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By Sunil Gavaskar
With the World Cup only days away, the build up has begun and teams and supporters are showing the nervousness that is pretty much standard for everybody just before a massive event like this. Those teams who are still playing internationals will be hoping that none of their crucial players get injured and so are out of the world cup. While those one-dayers will keep the players focussed on the job at hand and not think too much about the World Cup, make no mistake it will still be at the back of the minds of the captains and coaches of the teams. So even as England and Australia finish off their long clash and the Lankans play against the West Indians, the worry lines will not ease off the foreheads of the skippers.
England have been in Australia since late October and they get just about three days on their return to freezing England to start the journey to the hot subcontinent. Not exactly the kind of preparation that they want and the fact that they have been beaten comprehensively by the Australians in the one-day series will not make it easy for them either. Yes, the personnel of the team from the Tests to limited overs has changed but the key players have been there all the while and will be looking forward to getting home even if it is for three days.
Around this same time just before the last World Cup in the Caribbean Isles, the Australians had been beaten by the New Zealanders in the Chappell - Hadlee Trophy where the Kiwis had chased huge totals. Most people then thought that Australia were going to be jaded and tired and a bit demoralised after those losses despite posting big scores but what happened? Australia won the World Cup for the third successive time and not for a moment looked like losing it. So it makes sense not to read too much into England’s defeat in the one day series after the fabulous performance in the Test series earlier. They have had injuries and some of their experienced players have been out of form and a long tour like this one can make even the fittest of players feel the strain physically as well as mentally.
In fact like it happened at the just concluded Australian tennis tournament, the two players under the radar of expectations, Novak Djokovich and Andy Murray played the finals when the world and its cat were anticipating a Nadal - Federer finals. So teams like England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and even Pakistan who are not being talked up at this World Cup could well spring a surprise or two. One mustn’t forget the first holders of the World Cup, the West Indies who too have players who can take the game away and if they strike form at the knockout stage then an upset can easily happen.
Having said that, this will be one of the most open World Cups ever since unlike in the past the Australians are not the clear favourites to win it this time. They have recovered splendidly from the defeat in the Test series and with Ricky Ponting almost back to full fitness and refreshed after the long break from the game, they will still be the side to watch out for. They never give up and so they cannot be ruled out at all. The win in the World Cup will erase some of the bad memories of the season and if they can retain the trophy then there will be some silverware to show for the season. There is plenty to play for the champions.
The Australian Open saw some of the hardest hitting seen in tennis and not just the men but even the women were really walloping the ball. The women’s finals saw some fierce hitting by both Li Na and the eventual winner Kim Clisters and Clisters had to bring all her experience into play to win in the third set. Li Na was playing her first major finals and its never easy to do so for there are periods where some patience has to be shown and the game slowed down a bit. She wasn’t able to do that and she also looked a bit short of stamina in the final set. When things were not going her way in that deciding set she let herself be distracted by the crowd’s comment especially those of her countrymen who had come to cheer for her and were giving her advice on how to play. She even implored the referee to ask those supporters to stop teaching her how to play and that in the end after her loss boomeranged on her as those very supporters turned on her.
If she was disturbed by the advice she was getting from her country's supporters she should go and watch a Test match in the West Indies. There is no shortage of advice to the West Indian players from the locals who are telling them what shot to play or what delivery to bowl and it is done with the humour that is so uniquely West Indian. Truly if a cricket supporter has not watched a game in the West Indies then his cricketing experience is not complete. He will never have as much fun watching a game as he will if he is in the Caribbean Isles. The humour gets bawdy as the drinks go in and because they have such natural loud voices it can be heard even in the middle and the players also have a laugh or two.
The India team is due to tour the West Indies in June after the IPL is over and to those who have the love for the game and the resources to travel and who like a sense of fun, I would urge them to make the trip. It will be an experience to remember.