Let the action begin: West Indies v Pakistan preview
The preliminaries are over, the teams and their supporters are on four islands throughout the Caribbean, let the action begin.
For 14 of the teams, including Ireland, in their first World Cup finals, it is a watching brief today as hosts West Indies play Pakistan in Sabina Park, the first of the tournament’s 51 matches. Ireland and Zimbabwe, the other teams in Group D, will have more than a passing interest in the outcome because the losers will be the next target for the two ‘minnows’.
The victors will, automatically, become favourites to top the group, with three wins out of three and then the winners of Thursday’s game between Ireland and Zimbabwe will know victory against the losers today will give them a passage into the Super Eights.
West Indies captain Brian Lara has said the game is “the best match possible to get the tournament under way”.
He added: “The hosts against the other favourites to emerge from the group. Pakistan had a comfortable win against South Africa in their warm-up game last Friday but we are not going to rely on them being an unpredictable team. We hope it will be a tough game and hope we come out the best team at the end of it.”
Opposite number Inzamam-ul-Haq was giving nothing away on his eve-of-match Press conference.
“It’s not easy to beat the West Indies in the West Indies but Pakistan will do their best,” he said. At least that was the translation from the Pakistan media manager Pervez Jamil Mir. The Pakistanis have already annoyed all the English-speaking journalists here by announcing that all their Press conferences will be conducted in Urdu. We are all looking forward to hearing their coach, the former England opening batsman Bob Woolmer, speaking in Urdu.
The Ireland party cannot decide who they want to win today’s game but the favoured scenario appears to be for Pakistan to win all three games and, if Ireland get their campaign off to a winning start then it could come down to the final group game on Friday week, between West Indies and Ireland, the winners going through, the losers going home.
It will be disappointing, and even surprising, if there is not at least one upset in the first phase of matches which are being played in St Kitts, Trinidad, St Lucia and here in Jamaica. With Scotland and the Netherlands alongside the top two ranked teams, South Africa and Australia, hopes of either of those teams getting two wins would appear non-existent.
In St Lucia, England and New Zealand should be much too strong for Kenya - even though they are the best country outside the 10 Test nations - and Canada, but, in Trinidad, Bangladesh, having beaten the Kiwis in a warm-up clash last week, would fancy their chances in an easier group. Unfortunately for them, India and Sri Lanka are the two seeded teams in this group and should progress comfortably. Bermuda are making up the numbers here.
So, all eyes are on Ireland and victory against Zimbabwe is the favourite tie for an upset. Whether they can follow up with victory against today’s teams, however, remains most unlikely with Pakistan’s mercurial talent and the West Indies roared on by what should be capacity crowds in excess of 20,000 for all three of their games here.
The format of the tournament ensures that all the top teams will play each other once before the two semi finals, in Jamaica and St Lucia, with Antigua, Guyana, Grenada and Barbados hosting the Super Eight games from March 27-April 21, each of the teams playing the other six qualifiers who were not in their first phase group. Crucially, though, the win points against the other qualifier from their group is carried into the Super Eights, so four teams will start that stage two points better off than the other four.
A poll of captains suggests that Australia, in spite of losing their top ranking, are favourites to make it a hat-trick of World Cup titles. But, after eight tournaments, no-one has managed that sequence and no host nation has ever won the tournament. Who does that leave? My small wager would go on India to win the final in Barbados on April 28 with Sachin Tendulkar to be king in what is almost certainly his last World Cup.