Wednesday, March 23, 2011

World Cup 2011 - The Playoffs Preview

The pool play has descended to a close. The business end of the world cup has begun.

In terms of the top eight, there are few surprises here, with only Ireland posing a true challenge (Bangladesh posing a fake one). South Africa and Pakistan, despite one choke each, look the most well rounded and consistent of the lot. Of the rest, only Sri Lanka look composed, the others are a complete lottery. This is quite easily the most open playoffs in any of the previous world cups. Even though the matches could well turn out one sided, predicting four winners is a very tough ask. Lets try it anyway.

Pakistan vs West Indies
The Paper Says..
Pakistan will no doubt be hungry for a semi final showdown against India, and showed against Australia that most of the cogs are operating smoothly, with batting and K.Akmal being the only real questions. The West Indies have the players to win the whole thing, but fail to win the mental battle and easily throwing away good starts.

Key Player
Umar Gul is definitely wide awake in this tournament, and has troubled just about every team he has come up against. He is the sort of guy that can rip apart a flaky middle order, and the West Indies are pretty flaky at best.

Dark Horse
Kieron Pollard. One just gets the feeling that this could be his day. He only really got going with the bat against Ireland, and a Pollard special could end up separating the two teams. Special mention also to Darren Bravo, a volcano waiting to erupt.

Predicted Winner: Pakistan

India vs Australia
The Paper Says..
This could be the match of the tournament. Both teams are potential winners, at least in their own minds. Both have glaring flaws which should prevent them from winning it all. Both are arrogant, hungry, and determined not to lose at any cost. Is your mouth watering yet? Lets just hope there is no watering from the rain gods.

Key Player
Brett Lee. He was the only one really troubling the Pakistanis, and his solid run of form should give the Indians plenty to think about. Especially given that he can extract bounce, one of the key weaknesses among the Indian batsmen. (Remember the last T20 world cup?).

Dark Horse
R. Ashwin. He looked good against the West Indies, gave Australia problems in the warm up game, and they have a history of struggling with new spinners.

Like when this guy used to actually take wickets. © AFP

Predicted Winner: Australia to lose, rather than India to win

South Africa vs New Zealand
The Paper Says..
Everyone is predicting an absolute walkover here. In theory there is no reason at all why New Zealand should challenge this outfit, which is superior from #1 to #11. That is exactly why South Africa should beware. Complacency, and dare I say choking, certainly looms here. New Zealand have nothing to lose, have a team full of pocket rockets, and could very easily pull a surprise. They could also very easily crumble into a heap. This is the hardest game to call.

Key Player
Dale Steyn. He could turn this match into a farce very quickly. New Zealand's best ploy would be to counter attack him a la Sehwag, otherwise its goodnight.

Dark Horse
Brendon McCullum. Can he do what Stephen Fleming did in 2003? He is due for a good score against a good opponent, it is just a matter of time before his mad swinging finally clicks. If it really is his day, then New Zealand could quite easily chalk up the 300.

Predicted Winner: South Africa

Sri Lanka vs England
The Paper Says..
This bunch reminds me of the English football team. Lots of hype and promise and so little deliverance. They have been a poor show in this tournament, only turning up for half a game or not at all. They simply don't deserve to beat the well rounded and disciplined Sri Lankan team. 

Key Player
Kumar Sangakkara. He is in prime form and all eyes will be on him to lead from the front. Psychologically he is the wicket that England should be targeting, if there is a chink in the armour, it is in the middle/lower batting order.

Dark Horse
Eoin Morgan. He is the annoying type of player that can suddenly turn a match and steal it from under your nose. It is a mystery why he was not selected in the first place, but now that he is back in the team and due for a big score, he could be the one to cause an upset.

Predicted Winner: Sri Lanka

The Bottom Line
I don't think I have been this excited over a cricketing contest in many many years, possibly ever. The big teams have been locked in, every match is a do or die, and everybody has a chance to win. There is only one more thing left to say really.

Let the games begin.

Images courtesy of Getty Images, AFP and Associated Press, via

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