Unlike most sports teams, Pakistan seem to play best when they're racked with internal dissension; an ongoing bribery inquiry which has split the team has also seen Pakistan become a close third favorite. The West Indies, written off as a cricket power following a dismal series against South Africa, regained some ground in their last series, against Australia. Their finals hopes rest on three key players, says former Australian World Cup wicketkeeper Ian Healy: "[Fast bowlers] Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Brian Lara have to play to the limit of their abilities if their team is to go well." Some anticipate soggy conditions, which could help home team England (one London fan has placed $32,000 on them to win) and New Zealand, both accustomed to sometimes unpredictable rain-affected wickets. "It'll be a bit low and slow," says Tim de Lisle, editor of Wisden's monthly publication. "England have not picked their best team, and they're alarmingly bad at fielding, but I'll be surprised if they don't make the semi-finals."
Those matches will be held on June 16 and 17, following a round-robin series between the six most successful teams from the qualifying games. By then, the world's largest film industry will have been paralyzed by the World Cup: India's huge Bollywood film factories have scheduled no new releases for May or June, as most of the nation's film stars will be in Britain watching games live, while their fans will be watching on TV. Desperate cinema owners are negotiating with broadcaster Star Sports for rights to project World Cup matches on the big screen. "There are a few million people in India who cannot afford two square meals a day, but who would still want to watch India play," says Raj Singh Dungarpur, president of the BCCI.
Given this level of interest, it's little wonder that Sukhdev, the Delhi street cricketer, is confused about where the game originated; he believes it began in the subcontinent. "The English," he says, "must have stolen it from us." According to Sanjay Manjrekar, a former India batsman, "It's no longer the Englishman's game. Cricket now belongs to the Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans."
Whatever the result in the World Cup, there is no chance that cricket's former masters will ever wholly reclaim their game.
With reporting by Ghulam Hasnain/Karachi, Guy Hawthorne/Johannesburg, Waruna Karunatilake/Colombo, Kate Noble/London, Maseeh Rahman/New Delhi, and Simon Robinson/Nairobi
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