The benefits of a Cup win can be seen on the field, too. The West Indies' back-to-back triumphs in the first two Cups rebuilt interest in the game in the Caribbean and enlarged the pool of talented players. Australia's unexpected 1987 World Cup win over England was the starting point of a cricket revival; within two years Australia had regained the Ashes, and within eight years its national team was regarded as the world's best.
The favorites for this year's Cup, the seventh to be held, are South Africa. Since being invited to rejoin world cricket in 1992 following the dismantling of apartheid, South Africa have twice shown Cup-winning form, only to stumble before making the final. In 1992, when the Cup was held in Australian and New Zealand, South Africa needed 22 runs off the last 13 balls (an achievable, if difficult, task) in a knockout semi-final against England. A rain shower hit; when the players returned to the field, a controversial regulation which then applied in the case of lost time had the South Africans facing a revised target of 22 runs off just one ball--an impossible goal. "There were a few tears in our dressing room," says Mike Proctor, a former South African player who coached the national team in 1992. "It was one of the most disappointing days of my career."
The force that overwhelmed South Africa in 1996 was as unstoppable as the rain in '92: Brian Lara, the West Indies' finest batsman since Viv Richards (who helped the cricketing collective of island nations to World Cups in 1975 and 1979). South Africa were so confident of victory in their quarter-final against the West Indians that they rested their key fast bowler, Allan Donald, hoping to keep him fresh for later matches. Against a relatively tame attack Lara ran amok, hitting 111--and South Africa out of the series. This time will be different, says Ali Bacher, managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, who cites captain Hansie Cronje as his team's match-winner: "He is, in my opinion, the best one-day captain in world cricket. He has a very strong personality and he commands the respect of the team."
Immediately behind South Africa in pre-Cup betting are Australia, whose first game is on Sunday against Cup newcomers Scotland. Only one member of the Australian squad has tasted World Cup success: captain Steve Waugh, who as a 22-year-old played a pivotal role in beating England in 1987. "We've been gearing up for this for 18 months," Waugh said as his team arrived in London last week. "We're not going to need any extra motivation."
Duke & Sons, makers of cricket balls since 1780, have handstitched 540 white examples for the '99 Cup. In the hands of Pakistan's awesome lead bowlers, Akram and Younis, they become missiles. Most of the previous World Cups have been decided by strong batting, but many predict that Pakistan's bowling will tilt the tournament their way. Between them, Akram and Younis have taken 654 ODI wickets; according to Max Kruger, statistician with Australian broadcaster the Nine Network, examination of their records playing with county teams in Britain shows they are a potent duo on the soft English wickets.
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