Frustrated Windies look for consistency By Simon Evans
Guyana Chronicle
March 12, 2007

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TRELAWNY, Jamaica (Reuters) - The winners of the first two World Cups, West Indies, are looking to become the first host team to win the competition but to do so they will need to turn around over a decade of decline.

Unlike in 1975 and 1979, when they won the tournament with players of the calibre of Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards and Michael Holding, the current West Indies side is short on established top class internationals with a proven record.

If they are to succeed it will require their young players quickly coming of age against Group D opponents Pakistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe.

The experience is found among their batsmen, primarily in the early order with record-breaking captain Brian Lara and openers Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul all having proved they can deliver big scores.

But with the ball, Lara has to hope that 22-year-old paceman Jerome Taylor and 23-year-old all-rounder Dwayne Bravo can turn their undoubted talent and much talked-of potential into consistent match-winning displays.

SPECIALIST QUICKIES The decision not to pick an out-and-out spin-bowler in the squad and rely on slow-bowling batsmen Gayle and Marlon Samuels as alternatives to the specialist quickies and back-up medium-pacers is a gamble.

Lara has left-spinner Dave Mohammed as a reserve and he has to hope that the wickets are well suited to seam and that his pacemen deliver otherwise his attack risks being one-dimensional.

Form over the past two years suggests that the West Indies have the ability to beat anyone in the one-day game but are also quite capable of pressing the self-destruct button and slumping to embarrassing defeat.

After all, this is a team which was bowled out for 80 in a nine-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy in October but then four days later produced a superb victory over World Cup favourites Australia.

In their final warm-up game against India on Friday, Lara's side were rolled over for 85 as they lost by nine wickets and left their captain talking of a "chronic" tendency to batting collapses.

Inconsistency runs throughout the side and while there is no doubt about the potential of the young players available to Lara there are a number of question marks over his squad.

On the batting front, among the questions are: Will Ramnaresh Sarwan recover from his injury problems and hit form in time?

Can Dwayne Smith, who has an ODI average of just 15.58, finally produce regular big knocks?

Will Devon Smith at last get a one-day 50 and kick-start his international career? Are inexperienced youngsters Kieron Pollard and Lendl Simmons really ready for the challenge of World Cup cricket?

While the West Indies look to have a solid and reliable roster of medium and medium-quick bowlers, the biggest concern is whether their quickies have the ability to rattle through the upper order of top sides.

There is much excitement surrounding Taylor and this tournament could determine whether, having put his serious back injury behind him, he really is the answer to the region's long and, so far, fruitless search for a world class pace bowler.

Finally and importantly, can wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin rediscover his form behind and in front of the stumps?

With a passionate, but frustrated, home support behind them and wickets that, in theory at least, should be familiar, there is much going West Indies' way but it remains to be seen if enough of Lara's team can give positive answers to the questions that still dog them.

Pakistan find World Cup form with perfect timing
By Telford Vice

ST AUGUSTINE, Trinidad (Reuters) - A few weeks ago in South Africa, Pakistan looked as if they would struggle to beat a team of performing seals.

But after two handsome wins in their warm-up matches, the glint of World Cup glory shines once more in the eyes of the team that went all the way in 1992.

Pakistan were soundly thumped in both the Test and One-day series in South Africa but the clearest evidence of their resurrection came when they cruised to a seven-wicket win over those same South Africans in a warm-up match here on Friday.

The pitch - which South African captain Graeme Smith deemed "unfit" - was surely a factor in Pakistan's seven-wicket victory after they won the toss and were able to field first.

But there was no mistaking the talent and skill that the potentially devastating Pakistanis were able to muster to deal ruthlessly with the top-ranked team in world cricket.

Pakistan were similarly dismissive of Canada's challenge in their first warm-up game in St Augustine on Tuesday, which they won by 77 runs.

However, coach Bob Woolmer was not about to accept that his team had suddenly become favourites to win the tournament.

"If we are, we've gone from being non-favourites to favourites very quickly," Woolmer said after his team beat South Africa.

Asked how his players had managed to bounce back so quickly after their travails in South Africa, Woolmer said, "This is the World Cup, this is the big time; this is where everyone has to put in the big performances."

Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq was his usual calm, confident self despite the upward curve his team seemed to be scaling.

"The team is well prepared for the tournament," he told a news conference after the match against South Africa.

"This is a fine opportunity for the players to perform, and we're looking forward to taking that opportunity."

"People do have high expectations of the Pakistan team but I am confident that there will not be undue pressure and that they will deliver in the tournament."

Inzamam dismissed the notion that the pitch had handed Pakistan an unfair advantage against the South Africans.

"It is a question of the quality of cricket that a team plays that should be assessed when we look at their performance, not the state of the pitch," he said.

Pakistan's attack might have been disrupted by the late withdrawal of injured fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif through injury, but replacements Mohammad Sami and Yasir Arafat have slotted seamlessly into the squad.

Against South Africa, Sami bowled with pace and took two wickets, while Arafat conceded just 27 runs in seven tidy overs.

Pakistan face West Indies (March 13), Zimbabwe (March 19) and Ireland (March 23) in Group D.

England consistent at being inconsistent By Mark Meadows

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (Reuters) - England arrived in the West Indies full of confidence for the World Cup after coming back from the brink of elimination to win the recent tri-series in Australia.

But a humbling five-wicket defeat to their old enemy in their last warm-up on Friday will have reminded them of their one-day flaws and bitter memories of their 5-0 Ashes Test series debacle.

Although they were bowled out for 197 on Friday, the batting line-up is settled and enhanced by the return of Kevin Pietersen, who has recovered for a broken rib sustained when charging down the wicket to Glenn McGrath in January.

Pietersen, with his flair for the unorthodox at number four, is key to England's chances in the seven-week tournament.

The strong middle-order also includes Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood, player-of-the-series in Australia with two centuries and a 70, as England won four matches in a row to take the title.

Captain Michael Vaughan made a fluent 62 in the defeat to Australia but there are still question marks over his fitness. He fielded for just 10 overs in the warm-up victory over Bermuda on Monday and 17 overs on Friday as he continues to recover from knee and hamstring trouble.

His one-day form is also nothing like his Test figures, and he has yet to score an ODI century.

Ian Bell is now more attacking at number three and with out-of-form Andrew Strauss dropped for the warm-up games, Ed Joyce starts as opener after scoring a ton in Australia.

Jamie Dalrymple has yet to prove himself as a batsman and off-spin bowler and although Paul Nixon is competent with the gloves, and more than competent with the verbal abuse, he offers no more with the bat than Chris Read, a more skilled keeper who was overlooked for the trip to the Caribbean.

The bowling though is even more inconsistent.

England hoped to use Friday's match to decide which two of James Anderson, Jon Lewis, Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood would grab the World Cup seamer spots, but they were all ineffective in the face of Adam Gilchrist's swashbuckling 72.

There seems little to choose between them, for all the wrong reasons, although Vaughan said the Australia game had helped with the decision.

"We feel we have got a little bit nearer to deciding what we feel our best bowling attack is for these conditions," he told reporters.

Flintoff and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar are more threatening and economical but the weight of England's hopes with bat and ball has weighed Flintoff down before, notably in the Ashes.

Until only a few months ago, Panesar's weak fielding made England coach Duncan Fletcher see him as a one-day luxury but Vaughan is certainly a fan.

"He has proved in one-day cricket that he is going to be a threat on these kind of wickets. I can see him having a really good world," he said.

Before facing minnows Canada and Kenya, England's first World Cup Group C match is on Friday against New Zealand, full of confidence after whitewashing Australia 3-0 last month.

A win over the Kiwis in the first round in St Lucia should give England two valuable points for the Super Eights stage.

Ponting upbeat about Aussies' title defence

By Simon Evans

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (Reuters) - Captain Ricky Ponting was confident Australia had the right mix to defend their World Cup crown and said they could cope with the loss of injured pace bowler Brett Lee.

Australia, bidding for an unprecedented hat-trick of World Cup triumphs, start the tournament in the Caribbean as favourites despite losing their number one ranking to South Africa.

"We like to think that we are as well equipped as anyone else to win the World Cup this time around," Ponting told a news conference ahead of yesterday’s opening ceremony.

"In the last few years we have had a really good mixture of youth and experience in our squad and I think we have that this time around as well.

"I am really excited about the group of players that we have here, talent-wise and also having the right mix of people around the group."

Ponting will be without the services of opening bowler Brett Lee who was ruled out of the competition with an ankle injury but said he was sure he had enough penetration in his bowling attack.

"Of course he is one of the top-ranked one-day bowlers in the world, so when you are missing someone like that from your team it is a big gap to fill. But I've got confidence that the other guys in the squad can do that.

"The other day Shaun Tait stepped up in the practice game against England and took four for 33 and with the way he bowls, these conditions will be able to help him out at different times so hopefully he can step into Brett's shoes.

"There will be a good opportunity for Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark and those guys to put their hand up as well in Brett's absence. I think the beauty of our squad at the moment is our flexibility.

"Let's hope if the senior guys can get their jobs done some of the younger guys will stand up and make a name for themselves as well."

The Aussies lost their top spot in the world rankings after losing five straight one-day internationals, a slump in form that gave heart to their challengers in the Caribbean.

But Ponting said his team have learnt their lessons and have now put those defeats behind them.

"All the guys have forgotten about that, got over that and are pretty confident in themselves and confident that we can play some pretty good cricket in the next six weeks," he said.

Australia begin their campaign against group A opponents Scotland on Wednesday before going on to face the Netherlands and South Africa.

Pakistan team to speak only in Urdu at conferences
By Richard Sydenham

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (Reuters) - The Pakistan cricket team have been banned from speaking in English at World Cup news conferences to prevent players from being misquoted, according to a team spokesman.

Former player Pervez Mir, the team's press liaison officer during the World Cup, said at a captain's media day in Montego Bay yesterday that Pakistan's players would speak only in Urdu, which would also help to promote tourism to Pakistan.

"This decision was taken by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) because it is our national language and because 2007 is our National Tourist Year so we are promoting Pakistan as well.

"This is the perfect platform to promote and expose our national language, so there's nothing more to it."

He added that a Pakistan player had been misquoted in Trinidad following the gas leak that led to the team being evacuated from their hotel earlier in the week.

"A journalist spoke to Danish Kaneria and asked him what he thought about the gas leak and he tried to play the incident down and said, `It happens'.

"But when the report came out the journalist quoted him saying `It happens at home as well'.

"So we would rather avoid these kinds of incidents and speak in Urdu at official times, as well as for reasons of promoting Pakistan."

Pakistan play West Indies in the World Cup opener at Sabina Park, Jamaica, on Tuesday in Group D. Ireland and Zimbabwe complete the group.