India Sports
The race to avoid Australia in the semis
Apr 3, 2007 - 8:26:03 AM

None of them will admit this, but New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and England, now seemingly in the running for berths in the last four of the World Cup, would rather avert a semi-final clash with Australia. The picture is by no means clear - as the Kiwis are still level pegging with the Aussies - but there is a resignation among some of the contenders that the Australians may head the Super Eight table, thus the slot to avoid is the 4th position.

It is more in New Zealand's control to achieve the goal, but less so in the case of South Africa and Sri Lanka, particularly the latter, who still have England, New Zealand and Australia to tackle in their campaign. South Africa have only New Zealand and England to contend with. As for England, there are no easy opponents from here onwards, other than Bangladesh.

Australia have a superior win:loss record in neutral venues, including World Cups, against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and England. They have met South Africa thrice, won and lost once each and tied the other. The West Indies match them on Caribbean soil, mainly because of the former's dominance in the 1970s and 1980s, the ratio being 15:15 ratio and one tie.

The English are a little disgruntled because in the month of enjoying the sand, sea and sun, they have engaged in only one testing encounter - against New Zealand in the preliminary phase, which they lost. Their other outings have been against Kenya, Canada and Ireland. For them, the competition really begins on Wednesday, when they meet Sri Lanka.

In the event teams are tied on points, the net run rate will come into effect. At present, Sri Lanka are best placed in this respect, followed by Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa. Of course, all this can easily metamorphose by the third week of the month. Apart from the England-Sri Lanka game, the fixtures to watch are Australia v England on 8 April, Sri Lanka v New Zealand on 12 April, South Africa v New Zealand on 14 April, Australia v Sri Lanka on 16 April, South Africa v England on 17 April and Australia v New Zealand on 20 April. If the West Indies can keep their hopes alive, then their meeting with England on 21 April would also be relevant.

England and New Zealand can take comfort from their recent trouncing of the Aussies, particularly the former, who achieved this away. They might even take heart from theories that the reigning champions may have peaked too early. In Brett Lee's absence and Glenn McGrath's apparent lack of a plan B, there are, admittedly, chinks in the Oz bowling armoury; but a team must be endowed with the confidence to expose such weaknesses.

Furthermore, while the top four in the Australian batting line-up have performed spectacularly, the rest haven't. Shane Bond, with his extra pace, Chaminda Vaas, with his accuracy and movement, and Andrew Flintoff, with his ability to cramp left-handers from around the wicket, could be interesting examinations for the marauders from Down Under.

Four out of five matches since March 30 would have featured either Ireland or Bangladesh. There has, consequently, been a lull before the real business begins. The question is: how much local enthusiasm will still exist, if the home side lose their next game to South Africa and thereby ensure their elimination.

The West Indians disappointed on Sunday, when they enjoyed the best support in the tournament so far at Guyana's new Providence stadium, built by a Mumbai company with the assistance of the Indian government. The organisers gambled on visitors saturating the stands, thus hiking entry charges and sadly ignoring the interests of the indigenous population. This has backfired, just as much as the steep hotel prices haven't paid off.

A primary objective of the 2007 World Cup was to revive cricket in the Caribbean, whose contribution has been integral to the sport's attraction in the past. The West Indies Cricket Board will, undoubtedly, be left with a legacy of excellent infrastructure and a surplus bank account. But will the event have sufficiently inspired the younger West Indians to re-connect with the game?

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