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Richards says New Zealand could upset Australia in title race

Richards says New Zealand could upset Australia in title race

Viv Richards believes Australia is by no means a certainty to win a third cricket World Cup in a row. He feels New Zealand could win it for the first time.
Richards was on the West Indies lineup that won the first two titles in 1975 and '79 and Australia is the only other team to win back-to-back World Cups in 1999 and 2003.
"As confident as they've been, Australia will be worried that they've not had a hiccup until now," Richards said in reference to five lopsided victories for Ricky Ponting's team.
It still hasn't faced New Zealand, which it will in the Super 8s in Grenada April 20, by which time both teams should have long confirmed a place in the semifinal.
If they avoid each other in the semis, they could meet again in the final in Barbados April 28 and Richards believes New Zealand has the players to win, notably fast bowler Shane Bond.
"In Shane Bond, New Zealand's got a strike bowler who's got the armory to dislodge any batsman," he said.
Meanwhile the cricket great who scored a masterful 138 not out in the 1979 final against England at Lord's, says he is finding it hard to come to terms with the sight of the struggling West Indies playing its World Cup matches in the Caribbean in front of sparsely crowded galleries.
Seeing row after row of empty seats a newly built stadium named after him in his native Antigua, Richards is anguished at the low attendance at matches at all Caribbean venues. He attributes it to the organizers' decision on placing too many restrictions on the spectators.
Crowds at all Caribbean venues have been way below expectations. The problem has been confounded with the poor performance of host West Indies, which has lost three successive Super 8s matches and now seems likely to miss out on the semifinals.
"The World Cup was supposed to give West Indies cricket a huge boost, but something seems to have seriously gone wrong," Richards said.
"You see these sparsely occupied stands and wonder what's happening, and then you discover that fans have been discouraged by excessive restrictions when coming to the cricket.
"We in the Caribbean are an exciting and vibrant people, we're rather unique," Richards said. "Those who've played cricket in the West Indies know how cricket reflects the vibrancy of our way of life.
"That vibrancy of Caribbean cricket followers has been sort of stifled by the organizers."
Cricket fans in the West Indies often arrive at the venues with their own musical instruments, which creates a carnival atmosphere and becomes a massive sideshow to the game in the middle.
But World Cup organizers placed a restriction on the instruments, which can only be brought in after fans have obtained prior permission.
"It is like someone suddenly comes and tells you, 'I don't want you to shout any more,'" Richards said.
Fans have also been complaining of high ticket prices and restrictions on bringing in packaged food products.
Richards said the lack of atmosphere in the grounds was related to the absence of Caribbean flavor and the World Cup had suffered.
He was reserved in his comment about heavy ticket prices up to US$100 (euro75), which have been flayed by several critics in the Caribbean. But he said getting a full house should always be a priority.
Supporters of teams from Australia, England and New Zealand have added their own color to matches which were largely ignored by the local fans in Antigua. The attendance has dwindled drastically since the West Indies suffered a huge defeat against defending champion Australia in the first match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium _ an occasion marked by the government declaring a public holiday.
Richards said the lackluster show of the West Indies team had also dejected the cricket fans.
Brian Lara's West Indies team won all its three preliminary round matches, but then tumbled to heavy defeats against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Although the hosts are in danger of missing out of the semifinals, Richards said he was hoping for "a miracle."
"I'm one of a lot of Caribbean people who are feeling bad about our performance. We're all worried ... the team hasn't shown what they are representing," Richards said.
"I've not written them off yet, I'm hoping they can resume the old sequence of winning."