I can't be the only one who felt a little strange yesterday (March 26th). For the first time in two and a half weeks, there was no live international cricket as we had a break before dispensing with the group stages of the World Cup and entering the Super Eight
Hopefully the 'super' tag won't prove to be a misnomer (viz super
-sub) and the eight sides that have been left will provide a spectacle.
We will now see Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, New Zealand, England, West Indies and Ireland square off against each other in a series of matches that lasts nearly a month; then when the dust has settled we will have the four semi-finalists.
Here's my team by team preview of the next phase of the tournament:
Supposedly in dire straits prior to this tournament, they have silenced their doubters with convincing wins over both minnows in their group and then won the early battle of the titans by defending a 300+ score (not something they've done much of recently) against South Africa. The mark of champions is coming to form at the right time, and the signs are ominous that Australia are doing just that. They may be worried by the lack of runs from Hussey, but the rest of the squad is performing and the return of Symonds will worry any opposing side.
Many people's favourites coming in to the tournament, their confidence must have been hit by a poor display against Ireland and coming off second best against Australia. Mind, everywhere else they have broken records and with the bulk of their team in good form they will be relieved that they will only have to play Australia again in the semi-finals, by which time, if all goes to plan, they will still be ranked number 1 in the world. Expect the defeat to the Aussies to have hurt and the backlash to be severe.
Sri Lanka have quietly crept up on this tournament - there haven't been many record-breaking headlines, but they had as trouble-free a run through the groups as any side with every batsmen getting in the runs and a bowling attack living up to their potential. They have looked as complete a side as any at this tournament. With a Silva in the middle-order, an explosive opening partnership, and Chaminda Vaas and Murali working their magic, who's to say that they can't repeat their success of 1996?
The surprise packet of the sub-continent, Bangladesh have won their World Cup just by qualifying for the second round, although they will believe in their ability to go even further. The exposure to more games against top class opposition can only be good for the young side, and good experience for the future. After all, coach Dav Whatmore said last year that this World Cup had come too soon for this side. Bangladesh will be confident, however, of getting a result from the Ireland game and given their recent form they might be worth a punt for winning against another Test nation, too.
Before the injuries to Lou Vincent, Ross Taylor and Daryl Tuffey, New Zealand were looking a good bet to go a long way in this World Cup. With further injuries hampering their squad, they will be tested to the max in the Super Eights. If Fleming, McCullum, McMillan, Bond and Vettori can pull it out when it matters, they may be able to put their injury worries behind them. So far, the Kiwis have produced professional displays to ease themselves into the next round. Now they need to dig deep and it will be fascinating to see if they can.
Not even I would claim that they are lucky to get this far, but given what has happened to Pakistan and India, few would have been surprised had they failed. Pietersen and Collingwood continue to paper over the cracks in a team that will eventually get found out. After the pedalo incident and various tales emerging from St Lucia nightclubs and hotels, few will be surprised. But, and it is a big but, this is England, and as termed by Tom Cowle, they are consistently inconsistent. No sooner will they look on the brink of the next boat home then they will turn in the performance of their lives and save themselves, as they did in the CB Series. Surely, though, the World Cup is a bridge too far.
No hosts have ever won the World Cup, but the West Indies are still in with a good chance of ending that run. It does, however, depend on them playing their best cricket and the big guns showing up. They will have been encouraged by the new ball partnership of Powell and Taylor, all-round efforts by Bravo and Smith and their batsmen, with the exception of Gayle, appear to be in good touch. They will have to be if West Indies are to advance. An island group expects. Home advantage only counts for so much, but sooner or later they will be properly tested and then we'll see if they are for real.
No-one gave them a prayer until they summoned reserves from who knows where to steal a result against Zimbabwe. After that, their passage into the second round seemed destined to happen with cricket providing those celebrating St Patrick's day with an extra reason to be cheerful. Their presence shows what can be done with commitment, hard work and increased exposure to cricket for the associate nations. As for their chances, they will be more delighted than Bangladesh to have qualified, but they will want to leave having tasted more success.
The Super Eights last from the 27th March until the 21st April and will see each side play the six sides left that they haven't already faced. Ergo, England will play all teams except New Zealand.
Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies start the stage with 2 points courtesy of wins over South Africa, Bangladesh, England and Ireland in the group stage. Wins are worth two points, ties/no results 1 point with the top four in the table progressing to the semi-finals.
© Cricket World 2007