A Group stage that began 31 days ago is now done and dusted with. 43 games, 4 associates, 1 England and many many runs later, we’re done to 8 teams (out of 14) in the much-awaited quarterfinal stage of World Cup 2015.
Except for England not making it, there have been no major upsets. Ireland stood a chance right till the last day—where they had to defeat Pakistan to finish 3rd in Pool B. However, it proved a task too big for the brave Irish players, because Pakistan—who were stuttering at one stage with 2 losses in the beginning—have regained composure and won 4 on the bounce to finish ahead of West Indies. Bangladesh almost upset the wagon by running the Kiwis close, but had to settle for 4th place, with the Lankans finishing 3rd and Aussies 2nd.
Here is the quarterfinal lineup:
SRI LANKA V/S SOUTH AFRICA
History doesn’t matter anymore. The number of 300 and 400+ scores in this World Cup has truly ushered in a new T50 era of cricket, where no score is enough and no bowler is spared. When South Africa visit Sri Lanka for bilateral tours, tests see scores of 600 and 700 routinely on the dusty dead pitches too. But this is the World Cup. South Africa have never won a knockout game, while the Lankans have always over-performed to reach the last two finals. Many may make this out to be a battle against the two best batsmen of this tournament and in world cricket: Sanga v/s AB. But it could be more on the slow turning SCG pitch, where spinners like Prasanna, Herath and Tahir may come into play. This is a tough one to call.
Prediction: If AB and co. pull this off, as they should, they will be odds-on favorites to go all the way. And lose in the final.
INDIA V/S BANGLADESH
Sounds simple enough for India, but Bangladesh have frightened a few teams this time. They almost defeated New Zealand, defeated England, and look to be finally coming of age in big tournaments. They have an army of spinners waiting to do a Moeen Ali on India, but the Indians are the team to beat. 6 out of 6, and it’ll be a tragedy if they go out this way. It simply doesn’t add up, and Dhoni and co. are expected to reach the semis before being tested. Rohit Sharma could finally get that big score, though both teams would prefer setting a target.
Prediction: India, all the way. On form, paper, strength, quality and confidence. Bangladesh may not be good enough, but their spirit is admirable.
AUSTRALIA V/S PAKISTAN
The Aussies can’t be pleased at having drawn the most dangerous World Cup team. Pakistan have won 4 in a row after the initial stutter, and look settled enough to test an Aussie outfit that has the world’s best ODI bowler in Starc. Pakistan’s death bowling, however, has been the best in this tournament, and Irffan is expected to return to bolster the lineup. For Australia, will it be Cummins or Hazlewood, Watson or Marsh? Johnson hasn’t looked to be in great form, but he almost always performs in the big games. Beating Australia at home in a knockout match is tantamount to climbing Everest without clothes and climbing tools, but Pakistan has been known to do more miraculous things on the field. 1992 is looming large now that they have reached the knockouts.
Prediction: Upset? Maybe not. Australia look too strong, and Pakistan’s batting doesn’t have that firepower, not to mention Afridi’s lack of contribution this time.
NEW ZEALAND V/S WEST INDIES
Unpredictable doesn’t even begin to cut it as far as West Indies cricket goes. In 2011, they defeated only the minnows in their group and were humiliated by Pakistan in the quarterfinals by 10 wickets. In 2015, they were embarrassed by Ireland, and went on to destroy Pakistan to give themselves a chance of qualifying. They could go either way against the Kiwis—who haven’t been the most confident batting side. They’re fortunate that Guptill came good against Bangladesh, but their middle order has looked brittle—and without a McCullum-propelled start, they could struggle to keep the rate up. However, the West Indian bowlers—except for captain Holder—haven’t been consistent enough through their 50 overs to finish the job. Gayle v/s McCullum? Probably.
Prediction: New Zealand.
India v/s Australia
New Zealand v/s South Africa