Those of you who have followed my series of articles on the teams in the tournament (five days and counting!) will not be surprised with who I think the main three contenders are. In this run through I will exclusively reveal who the winners of the competition will be (thus allowing the other teams to have the six weeks off!)
With wonderful comic timing, just as I reveal the Kiwis to be one of the main contenders for the title, they go and lose to Bangladesh in a warm up match. However, that result could be of greater worry to India, who have to get past Bangladesh in their group. New Zealand will take much more comfort out of their recent series of matches with Australia, in which no total was too big to chase down.
They are a team without stars. Stephen Fleming vies with Michael Vaughan for the title of most astute captain in world cricket, but has the crucial advantage over his rival of being fit and in some sort of form. Despite the loss of Nathan Astle, players like Peter Fulton and Ross Taylor are capable of scoring quickly and setting up a platform for Jacob Oram or Scott Styris to reap havoc in the last few overs.
Their pace attack is all the better for the return to fitness of Shane Bond, who’s average of under 20 per wicket with an economy rate of less than 4.5 must make him the leading pace bowler in One Day cricket. With Oram, Styris and the controlling Daniel Vettori also in the squad, new Zealand’s is almost a team without weakness.
Perennial semi-finalists, their consistency should allow them reach that stage again. However, without the star player to take them one stage further, that may again be the end of the road.
Similar to New Zealand in that they are another team without stars but also without major weaknesses. Over the past few years they have been the only team to really challenge the Australians at the top of the world rankings and come to the World Cup as the number 1 ranked team, following a comprehensive series win over Pakistan and Australia’s spectacular collapse.
In Graeme Smith, they have a fast scoring opener and fast improving captain. The rest of the batting line up combines the solidity of Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince with the free-scoring of Herschelle Gibbs and the explosive Justin Kemp, who will enjoy the short boundaries in the Caribbean. The only concern may be who opens with Smith. In the frame are the fast scoring Loots Bosman or the rather more solid AB deVilliers, who will be one of the best fielders on show in the tournament if he gets the nod.
The South Africans are also long on all-rounders, with Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock and Andrew hall forming a formidable lower order. Boucher is also probably the best wicket-keeping wicket-keeper on show, not that most teams seem to be bothered about that any more.
Their pace attack is solid, if a little one-dimensional. However, in Pollock and Makhaya Ntini they have two of the top 3 ranked bowlers in One Day cricket, and in Andrew Hall and Andre Nel, two very useful death bowlers. The fifth bowler may be a problem though, and Kallis and Smith may end up bowling a number of overs.
Like New Zealand, they consistent enough to reach the semi-finals and they do have the quality to go all the way. Also , following their strange exits from the last two tournaments (Allan Donald forgetting to run on the last ball of the semi-final in 1999 and the Duckworth-Lewis mix up last time round), they may feel that they are due this time round. I, however, think they will come up just short, behind…..
Almost the antithesis of New Zealand and South Africa, Sri Lanka is a team made up of huge stars and bit players. A top four which only Australia could reasonably match and two of the all time great bowlers are then added to by a players who, while capable of having their day in the sun, would struggle to get into most other teams.
Captained by Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka are led from the front by Sanath Jayasuriya, who has scored his 11500 runs at an incredible strike rate of over 90 per 100 balls. Sri Lanka have found a useful foil in Upal Tharanga, who came of age in England last year and then scored heavily in the Champions Trophy. These are then followed to the crease by Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkarra. Although Aravinda de Silva sees the Sri Lankan middle order as being a problem, numerous teams have seen over the past few months that the middle order don’t get much of a look in.
The bowling takes a similar vein, with Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan being able to bring 20 overs of tight bowling. However, unlike the batting, there is a need for 30 overs from elsewhere and with the bizarre action of Lasith Malinga continuing to pick up wickets and the off-spin of Jayasuriya also likely to be very effective, a lot will depend on the 5th or 6th bowlers in the team, likely to be Dilhara Fernando or Farveez Maharoof.
Sri Lanka have too much individual talent not to make the semi-finals, and too many match winners for any of the teams that they will meet in the knock-out stages. They are therefore my choice for the overall winners of the tournament.