BANGALORE (Reuters): After a week of action at the Cricket World Cup with each team now playing at least one match, we give our analysis of how the main contenders are shaping up:
Performance so far: Beat West Indies comfortably
Strengths: All round. Top four in batting (Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers) are as formidable as it gets in world cricket. In Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, they have a world class fast bowling duo which can neutralise most conditions. Their fielding has been electric.
Weaknesses: Credentials of the spinners against teams who play spin well is questionable. The middle order is suspect where they miss big power hitters.
Performance so far: Dismantled Canada; lost to Pakistan in a close match.
Strengths: Bowling variety. Soon to be led by Lasith Malinga in the pace department and the world’s leading wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan in spin. Combination of big hitters (Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews) combined with experience and class (Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara).
Weaknesses: Middle order. Somewhat suspect, in terms of experience, in handling pressure and accelerating when needed. Back-up bowling can look exposed at times.
Performance so far: Thrashed Kenya; edged out Sri Lanka in a close match.
Strengths: Definitely bowling. Shoaib Akhtar and Umar Gul in the pace attack with Afridi’s leg spin makes them the most formidable bowling attack in the tournament. Hard hitters (Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq), accumulators (Younus Khan) and street smart batsmen (Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal) give their batting a strong feel.
Weaknesses: Fielding. Never their strongest suit, the current levels of fielding must be one of the worst even by Pakistani standards, especially wicketkeeping. Openers lack the required experience for big crunch games.
Performance so far: Beat Zimbabwe while playing within themselves; comprehensively beat New Zealand
Strengths: Habit of winning -- 31-match unbeaten sequence in the World Cups and still being written off by pundits. Shaun Tait, Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson combine to form a fearsome pace trio. Shane Watson is in form at the top of the order with a good, solid batting pedigree. Fielding for Australia has always been top drawer.
Weaknesses: Variety in bowling. Tait can be off radar, Johnson can be variable and Lee expensive. The spin attack is relatively weak compared to other sides. Batting form looks fragile, despite pedigree, especially given the injury-hit squad they have had to select from.
Performance so far: Beat Bangladesh by a comfortable margin; tied with England
Strengths: Batting. Tough on opposition to contend with Virender Sehwag and vintage Sachin Tendulkar. After that, there is Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh. Then Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan to finish it off with Test match centurion Harbhajan Singh to provide the icing on the cake.
Weaknesses: Bowling and fielding. The pace attack is not comparable to the other big draws in the tournament. Spinners are decent but no longer world beaters. While catching is decent, they tend to give an extra 10-20 runs in ground fielding. Home pressure has traditionally hindered India’s chances.
Performance so far: Got out of jail against Netherlands; tied with India in a gargantuan run chase
Strengths: Top order batting. Andrew Strauss is leading the run scoring chart with the top order looking like getting big scores soon. Stuart Broad, when fit, has been in good form and on paper, Graeme Swann should be troubling the batsmen more. Strauss is a well respected, thoughtful captain.
Weaknesses: Bowling and fielding. Their bowling has conceded the highest totals England have ever had in the World Cup. Fielding and catching has been ragged. Paul Collingwood’s lack of form is a concern in a very pivotal position.
Performance so far: Whipped Kenya; folded easily against Australia
Strengths: Daniel Vettori, one of the world’s best left arm spinners and intelligent captain. On paper, Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor have the class and temperament to put up or chase big totals on their day. Fielding has typically always been a strong area for them.
Weaknesses: Batting. Translating ‘on paper’ to results has eluded the Kiwi batsmen for far too long now. Back-up bowling, too, is quite suspect.
Performance so far: Lost to India by a comfortable margin; won close match against Ireland
Strengths: Spin attack. Shakib Al Hasan and Abdur Razzak are a formidable pair. In Tamim Iqbal, they have one of the world’s most promising young openers. Home support will encourage a fast-maturing captain like Shakib.
Weaknesses: Batting temperament. Their attempt to dominate every ball is likely to cost them dear. The pace attack is quite threadbare.
Performance so far: Lost to South Africa comfortably; impressed in trouncing the Dutch
Strengths: Batting. Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are a formidable batting line-up. Add to it the precocious talent of Darren Bravo and the mayhem that Kieron Pollard can create.
Weaknesses: Bowling and leadership. Pace -- although Kemar Roach collected a hat-trick to polish off Netherlands -- and spin attack looks reasonably flat. Fielding and catching have been mixed. Captain Darren Sammy, increasingly, has to defend his place in the squad thus inhibiting his ability to lead from the front.