We have finally reached the half way point in the group stages and this World Cup is shaping up to be a tournament of contrasts, the most obvious of which is that between the two groups.
Currently group B resembles a seven man all-in wrestling bout that the Dutch, as conscientious objectors, are boycotting. This scrap could go all the way. After all, the Irish have beaten the English who edged past the South Africans who walloped the West Indies who trounced Bangladesh who overcame the Irish. Only India are unbeaten but they still contrived to tie with England.
England, briefly top of the group, can be sent packing if they lose to Bangladesh and West Indies. Ireland can still qualify if they beat the Netherlands and West Indies. Bangladesh have turned in some dreadful performances themselves both on and off the pitch (if the supporters can’t even identify the right bus to stone it’s a bit rich to have a go at the players), but can still go through if they beat England and England in turn lose to West Indies. Had Ireland not thrown away a winning position against Bangladesh they would be virtually in the quarter finals already. I’m sure India will have much easier games ahead than the one they endured on Sunday at Bangalore.
In short for those of you not keeping up, Group B is thrilling and a testament both to the beguiling powers of the lesser nations and the enduring appeal of cricket played over the longer limited overs format. Who knows? At this rate the cricket authorities may even come up with some mad cap crazy idea to lengthen the sport even further; maybe to five days and scrap the limitation on overs altogether. Think how much fun that could be.
By contrast, Group A has been a marathon yawn-fest. True, Pakistan did spring a surprise by overturning Sri Lanka in Colombo, but Zimbabwe, Canada and the epically dreadful Kenyans have produced cricket of such startlingly woeful quality that any sense of jeopardy, sporting thrill and tension is almost entirely absent from their matches against the test playing teams notwithstanding Pakistan’s generous attempts to make a game of it for half the match against Canada.
There is, I suppose, a certain curiosity in watching the mightily proportioned Canadian, Balaji Rao, propel his tweakers off an energy saving four pace “run up”. And Zimbabwe’s battery of spinners seem to span the generations from the baby faced Utseya, through 80′s look a like Graeme Cremer all the way up to the craggy Ray Price who I swear was hawking nylons and black market butter to struggling housewives between air raids in the London blitz of 1940. But Kenya appear to be going nowhere with a team kept in cold storage since the last World Cup.
The only mildly diverting cricketing issues yet to be settled in Group A remain the final placings for the pre-ordained top four. Sri Lanka, by losing to Pakistan and having their match against Australia rained off will now struggle to make the top 2 unless New Zealand overcome the Pakistanis. How that will affect the final matches in Group B is anyone’s guess.
As an England fan I would far rather face NZ or Pakistan in the quarter finals than Sri Lanka so finishing third in Group B might best be avoided if possible.
Of the major nations the surprises for me have been New Zealand’s general frailty with the bat, the West Indies’ consistency and Australia’s continuing dominance; though perhaps I should also add England’s startling propensity for producing the best matches and Pakistan’s failure to lose at least one game through terrible fielding.
New Zealand on paper look a tough one day outfit but Ryder, Taylor and McCullum have failed to click. My colleague on Test Match Sofa, Jarrod Kimber, wrote off the Kiwis from day one, but then he’s Australian. Annoyingly he looks to be right.
Kemar Roach is covering up a lot of mediocrity in the West Indies’ bowling attack but with Darren Bravo and Chris Gayle finding the big shots, they could be the surprise package of the tournament.
As for Australia they just keep rolling on despite an unbalanced and inappropriate side for the conditions. They are also burdened with some of the zaniest selectors outside North Korea. In a stunningly bizarre move, the injured left arm fast bowler Doug Bollinger has been replaced in the squad by the previously hamstrung left handed middle order batsman and President of The Society For Earnest Foreheads, Mike Hussey. Like for like? Well, I suppose they’re both Australian, both left handed and both play cricket.
So far they’ve barely been tested, of course, with South Africa and India absent from their group and the heavens opening in Colombo. But whilst an India v Sri Lanka final would satisfy the advertisers and neutrals alike, natural pessimism tells me they could yet go all the way, much to the bottomless chagrin of an already troubled world.