At the Wicket... Two Down

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We complained there weren't any upsets in the first cycle of games, and Zimbabwe kindly obliged by beating a gormless India. Then New Zealand walloped a tired Australia. But for me, the week's biggest surprise was the meek manner in which Cup holders Sri Lanka folded to hot favorites South Africa. The Lankans could become the first champions to be bundled out in the first round--not a record the islanders would relish. The only Asians still standing proud are the mighty Pakistanis; they made short work of the Scots, but not before Shoaib Akhtar served the world another warning of his fearsome pace.

AUSTRALIA: We said the Aussies looked jaded during their weak win over the Scots, and Steve Waugh's boys proved us right by bowing to the Kiwis. Once again, the batting lacked heart--the bowling was even worse. Glen McGrath's claims to being the best quickie in the game look laughable, especially when held up against the performances of South Africa's Donald and Pakistan's Akhtar. Will the shock of this defeat shake the Aussies from their stupor? The other teams in the group will hope not.

ENGLAND: The English were expected to win, but they made a job of it by allowing the Kenyans to score 200-plus--not a good advertisement for Gough & Co. Nasser Hussain and Graeme Hick collected easy half-tons, and the middle-order remained in the pavilion. So we haven't yet had the opportunity to see England's new Great White Hope, Andy Flintoff, strut his stuff. Captain Alec Stewart complained that most of his batsmen haven't had the chance to get their eye in--other captains would be happy to have that problem.

INDIA: Another spineless outing from Azharuddin and his motley crew saw them succumb to Zimbabwe. The bowlers gifted away 51 extras (doubly remarkable when you consider there's not a single genuine pacer among them!) and never looked like a world-class attack. They did, however, acquit themselves better than the batsmen. Two losses in two put the Indians in real danger of taking an early flight home. They must now hope the Sri Lankans continue to somnambulate through their matches and Zimbabwe loses its momentum. How typical of the Indians that their destiny now lies in the hands of others.

NEW ZEALAND: The heroics of Allot, Larsen, Twose and Cairns brought the Kiwis a satisfying victory over their despised neighbors. The New Zealanders now look a shoo-in for the Super Six. Can they do an "India '83" and go all the way? The Kiwis certainly have some things in common with that Indian side, most notably a seam-heavy bowling attack.

PAKISTAN: Poor Scotland. The Pakistani bowlers savaged the Cup newbies; any hopes raised by the Scots' brave showing against the Aussies were ruthlessly crushed by spearheads Akram and Akhtar. But the Pakistanis must worry about their own batting. It was one thing for the top order to fail against the West Indies, but to fold against the Scots is more than just embarrassing. Big hitter Shahid Afridi hasn't set the Thames on fire; big eater Inzi ul-Haq looks barely able to carry his own weight.

SOUTH AFRICA: The challengers rolled over the reigning champs with consummate ease. After letting the Indians off lightly in the opening game, the Springbok bowling attack was all out of mercy when it came up against the Sri Lankans. Kallis and Pollock ably backed a splendid all-round effort from Lance Klusener. Other teams in the competition can take heart, however, from the fact that the 'Bok batting looked brittle, with the top order troubled by Sri Lanka's unthreatening seamers. Question: Has anyone else noticed that the South Africans no longer play the game with the joyous spirit of old? Grim seriousness might win them the Cup, but cricket is the loser for it.

SRI LANKA: How ironic that the shrewdest captain in the Cup, Arjuna Ranatunga, now finds himself in the same boat as the dimmest, Azharuddin. The Lankans were guilty of taking their foot off the pedal after demolishing the South African frontline batsmen, Ranatunga evidently forgetting that the 'Boks bat virtually to the last man. Then the much-vaunted Lankan batting caved in under pressure. This is not the stuff of champions. Jayasuriya update: he's still sleeping.

WEST INDIES: After their defeat at the hands of Pakistan, the Windies needed a big win against Bangladesh to reestablish their credentials. The Maroon Men duly polished off the inexperienced Bengalis, but not before exposing some disturbing frailties in the bowling department. Warhorse Courtney Walsh was again on song, but his supporting cast was woefully inadequate. Some the fielding was sub-par, too. But captain Brian Lara will be pleased that his batsmen, at least, played their part with flair.

ZIMBABWE: Full marks to the Zimbabweans for a fine all-round performance. But their victory was diminished somewhat by the fact that it came against the Indians, the world champions at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Still, the Africans can now dream of a place in the Super Six--and that would be no bad thing. Unlike the newly dour South Africans, the Zimbabweans are obviously enjoying themselves and are, in turn, a joy to watch.

THE MINNOWS: No luck yet for Bangladesh, Kenya or Scotland. They each have three games in which to pull off an upset. But I'm not holding my breath.