Cricket World Cup: Wasim's boys, Hansie's men

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The Independent Online
THERE IS no need to be a rocket scientist, as Brian Lara said about the swinging powers of the white ball, to work out that Pakistan and South Africa are the teams of the World Cup so far. They both went into the tournament at high-octane level, they both exude self-belief - and they both have high-class all-rounders.

For Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener read Abdul Razzaq, Wasim Akram and Azhar Mahmood. These are not bits and pieces, put the ball on the spot, work it around a bit all-rounders, they are the genuine article, a real threat with both bat and ball. Kallis has made the breakthrough early. He is only 23. Abdul Razzaq will not be 20 until December.

Both sides have fast bowlers, too, really fast bowlers, Allan Donald and Shoaib Akhtar. They have the capacity to destroy others sides, they have done so.

Both will take some beating but something, as they say and they know, has to give. The likelihood is that their showdown, their first showdown at least, as leaders of their respective groups, will be at Trent Bridge next Saturday. It will be a close call.

Pakistan have been reborn since the recall to the colours of Wasim Akram. That he remains a great bowler there is no doubt, but he has also brought his team together once more. Before he came back - and do not forget he had not only been sacked as captain but had announced his retirement from international cricket - the team were riven with rival factions, allegations and jealousy.

Wasim's return has made that all disappear. He is their leader and he gets the best out of them. Pakistan are a side of enviable individual talent. The seam attack is backed up by Saqlain Mushtaq and if there is a more difficult off-spinner in the world to play against it is Muttiah Muralitharan. But Murali does not have Saqlain's supporting cast.

Their batting is classy and powerful. The middle order is full of players who have the shots and go for them. Inzamam-ul-Haq is from the highest echelon. He is a singular modern batsman. I thought we had a couple at Middlesex who were on the sluggish side between the wickets but Inzi...

Pakistan's rediscovered form and confidence (they came into this tournament on a roll which had seen them winning the Asian Test championship and two one-day series) does not make them infallible, but they are now immensely difficult to beat. They play aggressive cricket. You only have to look at their body language for evidence of that.

It is an important weapon in any side's armoury and Shoaib, for instance, is a master of it. A bowler on top of his game, he lets the batsman know all about his presence with the way he looks, the way he walks. Nor should Saqlain be overlooked in this regard. He may be a spinner but he has an attacking bowler's aggressive streak.

South Africa's credentials are similar but different. Wasim Akram has made his players into a unit but the South Africans epitomise the team ethos. They are outstanding individuals whose every move makes it clear that what they do they do for each other. All for one, and one for all. Klusener is the man who has made the runs and taken the wickets for them so far, but he has always given the impression that it is for his colleagues.

South Africa are also probably a slicker fielding side than Pakistan. It should be some match between them. Close to call but some game between the last great romantics and the slick, ultra professionals.

But for all the deeds of the group leaders nothing has surpassed the batting of India at Taunton against Sri Lanka. The bowling was not of the highest calibre, but they were simply demolished by batsmanship of exemplary style. Murali, as I said, is one of the world's two best off- spinners, but Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly took him apart at the end. One shot of Dravid's for six over extra cover was absolutely stunning in its artistry and technique. This was just what the competition needed.

In all this, England should not be written off - should they survive their Edgbaston examination. They will need to play at their best in every match. The middle-order has to contribute - Mark Ealham more with the bat, Andrew Flintoff and Adam Hollioake more with the ball. The fifth bowler, even if it is a combined fifth bowler, has to be more economical than the 49 runs he gave away at Trent Bridge against Zimbabwe, for example. They also have to make runs under pressure. I think Flintoff is certainly worth persevering with.

England, of course, have been planning for this for 18 months and he played his first match barely six weeks before it started. But it is right that he should be in. He should be given licence, and he should have no fear of failure.