So now , after more than a month , the World Cup enters the knockout stage and every game counts . The” minnows” have had their moments , Ireland in particular, but they have all been eliminated and the competition begins in earnest .
It has been more than a dozen years since the contest was so wide open .There is not one side which has established itself as a clear favorite to win it all. Australia’s defeat by Pakistan during the group stage pointed up the fact that , while they are still a force , they are not the dominant side they have been in the past. On their day , Pakistan can be world beaters . They have a balanced bowling attack , some explosive batsman and are intimately familiar with conditions on the sub-continent ; they are also capable of completely imploding. One never knows which Pakistan team is going to turn up on a given day . South Africa too are a very balanced side but as they showed in their match against England , they have a propensity to ” choke” at the big moment. India have not been at their best in this tournament ; their bowling is woefully thin but their powerful batting line-up gives them a chance . England have shown an indomitable fighting spirit in spite of crippling injuries and the Windies are a threat to chase down any total as long as Chris Gayle is at the crease. Australia and Sri Lanka too are always a threat and the latter ( along with India) have home field advantage .
The only team that would not seem to have any chance at all is New Zealand . I’ll also discount the chances of the Windies and England because, while they are capable of pulling off one big upset , I don’t think they can string together three good performances in a row . The docile pitches and the small grounds add to the uncertainty of the outcome . Because of them , these ODI’s are like extended T20 matches. Any of five teams could win it all. On any given day , one explosive innings can turn a match the other way as Kevin O’Brien showed in the Ireland- England clash. Much as I would like to see India win , I can’t see them emerging champions . The advantage of playing before home crowds is largely offset by the pressures of meeting lofty expectations . I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a South African win over Pakistan in the final.
About the minnows : There have been calls for streamlining the World Cup and limiting the participation of the ” minnows ” in future World Cups . Despite the surprisingly strong , entertaining performances by Ireland and the Netherlands , I think there is a strong case for reducing the participation of the lesser teams . Yes, Ireland pulled off a huge upset and Netherlands were surprisingly competitive but Canada, Zimbabwe and Kenya were no more than club sides. I haven’t mentioned Bangladesh because I don’t consider them “minnows” ; they are just a notch below the top eight Test playing nations . There is no getting away from the fact that this entire month has been spent essentially in eliminating the minnows and establishing the quarterfinal pairings . Many of the matches involving minnows have not been competitive and have been played before sparse crowds. What I would prefer to see is a satellite tournament held in 2014 for non-qualifiers with only the top two( or four) teams advancing to the 2015 World Cup .And yes , as in the English Premier League , the bottom finishers in the World Cup would be relegated to the satellite tournament the next time around. That way , the number of matches would be cut down and the competition would be more meaningful . Make sense ?