Cricket: Lara tips India to win World Cup

West Indies batting legend Brian Lara on Tuesday picked India as favourites to win the World Cup starting next month but warned they would face enormous pressure playing before home crowds.

Lara, 41, said Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men have been in top form in both Tests and one-dayers leading up the showpiece event, which will be hosted by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

"With the World Cup being held in Asia, India are definitely the favourites," the former West Indies skipper told reporters after conducting a coaching clinic for youngsters at the Firoz Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi.

"India have been on the top of their game, they will be a very tough team to beat. They have a well-balanced team that can compete with anyone in the world, but playing before home crowds will not be easy.

"The key will be to build the right momentum. You must start slowly and then build up as it is a long-drawn tournament. As hosts, India may find it difficult because they would want to start on top and stay on top.

"They have to ensure that they do not run out of steam. This requires both physical and mental strength."

India have won the World Cup only once - in 1983 - and were runners up in the 2003 tournament.

Their 2007 outing in the West Indies ended in a disastrous first-round exit.

Lara, whose 400 not out remains a Test world record, also rated South Africa as a side capable of winning the coveted trophy but expressed doubts over whether they would be able to break their World Cup jinx.

"South Africa are a very good team. They can play consistently good cricket. But they have a bit of World Cup bogey which is why I won't put my money on them."

The South Africans are yet to win the World Cup after coming close in 1992 when they made it to the semi-finals before falling victim to a controversial ruling on matches delayed by rain.

As one of the World Cup hosts in 2003, South Africa were billed to become the first nation to win the biggest tournament on home soil but they failed to reach the Super Sixes.

The Proteas reached the last-four in 2007 as well but crumbled to a seven-wicket defeat to Australia after scoring just 149.

The World Cup begins on February 19 with India taking on Bangladesh in the opening tie in Dhaka.

Lara, recently appointed as a batting consultant by Zimbabwe, said his larger role in the struggling side was to lift the morale of the players.

"Zimbabwe are definitely not one of the fancied teams. They have got some very good players but their self-belief is low. My role is to build team spirit and confidence.

"If they can spring a surprise or two, it will be very good."

- AFP

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