Yesterday’s two games both produced upset results. The first one was Pakistan defeating the highly favored South African team in a low scoring game. Pakistan batted first and scored just 222, a target that the powerful batting line up of South Africa should have had little difficulty chasing. But the Pakistani bowlers were on fire and apart from a score of 77 by the SA captain AB de Villiers, the other batsmen couldn’t seem to stick around long enough to have an impact in the rain-affected game and they were all out for 202 in just 33.3 overs.
South Africa have been fighting a reputation of coming in to World Cups as favorites to win and then somehow managing to blow it. Unfortunately for them, the pattern seems to be repeating itself this time too. Their batting has been erratic, going from piling up winning scores of 339, 408, 411 while also collapsing to 177 and 202. If there is any pattern at all, it is that they seem to be at their worst when batting second and chasing a score.
The second upset saw Ireland involved in another thriller, defeating Zimbabwe by just five runs in the very last over. Ireland batted first and scored 331/8 off their 50 overs. Zimbabwe got off to a rocky start, being 77/4 before recovering and taking the score to 300/6 off 46.4 overs. They made a valiant effort at the challenging task of scoring 32 runs off the remaining 20 balls and managed to get to 325/8, leaving them needing just seven runs off the last six balls. But Ireland managed to get the last two wickets for just one run to squeak through.
If any team deserves to get an award for producing exciting matches, it has to be Ireland. Apart from when they were hammered by South Africa, all their other games have been close.
So where do things stand right now in the tournament in terms of qualifying for the knockout quarterfinal round?
Of the seven teams in group A, New Zealand is definitely in and Scotland is definitely out. Sri Lanka and Australia are very likely in while Afghanistan is very likely out. The fourth spot is thus between England and Bangladesh and will almost certainly be decided by the game between the two teams on Monday. Today’s game between Australia and Sri Lanka in Sydney will be particularly important for the latter, to see if they can beat the favorites on their home turf.
Of the seven teams in group B, India is definitely in and Zimbabwe and UAE are definitely out. Of the other four, South Africa is very likely to be in. This leaves the last two spots to be fought over by Pakistan, West Indies, and Ireland. The key game in deciding this will be the one between Pakistan and Ireland on March 15, the very last game of the preliminary round. Whoever wins that will definitely go through to the next round while the loser will likely be tied on points with the West Indies and the net run rate tie-breaker will come into play.
An interesting feature of the tournament so far is that even the strongest teams have shown vulnerabilities to varying extent so that means that anything can happen in the knockout rounds. The favorites Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa that all promised solid batting strength have all had collapses at some point, with scores of 151, 152/9, and 177 respectively. When it comes to bowling, the first two have been more consistent. The highest score yielded by Australia has been just 231, while the maximum against New Zealand has been 233, while South Africa has yielded scores of 307 and 277. Given that all three teams have shown good fielding skills, the bowling strength could be the deciding factor.
I notice that the British odds maker that I have been following has changed the odds. Before the tournament started, they were giving Australia the best chance of reaching the final with SA close behind, India and NZ in joint third place, and England fifth. Today, they still make Australia (10/11) the top favorite but now slightly edging New Zealand (evens), with South Africa (7/5) next, India (9/5) at fourth, and Sri Lanka fifth at 9/2. If you are a betting type, India might be a good choice to chance your money. They have been quietly showing strength while attention has been elsewhere.