What a start it's been to the 2003 World Cup! A subliminal hundred by Brian Lara, a deluge of sixes from the redoubtable Lance Klusener, a typically rampaging hundred from Sanath Jayasuriya!
The biggest stage is here. And, the star performers have started announcing their intentions in spectacular fashion. One of the pre-tournament favorites gets ambushed in their first game, a game is won by a team sporting four spinners in a tournament supposed to be dominated by pace, the world's greatest leg spinner tests positive for a banned substance, a couple of teams continue to debate whether or not to play in Zimbabwe. As they say, it's all happening out there!
The tournament organizers could not have asked for a better start than the South Africa-West Indies game. It pitted clinical efficiency against raw, explosive talent; a team of battle hardened veterans against a team with a good blend of youth and experience. And, youth and flair won the day. Brilliant as Lara was, in the end analysis, the difference between the two teams was the exhilarating partnership in the final overs between Ramnaresh Sarwan and Ricardo Powell. It was a fantastic display of aggressive batting, and that partnership made a competitive total a match-winning one.
One loss and South Africa suddenly looks vulnerable. The reasons are not tough to see. It's amazing how the South African team looks almost the same as the one that played the last edition. True, experience is crucial, but a team always needs some youthful exuberance to provide the spark. Sometime in the last two years, the South African selectors lost the plot and this could yet prove to be their undoing. It's painful to see a great bowler like Alan Donald being reduced to a mere mortal. He is clearly over the hill and they should play Andrew Hall in his place. Klusener came in to his own in the batting department, but his bowling has lost a lot of its nip and has he slowed down considerably in the field. And then there is Nicky Boje. Surely he must be one spin bowler batsmen love to face. You could almost see the glee on Lara's face once he was brought on. The support bowling cast looks very ordinary and this might hurt South Africa in the later stages of the tournament.
The smiles are back on the faces of the West Indian supporters. A team with tons of talent is finally blossoming into a fine unit. The batting oozes with class and confidence. Surely, the West Indian batting lineup must rank right up there with the Indian and Australian lineups as the top three in the world. What is questionable though is their strategy of playing only three frontline bowlers, expecting Carl Hooper, Chris Gayle and Powell to share the other 20. There is no cover for the odd bad day a frontline bowler is bound to have. They should play the exciting quick Jermaine Lawson in place of one of the batsmen, probably Wavell Hinds.
They should also guard against a shockingly cavalier attitude on the field. Pedro Collins stepping on the boundary rope in almost casual fashion after catching Klusener comfortably, almost buried the team. Stupid mistakes like this could cost a team the Cup in the decisive phase of the tournament. Remember Herschelle Gibbs?
Observers of the New Zealand-Sri Lanka game might have been justified if they had thought the game was being played in the dustbowls of Colombo. A steady diet of restricting spin from four spinners, Mathiah Muralitharan, Jayasuriya, Aravinda DeSilva and Russel Arnold, and it was the 1996 World Cup being re-enacted.
Sri Lanka are doing well in sticking to their strengths and Jayasuriya looks in pristine touch. The performance of the other batsmen, the Sangakkaras and Jayawardenas, might well determine how far Sri Lanka progresses in this tournament. The other batsmen definitely have the talent, but do they have the big match temperament?
The New Zealand batting wears a real thin look and the bowling looks ordinary in unfriendly conditions. It was baffling to see Daniel Vettori being left out on a pitch assisting spin, a classic case of the captain not reading the conditions. He is considered by a few experts to be the best captain in the game, but Stephen Fleming got pretty much everything wrong in this game. If dropping Vettori was a mistake, his decision to chase was an even bigger blunder. It doesn't look too promising for the Kiwis and it would be surprising if they make it to the Super Six.