• World Cup, 2011

Dilshan and Mendis worth a gamble

Simon Cambers February 17, 2011
Tillkeratne Dilshan could be the star of the show if Sri Lanka click over the next couple of months © Getty Images
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At the risk of repeating myself - for anyone who is a regular reader of these pages - when it comes to picking a top batsman in a one-day series there are a couple of rules you should apply to your choices; one, that he has to be in the top three in the order, and two, that he should be in a side you expect to make at least the semi-finals.

It is pretty obvious - you need someone to play as many matches to maximise his time in the middle and batting at the top of the order improves his chances of batting for longer, and crucially, at a time when a lot of the batting power plays are used, increasing the gaps in the field.

Long gone (even for England, though it took them a while) are the days when it was thought you could build a big score from a solid start with wickets in hand. Now you have to bash the ball around from the start and carry the momentum through your innings. It's a much more dynamic sport than a decade ago and whoever comes out on top as the leading batsman will be the man who understands the nuances best and is in the best form. It's quite simple.

Will someone upset the usual suspects?

Sachin Tendulkar - who else? - heads the betting with bet365 to be the tournament's top runscorer at 10/1 and you won't find too many people ready to dissuade you that he will inevitably be in the runs again. He topped the runscorer charts in the 1996 and 2003 World Cups and with home advantage he is bound to be up there again, so at 10/1, he is probably worth a saver, especially as India should make at least the last four.

Likewise Virender Sehwag at 11/1, for though he is one of the world's most destructive batsmen, he tends to save his best for massive Test innings rather than regularly contribute in one-dayers. Hashim Amla of South Africa and Australia's Shane Watson are each 12/1, Jacques Kallis is 14/1 and Gautam Gambhir is 16/1.

Cambers' Calls

  • Tillkeratne Dilshan to be top runscorer E/W 18-1 - bet365
  • Sachin Tendulkar to be top runscorer E/W 10/1 bet365
  • Ajantha Mendis to be top wicket-taker E/W 20/1 - bet365
  • Stuart Broad to be top wicket-taker - 33/1 - bet365

You'd have to be mad not to respect what Australia have done in the World Cup over the past three editions - they have won 29 straight matches and been champions in 199, 2003 and 2007. Though it's true that they are not the side they were after the retirement of several world class players including Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, it would still be no surprise should they be in the semis or even final.

If they do get that far it may be due to the efforts of Shane Watson, who has been the backbone of their efforts in the past 12 months and who has shown remarkable consistency.

Nevertheless, I am going elsewhere for value and that means going with Sri Lanka, who I have already suggested could be the side to beat in the competition. If we take it that they will make the semi-finals then their openers, Upul Tharanga and Tillekeratne Dilshan, will play a major role and yet bet365 have perhaps overlooked them somewhat. Tharanga is 25/1 but at 18/1 Dilshan has to be worth a dabble. In great form, he is in the top 10 in the ICC one-day rankings and perhaps most importantly of all, he is hitting top form at the right time in his career.

Outside of the top few, Kevin Pietersen may have his backers at 25/1 after his promotion to the top of the order but I think he lacks the consistency to come out on top while England are by no means certain to make the semis. Ricky Ponting could be good value at 22/1 if he can find his touch and confidence and Chris Gayle is bound to score at least one big innings and could be decent at 25/1.

But on form, expectation of their side's success and their position in the batting order, I think Dilshan with a bit of a saver on Tendulkar has to be the way to go, especially with bet365 offering 1/4 the odds the first five in the market.

Pace or spin to prevail?

For a tournament that will be played in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the assumption may be that spin will have the edge over pace in the bowling department. However, a close look at the past four World Cups will show that pace dominates the bowling statistics.

It is true that there has been a spinner in the top three wicket-takers in three of those four but it took an absolute world-beater (Anil Kumble in 1996, Shane Warne in 1999 and Muttiah Muralitharan in 2007) to get in amongst them. It's true that Kumble came out on top in 1996 - the last time the tournament was in the sub-continent - but don't expect it to happen again this time.

That's partly because there is no really outstanding spin bowler at the height of their powers in world cricket right now. Murali is playing his last tournament and the likes of Daniel Vettori and Graeme Swann are not prolific enough to get the wickets required, to my mind at least.

Bet365 make Lasith Malinga the 10/1 favourite to take the most wickets and if you adhere to my belief that Sri Lanka will go very close in the tournament, that's fair enough. He was fifth last time round and is a better bowler now, his average wickets per game is 1.5 and if Sri Lanka go far, he is likely to be in amongst them again.

Dale Steyn of South Africa is 12/1, India spinner Harbhajan Singh 14/1 and the veteran Australian Brett Lee 16/1. Zaheer Khan of India is the same price, while Morne Morkel of South Africa and Australian Mitchell Johnson are both 18/1. Umar Gul, Murali, Ajantha Mendis and Swann are all 20/1 and Daniel Vettori 28/1.

Steyn is world class and Umar Gul brilliant at bowling at the death but at the risk of putting all my eggs in one basket and at the risk of contradicting my earlier statement, I quite fancy the chances of Mendis getting in the top five, at 20/1. The spinner averages almost two wickets a game - which is as good as anyone - and if Sri Lanka do as well as we expect he could well be right up there.

It's hard to pick from the pacemen at the top of the market and perhaps an outsider could do well here. Step forward Stuart Broad. Though England will do well to make the semis, Broad is fresh and in form and hungry after missing the bulk of England's Ashes win Down Under this winter. He averages about 1.66 wickets per game, which is good, and he is improving all the time, so at 33/1 he could be good each-way value.

Please note that odds are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

Simon Cambers is ESPN.co.uk's betting correspondent

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Simon Cambers is ESPN.co.uk's betting correspondant Simon Cambers is ESPN.co.uk's betting correspondant