With twenty out of forty two matches played and decided, we are almost halfway through the preliminary rounds of the world cup cricket 2011. There has been plenty of excitement during the matches as well as mismatches. But what is draining is the current format of the tournament.
At the end of a prolonged and tiring first round it will all lead to qualification of eight best teams. To me, it would’ve been more thrilling if the first round ended up in knocking out more than half the participating teams and picking something like a pack of six teams to compete further.
With the current lot of teams broadly categorized into eight heavyweights and six minnows, the result of the first round thus remains highly predictable. Despite some great efforts by the underdogs, there doesn’t seem to be much of a possibility of a displacement, unless of course, if Ireland stages another upset or England opts to be kind to another unfancied opponent such as host Bangladesh. And then it would rest more on the shoulders of luck and less on cricket, to scrape through the knock out rounds with only a handful of games played between the eight best sides to determine the fate of the championship.
What we have seen of the sport so far in the world cup, there have been some very interesting observations. At one extreme, we have seen Indians or English fail to defend totals considerably in excess of intimidating figure of 300 while at the other Pakistan romped home and defended lowest winning score of 184 at Columbo and yet in another game that lasted less than one third of the scheduled one hundred overs Bangladesh succumbed to the Windies bowling onslaught at a mere 58 paving way for an easy victory for the opposition.
In all probability, the most classic and thrilling contest was between England and India. Massive entertainment, a huge pile of 776 runs in a day, enviable fighting spirit, fluctuating fortunes, loads of excitement all leading to a most improbable draw but it was eventually the game of cricket itself that emerged victorious!
As opposed to the popular belief, it is the bowling capability, skills and effort that are proving decisive instead of the much fancied batting prowess. That is precisely why even the teams with lethal and mesmerizing batting lineups like India and England have struggled while Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa and to a degree West Indies have appeared formidable so far. The way the world cup has progressed, even a massive first innings score does not warrant a win unless the team has a strong bowling reserve. Who would know it better than the shock-stricken England who chased 338 against India only to earn a draw and then lost surprisingly to lowly rated arch rivals Ireland who stunned everyone by chasing the biggest total in the history of the world cup?
While the world cup remains predictably open, there have been some impressive performances. Australians, unbeaten in the world cup since 1999, seem to be peaking at the right time yet again. South Africans are as clinical and devastating in their approach as ever. By far, Pakistan is the only team to have earned all 6 points and had the nerves to survive a batting slump and a scare against Canada and a nail biting finish against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka lost to Pakistan but one can argue to their defence that the team was devoid of capabilities and skill of ace bowler Malinga on that particular day.
While the rest of the games in the first round are unlikely to affect a great deal on the predictable quarter final line up, the results would determine the pool rankings that would then decide the eventual opponents from the contrasting pools confronting each other in the second round. Thus a slight slip in the ranking of Pakistan could easily land them in another potential quarter final contest against India_ a side they have never beaten in the world cup. Such a happening will invariably refresh the sore memories of 1996 quarter final in Bangalore when even a gallant start by Amir Sohail and Saeed Anwer leading to 113/2 in 15 overs could not prevent a collapse making Pakistan fall drastically short of Indian score of 287.
Aussies, who have failed to live up to their reputation lately, have appeared menacing and ominous so far. It won’t be a surprise if they clinch the victory for the 4th successive time but will the fortune favour them yet again?
The way spirited Pakistanis, on course to revival, have blended and forged into a team is impressive and amazing. But there are still certain question marks and a long way to go. While Afridi has performed consistently as a captain and a bowler, both him and Razzaq have failed to fire with their batting. Like Imran Khan has pointed out repeatedly, making Razzaq bat so much down the order is pointless. It is time to advance and attack with a balanced combination and as Afridi himself asserted, it is inevitable that the top of the (batting) order comes up with a good start.
While the Pakistan side remains highly unpredictable, it has shown signs of vulnerability and major batting collapse that it is highly known for. A prospective challenge; It will be interesting to see how we fare in case of a batting chase during the upcoming pressure games?
It was the leadership coupled with the spirit and passion that made us win the world cup against all odds in 1992. Let’s see how far Lala Afridi can lead us eighteen years later?
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