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Only India can change this script

The World Cup has entered its final stretch with the semi-final line-up as good as decided. Forget the semi-final, the final line-up, barring a major upset, is also almost certain.

india Updated: Mar 16, 2003 00:51 IST

The World Cup has entered its final stretch with the semi-final line-up as good as decided. Forget the semi-final, the final line-up, barring a major upset, is also almost certain.

The Indians are rejoicing because they face Kenya and are already thinking ahead --- about how to beat the Australians in the final at the Wanderers on March 23. Australia will face either Sri Lanka or New Zealand in the semi-finals but they're already thinking that they've won their second successive World Cup.

It's rather strange that one-day cricket is hosting its most prestigious event and yet, almost everyone thinks he knows the final outcome even before the semi-finals have been played.

Stranger still, that despite six of the reputedly "best" teams of 16 playing the penultimate round of the tournament, the likely semi-finalists were already known even before a ball of the Super Six had been bowled.

In more ways than one, this World Cup has been the most mediocre, ordinary and one-sided of contests --- a poor advertisement for cricket.

There were fears of just such a scenario even before the tournament began. The major reason for these apprehensions was that all the teams arrived in South Africa after having played never-ending, exhausting cricket all year around.

Be it Australia, England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, New Zealand, Zimbabwe or South Africa, every side had played so much cricket that they entered this World Cup with tired bodies and fatigued minds.

But then, everyone's fears seemed misplaced as the opening match of the tournament, between South Africa and West Indies, showcased all that is best in one-day cricket: Quality batting, breathtaking strikes, brilliant fielding, a close contest and what must count as an upset. The World Cup had begun in truly great style.

Unfortunately for the game, that match has, so far, proved the exception and not the rule. You can probably count the matches that went down to the wire on the fingers of one hand.

A few matches, especially in Group B and a couple of matches in Group A, like the India-Pakistan match, did get the adrenaline flowing but the rest of the matches were really, one long bore.

The Super Six has been the worst. Of course, if you are an Indian fan you'll probably recall every moment of all India's wins and be tremendously excited at the fact that India is in with a chance at the Cup, but spare a thought for genuine cricket fans!

People whose loyalties extend beyond nationalistic boundaries and those who go to the cricket grounds to watch thrilling, close contests haven't really had much fun.

What you've got to see are matches ending much before their scheduled close of play; teams struggling to score runs; most batsmen failing time and again; and bowlers from one team running amok.

All very fine for those fans whose team has won but terrible for those who have travelled across the globe, spent huge money, booked tickets in advance and felt cheated at the one-sidedness of the whole thing.

The whole world may feel that Kenya's entering the semi-finals has devalued the tournament but the fact is that the only match of any consequence in the Super Six so far, has been the India-Kenya encounter.

The future, or whatever little is left of that, is also not very encouraging. Nobody seriously believes Kenya will give India a tough time in the semi-final, nobody even dreams that the defending champions will not sweep into the final and if you look beyond the hype, few really think Australia will be tested in the final.

This World Cup is in grave danger of ending up as one of the most boring cricket contests ever.

And the onus of changing a very predictable script lies with India.

They have played very intelligent, exciting cricket so far and if they meet Australia in the final and turn the tables on the world champions, this World Cup could still rescue itself from almost complete mediocrity.

First Published: Mar 16, 2003 00:51 IST