World Cup '11, the most democratic outing in a long while, starts off with no clear-cut winners and no outright losers. Let the vagaries commence!
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Was the preparation too much, too little or just enough? Were all the bases covered with nothing left to chance or choice? Are the confidence levels just enough or found wanting? Add a couple more questions that are plucked right out of any competitive exam's preparation guide to create enough doubts even in the minds of the well prepared and that might probably describe the mindsets of every team - mighty and minnows - going into the Cup.
The reading of the performances that precede the World Cup almost always end up throwing up more questions than they put to rest the doubting minds. If the run up to the cup has been splendid, then did the team peak too early, and therefore wouldn't have enough in the engine when the law of averages catch up? Well then, if the record is wretched, marked with spotty performances, then would the team have enough confidence built up when the moment of truth arrives? There is no winning here, with every answer throwing up even more questions.
With exception to the first three World Cups that had clear favorites, the rest had seen enough spanners thrown into the wheels right before the D-day to upset the applecarts of even the well settled. So what would make more sense for the teams to get into the right mindset - accentuate the positives or keep tinkering with the negatives? The problem with all the various approaches - positive, negative, realistic, confident, cautious and many such - is there are as many examples rooting for one approach as there are contradicting it.
Past might be a prologue in other fields, but here, it is only the present that counts. Records and readings amount to nothing once the team takes to the field, it is only the preparations that matter.
India - What's the difference between the sides in '96 and now playing on the same soil, apart from the personnel? Self-awareness, in the current outfit. Their ability to remain rooted to the situation without getting carried away by unrealistic expectations, both in winning and losing, and the ability to honestly evaluate their position without giving in to bravado and braggadocio, thanks in large part to the think-tank of the team, could be why the current captain refuses to entertain ideas of looking past single game at a time. Compare this to the situation in '96 (and '87) where winning the cup was only destiny that just needed to be fulfilled before the first ball was even bowled. Emphasis on the processes, regardless of the conditions and the results, leads one to believe the 'how's matter more than the 'why's. That preparation is paramount and result is only incidental appears to be the only home-grown condition that the team intends to exploit.
Oh! and that they don't have to worry about the short ball as much would indeed sit well with the team.
South Africa - Ever since their induction into the World Cup in '92, it has been their cup to lose every single time, and true to the statement, they have found ways to deny themselves of the holy grail every single time. All the talk about the team having no Plan B when the panic button is pushed (as though other teams come prepared with the contingency plans and fail safe switches) is just a nicer way of saying, no one knows any solid reason/area why SA loses every single time, that the team can improve upon in later editions. With nothing of any significance or consequence that can be marked against them, SA main opponent, like always, is themselves. If self-awareness is the new found strength for the Indian team, self-doubt continues to plague this immensely talented side. And like it has been in the previous outings, this Cup also arrives with SA's name imprinted on it in the top bracket, and it remains to be seen whether SA does everything in its
power to let it be or let history take over and decide its fate once again.
Australia - How far the champs fell? After remaining the perennial favorites and the 'team to hate' for well over a decade, Aussies would find out for the first time what it feels to enter the arena with uncertainties and unanswered questions. Though it would be foolish to rule the side out completely, the team need not be as feared as before as they have (graciously) reduced themselves to be on par with the other sides. The end of the Aussie era has brought balance to the once heavily lopsided contests and foregone conclusions. Alike the antiquated quote 'What is good for GM is good the country', 'What is worse for the Aussies is better for the rest of the world'. And that is a compliment!
England - For the first time in a long long time, England find themselves in serious contention to the top prize, as against their consistent position of remaining the bridesmaid and never the bride. The lethal bowling arsenal, that has been the main strength of champion sides, is the most potent force in English armory, rivaling or even besting SA in the process. The perfect blend of speed, medium pace and spin, that was on ample display in the recent Ashes series, has enough legs to carry along their brittle/inconsistent batting performances. England enter the fray as the erstwhile Pakistanis - credible batting and penetrating bowling, and with the added flavor of spectacular fielding. If anything, the eventual winner would have to go through England to lay claim on the Cup.
Pakistan - An honest evaluation of Pakistan's chances reads like a psychiatric report - a whole lot of conjecture and not enough certainties. It may win the Cup, it may crash midway, the bowling may explode, the batting might implode; they find themselves time and again in no-win situations, yet they might come out with flying colors at the end of it all. With Pakistan, there are no right or wrong answers, just the possibilities and potentiality.
Sri Lanka - No other side, including India, is as dependent on the home conditions as Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka at home is a different beast altogether. Swing, sling and spin - their bowling has it all. And just like England, they need their batting to come to the table with their fare share of sweat at the right moments to find themselves in the medal winners list.
And with the rest of also-rans quite capable of throwing a pleasant/shocking surprise once in a while, World Cup '11, the most democratic outing in a long while, starts off with no clear-cut winners and no outright losers. Let the vagaries commence!