Suddenly, the dampest tournament in world cricket has come alive. The unthinkable has happened in Champions Trophy 2017 Group B – comprising of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and South Africa.
With only India-South Africa and Sri Lanka-Pakistan to go, all the teams are equal on points with one win and one loss each. The last games will be quarterfinals for each of the four teams. Losers go home, winners go through.
Host England is the only team to have made it to the semifinals so far of the Champions Trophy 2017, with New Zealand and Australia still fighting for second spot in the other group.
INDIA v/s SOUTH AFRICA (Sunday)
India, the favourites of the group, demolished Pakistan in their first match despite a poor fielding performance. They then put on 321 against Sri Lanka at the Oval, putting one foot in the semifinals against a weak Lankan side that aren’t exactly known for their batting power. Yet, three hours later, Angelo Mathews led his side to a record chase, beating India by seven wickets. Nobody expected Sri Lanka to put on that kind of performance against a bowling line-up that has been the best in the world in limited over formats for the last six months. Not only did MS Dhoni fail to finish with a flourish again, but the bowlers – especially Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav – had a terrible day, leaking runs throughout. Kusal Mendis led the way with 89, with everyone except Dickwella chipping in.
This means that Sri Lanka head to Cardiff knowing that their fate is in their own hands against Pakistan. India, meanwhile, must introspect, after becoming only the second team after England to lose an ODI match more than ten times after putting on 300+ in the first innings. They missed Ravichandran Ashwin desperately, though he wouldn’t have made a big difference on a day when the Lankan batsmen came through with great skill. India managed to take only one wicket with their bowling. The other two were run outs, while the last one retired hurt.
They will face South Africa on the same ground on Sunday – the world no. 1 side that was stunned by Pakistan (D/L again) a day before Sri Lanka stunned India. These were both unlikely results – though South Africa’s batting failed completely. Suddenly, both the group favorites find themselves in a desperate do-or-die match. Interestingly, both captains, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli, scored ducks in the defeats to weaker teams.
Prediction: Impossible to say. But from the looks of things, it could be the smaller aspects – tight fielding and running between the wickets – that define fates. In that context, South Africa hold the edge, also because they played England in a short series before the tournament in these conditions.
SRI LANKA v/s PAKISTAN (Monday)
Against all odds, these two Asian teams – both minnows in their opening game performances and overall quality – find themselves fighting for one semifinal spot, most likely against England. Both teams have rescued the boring tournament by executing upsets and throwing their group wide open. Unless rain strikes, either one of India or South Africa will head home after Sunday. If this match is rained out in Wales, Sri Lanka will go through on NRR to join the winner of India and South Africa. If India-SA is rained out, India will go through with a slightly higher NRR. But these two brave, inexperienced teams deserve a playoff like this.
Kusal Perrera might not play after injuring his hamstring in the India game. Mathews won’t be too worried, though, given that Dinesh Chandimal and Thisara Perrera hadn’t even batted against India. Suddenly, their batting looks deep when they get going. Lasith Malinga isn’t at his best or fastest or fittest, but his bogey team was always India. Now that they’re out of the way, he could trouble the fragile Pakistani batting order.
Prediction: As of now, Sri Lanka are favorites – for being the better batting side. Pakistan is the better bowling side, yes, but their fielding is awful, and they’re yet to win an entire 50-over game this tournament (they were ahead on D/L against South Africa).