Over to the heavy-eights
This World Cup is about cricket too — it will have to live with the stigma of experiencing a murder but, at the same time, the game will have to go on. Perhaps with not as much cheer as was anticipated, but with some seriousness for sure, for the round separating the real contenders from the rest gets underway in Antigua on Tuesday.
The first match at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium pits Australia against the West Indies, with Sri Lanka taking on South Africa in Guyana the following day. The action will shift to Grenada and Barbados on April 10 for the second half of the Super Eights.
The hosts carry forward two points into this round by the virtue of beating Ireland — the other team to qualify from Group D — as do Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, who have all emerged with all-win records from their groups.
The job is slightly tougher for the West Indies and Sri Lanka in comparison to the other teams as they will not get two matches against softer opponents like Ireland and Bangladesh because teams that have already clashed in the group stage do not face each other in the next round. So it’s five tough matches for them as against four for Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand.
True, Ireland and Bangladesh have earned their places in the second round with victories against established teams, but it will still be a surprise if they manage to do it again. And this means all 24 matches in this round will not be as competitive as contests in this stage of a World Cup are expected to be.
From what has been seen so far, the West Indies, New Zealand and, to an extent, Sri Lanka look like posing a real threat to Australia, who do not have to face South Africa now after beating them in their Group A encounter on Saturday. England do not figure in this bracket at the moment because of the dip in their performance since the tri-series win Down Under.
South Africa too appear formidable despite the defeat to Australia, who needed a major effort in the field despite rattling up 377. The South African openers kept their team in the hunt for a long time, until a freakish direct hit from the fence by Shane Watson sent back AB de Villers and Graeme Smith went off with cramps.
That confirmed who Australia’s biggest threat would be if both advance to the semifinals or the final, with the West Indies and New Zealand also looking balanced enough to challenge anybody.
Like South Africa, these two teams bat deep, though the Kiwis seem to possess more firepower in bowling. Sri Lanka are dangerous in a different way, with a number of individuals in their ranks who can turn a match on their day.
Beginning with a big match, the Super Eight stage should be more interesting than things have been so far, barring the expulsions of India and Pakistan. Matches featuring teams that upset the subcontinent neighbours may not see full houses, but the progress of Bangladesh and Ireland is a positive sign in the sense that cricket will gain if these teams keep questioning the power structure of the game.
The unpleasant will continue to haunt and there may be more bitterness in store, but the World Cup has to show it is also about cricket. Maybe Antigua on Tuesday will start the journey in that direction and the battle between bat and ball will once again become the talking point.