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India have a chance to make final

Group A is the one that captured the imagination back home. There was anger, frustration, joy and dangerously high optimism.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2003 14:03 IST

Group A is the one that captured the imagination back home. There was anger, frustration and joy, followed by dangerously high optimism, hope that India would, after all, write their name on the World Cup trophy again.

The sponsors and media had no small role to play in this, more so the former. The cup was as good as won even before the teams landed in South Africa and receptions and parties planned, well in advance.

The game against Holland on Feb 12 was no great display, but the rivals were simply too weak. But that did not worry those at home. It was a win, after all. India were unstoppable.

That is, till they ran into Australia here on Feb 15. What followed in India was the despicable advertisement of how little it takes to have some people lose whatever little sanity they possess.

Houses were burnt and effigies burnt, all to get into pictures and headlines, while trying to radiate disappointment.

Then it was all forgotten quickly as the boys did well enough to finish up second in the group, with eight points, four from the win over Zimbabwe, who also qualified, the one each for triumphs over England, Holland, Namibia and Pakistan.

Not a bad haul, and gives them a very good chance of making it to the semi-finals, considering that they will play Kenya in their first Super Six game in Cape Town on March 7.

Finishing second is about as much as a team can hope for when Australia are also in the same pool. The Aussies have been unstoppable.

They have hardly been in any real trouble. The only time they were pushed into a corner was against England, but such is the depth in the team that even with eight wickets down, they won, thanks to Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel, twice over.

Australia have taken maximum points into the Super Six, 12, with wins over India and Zimbabwe and four points from the other four sides. They are looking invincible. They have batted, bowled and fielded with amazing consistency, and flair that is difficult to fathom, let alone copy.

On the other side of this spectrum are Zimbabwe, co-hosts who everyone felt were hard done by when England refused to keep the appointment in Harare. It would be a financial disaster for the poor association, and would affect the fibre of the event, the mandarins said. But the English were stubborn.

Then they had the gall to ask that the match be moved somewhere into South Africa, and pouted when that did not happen. But the International Cricket Council, faced with a no-win situation and exasperated by England's constant bickering, awarded the points to Zimbabwe.

That is the only reason that they are in the Super Six, with all of 3.5 points. Three points against England, the match that never was, and minnows Holland and Namibia. The half-point was a result of the called off game against Pakistan in Bulawayo on Monday.

Pakistan are missing from this lot of six teams, as are England. As far as excitement goes, the World Cup won't be half the event without the Pakistanis. The likes of Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi are great draws, never mind they are effective or not. This is a side with tremendous talent, and even more unpredictability.

It did not go well for them, and the culmination of all the frustration and infighting was the scuffle during practice in Bulawayo on Monday. That just about summed up their campaign.

England are also missing, but once they had declined to play in Zimbabwe, they really did not have the right to be here. They will not be missed really. New Zealand had a better case than England in refusing to go to Kenya, since they had witnessed the horrors of a terrorist attack in Karachi.

England had no real reasons, and kept imagining one after the other. They pretty much got what they deserved.

All things being normal, Australia and India should be in the semi-finals, while the other two spots are a bit of a lottery.

From the Indian point of view, it looks like a great opportunity to make the final, and then who knows. Provided they can live up to the pressure of expectations.

First Published: Mar 05, 2003 23:22 IST