Will India win the World Cup?

The Kersi Meher-Homji Column

Only a fool or a genius can predict a winner. And I am neither. But on current form five teams are in the running for lifting the Cricket World Cup (WC); India, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and England.

But then who can ignore Pakistan, terrific one day, terrible the next?

Australia came back from their Ashes debacle by beating England with a tennis score of 6-1 in the one-day international (ODI) series. Also in the ODIs, Australia is ranked no. 1 with 131 points, 12 points ahead of joint no.2 India and Sri Lanka (119 each). South Africa comes fourth with 118 points.

Australia’s record in World Cup is fantastic, having won four times (in 1987, 1999, 2003 and 2007, the last three times in a row). Will they win it for the fourth successive time in the Indian subcontinent on 2nd April?

Apart from winning four times, they have also become runners up in 1975 (the inaugural year, losing to the West Indies at Lord’s) and in 1996 (losing to Sri Lanka in Lahore). So out of nine WCs, Australia has entered the final six times.

The West Indies won the first two WCs, in 1975 and 1979, India won in 1983 defeating the invincible Windies, Pakistan in 1992 and Sri Lanka in 1996. England entered the final three times (in 1979, 1987 and 1992) without winning even once. Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, apart from winning the title once each, entered the finals once each too, in 1999, 2003 and 2007 respectively – all three countries losing to Australia.

Surprisingly, the strong South Africans have failed to enter the finals even once. No wonder they have been labelled as chokers!

Australia has also won most WC matches, 51, followed by England, 36. Australians have won 23 matches in succession between June 20, 1999 and April 28, 2007.  The next best are the West Indies, nine matches between June 7, 1975 and June 23, 1979.

On current form India has a good chance to win the 2011 World Cup. In MS Dhoni India has a dynamic captain, batsman and wicket-keeper whose mantra is “win, win, win”.

Then there are the openers Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautum Gambhir, all adventurous hitters. Sehwag is a match-winner and Tendulkar holds most batting records.

Then come Yuvraj Singh with a penchant for skying sixes and talented youngsters Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli.

Medium-pacer Yusuf Pathan can hit hard and is a valuable all-rounder. They don’t call him pinch-hitter for nothing. Ravichandran Ashwin is an off-spinner who can swing his bat.

Zaheer Khan will open the attack and will reverse swing later in the innings. He will share the new ball with Munaf Patel, the temperamental Sreesanth and Ashish Nehra. Injured Praveen Kumar will be missed.

Harbhajan with his bouncing off-spin and late-order slogging has the potential of becoming the Player of the World Cup.

Piyush Chawla, 22, is a promising leg-break bowler with a disguised googly.

Overall, the selectors have done a good job. India has the fire power to win her second World Cup. This is one ambition Tendulkar has not realized so far. Will he achieve it on April 2 in Mumbai?

 

Itinerary for India

Australia is in Group A along with Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya.

India is in Group B along with England, South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands.

Here is the itinerary for India (all day/night matches):

Feb. 19, v. Bangladesh, Mirpur.

Feb. 27, v. England, Bangalore.

March 6, v. Ireland, Bangalore.

March 9, v. Netherlands, Delhi.

March 12, v. South Africa, Nagpur.

March 20, v. West Indies, Chennai.

The top 4 from seven teams in each group will make it to the quarter finals. I expect India, South Africa, England and either West Indies or Bangladesh to make the quarter finals for Group B.

For Group A, my prediction for quarter finals are Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand. Zimbabwe could be the dark horse though.

 

Quarter finals: A1 v. B4, A2 v. B3, A3 v.B2 and A4 v. B1 from March 23 to 26.

Semi finals between the winners will be played on 29 and 30 March in Colombo and in Mohali.

FINAL will be on April 2 at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.

 

World Cup Milestones

 

The supporters of Ricky Ponting (getting smaller by the day) will be pleased to learn that he has won all his 22 World Cup matches as captain between February 11, 2003 and April 28, 2007.

Ponting and Glenn McGrath have played most matches, 39 each.

India’s Sachin Tendulkar has scored most runs, 1796 at 57.93 in 36 matches. He also rattled up most runs in a single WC, 673 at 61.18 in 11 matches in 2003.

South Africa’s Gary Kirsten (now India’s coach) made the highest individual score of 188 not out v. United Arab Emirates at Rawalpindi in 1996.

South African Lance Klusener has the best batting average, 124.00 in 14 matches followed by Australian Andrew Symond’s 103.00 in 18.

Another SAfrican, Herschelle Gibbs, is the only one to hit 6 sixes in an over (666666) in a WC. This was off DLS van Bunge from Holland, Basseterre, 2007.

India’s Sourav Ganguly (183) and Rahul Dravid (145) were engaged in the highest partnership, 318 runs for second wicket, v. Sri Lanka, Taunton, 1999.

The match between Australia (6-377) and South Africa (294) produced an aggregate of 671 for 16 wickets, which is a record in a WC match.

India has recorded the highest individual score; 5-413, v. Bermuda, Port-of-Spain, 2007. This remains the only total of over 400 in WC history.

Adam Gilchrist’s hurricane 149 off 104 balls (v. Sri Lanka, Bridgetown, 2007) is the highest score in a WC final.

Openers Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden are the most successful opening pair in terms of runs scored in the WC; 1220 at an average of 64.21 in 20 innings, including five century partnerships and seven stands of over 50.

Ponting’s 30 sixes is a record for most career sixes in the WC.

Hayden’s 18 sixes in 2007 is a record for most sixes in one WC. He also scored the fastest century (off 66 deliveries) in a WC match; v. South Africa, Basseterre, 2007.

McGrath has the best bowling spell, 7-15 v. Namibia at Potchefstroom, 2003.

Sri Lankan Chaminda Vaas’s spell against Bangladesh on Valentine’s Day 2003 was unique in any international. He started the match at Pietermaritzburg by taking a hat-trick.

Another Sri Lankan fast medium bowler Lasith Malinga became the only one to capture 4 wickets off 4 balls in a WC match (v. South Africa, Providence, 2007).

Gilchrist took most catches, 45, and made most dismissals, 52, in 31 matches.

Ponting has taken most catches for a non wicket-keeper, 25 in 39 matches.

 

Apart from Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Gibbs and Malinga, these record holders have disappeared from the scene.

 

Four World Cup cliff-hangers revisited

It was Kapil against the World (India v. West Indies, Lord’s, 1983)

No one had anticipated India to win the World Cup (WC) in 1983 after their disappointing shows in 1975 and 1979. Their climb to the top had more snakes than ladders. They beat top teams West Indies and Australia in the earlier rounds and almost lost to lowly Zimbabwe.

Overconfident India was down 5-17 and 7-78 against Zimbabwe but was rescued by skipper Kapil Dev (175 not out with 6 sixes and 16 fours), scored 8-266 in 60 overs and went on to win by 31 runs.

Now to the epic Final at Lord’s. Their opponents were the mighty Windies who had won both the previous WCs in 1975 and 1979. Sent in to bat, India was dismissed for 183 and the writing was on the wall. The sports editors of some dailies planned their headlines in advance:

“Windies perform a hat-trick of World Cup wins”.

It didn’t go according to the script. The master blaster Viv Richards scored a quick 33 with seven fours but Kapil took an incredible catch on the boundary line to send him back. From then on, it was climb down for the Windies and India shocked the world by winning by 43 runs and lifting their first and, so far, their only World Cup.

Can MS Dhoni inspire a similar miracle after 28 years?

When Aussie manager won a thriller (India v. Australia, Chennai, 1987)

 

Like now, Australian cricket was in the doldrums in mid-1980s after the simultaneous retirement of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh and loss of key players due to their South African connections. No one expected Australia to enter the semis, let alone lift the1987 World Cup.

This changed after their first match against India at Chennai. Australia scored 6-268 after Geoff Marsh (110) and David Boon put on 110 runs for the opening wicket. But the alert Australian manager Alan Crompton had noticed that a hit from Dean Jones signalled as a four was actually a six.

At lunch Crompton, the umpires and captains Allan Border and Kapil Dev watched the video and two runs were added to the total.

India started her reply confidently and was 2-207 with sparkling batting from Sunil Gavaskar, Krish Srikkanth and Navjot Sidhu. But in a devastating second spell, quickie Craig McDermott took four wickets. In the final over India needed six runs for a win with the last man Maninder Singh on strike.

“Ice-man” Steve Waugh conceded two runs from his first two deliveries but bowled the bearded Maninder off the fifth and Australia won by one run. For his century, Marsh was made Man of the Match but I felt that manager Crompton was the real hero.

This win against India was just the catalyst Border’s men needed. The little-fancied Australians not only entered the semi-final but also beat the Cup favourites Pakistan in Pakistan to make it to the final. With adrenalin pumping through their veins, they arrived in Kolkata to face their traditional foes England, feeling ten feet tall. A bonus was that a majority of the 70,000 spectators barracked for Australia because they had humiliated arch rival Pakistan.

Australia went on to win by seven runs to lift their first World Cup.

 

Miracle at Mohali (Australia v. West Indies, Mohali, 1996)

Mark Taylor decided to bat on a grassy pitch and Australia was 4-15, Taylor, the Waugh twins and Ricky Ponting contributing four runs between them. Rescued by a fifth wicket stand of 138 runs between Stuart Law (72) and Michael Bevan (69), Australia totalled 207.

The Windies started promisingly. Shivnarine Chanderpaul (80) had a 72 run partnership with skipper Richie Richardson. After 41 overs they were 2-165, needing 43 from nine overs with eight wickets intact. A cake-walk victory, commentators predicted.

But once Chanderpaul fell, the momentum and six wickets were lost. In a mesmerizing spell, Shane Warne took 3-6. Richardson was on strike when Damien Fleming bowled the final pulsating over. Richardson hit the first ball for a four and now they needed only six runs in five balls with two wickets remaining.

Richardson went for a suicidal single and Curtly Ambrose was adjudged run out by the video umpire. Last man Courtney Walsh heaved at his first ball and was bowled and Australia won by 5 runs. The Windies had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

“It was a game we couldn’t possibly win, yet we did, and is definitely the best victory I’ve been involved in one-day cricket,” Mark Waugh said. But he changed his opinion three years later.

 

A Tantalizing Tie (Australia v. South Africa, Birmingham, 1999)

The first tie in World Cup history, this match is considered the best one-day international of all time.

Australia was 4-68 in this fluctuating semi-final but was rescued by skipper Steve Waugh (56) and Michael Bevan (65) who added 90 runs. Fast bowlers Shaun Pollock (5-36) and Alan Donald (4-32) were magnificently incisive and Australia totalled 213.

South Africa’s reply was a virtual carbon copy of Australia’s. They were 4-61 when Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes added 84. Shane Warne swung the match Australia’s way with tantalizing figures of 10-4-29-4.

Then came Lance Klusener, the Man of the World Cup, on the scene and gave the match another twist. He hammered 31 runs off 14 balls and took South Africa to the brink of their first final. But his brain short-circuited in the last tense over.

He hit two fours off Damien Fleming to level the score. Now only one run was needed off four balls to win with Klusener on strike and no. 11 bat Donald at the other end.

Knowing that a tie would be sufficient to enter the final because of Australia’s better net run-rate, Steve Waugh reshuffled the field. Klusener drove the ball straight and Donald nearly got run out.

In desperation, Klusener drove the next ball and charged. A dazed Donald dropped the bat in panic and set off. Alas, too late. Mark Waugh at gully flicked the ball to Fleming who rolled it to Adam Gilchrist who broke the stumps, and South African hearts.

The South Africans choked, just as they did in the one-dayer against India in Johannesburg this January.

This tie took Australia to the final where they thrashed Pakistan to win the Cup for the second time.

 

An all-time great World Cup XI (1975-2007)

Let us select an imaginary all-time great World Cup XI based on statistics.

Who will open the innings? India’s Sachin Tendulkar is a certainty, having scored most runs in WC history.

His opening partner would be Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya or Australia’s Matthew Hayden. Another Australian Ricky Ponting walks in at no. 3 with fine credentials as batsman, fielder and captain. Under him Australia has won not only the last two World Cups in 2003 and 2007 but also all the matches. Only Tendulkar has scored more runs than him.

The Windies Master Blaster Vivian Richards swaggers in as the opposition captain places most of his fielders on the boundary line.

The no. 5 spot provides a predicament: Pakistan’s controversial Javed Miandad, the West Indian demolition expert Brian Lara or the elegant Australian Mark Waugh?

Cool-cat Steve Waugh will come in next and bowl miserly overs at the death.

India’s Kapil Dev, England’s Ian Botham or Pakistan’s Imran Khan will bat at no. 7 and bowl at no.3.

We need a sixomaniac wicket-keeper and Gilchrist fills the bill. He may even be promoted to open the innings to make room for an additional player. His 52 dismissals (45 caught and 7 stumped) is way ahead of his rival, Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara (26+6).

Australia’s Glenn McGrath who has taken most WC wickets (71) will open the bowling with Pakistan’s Wasim Akram, second highest with 55 scalps.

Only one spot remains for a spinner and we have outstanding candidates in Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan and Australia’s Shane Warne.

Here are the relevant statistics of the 17 candidates before we pick the final XI:

Player ODIs Runs Bat. Av. Strike Rate Wkts. Bowl. Av. Economy Rate Dismissals (ct. + stump.)
Sachin Tendulkar (Ind) 36 1796 57.93 88.21
Sanath Jayasuriya (SL) 38 1165 34.26 90.66
Matthew Hayden (Aus) 22 987 51.94 92.93
Adam Gilchrist (Aus) 31 1085 36.16 98.01 45+7
Ricky Ponting (Aus) 39 1537 48.03 81.06
Vivian Richards (WI) 23 1013 63.31 85.05
Brian Lara (WI) 34 1225 42.24 86.26
Javed Miandad (Pak) 33 1083 43.32 68.02
Mark Waugh (Aus) 22 1004 52.84 83.73
Steve Waugh (Aus) 33 978 48.90 81.02 27 30.14 4.70
Kapil Dev (Ind) 26 669 37.16 115.14 28 31.85 3.76
Imran Khan (Pak) 28 666 35.05 65.68 34 19.26 3.86
Ian Botham (Eng) 22 297 18.56 62.39 30 25.40 3.43
Wasim Akram (Pak) 38 426 19.36 101.18 55 23.83 4.04
Shane Warne (Aus) 17 32 19.50 3.83
Muttiah Muralitharan (SL) 31 53 19.69 3.83
Glenn McGrath (Aus) 39 71 18.19 3.96

Bold fonts indicate a WC record.

 

Based on the above statistics, here is my all-time great World Cup (1975-2007) XI in batting order:

Tendulkar, Gilchrist (WK), Ponting, Richards, Lara, Steve Waugh (capt.), Imran (vice-capt.), Kapil, Akram, Muralitharan and McGrath.

12th man: Mark Waugh. Reserves: Hayden, Warne, Miandad, Jayasuriya and Botham.

Akram, McGrath, Imran and Kapil will share the new ball. Muralitharan will bamboozle batsmen with his off-spin and doosras and Steve Waugh will bowl at the death.

 

 

 

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