There will be plenty to watch out for
A Cricket World Cup always brings with it a very special kind of excitement. There is, of course, the question of how Pakistan will perform. Eyes everywhere across the country will, of course, be turned towards the team in green as the World Cup begins on February 14th and there will be dreams that the team figures in the final on March 29th.
This is unlikely. Pakistan, under the highly reliable Misbah ul Haq has produced some excellent performances in the past few months. It has also been able to add to the existing talent pool with newcomers like Yasir Shah, adding to the talent of men like Younis Khan and the mercurial Shahid Afridi.
While Pakistan is the team one will root for, at least in the early stages of the competition, the harsh reality is that the odds do not favour it. In the unfamiliar conditions of Australia and New Zealand, where pitches give a high bounce, the grounds are big and conditions, notably in New Zealand, conducive to the kind of swing we rarely see at home, Pakistan may falter and, indeed, we are already seeing this happen as warm-up matches begin.
There is an additional disadvantage. Pakistan has not toured Australia for five years and when it last did, it played only five ODIs and one T20 game. The ban on international cricket visits to the country imposed after the attack on the Sri Lankan team on 2009 has affected the game in the country deeply and left scars which will take a long tome time to heal. There is unlikely to be a repetition of the glory of 1992.
So, who then do we turn to? The other South Asian teams who offer a great deal in colour and style, such as Sri Lanka and India, may also suffer because of the conditions. This makes Australia a natural favourite, playing on its home turf, while New Zealand may also benefit for similar reasons.
Then, there are the South Africans, although they have recently begun a downslide after appearing to dominate international cricket and also England, who have had their moments of supremacy over the past four years. Looking at the pools, from Pool A, Australia, England, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand are likely to go through to the knockout qualifying stages. Of these teams, Australia are best placed to make it all the way through to the final.
From Pool B, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and the West Indies will possibly reach past the first round with the Indians possibly possessing the potential to make it to the last match of the tournament. But much of this depends on how they perform on the hard, bouncy pitches they will encounter.
There is then a possibility of a final, featuring Australia and India. But cricket is a game of chance, a game where a few overs can change everything; even one over can in certain circumstances. And there are surprises at every World Cup. Quite beyond waiting for the finalist to emerge, there will be plenty to watch out for.
There are teams who will not be real contenders to lift the cup but there is something pleasurable about the idea of Afghanistan taking part in an international tournament with raw talent and the possibility of leaving a mark somewhere in the future on the game.
There are also players of the likes of Virat Kohli, AB De Villiers, Eoin Morgan, James Anderson and Chris Gayle to watch out for. The flamboyant, sometimes controversial, Gayle is a reminder of the lost glory the West Indies once enjoyed.
Those days are gone, long gone. But new talent and new flair has come forward and it is this we will witness over the coming weeks from the picturesque grounds of Australia and New Zealand.
-- The writer is a former editor The News and columnist with special interest in sports.