Are You Tuned In?

This post cross-published on HoldingWilley

The long anticipated league phase of the world cup is finally over. It was supposed to be boring, I was  supposed to be sleeping & yawning in this phase, I was not supposed to take interest in the minnows, let alone even know the names of those players and the top 8 were supposed to sail through with ease.

None of it happened – I saw myself following every match whether India played or not , I found myself supporting Ireland like crazy even against India, I loved the look of Ryan ten Doeschate, Dockrell, Kevin O’Brien, I found myself smiling away when I followed the Can Vs. Aus match on the net and Hiral Patel took the Aussie bowlers to the cleaners, I saw my husband get excited seeing Devon Smith hit a few Laraesque shots, I thought I’d get a heart attack after seeing the numerous close encounters – Ind-Eng, Ind-SA, SA-Eng, WI-Eng, Ire-Eng, Ned-Eng. I wished I had not been to office the day Ross Taylor hammered Razzaq & Shoaib, and I saw myself glued to  the ODIs again.

People were saying that the 6-week tournament would a be a long boring one, the final nail in the coffin for the already dying ODIs – including me, who felt and still feel we could do with a shorter format; but despite its shortcomings, the WC is proving to be quite a spectacle.

The top 8 teams have made it to the quarter-finals but it hasn’t been easy. England despite beating 2 of the top teams in their group and tying with the 3rd were still in danger of being knocked out early. Australia looked good to renew their past glory until  they met the first real test Vs. Pak and lost badly. Ireland and Bangladesh kept Group B alive while Netherlands and Canada never gave it easy to their opponents. Netherlands had the Poms panting and Canada made Pak & Aus. doubt themselves for a short period. India went from being favourites to underdogs and the man who had been at the end of severe criticism from all quarters including yours truly is now in serious contention for Man of the Series if India makes it to the finals. SA overcame their choke against England by keeping their cool against India, while WI blew away Bangladesh only to perform badly in chases Vs Eng & Ind and almost beat India’s record of collapses during this WC. Pak fought their demons to be the unexpected toppers in their group while SL sailed silently relying on the brilliance of Murali and Sangakarra, and lastly NZ became the comeback team of this tournament – the match against Pakistan turned their fortunes all around.

The tournament has neither been dominated by batsman nor the spinners. We have seen equal number of high-scoring matches vis-a-vis low scoring matches and both have resulted in close contests.  None of the group toppers have their batsmen in the top 5 run scorers and the top 5 bowlers include 2 spinners from the sides best known for their pace bowling. Pitches have not been minefields for pace bowlers and some have relished bowling on them – Zaheer, Steyn, Roach, Benn, Rampaul, Gul, Malinga, Broad, Southee, Lee all have come good.

No team is emerging as a strong contender  and the vulnerabilities of each team have been exposed by atleast one opponent in the league stages.  SA threw away a comfortable position Vs. Eng chasing a small total of 171. Eng showed how they can shift between brilliance and below ordinary within days. India’s famed batting lined up refused to last the entire 50 overs against the top teams in its group and the bowling left a lot to ponder about. WI showed glimpses of their glory days in their pacers but the batting remained vulnerable and prone to collapses, Pak showed why it is synonymous with unpredictable –  a side good enough to lift the WC but equally poor to give 100 runs in 5 overs , SL over relied on Sangakarra and Murali – a dependency which could backfire at crucial moments, Aus showed they are a pale shadow of their glorious past and don’t seem to have recovered from the Ashes loss and now the end of the WC unbeaten streak, and if this madness was not enough – NZ pulled back marvellously after a disastrous season before the WC.

Cricket remains as they say a game of glorious uncertainties and the WC is proving this age old adage true all over again.

I’m resisting hard to make my predictions but here goes.

India – Pakistan in a semi-final? Ideally would’ve loved to see them in a final – but that will remain an elusive dream.

Either WI/NZ will pull an upset.

England could beat SL and then beat SA again  – given SA’s tendency to choke in the games that matter.

But all said and done,  if the matches go as per my expectations – India–SA final would be a real treat. Then on 2Apr2011, I would only remind SA of the 1996 Titan Cup Final – Yeah You Remember?