Winning Bizness Sports Desk
The 50-overs format World Cup currently on in India enters its third week with two teams standing head and shoulders above all others. India and New Zealand, the two teams, are way ahead of the others—each with four wins out of four matches and eight points in their pockets. Both teams, for all practical purposes, are assured of semi-final spots.
India was always considered a favourite for this world cup and New Zealand a dark horse. India appears on course while New Zealand has proved the surprise package, paralleling India by winning all its four games and that too very convincingly.
New Zealand began its campaign by causing a major upset. The Kiwis defeated defending champions England and that too by a huge margin. Engand scored 282-9, a no mean score but New Zealand hunted it down in just 36.2-overs, scoring 283-1.
This set the tone for New Zealand’s forthcoming games. Following this mind-boggling win against England, New Zealand registered very convincing wins over the Netherlands, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. One can argue that barring England, the other three teams are not the strongest teams in the world. However, given that New Zealand has won all these three matches by huge margins, this argument does not hold water.
And besides, both the Netherlands and Afghanistan have caused big upsets in this world cup—the former beating South Africa and the latter the defending champions England.
New Zealand’s batters are in sparkling form and almost all its front-line batters have performed well, the fielding has been world-class and its bowlers have looked very penetrative indeed. However, the fact that now all its opponents will be Tier 1 teams should not be forgotten. It still has to encounter Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and, of course, India.
The Indian team has performed like a well-oiled machine so far. Its bowlers have been very difficult to score off while its batters have just run riot. Its fielders have very effectively supported their bowlers and India’s performances so far clearly indicate that it is head and shoulders above other teams.
New Zealand meets India on Sunday, October 22, in Dharamsala. This will be a big test for New Zealand as also for India. This will be the clash of the titans in this world cup so far. Both the teams are virtually assured of a semi-final spot and a victory on Sunday will be the fifth for the winner (whichever team it is) and guarantee a last four spot for that team.
India has certainly lived up to its billing, winning all its four matches so far very convincingly indeed. Its four victims include two biggies—Australia and Pakistan. Its other two victims are Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The Indian team has performed like a well-oiled machine so far. Its bowlers have been very difficult to score off while its batters have just run riot. Its fielders have very effectively supported their bowlers and India’s performances so far clearly indicate that it is head and shoulders above the other teams. A semi-final spot is now almost guaranteed for the Rohit Sharma-led India.
India still has to play England, South Africa, New Zealand and the Asian lion Sri Lanka. The last-named has not played as expected of it but it is capable of causing upsets and India should not take Sri Lanka lightly. India can also hope for two easy points from their match against the Netherlands though the latter upset the South Africans and, therefore, should not be taken lightly.
Before the World Cup started, England and Australia were considered strong contenders alongside India. So also was Pakistan. From amongst the other teams, South Africa was considered a contender for a semi-final spot, while Sri Lanka, the world cup winner in 1996, was considered good enough to cause some upsets but not realistically expected to make it to the semi-finals.
England’s bowlers who looked virtually unplayable in their backyards are finding it difficult to adjust to Indian conditions which do not assist swing bowling. Bowlers like Chris Woakes and Sam Curran who capture wickets on a regular basis in English conditions are looking innocuous in India.
Australia and England have lost two of their first three matches each and now they have an uphill task ahead of them. They will be in a position to breathe easy only if they win all their remaining games—they both cannot afford to lose any more. They are, therefore, already in the do-or-die zone, a situation not many would have thought possible at this juncture before the start of the tournament.
Australia, however, has done its cause a lot of good with a stand-out victory against Pakistan in Bangalore. The Aussie batters came good; significantly, two out-of-form batters and mainstays of Australia’s batting machine—David Warner and Mitchell Marsh—scored centuries and propelled Australia to a stupendous 367-9 in its allotted 50-overs.
Australia and England have lost two of their first three matches each and now they have an uphill task ahead of them. They will be in a position to breathe easy only if they win all their remaining games—they cannot afford to lose any more.
The Aussies were always in command of the match and at one stage it looked like a score of 400 would be posted. To Pakistan’s credit, the sub-continental team managed to pull it back a little. Shaheen Afridi, under criticism for not bowling well in recent times, captured five wickets for 54 runs.
But two other bowlers of whom much was expected failed—Haris Rauf got taken for 83 runs in just eight overs though he took three wickets while Usama Mir managed only a sole wicket conceding 82 runs in his nine overs.
Pakistan’s batters too did not come to the party and Australia dismissed them for 305 runs in just 45.3-overs. Their batters could not force the issue and though the opening partnership registered 134 runs, it took more than 21-overs to get there.
This put pressure on the remaining batters and though there were some starts—Rizwan (46), Saud Shakeel (30) and Iftikhar Ahmed (26)—they were not sufficient to put it past the mighty Australians. Babar Azam failed, scoring a measly 18 runs though he managed a strike rate of 128.57. The Pakistani middle-and-lower-order failed to deliver the goods and Australia obtained a much-needed victory.
Australia will be highly relieved with this victory and it appears its world cup campaign is slowly getting back on track. After two consecutive defeats at the start, the Aussies have now registered two consecutive victories and slowly its players are returning to their best. Adam Zampa, in particular, is slowly but steadily regaining his mojo and as the tournament enters its business end, the Australians are beginning to look good though they still need to iron out some wrinkles.
South Africa just like New Zealand and India has begun very well and despite the shock loss to the Netherlands, still looks good enough to be a contender for a semi-final spot. It has defeated Sri Lanka and Australia, the latter a strong team and another contender for the champions tag, but its unexpected defeat to the Netherlands makes it imperative that it wins most of its tough matches going ahead.
The tough matches include ones against India, New Zealand, Pakistan and England. Its batters have done well so far and its bowlers too have delivered the goods and despite the Netherlands fiasco, South Africa appears to have the muscle to enter the semi-finals. Much will, however, depend on how the Temba Bavuma-skippered team fares against opponents such as India, Pakistan, New Zealand and of course, England on Saturday, October 21 in Mumbai.
Pakistan has done just about okay so far winning two of its four games—against the Netherlands and Sri Lanka while losing to India and Australia. Its loss to India was huge while its two victories against not-so-strong teams (the Netherlands and Sri Lanka) were not very convincing either.
The sub-continental team was found wanting in all departments of the game against India while its much-vaunted bowling machine has not yet lived up to its billing. Against Sri Lanka, the Pakistani bowlers conceded 344 runs; fortunately for Pakistan, its batting machine bailed the team out. Against the Netherlands, Pakistan was more in control but the European team managed to put up a fight—the Pakistani win was not as convincing as it would have wanted.
England’s Bazball tactics has not worked for it so far. Its bowlers have not looked menacing and that has proved its Achilles heel. Against New Zealand, its bowlers were taken to the cleaners; set a target of 283 in 50-overs, New Zealand achieved the target in just 36.2-overs and that too for the loss of only one wicket.
The English bowlers were no better against Afghanistan; the Asian team batting first scored 284 runs. The English batting was shockingly poor—the Afghans got the former all out for a measly 215 in just 40.3-overs. However, it must be said that the England batters acquitted themselves well against Bangladesh scoring 364-9. Even in the first match against New Zealand, the Englishmen put up a fighting total of 282-9. From this, it is clear that it is the England bowlers who have let the team down.
England’s bowlers who looked virtually unplayable in their backyards are finding it difficult to adjust to Indian conditions which do not assist swing bowling. Bowlers like Chris Woakes and Sam Curran who capture wickets on a regular basis in English conditions are looking innocuous in India. Its spin duo—Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid—are doing their best but it is not proving enough for England. Like Australia, England needs to rediscover its mojo quickly, else it will be curtains for the defending champion.
As the world cup reaches its halfway mark, it has become clear that India and New Zealand barring major upsets are set to make the semi-finals. India, in fact, looks the favourite to win the world cup.
It is now the other two spots that are up for grabs and there are several contenders for the two spots. Australia and South Africa are looking good but the two other contenders—England and Pakistan—have to get their acts together quickly.
The semi-finals picture will get clearer over the next 10-days. At this stage of the World Cup the top four teams by form and performance are India, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.