Pakistan clinched a thrilling 29-run win over South Africa to stay on course for the World Cup quarter-finals, while Ireland also eyed the last-eight with a nail-biting five-run victory over Zimbabwe.
The result left South Africa and Pakistan both on six points and well-placed for a quarter-final berth. Ireland are in the fourth place in Pool B and have six points and two games to play. They are also two points ahead of the West Indies.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka go into their match against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground with three straight wins since losing to New Zealand in the tournament opener.
At this juncture, it becomes vital to analyse the standings in Pool A and Pool B to assess which of these teams have a good chance of making it to the quarter-finals that begin March 18.
Top four in each group qualify for quarter-finals
On the verge of qualifying.
If they beat Australia in the Sydney encounter on Sunday, they are through to the quarters.
If they fail to do so, they have another chance against minnows Scotland on March 11.
If they lose against Scotland too, they are in a bit of a trouble because Sri Lanka's Net Run Rate (NRR) is + 0.128 (least among the top four in pool A), not favourable for them. England and Bangladesh become major threats to the islanders chances if they lose both the matches. If England win both their remaining encounters (Bangladesh and Afghanistan) comfortably and if Bangladesh win against New Zealand and lose against England, then Sri Lanka have to book their return flights.
They have a crucial match against Sri Lanka on Sunday. Their place in the quarters is assured if they win the match. In case of a defeat, they have an easy encounter against Scotland on March 14.
Two things that Australia have on their side are NRR and a point from the tied match against Bangladesh. A win against Scotland or Sri Lanka will place them at 7 points with a good NRR. Even if England manage to win both the matches (Bangladesh and Afghanistan) they will get only to 6 points. Hence they can't disturb Australia.
In case they manage to lose both their matches, they are in a huge trouble. If England win both matches then they will surpass Australia in points and if Bangladesh manage a close loss against England followed by a win against New Zealand then the Australians can take buses to their respective towns.
The rules for Bangladesh are the same as that of Australia except that they don't have any easy matches remaining. They have two high-profile encounters, one against hungry-for-win England and another against a relaxed New Zealand.
If they win both games they will qualify.
In fact if they manage to win even one match, they will go to 7 points which would make them out of bounds for England who can at best go up to 6 points with two wins.
But if they lose to England and New Zealand, then it's doom for Bangladesh. There only chance in such a scenario is an ulikely defeat for England against Afghanistan.
So the equation for Bangladesh is that have to win one or else pray Afghanistan pull off a miracle win against the English.
This World Cup's big disasspointment has been the lacklustre performance of English cricketers. But the bloated group stage format still allows a small leeway for them. The task is cut out -- win both the remaining games against Bangladesh and Afghanistan and pray that other results will go their way. If they manage to lose even one then statistics don't matter.
In case they manage to win both then a lot of options open up. First, if Bangladesh lose against New Zealand too then England are through. Second, if Australia manages to lose both their matches then Poms will take their place. Third, if Sri Lanka manages to lose both their matches and has a lesser NRR then England scrap through.
Of all the three options only the first one seems plausible. They have to win both the matches and then start praying for an New Zealand win against Bangladesh.
They may have registered a historic win in the World Cup against Scotland and they may be level with England in the pool but the nation's quarter-final chances are near zero.
If they win against New Zealand, if they win agaisnt England, if their NRR is through the roof, if they manage to score 800 runs, if they manage to take ten wickets in first ten balls of the match, there are a lot of dreamy 'ifs' in them making the quarters.
They are yet to register a win in the tournament. Even in the unlikely scenario they beat Sri Lanka and Australia in their two remaining encounters they will still be boarding a flight back home.
They crossed the 400+ run mark twice in this this World Cup, still the 'chokers' tag is not wearing off. But they have a good chance of making it to the quarter-finals. The only remaining match they have is against the UAE. Don't be surprised they score 400+ in that aswell, but much bigger challenges await the stumbling pre-tournament favourites.
With a comfortable NRR of +1.462 (except India and SA all others in pool B have negative NRR) a win against UAE will see them cruise through as number two in the group.
But cricket is a glorious game of uncertainities and nobody knows this better that the Proteas. A loss against UAE and a huge( add many 'e's to that huge) win for the West Indies against UAE would mean that the Windies vault over SA go through to the quarters with a better NRR.
Remember the 1992 World Cup? The World Cup in which Imran Khan's side rose literally from the ashes like a phoenix and won the tournament after a disastrous start. The current Pakistan team have started emulating them and already people are drawing the similarities and expecting them to lift the World Cup.
However all of that will crash if they manage to lose against Ireland on March 15 and West Indies manage a big win against the UAE.
Interestingly the Pakistan vs Ireland is the last match of the league phase. Expect a thriller before the tournament enters the quarter-final phase.
Ireland, have been the dark horse of this World Cup. They have two matches remaining, one against India and another against Pakistan.
If they manage to win both games, they will cruise through to the quarters. In fact even if they manage one win they will still qualify.
But if they lose both games and if West Indies win against the UAE (no huge win needed this time) then their promising run will come to a stall. Ireland's outside chance in this scenario, South Africa losing to UAE seems very unlikely, so they need to get atleast one win.
Whatever happens, Ireland have shown why associate nations should not be pushed out and deprived of a chance in the next World Cup.
Like England in pool A, WI have been a massive disappointment in this World Cup. From the start, due to squabbles with the management, the former two time champions have had many headaches coming into this World Cup.
However, their sole remaining game is against minnows UAE. If they manage to get a huge win, which is not improbable, and if Ireland manage to lose both their remaining games, then the Windies can go through as their NRR is better than Ireland. Also, if Pakistan lose against Ireland there is still an outside chance in terms of NRR. They'll need a huge win against UAE though.
They should have won against Ireland. John Mooney's controversial catch stopped them from doing so and that cost Zimbabwe their quarter-final chances. They have a match left against the pool toppers India. If India try out their 'B' team and if Zimbabwe exceed expectations they can go back salvaging some pride.
NIL. Like Scotland they are yet to register a win in this World Cup. The next two games are against South Africa and West Indies, thus they most probably will return empty-handed. However, if they manage a win against a 'weak' West Indies or pull-off a huge upset against South Africa, they can play 'spoilers'.
Still to play:
Mar 08 New Zealand v Afghanistan, Napier (3:30 am IST)
Mar 08 Australia v Sri Lanka, Sydney (09:00 am IST)
Mar 09 England v Bangladesh, Adelaide (09:00 am IST)
Mar 10 India v Ireland, Hamilton (06:30 am IST)
Mar 11 Sri Lanka v Scotland, Hobart (09:00 am IST)
Mar 12 South Africa v UAE, Wellington (06:30 am IST)
Mar 13 Bangladesh v New Zealand, Hamilton (06:30 am IST)
Mar 13 England v Afghanistan, Sydney (09:00 am IST)
Mar 14 India v Zimbabwe, Auckland (06:30 am IST)
Mar 14 Australia v Scotland, Hobart (09:00 am IST)
Mar 15 West Indies v UAE, Napier (3:30 am IST)
Mar 15 Pakistan v Ireland, Adelaide (09:00 am IST)