Let the quarter-final lottery begin!

Last Updated: Mon, Mar 21, 2011 05:44 hrs

So the curtains have come down on another meaningless league stage of a cricket World Cup. Does it really take 20 warm-up games, 42 league matches, 45 days and millions of dollars to tell us that the eight best ODI teams in the world are: South Africa, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, England, Australia, England, West Indies and New Zealand? We might as well have had the quarters straight away based on the ICC ODI team rankings.

The same format was used in 1996 and we got exactly the same results. At least at that time there were no such rankings to create a pecking order.



Dhoni's image has taken a beating

There are many flaws in rewarding the top eight as against the top four or six. For example, South Africa won five games and lost a thriller. They were consistent. They were rewarded.

West Indies lost all their matches against the other quarter-finalists: India, South Africa and England. That's not even inconsistency: It's a clear 0/3. They also have been rewarded! What sense does that make?

As for a higher league ranking getting you to play a low ranking team, the last match made a mockery out of that. The prize for the winner of the India-West Indies tie? A chance to play with world champions Australia!

Since you have rewarded even the poor performers, the quarter-finals can aptly be called a "lottery", a term used by Indian captain MS Dhoni.


Let's face it, this tournament was as boring as the 2007 World Cup. You didn't realize that for two reasons. One: India and Pakistan did make it to the next round, unlike the last time thereby ensuring that the TV viewership didn't crash.

Two: England played 6/6 thrillers. Remove the England games and you had one of the most predictable and one-sided tournaments in recent times.

In Group B, the minnows flattered to deceive. In Group A, they didn't even do that.

India versus Australia: No Fear

Till 2007, Australia always had the psychological edge with India. The Indian team's body language against the world champions would always be suspect and we would invariably choke against them. In the 2003 World Cup league stage, we crashed to 125 all out with them. In the finals, they thrashed us by 125 runs.

That probably changed in the 2007 T20 World Cup semi-finals. India made a competitive 188 and Yuvraj Singh hit a symbolic longest six of the tournament. Australia was cruising at 134-2, but in the end lost by 15 runs. That was the turning point. After that it's been mostly India.

In the 2008 Commonwealth Bank ODI Series, we thrashed them 2-0 in the finals. We also thrashed them 2-0 twice in Tests.

More importantly, we won the last ODI series played on Indian soil and also the warm-up game last month.

So you could actually say that it's advantage India!

The other quarter-finals will also be interesting. Pakistan and West Indies are probably two of the most volatile teams in world cricket. So one can't really say what will happen when they take on each other.

Sri Lanka are tigers at home so you would say that they have an advantage against England. But England have been playing thrillers non-stop and that game is also likely to go down to the wire.

You would like to say South Africa are favourites against New Zealand. But in 20 years of trying, the Proteas are yet to win a World Cup knock-out game. So you can't rule the Kiwis out.

In fact the slate has been wiped clean right now.

Interestingly in the 1999 World Cup also South Africa and Pakistan topped the leagues. But it was Australia which walked away with the honours.

In 2003, India started in a disastrous fashion, almost losing to Netherlands and getting hammered by the Aussies. We still made it to the final.

More columns

In 1992, Pakistan crashed to 74 all out with England in the leagues and still managed to beat them in the finals.

So, let the lottery begin!

Tailpiece

While all the attention has been focused on Sachin Tendulkar's two centuries (we failed to win both matches by the way and won all the others) and his expected 100th international ton, Yuvraj Singh has quietly emerged as India's most valuable player.

284 runs, 9 wickets and three Man of the Match awards.

One has to applaud the selection committee, for Yuvi was in such poor form that had he been dropped for this World Cup, there wouldn't have been many protests.

The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger