March 18, 2011

Now it gets interesting

Halfway through the World Cup the teams are in the same position as when they started out. But things will change from here on in
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It's time to start bidding the Associates goodbye, and while they haven't set the tournament afire collectively, it is also time to acknowledge their contribution. Club cricketers with spirit, and the odd dollar, they have had their moments. Canada improved as the tournament went along, while the Dutch, sadly, made the reverse journey. Kenya were the most disappointing; this might well be the last time we see them. And there was little doubt that the tough, competitive Irish were the most respected. They deserve a step up and their riches must be protected from predatory neighbours.

Here is a group of 16 that could compete. As a recognition, the ICC must release its Associates squad and here is something to start with. Niall and Kevin O'Brien, George Dockrell, Boyd Rankin, John Mooney, Ed Joyce and William Porterfield (Ireland), Ashish Bagai, Jimmy Hansra, Henry Osinde, Harvir Baidwan and Balaji Rao (Canada), Ryan ten Doeschate and Pieter Seelaar (Netherlands) and Collins Obuya and Tanmay Mishra (Kenya).

Meanwhile, as I type this, it is four days to go for the group stage to end, there are no clear leaders anywhere, and we don't know much more than we did already. Dare I say it's been a predictable World Cup from that point of view? India's bowling has been weak, Sri Lanka have been dependent on the top four batsmen, Australia have been resolute, New Zealand have punched above their weight, England haven't, and Pakistan have blown hot and cold. The fear of chaos has been unfounded. Stadiums have been good, excitement has been high, tickets have been difficult to get, and the DRS has been bizarre.

And so the tournament will begin afresh. Seven games where fortunes will be made and dreams realized, disappointments faced and crestfallen looks exchanged. Teams will have to pull up their socks, camouflage their weaknesses and puff up their strengths. This battle of survival could be as much on ESPN Star Sports as on the Discovery Channel.

Unlike in past World Cups where Australia resembled a mammoth juggernaut, they have looked a touch vulnerable. They are starting slowly, almost feeling the need to preserve rather than attack. Watson and Haddin have been more Boon and Marsh than Hayden and Gilchrist. The fast bowlers are fearsome but erratic, spin is unsubstantial, and Ponting has been short of runs. Otherwise they have been good enough to stay unbeaten in their first five games - a habit only they can practise. Yet alongside South Africa they remain favourites. It says a bit for their strength that they can appear vulnerable and favourites at the same time.

South Africa have got almost everything right, including possessing spinners of all kinds, which is a bit like saying a Tamil Brahmin has a fridge stocked with meat! If AB de Villiers is available consistently, and Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis get among the runs, which they inevitably do, they will be very tough to beat. But like a financial report doesn't indicate the temperament of the chief executive, neither does the strength in numbers and on paper mean much once the knockout stage begins. There too, skills will be critical, but the South Africans know it is always more than that.

Pakistan need a calm opener, a wicketkeeper who can catch, a captain who respects his own batting skills, and Shoaib Akhtar with the new ball alongside the extremely impressive Umar Gul. If Shoaib is back, I believe they have the most effective bowlers for this tournament. I won't be surprised if they are the team others don't want to play in the quarter-final.

With India, the bowling and the fielding continue to be a burden the batting must carry. India need Zaheer Khan to bowl 20 overs, even 25, and Dhoni will want to stretch his overs out as much as possible. I won't be surprised if he goes in with 3-2-2-3 kind of spells for Zaheer, or even 4-3-3. And somehow India need to convert Harbhajan Singh into an attacking bowler again. The batting is as good as it has ever been and there are a few calm heads up that order. Now to get Dhoni to bat longer, to release him from a permanent position in the batting order and use him, as Sourav Ganguly suggests, to bat anytime 25 overs are left. India are under much scrutiny. The captain, his head currently sought everywhere, wants them to play for the country and not the crowds, and there are more expert voices than accents at the moment.

It's been a largely successful World Cup so far and with a bit of luck it will stay that way.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nampally on March 21, 2011, 15:50 GMT

    Yes it is "Do or Die" time for all teams. I wish the teams played the same format once more - i.e. each Group A teams paly against each of the 4 group B teams and the top 4 teams play off on knock out basis.This would be true assessment of the Winner. Presently one bad day & you are out. Each of the 8 teams is capable of beating the other on their good days. Take the case of WI Vs. Pakistan - If WI play with cool heads, they can beat Pakistan. India can win in their game against Aussies provided the batting shows up in full force. The Aussie bowling relies heavily on Brett Lee and Pace trio. On Ahmadabad pitch, only Lee with his accuracy can be effective if the Indian batsmen keep Lee off Wkts it will be tough not to get 300.Sehwag needs to fulfill his promise for a long innings of 50 overs. Zaheer, Yuvraj & Ashwin should tie the strike bowlers. Harbhajan & Munaf bowl stingily. If India play hard & take catches, they should beat the Aussies easily. Good Luck India - Jai Ho!

  • dummy4fb on March 20, 2011, 8:04 GMT

    the easy way to win the world cup - combine indian batting power with pakistan bowling power (original India team)..

  • Muyeen on March 19, 2011, 14:11 GMT

    awesome article;as I read this Pakistan are doing well against Australia needing just 120 to win. If they win then all the teams would have lost atleast one match in this tournament making it most open world cup. strange I this but from now Everyone is favourite and Nobody is unbeatable.

  • harshthakor on March 19, 2011, 8:50 GMT

    In the history of the World Cup there has never been a more evenly contested World cup,reminding one of an olympic 100 metre dash with only a margin of a whisker seperating the opponents.There is no outstanding team with every team having its defects.In terms of performance there was nothing between South Africa ,India and England in Group A.

    South Africa are the most balanced team in the tournament with strength in every department.They proved that they have strong mental resilience in the game against India in the run chase where they held their nerves.They have the best bowling attack with the likes of Dayle Steyn and Imran Tahir in addition to a strong team with the talent of Smith,Amala and De Villiers.I would tip this team to win the Cup as it has peaked at the right time.Sri Lanka and Australia are the other prime contenders,with the Aussies professionalism a major factor.India is highly disorganised in the bowlimg department and lacks a strategy in batting in the powerplay .

  • timus6778 on March 19, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    one more zaheer...and india will be back to winning ways...oh god..listen to my prayer.

  • dummy4fb on March 19, 2011, 6:05 GMT

    Harsha bhogle is a great personality no doubt.But unfortunately when it comes to cricket he sometimes is very a ordinary analyst. He must have been a great fielder like a jonty rhodes in his college days, and so he loves only those who field well and hates all others. Now he should ask himself one question. How many parents including him train their children to be athletic. How many of them encourage them to go to a gym or make them live a rough and tough life.?? Did harsha ever consider this when he says indian team is poor at fielding.For god sake cricket is not all about fielding.Everybody criticize india because their bowlers cannot bowl at150 kph.Look at australia they conceded 260 runs against a club kenyan side.South africa even made a small 296 targetas a 390 one. Sa are lucky they lost to england and nobody will ever criticize them. australia lost both their warm up games and still nobody will criticize them.harsha and others need to know what cricket is. it is not rugby

  • dummy4fb on March 19, 2011, 3:18 GMT

    I dont believe what happened to DHONIII nowadays, he is known for his hard hitting, but he is rather happy to take single and keep his scorecard ticking and watch wickets falling at other end....he is believing pathan and sending in, rather he is not believing himself for hitting, he needs to deliver the best for Indian team, and should come early and counter attack, taking singles and rotating strike we have gambhir, kohli, and so on.....he is a hitter, he should be ready for the task to keep the World Cup hopesssssssss!!!

  • dummy4fb on March 19, 2011, 2:54 GMT

    i used to like Harsha ...but not any more..i am apalled how he didnt talk about england and their free spirited cricket which has given us some of the most thrilling and exciting world cup matches...these matches have been true testament of how oneday cricket is still very much interesting, exhilirating and equally unpredictable...I watch cricket for this excitement.....i think if mercurial england moves on to the next round we will have some more spoilers and excitements coming our way.....

  • dummy4fb on March 19, 2011, 2:39 GMT

    ICC should create new type of membership called "Test Eligible", grant more and more ODI and T20 matches to them with Test Nations (Full Members).

    First to enter that membership state should be Ireland.

  • Angry_Bowler on March 19, 2011, 2:31 GMT

    I am just waiting to see 100th 100 from Sachin. I don't care who wins the cup, given the Indian poor fielding, poor running between the wickets and shoddy bowling, I don't think they will go beyond the quarter final. Let the better playing side win the cup!

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