans in their first Super Six match. But then thats how the Indians play their cricket. The Indian batting is slowly getting back on track after the nightmare in New Zealand. Almost all batsmen have played at least one meaty inning in this World cup. Virender Sehwag is cause for concern. His starts in almost all matches have promised much but he has delivered so little. But one hopes that the law of averages catch up with him and he plays a blinder when the team most needs it. Another chink in the Indian batting armour is Dinesh Mongia. But the awesome form of Tendulkar more than offsets these concerns. Ganguly, the "out-of-form" Indian captain has two unbeaten tons to his credit in this tournament. Kaif has adjusted wel to his new position. The revelation is the emergence of Yuvraj Singh as the Indian "Finisher". So, there are not many problems batting wise. The bowling which was the weak side of this Indian team has proved to be its strength on more than one occasion inthe World Cup. Srinath, Zaheer and Nehra have excelled with the white ball. Bhajji bowled well against the Kenyans after being dropped against the Pakistanis. So, overall, the Indian team is in such a form that only its unpredictable nature can be its downfall rather than pure cricketing reasons.

New Zealand: The Kiwi team has looked the most self-assured team in this tournament, after perhaps Australia. Before coming to this tournament, "experts" in New Zealand, notably the out-spoken Martin Crowe, had lamented the fact that the Kiwis have only four proper batsmen. But the Kiwi team, full of bits and pieces players has looked supremely confident. The batting is looking settled, especially after the return to form of Fleming. Styris and Cairns form the backbone of the line-up and both of them have already played some match-winning innings with Styris looking unusually aggressive. The revelation, at least for me, was the batting of Astle against Zimbabwe in their Super Six match. He played the sheet-anchor role while the other batsmen played aggressively. We have known Astle to be the "slam-bam-thank-you-maam" kind of opener. But this self-assured and chance-less innings (well chanceless apart from a few run-out chances) augurs well for the Kiwis. The bowling is not the best in the world. In Bond, they have a world class bowler to open the attack. But I somehow can't imagine Andr� Adams as an opening bowler The rest of the bowling is, again, just above average... nothing to shout about. But the Kiwis have worked out a strategy. They bowl first and try to use the best conditions for bowling in the morning (since most of their bowlers are swing bowlers) and then their strong attacking batting backs itself to get the runs while chasing. Teams will look to bat first and put the Kiwi bowling under pressure. But a great news for the New Zealand team is the return of Chris Cairns in the bowling line up.

Sri Lanka: Sri Lankans managed to scrape through to the Super Six. The 1996 World Champions are not in the best of forms. Their batting looks brittle, their bowling is lopsided and their whole approach is heavily dependent on the ageing heroes of the 1996 triumph. The batting has not clicked consistently in this tournament and it has had to suffer the ignominy of being skittled out by the Kenyans. Jayasuriya and Atapattu have played well at the top... as has Aravinda DeSilva. But the rest haven't inspired much confidence among their fans. The bowling, however, is the weapon that has worked for the Lankans. But even then, it has been the performances of Chaminda Vaas that have propelled the team. The veteran left arm bowler has been outstanding, eclipsing even his much illustrious team mate, Muralitharan. Now, having lost to the Australians, Sri Lanka have to necessarily win their remaining matches. Their biggest challenge is coming up next. They will face India in a match that will decide if they stay in the tournament or are knocked out right away. Sanath Jayasuriya who was injured seriously (chipped bone in the thumb abd a badly bruised forearm) in the match against Australia has expressed his desire to play against India, showing how desperate the Sri Lankans are about winning.

Zimbabwe: The Zimbabwean team finds itself in the Super Six thanks to the favour done to them by the English team and the rained off match against Pakistan. They have qualified with the least number of points and have already lost their match against New Zealand. This means that, come what may, they will not qualify for the semi finals... even if they convincingly win the next two matches. So, it is really not worth sending too many words talking about them. But it remains to be seen if they will do a favour to their co-hosts, Kenya, and help them ensure a place in the semis. I know that this is improbable, but who knows!... stranger things have happened in the past and not all of them have rational explanations. Lets hope we get teams that fight their way into the semis, rather than arrive there on crutches.

Kenya: Kenya is the David that has defied expecttions and logic by defeating Goliath. They are the minnows who would have been content with winning a game or two in the first round. But now (through a mixture of chance and performance), they find themselves in the Super Six and in serious contention for a spot in the semi finals. Sandeep Patil has worked wonders with this African team and has instilled confidence in them to compete with the best teams in the world. The batting line up does not have any stars as does the bowling line-up. But the grit of Odumbe and the flair of Tikolo and Shah more than make up for that lacuna. The disciplined bowling by Odoyo and Suji brothers is steady at best and does not hold any dangers for the opposition. But the Indians will refuse to accept that statement as they found the Kenyan opening bowling too hot to handle! The leg-spin of Collins Obuya had mesmerised a few quality batsmen as he took five wickets against Sri Lanka and had bamboozled even Rahul Dravid in the match against India. With the next two games coming up against Zimbabwe and Australia, Kenyans need just one win to assure of a place in the semis.

Thus is the situation of the World Cup, at the end of four weeks after the tournament started. And, I daresay, the best is yet to come!

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