Cricket's new order is happy to embrace the commercial age

After all the arguments, the World Cup gets under way tomorrow. Robert Winder reports from Ahmedabad on a changing game; CRICKET WORLD CUP 1996
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If it is true that all publicity is good publicity, then the sixth Cricket World Cup has already been a resounding success. The refusal by Australia and the West Indies to go to Sri Lanka is only an unexpected promotional bonus, bringing extra sizzle to an already spicy event. Bombay (recently renamed Mumbai) threw the first spanner into the schedule by refusing to play host to Pakistan, and relations between India and its neighbour are so bad that only a special visa deal, announced a couple of days ago, will allow their fans to travel. When Pakistan came to Calcutta for the opening ceremony it was the first time they had visited India this decade, though it was not diplomacy that cost Wasim Akram his ear stud: a Lahore citizen took a petition to the High Court urging the captain not to look like a girl.

So the 1996 World Cup is historic even before a ball has been bowled. Anyone who complains (understandably) about the rise and rise of one-day cricket, or bemoans the cheap aesthetics of what will undoubtedly be a gaudy fancy dress gala, is missing the point. On the field, the tournament looks like being a showcase, despite all the hype, for traditional virtues. There are flamboyant batsmen (Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar), classic fast bowlers (Allan Donald, Curtly Ambrose and Waqar Younis) and, best of all, three wrist spinners (Paul Adams, Anil Kumble and Shane Warne). But it is off the field that the competition will break new ground. The inclusion of three make-weights (the Netherlands, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates) is not an accident - they are three new countries to sell television rights to. The 1996 World Cup is cricket's first big attempt to go global.

The first clue that the balance of cricketing power had changed came when India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Pilcom) won the right to hold this World Cup in the first place. The International Cricket Council had just been democratised - one member, one vote, with England and Australia losing their veto. Pilcom seized the chance, offering the associate members $100,000 for their votes. England offered only $60,000, and that was that. Suddenly it was clear that Asia was where the money was, and the organisers have been raking it in ever since.

In the last World Cup the television rights went for pounds 700,000; this time, pounds 20m. Add the title sponsorship (pounds 7m from Wills) and stadium advertising contracts worth pounds 8m, and you have a gold mine - the first cricket has ever found. For the first time in India there will be corporate hospitality, in air-conditioned tents. In cities across India, Tendulkar and Mohammed Azharuddhin smile down from hoardings holding fizzy drinks or credit cards. Even Coca-Cola, not a noted cricket fan, has been welcomed to the party (for a mere pounds 2.5m). Only the sub-continent sized cricket audience makes this possible. Pilcom expects to gross $100m (pounds 66.6m) in all - not the Olympics, but not bad. The votes of those associate members look cheap.

The row over Australia and the West Indies only emphasises the gulf between the old cricket order and the new one. After Saturday's last-ditch ICC meeting in Calcutta, one dejected Pilcom convener wondered aloud whether Australia would have refused to visit England following the bomb at Canary Wharf, and everyone knew the answer. The organisers bent over backwards to provoke a change of heart. India volunteered to play their match against Kenya in Colombo, to prove it was safe, and even offered to helicopter the teams into empty stadiums. But there was nothing doing. The Pilcom chief, I S Bindra, told journalists at one point that the meeting had adjourned for a coffee break. "Hopefully," he added, "we will not need a dinner break." His hopes were dashed. The debate ran on into the evening, moving rooms twice to clear the way for wedding receptions.

The immediate result is that Sri Lanka (many people's dark horses for the cup in any case) have won two games already. Otherwise there are no favourites. India have wonderful batting and hysterical home support - the team knows that people may die if they lose. Pakistan have had an awful year of defeat, bribery allegations and in-fighting, but have the most dangerous bowlers in the tournament, as well as big scores to settle. Australia are probably the best and toughest all-round team, but will also be the most noisily disliked, which will be no fun. South Africa look strong, and are on the crest of a national sporting wave. Lahore is standing by for an emotional visit by Nelson Mandela on cup final day.

As for England, who can say? Their wretched fortnight in South Africa dismayed home fans, and they have begun in the traditional manner, with a batch of groin strains and wonky knees. But, so far as the rest of the world is concerned, England at cricket are a bit like Germany at football: they never look like much, but invariably make it to the final. They've been runners-up three times in five tries, which gives them about the best pedigree in the competition. If Michael Atherton, Graeme Hick and Graham Thorpe hit form, if Dominic Cork and Phillip DeFreitas get their tails up, if, if, if...

The one team no one is talking about is the West Indies, the only team to have won the World Cup twice. Sure, in the last 18 months they have been fractious and unhappy. But they still have hot bowlers, and also, more significantly, Lara. After his controversial autumn the man is rested and eager. He arrived a day late - the plane from Barbados developed engine trouble and had to turn back - but then started asking what the one-day record was (181, by Viv Richards in 1983). For all the talk of handy all- rounders, it is big batting that wins these games, and if Lara is in the mood - hell, if he plays to form - he will set impossible targets. If the West Indies do spring a surprise, it will be one of the most unsurprising surprises ever.

At least the opening ceremony is out of the way. The spectacle was designed for the benefit of overhead television, but the blimp failed to secure air traffic clearance, so the effect - 1,000 dancers in symbolic floral patterns - was lost. And the Italian-designed laser spectacular was blown away by a sharp Bengali breeze, which made the huge projection screens flap about like net curtains. Was that a mountain range, or a stormy sea? Was that a fast bowler, or a skateboarder falling over? Before the event, rumours that Miss Universe was going to strip caused a flutter in shy Calcutta. In the end she simply handed out flags to the various captains.

Eden Gardens looked terrific, though, which is more than can be said for the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay. At the weekend, three of the four light towers for the day-night game against Australia were unfinished, and a huge hydraulic crane brought in to speed things up toppled onto the pitch, knocking a 4ft crater in the grass and spewing oil over the outfield.

However, India manages such crises with superb aplomb. A spokesman for the Bombay Cricket Association remained calm. "We are very much within the time schedule," he declared. "Horticulturalists have been summoned." A pity, really. It could have been a first: crane stopped play.

Six to take on the world

Chris Cairns

New Zealand

At 25, Chris Cairns is looking like a man about to make a breakthrough. After struggling to live up to lavish predictions, he produced a successful season with Nottinghamshire (eighth in the bowling averages and 15 wickets in a match against Sussex) and followed it up by making giant strides on the international stage. He crashed an 88-ball century against India in November and then took 76 and six wickets in the Test against Pakistan. A genuine all-rounder, he is central to his side's fortunes.

Heath Streak

Zimbabwe

His season with Hampshire was something of a learning process for a raw 21-year-old, but no one should doubt his talent - 22 wickets in a three- Test series against Pakistan (including Zimbabwe's maiden Test win), and a bristling performance against South Africa before England played them. The sub-continental pitches and one-day game are not ideally suited to a quick bowler, but none are likely to do much better than Streak. He can also give the ball a thorough belt in the lower middle-order.

Ricky Ponting

Australia

At 21 he is thought of as the most gifted Australian batsman for a generation - quite a billing given their stream of young talent. Blessed with breathtaking speed of eye, hand and foot, it was his emergence which helped push David Boon into retirement. He scored a wonderful century in the World Series against Sri Lanka and, if he can adjust his timing to the slow pitches, is capable of illuminating the whole month. Like the rest of the team, he is dazzlingly swift between the wickets and a glorious fielder.

Romesh Kaluwitharana

Sri Lanka

The small wicketkeeper became a big hero in the triangular tournament in Australia when Sri Lanka pushed him into the slogger/opener role to take advantage of the early fielding restrictions in one-day cricket. He immediately looked born to it, smashing the best that Australia and the West Indies could throw at him huge distances - including the fastest half-century in 16 years of the World Series. Aravinda de Silva is the thoroughbred of their line-up, but Kaluwitharana should provide a few fireworks alongside him.

Aamir Sohail

Pakistan

No longer a spring chicken at 29, but it is quite possible that Aamir Sohail's best days are (not very far) in front of him. If Pakistan perform to their potential, he could end the tournament as the best opening batsman on view. The regulations might have been written for him - he is a free- flowing and aggressive left-hander - and he will be playing in front of the hugely partisan Pakistan crowds on pitches he knows and loves. Add in his proven ability to perform on the big occasion and you have a formidable player.

Shane Lee

Australia

The newest member of a successful team, he could also be the final piece of the jigsaw. An all-rounder of the type Australia have lacked since the days of Simon O'Donnell, he is a brisk medium pacer with a real variety of tricks. In the field he possesses perhaps the best arm in the squad - which in Australia is no mean boast. But it is with the bat he might do most damage. Whether coming in at No 7 or much earlier as the pinch- hitter he will play the same way - blasting the ball miles.

GROUP A

AUSTRALIA

The best all-round cricket side in the world are justifiable favourites. They already dominate the Test scene, with four series victories in 1995, and are quite capable of doing the same in the one-day arena. They know how to succeed here, too, having won the 1987 cup.

Quite apart from their individual ability, they are the most inventive of one-day units. They frequently go into limited-overs games with just two specialist batsmen in Mark Taylor and Michael Slater, which then gives Taylor no fewer than eight bowling options, ranging from the hostility of Craig McDermott and Glenn McGrath, through any number of medium pacers to the unorthodox slow chinamen of Michael Bevan. Their fielding is simply blinding. Find a weakness if you can.

Squad: Mark Taylor (capt), Michael Slater, Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Stuart Law, Michael Bevan, Shane Lee, Ian Healy, Damien Fleming, Shane Warne, Paul Reiffel, Craig McDermott, Glenn McGrath.

INDIA

Not as good as they were a year ago, and overly dependent on the sublime Sachin Tendulkar, they can still upset the best on their day.

Home advantage should not be understimated - they have not lost a home series in the five years of Mohammed Azharuddin's leadership, but the side did start to creak against New Zealand.

Batting is their strength, with Tendulkar quite capable of destroying any team before the fielding restrictions have been relaxed. Behind him come Azharuddin, Navjot Singh Sidhu - who averages more than 40 - and the maturing Ajay Jadeja.

The bowling is not of the same class, however. Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath must have startling tournaments if they are to repeat their 1983 success. The fielding, too, is some way short of terrifying.

Squad: Mohammed Azharuddin (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Jadeja, Navjot Sidhu, Vinod Kambli, Sanjay Manjrekar, Nayan Mongia, Aashish Kapoor, Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble, Venkatesh Prasad, Venkatapathy Raju, Salil Ankola.

KENYA

Kenya have been working very hard since finishing runners-up in the ICC Trophy to qualify, playing a series of games against the likes of Transvaal and Border from South Africa, India A and Bangladesh, and picking up victories against them all.

The game is developing in Kenya - it is becoming a popular pre-season touring venue for counties - but they are in a difficult group for an upset. Steve Tikolo, who plays for Border, is the leading batsman - and has centuries against both the Dutch and UAE to his name, with Sandeep Kumar Gupta not far behind.

On the bowling front, we are promised some serious pace from the 18-year- old Thomas Odoyo, who has taken 4 for 49 against Transvaal and 4 for 50 against Natal.

Squad: Maurice Odumbe (capt), Dipak Chudasama, Kennedy Otieno, Tariq Iqbal, David Tikolo, Steve Tikolo, Hitesh Modi, Alpesh Vadher, Edward Odumbe, Sandip Gupta, Martin Suji, Thomas Odoyo, Rajab Ali, Tony Suji, Lameck Onyango, Joseph Angara, Asif Karim, Brijal Patel.

SRI LANKA

The terrorist problems could not have come at a worse time for Sri Lanka's cricketers, who looked ready to make a major impact at world level. The bonus is that they could have an easier run through the quarter-finals as a result of the boycott.

They may have the worst record of any World Cup side (20 losses in 26 matches), but their recent form has been encouraging - especially the way they disposed of the West Indies in Australia.

They are blessed with rare batting, of which Aravinda de Silva is the jewel - if his mind is set he can live with the Laras and Tendulkars. Their fielding has improved dramatically, and is now competitive, which is just as well given the paucity of awkward bowlers, although the young left-armer Chaminda Vaas has shown promise.

Squad: Arjuna Ranatunga (capt), Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama, Sanath Jayasuriya, Asanka Gurusinha, Hashan Tillekeratne, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Chaminda Vaas, Pramodya Wickremasinghe, Kumar Dharmasena, Muttiah Muralitharan, Marvan Atapattu, Upal Chandana, Ravindra Pushpakumara.

WEST INDIES

How are the mighty fallen. The first kings of the one-day game have been overtaken by its development, and their line-up of specialist bowlers and batsmen is at odds with the current thinking of a side stacked with all-rounders.

In the last two World Cups they have failed to get beyond the qualifying stages, and not many would predict them to break that sequence here given the domestic arguments and their dreadful form in the recent World Series in Australia.

Their pace attack, which struggles anyway with the restrictions of one- day cricket, will be further emasculated by the slow pitches.

There is one reason, and one reason only, why they could still be dangerous - Brian Lara. We can but hope his mind is on the job.

Squad: Richie Richardson (capt), Jimmy Adams, Curtly Ambrose, Keith Arthurton, Ian Bishop, Courtney Browne, Sherwin Campbell, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Cameron Cuffy, Ottis Gibson, Roger Harper, Roland Holder, Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh.

ZIMBABWE

There are nine Test playing nations, and the odds are not long that the one to miss out on the quarter-finals here will be the newest, Zimbabwe, though they are quite capable of an upset on their day.

You can get a long way in one-day cricket on determination and brilliant fielding. That is Zimbabwe's best chance - they are just as good as Australia and South Africa in the field, even if rather less so on the closely mown bit.

However, the Flower brothers are a fine opening pair (Grant has a Test double-century to his name and captain Andy hit 156 in their first Test victory against Pakistan in Harare) and their running between the wickets is truly spectacular.

The bowling has a bit of bite through Heath Streak and Bryan Strang, but lacks the depth to be consistently effective or dangerous at this level.

Squad: Andy Flower (capt), Alastair Campbell, Eddo Brandes, Stephen Peall, Guy Whittall, Grant Flower, Heath Streak, Charles Lock, Sean Davies, Craig Evans, Andrew Waller, Henry Olonga, Bryan Strang, Paul Strang.

GROUP B

ENGLAND

Only the blind faithful will have any confidence. England have the experience and ability to win the cup for the first time (they have lost three finals), but absolutely no one knows whether they will play properly.

One day the bowling could be flayed all over the sub-continent by anyone bar the UAE and the Netherlands, the next, even the Australians could be forced to struggle to get the ball off the square. Ditto the batting. The only constant is the fielding, which is invariably - and unnecessarily - below the standard of Australia and South Africa.

Nevertheless, if Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe and Graeme Hick find some consistency and Darren Gough continues the improvement of the latter part of the South African tour, yet another final might be in the offing.

Squad: Michael Atherton (capt), Alec Stewart, Dominic Cork, Philip DeFreitas, Neil Fairbrother, Darren Gough, Graeme Hick, Richard Illingworth, Peter Martin, Jack Russell, Robin Smith, Neil Smith, Graham Thorpe, Craig White.

NETHERLANDS

A banana-skin. The embarrassment would be massive (even by recent standards) should England be discomfited when they meet at Peshawar. However, it is not impossible. The sport has been played in the Netherlands for more than a century, and South Africa, the West Indies, England and Australia have all sent sides to be beaten on the matting pitches there.

They put in a thoroughly creditable performance against Northamptonshire on their debut in the NatWest last season, thumping a quick 267. The batting depends much on the openers, 47-year-old Barbadian Nolan Clarke, who took 174 off Mike Denness's side in the Caribbean back in 1974, and Peter Cantrell, an Australian golf professional. Roland Lefebvre, of Glamorgan, is the key bowler. More likely than Kenya or the UAE to cause the big boys problems.

Squad: Steven Lubbers (capt), Peter Cantrell, Nolan Clarke, Flavian Aponso, Tim De Leede, Klaas Jan van Noortwijk, Bas Zuiderent, Robert van Oosterom, Marcel Schewe, Reinout Scholte, Erik Gouka, Paul Jan Bakker, Roland Lefebvre, Floris Jansen.

NEW ZEALAND

No more Martin Crowe. Still no replacement for Richard Hadlee. No chance?

Not quite, despite a quite appalling run at Test level which saw 1994/95 defeats by England, South Africa, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Now coached by their former batsman, Glenn Turner, they have successful recent one- day form on the sub-continent behind them - drawing 2-2 with Pakistan and losing narrowly 3-2 to India. The new captain, wicketkeeper Lee Germon, has managed to engender a feeling of growing confidence, which means they could spring similar surprises to 1992, when they were the most innovative side in the competition.

Roger Twose will have a point to prove against England in the first game, Dion Nash will hope to be back to his best, and the tournament looks the perfect stage for Chris Cairns.

Squad: Lee Germon (capt), Nathan Astle, Chris Cairns, Stephen Fleming, Chris Harris, Robert Kennedy, Gavin Larsen, Danny Morrison, Dion Nash, Dipak Patel, Adam Parore, Shane Thomson, Roger Twose, Craig Spearman.

PAKISTAN

The most talented side in the tournament, and on occasion, just about the worst.

If they can forget the internecine warfare which provoked a procession of five captains in under two years, the bribery allegations, defeat at home by Sri Lanka and away by Australia and humiliation in Sharjah and just play cricket, they could defend their title successfully.

The batting can send a tremble through the toughest bowling line-ups - Aamir Sohail, Saeed Anwar, Ramiz Raja, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Ijaz Ahmed, Salim Malik and Basit Ali can all rip it. And the bowling? Say no more than Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed. Weaknesses could be the support bowling, the fielding, and their ability to self-destruct.

Squad: Wasim Akram (capt), Aamir Sohail, Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Ramiz Raja, Saeed Anwar, Ijaz Ahmed, Rashid Latif, Waqar Younis, Aaqib Javed, Ata-ur Rehman, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq.

SOUTH AFRICA

Up there with Australia when it comes to making the most of what they have got - just not quite as good individually. Whether they can compensate enough for that is one of the key questions.

Unlike every other major contender, South Africa's strength is their bowling rather than their batting. The emergence of Shaun Pollock gives them the luxury of letting Allan Donald loose at full snarl just when the batsmen are trying to accelerate.

The unknown is just how good they are under pressure (England were unable to exert any in their recent one-day series) and despite the destructive ability of Cullinan and Kallis, the suspicion remains that they may not be able to score enough runs when life is difficult. The most spectacular fielding side in the competition.

Squad: Hansie Cronje (capt), Craig Matthews, Gary Kirsten, Andrew Hudson, Jacques Kallis, Daryll Cullinan, Jonty Rhodes, Brian McMillan, Shaun Pollock, Steve Palframan, Pat Symcox, Fanie de Villiers, Allan Donald, Paul Adams.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

When they qualified by winning 12 straight games to lift the ICC Trophy in 1994, the UAE were scoring lots of runs and being well coached by Madan Lal. Everything in the desert was coming up roses.

Time has not been kind to the Emirates. Madan Lal has left after an argument over a long-term contract, and the UAE have yet to look the same unit. Add in the fact that next time the ICC's residential qualifications will render most of their team of sub-continental expatriates ineligible, and this is not a happy camp.

The build-up has not gone well, either, with the batsmen, of whom the Pakistani, Mazhar Hussein, is the best, all out of form. One player to watch for is the Sri Lankan all-rounder, Johanne Samarasekera.

Squad: Sultan Zarawani (capt), Saeed al-Saffar (vice-capt), Vijay Mehra, Saleem Raza, Shahzad Altaf, Shaukat Dukanwala, Ganesh Mylvaganam, Syed Azhar Saeed, Mazhar Hussein, Arshad Laiq, Mohammed Aslam, Johanne Samarasekera, Imtiaz Abbasi, Ishaq Mohammed.

Hugh Bateson

FEBRUARY

14 England v New Zealand (Ahmedabad)

Sky 03.00-11.30. BBC1 22.35-24.05 Radio 4 longwave 04.00-11.30

15 South Africa v UAE (Rawalpindi)

Sky 03.45-12.00

16 West Indies v Zimbabwe (Hyderabad)

Sky 08.55-17.00

17 Sri Lanka v Australia (Colombo)

Australia forfeit match

New Zealand v Netherlands (Baroda)

Sky 03.15-11.30

18 India v Kenya (Cuttack)

Sky 15.00-19.00

England v UAE (Peshawar)

Sky 03.30-12.00. BBC2 22.00-23.00 Radio 5 Live 04.30-12.00

20 New Zealand v South Africa (Faisalabad)

Sky 03.45-12.00

21 India v West Indies (Gwalior)

Sky 08.55-17.00

Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe (Colombo)

Sky 22.00-24.00

22 England v Netherlands (Peshawar)

Sky 03.45-12.00. BBC2 23.15-00.15 Radio 4 longwave 04.30-12.00

23 Australia v Kenya (Vishakhapatnam)

Sky 03.15-11.15

24 Pakistan v UAE (Gujranwala)

Sky 03.45-12.00

25 Sri Lanka v West Indies (Colombo)

West Indies forfeit match

England v South Africa (Rawalpindi)

Sky 03.30-12.00. BBC2 21.50-22.50 Radio 5 Live 04.30-12.00

26 Kenya v Zimbabwe (Patna)

Sky 22.45-00.30

Pakistan v Netherlands (Lahore)

Sky 09.25-17.30

27 India v Australia (Bombay)

Sky 08.55-17.00

New Zealand v UAE (Faisalabad)

Sky 19.00-22.00

29 West Indies v Kenya (Pune)

Sky 19.00-22.00

Pakistan v South Africa (Karachi)

Sky 03.45-12.00

MARCH

1 Australia v Zimbabwe (Nagpur)

Sky 03.15-11.30

Netherlands v UAE (Lahore)

Sky 11.30-17.00

2 India v Sri Lanka (Delhi)

Sky 03.15-11.30

3 England v Pakistan (Karachi)

Sky 03.30-12.00. BBC2 21.40-22.40 Radio 5 Live 04.30-12.00

4 Australia v West Indies (Jaipur)

Sky 03.15-11.30

5 South Africa v Netherlands (Rawalpindi)

Sky 03.45-12.00

6 India v Zimbabwe (Kanpur)

Sky 03.30-11.30

Sri Lanka v Kenya (Kandy)

Sky 19.00-22.00

Pakistan v New Zealand (Lahore)

Sky 11.30-17.15

QUARTER-FINALS

9 1st Gp A v 4th Gp B (Faisalabad)

3rd Gp A v 2nd Gp B (Bangalore)

Sky 03.55-17.00. BBC1 23.35-24.35

11 4th Gp A v 1st Gp B (Karachi)

2nd Gp A v 3rd Gp B (Madras)

Sky 03.45-1700. BBC2 23.15-00.15

BBC radio coverage depends on England's progress. Their quarter-final will be live either on Radio 5 Live (if the first game) or on Radio 4 longwave (if any of the others)

SEMI-FINALS

13 Faisalabad winner v Bangalore winner (Calcutta)

Sky 08.30-17.00. BBC1 23.00-24.00 Radio 4 longwave 09.00-17.00

14 Karachi winner v Madras winner (Chandigarh)

Sky 08.30-17.00. BBC2 23.15-24.15 Radio 4 longwave 09.00-17.00

FINAL

17 Lahore

Sky 09.00-17.30. BBC2: 22.10-23.10 Radio 4 longwave 09.30-17.30

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