So far, so predictable. Now all 12 teams have played at least one match each, we're still waiting for the first real upset of the World Cup. England's win over Sri Lanka doesn't quite count, because pre-tournament intelligence indicated that the Lankans were not quite the force they were in 1996. Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and New Zealand all lived up to the form book--but some of the winning sides looked less than convincing. On the bright side, there were fewer interruptions due to rain than you'd expect for a tournament in England.
Australia: Steve Waugh's boys looked awful jaded in their opener, batting and bowling with equal mediocrity. Unless they can shake off the weariness of their long Caribbean adventure, the Aussies are not going to worry serious opposition. Still, a side this good can make the Super Six stage of the competition on only two cylinders.
Message to Share Warne: Use your fingers to spin the ball, not gesture at spectators. Also, sack your ghostwriter.
England: The hosts produced a good all-round performance to beat Sri Lanka in the tournament opener, but the World Champions were obviously out of sorts. The English bowling attack remains suspect, even allowing for their homeground advantage. Against an in-form batting line-up, you'd expect the English to concede 250-300 runs--which their own batsmen would struggle to match.
India: India's traditional frailty--the inability of its batsmen to accelerate at the tail-end of an innings--was brutally exposed by the powerful South Africans. The Springboks also took to the Indian bowling with great relish. At this rate, it's conceivable the 1983 champs won't make the Super Six.
India's weakest link: the pedestrian captaincy of Mohammad Azharuddin.
Pakistan: What a joy to watch somebody give the West Indies a taste of their own medicine. Speedster Shoaib Akhtar made the Caribbeans hop with his express pace, getting Campbell with a blinder that will linger in memory for years. Captain Wasim Akram showed off his pinch-hitting skills, but they only just covered for the shortcomings of his top-order batsmen.
Note to Inzi ul-Haq: Skip lunch.
South Africa: The ease with which the Springboks walked over India was an ominous sign for the other teams in the tournament. A 250-plus target is respectable for most sides, but it was a breeze for the South Africans. However, coach Bob Woolmer should worry about the bowling attack: Alan Donald & Co. didn't look like they could run through the Indian line-up.
Sri Lanka: The reigning champs sleepwalked through their first game, losing to the hosts. Their bowling has always been suspect, but their batsmen were unable to compensate. This is not the high-octane side we saw in '96.
Oh, and somebody please remind Sanath Jayasuriya that he's supposed to be one of the fastest scorers in the game.
West Indies: The Windies looked very ordinary in their opening game--but don't blame them. The Pakistanis are, after all, one of the tournament favorites. The Caribbean bowlers did well enough, with the old firm of Walsh and Ambrose showing plenty of fire. But the batting wilted under the fearsome Pakistani attack. Still, you have to give captain Brian Lara one game to warm up; if he can find his world-beating form, the Windies are a shoo-in for the Super Six-- but probably no further than that.
The Minnows: New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Scotland and Kenya all performed to par in their opening games. You'd expect at least one of them to produce a genuine upset during the course of the first round, but no more.
Bottomline: The two teams in green--South Africa and Pakistan--remain my joint favorites. The Springboks are the better batting side, but Pakistan has the most lethal bowling attack in the world. South Africa are better fielders, but the Pakistanis play with more passion. A final between the two sides would probably produce the best cricket of the Cup.