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A look at India's likely opponents in the knockout stages of the World Cup

A look at the likely opponents for India in the knockout stages of the World Cup.

India have been in excellent form right through this World Cup

With just a few games left in the group stages of ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, it would be fair to say that the business end of the World Cup is round the corner. India, who were looking way below par before the World Cup, seem to have peaked at just about the right time. They have won each of their 5 games in the group stages and are sitting pretty at the top of Pool B. 

With India’s place in the quarter-finals guaranteed, we decided to come up with the likely scenarios for the Indian team in the knockout stages. Before we move ahead, let’s take a look at what the groups look like at the moment and how the teams could finish in their respective groups.

Pool A

Team Played Won Lost N/R Tied Points  NRR
New Zealand 5 5 0 0 0 10 +3.090
Sri Lanka 6 4 2 0 0 8 +0.371
Australia 5 3 1 1 0 7 +1.597
Bangladesh 5 3 1 1 0 7 +0.211
England 5 1 4 0 0 2 -1.001
Afghanistan 5 1 4 0 0 2 -1.881
Scotland 5 0 5 0 0 0 -1.769

Note: This table was before the New Zealand vs Bangladesh game.

Likely finish: Irrespective of what happens in their ongoing game against Bangladesh, New Zealand will enter the next stage as the toppers of Pool A. As far as second place is concerned, it looks like going Australia’s way with their solitary game left being against Scotland, who have been one of the biggest disappointments of the tournament so far. Sri Lanka have played all their games, and a third-place finish looks likely. Bangladesh look set to finish fourth after having pulled off an upset versus England.

Pool B

Team Played Won Lost N/R Tied Points  NRR
India 5 5 0 0 0 10 +2.157
South Africa 6 4 2 0 0 8 +1.707
Pakistan 5 3 2 0 0 6 -0.194
Ireland 5 3 2 0 0 6 -1.014
West Indies 5 2 3 0 0 4 -0.511
Zimbabwe 5 1 4 0 0 2 -0.595
U.A.E 5 0 5 0 0 0 -1.961

Likely finish: India have won all their games so far and are guaranteed top spot in Pool B. South Africa, meanwhile, have accumulated 8 points having played all their games and will finish second in the group courtesy of their healthy net run rate.

The remaining two places will be determined by the results of the games on Sunday. Both Ireland and West Indies need to win their respective games to make it to the last eight. Moreover, a heavy defeat at the hands of Ireland or a defeat at the hands of Ireland accompanied by a huge victory for the West Indies could spell doom for Pakistan. However, chances of both these scenarios happening seem rather bleak. 

Before we move on to the scenarios, let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of India:

Strengths:

The Indian juggernaut: MS Dhoni’s men have shrugged off their disappointments on the long tour of Australia and emerged as one of the strongest teams in the tournament. They have been absolutely clinical in all departments and brushed aside all opponents with consummate ease.

Confidence: The strong performance of the team has had a positive influence on all the members and it can be clearly seen in their body language. They look very focused and are not flustered by the challenges that lie ahead of them.

Crowd support: It’s a little hard to believe given that the matches are being played in Australia and New Zealand, but they have enjoyed incredible support from Indian fans right from the start of the tournament, which has been one of the major reasons for India’s stellar success in the tournament so far. In every match featuring India, one can see a very vociferous Indian contigent which is supporting the team with immense passion and gusto.

India have enjoyed tremendous support from the fans in all their games

Weaknesses:

Lack of runs down the order: While the top order has been amongst the runs, the lower order has not really come to the party in whatever limited opportunities that have come their way. Yes, they have played the odd good innings, but they need to be a lot more consistent, especially Ravindra Jadeja, one player who has not had much of an impact with the bat.  This is one of the reasons why India could not finish their innings well in the opening two games despite getting a good start from the top order.

Unexposed bowling: Though the Indian bowlers have been on song having dismissed each of their 5 opponents so far, they are yet to be tested in one area in which they have always been found wanting – the death overs. Credit needs to be given to the Indian bowlers because they haven’t allowed any team to play their full 50 overs, but they might not get it easy in the knockout stages against teams like Australia and New Zealand. This lack of exposure might be a cause for concern.

Quarter-final scenarios for India:

Scenario 1: Bangladesh vs India, Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), 19 March 2015

Bangladesh’s memorable victory over England has guaranteed them a place in the last eight. With 7 points in 5 games, they are placed fourth in Group A. They have one more game to go, against hosts New Zealand. However, they are unlikely to beat them because the Kiwis have been in prime form right through the tournament. 

India are assured of a first place finish in Group B having triumphed in each of their outings so far. They next play minnows Zimbabwe, another team they can get past with ease. At this stage, therefore, a quarter-final clash with Bangladesh looks highly likely.

Quick Stats:

Matches played: 142

Wins batting first: 70

Wins chasing: 68

Tied: 1

N/R: 3

Highest team score: 344/8 - World XI vs Asian XI, 2004-05

Lowest team score: 94 - England vs Australia, 1979-80

Highest run chase achieved: 297/4 - Australia vs England, 2010-11

Matches played by India: 19, Won: 9, Lost: 10

Ground Overview:

In this World Cup, the MCG has been a really high scoring venue. In each of the 3 games played, the team batting first has posted a score in excess of 300. In fact, each of these games has been won by the team batting first. It can, therefore, be said that a score in excess of 300 is safe at this venue. The Men in Blue have already played one game at the  MCG where they emerged triumphant over South Africa by 130 runs. 

Now that we know a little about the venue, let’s take a look at the opponents:

Strengths:

In-form middle order: The trio of Mohammad Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim has been in great form for the Tigers. They have been the driving force of Bangladesh’s campaign and are one of the major reasons why they have made it to the knockout stages. With each of the them averaging in excess of 50 in the tournament, it’ll be difficult for the Indian bowlers to run through Bangladesh.

Lesser weight of expectations: Unlike their opponents, there won’t be too many expectations from Bangladesh because they will go into this game as underdogs. This will allow them to spring a surprise or two which will keep the Indians honest.  

Weaknesses:

Bowling: Bangladesh’s bowling is a major concern for them. Except Shakib and Mashrafe Mortaza, the Bangladeshi bowlers have been guilty of conceding far too many runs. 

Inexperience: This is the first time that Bangladesh have been able to make it to the knockout stages of an ICC tournament. This lack of experience might come to haunt them as there is no second chance in the knockout stages. 

Head to head in World Cups:

Matches played: 2

India: 1

Bangladesh: 1

MS Dhoni & co. would prefer facing Bangladesh in the quarters

Scenario 2: Sri Lanka vs India, Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), 18 March 2015

The likelihood of this game happening is very little. However, it can happen if Bangladesh manage to pull off a heist against co-hosts New Zealand. In that case, India will face familiar foes Sri Lanka at the SCG. In contrast to India who seem unstoppable, Sri Lanka have ended up short against big teams like New Zealand and Australia.  

Quick Stats:

Matches played: 148

Wins batting first: 83

Wins chasing: 58

Tied: 0

N/R: 7

Highest team score: 408/5, South Africa vs West Indies, World Cup 2015

Lowest team score: 63, India vs Australia, 1980-81

Highest run chase achieved: 334/8, Australia vs England, 2010-11

Matches played by India: 17, Won: 4, Lost: 12, N/R:1

Ground overview:

Just like the MCG, the SCG too has been a very high scoring venue in this World Cup. In both games, the team batting first has posted scores well in excess of 300. In fact, the Proteas managed an imposing 408/5 in their game against West Indies, which is also the highest total at this venue. The numbers above also indicate that chasing is not the best of options at the SCG because only 41.1 % of the games have been won by the chasing team. 

The strengths and weaknesses of Sri Lanka have been analysed below:

Strengths:

Familiarity of opponent: India are one team that the Lankans see far too often. Due to this, almost every member in the team is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of India.

Strength of the batting order: Angelo Mathews’ team has one of the most in-form batting sides in the tournament. The Sri Lankan batsmen have managed to register 7 centuries in this World Cup so far, with Kumar Sangakkara, in particular, being on song having notched up 4 centuries in 4 consecutive games. With such an in-form batting order, the Indian bowlers are sure to be tested.

Weaknesses:

Performance against top teams: Though Sri Lanka have made it to the quarter-finals, it was mainly based on their performance against lesser teams like Scotland, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They ended up short against top teams like Australia and New Zealand who beat them convincingly.

Bowling: Almost every frontline Sri Lankan bowler, except Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis, has conceded runs in excess of 5.50 runs per over. An over-reliance on Malinga might cost them dear if he misfires on a given day, something that can happen in a high-pressure knockout game.

Head to head in World Cups:

Matches: 8

India: 3

Sri Lanka: 4

N/R: 1

Semi-final scenarios for India:

Scenario 1: Australia vs India, Sydney Cricket Ground, 26 March 2015

If India face Sri Lanka in the quarter-finals and overcome their neighbours, then they will have to lock horns with Australia in the second semi-final, assuming that the Aussies overcome their quarter-final opponents. With both teams being in top form in the tournament so far, this could be an absolute cracker of a contest.

The strengths and weaknesses of Australia are as below:

Strengths:

Batting: Australia’s batting has been in supreme form this tournament. Each of their batsmen has come to the party and scored big at a really good pace. Moreover, they bat really deep as the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc can be more than handy with the bat.

Home advantage: Just like the Black Caps, the Australians too will be playing each of their games on home soil unless they come up against New Zealand in the semi-finals. While the Aussies are a formidable force in any condition, they are almost unbeatable at home. With the crowd backing them, they are all the more difficult to beat.

Weaknesses:

Over-reliance on Starc: Though Australia boast of one of the best bowling attacks in the tournament, Mitchell Starc has almost single-handedly shouldered the responsibility of the bowling so far. The likes of Johnson, James Faulkner, Mitchell Marsh and Pat Cummins have all been short of wickets and are a little on the expensive side.

Lack of a frontline spinner: While Australia have a plethora of quality fast bowling options, Xavier Doherty is the only frontline spinner available. He too is not a regular and therefore they have to rely on part-time options like Glenn Maxwell, Michael Clarke and Steven Smith.

Scenario 2: India vs Pakistan/Ireland, Sydney Cricket Ground, 26 March 2015 

If India win their quarter-final and Australia lose theirs to Pakistan/Ireland depending on who finishes third in Group B, India could face them in the 2nd semi-final at Sydney. Irrespective of whether it is Pakistan or Ireland, though, India should fancy themselves to make the final considering their superior record in the World Cup over both these teams.

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