The World Cup 2011 which began on February 19th with the India-Bangladesh clash, in its three weeks journey, has offered an early peek at the form book of the teams.
One clear pattern that has emerged in the matches played in Indian conditions is that a target in excess of 330 runs can still be hunted down. Close to a decade and a half ago, any target in excess of 300 was considered insurmountable even in sub-continent conditions. In the present day one-day game, due to a combination of factors; featherbed pitches, short boundaries and 20 overs of power play, even a score in the vicinity of 350 does not offer the safety net for the bowling side to defend. One other pattern that has emerged is that the much spoken about dew factor in day-night games has been pretty much conspicuous by its absence so far. Due to the fact that Dew factor has pretty much stayed away in day-night games, spinners have been able to get the purchase even while bowling second and the pacers have been able to get the reverse swing going.
The competition in Group B has been more intense thanks largely to the fact that the associate nations (Netherlands and Ireland) in this group have acquitted themselves much better than their counterparts (Kenya and Canada) in the other group (Group A). Ireland derailed the English side by successfully chasing a target of 328 runs and the chief architect for Irish victory was Kevin O’Brien. Kevin notched up a century in 50 balls (fastest in World Cup history) and powered Ireland to a famous victory. The English team still appears to be caught in the Ashes victory hangover; they need to get their acts together pretty quickly lest they might suffer the ignominy of not qualifying for the quarter-finals!!!. The bowling department appears to be a sore point for the English side with sides scoring 338, 328 and 291 against them in the three matches. James Anderson has been taken to the cleaners in all the three matches, he needs to lead from the front and show the way for others if the English bowling unit is harbouring any thoughts of revival in fortune.
Indian team’s batting might has come to the fore in both the matches but the bowling unit and fielding unit have not really shone up. Against England, the Indian team very nearly made a hash of defending a formidable score of 338 primarily because of lack of bite in Bowing and fielding being not par for the course. The Indian team primarily owes the point they secured in the game against England to Zaheer’s heroics with the ball when he got the reverse swing going during the tail end of English run chase. The Indian team might toy with the idea of playing a combination of 5 bowlers and 6 batsmen (including Dhoni) as the playing conditions experienced so far makes the batsman walking in at No 7 pretty much redundant. Playing 5 regular bowlers would present Dhoni more attacking options and also act as a cover should one or two frontline bowlers have an off day.
South Africans have won their matches pretty easily and they have adopted horses for courses policy by playing 3 spinners in their playing eleven. Their batting unit has done well with AB scoring centuries in both the games. Their ensuing matches against India and England would give a clear indication about their merits and de-merits. They have always done well in the group stages of the previous editions of the World Cup but faltered during the knock out stages. Only with the benefit of hindsight we would get to know whether they are able to get rid of the “Chokers” tag which has been haunting them for well over a decade.
Not too much can be read into the form book of WestIndian team based on the drubbing they have handed out to Netherlands and Bangladesh. They went down meekly to South Africa and their sterner test would come at the hands of India and England. Kiemar Roach has done well against Bangladesh and Netherlands by rattling the teams with pace and bounce. Bangladesh has not done well in the tournament so far suffering heavy defeats against India and West Indies. They played well to hold on to their nerves and emerged triumphant in the match against Ireland. They appear to be bogged down due to the weight of expectations of the home fans. Their game against England would be a virtual shoot out for a place in the quarter-final.
The Aussies and Pakistanis have emerged as front runners in Group A. The Australian pace bowling trio (Tait, Lee and Johnson) has done well in both the games and the batting unit has been effective. The Pakistani spin bowling unit has been ably lead by Afridi (14 wickets in three games) and despite a few hiccups in their batting especially against Canada, they have done well as a team. The presence of Younis Khan and Misbah gives them the solidity in the middle order and the fact that Razzak walks in at No 8 gives them the depth. Lasith Malinga’s absence in the game against Pakistan proved crucial as the Lankans went down by 11 runs. Malinga’s presence would have certainly provided the Lankans with more firepower in the game against Pakistan. The Lankan batting unit has done well in all the matches notwithstanding a top order wobble against Pakistan. NewZeland have been able to flex their muscle against the minnows (Kenya and Zimbabwe) but they went down tamely to the Aussies. They would certainly make it to the quarter-finals as they need to beat Canada to ensure their passage to the quarter-finals!!!!.
On the evidence of the form displayed by the teams in the first three weeks, Australia, India, Srilanka and South Africa should make up the semi-final line up. Paksitan would be a dangerous floater capable of toppling any of the four teams and sneaking into the semi-finals. Once the tournament enters the knock out phase, the pitches are bound to lend well to the spinners because of the wear and tear the pitches would have experienced during the first five weeks. The conventional wisdom suggests that the teams who have greater depth in the spin bowling department and whose batsmen are adept at playing spinners are likely to go the distance. Based on this hypothesis, my punt is on India locking horns with Srilanka for the trophy on 02nd April at the Wankhede.
The ICC chief made it clear that the associate nations would not be participating in the next edition of the World cup to be staged in Australia and NewZeland. This certainly does not augur well for the development of the game in the Associate Nations. The counter argument is that unless the Associate Nations get exposed to the big league, they would not be able to improve the standard of their game. The ICC want to cut short the duration of the tournament from next edition on and thus the axe has fallen on the participation of Associate Nations. ICC would do well to tinker with the format of the tournament instead of denying opportunity for the Associate Nations to participate. The format of the current tournament leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of making the top four teams in each group play a quarter-final shoot out, the top two teams in each group could have played the semi-finals. In such a scenario, the league matches among top teams would have assumed a lot more significance as the stakes would have been much higher.
Thanks chiefly to the performance of Ireland in the current tournament and the strides made by Bangladesh in the last one year, there is a modicum of competition for the top four qualifying slots in Group B. In Group A, the contests have been very lop sided, barring some miracle, Aussies, Pakistan, Srilanka and NewZeland would qualify without breaking a sweat. In the present format, the World Cup is going to be decided based on the outcome of 7 matches (Quarter-Finals onwards) with the first 42 matches doubling up as more of practice games for teams!!!!. Is ICC listening and would better wisdom prevail while chalking out formats in future tournaments?