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Cricket World Cup: Jonathan Agnew column

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent, Dhaka

The International Cricket Council knows that there is huge expectation ahead of this World Cup.

We cannot afford to have anything but a rip-roaring success after the disappointments of the last two tournaments, both of which limped drearily to their conclusions.

The World Cup, which is supposed to present cricket to a global audience in its most attractive light, has become flabby, unwieldy and far too long.

India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka now have an opportunity to host an event which gathers momentum and excitement over the next seven weeks, and given their cricket-crazy citizens, they already have a good starting point.

An Indian fan
Will India's fanatical supporters watch games not involving their side?

Sri Lanka's win in 1996 is the only instance of a host nation winning the World Cup, when they co-hosted with India and Pakistan (although the final was in Lahore). But given that there are three co-hosts again this time, there is an increased possibility of it happening for a second time.

India and Sri Lanka certainly start the tournament strongly fancied. I take India to win although a ball is yet to be bowled, and their passage to the final would do wonders for the atmosphere and interest in the competition.

They have stroke-players and play-makers, reverse swing bowlers and two decent spinners and, under Gary Kirsten, India's fielding has also picked up.

Their fanatical supporters will cheer them on, and rack up the pressure of expectation in equal measure, but India's players are used to that.

Sri Lanka beat Australia in their brief series before the Ashes and will play well on their own pitches, and even Bangladesh might pull off a surprise or two given that they are playing all their qualifying matches on their desperately slow tracks.

South Africa always looks as if they have the all-round strength to win the World Cup, but they blow it under pressure, while Australia are very difficult to read at the moment.

They have Ricky Ponting back again, but Michael Hussey and Nathan Hauritz are big losses. In Shaun Tait and Brett Lee they have the fastest attack in the tournament, but their lack of a front-line spinner is a real problem in this part of the world.

And so to England. Thrashed after winning the Ashes, they could easily point to fatigue as a contributing factor. The injuries sustained by the bowlers clearly did not help either, but if there is a silver lining to the steady stream of casualties returning home from the tour, it is that they have been able to have a break.

Kevin Pietersen
England's plan to open with Kevin Pietersen is an excellent idea

It was interesting that the management chose to fly them home, rather than be treated by the physiotherapist on the tour, and while Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss would have wanted an altogether different result of that series, the fact is that more of the players have had a breather.

The top of the order still causes problems and it was fascinating to see Kevin Pietersen promoted to open in the warm-up match against Canada.

I think that is an excellent idea. It pushes Pietersen out of his comfort zone and offers him the chance to take control of the match from the start. He craves responsibility, and the feeling of being appreciated so this might give him the edge he and the team needs.

It will be very interesting to see if the experiment continues, and how successful it is. If England can first identify and then produce intimidating totals, their bowling and fielding is capable of defending them - the onus is very much on the batsmen.

So, let's see where this World Cup takes us. Will the locals come out to watch teams other than their own, and will there be much in the way of travelling support?

Can Ireland repeat their very respectable World Cup record and record a shock or two before we get to the knock-out stage, which is more than four weeks away? And will the 50-over format, which many agree is increasingly predictable, emerge revitalised?

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see also
Broad stars but England struggle
16 Feb 11 |  England
Pietersen confirms opening role
16 Feb 11 |  England
ICC opposes Butt TV pundit role
16 Feb 11 |  Pakistan
Dhoni on song as India sink Kiwis
16 Feb 11 |  Cricket
S Africa beat Aussies in warm-up
15 Feb 11 |  Cricket
Ireland beat Zimbabwe in warm-up
15 Feb 11 |  Ireland
Cricket World Cup 2011 squads
19 Jan 11 |  Cricket
Cricket World Cup warm-up matches
16 Feb 11 |  Cricket
Cricket World Cup 2011
09 Mar 11 |  Cricket

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