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Who will be world champions? Which team is the best? Why does the home team never win? Not just the cricket fan, buteven cricketers are all abuzz about the World Cup’s magic, writes Aakash Chopra.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2007 00:29 IST

I have never played a World Cup. Heck, I’ve never even played a one-day international. But I figured that I've played Test cricket, so that gives me an edge and when you factor in the detail that I’ve played enough one-dayers at the first-class level to know what it’s about, I figured I could sit down and comment with the rest of the journos (most of who haven’t played the game at any level).

This, incidentally, is my version of the CYA (Cover Your Ass) rule, a.k.a. a gentle reminder, given that every now and then, when I make some remark about one-dayers or anything else, some or the other person comes up to me or writes in to ask how I could possibly know. Well, I could.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’ve been thinking about the World Cup and thank God that it’s finally here. Apparently, this event of six (?) serious contenders, a couple of has-beens and a larger group of minnows will decide who’ll be called the world champions of the former colonies for the next four years or so.

On a serious note, barring the build up to the Ashes , the last year of international cricket was seen as preparing for the World Cup. Even if many refuse to believe that India’s preparations were serious, trust me, they were. It’s one of cricket’s secret mantras — lull the opposition into believing you’re floundering and then deliver that knockout punch.

For instance, look at the Aussies. They have gone to extreme lows, even by their standards, in knocking out Brett Lee and spoiling Mike Hussey’s unblemished record to distract attention from their super-prowess. Alas, few are fooled and methinks they would still be the favourites for the lottery. But who knows? ODI cricket tends to be dramatic and over the top.

So, coming back to the year gone by, the focus has been on striking the right combination, finding the right players and forming the right strategies, on the field by the players and off the field by various strange organisations looking to cash in on the mega event. Different countries and individuals are looking at this Cup differently. This event will probably see the last of a lot of cricketing geniuses. It would likely be the last World Cup for some of the men we rate as the best in the business, including Brian Lara and Glen McGrath, with Inzamam ul-Haq too unlikely to lead in the subcontinent four years hence.

It is rather ironic that two of the greatest batsmen of our generation — Lara and Sachin Tendulkar — have never held aloft cricket’s
holiest chalice. But that really is the beauty of the game. Even a God or two is no guarantee of success.

Besides the divinities, this could well be a lone bow on the big stage for other players. Given the sheer number of matches played, a cricketer’s lifespan is being dramatically reduced, so soon, four to five years could become the norm and seven years, a dramatic stretch.

Now, I was curious — how much did the Cup really matter to players who play one-dayers day in and day out? I conducted a mock-poll among my fellow cricketers, those who’ve played in the Cup and those who haven’t, and figured that all that brouhaha actually had some truth to it — most do believe it is the biggest event of their cricketing lives. Still, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

A group of us sat down for a chat and came up with some interesting opinions. Yes, the Cup is special. However, we all believed we seldom get a true picture of performances by averages, given the number of minnows involved. The stats are inflated for some, but it’s not so lucrative for people who bat down the order.

Then again, it isn’t all about 10 one-day games in a carnival. Every country plays about 30 one-dayers in a year and suddenly, once in four years, these 10 games decide the World Champions. Ask any cricketer and he would probably tell you that Australia is the best team by a mile, whatever their WC performance or one-day ranking. England, on the other hand, will not be thought of as the best, even if we witness a blessed miracle and they finally win the Cup.

Then come conditions and home advantage. It is rather weird that a home team has never won (Lanka in Lahore don’t count), given that in cricket, familiarity with conditions are a definite plus.

So someone like Graeme Smith will definitely be praying that the new pitches live up to reports that they might have bounce and pace. Otherwise, South Africa’s all-pace attack might take the booby prize for non-starters of the event on the Windies’ slow, low wickets.

Even as I write this, the papers are filled with pictures of tanned men exercising in a blue, blue Pacific, striding purposefully ahead while the billboards of women beckon in the background.

But don’t be fooled. This World Cup in the Caribbean is serious business.

First Published: Mar 15, 2007 00:26 IST