/ 7 April 2007

World Cup takes predictable course

The semifinals for the Cricket World Cup could effectively be decided two weeks ahead of schedule and some fans are trying to sell tickets they no longer want.

This isn’t how the organisers of the first World Cup in the Caribbean saw it happening.

The early elimination of Pakistan and India provided the 16-team championship with upsets in the group stage, with Ireland and Bangladesh surprisingly advancing to the last eight.

But the round-robin Super Eights were expected to be a close-run competition to decide the final four teams. Instead, the semifinals should virtually be decided on Sunday — 13 games before the Super Eights finish.

Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka each have six points. South Africa have four, England and the West Indies two each and Bangladesh and Ireland have none.

After a two-day break, the tournament resumes on Saturday with South Africa expected to beat Bangladesh in Guyana. On Sunday, championship favourites Australia meet England in Antigua.

If the games go true to form, then the semifinal line-up will be taking shape and it will be a major surprise if it’s not Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

The championship then reverts to knockout format with the top team in the Super Eights facing the fourth-place finisher and second-meeting third. Maybe then the championship will liven up.

Lopsided victories

Apart from the close finishes in Sri Lanka’s games against South Africa and England, the Super Eights have been a procession of lopsided victories. With hosts West Indies on a disastrous run of three heavy losses in a row, the local fans and even many of the visitors have lost interest and hundreds of tickets are going back on sale for virtually their original prices.

Australia’s biggest problem could be that all their games so far have been easy.

Aiming to become the first nation to win the title three times in a row, Ricky Ponting’s team outplayed South Africa — officially the top-ranked international one-day team — by 83 runs in group action and then beat the West Indies by 103 runs and Bangladesh by 10 wickets.

Maybe Ponting’s team need a genuine test. By the time they face Sri Lanka and New Zealand in the last few games of the Super Eights, however, Australia’s place in the last four will have been guaranteed.

South Africa captain Graeme Smith believes his team are building up to their best.

”We feel as though we’ve still got a lot in the tank and we can still raise our levels a lot,” the opener said ahead of Saturday’s game against Bangladesh. ”This is the time when you need to be peaking. The Guyana period has been pretty low key and we’re looking forward to stepping it up and getting to the meat of the World Cup.”

Lack of consistency

It’s up to England and the West Indies to try to catch the leading four. But both show no sign of doing it and Australia are likely to end England’s hopes when they meet on Sunday.

Although England have beaten Australia in their last three competitive meetings — including the final of a one-day event in Australia — Michael Vaughan’s team have no consistency.

They went close to a sensational victory over Sri Lanka on Wednesday when a late charge and an 87-run, seventh-wicket stand by Ravi Bopara and Paul Nixon meant England needed three runs off the last ball at Antigua. But Sri Lanka won by two runs to leave England on two points from three games.

England need all-rounder Andrew Flintoff to match his bowling performances with some big scores with the bat. Although he made 43 against underdog Ireland, he scored two against Sri Lanka and nought against New Zealand.

Vaughan doesn’t want big-hitter Flintoff to curb his attacking instincts, however. ”I want him as an instinctive batter and to take the opposition on because, when he does that, he’s playing his best cricket,” he said. ”He feels fine. He just wants to score. He’s like me. I’ve had three low scores and I want to score. I want to help us win a game.”

After three heavy losses in a row to Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, hosts West Indies need to win their three remaining games against South Africa, Bangladesh and England to stand any chance of reaching the semifinal.

The West Indies’ fragile batting and sloppy fielding have been a big disappointment to local fans who were expecting their team to be among the leading contenders. Now their only realistic goal is trying to finish above England, Bangladesh and Ireland. — Sapa-AP