By guest blogger Tom Huelin
So after 42 group matches filled with intrigue, suspense and drama if you followed England, tedium, boredom and monotony if you watched anyone else, we now know what we pretty much knew way back on 19th February; the teams that will contest the Cricket World Cup quarter finals.
That may sound patronising to sides such as Bangladesh and Ireland who gave so much to this World Cup In truth however, the way the competition is structured, it was always going to end up with India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa, England, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies contesting the Quarter Finals, and so it has proved.
So who’s in with the best chance of winning the World Cup on 2nd April 2011? Are England genuine contenders, or are they just a tired beast, waiting to be put out of their misery and put to bed by their mummy after a marathon winter of cricket?
Well let’s have a look shall we?
Pakistan vs West Indies, Wesnesday 23rd March 2011, Mirpur
It’s usually Pakistan struggling to qualify, flattering to deceive and putting their fans through every emotion known to man, the role assumed by England this time around. On this occasion though they have topped their group and have just beaten Australia. As build-ups go, you don’t get better than that.
They have Shahid Afridi, the leading wicket taker of the tournament so far, who has 17 wickets for only 11.47. Their batting hasn’t been as reliable, in fact they were bowled out by Canada for just 184, although they did go on to win that game. They also have Kamran Akmal, their wicket keeper, who dropped 2 of the simplest catches of the whole World Cup, off Ross Taylor when he was on 4 and 8 respectively. Taylor went on to make a century in a match Pakistan lost. In the knockout stages, mistakes like that could cost them.
West Indies are almost as ragged as England on the other hand. They have the potential to be a top side, with big-hitters like Gayle, Sammy and the humungous Keiron Pollard, and in Kemar Roach they have a genuinely exciting fast bowler who has 13 wickets at 12.00 so far in the tournament. They also have the chirpiest wicket keeper in the game in Devon Thomas, who is hilarious. A personal favourite of mine in this World Cup!
This should be a straightforward win for Pakistan on the face of it. However, if Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy et al are in the mood, they may just bludgeon the West Indies to victory, but I can’t see it. I think it will be Pakistan who progress.
India vs Australia, Thursday 24th March 2011, Ahmedabad
India play Australia in front of their home crowd with the locals convinced this is their year to lift the Cup. There are signs however that the players are beginning to feel the pressure a tad lately. They have been bowled out in their last 2 games, against South Africa in a game they lost, and West Indies, who they went on to beat, and although they have good batters down to Pathan at seven, and even Harbhajan can score a few at 8, India do have a tendency to crumble quickly when wickets start falling.
Their fielding also is lousy, and if they bat first and Australia have half a chance in a run chase, you wonder whether India will be able to halt the flow of runs.
Australia though are not feared in the way they once were. In the bowling department, Brett Lee is starting to show his age and Tait is temperamental at best. Mitchell Johnson I think we covered sufficiently in the Ashes (“He bowls to the left….” Etc!), and Ponting and Clarke have barely scored any runs between them this tournament, so on the face of it, you wouldn’t give the Aussies a chance in India would you?
Well Australia are one team that you never bet against. Their fielding will be sharp and that will save them runs. They will also keep the pressure on India as long as there’s a chance of victory; India will know they’ve been in a game whether they win or lose. For me, I think India will sneak it, but it should be a cracker.
South Africa vs New Zealand, Friday 25th March 2011, Mirpur
South Africa had a mini-choke against England but otherwise have looked pretty impressive thus far….but that’s half the problem with them usually isn’t it; flattering to deceive early on, only to crash out in the latter stages. This may be a little too early for them to bow out though. I think they will have too much for New Zealand in this match.
New Zealand just don’t have enough to trouble South Africa; the Saffas have an impressive batting line up with particularly De Villiers and Amla shining in the group stages, and their bowlers, particularly Peterson, have produced the goods consistently too.
New Zealand have a few top performances such as Ross Taylor, Brendan McCullum and obviously Daniel Vettori. They also impressively beat Pakistan during the group stages, but I just feel South Africa will have too much for the Kiwis.
England vs Sri Lanka, Saturday 26th March 2011, Colombo
In Sri Lanka. England are going to be destroyed aren’t they?
This game has the highest run scorer in the tournament so far in Kumar Sangakkara, against the 2nd and 3rd highest run scorers in Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss. It has one of the greatest spinners of all time, Muttiah Muralitharan, against the best off-spinner in the world right now, Graeme Swann. This promises to be an enthralling encounter.
Although it started well, England’s batting has gone a little down hill since the first few games, coinciding with Kevin Pietersen returning home injured. That said, in their last group game against the West Indies they had a few good knocks, with JT again scoring well in particular. I personally would like Trott to open with Strauss and drop Prior down to no.6, but I fear it’s too late for England to change anything that drastically now, so injury permitting I think it’ll be more or less the same team that played against the Windies, a line-up that looked so much better for a second spinner, James Tredwell, being in it.
Sri Lanka have many match winners with both bat and ball; Malinga, Murali, Jayawardene and Dilshan, and with a home crowd behind them, you would be mad to bet against them, but this England side is made of tough stuff. To hold their nerve and tie against India in probably the game of the group stages, to beat South Africa, to rescue a victory against the West Indies when they’d seemingly given the game away showed cricket with balls, and if anyone could cause an upset against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in this World Cup, it might just be England.
It’s been a slow burner this World Cup, that’s for sure, but we’re at the business end now, and there are some exciting games to look forward to in the Quarter finals now, so let battle commence.
You can follow Tom on twitter @tomhue1 and read his blog at www.huetom1.blogspot.com