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May 8, 1999

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England for me

Kalyana Kakani

Who is the favourite? I do not want to say that living in Las Vegas (gambling purists say it's the gambling capital of the world) for the last year-and-half has exactly made me a gambler. But as one of my cherished events, the cricket World Cup '99, to be held amidst the backdrop of English summer, is fast approaching, the thoughts of odds and favorites do enter my mind.

I started following the game of cricket since the early eighties. At that time the men from small islands to the east of the Americas were the kings and stalwarts of both forms of cricket. Before the Prudential World Cup in '83, the West Indies were expected to complete the formalities with a hat-trick of wins. But, as we all know now, the country which began its campaign at 500:1 odds eventually won the cup. Given the history of the event, very few people believed that India could win the championship that year. I was one of those ignorant kids of the game's history and blindly believed in the capabilities of Indian cricketers from day one. I eventually ended up being a winner in predicting the winner. It was the beginning of the glorious winning streak at guessing the eventual winners every four years. Only comparable to Mohammad Azharuddin's toss-winning capabilities in the recent past. If you want to call it blind luck or fate, it's your call

In '87, I made petty money, betting with my relatives, predicting Allan Border's team's win at the Eden Gardens. Let me take this opportunity to share my victory with Mike Gatting and his reverse sweep. I do not hesitate to say that in the '92 series too I emerged a winner by predicting Pakistan's victory. I could not help feeling proud when I found that one of cricket's living legends, Sunil Gavaskar, had also predicted the same result. In '96, I earned a month's gas bill by betting on Sri Lanka to run all the way to the top even before the tournament began. Of course, being an Indian and a great follower of Indian cricket, there was this disbelief and sadness after the debacle of the Indian batting line-up against Sri Lanka in the semi-finals, once again at the Gardens. Following the '96 tournament, I began predicting an England win in the next World Cup. Three years have gone by. During this time I made a major career change, got married, the King of basketball, Jordan, retired again, and the then next World Cup, which is now the current World Cup, has come. Very boldly, may I add, I still am sticking to my guns out by believing in England's win in the last World Cup of this millennium. If my predictions come true once again, I would be saddened (I thought we are all accustomed to this feeling by this time) to see India miss the opportunity to repeat '83. Also, with such an abundance of talent, South Africa will not be not able draw first blood in this century.

If any one out there wonders about the reasons behind my success in picking the winners of respective tournaments even before the events began, I would say it's more because I go with my instincts rather than analyzing the history and strengths of the team. Because we all know that, if there is a sport which is known for its unpredictability, it would be cricket. Some times its better to follow your instincts. Of course, it's easy to follow your gut feelings, not the brains, when nothing personal is at stake. In this case, may be, a couple of days of anguish over India not winning, but, after all, it's a game we all forget and forgive. On the other hand, god forbid, if I loose this time,.I still will have a winning record of 4-1 in the past 16 years, ain't a bad record to live with.

From recent newspaper writings I gather that South Africa lead the ratings list, followed by Australia, with Pakistan in third place after its recent winning streak in and around the subcontinent. Looking at these current odds, pundits' predictions and the recent performance of the teams, it would be suicidal to bet on England's chances of winning the tournament. But some things are bound to happen and I believe this is England's time.

After all said, if you are curious about what is my list of favourites, and whom I am going to bet my money on, if my wife lets me do so, here it is: England - home crowd favourite (the team I am going for); India - favourite of most people of Indian origin; South Africa - sentimental favourites; Australia - capable favourite; West Indies - cricket purists' favourite; Pakistan - bookmakers' favourite (if you catch my drift); Sri Lanka - serious contender and defending champion; Zimbabwe - always an underdog, and definitely would be the Cinderella story of the century; New Zealand - outside favourite. The rest of the teams like Kenya, Bangladesh and Scotland are the quick money maker favourites. For the little money, I would bet on an "UNDERDOG".

One last word before my next writing. Just enjoy the game of cricket. Whoever wins the tournament, it's we, the fans, who will be the eventual winners. Cricket is one of the classiest games, of late marred by bribery scandals. The game itself needs a wonderful tournament and I don't believe we can ask for any better setting than the English backdrop to revive its past glory.

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