Play gets under way this Sunday when hosts South Africa meet the West Indies in what will likely be an easy win for South Africa. Of particular interest in the first round will be the meeting between the finalists in the last World Cup: Australia and Pakistan. Pakistan, as usual is loaded with talent, but it is anyone’s guess as to how they will play on any given day. Australia and South Africa are in different pools and are expected to meet in the finals. But this is one-day cricket, where anything can (and often does) happen. I handicap the sides in this order: CanadaNo hope. Amateur cannon fodder for the professionals. HollandThe same as Canada, but they could beat Nambia NambiaDitto, but they might beat Holland KenyaNo hope, but at least they play some at an international level. Will beat Canada and possibly Bangladesh BangladeshNo hope. The very worst of the test playing nations. They might beat Keyna. ZimbabweSome hope, mostly because they will play first round matches in Zimbabwe. They will beat any of the above, may get points if New Zealand holds fast to not playing matches in Zimbabwe. Also good enough to beat most on the other teams on the day. Whoever they upset may not move to the next round. IndiaSome hope, but they will need some luck to get out of their pool and move on. A puzzle, as they have the best batsman in the world, but often perform poorly in the field. Their attack is also suspect, but if their big three, Tandulkar, Dravid and Ganguly score big, they will be very tough to beat. West IndiesSome hope. Another team that is an enigma, as is their leading player, Brian Lara. They will also need some help to advance and might well get it courtesy of a New Zealand forfiture. Better bowling overall than India, but they need to score to win. And if Lara fires they will. New ZealandProbably not as talented as some sides, but they play to a plan. They are taking the safe (security) and moral high ground by refusing to play in Kenya. If they follow through and forfeit against an opponent they are sure to beat, they will likely not get out of their pool. Otherwise they will fight the West Indies for the third qualifying spot in their pool. EnglandModerate hope, but they are in the harder of the two pools. With most of their players recovered from injury (excepting Gough), hope springs again in the English breast. But only two out of India, Pakistan and England will advance. Since they don’t have to play Australia until the last of the qualifying games, they may squeak through. Sri LankaModerate hope. They played very poorly recently in Australia, but were missing their strike bowler, Murali for most of the matches. Another team that can score big, plus if Murali gets some help, they can make life difficult for the opposition. The will qualify almost for sure, probably second in their pool. PakistanBig hope. A side that is absolutely brilliant on paper and sometimes on the field. They have batting, bowling and (sometimes) fielding. Inzamam-ul-Haq has lost 10 kilos and claims to be back to his old self. Can Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram put aside their differences (and their age)? Will the real Shoaib Akhtar show up? Will Inzi’ run himself out? And a host of other questions. No one knows until these guys take the field. They were my pick to win it all three years ago and chose the finals to play one of their poorest games. South AfricaExpect to win it all One of the two or three most talented sides in the world, their talent is matched by a fierce determination to win. They normally play very consistently. Unfortunately when they make mistakes, it always seems to be against Australia. Their biggest weakness is a lack of quality spin bowling, which may not mean much on their wickets. They will play all their games on home grounds. A final advantage is that they don’t have to play the Aussies in the qualifying rounds. AustraliaThe best until someone beats them. The unquestioned best at both forms of the game. Australia is the side that is the benchmark, not only for sides playing now, but perhaps for all time. But they have many unanswered questions. Shane Warne is coming off an injury and is almost certaintly below par. Glen McGarth is getting old. The Waugh twins no longer play one0day cricket. Ricky Ponting has not been captain under this kind of circumstance. Bevan is recovering from injury. As are McGarth, Warne and Gillespie. But still this is a side where almost any of their best eleven could play on any other side in the world. The Australians also never give up when behind and when ahead grind the other team into the dirt. I have heard that they are not too nice to the opposition. Any comments? Does anyone else care?