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The Knock-Out Stage Cometh!


ICC Cricket ODI World Cup 2015After over a month of competition, eight teams remain standing. The knock-out stage of the 2015 ICC World Cup is upon us. The quarter-finals are here, and despite the best, nay valiant, efforts of the associate nations – and England – the best teams in the fray have made it to this stage. The ICC must be happy, secretly hoping for closer-fought games than one-way traffic.

March 18: Sri Lanka vs South Africa in Sydney

It would have been more apt if this match was billed as Kumar Sangakkara versus AB de Villiers. While the former has taken his game to a new level in his swansong ODI tournament, the latter has been forced to do so, thanks largely to the ineptness of his team. The big difference is that Lanka still have batsmen supporting Sangakkara, and bowlers who are eager to make their mark. South Africa, barring AB, haven’t really turned up as yet.

They had two big matches, against India and Pakistan, and on both occasions, their bowling was unimpressive. There were late-order collapses only because their opponents went for quick runs. A tournament that has been lit up by Mitchell Starc, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Mohammad Shami and Mohit Sharma, even Shapoor Zadran, the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander have gone missing.

But AB is lacking support from his batsmen more than his bowlers. 300-plus is becoming the norm in ODIs these days and despite Matrix-analogies, the Proteas’ skipper cannot score as many runs alone. The problem gets enhanced because he is dependent on Hashim Amla for a start. In comparison, Lanka have their batting order in form, with both openers and Mahela Jayawardene ticking century-columns against their name. If they can get Rangana Herath fit to bowl on the SCG wicket, South Africa might choke even before the coin is tossed up.

March 19: Bangladesh vs India in Melbourne

There is only one key battle in here - the first 10-15 overs the Indian batsmen face from Bangladesh pacers. The mind goes back to 2007, wherein that long drawn-out World Cup in the Caribbean, the Indians got off to a slow, watchful start and never recovered. Bangladesh’s pace attack has come along leaps since, thanks largely to the efforts of former Zimbabwean cricketer Heath Streak. The mere fact that their pacers blew England away at the Adelaide Oval, and not their spinners, is something to be marvelled at.

If Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane can brave the storm that Mashrafe Mortaza, Rubel Hossain and Taskin Ahmed will cook up, India will steal a march easily. Reading this last sentence will be mildly amusing, given the batting reputations being talked up here in comparison to the lowly bowling ones. But at 100 for 3 in 20 overs, Indian fans won’t be smiling as much, given they only play six front-line batsmen. That second sentence should get the point across.

March 20: Australia vs Pakistan in Adelaide

This is the real slippery game of the quarter-final stage, simply because you never know which Pakistan side turns up on the given day. It could be the ones who beat South Africa with consummate ease in Auckland. Or it could be the ones who couldn’t get a move on against India or got unstuck against Zimbabwe before Misbah-ul-Haq saved them. As always he will have a big say on proceedings. The runs off his blade as well as the calming influence he exudes as captain on the field will be needed more than ever. To what degree his wards listen will shape their performance in this match.

As far as Australia are concerned, this is their World Cup to lose. And they aren’t exactly wrong in this belief, considering they boast a fiery bowling line-up and bat as deep as number eight (sometimes nine). Their fielding is almost always top-notch, they have an inspirational captain in Michael Clarke and they will have a very vocal crowd backing them, as always.

Yet, they haven’t played like champions-elect until now, and it must be bothering them. This is the time to turn up the heat and steal the spotlight back from India and New Zealand. Only thing, they need not to get too carried away in exerting themselves and give Pakistan, the ‘cornered tigers’, a sniff.

March 21: New Zealand vs West Indies in Wellington

Truth be told, the West Indies shouldn’t even be here. Ireland were a far better rounded team than them, and played some excellent cricket, good enough atleast to beat the two-time champions. Only because their bowling couldn’t cope up with the might of South Africa and India, did the Irish miss out on a deserved last-eight slot. The Windies got in through the back-door with a mix of good and bad days.

Their inconsistency pales in comparison to the six-wins New Zealand garnered in the group stage. But this single aspect makes them more dangerous than Ireland at this business-end of the tournament. One off day for the Kiwi bowlers, one cheap dismissal for Brendon McCullum, or one middle order collapse, can put away the Black Caps’ best chance at a World Cup triumph in decades. For possessing the mercurial ability to affect all of this, or for their unpredictability alone, the former champions will not be taken too lightly in Wellington.

The Black Caps, who have a history of falling at a hurdle before the last, will be watchful, a move away from their usual aggressive demeanour in this tournament so far, and it will add a different dimension to this match-up.

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