Cricket World Cup: Why we must seize the day - and the month

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The Independent Online
ALL CRICKETERS realise the importance of the next five weeks to the future of the game in England. The seventh World Cup is an unrepeatable opportunity to secure cricket's place as the number one summer sport.

Several factors will be decisive in determining whether that happens, none is guaranteed. First, there is the performance of the England team. A semi-final place would be creditable. In terms of promoting the game it would be immensely encouraging.

Secondly, there is the marketing. I have not been vastly impressed so far with the campaign to place the World Cup into the public consciousness. The organisers seem to have been working with various PR companies and have tried various stunts. Not all of them have been wise or in the game's best interests. The most disheartening was when Anneka Rice was wheeled out to promote the competition and immediately declared that she didn't think much of cricket. It didn't exactly do wonders for the game's image.

Thirdly, there is the timing. Frankly, May and June has the potential to be a disaster. We must all pray that it is not the case but the portents are hardly all good. It is not just the prospect of rain, it is the possibility of unfortunate spectators having to wrap themselves against the cold. Nobody as yet seems to have offered a truly satisfactory explanation about why it was decided to stage the most important of all one-day competitions now. July and August would have been fantastic - apart from anything else coinciding with at least some part of the school holidays instead of exams. The Duckworth-Lewis scoring system can expect to be one of the most prominent features of the next few weeks.

But the World Cup is here and it's here now. England have got a chance because, as we keep being told, they are playing at home in conditions they know well. The team's build-up was not sensational but it should not be forgotten that we do have players of great ability.

England have to click early just to get through to the next stage. If they do that they can get some sort of momentum going. The tactics are probably clear from the players who were selected. The party was based on experience on the singular English pitches at this time of year.

Whatever is being planned, it will be clear in everybody's mind what has been true for some time now: one-day cricket is a game of equal thirds - batting, bowling and fielding. They have all become equally important in a team's likely success.

Which does not, of course, mean every team are as strong in one department as the others. England, for instance, may have to try to score a few more runs to compensate for those they might not save in the field.

Our bowling looks pretty good for the conditions, but we must guard against a repeat of what happened in Adelaide in the winter. Sri Lanka were 68 for 3, requiring 303 to win, and they got them as they milked runs in the middle part of the innings. It will be important to keep the pressure on after Darren Gough and Alan Mullally are off - in fact one of them may not use the new ball for that reason.

This could easily be a World Cup where pressure will be created not just by saving of runs but also by taking of wickets, and England have got to look to do that. Good batting starts will help, too. But again sides will have to work out how to approach the first 15 overs. I suspect that some will still attempt to score heavily, willing to sacrifice a couple of wickets in the process.

The best teams going into the competition were South Africa and Australia, with only one of Shane Warne's cigarette papers between them. They probably lead the way in fielding, have match-winning individuals and are well balanced. But that does not mean they can't be beaten on a given day.

If England can gel, if they can learn to be flexible within their game plan - which seems to have been altered a time or two - then they have an opportunity. Naturally, I am disappointed not to be part of it. I was reserve for the last two World Cups and might have been pretty close to selection this time. But somehow I never got the vibes from those who picked the team that I was truly in their minds.

At the end of the Ashes tour I was in good nick and thought I might have stayed on with the one-day squad. That would have been the time to give me a run if they were going to.

But there are 15 sound professionals out there who have it in them to do well for England. That would be invaluably helpful. Everybody in cricket is desperate for the World Cup to capture the public imaginaton.

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