Final-four for the World Cup!

Last Updated: Feb 08, 2011, 14:28 PM IST

Chayan Rastogi

So the countdown to World Cup 2011 has begun. Final squads have been announced, debate over weird team selections settled down, promises to make World Cup venues ready in time have been made and broken, last ODI practices are in order and after a week of discussions over mad cricket sale at IPL auctions and Ganguly’s snub that hurt Bengali sentiments, the cricket World Cup that comes once in four years has rightfully started taking the centrestage.

With the mega-event returning to the Indian sub-continent after 15 years, cricket seems to have taken a full 360 degree turn.

Much like 1996 World Cup, knock-out quarter-finals between “real” eight teams are back in contest, flawed and tricky ‘super-six stage’ has been trashed and with invincible Aussie era fading- no team can be termed as a real ‘favourite’ to win the coveted trophy.

With India staging world-involving T20 tournaments thrice in three years and players for many teams coming regularly for singing songs and charity works, conditions in sub-continent have no longer remained alien for foreign teams.

Add to this the modest temperature of February-March, no walk-overs for the apprehension of security in playing on troubled venues and much improved menu of food and world-class hotels; playing in sub-continent conditions in this past 15 years have improved for all teams and do not give any definite edge to any sub-continent participant.

Zeecric.com’s Chayan Rastogi, has tried to predict the unpredictable, judging all major teams on current form and composition and forecast the top-four picks that are estimated to make the cut to semis berth.

AUSTRALIA

Form or no-form, but you cannot keep Australia away from the World Cup reckoning. Their undefeated campaign in 2003 and 2007 World Cups speaks volumes about this side’s strength and though they’ve not looked the team since the retirement of Gilly and McGrath, taking Australia lightly in the World Cup because of an Ashes drubbing can be suicidal for other teams in their group.

Strength: Specialist limited-format players and good mix of youth and experience.

Weakness: Ricky Ponting’s form, lack of quality spinners.

Player to watch out: Shane Watson

Chances of making to last 4: Likely

INDIA

Inspiring leadership, motivating coach, favourable home conditions, solid bench-strength and the mere presence of Sachin Tendulkar make India the hot-favourite pick of cricket pundits to lift the World Cup. Though Tendulkar has officially yet to announce this World Cup as his last, the whole team is itching to bring back the ultimate glory after 28 years and present the champion batsman a fitting farewell present. With Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh fighting for three slots, Indian batting-power will be the one to watch out for!

Strength: Most powerful batting lineup on paper, good bench-strength, home conditions and support.

Weakness: Yuvraj’s form, injuries to key players, death bowling.

Player to watch out: Sachin Tendulkar

Chances of making to last 4: Likely

PAKISTAN

The most unpredictable side in any World Cup, Pakistan surprises you at the time when you least expect it. Plagued with absence of three first choice picks due to fixing controversy and 15 wannabe captains, Pakistan need to gel well as a team and have to get rid of their age-old problem of inconsistency.

Strength: Good stroke-players and all-rounders.

Weakness: Sloppy fielding, Kamran Akmal’s wicket-keeping and lack of strong middle order.

Player to watch out: Umar Akmal

Chances of making to last 4: Unlikely

NEW ZEALAND

One team that has pulled themselves out of contention of World Cup with pathetic display of cricket for over a year has been New Zealand. With clean-sweep losses against Bangladesh and second-string India on their sub-continent tour, New Zealand should be happy if they even advance to knock-out stages.

Strength: Daniel Vettori’s crafty spin and hard hitters.

Weakness: Fragile batting and even more fragile bowling.

Player to watch out: Daniel Vettori

Chances of making to last 4: NO

SOUTH AFRICA

They might have done away with the ‘chokers’ tag by winning the memorable Johannesburg 438 chase, but one look at their World Cup records will tell that they still take away the honors of being the most ‘unlucky’ side in the mega-tournament by a good margin.

Coming into the tournament with an ODI series win over India will surely help the team’s confidence but the pace attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe which looked intimidating would not be as effective on sub-continental pitches. With Graeme Smith set to step down as ODI captain after World Cup, Proteas will not leave any stones unturned to lay their hands on the trophy that does not feature in their cabinet.

Strength: Excellent fielding side, effective all-rounders.

Weakness: Chokers in World Cup, pace heavy unit.

Player to watch out: Hashim Amla

Chances of making to last 4: Likely

WEST INDIES

There was a time when imagining any World Cup final without West Indies was close to impossible but with time, cricketing power shifted to Asian countries and Australia and cricket in Caribbean Islands declined drastically. Last time West Indies managed to reach the final four of a World Cup was in 1996, when Brian Lara single handedly ousted South African challenge in quarter-finals.

A team that consists of power-hitters like Chris Gayle, Keiron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy, West Indies are expected to throw a surprise or two in the World Cup, but performing consistently in the knock-out stage seems highly unlikely.

Strength: Powerful hitters who can chase down any target on a given day.

Weakness: Collapse prone unstable batting order.

Player to watch out: Keiron Pollard

Chances of making to last 4: Unlikely

ENGLAND

The only team to hold the dubious record of entering World Cup finals thrice and losing all three, England’s recent success show that they have started emerging as World beaters. With big wins like beating Australia in their den in Ashes and winning T20 World Cup, England for the first time after 1992, is entering in the mega-event as one of the potential contenders.

Strength: Balanced unit with bowling attack led by spinner Graeme Swann.

Weakness: Absence of slow bowlers to support Swann.

Player to watch out: Kevin Pietersen

Chances of making to last 4: 50-50

SRI LANKA

One team that boasts an enviable ODI record on their home ground, Sri Lanka is one unit that no team can afford to write-off. Last time the quadrennial trophy was played in the subcontinent, Sri Lanka surprised everybody with their title success. With slow bowlers expected to play a huge role in the tournament on flat tracks, Sri Lanka arguably possess the most balanced bowling attack among other contenders and will be extremely tough to compete.

Strength: Powerful batting and effective slow bowlers.

Weakness: Absence of quality new-ball partner with Lasith Malinga.

Player to watch out: Mahela Jayawardene

Chances of making to last 4: Likely

BANGLADESH

With tailor-made pitches to suit their batting and bowling attack, Bangladesh can emerge as the ‘Dark-Horse’ of this World Cup. Placed in Group B which consist of nations that are not good players of spin sans India, Bangladesh will keep their rivals on their toes and it would not be surprising if the ‘minnows’ pip some bigger nation to reach the knock-out stages of the World Cup.

Strength: Slow ball attack.

Weakness: T20 style batting.

Player to watch out: Shakib-al-Hasan

Chances of making to last 4: NO

In nutshell- India, Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka look like the biggest contenders for the trophy with England and Pakistan breathing heavily down their neck and proving their critics wrong.

Please write us your predictions for the Final four for the World Cup.