Cricket: England could get stuck in back-yard jam

The Australian batsman Mark Waugh, who will be writing regularly for The Independent during the World Cup, says the pressure of playing at home can outweigh the benefit
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The Independent Online
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM says that playing at home is an advantage and it is no surprise that many people are expecting England to have a good tournament. But, as I know to my cost, playing on home soil can just as easily work against you.

In the 1992 World Cup in Australia we played terribly on grounds we knew better than anybody. We lost to England, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa and did not even make it to the semi-finals. The pressure of expectation, of performing with our family and friends there, outweighed any advantage gained by local knowledge.

England have more experience of the conditions this time, but will be well aware that no team have ever won the World Cup in their own back yard. We are 12,000 miles from home, but feel we have plenty of reasons for confidence as we prepare to start our campaign against Scotland at Worcester tomorrow.

My brother, Stephen, along with Tom Moody and Geoff Marsh, our coach, have all been involved as far back as our World Cup win in 1987. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne are the best fast and spin bowlers respectively in the world. The batting has depth, especially in Michael Bevan, whose middle-order supremacy is unrivalled. When he goes in, there are usually four fielders in the circle so there are plenty of gaps. He is a great judge of the pace of the game and knows when to accelerate, when to hit fours, when to go for the big shots, and is always capable of picking out the gaps. He is intuitive and great under pressure.

Adam Gilchrist is dynamic at the top of the order, and Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and Stephen are all quality players. Possibly the only question mark is the absence of a true all-rounder who can bowl his 10 overs for 30 or 40 and then go out and make 50s.

Although I have not made a century for a while, I had a good summer at home with six consecutive fifties in the World Series Cup. However, I am aware of the need not to be over-confident. There are many good bowlers in this competition who will be difficult to bat against, especially on wickets where there will still be some dampness at this time of year.

People talk about us having had a difficult winter, about the amount of cricket we played, about the distractions on and off the pitch. None of that matters. Now we are here, amongst the best players in the world, we will just lift ourselves. Tiredness will not come into it. We have good team morale, there are no egos to deal with and, if anything, experiences such as the pitch invasions in the West Indies make us stick together and look out for our mates.

Who will be our main challengers? South Africa are certainly entitled to be the favourites. They are the form team of the past 12 months and have great depth in all departments. Four of their all-rounders stand out. Any side would be happy just to have one from Hansie Cronje, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock or Jacques Kallis. They also have outstanding fielders, with Herschelle Gibbs and Jonty Rhodes, and great bowlers in Pollock and Allan Donald. They are certainly the team to beat.

Pakistan are definitely a dangerous side, if only for their individual match-winners in Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar and Saeed Anwar. There has to be a question mark over their team spirit and maybe their fielding and running between wickets, but on their day they can beat anyone through brilliant individual displays.

Of the others, I do not think the reigning champions, Sri Lanka, will get as far as the Super Six. They have been out of form and will struggle with the conditions.

England, the West Indies and New Zealand are all capable of doing well, but I take India to fill out the top four alongside ourselves, South Africa and Pakistan. They have talented bowlers in Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Bapu Prasad and Ajit Agarkar. Sachin Tendulkar's record stands on its own - he picks up hundreds like most people pick up a cold - but Mohammed Azharuddin, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly and Ajaysingh Jadeja are all very good one-day batsmen. It is good to have minnows like Scotland, Kenya and Bangladesh involved but I think they are all very short-priced at 1,000-1 or whatever is available.

The weather could well play a significant part, especially when matches are going to be decided by the Duckworth-Lewis method. Not that I can claim to understand fully how it works. Scores change and you just hope you are on the right side when it is all worked out.

Test cricket is like a marathon and the differences in class are accentuated. One-day cricket is like a 100 metre sprint. There is not going to be a great distance between first and last. Not 12,000 miles, anyway.

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