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ICC World Cup Quarterfinals Preview: Four Asian Teams, Eight Powerhouses

16/03/2015 7:20 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Former New Zealand cricket great Sir Richard Hadlee carries the ICC World Cup trophy onto the field ahead of the Cricket World Cup Pool B match between India and Ireland in Hamilton, New Zealand, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. (AP Photo Ross Setford)

Bangladesh provided the happiest story of the World Cup as yet, Ireland the most poignant. There were times on Sunday when cricket fans across the world would have willed for the Irish to dig deep and come up with a heroic performance against Pakistan. Alas, that was not to be.

Lack of depth and experience -- in both batting and bowling -- stymied Ireland's bid to make it to the quarter-finals. They finished 50-60 runs too short, and gave away 50-60 runs too many in the first 30 overs to make Pakistan's passage into the knock-out stage relatively easy.

cricket world cup india Former New Zealand cricket great Sir Richard Hadlee carries the ICC World Cup trophy onto the field ahead of the Cricket World Cup Pool B match between India and Ireland in Hamilton, New Zealand, Tuesday, March 10, 2015.

But while Ireland may have lost, they won everybody's hearts with their never-say-die approach in the tournament. They have given every indication of not only being a fiercely competitive side, but also has the potential to challenge the best.

How this translates into improving their future in the sport is, of course, the question. Following a string of impressive performances in ODIs culminating in the impressive run in the World Cup, Ireland have demanded Test status. But while this may seem fair, the ICC may find it difficult to meet on two counts.

One, the example of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe as Test-playing countries over the past decade or so has not been very gratifying. Second, the five-day format itself is under duress - for financial reasons certainly, so accommodating one more team will be problematic.

The big surprise in this is not so much Bangladesh's entry, but that Pakistan were the last to make the cut.

That said, Ireland's rise in the sport also affords the ICC to revise its vision and thrust. If the salvation of Test cricket is an avowed objective - as has been often stated - it can't be restricted to only 5-6 countries playing each other.

Minnows get the cold shoulder as a test series gets monotonous and unattractive to viewers, sponsors - just about everybody. Too few countries play cricket, so the ICC must consider Ireland's case with an open mind.

What, of course, can be done right away is to increase the ODIs between associate and full members. This remains dismally lop-sided. It is shocking, for instance, that India and Ireland played each other for the first time in this World Cup!

Coming back to the current tournament, Ireland's defeat on Sunday has ensured that four full ICC members from the sub-continent are now in the World Cup quarter-final for the first time. The big surprise in this is not so much Bangladesh's entry, but that Pakistan were the last to make the cut.

An enigmatic side at most times, Pakistan looked beleaguered and beaten when they started with two defeats on the trot at the start of the tournament, accompanied - inevitably - with controversies that almost cost them their fielding coach and certainly has chief selector Moin Khan.

Since then, their revival has been quite remarkable. Sometimes, this can be triggered off by a simple decision and in Pakistan's story it has come with the inclusion of wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed, who put in two successive match-winning performances.

Indeed, so powerful has been Sarfraz's influence in front and behind the wickets that it's keeping him out of the first few matches must now seem as downright lunacy. But then, as several point out, madness and Pakistan cricket have always been in step with each other.

There is also the more mouth-watering prospect of an Indo-Pak semi-final, as had also happened in the previous World Cup.

The fact that India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are in the quarter finals, however, does not necessarily show that the balance of power in the sport - in terms of ability and skill - necessarily tilts towards the sub-continent.

Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand have put up very strong performances in the tournament, while the West Indies remain a maverick side, capable of destroying any opponent - if they are not in a self-destruct mode themselves.

There is, of course, the possibility that the final could become a sub-continental power struggle, as it was in 2011 when India beat Sri Lanka. But there is also the more mouth-watering prospect of an Indo-Pak semi-final, as had also happened in the previous World Cup.

For that, India must beat Bangladesh and Pakistan must get the better of Australia. Whatever the relative strengths of these teams on paper, no match will be easy. A short spell of 5-6 overs - in batting or bowling - one great catch or run out, can turn the match on its head.

The knock-out stage, as the term implies, means one team will be be packed off home. But from here on it's a battle not just of skills, even more so of nerves, temperament, some luck undoubtedly, but above all the will to win.

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