With the league encounters of the ICC Cricket World Cup complete, teams enter the knock out stage where each match is a do-or-die affair. Teams realize that they need to win only three more matches to covet the title of world champions. This is easier said than done as the matches will only get tougher from now on and the team that can handle the pressure well will earn the title of world champion on Saturday, April 2 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
The first of the quarter finals is between Pakistan and West Indies at Mirpur on Wednesday. Pakistan will be confident after their win over Australia but needs to guard against complacency. An inconsistent performance cannot be ruled out given Pakistan’s track record. They should retain the same eleven that won against Australia. West Indies will return to a venue of which they have fond memories as it was in Mirpur that their campaign really took wings skittling out Bangladesh for just 58. With Kemar Roach and Chris Gayle back for the crucial match, their batting and bowling should be further strengthened. Ramnaresh Sarwan should make way for Shivnarine Chanderpaul to strengthen the batting which collapsed in two successive matches. It’s a 50-50 chance for both teams but I will put my money on West Indies simply because Pakistan cannot be depended upon.
The second last eight match will be played between India and Australia at Motera in Ahmedabad. India had won the warm up match between the two teams before the World Cup started but that was on a pitch that turned square, an unlikely surface for Thursday’s match. India, like Pakistan, have been inconsistent, and will have to show drastic improvements in all the three departments to put it across Australia. The pitch is expected to be a batting paradise and India would probably retain the same eleven that won against West Indies. Australia have batting worries of their own but a big match should bring the best out of their batsmen. It would not be a bad idea to promote Mitchell Johnson up the order for some quick runs. Ponting needs to consider all options when deciding on his bowlers and should not shy from using part timers in a bid to take wickets. In a bid to bounce the Indians out, they might leave out Steven Smith and bring in seamer John Hastings. Australia holds the slight upper hand and have a chance of 55-45 in the match only because their bowling is much stronger when compared to the Indian bowling.
South Africa and New Zealand square up in Mirpur on Friday. It remains to be seen whether the same pitch as the one to be used for the first quarter final will be used for this game as well. That will make a big difference to the team composition. One other factor is the weather – it is likely to rain in the evening in Mirpur. South Africa should prevail comfortably. Having said that, New Zealand should not be taken lightly. They had a poor subcontinent series before the World Cup and are slowly picking up the pieces. With Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills expected to be back, they will be that much better off. The batting revolves around the openers and Ross Taylor and it is imperative that they come good. South Africa have little worries and the return of AB De Villiers should be a big boost. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel would be fresh after a good period of rest. South Africa have a 70-30 chance of winning.
The final quarter final will be between Sri Lanka and the enigmatic England. Given how England entered the quarter finals, Sri Lanka should have a comfortable game. Their spinners should be able to choke the English batsmen out of the game like Bangladesh did. England will likely retain the same side that defeated West Indies in their previous game. They will need to be consistent in their games from now on. Sri Lanka will toy with the idea of playing Chamara Kapugedera instead of Chamara Silva. They will need to ensure that their lower middle order fires. The weather could be a factor in this match as well as rain has been forecast for Saturday. Sri Lanka have a 60-40 chance of winning even though the R Premadasa Stadium is not one of their happy hunting grounds. I would not rule out another thriller as well as England is one of the teams!
Whatever the result, we should have the best teams in the semi finals. The matches are expected to be crackers and the crowd as well as the TV audience should get to watch some great contests. With the business end of the tournament approaching, teams should be focused and raring to go.