[The author is an active cricketer, among a few of his other interests and professional life as a chartered accountant and a banker. He currently plays in the Bahrain Cricket League. In this column, which started at the beginning of the World cup with two parts, (setting the tone for the World Cup) and (analyzing the prospects of different teams in the World Cup) and proceeded with the third part (which brought out the despair in the world cup, at its midway stage that included Bob Woolmer’s tragic death).
This is the fourth and penultimate part, titled appropriately as the ‘Slog Overs’ analyzing the most important final stages of this eventful world cup. The series will end with a Fifth part after the Finals]
Its time now for enjoying the real stuff – one day cricket! The perfect uncertainty factor! And, at the highest level of world cricket, that comes once in 4 years. Its just one match and one day for one team to win and another to lose and go out. If the Super 8’s gave more chances to teams receiving setbacks (for example, South Africa that lost to Bangladesh but still qualified for semifinals), from here on, there will be 4 strong teams, all capable of winning on a given day, but yet, will go out when they lose. Sadly, there can only be two finalists and one ultimate winners.
To decide which team will win, it will NOT be relevant to see:
- the current world ODI rankings (if so, South Africa should be the winners)
- the number of times a team has won the previous world cup and is displaying great form in this world cup so far (in which case, Australia should win)
- the team that displays good all round team spirit and strong performance should win, especially the one that hasn’t won before (New Zealand should be the winner in such a scenario)
- the team that has a good mixture of experience, youth and talent, plus some odd characters who come to the party at most important moments, where the senior cricketers contribute to the team performance without any misunderstandings with the captain or bullying of the youngsters (Sri Lanka will be the winner in this case).
However, the winners will be the ones who display most of the above talents, on the day that matters most. Just the way the plentiful of world records that Indian trio Sachin-Saurav-Dravid did not help India to progress further, history, background and statistics are of little help from now on.
When the world cup began, in my article ‘Right Arm Over’ I had predicted 4 likely semifinalists, in the reverse order, namely, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Australia. One bad day against Bangladesh put an early end to India’s campaign and Sri Lanka has filled in the slot perfectly. So put SL in India’s place, the predicted order of final placings is perfect!
Fortunately and contrary to my fears, nothing more untoward happened after the first round exit of India and Pakistan and the tragic death of Bob Woolmer. I was worried about the unpredictable Caribbean weather, which also did not come in the way of any results. Well some shake ups have taken place, a young captain has been chosen for Pakistan, some non-performing and non-firing guns of India have been punished with ‘cotton candies’ than sticks and the Prince of Trinidad, Brian Charles Lara has gracefully retired before being dropped.
So, from now on, it appears just cricket and cricket shall do all the talking. No third elements please.
In this background, I wish to proceed with my analysis of the last 4 stage of Caribbean World Cup:
Australia v/s South Africa:
There is no doubt that Australia leads by a long way than the other 3 teams, with commitment, professionalism and passion for performance, despite the aggressive attitude on the field and out of it, and this aggressive nature is not normally liked by many. This is the only reason why fans world over are looking for a new winner. The normal tendency of fans too is to support the underdogs, but when it comes to the semifinal stage of a world cup, there are no underdogs.
Australia is the top team, the team to be beaten. No two words about it. However, sometimes this aggressive strength could turn out to be a weakness. Since winning the 1987 world cup, Australia started on its ascendancy in world cricket, but faced a minor glitch in the 1992 home world cup. After that, its setbacks have been limited ? in test cricket their famous loss to India (or to Laxman-Dravid-Harbhajan trio) and in one day cricket, their recent loss to England and New Zealand and some inconsequential losses (including the record breaking chase by West Indies scoring 418 runs in a 4th innings of a test match) have been some rare blemishes. And their successes have been enviable, especially at the world cup! After winning the 1987 world cup and faring badly in 1992, they lost to Sri Lanka in the finals of 1996 world cup and then they lifted two back to back finals in 1999 and 2003 and are currently well on course for a hattrick performance.
The way they have beaten the other three semifinalists during the preliminary stages of this world cup is a clear indication to their supremacy. They scored 356 against South Africa, 348 against New Zealand (and beat them by 215 runs) and bowled out Sri Lanka for 226 and won with 7 overs to spare! All great performances that Australia reserved for the 3 next best teams in this world cup.
Their experienced cricketers McGrath, Gilchrist and Hayden are clicking perfectly, ably assisted by the mid-tier veterans like Ponting, Hogg & Bracken and the able young guns Hussey, Watson, Symonds, Clarke and Shaun Tait are making headlines. I think on this basis, Aussies are unbeatable. The way Hayden walked back into the team with more energy and determination after he was axed a couple of years ago, the way Tait has almost immediately filled in the fast bowling boots left empty by the injury to Brett Lee and the ever maturing left arm wrist spinner Hogg’s plaudits at this world cup are all happening at the same time ? most importantly at the most appropriate time for the Aussies. It will be a fitting tribute then to McGrath to beam with the world cup in hand.
Are there any weak links? May be, McGrath may appear predictable and if attacked early, may lose a bit of a momentum. Still I reckon McGrath has all the intelligence and experience to take care of any situation. May be, Hayden and Gilchrist’s aggression at top could result in their downfall ? but that happens only once in 10 matches. Have they hit the law of averages? Time only will tell. And even if that happens, they have sufficient back up in the middle order. All or most of the Aussies to fail? That may happen extremely rarely, so the remaining 3 teams would be fully aware of what they are up against.
South Africa is pitted against the formidable Aussies in the semis. In the first round match against the Aussies, South Africa lost in the first session itself, through that fast & aggressive hundred from Hayden and great batting by Ponting and Clarke. Even though AB Deviliers and Grame Smith showed great character in their reply by scoring 160 for the first wicket in just 20 overs, Australia knew their game plan, executed it perfectly and came back strongly, and South Africa folded up meekly thereafter.
Considering the inconsistent form displayed by South Africa in this world cup, which qualified mainly because England and West Indies proved to be too incapable to pose any challenge (and India and Pakistan went out before they could open their eyes), it will be an uphill task for them to win over Australia. The Springboks are a team that can beat any team of the world (they have the ODI record for world record chase by the way, and against Australia), but currently, they are not clicking all together. Devilliers, Smith and Gibbs have shown some batting form, but the middle order is not shown consistency and the lack of form of the fast bowlers is a worrying factor for the Springboks. In that famous match against Australia discussed above, Pollock conceded most runs in any match he has played, and Ntini hasn’t been among the wickets on these dryer conditions. Though Hall and Nel have had some good performance, but that has been mostly against the lower ranked teams. South Africa survived a scare against Malinga, winning that match against Sri Lanka by literally a hair’s distance from the stumps! The most notable weakness I feel is the lack of a good spinner for South Africa. Some teams have at least two in their armory.
Even assuming early morning helpful wicket conditions, in which a Toss may become vital, Australia has shown an ability to post a 250+ score in such conditions too through contributions from their middle order in later overs, and then they unleash their bowling arsenal to defend even a small total. In Symonds, Hogg and Clarke they have good spinning options. So, I reckon the match is overwhelmingly in favour of Australia.
Sri Lanka v/s New Zealand:
The wizardry of Murali, the sling arm of Lasitha ‘Techni-color-hair’ Malinga, the all round capabilities of Jacob Oram and Scott Styris, the versatility of Daniel Vettori, the never ceasing flamboyance of Jayasuriya, acrobatics of Sangakkara, the intellect of strategic captain Fleming, the experience of Vaas? all in one game! I would not like to miss this match, which will showcase perhaps the best display of talents from two teams in a world cup knockout game ever. Here it will be too hard to pick a winner. So, I leave the odds at 50:50.
If we look back at the match they played at the Super 8’s, Sri Lanka won that encounter with great ease through excellent bowling by the veterans, Vaas and Murali and sensible batting by Jayasurya and Sangakkara. Even a great Nelson (111) by Styris could not avoid defeat. New Zealand perhaps paid the price for choosing to bat after winning the toss, but they would have learnt their lessons by now. Different grounds, different conditions and a different day. That’s what is going to be, when Sri Lanka plays New Zealand in the semifinals on 24 April at Kingston Jamaica. The ground will favour Sri Lankan type of cricket, relying largely on spin.
Both teams are playing well in this tournament so far, and both teams have similar strengths and not many weaknesses. So, its obvious that the chances are even. Maybe, the team that bats second and chases a target could be the winners. A total of 250 plus batting first could be a good total to defend, will make the match most interesting one for sure. Look forward to a cricket feast with all types of talents on display. This will be one last, or the penultimate chance, to see some great cricketers like Jayasurya, Vaas and Muralitharan ? certainly at the world cup level. So get ready for the show.
On to the Finals:
From here, the two winners will go to Barbados to vie for the World Cup on Saturday 28 April. Who will it be? Only time can answer that. Whoever it will be, it sure will be a mouth watering moment for a cricket lover.
I am eager to see a new World Cup Champion. I am sure you too must be looking for a breath of fresh air. So who else could qualify for that position than the most well behaved, well respected team of the World, quite a contrast to the Aussies. Yes, it will be thrilling to see New Zealand winning the cup. And they are just two steps away as is anybody else. They have a good recent history against Australia and South Africa. South Africa perhaps deserves a little bit of luck at the top ? they have been deprived sufficient number of times the moments of glory by lady luck. If it is a South Africa v/s New Zealand Finals, we will have a new Cricket World Champion.
Ultimately, if you bet for the Aussies, you may win, but you wont get a windfall, because the odds are overwhelmingly in their favour!
In any case, we have had a forgettably long and tedious preliminary stages of a world cup. ICC has surely realized this, though they may be outwardly justifying the 16 teams in the world cup. Like in World Cup Hockey, 12 teams drawn in 2 groups is most ideal for the world cup. I hope things are worked out differently in 2011.
Before we reach there, the real world cup will be played over this week. The Caribbean fiesta is just going to end. Dear readers, sit back and enjoy a cricket feast.
Did you enjoy the world cup? Do write to me at with your comments and feedback on my views, statements and comments.
Author: Agnel Pereira- Bahrain