A week is a long time in cricket and it is even longer in the Cricket World Cup 2011 for it stretches seamlessly in comparison to similar sport events of its stature. Despite the assured presence of minnows in the first round, the top teams cannot take it easy and must get in the points required to progress further. And that process has already begun with nearly every team having played at least their first game as the first Friday of the 2011 tournament went past.
Whatever be their final worth, let us get the minnows out of way first. Apart from Netherlands and Ireland, none have given the impression that this will be a World Cup to remember for anything else except that it is their last. Canada, Kenya and Zimbabwe have struggled to help their cause and although it is to be said that we won’t really miss their presence in 2015 on account of their performances alone, cricket will none the less be poorer.
Of course the format is such that any upset will not have too much bearing on whether they progress to the next round. The answer for that remains a firm no and in that light, the Dutch and Irish resolve to be not broken down easily is laudable. They have shown the resilience to withstand pressure at this level and though the desired results haven’t come yet, maybe they will come if the ICC chooses to persist with them.
Group A looks very easy at the moment. Australia may have come here as defending champions but there was more than a cloud hanging over their heads. It grew darker with their lowly performances in the warm-up games. Yes those matches are not any indicator whatsoever but no side wants to begin badly, let alone the champions. Two matches later and they are looking as formidable as ever, having only increased their unbeaten streak from three competitions past.
Having said that Zimbabwe and New Zealand did not test them at all, which should really be a worry for better opposition seems to have their number nowadays. If they are really searching for the most positive then their bowling looks sharp again and on the back of their medium-pacers. Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait are proving to be a handful at the moment but the moment of reckoning will come against Sri Lanka and Pakistan later in the first round.
Before moving to those two teams, it is apparent that the Kiwis are the weak link in this group. The earthquake back home wouldn’t have done anything to calm their nerves and their capitulation against Australia only proved that they will advance to the next round only on account of beating the minnows pitted against them. That eventuality is a pity really and Bangladesh would feel hard done by if they don’t qualify from their group. While that is a story for another day, you have to look at the sub-continental rivalry herein.
The Lankans and Pakistanis play totally different brands of cricket – elegant in comparison to flashy, consistent in front of extravagance. Where the two finish up in Group A could well decide the knock-out fixtures. Either can be drawn with India and change the complexion of the tournament thereon, for these games can be edgy and one bad day is enough to ruin the mood for an entire nation.
It inevitably brings us to Group B where India showed brilliant mettle against Bangladesh and their partisan crowd in Mirpur. For them the test grows intense hereon, as playing in front of packed stadiums at home can be both encouraging as well as sapping. Netherlands and Irelands shouldn’t really be the troublesome guys, but South Africa, West Indies and England can cause havoc on their day. It is a format drawn up to allow the Men in Blue to make the quarter-finals as the ODI World Cup cannot afford another early exit from them. On current form they will reach there, it is beyond that is the question.
While the Proteas have started strongly against West Indies at Delhi, England have been too shaky against the Dutch at Nagpur. Again a situation of contrast yes, but one that doesn’t affect the knock-outs already! The reason for that being Bangladesh who despite their early loss against India, showed enough spunk to beat Ireland despite a lowly score. It is an odd thing to say, but the key to this group lies in their hands. Both India and Sri Lanka played one of their six first round games in a different country.
The Bangla Tigers do not have the compulsion. It isn’t to say that they will cause havoc in the results list, but when batting against four spinners, on carefully laid out under-prepared tracks, West Indies and England will struggle on whatever little form they have shown so far. South Africa may not but they will surely have their off days in the tournament. It is a matter of when?
© Cricket World 2011
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