I'm very impressed with what I've seen so far in this World Cup. All the enthusiastic people in the hotel, the buzz around where we are staying, the security and all the organizing tells me that the event has come; World Cup 2003 is finally here.
Everything seems to be going according to plan, and the only dampener was the rain we had last evening that hampered the outdoor practice of the West Indies team. The forecast says there is nothing to worry about, but the organizers will have their fingers crossed as far as the opening ceremony is concerned. There will be many volunteers performing on the Newlands field and if it rains, not only will the show be affected, things will get pretty slushy for our game tomorrow.
That game, against hosts South Africa, is on top of the mind in the West Indian camp right now. I believe it will give us an indication as to where we stand and what we can accomplish in this tournament. I have no problems with the fact that we are taking on the strongest team in our group first up. In fact, South Africa will be a little nervous tomorrow because it's their first match as host nation to the World Cup. There will be a few butterflies in the stomach, and if the West Indies put some pressure at the start, then the hosts will feel the heat in front of an expectant home crowd. It is crucial that the West Indies go into the match with the aim of putting the South Africans under pressure right away.
Having been around the team during their two-week camp in Antigua, as well as their training here, I must say things are looking good. The preparation phase has been completed satisfactorily and the guys are now ready for the real thing.
If Carl Hooper and his men play to potential they can put up a great performance in the opener. They just have to get the head right, and concentrate on what they are doing rather than on what the South Africans will throw at them. They know that if they go on to win this opener, it will be a huge confidence boost for the side. The hosts are no Mickey Mouse team, and if the West Indies prevail, they will be assured that they are ready for the best.
Brian Lara will be making a return to international cricket after a long time tomorrow. I saw him at the nets yesterday, and he looks keen as ever, and eager to prove something. He is aware that there is a lot of talk about whether he is fit enough, and he wants to put that to rest right away. He is 100 per cent positive and is looking to make up for the time he has lost through illness. No one in contemporary cricket has been through what Lara has. The knocks he has received, his encounters with the likes of Glenn McGrath at Jamaica and Barbados, all this has made him the player he is. No batsman in the current generation can capture the imagination like Brian Lara does, and I would never ever bet against someone of his ability.
This is not to say that he is the only potential match winner on show at Newlands tomorrow. Both sides have quite a few players who can single-handedly turn a match on a given day. There is Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs and Allan Donald for the hosts and youngsters like Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Wavell Hinds for us. These young guys showed what they are capable of in India, so they are brimming with confidence right now.
It all boils down to who will keep their head in a match that is pretty huge for both sides. This is where I know that players like Hooper and Lara, who have been in big situations in the past, will help the younger lot to overcome any attack of nerves.
It is good to know that Marlon Samuels will be back in the team for the tournament. He has been sent back with the advise that he is fit and just needs a little TLC before getting out in the middle.