ICC can't afford to keep out Associate members
The contours of the World Cup knockout round are getting clearer and cricket itself has been fairly impressive. The summer-end pitches in the Antipodes provided for a great deal of excitement, though the teams batting first had a slightly better success rate.
India and New Zealand remain the only unbeaten teams and both are through to the quarter-finals without much of a bother. Billed as hot favourites, South Africa lost to both India and Pakistan, once again showing a nervous streak in their mental make-up. The two losses should not affect their qualification for the knockout round, but their all-round ability comes into question.
Co-hosts New Zealand were the first to make the knockout round winning all their four matches and India, did the same, albeit a week later.
If New Zealand got the better of Australia in a low-scoring cliff-hanger, India comprehensively demolished Pakistan and South Africa, though they had a tough time beating the West Indies.
When India beat the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by nine wickets at the WACA in the 21st match, the half-way mark in the league phase of 42 matches was reached.
A look at the scoring patterns in the 2011 World Cup on the slow-paced sub-continental pitches and lively tracks this time around shows that there have been more 300 plus scores now.
A unique feature is that India scored more than 300 runs in their first two matches both in 2011 and in the ongoing tournament, the only difference being that four years ago their game against England was tied despite posting 338 in Bangalore. They struck 370 in the inaugural match in Dhaka against Bangladesh.
This time they had a cake-walk, beating Pakistan by 76 runs and hammering South Africa by 130 runs.
Bizarre schedule at the World Cup
The teams may be welcoming the rest they are getting between the matches, but at the same time they must be wondering how two teams could play four matches, four three matches and the other, Ireland, only two in the first two weeks. In Group A, it is somewhat balanced as three teams played four games and the other four sides three.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) seems to have found the easy way out for this bizarre scheduling by throwing the Associates out of the World Cup and confining the quadrennial event to only ten Test-playing nations.
The ICC should have waited for the 2015 edition to end before taking a call on the next World Cup format. After seeing the way the Associates performed it would now be thinking of reversing its decision and adding not four but six Associates. Sachin Tendulkar has pleaded for enlarging it to 25 if the sport has to be globalised. ICC sure will have to rethink on keeping the Associates out of the World Cup.
If Ireland scored over 300 to chase down the West Indies target, they did one better by putting up 331 and defending it against another ICC full member Zimbabwe, who took the fight to the last over before giving it away losing the last two wickets in the last over six short of the target.
The Irish should be asking the ICC what more they are expected to do to be part of the next World Cup. All they now need to make the quarter-finals is a point from their match against India Tuesday.
They deserve to be in the last eight, having won three of their four matches unlike better-rated South Africa and Pakistan, who lost two matches each. They will play their last Pool B game against Pakistan Sunday, a day after the West Indies run into the UAE.
Batsmen have dominated this World Cup
Call it the field restrictions, two new balls or whatever, the number of 300 plus scores in this World Cup is getting viral. In the last World Cup in the subcontinent, there were 11 scores of 300 plus in the 30 matches by the end of the third week whereas at a similar stage this time, teams posted 300 or more 20 times, South Africa piling 400 plus twice - against Ireland and West Indies – and Australia once, against Afghanistan.
If New Zealand won the splendidly played low scoring match against Australia by getting to 132 with their last pair in while the West Indies made it quite tough for India to chase 183 with the lower order to support captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. All four teams had tremendous hitters and they were restricted by excellent bowling.
These were the two matches where the bowlers dictated the terms. Otherwise by and large bowling has been below par in the tournament, even 300 plus scores have not looked par in quite a few matches.
The hiccups notwithstanding, the top eight should be through to the next stage except, perhaps, the West Indies who have to depend on other results and elements.
All in all, the World Cup has attracted the global audience and the format will stay without being tinkered so long as the number of teams playing does not go beyond 16. With a bit of tweaking the schedule, it can be finished in reasonable time of a little over month. But then the prime time tv watchers will have the final say.