Famous last words…

I’ve been meaning to write about the cricket world cup for a while, and as it’s now started better get onto it before it gets away from me.

Let me put it up front. I think Australia will play New Zealand in one semi-final, and England will take on India in the other. Would expect Australia to win and probably England, then Australia in a canter in the final, much like 1999.

England have been the hot favourites for ages. They’re playing at home and are the best performed team over the last couple of years. I have queries on them on a number of levels.

Firstly, I wonder if they have a plan B. Their A plan is mighty, but it won’t go all their way this tornament and you need to scrap sometimes and find ways to win ugly. I also wonder if their attack is penetrating enough. Then there’s the mind side of it. Seems to me in England their side is either the best in the world or the worst, and that goes for all sports. They’re either as cocky as hell or disdainful. Right now, and for a while now, they’re as cocky as hell. I wonder if a few results going against them might affect their mentality. That’s where the tournament play of a world cup makes a difference, and where Australia has always excelled.

It’s basically matchplay and it sorts out the men from the boys. You need to have continuity and professionalism and a hard-edged belief. Even in 1999, when Australia struggled early, they didn’t waver and after a couple of immense results against South Africa had a walkover in the final against Pakistan. Every other winning campain (and there’ve been five in all) there’ve been steely eyed to the point you never thought they could lose.

England talks themselves up like that, but I don’t see it in them yet. That belief comes from getting it done in all conditions against all opponents. It’s that lack of belief that has undone an otherwise excellent South African team several times. It’s the sort of belief that England has never come close to attaining, but will have earned it if they walk away with the cup this time.

I think they’re good enough to make the final, though it won’t be as easy as they think.

I’ve put a line through South Africa – likewise, lacking penetration without Steyn and x-factor with de Villiers. Pakistan are mercurial, as always, and may fluke it, but don’t think so. I put the Windies in the same category. Sri Lanka aren’t nearly good enough, and while Bangladesh and Afghanistan are willing – and capable of pulling off an upset or two – they don’t have the depth of talent.

That leaves New Zealand, India and Oz.

I’ve nominated the Kiwis because they generally show up and, like Australia, are good tournament players. They’re even across the park and when it all clicks can be very dangerous. They’ll win the games they should and might sneak another game. Good enough to make the semis, not good enough to go further.

India are an easy pick because they’re jammed with talent and have the best ODI batsman and bowler in the world playing for them. They should make the finals easy, but I’ve got question marks over their temperament when it gets to the pointy end. They’ll overcome that at some point, just don’t think it’ll be this time.

That leaves Australia. As an Australian I could be accused of being bias but, given our record, it’s hard not be bullish. We’ve won this five times before. We have belief ingrained into us. Come the cracking whips no team has been steadier – in fact, no team has lifted more when its had to. On top of all that I think this squad may have a point to prove.

With Smith and Warner returning it’s as good as any squad out there. If I have any question marks it’s not over the quality, but the composition of the batting line-up. Are Smith, Marsh, Khawaja too similar a player? Do we need a big hitter between them? I’d be tempted to shuffle the batting order a little, but that’s dependent on Stoinis finding some good batting form. Nonetheless, Warner, Finch, Smith and Maxwell are among the best ODI batsmen in the world.

They’ll hold the game for us and make it competitive, but it’s the bowlers who’ll potentially win it. I think the Australian bowling attack is clearly the best in the comp. It’s a cutting edge all the way through and that’s what you need. It defines Australian philosophy too, different to most of our rivals. They set out to beat the opposition, not outlast them.

England may have the best record over the last couple of years, but no team has a better recent record than Australia. Counting the warm-up matches they’ve won ten in a row – including India, three times; Pakistan, five times; and England, once.

That’s ominous form and the world knows it. My only reservations are if the bowling attack goes off or gets injured, and if the team has been together long enough to make it happen. Still, my money’s on Australia.

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