'Australia still favourites' - Dravid
Rahul Dravid, India's captain, said that Australia were still favourites at the start of the World Cup but warned that the tournament was wide open and that the Super 8s would be a critical phase for every team aspiring to win the tournament. "Australia start as favourites. The competition is going to be tight among the eight teams," he said. "Like Brian Lara said yesterday, you get to the semifinal and then it is a matter of playing two good games. The tough part is going to be the Super 8 stage where eight equal teams are going to match against each other. The team that has group of people who can put their hands up under pressure will do best."
Dravid said that the possibility of this World Cup being his last would not make a difference in the least. "The goal is to play good cricket. It has never changed," he said "It's is about going out there and playing the best you can. You have to compete and play good cricket. If we can execute all our plans a lot of things will take care of themselves. We have to take it one step at a time."
In a similar vein Dravid said he would not be under any added pressure because he was leading the side in this, his third, World Cup. "I've never viewed going into a tournament as being under less or more pressure. Obviously as captain there are some more responsibilities, the hunger to perform and to do well for the team does not matter if I am a captain, vice-captain or just a player," he said. "It does not make a difference to me. The expectation from the public have never been different for a Indian player. They always expect you to win. In the four years there has been a media explosion, a lot more discussion and debate and talk. In terms of expectations nothing has changed."
Dravid had praise for his group of fast bowlers and believed they could do the job required of them in the West Indies. "Munaf has come out of his injury has probably been our most effective ODI bowler in the last 15 games. Sree is a young, exciting and wicket-taking bowler. The more opportunities he gets, the better he gets," he said. "Zaheer and Ajit have been bowling well. Irfan gives us an option of an allrounder and he needs a bit more bowling before the World Cup. I am pretty happy with the pace bowling options we have. Some of the minor niggles will be sorted out by the time we play our first game against Bangladesh."
On the subject of Bangladesh, and some of the other lesser teams taking part in the World Cup, Dravid had some typically encouraging things to say. "The event happens once in four years. You have got to give an opportunity to everyone. There are not going to be any weak teams in one-day cricket and obviously some teams have less experience than others, but unless you play them how are you ever going to give them any motivation," he asked. "The format is quite good. I myself played in Scotland for six months, I know how much effort there players put in just to play the game. For them to have the opportunity to play in a tournament like this keeps them going."
Dravid also refused to call the World Cup the final frontier, or attach a similar label to the tournament. "I do not use that word. The World Cup is big event. I do not think that you base your career and everything on the fact of winning a World Cup," he said. "There's a lot more that goes on in a career and there is a lot more you achieve over the period and to hang everything on the base of winning a tournament that spans two months in every four years is not something you do. We will try to win but that's all it is all about."