The Cricket World Cup, being played in Australia and New Zealand till March 29, is considered quite open with five teams - Australia, England, India, New Zealand and South Africa - favoured to land the trophy and West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka the outsiders.
But India's Rahul Dravid, considered one of the most technically-accomplished batsmen the world has seen, reckons Australia and South Africa are the front-runners.
"Australia and South Africa, on current form, are the favourites," the 42-year-old, and who retired from the international scene in 2012, told The Sunday Times. "For me, they have the best balance.
"My heart obviously hopes India can have a few good days from the quarter-finals onwards and make it to the final. Sentimentally, I would like India and New Zealand to win."
Defending champions India, who won the 2011 edition at home, are currently playing indifferent 50-overs cricket, hardly able to put their act together during the recent tri-series with Australia and England Down Under.
"In terms of experience and balance, the 2011 Cup-winning team were better equipped to play in Indian conditions," observed Dravid, who captained India in Tests from 2004-07 and played 164 Tests and 344 One-day Internationals. "They had players who were used to playing in India.
"This time they are playing in foreign conditions and a lot of their players have not played much of their cricket in Australia. Definitely they are a very good side, but I still won't call them the No. 1 favourites.
"I expect them to make the semi-finals. Then, who knows? Any of the four teams should be able to win it."
The key to India succeeding is their batting, according to Dravid, who became the second batsman to score back-to-back centuries in a World Cup, in England in 1999.
"(The batsmen) will have to give their bowlers a lot of cushion," he said. "They will be under pressure because they will be chasing more than par targets. But they have the quality to get the team into good form."
Dravid believes that taking wickets early is the key to winning this World Cup, saying: "With the two new balls taking early wickets in these conditions, where there is going to be assistance for the seamers upfront, is very important.
"If you take wickets early, you will put the opposition under pressure. If you don't, there won't be a lot of reverse swing and it won't be easy for the spinners to bowl in the middle overs, so you can go for a lot of runs later on.
"So, teams will have to attack. How you get through the first 10-12 overs with bat and ball is the key to winning this World Cup."
But, before that, the 14 teams will have to play 49 matches over six weeks, which many pundits consider too long and is likely to test the patience of most fans.
The format, it appears, has been designed to ensure that the top teams make it to the quarter-finals, with matches being played for more than a month to eliminate three marginal teams from each group of seven.
Dravid agrees that four weeks would be ideal for a World Cup, and admitted that the current World Cup "through the middle might drag along a bit".
He said: "Some of the top eight teams would have made sure of qualifying for the quarter-finals and then people will be looking to the quarter-finals. Four weeks will be good for any tournament.
"The next World Cup will be interesting with only 10 teams. That should eliminate some of the period in the middle when it is not played at the same level and people start to wait for the quarter-finals."
Nevertheless, Dravid pointed out that the current tournament should see a lot of exciting action, especially with the transfer of skills from Twenty20 cricket.
"When you see the kind of scores in one-day cricket, it is certainly because of the kind of shots and creativity that the batsmen are willing to execute which they practise for T20 cricket," he said. "They use some of these shots at the back-end of one-day games as well.
"Teams are not intimidated by big targets any more. They know they can chase down big scores as they have experienced that in T20 cricket."
This article was first published on Feb 15, 2015.
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