Sunday, March 15, 2015

CWC 2015.. the business end begins.. !

Just over a month has passed in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and now we are down to the last, and most important seven games. Many, including me, have mentioned in the past that this is the real phase of the World Cup and the month gone had nothing more than glorified warm-up games. I am not sure if the English cricket team thought that way. If so, there were in for a rude shock and now are on their way back to London. So now we are in the knockout stage. The stage that can convert dreams into reality and, the other way around, into nightmares as well. A blistering century from the opposition, a dream spell (or over) or worse still, a dropped catch or missed run-out can mean four more years of waiting. It is the stage where the boys are separated from the men, where temperament and attitiude will mean the same, if not more, than skill with the bat or ball. Over the next 12 days, one of the eight teams will overcome the test of nerves and expectations and will lay their hands on the biggest prize in international cricket and the right to be called World Champions. While Pakistan are coasting towards victory against Ireland at Adelaide (had thought the game would be much closer), let us look at the four quarter finals in store and what can we expect:

South Africa v Sri Lanka (SCG, March 18):

The first is probably the best match-up from amongst the four. I say this because South Africa have not looked the favorites that one thought before the tournament began. They have faltered twice while chasing, and when it comes to knock-out games, we know right ? Conversely, Sri Lanka have always been in contention in any world event. And if I was an Angelo Mathews, I would firstly hope the pitch is a dry end-of-season surface at the SCG, Herath is fit and I win the toss and bat first. Another chase for ABD and his men under lights on a turning pitch and in front of a packed house (with a solid Sri Lanka support) might be tricky. On the other hand, ABD would be hoping that his fast men fire upfront and rip apart the powerful Lankan top order (ideally 40-3 after 10 overs or so). Verdict: It will be a very close game and maybe, just maybe, Sri Lanka have the edge.

India v Bangladesh (MCG, March 19):

On paper, surely a no-contest. Defending champions, a team that has won six games on the trot, a team that knows on how to play on the big stage, with a majority of the 80000 crowd backing them, playing against a team with few superstars, who have qualified with one good win against England and a shared point against Australia. But it is this precise mismatch that can make this contest interesting. The Bangla tigers have got absolutely nothing to lose and can play with unbridled freedom. India, on the other, would have all the pressure on their head. And if India find themselves 30-3 in a tricky chase, well, who knows ? It is all India's game to lose. The drop-in is expected to be a batting beauty so Bangladesh's best chance is in batting first and putting up the runs on the board. 
Verdict: India all the way. It will be a catastrophe of epic proportions in the cricketing (and commercial) world should there be any other result.

Australia v Pakistan (Adelaide, March 20):

Should be another good game. Australia have looked most impressive during the league stage, including during their close loss against the Kiwis where they defended 150-odd with great determination. But Pakistan have bounced back very well after their initial losses against India and West Indies. Their win over South Africa has injected fresh momentum in their campaign, and they have been impressive against Ireland today (in a game which many thought would be a banana-skin for them). It would seem, though, that Australia are much better in all aspects of the game, including the big-match temperament. But you never know, one inspired performance by a gentleman in green colours can turn this contest on his head. Adelaide is also expected to be a high-scoring encounter and Pakistan would not want to chase more than 300 (and conversely, score that same number atleast if batting first).
Verdict: Australia have too much of fire-power but am not willing to count Pakistan out.

New Zealand v West Indies (Wellington, March 21):

The Kiwis have been the form team in the tournament, rattling off six out of six victories at home. Now they meet the West Indies, who have been up and down in this World Cup, impressive against Pakistan but terrible in the very next game against the Proteas. But they have the Gayle-factor, and it can be a very big factor if he gets his eye in on the smaller grounds there. But in Boult and Southee, New Zealand have the best new-ball pair in the competition, and the game may well be decided in the first 10 overs of the West Indies batting. On the other hand, New Zealand also rely heavily on McCullum and Williamson and if Jerome Taylor can knock them over quickly, the men in the Caribbean would be in business. The home crowd (and the resultant pressure) will be another factor, and the Kiwis would be wanting to put the ghosts of Eden Park (incidentally, exactly 23 years ago on 21 March itself) behind them.
Verdict: New Zealand should sail through

Let the (real) games begin !!

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