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The group-stage gauntlet is over


ICC Cricket ODI World Cup 2015The group stages of the World Cup are over and after 42 games we know our quarter finalists. The format of the World Cup is set up to give the best possible chance for the top eight teams to make the knock-out stages, but even with that inherent advantage they couldn’t all manage that.

The big story from the group stage has been England. They are one of the “Big 3” that set about carving up cricket for their own benefit last year, and have coaching and facilities that are second to none. Their centrally contracted cricketers get paid over one million dollars a year. They should be walking into the quarter finals. Instead they lost to all four full members in their group, eliminated before their last group game. There is talk of a “root and branch” review of English cricket. Again.

Australia have cruised into the quarter finals with rain and New Zealand being the only dramas they faced. They lost a whole game against Bangladesh to rain and had some concerns that the game against Scotland would end in a no result, though they easily made the knockout stages. As it was they got enough play in to defeat Scotland easily, although it did highlight a bizarre element to the Duckworth Lewis Stern regulations. In order for there to be a game you need to have 20 overs a side. When rain came for the last time Australia had batted 13 overs but were already well past the 20 over target of 88. If the rain had not abated we could have seen Australia share the points even though they had met the victory target. Sometimes cricket doesn’t help itself.

The two undefeated teams from the group stages have been New Zealand and India. The Blackcaps have given us few surprises in the group stages. Brendon McCullum was attacking with the bat and in the field. They bowled out every side they faced apart from Bangladesh and the average total that they conceded was a miserly 187. They go into their quarter final against the West Indies with home advantage and stunning form on their side.

The other 100% team is something of a surprise. India have turned out winners in every group game, and while their qualification was never in doubt, their performances at this World Cup have been much more proficient than anything they put together in the tri series preceding it. Shikhar Dhawan has rediscovered his run making touch, scoring two centuries in the process. Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni all average over 70. The real surprise has come from the Indian seamers who have bowled with pace and aggression. Mohammad Shami has 15 wickets at an average of 12, while Umesh Yadav has 10 victims at 21. With Bhuvi Kumar now able to return, further strengthening their ranks, they have a real chance of making it two World Cups in two.

South Africa are the other favourites, but the feeling is always that they look brilliant on paper but never quite get it all to come together at these events. The tired “chokers” tag is not really the point. It is more that they never seem to get everyone performing at the same time. Individual brilliance is enough to win you individual games of cricket, but teams win the World Cup. Even as they head to their Quarter Final against Sri Lanka, they are still unsure of their best team or how it should be made up. They seem unsure as to who their fifth bowler is, let alone their sixth. Oh, for a Jacques Kallis to give the side some much needed balance. They are three games from their first World Cup and they can do it, but they will need more than a stellar hundred or a brilliant five wicket haul. All need to contribute.

Bangladesh are the beneficiaries of England’s pitiful display. Thanks to some brilliant batting from Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim, and some surprisingly penetrative seam bowling, they have made their first ever World Cup knock out game. They will be massive underdogs against the rampant Indians, but stranger things have happened.

Sri Lankan fans will be struggling to come to terms with the loss of Kumar Sangakkara whose retirement hangs over world cricket like the Sword of Damocles, ready to fall on our heads at any time. His achievement of four hundreds in successive ODI innings was a first, there is every chance he will make it a fifth against South Africa. Witty, erudite, stylish and principled. Cricket will not be the same without Sanga.

The brilliantly inconsistent West Indies and Pakistan make up the rest of the quarter final line up. “You don’t know which side will turn up,” is said so often as to be meaningless, but this tournament is another example of why it is stated with such frequency. The West Indies lost to Ireland, then thrashed Pakistan and destroyed Zimbabwe, only to concede over 400 against South Africa. Pakistan lost to India and the West Indies, and then came back to win four in a row including defeating South Africa. Both face the co-hosts in the quarters, and could well knock them out. Unlikely, but they could.

Zimbabwe have had some excellent batting performances, and this is far from a disastrous World Cup for them. The problem they face is that their best batsman has decided, after eleven years representing them, to turn his back on his country for a deal with Nottinghamshire in England. Few, if anyone, would blame Brendan Taylor for his career choice. He has chosen a stable career over the risk of not getting paid by his board. It is a bitter blow for Zimbabwe.

Then there are the associates. The ongoing theme of this World Cup has been their imminent exclusion from the next two tournaments. So much has been written about this that it is perhaps pointless to go into it again. What can be said is that associate cricket nations bring far more than they take from the World Cup. Ireland won more games than England and Zimbabwe and as many as West Indies and Bangladesh. The heart-warming story of the Afghanistan national team is one that we will tell our children about. While Scotland disappointed, the UAE put in some excellent performances and were one good over away from defeating Zimbabwe. The worm has turned, and we should be hopeful that this decision will be reversed, but we need to keep up the pressure.

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