April 7, 2007

A feast of excellence

ESPNcricinfo staff

Now that we are halfway into the second, compelling stage of the World Cup, it’s safe for me to come out and say (I’ve stopped predicting when it comes to cricket; it’s too much bother and I can do without giving friends another reason to laugh at me) which teams I’m hoping will reach the semi-finals: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Is that what you reckoned as well? Well, good, we agree about something at least. Here’s why I want them to go to the semis, why I am enjoying watching each of these teams in this World Cup. What are yours?

Australia: There is no team more dangerous than an Australian side that is out to prove something. Remember the last Ashes series? Remember the last tour of India? There is something so thoroughly professional about the team. Notwithstanding its defeats before the World Cup, it sometimes seems to be functioning at the rarefied level other sides can merely hope to aspire to. It exemplifies how the toughest side in the world ought to play the tough game. Australia has been indisputably greatest cricket side of this century. Many of the members of this side are playing their last World Cup. It would be a pity to see them make a mess of their last grand campaign.

South Africa: It’s a team that has made an enviable virtue of playing to its strengths. It doesn’t have much variety in terms of bowling but what it has it makes best use of. I love their athleticism, their dour, steely rearguard actions. Watching them, you understand how far the game has evolved; just how fit you need to be to play the sport at this level.

New Zealand: Poor, perennial underachievers. It’s a very good team – that’s not new. It’s a very good team that’s delivering the goods, consistently – now that is new. They have the zeal, they have the experience and they have Shane Bond. There aren’t too many more exhilarating sights in the game than a genuinely fast bowler in full flight. (Except for… well, some other time.)

Sri Lanka: The sheer joy the team exudes on the field is heartwarming. It’s a team that is brilliant in every department but it most brilliant in the celebratory manner of its play. Cricket isn’t all about having joy and fun and seasons in the sun. It never really was. But who can blame a fan for adoring a team that makes him believe that it is?

Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of two volumes of cricketing memoirs - You Must Like Cricket? and All That You Can't Leave Behind - and a novel, If I Could Tell You