Competing in limited overs cricket is akin to enduring a tiebreaker in tennis.

It is the great leveler that leaves little margin for error and narrows the competition better than the traditional game can.

Which is why the roles of captains are so much more important these days.

Ricky Ponting

There is no opportunity for second chances laving any team aspiring to beat this Australia squad, requiring a captain on top of his game.

The world champions are so far ahead of the pack, one can easily breakdown the chances of the ones chasing into separate categories, in the chase for 2007 World Cup glory.

Presently three teams are on level in the immediate group.

West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan are neck and neck which leaves New Zealand, Sri Lanka, England and India bringing up the rear ahead of the Zimbabwe, Kenya, Bangladesh and the Associates.

Undoubtedly, New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming is a cut above the rest comprising – Michael Vaughn, who though he missed the Ashes is set to return to the fold anytime now, his deputy Andrew Flintoff, Graeme Smith, Mahela Jayawardene, Rahul Dravid, Inzamam Ul Haq and Brian Lara. They could all lean much from his shrewdness, tactical awareness and knowledge of the game.

In an ideal world it would’ve been nice to have Fleming lead a better quality New Zealand team in a head-to-head tussle with Ricky Pointing’s Australians in a World Cup contest.

For a bits and pieces squad New Zealand is doing quite well in all types of competition which says a lot about the quality of leadership Fleming has provided since he took the helm nine years ago.

They reached the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup and also the predecessor, and is currently ranked the second best world team in limited overs competition.

Fleming knows all his players to the bone and utilizes their strengths to the maximum in ideal situations.

Field placings and use of bowlers bring out the best in Fleming and if his team sneaks into the final at Kensington Oval in April, an earth shattering victory shouldn’t be surprising.

Lara, for all his quality with the bat, is the antithesis to Fleming.

His biggest weakness is his reluctance to uphold logical strategic decisions needed in the field. Bowling changes and field placing decisions, Lara recently reportedly once said, does not always require conventional thinking.

But while his approach continues to baffle fans and observers, his record as captain gets conversely worse.

As a motivator, his input is not evident on the field. Bowlers especially, are often left to do their own thing or go through the motions whether the situation is bad or good.

Creating pressure and squeezing every ounce of ability from the bowlers are not part of Lara’s approach.

It would be interesting to know whether he ever studied the leadership styles of the last two successful West Indies team captains.

Vivian Richards was never a guy to tolerate slackness on the field. He was forever in the players’ faces, letting them know how he feels about not getting their act right.

His most famous act became legendary after he moved a fielding-challenged Richard Gabriel around the ground until he reached the pavilion gate and ordered the player backwards up the steps and off the field, once in Australia.

Such was Richards’ passion for excellence, he made ordinary players produce by bullying it out of them on the field.

He may have inherited a strong crop of players from Clive Lloyd, but made all those who entered the team under his watch championship material.

Among his many good qualities, Lloyd also made players good by his own subtle means which had the effect intended.

The lack of such aggression in the new brigade of West Indies captains is slowly erasing the legacy of success created by the team’s last two great captains.

India is experiencing a similar type existence following the passing of the captaincy torch to Dravid from Sourav Ganguly.

Ganguly liked taking the bull by the horn on the field, but Dravid is inclined to use kid gloves.

Dravid’s personality was never one naturally shaped for leadership and it is reflected in the teams success compared to Ganguly’s reign.

It’s more or less – like chalk to cheese.

No wonder one former India Test player feels Dravid meekly allows coach Greg Chappell to take excessive charge, during their current slumping results.

Should he be retained to lead India for the World Cup, their fortunes will undoubtedly mirror those of 2006.

Jayawardene is considered one of Sri Lanka’s best ever captains.

But his record in a short stint so far does not make him any better than Arjuna Ranatunga, who led the country to its biggest triumph ever in copping World Cup 1996.

He may be a decent strategist, but also needs a fiery approach when it matters most on the field. Motivational skills must go hand in hand with tactical awareness, which the team will require in great abundance if they are to reach anyway near their exploits of 11 years ago.

Ul_Haq is of similar ilk. He uses his bowlers well and sets decent fields but never says much on or off the field. With the powerful bowling attack his team possesses, they should be right up there with Australia in both forms of the game.

Instead Inzamam will go down as the captain of the first team in history to lose a Test match by forfeiture, which says everything about his leadership skills. He will require the equivalent of a plastic surgery change in character to take Pakistan to the victory podium in April like Imran Khan did in 1992.

South Africa has been similarly disappointing in recent years, because of such imbalance of quality in the man at the helm. Smith has all the intensity on the field a captain needs but is still struggling to grasp the nuances of strategy and game knowledge that South Africa needs to get closer to Ricky Ponting’s Australians, after four years in charge.

Like most of his rivals, South Africa’s current resources are not enough to provide South Africa with a semblance of an upset this time around.

If Vaughn is back to full fitness or does not breakdown again before the action starts in St Lucia for England, they can forget harboring any hopes of making this World Cup their best since making the 1979 final.

Andrew Flintoff loves the acclaim that goes with the captaincy title, but he is proven unworthy of such adulations. He gave a nice speech at the end of the Ashes whitewash, but that’s the best he has done since taking over from the stricken Vaughn more than a year ago.

On the other hand Ponting seems to be getting better with every series. Australia’s 12-match winning Test record since losing the Ashes is indicative of a team strong in all areas.

It thus will be difficult stopping them winning three World Cups in a row, as well as denying Ponting his second straight captain’s champion medal.