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WC '07 - Kaun Banega Champion?

Even as India and Australia grapple with the lineups, the Proteas emerge as the favourites, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2007 20:52 IST

In the run up to the World cup, last few weeks have been a revelation. They have shown how one team can reverse the tide of recent history to vanquish a superpower, as England did it thrice. And how strong favourites can show feet of clay when less than one month away from an unprecedented three-in-a-row. Last two months have shown how important can be the absence, or lack of form, of even a single top-class player in teams like Australia and India.

Some convincing run of victories have also emphasized the emergence of South Africa as favourite, and England as dark horse.

India's woes

The still continuing ''who should open?" puzzle can single-handedly play havoc with India's prospects in the World Cup.

Putting Sehwag in the hot seat as opener at Margao belies logic as the out-of-form opener, seeing so much open space beyond the 30-yard circle, is repeatedly getting tempted into avoidable strokes.

When the big-hitter was drafted into the Indian team for the World Cup, probably the idea was to give solidity to the middle order and have him as opener only as a cushion against Uthappa's failure. If so, then an invitation to have him as opener again is fraught with danger. Especially when he is so much out of touch.

With musical chairs still continuing with positioning, probably neither Sehwag nor Uthappa will know till the morning of India's first World Cup match, that who will open!

It will always be safer to have Sehwag in the middle order, as he is a good enough bat to pierce the field with strokes hit along the ground, and not just some gravity defying shots. While Sehwag has a healthy average of 33.11 as opener, even as number four, he maintains nearly the same average.

At times, the runs scored at number six, where Sehwag averages 21, can be much more important than the ones made as opener because as finisher, and playing with the tail, every run scored by him is worth its weight in the gold.

Best Positions for Sehwag

















Symond's factor

Australia's batting capitulation at Wellington today, a measly 148, and its three batting collapses against England which resulted in three consecutive losses in CB series, show how vulnerable the champions can get without their top all rounder Andrew Symonds.

Seven wickets lost for 84 runs at Sydney (from 116 to 200), nine dismissals in just 82 runs (from 170 to 252) at Melbourne, five top order batsmen down at Sydney for just 38 runs (from 25 to 63), and seven batsmen out adding only 62 runs (from 86 to 148) at Wellington.

These collapses in a span of 15 days - between February two and February 17 -- must give Australia's rivals a big shot in the arm. And this hope will get infused with another dose of optimism if Symonds is unable to recover in time.

In his last ten matches, England-born all rounder Symonds averages 42, which can match any specialist batsman's average, but more significant is the strike-rate at which these runs have come. As bowler, Symonds has been little costly though, but the wickets he chips in with from time to time become extremely critical in the context of a close encounter.

Australia will be hard pressed to find a matching replacement, and an inspiration for their third successive World Cup win, if Symonds fail to recover in time.

Dark Horses

Probably South Africa are the most deserving team never to have won a World Cup. They have been a strong favourites in the four previous editions before the brilliance of the likes of Lara and Waugh, and not to count bad weather (1992 in Australia and 2003 in South Africa) put a premature stop to their progress.

But this could be the year of the Proteas. After the Champions Trophy loss to the West Indies, they have played nine matches against the losing finalists in last two editions, Pakistan and India, losing just one and winning a mind blowing seven matches.

While there is no doubting the credentials of their pack of chasers led by Smith, Gibbs and Kallis, the way they have destroyed the strong batting lineup of Pakistan in last two matches -- for 107 at Cape Town and 153 at Johannesburg - only goes on to show how lethal their firepower can be.

The kind of performance Shaun Pollock has given in these two matches - his two for 13 at Cape town in ten overs and five for 23 at Johannesburg - only reinforces that the former captain is all set to wash away the disappointment of 2003, when South Africa were done in by the weather gods.

Things have indeed changed very quickly in the last two months. While twice winner Australia got some important cricketing lessons from their favourite whipping boy England, South Africa have begun to showcase their pedigree, which can win them the World Cup.

India, on the other hand, are still grappling with the right combination for the final eleven, with opening slot continuing to be the hot seat.

First Published: Feb 16, 2007 14:41 IST