Barring West Indies and England all the other six teams in the ICC Cricket World Cup have won 4 out of the 6 matches they played. The top teams look in fine nick and their victories have been as convincing as their surprise losses.
The two top teams at the group stage – Pakistan and South Africa have relatively easier opponents in the form of West Indies and New Zealand and from the looks of it the two of the four semi-final slots already look booked. Shahid Afridi has been having a wonderful time with the ball and the highest wicket-taker of 2011 CWC would like to usher in a new chapter in Pakistan cricket by emulating the other famous Pathan Imran Khan’s 1992 campaign.
South Africans have always been favorites and chokers who just lose the plot midway and needless to say they have the required will, determination and the talent to end their drought. The other four have their task cut-out: play like you have never played before!
Like every major tournament it plays, India, this time around as well, almost went crazy calculating the odds, the net run-rate and all sorts of statistics as it padded up for the last league match against the West Indies. With India the ‘what if’ factor seems to be more at play more than anything else. After watching the team play the way they did in the league stage the think tank doesn’t seem to worry about the obvious weaknesses like lackluster bowling and sudden batting collapses. Or could it be that the ones looking at the game from the outside are making too much of it?
While England doesn’t look as domineering as Sri Lanka at the first glance, this English side, however, has the tenacity to cling on. Like in the match against India that ended in a tie the English side displayed it’s will to chase down huge totals and it’s no surprise that two Englishmen – Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss – feature in the top three batsmen of this World Cup.
Sri Lanka on the other hand features the top batsmen of the tournament in the form of Kumar Sangakkara; they are also the team with the best run rate (+2.5) from their six matches. This is the closest the English team has ever come to a possible chance of winning the World Cup and they won’t give up so easily but with home advantage Sri Lanka might want a repeat of 1996.
India could have done with a date with New Zealand instead of its neighbour Australia. A pale shadow of what they used to be, Australia has won the last three world cups on a trot and can’t be taken lightly. Ricky Ponting hasn’t had the best of the World Cup but he might just find his nick in good time. On paper India looks a better side but off late the host nation has been just about managing to snatch a victory. It’s a good thing that the Indian bowling looks as aimless as the Aussie top order; just think what’d have happened on 24th March if Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer were still playing! Brett Lee troubled Pakistan in their last league match and even though the Aussie lost, Lee impressed with some really tight bowling.
India will once again have to depend on their fabled batting line-up and with Virender Sehwag fit for the match, Ashwin impressing against the West Indies the team will have drop either Suresh Raina or Yusuf Pathan. Also as they square-off with Australia, Ricky Ponting might just put a brake on India’s 12th man weapon.
At this stage it’s just the result that will decide the course of the action. With no more calculations and combination-permutation of who’d play whom if they lost to them, etc. the plan should be very clear – play to win!
23rd March: Pakistan v West Indies, Dhaka:
24th March: India v Australia, Ahmedabad
25th March: New Zealand vs South Africa, Dhaka
26th March: Sri Lanka vs England, Colombo