February 25, 2014

Could it be New Zealand's World Cup year?

A few predictions and some surmise about the tournament from a year away

With a year to go to the next World Cup, it's timely to assess the state of the teams who will participate. It is from this moment on that teams will need to begin, if they haven't already, to think and plan the small steps to glory.

If hunger comes from starvation, then England, South Africa and New Zealand should be hungrier than the rest, as these three have never won a World Cup out of the top eight major nations. In ten World Cups, England have made three finals, South Africa have made three semi-finals (in six Cups) and New Zealand have made six semi-finals. What chance do they have in the next one? How long can they go on starving for World Cup success?

England have fallen. They got stuck in their old thinking, were distracted from growing organically. Many casualties can be found on every street corner. Their rehabilitation and restoration is due to start, yet, a year out, you sense they have left it all too late. No doubt their focus will be on the next Ashes to follow, yet presently even that seems a bridge too far. Of course England will come again, for they have immense pride and resources, but their indecision is a natural national trait and they must overcome that first.

South Africa are a powerhouse on many fronts. They think big. However, when it comes to World Cups, their thinking under pressure has been suffocated. They seem to feel the weight of a nation - no small burden - and their focus becomes anxious, hesitant, and taut. This affliction of no Cup wins has become a millstone around their neck. Yet, being southern-orientated, they should feel the conditions are to their liking. Jacques Kallis has one last itch to scratch, and AB de Villiers is about the best allrounder in the world, so the temperament can about-face. Therefore, AB will need to lead with new concepts and rumination, leaving outdated beliefs behind.

New Zealand are always fancied to contest in these tournaments. We love the Goliath story. We like being David. And at home we know we can rise up, close enough to look Goliath in the eyeballs. We have endured much pain from six semi-final failures, from recent events where enough was enough. The tide turned with Ross Taylor's renaissance, then others followed, then Brendon McCullum rammed a stake in the ground. This team will be prepared like no other team before it, therefore the likelihood of them breaching a new frontier is plausible. The question is: will they dare to dream the unthinkable?

India will defend with the knowledge that away from home soil they too often think of limits and inadequacies. They won the last Cup, the first nation to do so at home, because they were well led: MS Dhoni at the helm, Tendulkar and Sehwag by his side. They felt good in their own skin, playing a brand of cricket suited to the conditions. With 12 months to go, they will go searching for the combinations. The key ingredient will be Dhoni himself. Somehow he must reinvent his game, his leadership and tactics, to a new world, to a new way, and fast. He should rest for a time prior to the event to consider all this. He is that good that if refreshed and renewed, he could make up that lost ground. Dhoni's thinking is key; lately some of it has bordered on the utterly bizarre.

What of Australia? Up until recently they have been a tragic shadow of themselves. By dropping their guard on Test cricket as a priority, and moving away from their basic instincts, where players expressed themselves without fear, their world caved in under babysitting management. Thankfully the Ashes became a marathon and the initial front-runner, England, hit the wall spectacularly, while Australia drew on their anger. They responded with a sledgehammer. Their gander is up, the strut is back, but you sense the mask of insecurity is only a thought away. Their invincibility is definitely buried for good. They are just another contender. Yes, they have a thriving nursery of vibrant firebrands and aggressive attackers. Yet their underbelly appears pappy and spongy.

At home, however, under belting sun, they will fight and scrap hard. Familiarity will suffice and their depth of cavalry will outflank oncoming challenges. The Aussies will gain early ground, but will they sustain it? Michael Clarke is showing signs of fatigue and, like Dhoni, he will need careful managing and thought. Timing his run will be paramount.

Which leaves the last three of the top-eight-ranked likely quarter-finalists: West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. What can you say about these enigmatically variegated teams?

We all love the Calypso flair, the potential West Indies possess. We loved the past heroes, Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, Brian Lara and Malcolm Marshall, for they took us to places unknown. We want them to wake up and entertain us again. Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd grabbed them and shook them and demanded they conform as one, not as many diverse parts. And as one they responded to inspired leadership. Who will do that for them now? Darren Sammy? Not a chance. But Dwayne Bravo just might. It is he who has the reins at present, and rightly so. Will he create like-mindedness? These island crusaders can't be written off. In truth, deep down, they just might rise like Lazarus did.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan look vulnerable. Their leaders are fine men yet are limited tactically. To me Kumar Sangakkara is the only one truly capable of leading his troops intuitively and defining a way forward. Yet his role is destined to be to just bat. A waste, I feel, for I regard him as one of the greatest and most thoughtful cricketers to have played the game, the finest ever from what was once Ceylon. With no mystery to their bowling, Sri Lanka will struggle on energetic pitches. The opening match of the Cup in Christchurch, against New Zealand, will be a tell-all encounter.

Pakistan are clearly a mess, again. With no Imran, Wasim or Miandad to inspire them, they will frustrate many, including the odd opponent. They are fine cricketers, just not a fine team. I have never understood their thinking, ever. Correction, with the exception of Imran in 1992.

With respect to the rest, they are there to spread the word of the great game and to fight for every ball. They will be welcomed by the hosts and they will provide stories of pain and hope. Then they will depart after round-robin and pool-play with dignity, so the Cup can get on to the business end of discovering who is the world champion of one-day cricket once more.

It's a shame that the top eight don't all play each other, and that luck will probably play a part at quarter-final time. An unbeaten team may play the bottom team of another pool, lose a toss, and go down to Duckworth-Lewis, such is the fluky nature of a competition with so many minnows involved. In essence, the quarter-finals will reflect the exact nature of the Champions Trophy knockout - which, by the way, is somehow back in vogue once more. I prefer the knockout phase to start at semi-final time, a fair reflection of the top four teams having survived a severe examination.

So a year out, where is the thinking? Who is removing the old thoughts and replacing them with new, enlivening ones? Who is pretending and who is suffocating slowly? Who will time their run, as most winners have done so coolly and cleverly before? Who will do what India did so unexpectedly in 1983? Or Sri Lanka in 1996? Or come back from the dead, as Pakistan did in 1992, or Australia in 1999? Will playing at home be the key, as it was finally for India in 2011? It's a fascinating call.

And so I reckon, recent events and happenings considered, that Australia and New Zealand will contest in each semi-final and West Indies and South Africa will oppose them. They are my four based on my thinking about their thinking, of now, of the time ahead. It's a thinking based on how home-town comfort has become king lately. I'm thinking a southern hemisphere victory.

A year to ponder.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ESPN on May 3, 2014, 17:21 GMT

    It's SL IND AUS in semis with any other out of the rest..

  • Android on February 27, 2014, 17:37 GMT

    Despite supporting Pakistan, I really wish South Africa win it if we can't which is very likely. Our team is in a mess, let's admit it. Who knows though, there is still plenty of time till the WC. We could potentially have a settled batting line up by that time. Like always our bowling is never much of our worry.

  • Munaf on February 27, 2014, 0:29 GMT

    Unless a team is as invincible as the Windies team of 70s early 80s or Aussies from 1999 to 2007 predicting a winner is impossible. Writing of any team in current day scenario is suicidal since none of the teams have that aura of invincibility. No one expected India to win in 1983 but they did win it in England. No one gave India a chance in 1985 B&H cup in Australia ( A mini world cup) . Still they won it with their limited resources if one may say and then they won the C&B series in 2008 defeating Ricky Pontings team in best of 3 finals a team consisting of Symonds, Gilchrist, hayden and brett lee. Even in 2003 everyone said India wont make it far but they reached finals without any lost game. On other hand Pakistan won it in 1992 in Aus ( although rain helped them qualify or else SA-Eng was a sureshot final game). Then SL won in 1996 despite bieng underdogs. So in short writing of any team is not a good idea because cricket has a funny way of proving all predictions wrong.

  • Debashis on February 26, 2014, 20:38 GMT

    L[ke the article. However, remembering Pakistan's victory under Imran Khan's captaincy in 1992, I have a gut feeling that Pakistan will do well again. Misbah is a good man, but they need a charismatic captain, in my humble opinion. Brendon McCullum for NZ and AB for SA should do well and lead their respective teams to the semis. The 4th spot is going to be up for grabs.

  • Garry on February 26, 2014, 19:05 GMT

    Naman Kashyap you do know we recently won the ODI series verses South Africa in South Africa right?

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2014, 18:33 GMT

    I highly doubt that New Zealand are biggest contenders to win this world cup.I agree that they have performed well in recent times but not as impressive as Australia or South Africa.In fact I would say they maybe be able to reach as far as seme-finals but definitely not more than that..As for me I would consider the biggest contenders to be Australia and India.Australia because they are doing exceeding well as a team and India because I strongly believe they have the best batting line-up in the world and I have always seen them performing brilliantly in the big tournaments.Also I didn't name South Africa because I was think they are horrible in handling pressure situations as they couldn't win the 2011 world cup with the team which was much better than present team..

  • pramit on February 26, 2014, 16:58 GMT

    one year is a long time and things can go very fast in World cup. Not always the best team had won World Cup, no team is invincible like WI in 70s n early 80s or Australia in 2003 & 2007. Coming to new zealand, yes they have good finishers, all rounders but they dont have power to hold nerves especially when it comes to big matches. They may lead the table like 92 WC, but WC becomes WC when it comes to knock out. SA, Eng, Nzl & Aus these 4 should reach SF.

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2014, 16:43 GMT

    good one crowe, i can never ever understand the pakistani way of thinking.lol. i get a lot of flank from friends for that.

  • Android on February 26, 2014, 16:42 GMT

    Rsa should win it, if they play to their potential...they seem to have a settled players. .& 2 best batsmans in the business(ab&hash) kallis brings ballance to the side&steyn is class above...,, they have good aggressive opener in decock. .,a good finisher in Miller,, jp is a good batsman and is more then handy with the ball..., Vernon,Parnell are the 2 bowlng allrounders... and morne & tsotsobe bring variation to the bowlng lineup. .. one with a pace&bounce(morne) &the other with accurate & good line & length(tsotsobe) ,,,, And to add to that, they have good bench strength in faf,McLaren,elgar,Hendricks,&gm smith(who will make a way for decock in the xi) and I hope they will do it to (1)kallis (2)remove the tag of chokers (3)and to make up to the past missed chances which this team really deserves x-factor players:de kcock, ab(best batsman in world) ,hash,steyn-gun so iam backing the proteas this time

  • nalin on February 26, 2014, 12:42 GMT

    Great analysis Martin. Australia's rugby world cup coach in 1991 Bob Dwyer said that they won the 1991 rugby world cup because they had more ways of wining than others. Australia won 2003 and 2007 because of that but the current team has a lesser number of trump cards. Everyone in the next world cup has an achiles heal and the world cup will waste a month before the likely 8 will play in a lottery of quarter finals so it is who has a little extra in strength and form that can win 3 in a row.NZ is never better than even money in any match. Pakistan bats will falter in one match out of 3. England has lost it's trump card KP. SL has a problem with pacy pitches.WI lack depth. India vs.SA likely final with NZ/AUS likely to give a run for the money.