Almost a month has passed by in this World Cup and it is a good time to take stock of the situation. So to the one question that everyone has on their lips; not the one SRK teases viewers with in his Airtel commercial. But the real deal - Who will win the 2011 World Cup?
A million people will have a million views on the subject and a million other arguments supporting their claims. Here’s mine. Disagree with me by all means but no name-calling please.
First, the criteria on which my prediction is based. I was thinking on the subject while travelling in my cab from office to home – and that is a considerable time in major Indian cities. There can be 100 different criteria to base it on; and each criterion might throw up a different team as favourites.
If you’re looking for current form and team balance, South Africa’s your team. If you’re looking for the strongest batting among all teams in the competition, you’ve got to give it to India. If you’re looking for a varied and balanced bowling attack, hand over the World Cup to Sri Lanka right away. If you’re looking for pedigree and track record, look no further than Australia who have won 4 of the 9 World Cups overall and the last 3 in succession.
My prediction, however, is based on something more quirky and irrational. To my mind, that is what makes it more fun. If you take a look at all World Cups played to date, only the first 2 and the last 2 have been won by overwhelming favourites – going into the tournament as well as through the course of the tournament. In 1975 & 1979, West Indies were the odds on favourite to lift the Cup; and in 2003 & 2007, that team was Australia. Both teams, needless to say, duly went on to complete the formalities.
It is in the 5 Cups in between though, on which my prediction is based. They have all been won by teams that were either written off at some stage of the tournament, if not the entire duration, or were facing the very real threat of elimination in the group stages.
In 1983, the odds on India winning the World Cup were 500-1. In fact, the Wisden Editor, David Frith, said he’ll eat his words if India went on to win the World Cup. We all know how hopelessly wrong he was in his judgement. To be fair to him, he did go on to literally eat his words.
Australia were at rock bottom going into the 1987 World Cup after the retirements of a slew of greats in Lillee, Marsh & Chappell; and having just conceded the Ashes, no less, to England. But they surprised everyone, including possibly themselves, to go on and lift the Cup.
In 1992, Pakistan were staring elimination in the eye after having already lost 2 games and getting bowled out for 74 against England in the league phase. They were hoping for a miracle to get out of the mess, and a miracle it was. The match was rained off which saved Pakistan from imminent defeat and therefore elimination; they went on to play like Cornered Tigers, which Imran Khan famously anointed his team as; and the rest as they say is history.
Flash forward to 1996. Sri Lanka had not even come close to getting into the knockouts of any of the 5 previous World Cups, let alone winning it. Even their form going into the World Cup, didn’t give any one enough hint of the surprise in store, finishing as they did 3rd out of 3 teams in a tri-series in Australia just prior to the World Cup. But a brilliant strategy masterminded by that old warhorse, Arjuna Ranatunga, of going hell for leather in the first 15 overs, as opposed to just the last 10 (which was the practice then in ODIs), paid rich dividends and Sri Lanka ran out comfortable victors.
Last, but not the least, 1999. The rather surprising almost-vanquished team this time was Australia. After losing to New Zealand and then Pakistan, they contrived to put themselves in a position where they had to win all 7 of their remaining matches to lift the Cup. If any side had the resilience to do it, it was Australia, which they did. Ok, they had 1 tie along the way in that famous Edgbaston semi-final against South Africa, but the rules prevailing then allowed them entry into the finals where they emerged victorious in a hopelessly one-sided final.
So to 2011 then. Apologies for the long-winded way of getting here, but the context had to be set. The only fancied team facing elimination this time is, ahem - drum roll please! - England. There you have it finally. They are my pick to be lifting the 2011 World Cup. Not that they have a bad team to do it with either, so it’s not just based on quirkiness.
I could be proved wrong as early as tomorrow if England lose to the West Indies. If that’s the case, just remember this post as a history lesson in World Cup, and forget that I even predicted a winner! :D If England go on to win the Cup though, don’t forget to pat my back and say well done! J (That would be scant consolation for Indian not winning though)
I was the one who stuck my neck out after all and went for the unfancied team :P