Cricket: Stars of the World Cup show

By David Leggat

India

The favourites and rightly so. Loaded with quality players, and in their own environment makes them a formidable proposition.

Wherever you look, they have talent to burn including ageing but still magnificent Sachin Tendulkar, top order rocket man Virendar Sehwag and the fast-rising Virat Kohli with the bat, to Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and co with the ball.

Their most important figure is captain MS Dhoni.

He's the ringmaster, keeps wicket, scores big runs often enough to comfortably sit in the top six of the batting order.

On top of that, remember where this tournament is being staged.

India's players have the weight of a massively expectant nation upon them, none more so than the skipper.

Australia

Okay, their leadup form has not been encouraging since getting to the sub-continent with a couple of ordinary performances in losing to both India and South Africa.

And yet, you discount the four-time winners at your peril. They possess matchwinners in Shane Watson, Cameron White, David Hussey and, if they're on their game, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait.

But the key figure has to be captain Ricky Ponting. He had a wretched time during the Ashes campaign, a busted finger put his World Cup ambitions in real jeopardy.

However he's back, has made encouraging half centuries against both India and South Africa this week and, put simply, if Ponting makes runs during the tournament, Australia have a chance.

Only Sachin Tendulkar has made more runs in the cup than the Tasmanian scrapper. This will be his final hurrah. No one will be more determined to make it count for his country.

South Africa

They've flattered to deceive more than once at the crunch time. But they are too strong an outfit to write off simply on their past record.

They've got plenty of top class players, such as captain Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn for starters.

But Jacques Kallis is the glue. He invariably makes runs, bowls his medium pace tidily and effectively remains a world class performer 15 years after his international debut.

If Kallis goes well, South Africa should at the least be in the frame at the sharp end of the tournament.

Sri Lanka

They won it in 1996, and no victory has been more welcome, a clear sign that the Sri Lankans were a genuine world force rather than an up-and-down proposition.

This team may not be of the class of that side, but they have plenty of variety in their bowling with highly capable operators, including fast-medium Dilhara Fernando and spinners Ajantha Mendis and, in his final bow, Muttiah Muralitharan.

But runs will determine how Sri Lanka will go. Get enough and they will be in business.

Tillekaratne Dilshan is a top order dasher; Mahela Jayawardene as good as any on the sub-continent. However captain Kumar Sangakkara is the make-or-break man.

Not only does he keep wicket and lead, but he's among the game's finest batsmen, scores his runs briskly and can push Sri Lanka from a reasonable chance to a genuine title contender.

Pakistan

Come again, you may think. But remember the tournament is in conditions they know well. It's in their back yard, even if their premises are off limits for now.

They showed enough in New Zealand, in conditions entirely different from those in which the cup will be contested to suggest they'll be well worth watching.

Pakistan, perhaps more than any other nation, can be near unstoppable if they're on a roll, as they demonstrated in winning the 1992 tournament.

This squad is not on a par with that team of lions, but they are fitter than they've been before, have some class performers with the ball.

A key figure? Try Umar Gul, the industrious seamer.

The batsmen need to do a job collectively, but when it comes to utilising reverse swing in abrasive pitch surfaces late in the innings, Gul has proven he's as good as they come.

- NZ Herald

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