2007 World Cup March 10, 2007

Dazzling all round

Men who can bat and bowl to international standard are the most sought-after accessory of all

They are the holy grail of cricket selection. Men who can bat and bowl to international standard are the most sought-after accessory of all. The list of all-time great allrounders can more or less be counted on the fingers of two hands, but at one-day international level, ten tidy overs allied to a half-century equals a potentially matchwinning performance. And that's where these key figures come in.

Andrew Symonds can do it all - batting...bowling...fielding...AFL? © Getty Images

In Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson, Australia have, potentially, two of the most pivotal performers of all. Symonds is a one-day superstar, a batsman of breathtaking power whose heavy-limbed medium-pace and offspin is tailormade for those sluggish middle overs. Recently though, he suffered a torn bicep which leaves his participation and effectiveness in some doubt, and in his absence, it'll be Watson, a more classical alternative, who'll have to step up. He is better suited to the opener's role, while his seam bowling is brisk without being express, and ever so slightly unproven. Oh, and talking of Australian allrounders, it would be rude to exclude Adam Gilchrist, the wicketkeeper-batsman.

At the 1992 World Cup, England had - at a pinch - eight or nine genuine one-day allrounders in their starting eleven. This time they have just two, although one of them is a leviathan among his peers. Andrew Flintoff was the most economical seamer at the 2003 World Cup, and that was before his game had matured to the extent it now has. Injury permitting, he has it in him to rule this competition, providing genuine pace and relentless accuracy with the ball, and game-breaking strokeplay with the bat. Toiling alongside him will be Paul Collingwood, the star of the show in the recent CB Series. In the form of his life with the bat, it could be his nagging medium pace that comes to the fore on some sluggish Caribbean tracks.

If Flintoff's coming-of-age got Englishmen a bit excited, then the same and more could be said of India's young superstar, Irfan Pathan. Still only 22 years old, his derring-do at the top of both the batting and bowling orders has drawn comparison with the great Kapil Dev, although fears were raised about his form in South Africa before Christmas when he was sent home to cool off in domestic cricket. As a prodigious swinger of the new ball, all of India hopes that the break will have done him good come the start of their campaign against Bangladesh next Saturday.

Flippin' underrated: Shahid Afridi's leg-spin © Getty Images

Though his current form is unproven, at least Pathan is in the squad. Pakistan, on the other hand, have lost so many of their star players, including their most potent allround talent, Abdul Razzaq, to an untimely knee injury. Step forward Shahid Afridi, one of the most natural talents the game of cricket has ever seen. His ballistic batting has to be seen to be believed - his most recent onslaught was an absurdly belligerent 77 not out from 35 balls at Durban. But it is his under-rated wrist-spin that is arguably his most consistent weapon. Brisk, accurate and fizzing, they leap disconcertingly from a good length, and will undoubtedly be a big asset as the tournament progresses.

Talking of under-rated spinners, here's another. Sri Lanka's old stager, Sanath Jayasuriya, is embarking on his fifth World Cup, and at the age of 37, is arguably a more rounded cricketer than ever before. His pinch-hitting batting remains as explosive as it was in 1996, but his bowling has undergone a revival, seeing as he is now Sri Lanka's No. 1 spinning foil to the undisputed master, Muttiah Muralitharan. Sri Lankan cricketers have long been jacks-of-all-trades, but at the other end of the age spectrum is their next big allround prospect, Farvez Maharoof - only 22 years old, but brisk enough to have taken 6 for 14 in the recent Champions Trophy against West Indies.

South Africa is another nation that grows allrounders as if on trees, and the present crop is an enviable one, to say the least. Men such as Andrew Hall and Justin Kemp would grace any side, but in Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis, South Africa have two men who have been at the top of their game for a decade and more. In Pollock's case, he is back where he belongs after an 18-month slump that left several pundits casting nervous glances towards the retirement home. He has been revived by responsibility, pushed up the batting order to win two Tests against India and Pakistan, and bowling his wicket-to-wicket seamers with the waspishness of old. Kallis, meanwhile, recently enjoyed a typically prolific home season, scoring 119 not out and taking 3 for 3 in one remarkable win against India at Durban.

New Zealanders are used to being belittled by Australians, so when Jacob Oram was recently dismissed as a "poor man's Chris Cairns" he took it upon himself to shove those words straight back down the nearest available Green-and-Gold throat. Standing at six-foot-plenty, Oram bowls his lively medium-pacers from a cloud-snaggingly high arm, and when batting he turns the midwicket boundary into his personal fiefdom with a firm swing of his strong bottom hand. He walloped the Aussies for 101 not out from 72 balls at Perth in the CB Series, before a broken finger ruled him out of the subsequent triumph in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy. He vowed to have it amputated if needs be, but his 88 against Bangladesh last week showed he'll be able to battle through the pain.

Chris Gayle exhibits some of his usual flamboyance © Getty Images

Another tall left-handed strokeplayer with a high bowling action is set to be a star for the host nation, West Indies. Chris Gayle has inherited Curtly Ambrose's role as the Daddy Cool of the Caribbean team, but like Ambrose he has a competitive streak that belies his languid demeanour. He was the star player at the last ICC event, the Champions Trophy in India before Christmas, where he thumped three centuries including a matchwinning 133 not out in the semi-final against South Africa, and took eight wickets with his deceptively innocuous offbreaks. Scarcely less effective was his team-mate, Dwayne Bravo, the possessor of the best slower ball in the game today, who also chimed in with the first of what should be many ODI hundreds. He has it in him to be the star of the tournament.

Bangladesh's two-wicket win against New Zealand last week was ample proof that they will be no pushover at this World Cup. Their recent success has been based on a more traditional division of labour, with batsmen such as Habibul Bashar and Mohammad Ashraful making the runs, and bowlers such as Mashrafe Mortaza and Syed Rasel taking the wickets, but one player with a foot in both camps is their veteran left-armer, Mohammad Rafique. Predominantly a spinner, he does however have an eye for the ball that is the preserve of few, and an axeman's delight in wild and woolly strokeplay. On Bangladesh's last trip to the Caribbean, this approach was good enough to score him an astonishing Test century from No. 9. Don't be surprised to see more of the same.

The best of the rest is Holland's Ryan ten Doeschate. One of the rising stars in the Essex side that won the Pro40 League in 2006, his huge hitting and skiddy bowling has been making several headlines in recent times. In the ICC Intercontinental Cup he smashed an unbeaten 259 and finished with the extraordinary average of 228.66 including four successive centuries, while Holland's warm-up against India last week was notable for his impressive haul of 5 for 57. "Ryan is a world-class performer when he's playing well," said his coach, Ian Pont. "He's a real contender as one of the stars of the tournament."

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Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo