After the interminable drag of the group stage, the World Cup will finish in the blink of an eye from here on out. It’s cut-throat knock-out cricket and there is no scope for a slip up now. The runners and riders have jostled for position and we are left with the final eight; the hosts, Australia and New Zealand; the four from the subcontinent who were not favoured to find conditions very much to their liking; India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; and South Africa and West Indies.
There haven’t been too many surprises yet. Pakistan overcoming South Africa and Ireland defeating the West Indies were perhaps the stand out ‘shocks’. I’d add Bangladesh beating England, but as surprises go, it was a bit like finding out what you were getting for your birthday a week in advance and feigning surprise upon receipt of said present on the big day.
So we have been whittled down to the world’s best eight. Here’s our preview and predictions for the quarter finals:
South Africa Vs Sri Lanka
South Africa have never won a knock-out game at a World Cup. Sri Lanka are past masters in this format; 1996 champions and finalists in 2011. Kumar Sangakkara is scoring centuries at will. Lasith Malinga is showing signs of finding his groove. Mahela Jawaywardene has been suspiciously quiet so far. They couldn’t, could they?
South Africa, on paper, have far too much for Sri Lanka and you would imagine that conditions at the Sydney Cricket Ground would be favourable to the Proteas, this being the venue where Australia turned Sri Lanka over in the group stage. South Africa, rightly, are favourites to win.
Sri Lanka, however, have nothing to fear. Some glittering careers are closing and this is a well established side. Write them off at your peril. Which is exactly what we’re going to do – we just can’t look past South Africa breaking their World Cup hoodoo in this fixture.
Bangladesh Vs India
Bangladesh will be, rightly, delighted to have made it this far. There were magnificent scenes in Adelaide as they brushed England aside to reach the knock out stages, where they will face a familiar foe in the shape of India.
This India side has really regrouped after a tough tour of Australia and difficult tri-series with Australia and England. They’ve been here that long that you’d think they’d be sick of the sight of Australia. They may well be refreshed after a brief jaunt to New Zealand.
They are also returning to the Melbourne Cricket Ground here, scene of their defeat of South Africa in the group stage. What they lost against Australia, they have found for this tournament.
As fearlessly as Bangladesh may approach this game, they just don’t have the personnel to trouble the defending champions. They only have one Shakib Al-Hasan. India should progress with ease, but without wishing to sound patronising, Bangladesh have done themselves proud here.
Australia Vs Pakistan
Pakistan are returning to Adelaide for this fixture, the ground where they lost on the tournament’s opening day to bitter rivals, India. They were kept quiet by India’s seam attack on that day. A seam attack that doesn’t stand comparison to Australia’s.
With Pakistan’s suspect batting and Australia’s superb attack, this should be a fairly easy ride for the co-hosts. The days of not being sure whether or not Shahid Afridi might go berserk and inflict a surprise are long gone, and there are precious few options in the Pakistan batting line up that will be giving Mitchell Starc and co sleepless nights in the run up to this one.
On the bowling side, Mohammad Irfan, the gigantic quick, has been forced home with a stress fracture of the pelvis. It really is very difficult to see anything other than an Australian victory here. Pakistan have sprung some surprises, already at this tournament in beating South Africa, but this looks a bridge too far.
New Zealand Vs West Indies
There will be another full house in Wellington to cheer Brendon McCullum and the boys on and they have delivered so far – only New Zealand and India have won every game. The prospect of a World Cup semi-final in Auckland looms large.
West Indies are on something of a bounce following their opening game defeat by Ireland. Jason Holder has managed to keep this side together well enough to reach the quarters, something the side should be pleased with given all of the off-field rumbling that has occurred.
The shoeing they received from South Africa and the comfortable defeat by India has shown how far off the top seeds this West Indies side is, and that’s no surprise, really. Any side that has Chris Gayle in it, however, is always to be feared.
New Zealand have reached six World Cup semi-finals and lost them all. We are expecting them to reach a seventh here. In Trent Boult and Tim Southee they have a bowling attack to keep Gayle and co quiet, and a captain in McCullum who knows when to go for the jugular.
If our predictions are correct, the semi-finals will be:
New Zealand Vs South Africa in Auckland
Australia Vs India in Sydney
We will be back with our previews and predictions for those games in due course. In the meantime, enjoy the business end of this World Cup!
By Miles Reucroft