With the group stages over, and no scares, shocks or surprises, and with more than half of the competitive (excluding ‘associate’ teams) rained out, the much-awaited Super 8s will come as a big relief to fans all over the world.
To hold an ICC tournament in Sri Lanka in the middle of September deserves recognition of the highest order, and could do down in the record books as the smartest sporting schedule since the last tournament in Sri Lanka, whenever that was.
Played 0, Won All.
Now that it’s done, and we’re blessed with rules of abandonment and 7-over farce games, with West Indies progressing to the Super 8s without completing a match, we can only move on and concentrate on hope. It never hurts to hope that one out of the next 16 games will be successfully completed, and that the 4 semi-finalists can claim to have earned their spot.
One must feel for Ireland, the associate team with the maximum chance of going through their group, and the weather that denied them a decent fight in their final game. But one cannot feel for Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. There has been little will on their part, and with 2 games to prove yourselves, there’s only so many catches a team can grass. Ask Team India from the 2007 World Cup.
Moving on, another odd aspect about this tournament is the fact that the Super 8 groups were decided prior to the first group game itself. Only, we were informed about it days into the league, that 2 groups have been formed on basis of the ‘seedings’. Which means that, according to the rankings heading into this World Cup, India has been drawn with…hold your breath…Australia, Pakistan and South Africa.
Only the order of the games depended on the results of the group games, not that any of these teams were threatened in the league stages. If there was ever a Group Of Absolute Dark Twisted and Abrupt Death, this is it. And no, none of these teams carried on their group stages points into the Super 8s, an aspect which cannot be understood- even if the matches had to be pre-decided for the sake of fans and other logistics.
I Smell A Rat..
In any case, one must discuss the possibility of Team India sticking to their unenviable record of not having won a single Super 8 Game in the last 2 World Cups.
India v/s Australia
After bundling out defending champions England for 80 in their final league game, India must be on a high. To call it a false alarm by any stretch of imagination is ridiculous. Because this is more than a false alarm, it’s a conspiracy. The way England folded against a second-string spin attack (Sorry, Harbhajan. Not you, Piyush) reeks of either absolute inability to belong to the elite of world cricket, or just plain sportsmanship. In the larger scheme of things, England must learn how to play spin somehow, even if that means scoring 90 instead of 80. But they have been lucky to avoid India and Pakistan in the Super 8s, and find themselves having to face Mendes and Narine instead.
India, meanwhile, have a happy problem of selecting the best 2 spinners against an equally-inexperienced Australian team. Only Watson, Warner and Hussey might remain thorns, and they could do enough, especially after Watson’s outburst against a strong Windies side. But Harbhajan, if picked, has a lot to prove, as does Zaheer and Sehwag. If anything, this could be the strongest Indian T20 side to enter a world cup, irrespective of blowing hot and cold. But they face a team that have been written off even before playing their first ball and winning both their league games. A team that has reached atleast the semi-final of each of the other World Cups- quite consistently, something that even India can’t claim to have achieved.
India v/s Pakistan
Every other game is rendered meaningless. If India lose their other two by record margins, a loss here will not be accepted by their adoring fans. The warmup loss hurt bad enough for most, and this could be the showdown between two of the strongest teams in the tournament. Batting v/s Bowling. Inept fielding v/s Inept fielding. Lost Captain v/s Lost Captain. What a match. For every Hafeez, there’s a Gambhir. For every Ajmal, there’s an Ashwin. For every Jamshed, there’s a Sharma. For every Kohli, there’s nobody. And that could be the difference. Of course, it all comes down to who plays better on the day, or who plays less worse. But hyping up India-Pakistan games during World Cups is an Indian’s favorite pastime, especially because of the favorable *wink wink* record so far.
India v/s South Africa
Mouth-watering. India could have run out of steam by now, but it all depends on who they will be facing before this. India are a momentum team, and there could be a few changes and cracks by now, when they take on AB De Villier’s determined young side. Just to imagine Steyn face off against Kohli and Sehwag is half the experience lived. South Africa’s middle order is a concern, as is India’s bits-and-pieces bowling attack. But come the big games, cometh the big man. Yuvraj Singh. This could be his calling.
There, we have it, the strongest Super 8 lineup in the history of T20 World Cups. If India come through this, you’d be hard pressed to find a more primed favorite- gunning for yet another limited overs world title. It could just be as sweet as it could be bitter. It won’t be sour, that’s for sure.