In what world could Bangladesh have made the Cricket World Cup quarter-finals? Maybe in a parallel universe, they wouldn’t have collapsed against West Indies and South Africa, they would have played true to turning pitches at home, and their batsmen would have learnt from their mistakes, in turn giving their fans something more to cheer about. But not in this universe, and not in 2011.
This World Cup continues its trend of keeping pace with the tournament’s best editions prior and when the best eight teams in the world clash, that is a true marker of the competition’s quality.
Pakistan take on West Indies, India go up against Australia, South Africa will joust with New Zealand and Sri Lanka host England in this round. Of course the eventual champion will come from within these eight teams and the next seven matches will help reveal that identity. Two of these matches are in Dhaka, one in Ahmedabad and one more in Colombo. By this time next week, only four will be left standing. However a lot can go right or wrong, as per expectation or against anticipation, can be a surprise or a reality check for many.
Many here aptly refers to the vast hoards of cricket fans in the sub-continent. Already Bangladesh are out, leaving behind a bus pelted with stones of disappointment. Imagine India falling at the next hurdle. That would bring about scenes of greater devastation, headlines with major implications and selection meetings with quite a lot of chopping/changing around. For that has been India’s World Cup so far – start, stop, sputtering and never really catching an energetic momentum.
More than that it would break a billion hearts, put to waste an equally insane amount of money invested into the tournament, and the question will go partially unanswered – can’t a team win a World Cup which has been formatted to its advantages? Can’t they even play the home-team card well?
That last question is valid for Sri Lanka too. They came into the 1996 World Cup as a team that didn’t have a chance. Since then, playing host has been like keeping guard to a fortress. And their line of defense isn’t a thin one with Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan keeping watch with eyes of experience, forwarded by the youthful exuberance of Kumar Sangakkara, Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews.
Having said that, if there is one team that can rattle their cage, then going by this tournament’s records, it has to be England. Following Andrew Strauss and his men has been no less than a rollercoaster and just when you thought that their tickets home are booked, they changed the game one last time.
Playing against Sri Lanka and India in their respective home-grounds, in front of capacity crowds who can change the game on their own, and against players who in likable conditions are second to none, is an enviable task indeed. Australia and England haven’t been on top of their game recently, the former in Tests and the latter in ODIs, yet they have charted a different route to this stage.
On paper though, lacking the testing rigours that Strauss and his men have gone through, Ricky Ponting and his men look broken in comparison. His own form seems deserted and troubles follow one after another. It is often the end of a cricketer’s career and spells doom for his team at the same time. But Australia can not be taken lightly and MS Dhoni knows better.
In Dhaka meanwhile, four teams will play cricket in front of crowds that aren’t their own but will make them feel at home every way they can. At least in a passionate sort of way - that is how the Bangladeshis love cricket. Some of them might even realise their long lost relation to Pakistan and root for them for the rest of the tournament. And it won’t be such a bad idea so to speak, for Shahid Afridi and his men have shown that they have their heads in the right place this time around.
In beating both Sri Lanka and Australia, in not losing to Canada inexplicably and indeed topping the group, they have shown a spirit that the cricket world needs to cherish. And the rest of the teams need to be wary of.
Teams like West Indies, who face them first up in the round of eight. At first look, Darren Sammy and his men should be booking their tickets home but look again. Despite the losses to England and India, this side has shown a spirit beyond their recent years. And it is just a matter of things coming right for them once. Talk about things coming right, and for once South Africa seem to be playing with a plan of not messing it up. But in New Zealand, they have a banana skin game, wherein a team on the upward curve could spoil their part. Daniel Vettori might play and what bets on him tying up the Proteas in a knot on a slow track?
What bets on Pakistan winning the tournament then? Of course that is a simple matter of beating West Indies first, getting past India (dream semi-final!) or Australia (what a rematch!), and then perhaps challenge the might of South Africa or Sri Lanka in Mumbai? Of course New Zealand and England are no slouches either, but that is the thing. Everyone has been so unpredictable, that Pakistan seem the only surety amongst them. If that isn’t a recipe for some magical cricket, what is?
© Cricket World 2011