A Special Guest Post from my friend Leo (Vinay) who writes wonderful poems, stories and haikus at his space - I Rhyme Without Reason and is also a bookworm and he writes wonderful reviews at A Bookworm's Musings ... He is also a dear friend and an ardent cricket fan just like me!! He looks ahead to the World Cup 2015 and picks out his favorites! Enjoy the poetry in prose!
The World Cup… I remember a time, twelve or sixteen years ago, when the preparations at home would start a week or two before. Crackers would be purchased, cardboard cutouts of cricketing heroes would be made and sweets ordered in expectation of the tournament, or at the very least, the India v/s Pakistan game. I remember fighting with parents so I’d be able to watch the games on an exam night or straining to hear the commentary from a neighbor’s television set. Those were the days, the good old days. If you ask me, “Isn’t that excitement, that anticipation there even today?” the honest answer would be no. Not for me. And that’s because the World Cup isn’t once every four years now. The excitement would build previously for a title defense, knowing it won’t come again for another four years, but now, with T20 in the rise, there’s a World Cup every alternate year, and sometimes, in successive years too. 2014 had the World T20 in Bangladesh, 2015 has the World Cup 50 over game in Australia/New Zealand and 2016 will have the World T20 again in India. The pride that comes in saying “We’re World Champions” for four years has dwindled. The best example can be our own champions. Post 2011, India has been on a rut in test match series away from the subcontinent. For every match, forget the series, that India has lost, I’ve heard the response from fans in forums, “No matter. We’re still the World Champions.” The fact that India is champion is used more as an excuse for bad performances rather than as a badge of pride. I’m not saying every fan in the country is the same, but observing generally, that is what I have seen. The same answer was seen after the loss in the T20 final last year too. Sure, the format is different, but with a World Champion every other year, the eagerness isn’t as much now.
An eleven that has batting maybe even up to nine or ten is what gives South Africa a chance to break the “chokers” tag. And for me, they are, for once, favorites to lift a major title. Amla, Roussouw, du Plessis, de Villiers, Miller, de Kock, Duminy, Morkel, Steyn, Philander, Tahir. A line up that has Duminy at seven is not diminutive by any stretch of the imagination. All of them can field well. In pitches down under, the pace trio of Steyn, Morkel and Philander can be very effective, and supported by the two spinners in Duminy and Tahir. They might even choose to leave out Tahir and go four-prong pace with Parnell instead. They all field well too.
The other favorites headed into this World Cup are definitely the two host countries, Australia and New Zealand. They are so because firstly, they know and understand the conditions that they will play in. They are so because secondly, they are in amazing form and have a balanced squad. They are so because, last but not least and maybe most importantly, they are playing in front of their home crowd. The importance of the last is huge. A sub-continental final last time was possible because of the crowd factor as well.
India has been patchy at best. A mammoth score against Afghanistan does very little to put them in form. Just how hungry they are to retain the title can only be judged by the way they play at Adelaide v/s Pakistan. The only batsman to be in consistent form is Rahane. A team that makes sense is: Rahane, Rohit, Kohli, Raina, Rayudu, Dhoni, Binny, Jadeja/Ashwin, Bhuvaneshwar, Shami, Yadav… four seamers, one spinner, one part-time spinner, and the batting going down to nine. If the bowling can be consistent and the top order pulls up their socks, then a title defense seems likely.
Sri Lanka and England have decent players this time, but neither has shown that they can handle the conditions down under. Both are in a group where they can progress to the quarterfinals though, and after that, it’s anyone’s game. So if they can produce some form, they might become surprise packages. West Indies are in internal turmoil, with non-cricketing affairs taking center stage. But the stage is the biggest, and I think the team will buck up and try to do their best. They have every chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals with India and South Africa. Pakistan, on the other hand, has one of the weakest teams they’ve fielded in World Cups - a youthful look that has inexperience on the biggest stage written on them, and a weak bowling attack that has been deprived of the likes of Yasir Arafat, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan. They aren’t assured of their spot in the next stage, with Ireland, the strongest of the associate nations also in the same group.
I’ll cheer for India when they play, but they seem out of nick, and not headed anywhere to change that. So I’m rooting for an Australia v/s South Africa final; and Ireland in the quarterfinals at the expense of India, West Indies or Pakistan. Hopefully, the tournament lives up to expectation.