Defending champions Australia will enter the tournament looking for their fourth successive triumph. However, this time the aura of invincibility around them will be missing. Their confidence was at an all-time low following the ignominious defeat in the Ashes series against England. However, the way they bounced back and trounced England in the one-day series proves that they can and never should be under-estimated.
Michael Clarke will be the key to Australia’s batting fortunes. He seems to have rediscovered his touch during the fag end of the one-day series against England with two match winning efforts. His ability to play the spinners well will hold him in good stead to score runs in the tournament. He is Australia’s best bet at No.4 and will look to consolidate the position if the openers and skipper Ricky Ponting lay a good foundation.
Talking of the openers, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin have a good understanding and rapport. Watson is in the form of his life and Haddin can back himself to score some quick runs. The pitches should help their cause well. Ponting at No. 3 comes back from a finger injury and should be looking to regain the form that has eluded him over the last 12 months. Clarke, Cameron White and David Hussey can provide the acceleration in the end overs.
The bowling will be led by the effervescent Brett Lee. It was a pleasure to watch him bowl in the one-day series against England and the fact that he was among the wickets should bode well for Australia. The pace of Shaun Tait will assist Lee in a big way and if Mitchell Johnson is able to find his mojo in the subcontinent conditions, then it will be very hard to stop the Aussies. The spin department will be handled by Jason Krejza with the young Steve Smith and the part-timer David Hussey to back them up.
Australia has a balanced team and it is no fluke that they are the No. 1 one-day team in the world right now. If they get their act right in the beginning of the tournament and play the basics well, they will find a place in the finals on April 2.
South Africa is the other team that can be talked of in the same breath as Australia. They have come determined this time to shed the chokers tag associated with them. They have often been undone by lady luck and would wish for her to smile on them this time around.
Bowling is South Africa’s main weapon. Dale Steyn can take wickets in absolutely any conditions and needs to be supported well by Morne Morkel. Morkel relies more on bounce to get his wickets and should be disappointed by the bounce that the pitches in the subcontinent offers. However, if he is willing to bend his back he is sure to get among the wickets. Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been a revelation over the last 6 months and should be an ideal third seamer ahead of Wayne Parnell who tends to be expensive. The unknown but highly rated Imran Tahir is expected to be the spin trump card with Johan Botha and Robin Peterson donning the support roles. They could count on part timers in JP Duminy and the captain Graeme Smith as well.
If the South Africans do not progress far in the tournament, it will be because of their batting. Jacques Kallis at No. 3 lends solidity but he is coming back from an injury and it remains to be seen whether he gets into form straightaway. His performance against Zimbabwe in the warm-up match has been encouraging. Hashim Amla is in great form but the same cannot be said of his captain and ally at the top of the order – Graeme Smith. The middle order will have an uphill task if the top three fail. AB De Villiers will have the enviable task of guiding the middle order batsmen.
It cannot be said that South Africa are a balanced side. Their bowling outweighs batting and they would do well to remember this. Batting second can be tricky for the side especially if they are chasing a tall score. Smith would be better off is their side decides to bat first if he wins the toss as it will always be easier to defend a total with the kind of bowling they have. It is not very lethal but their bowlers are efficient and can be counted on to pick wickets. Their batsmen will have to do the hard work, though.
South Africa can make the quarter –finals but from then on it will get difficult for them especially if their batting does not click. Again, they need to have plenty of luck on their side which eluded them in 1992, 1999 and 2003.