ICC KnockOut: Format gives no room for complacency
The ICC KnockOut tournament in Nairobi will provide an opportunity for all the teams to either reconfirm or regain their reputation in world cricket. The format does not allow any room for complacency and the teams vying to win the competition should strike the right mode straightaway and continue till the end. Since all the matches are going to be played at the same venue, there is every chance of the pitch deteriorating after a few matches. As such the adaptability of the teams will also be tested before the tournament runs through its course.
Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the teams expected to make the semi-final stage. It will hardly be a surprise if Pakistan and Australia happen to play the final. Australia, the reigning world champions, are very adept when it comes to playing according to the situation. Adam Gilchrist has provided flying starts more often than not and the batting line up runs deep. Steve Waugh has made it a habit of turning the match around on its head with his calculative batting. Michael Bevan is a champion batsman in the one-day version of the game and the all-rounders like Shane Lee, Damien Martyn and Andrew Symonds provide the captain a lot of options. The return of Jason Gillespie will delight the Australians but they will miss the match winner Shane Warne, especially as one can expect the pitch at the Nairobi Gymkhana to assist the spinners. Nevertheless, the Australians have shown in the past that they make the most with the available players.
Pakistan, the ever-mercurial side can boast of a team which has the maximum natural talent. The Pakistanis are not handicapped in terms of balance as they have a real all round side. If at all, they may be found wanting in the fielding department. After the debacle at Lord's in the World Cup final, the Pakistanis seem to be out on a vengeance mission. They have won most of the one-day contests they have played in recent times. The best aspect about the Pakistanis is their bowling department. The bowlers have the potency to perform well on any kind of surface. Besides being top class bowlers Akram, Razzaq and Mahmood are quite effective with the bat as well. Inzamam, Youhana, Anwar are capable of taking any attack apart once they get going. The skipper, Moin Khan is one of the greatest improvisers in the game besides being a shrewd thinker.
South Africa has done well to put all the troubles behind and the team has performed commendably under Shaun Pollock. Their strength is in their all-rounders, Kluesner, Boje, Pollock himself and Kallis. Boucher is another key factor in the side and with Donald back in the side, the South Africans are formidable. Their main worry will be the inconsistency of the top order batsmen. Kirsten is their main run getter and it is imperative that he gets runs for the others to rally around him.
Sri Lanka is another country trying to enhance its rating and Sanath Jayasuriya has to fire on all cylinders for that to happen. The fact that the pitch in Nairobi is similar to those in the sub-continent will help the Sri Lankans to a great extent. The Lankans should also go down as the best fielding side in Asia. Muralitharan has to bowl at his best as Sri Lanka has relied heavily on him in either form of the game. If the Sri Lankans rely heavily on one or two experienced cricketers, the same goes for the Indians as well. Tendulkar obviously would dictate the fortunes of the Indians. A lot of youngsters have come into the team, which on the positive side would mean that the overall fielding would be better. There is enough experience in the bowling attack but it remains to be seen if all the five specialists live upto the expectations. The batting is a bit thin down the middle order and the lower order has hardly contributed to help the team's cause. Ganguly's gang has a tough draw wherein they are up against the Australians assuming that they will go past the host nation, Kenya.
Out of the remaining teams, New Zealand, the semifinalists in the World Cup, almost always flatter to deceive. They lack the ability to go the extra mile when it matters the most. Their batting, though strong on paper, somehow fails to click and this could be their major problem for this tournament as well. Added to this is the fact that Daniel Vettori is out through injury and his absence will certainly be felt especially when the pitch starts favouring spinners.
Zimbabwe who narrowly missed entering the semi-finals at the World Cup is bound to feel the absence of Goodwin and Johnson. At the moment the Zimbabweans are in the rebuilding process but they still can create an upset or two. England's morale must be on a high after their recent success against West Indies during the summer. Duncan Fletcher has gradually turned the English side around and one can give England an outside chance of winning the tournament. West Indies cricket is at its lowest ebb currently and the only interest would be to see if Lara entertains the Kenyan public. Bangladesh, the recent addition to the Test-playing countries' list should use this tournament as a means to gain some valuable experience. The same applies to the host nation, but they have created major upsets in the past.
Regardless of whoever wins the ICC trophy, the response of the supporters will be of great interest. If the tournament succeeds in pulling the crowds to the venue, then the game will emerge as the ultimate winner.