Part 1: Leading Wicket-taker
Part 2: Leading Runscorer
Part 3: Surprise Packet
Part 4: MVP
Part 5: Dream Team
Part 6: Ace in the hole
As much as the West Indies have (hopefully) crawled out from a decade and a half of shame and the tournament has Bangladesh playing a lot at home, as much as I’d like to pick a smaller nation making the second round, I just don’t see it. The minnows will leave early, leaving us with the obvious choices again. India and Sri Lanka are justifiable favourites due to their home-ground advantages, while South Africa’s finishing school for cricket talent has no equal. The bet here is the Proteas don’t have the attack to really exploit the conditions – Steyn is quality but supporting cast Tsotsobe, Morkel and Parnell aren’t favoured by the slower decks. Australia can’t be discounted – they’ve been impressive in swatting away England’s One-Day side, a team who seem to lack something that they can’t identify. I’m going to bet on Sri Lanka - India is incredibly reliant on the bowling penetration of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. Should one of those two break down or play like a honker, India could really struggle to restrict opposition scoring. Sri Lanka have the spin of Murali and Mendis, the pace of Malinga and the all-round talents of Angelo Mathews.
This is the third time the world cup is being held in the Indian subcontinent. The last two times it was held (1987 and 1996), two subcontinent teams made it to the semis (India and Pakistan in 1987) and (India and Sri Lanka in 1996) with Sri Lanka winning it all in 1996. I am inclined to continue with this theme and expect India and Sri Lanka to get to the semi-finals this time as well. The two other semi-finalists, in my opinion, are going to be Australia and South Africa. (But I am very tempted to include either Pakistan or Bangladesh). I do think however, India and Sri Lanka will get to the finals. Sri Lanka does seem to be the most balanced side in the entire tournament and they are playing in home conditions. However, India beat them fair and square in Sri Lanka the last time they played ODIs. But the finals are going to be played in front of Tendulkar’s home crowd in Mumbai. So, I am going to go with my gut, heart and all other internal organs, and hedge my bet on India.
In my honest opinion there are 5 countries that have both the ability and consistency (sorry Pakistan!) to win the 2011 Cricket World Cup. They are Australia, England, India, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Of the 5, it is the perennially underachievers chokers of South Africa and India that have the finest XIs on paper and also the form to be considered the main contenders. In Sehwag and Ghambir, and Smith and Amla, they have the finest opening batting partnerships in the game with one claiming the title for most explosive and the other for most solid. In Kallis and Tendulkar they have two of the greatest ODI batsmen of all time. A further glance down their respective orders and you have batsmen that combine capabilities to play long innings with intimidating levels and varieties of strokeplay.
So what is there to separate these two sides? The answer lies in the bowling department. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have formed a devastating partnership capable of tearing through a side. As much as Zaheer Khan stars for India, fans would have to concede that South Africa hold in the edge in terms of the quicks on show. India meanwhile will feel they have the edge in terms of spinners on show. Johan Botha is an accomplished spinner but cannot be considered an attacking option. Unlike Botha, Harbhajan Singh is just that. India are also blessed with numerous spinners in their squad with Ashwin, Pathan, Raina, Yuvraj and Sehwag all providing options in favourable conditions.
The case for both teams is remarkably strong but I favour the side with bigger wicket-taking threat to come out on top. With that in mind, it has to be the biggest chokers of all South Africa to turn the tables on history and win the 2011 Cricket World Cup.