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March 6, 2007

Can England win it all? A beginner's guide to cricket's World Cup

The waiting is finally over as the Cricket World Cup gets underway in the West Indies. Rather than subject you to yet another preview that regards Australia as the favorite, the West Indies as the dark horse, and England as odds-on to embarrass itselves, I’ll serve up what I expect to be the best 11 players come the end of the tournament.

Key: “m”=matches, “a”=batting/bowling average, “s”=strike-rate, “e”=economy, “c=”centuries, “w”=wickets. All statistics are for One-Day Internationals (ODIs).

Wicket-keeper/opener: Adam Gilchrist (Australia; 257m/36a/96s/14c)

Vast experience, a good average, a superb strike-rate, and top-notch handling. The good news is, with the portly leg-spinner Shane Warne having tucked into his final cricketing supper, we don’t have to listen to Gilchrist screeching “Nice one Shane,” every time the ball lands within 20 yards of the stumps.

Opener/all-rounder: Shahid Afridi (Pakistan; batting 237m/23a/109s/4c, bowling 237m/35a/4.6e/198w)

World class when it comes to veering from the sublime to the ridiculous. When he’s not too busy scuffing the pitch or chucking, the hugely talented all-rounder enjoys punching out centuries in 40 odd balls.

No. 3: Ricky Ponting (Australia; 269m/42a/80s/22c)

The diminutive Tasmanian embodies leadership from the front and has been a hugely successful captain. For his finest ODI hour, look no further than the 140-not-out he dealt the Indian attack in the 2003 final. He was run-out by English sub-fielder Gary Pratt, leading to a torrent of hilarious expletives directed at his opponents’ pavilion.

No. 4: Sachin Tendulkar (India; 381m/44a/86s/41c)

Form is temporary, class is permanent.

No. 5: Inzamam-ul-Haq (Pakistan; 375m/40a/74s/10c)

A player with wonderful strokes and a master at steadying the ship. He’s regularly involved in run-outs that would rival Rocksteady and Bebop for comic relief and prone to charging at spectators who address him as “potato.”

No. 6: Kevin Pietersen (England; 42m/57a/95s/3c)

The best English player, even though he’s not actually English and doesn’t sound even vaguely like his teammates. He sports a ridiculously high average and strike-rate and uses his power to pull off shots that Dr. Dhalsim would be proud of.

No. 7: Mike Hussey (Australia; 61m/67a/91s/2c)

Pietersen’s average looks distinctl average compared to Hussey’s monstrous tally of 67. Despite being a latecomer to the international scene, the Aussie has been an outstanding addition to the middle-order. However, he just recently captained his nation to a shocking sequence of losses to England and New Zealand, and Australia’s reputation has suffered as a result.

Fast-bowler: Shane Bond (New Zealand; 59m/20a/4.4e/112w)

When fit, devastating. His biggest weakness is just making sure that he is actually fit. Bond has a miserly bowling average of 20 tumbles to an asphyxiating 14 in his 11 matches against Australia.

Fast-bowler: Makhaya Ntini (South Africa; 144m/23a/4.4e/231w)

Very difficult to play against, as he gets the ball to seam all over the place. He is one of about 2,165 players to have successfully hit Justin Langer on the head with a bouncer. A good bet for top wicket-taker, but he could really use an extra vowel in his surname.

Fast-bowler: Jerome Taylor (West Indies; 28m/27a/4.9e/43w)

Wouldn’t really be here except I felt guilty omitting a West Indian (Brian Lara is well past his best at ODI level) from this list. To his credit, Taylor is young, fresh, and has genuine pace, and, unlike many of his test-level teammates, is not hopelessly inept. It is a rare window to a proud heritage of fast-bowlers.

Spinner: Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka; 287m/23a/3.8e/432w)

Controversial but brilliant, has carried his team on his back on innumerable occasions. Also, he has possibly the worst batting technique in professional cricket: Murali makes most baseballers look like conservative batsmen.

Didn’t quite make it:

Andrew Flintoff for poor form. Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis for being too slow—they have insomnia-relieving strike-rates of about 70. Anil Kumble because only Warney can trump Murali. Glenn McGrath because I’m sick of selecting Australians.

“Why are they in the WC?”:

Mohammad Sami—arguably the reason that the term “pie-thrower” was coined. Somehow, he is even worse than fellow pastry-slinger Lakshimpathy Balaji.

Other predictions:

Just for the record, England is going to win. New Zealand is the dark horse, and South Africa is going to fall flat on its face.

Glossary

Opener/No. 3 to No. 7: 11 people bat in cricket. The last four batsmen are the bowlers, who are typically poor batsmen.

Middle-order: batsmen occupying positions 3–6.

Bowler: cricket’s version of a pitcher.

Leg-spinner: a class of bowler.

All-rounder: a cricket player who can bat and bowl well.

Wicket-keeper: cricket analogue to catcher.

Bowling average: cricket’s ERA stat. Below 30 is good.

Batting average: analogue to runs plus RBI. Above 35 is good.

Strike-rate: runs scored per 100 deliveries (pitches). Over 85 is good.

Economy: runs conceded per over (six deliveries). Under 4.5 is good.

Century: scoring 100 runs. It’s a big thing.

Wicket: an out.

Stumps: like the plate. If a bowler hits these, the batsman is out.

Scuffing the pitch: illegally and intentionally damaging the field to help the bowler.

Chucking: illegal bowling action.

Run-out: cricket equivalent of getting out while base running. Since players never have to run in cricket, this almost always involves some sort of mix-up by the batsmen.

Seam: stitching on the ball. Helps the bowler to extract movement.

Bouncer: a delivery that lands relatively far away from the batsman and bounces up high toward his head.

Pie-thrower: a particularly poor bowler. The Jose Lima of cricketing.