Thursday, March 24, 2011

Act 3

After the disappointment of the Pakistan – West Indies debacle, we were treated to some decent cricket today in the second quarter-final between India and Australia. As expected, India managed to overcome the world champions, with no small thanks due to that man again. Yuvraj Singh continued his excellent form with bat and ball, taking two wickets before playing an important role at the crease after a couple of wickets had fallen. We saw Sachin Tendulkar pass 18,000 ODI runs, but perhaps the story of the match was Ricky Ponting. Coming into the match on no form, the Australian captain showed the world why he has achieved what he has – no one fights like Ponting – when his team needed him he delivered. His 104 might have been in a losing cause, but it should be remembered as one of his best.

India’s win sets up a mouth-watering semi-final against Pakistan, but that’s a story for another day. For now,let’s focus on the next quarter-final.

The third quarter-final was seen by many as the easiest to call. New Zealand, after doing their usual party trick of performing on the big stage, face many’s pre-tournament favourites. South Africa had little trouble in their Group games, barring their frightening collapse against Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, and even managed to pull off a famous victory against India. Both teams have World Cup history, some of which can’t be spoken of until after the watershed, and you can be sure that both teams will be up for this match. The question is, will that be enough for one of them?

New Zealand are a decent ODI team. No more, no less. They have a couple of very good players, but there are a few who make up the numbers. Add to that the injury list of this tournament and they face a tough proposition tomorrow. Daniel Vettori, who missed their last couple of games with a dodgy knee, has promised to play, and his coolness, as much as his bowling, will be key to his team’s hopes. Whether he’s got the bat or ball in his hands, or is standing in the slips, he adds true class to this current New Zealand set-up. On a track where runs will be difficult to come by, a patient head will be needed, and the presence of Vettori will be a huge relief to the whole camp.

It’s tough to mention Brendon McCullum and patience in the same breath, but it would be a very valuable marriage if he can pull it off. How many times do we see the start of a NZ innings: Dot, SIX, OUT. McCullum has talent and power, but it only translates itself into a meaningful innings all too rarely. If he can keep his head, he has the ability to give his team a stunning start, with Martin Guptill well able to hold down the other end and score at close to a run a ball. With the suddenly in-form Ross Taylor still to come, a good start can lead to a commanding total.

They lack something in the bowling department however. I've always been a big fan of Tim Southee, and it's easy to forget how young he is - I think he's got a hell of a lot more to give, and could be a great bowler in the years to come. At the moment though, he's solid without being devastating, and without a Shane Bond in their line-up NZ look a little one-paced. Daniel Vettori is a great player, and Nathan McCullum has played his part, but I don't think players like Amla, Kallis and de Villiers will find him troubling.

New Zealand certainly deserve to be in the quarters, but they need every single player on top form if they're to take out a real heavyweight.

South Africa appear to have finally found a good balance. I still think that their tail begins a little early, but when you've got Amla, Kallis, AB and Duminy all batting well that's not a massive concern. In Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel they have a wonderful opening attack. Their three spinners have performed well so far, although I'm yet to be convinced about the true worth of Imran Tahir - yes he has taken wickets, but not always at crucial times and with great deliveries. He could be the real deal, but he needs a few more matches where he'll be up against the wall.

Graeme Smith is a worry - he's not scoring runs, and he's eating up deliveries. That said, he seems to be captaining the team extremely well, and in the pressure cooker that is a subcontinental World Cup, that's nearly worth a 50 per game. The team's only demise came against England, where some excellent bowling from England complemented a certain amount of laziness and then panic from the South African lower order. That match was largely cancelled out by their superb chase of India's total in the following game, and they won't let the English game affect their confidence.

I had South Africa backed for a long, long time before this World Cup, and it was only in the couple of weeks before that I switched my pick to Sri Lanka. Despite everything I've seen from them, I'm still not totally convinced by Graeme Smith's side, and we could be heading for a very interesting Sri Lanka - South Africa semi next week.

Tomorrow's game should come down to class, and South Africa eclipse New Zealand in that regard. Enough of their players are in good touch to cause New Zealand serious trouble, and unless half of the New Zealanders play a different game to the one they've played so far, they'll be left behind. Having Vettori back will be a huge boost for the Black Caps, but I can't see them beating what looks like a pretty solid side.

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