Bonanza for cricket fans

No doubt in their own backyard this spring, supported by their own crowds, and utilising that uncompromising self-confidence that is their trade mark, Australia will be the favourites. Why not! By Ted Corbett.

We — that is to say those of us who have an interest in international sport — lead strange lives in this modern era.

You may meet us in the middle of the day and see us rub our eyes or yawn deeply. Don’t wonder why. We have been wide awake at some ungodly hour just to see if one of our favourite players can score a few runs at last, if our team can win on the back of another great bowler’s direct attack or in the hope there will be a sensational catch to round off our success.

Not all that many years ago we went to bed at the usual time and, although we might have leapt downstairs early, we had to wait until next day to find how our men had fared.

Thanks to global television, that is no longer the case. We will know the very second one of our favoured stars is out and, what is more, we will immediately know what the ball did, how close the catcher was to dropping the catch and hear good old Harsha Bhogle or trustworthy Ravi Shastri deliver a verdict on that important moment.

The game might as well be round the corner rather than half way round the world. Even as dawn breaks we are close up and personal alongside the action and, at the time, getting up soon after midnight seems well worth it.

It was not always thus as you can tell from reading the autobiography of any player who will always include a word or two about crouching under the bed clothes listening to his birthday gift radio which may have contained more brilliant reporting but lacked the essential pictures so that we can form our own judgement; much better than the experts abroad of course.

One of those experts was the late Mark Marqusee whose book Anyone but England I have just finished after feeling the need for a second reading when I heard he had died. It is worthwhile especially now that the World Cup is on, which means that your nearest and dearest may be creeping downstairs to the nearest TV every night.

(By a strange coincidence it was at the start of the 1996 World Cup — we were actually in Calcutta at the time — that the two of us met. Unfortunately it was at the moment when an Indian official with a vile temper decided to bellow at me for something I had written. I cannot remember what. This head man applied such force that neither Mike nor I could get a word in edgeways which is why we remained friends to the last. )

No doubt in their own backyard this spring, supported by their own crowds, and utilising that uncompromising self-confidence that is their trade mark, Australia will be the favourites. Why not!

They have a wonderful fast left arm bowler with the instincts of a hungry crocodile in Mitchell Johnson.

The old uns like Richie Benaud worshipped the precise left arm pace of Alan Davidson and there will be a strong vote for Wasim Akram but if there has ever been a better lefty with pace than Johnson he would be frightening to watch never mind play against.

Johnson is not a subtle man; he is a force of nature, a pocket battleship, a Churchill tank on aviation fuel and he will win World Cup matches simply by swaggering into the ground. Add the incredible form of the temporary Test skipper Steve Smith, the threat posed by the return of Michael Clarke and a tough collection of all-rounders and the odds on Australia shrink and shrink.

New Zealand also have a chance if only because of the strike force within Brendon McCullum and their base in the other half of Down Under. South Africa will always be a power in such a competition and they deserve a success after going close once or twice.

But They are apt to crack at the wrong moments and their respected captain Graeme Smith has retired. Pakistan and their unpredictability, Sri Lanka with their mix of pace and unreadable over-spin and those earnest triers from Bangladesh will pose a problem or two.

What of India, I hear you ask. Not good news. They have been on tour since the beginning of time and they do not travel well and when we dream our midnight dreams, when they are 100 for none off 19 overs, when their opponents look done for, we must keep our money in our pockets.

We may see the end of their attempt quite quickly although if they win it will be with panache and a flurry of outrageous strokes. Let’s hope so but it is a wild hope.

As for England I find myself relying on the late Mr. Marqusee, shrewd in his assessment, forthright in his wording. It will, once again, as it has been, ten times already since the first World Cup in 1975, Anyone but England; they can never, so it seems, apply enough drive, match after match, to win a worldwide 50 overs competition.

Without Ben Stokes, the new Freddie Flintoff, they have already handicapped themselves and, remember, they have also voluntarily set the great KP to one side as if they were rich enough to be so bold. Such stupidity is still beyond comprehension.