Group A full of upsets
By Martin Hutchinson
The results in Group A of cricket's World Cup, with Australia, India and Zimbabwe advancing to the second round Super Six section of the tournament were a fairly major reversal of form going in. While England, a 20-1 outsider, might have been expected to drop out at this stage as it has so many times before, Pakistan was third favorite, at 9-1, and its supporters can rightly feel aggrieved at the team's early return home.
Australia performed more or less as expected, even though it lost Shane Warne, to a drug-taking scandal. Warne's punishment, a 1-year ban from the professional game, seems excessive for an incident that does not appear to have been that serious. Fortunately, Warne is young enough as a spin bowler to return in 2004, and to continue his assault on Courtney Walsh's Test career record of 519 wickets. However, for lovers of the game's more cerebral side, he will be sorely missed, much more so than one of the identikit medium-fast bowlers that abound today.
Australia was not seriously extended by any of its opponents except in the England game last weekend, where at one stage it required 70 to win with only 2 wickets standing. Of course in the event the England bowling and out cricket faltered, and Australia scraped home. To some extent of course, the pressure on them was less - even had England won, Australia would still have qualified for the Super Six round, and presumably even Australian supporters accept that England has to win sometimes. Very occasionally.
Of the Australian squad, batsman Andy Symonds, with 202 runs at an average of 101, stood out as a new find - he is 27, significantly younger than most of his team mates. On the bowling side Andy Bichel, normally a reserve but already 32, was best in terms of both wicket taking and economy. All-rounder Jason Gillespie is out for the rest of the tournament, and has been replaced by 25 year old all-rounder Nathan Bracken. For the next round of the tournament, it won't make much difference. Australia carry forward 12 points, 2 more than the next qualifier, Kenya, so with four points for a win needs to win only one of its three games game to be sure of entering the semi-finals. For the tournament as a whole, Australia must remain strong favorites (the English betting site BetFair has them 4 to 3 on), even more so now host South Africa and Pakistan, the next two in the pre-tournament betting, are out.
India lost against Australia, but beat everybody else fairly easily, including England and Pakistan, neither of which matches was close. By far India's dominant batting performance was by Sachin Tendulkar with 469 runs in 6 innings, nearly 100 more runs than any player from any team in the tournament so far, although 152 of those runs came against Namibia. On the bowling side, Ashish Nehra's six for 23 against England was the outstanding individual performance while Zaheer Khan took 9 wickets overall and had the best economy rate among the major bowlers. Both bowlers are under 25, so offer prospects for a better Indian pace attack in the future.
India has 8 points going into the Super Six tournament; it probably needs to beat Kenya and at least achieve a rainout against Sri Lanka to be sure of qualifying for the semi-finals. With its pace bowling improving, it must be in quite a strong position for the tournament overall, maybe second equal favorite with Sri Lanka, though both are well behind Australia. BetFair has them 11 to 3 against.
Zimbabwe must consider itself extraordinarily lucky to qualify for the Super Six tournament, which it did without beating a Test playing nation, by dint of a match forfeiture by England and a rainout against Pakistan. Zimbabwe's losses to Australia and India were comprehensive, suggesting that their capabilities are distinctly lower than those two sides. On the batting side, Zimbabwe's outstanding performance, and the highest score of any batsman in the tournament so far, was 172 not out by 29-year-old Craig Wishart, albeit against lowly Namibia. Other worthwhile batting in the tournament, as expected, came from the Flower brothers, Andy and Grant, both of whom are nearing the end of their career. On the bowling side, the best performance was by Brian Murphy, while veteran all-rounder Heath Streak contributed in both departments.
Zimbabwe enter the Super 6 table with only 3.5 points, lowest of all qualifiers. BetFair rates them at 110 to 1, shorter odds than Kenya; since Kenya beat Sri Lanka, a Test playing side, and has 10 points going forward (since its wins against Sri Lanka and walkover against New Zealand are both against Super Six qualifiers), I would rate Kenya's chances of reaching the semi-finals significantly higher than Zimbabwe's. Neither side is likely to be there at the finish, however.
Turning now to the sides that failed to qualify, the most unlucky was unquestionably England, which beat Pakistan and failed to qualify by forfeiting to Zimbabwe and throwing away its match against Australia, apparently through sheer lack of self-belief. Captain Nasser Hussain has resigned from the one day captaincy (but not from the Test captaincy.) Since he is 35, one day cricket is a young man's game, and his batting strike rate is poor this is probably appropriate - Marcus Trescothick, provided he returns to form in the next couple of months, would be my choice to succeed him once one day international cricket returns into England in July.
None of the English batsmen distinguished himself particularly, though 26-year-old Paul Collingwood was again about the best of the bunch. Neither Marcus Trescothick nor Mark Vaughan were at their scintillating best - both were probably tired after their grueling winter tour schedule. (In many ways, the team as a whole, if it wasn't going to win, may be grateful for the early exit from the World Cup and the chance to take almost 2 months off before first class cricket in England begins.) Twenty-year-old Jimmy Anderson's four for 25 against Pakistan was unquestionably the star bowling performance, and over the tournament as a whole he took most wickets for England at the best economy rate of the England bowlers.
England will be disappointed not to have progressed further, but they were always unlikely to win, and in Anderson they may have unearthed a rare and very young talent for the future.
Unlike England, Pakistan will be grinding their teeth in fury as they head home. They are always a mercurial side, world beating at their best, but in this tournament their best was not to be seen, as they failed to beat a Test playing side. Their best batsman by far was Saeed Anwar, with 218 runs including 101 against India. On the bowling side, none of the Pakistani bowlers was particularly economical, and though Wasim Akram took 5 for 28 and Shoaib Akhtar 4 for 46 in one match the performances were only against Namibia - the vaunted Pakistani bowling attack was far less troublesome than usual to top opposition.
As often happens in that country, chaos reigns in Pakistan cricket. Only when firm management and captaincy have been re-established will the enormously talented Pakistani side play to its true potential.
Netherlands, who beat Namibia but failed to run any of the other sides particularly close, must be disappointed but not surprised by their performance. On the batting side, Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk (32) and Jan Feiko Kloppenburg (29) both scored centuries against Namibia, and Kloppenburg also took four for 42 in that match. On the bowling side, Timotheus de Leede (34) took 11 wickets, including four for 35 against India. As the ages of these three stalwarts indicate, however, we are not talking an explosion of youthful talent. Netherlands will remain an also-ran in world cricket for the foreseeable future.
Namibia's triumph in the tournament was to scare England, who won their match by only 55 runs. Their losses by 86 runs to Zimbabwe and by 64 runs to Netherlands better reflect their lowly status, however - against Australia they were all out for 45 in only 14 overs. On the batting side, by far the best performance was put up by Andries Burger (21) with 199 runs at an average of 33 including a splendid 85 against England. On the bowling side, Rudolph van Vuuren (30) took five for 43 against England, and was the best bowler in the side.
Namibia will always be constrained by their small population and lack of resources, but with young cricketers such as Burger they have a chance for some exciting "giant-killing" next time around in 2007.
My money remains heavily on Australia.
Group B full of upsets, heartbreak
By Krishnadev Calamur
Group B, which was expected to be the easier of the two groups in the ICC World Cup, was the one with the heartbreaks and surprises, no thanks to the organizers' decision not to have a reserve day to play rain-affected matches.
Sri Lanka, Kenya and New Zealand go through to the round, leaving behind powerhouses South Africa and West Indies and a hapless Bangladesh, which surely must be considering whether it is good enough to play cricket at this level.
Let's start with the teams that made it.
Sri Lanka beat New Zealand by 47 runs thanks largely due to a 125-ball 120 by skipper Sanath Jayasurya. They then trashed Bangladesh by 10 wickets in a match that will be remembered for the fact that Chaminda Vaas made history by taking a hat trick off the first three balls of the match. He finished with figures of six for 25. They then beat Canada but lost to Kenya in the upset of the tournament. The team recovered to beat the West Indies before being awarded two points for their rain-affected game against South Africa. Jayasurya and Vaas are the men to watch. It takes on Australia Friday.
Minnows Kenya lost their opening game to South Africa by 10 wickets, but beat Canada before being awarded four points because of New Zealand's refusal to play in Nairobi due to security concerns. They then stunned Sri Lanka before beating Bangladesh. Their 10-wicket trashing by West Indies did not affect their position in the Super Six. On Friday they play a resilient India, a team they have beaten in the past. Their performance, though by no means spectacular, certainly makes a case for them being given test match status.
New Zealand enters the group with the fewest points from its games. After a poor start to the tournament -- they lost to Sri Lanka by 47 runs - they beat the West Indies and South Africa, which was thanks to the unfathomable Duckworth-Lewis rule. A forfeit against Kenya cost them four points, but they made that up beating Bangladesh and Canada. They plan Zimbabwe Saturday.
Among the three that didn't make it, the biggest shock was host South Africa, which due to a combination of poor luck and bad math, found itself eliminated despite being a strong title contender. They played poorly against the major teams - losing both to the West Indies, by three runs, and New Zealand by 9 wickets, another result to blame on Duckworth-Lewis. They tied their crucial, rain-hit final match against Sri Lanka also through the rule, which the team probably hates by now. They beat the three minnows easily.
The West Indies began well with a return to form by Brian Lara and beat the South Africans. They then lost to New Zealand but were done-in by a "no result" in their match against Bangladesh because of the decision of the organizers not to have a spare day for rain-affected fixtures. They beat Canada and Kenya, but lost to Sri Lanka.
About Bangladesh, the less said the better. The team lost every match it played except the one against the West Indies where it was saved by the rain gods.
Of the three teams in the Super Six, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are most likely to go through, though you can't write off Kenya, rain or Duckworth-Lewis.
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