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Aussies look fallible

By Asif Iqbal
March 17, 2003 10:46 IST
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The Super Sixes were a bit of an anti-climax with followers of sides knocked out in the first round losing interest in the proceedings. Many of the grounds hosting Super Six matches presented a deserted look. That has taken much of the atmosphere away from this World Cup. It is sad to see World Cup matches being played before crowds of a couple of thousand people, and one hopes that is not the fate of World Cup tournaments played outside the South Asian subcontinent.

I think it is unfortunate some people think the advancement of minnows like Kenya has made the tournament lop-sided or 'undervalued' it. The Kenyans have provided some of the glorious uncertainties of this World Cup. After their performances against each one of their three Pool A opponents -- Australia, India and Zimbabwe -- I do not think anyone can grudge them their place in the semi-final.

They beat Zimbabwe, rocked India by reducing them to 24 for 3 and had Australia on the hop at 117 for 5. I am sure they will be worthy opponents of India in their semi-final, a day/night affair which India cannot by any means take lightly -- not that any team in the world would take a World Cup semi-final lightly.

India is peaking perfectly. At the moment if I were asked which side I thought is playing the best cricket it would be India, not Australia. None of their opponents from Pool B in the three Super Six matches really stretched them and although there were two brief hiccups against New Zealand and Kenya the recovery staged was convincing and thorough. New Zealand will be left wondering a long time how that game might have gone had wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum held a regulation nine-to-five catch offered by Rahul Dravid, which would have reduced India to 22 for 4. But that did not happen and the rest is history. Dravid could well have turned around and told McCullum that as far as New Zealand were concerned he had dropped the World Cup -- as Steve Waugh told a distraught Herschelle Gibbs four years ago.

What must be particularly pleasing to India is how well its seamers have adapted to conditions in South Africa. All three of them are bowling an excellent line and length and none of them provide any relief to the opposing batsmen. They have consistently made such deep inroads into the opposition line-up that the fifth bowler's job has become easy. By the time he comes on, the backbone of the batting has been shattered. The seamers are ably supported by Harbhajan Singh and although they had one off day in the field against Kenya the fielding on the whole has been good.

The Sri Lankans have had a bit of an up and down time and their batting has not produced the big scores on which most successful Sri Lankan campaigns have been built. Chaminda Vaas has compensated for this by some brilliant left arm seam bowling and the part-time spinners have bowled excellently around Muthaiah Muralitharan. But this is not playing to their strength which is an extremely talented batting line-up whose performance so far has been patchy. One of the main reasons for this has been Mahela Jayawardene's failure in the middle order. He has had a nightmare of Inzamam-like proportions and in the last match against Zimbabwe could not hold his place in the side. Avishkar Gunawardene who took his place can be an explosive player although the slow pitch did not allow him to produce his usual display.

Zimbabwe were very disappointing in this tournament having achieved victories only against Holland and Namibia. All their other points came from one match that was forfeited and one that was rained off. Their defeat at the hands of Kenya denoted a nadir which they would like to forget as soon as possible. It is sad Andy Flower departed the international scene on such a dismal note for he has been one of the outstanding performers on the international stage and largely responsible for enhancing the image of Zimbabwean cricket. One hopes the poor showing in the Cup does not lead to an exodus for that could bring Zimbabwe to square one.

That leaves the Australians. In two of their three Super Six matches they were dangling pretty close to the edge. Although they were rescued on both occasions that performance could not have enhanced their confidence. For the first time in months they look fallible. I believe the Sri Lankans feel on the sort of slow subcontinent-like turner everyone expects at Port Elizabeth for their semi-final against Australia they have the skill to take the Australians on and create a major upset.

One expects it to be a closer match than the India-Kenya semi-final and for all supporters of Asian cricket, the prospect of two Asian sides in the World Cup final must be a heart warming one.

Asif Iqbal is the former captain of Kent and Pakistan


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Asif Iqbal