The first quarter final of the World Cup between Sri Lanka and South Africa is touted to decided on who is currently the world's best batsman between A B de Villiers and Kumar Sangakara. Both have been in brilliant form, notching up over 400 runs each and their faces-off promises to be a treat.
But this is only one of many riveting contests that will unfold over the next four days. Several careers and a few mighty reputations are at stake as eight teams slug it out for four semi-final places. Here's a look at how the teams square off, and who could make a difference.
March 18: Sri Lanka v South Africa:
The de Villiers-Sangakara clash is the showcase event, but there are other players too who could turn the match around on its head. Like Sangakara, Mahela Jayawardena and Tillekratne Dilshan are playing their last World Cup. Even if two from this troika get going - with 'silent assassin' Angelo Matthews to follow, South Africa could have fight on hand. All four have been in good form too.
Not that the Proteas are laggards when it comes to batting. De Villiers apart, there is the brilliant Hasham Amla at the top of the order, power striker David Miller and the versatile du Plessis and Duminy in the middle order.
Yet, this superb line-up has looked vulnerable and depended heavily on de Villiers's genius to bail the side out far more frequently than expected. Moot question, however, is whether Sri Lanka has the bowling attack to put pressure on these batsmen?
Given that the batting strength of both teams is near equal, the clincher could be how Sri Lanka's batsmen cope with the South African bowling which, even if a trifle below par in the league stage, is far better than their opponents.
But then again, can South Africa handle the pressure and not choke?
Players to watch out for: de Villiers, Amla, Steyn, Sangakara, Matthews, Malinga
March 19: India v Bangladesh
Given India's roaring form in the league stages, this might seem like a complete mismatch. True, they pulled off a terrific win over England to send them packing home, but is it possible for this young Bangladesh side to stop a juggernaut?
India's top order batsmen - barring Rohit Sharma who too hasn't looked in poor touch - have been brilliant. The much maligned bowling - with only Ravindra Jadeja a tad below his best - has come up with sterling performances, taking 60 wickets in six matches. The fielding has been superb.
How does Bangladesh hope to compete?
"The side may be bereft of star names, but not star performers."
The biggest advantage the underdog has is of no fear of failure. In fact that fear is more likely to haunt the Indian players who will clearly feel the pressure of expectations of a billion supporters back home, apart from the 80-odd thousand who will be at the MCG.
But this is not the only reason why Bangladesh could be dangerous. The side may be bereft of star names, but not star performers. The batting, with Sarkar, Mushfiqur, Tamim and Mahmadullah as the lynchpin has been attractive and bountiful.
The bowling too, while lacking depth, cannot be dismissed easily. Shakib-ul-Hasan is canny, experienced and a wicket-taker. Rubel Hossain has impressed everybody with his sharp pace and also ability to swing the ball.
These aspects apart, history too affords a lesson in caution. Since he was there, M S Dhoni will certainly remember the 2007 World Cup when Bangladesh delivered a knock-out performance which still hurts.
India will take this game lightly at their own peril.
Players To Watch Out For: Dhawan, Kohli, Dhoni, Shami, Mahmadullah, Shakib, Rubel
March 20: Australia v Pakistan
Those clued into cricket history are beginning to liken Pakistan's revival in the World Cup this time to their exploits in the 1992 tournament.
There are some similarities, true, but whether Pakistan can go the distance to win the title is still open to question.
A major component of the answer could emerge in the result of the quarter-final match against Australia. Beating the best balanced team in the tournament, and in their conditions in front of their own supporters would be clear indication that Pakistan are reaching prime form. But it will take some doing. I'll add to that: it would be nothing less than heroic.
Australia bat so deep that they don't have a tail! They also have eight players - including part-timers -- who can bowl. Four of them, led by Mitchel Starc, the tournament's leading wicket-taker, are in prime form. The fielding, as always, remains brilliant.
Everything thus far points towards a one-sided affair. But everybody in the cricket universe, not the least the Aussies, know how mercurial and dangerous the Pakistanis can be.
One smart change in getting wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed into the side has given the side balance and the batting productive. With runs to defend, the bowlers have raised their performances a notch too. To complete the circle, as it were, the notorious fielding has shown remarkable improvement too.
Suddenly, Pakistan look a formidable side. Australia have a battle on hand.
Players To Watch Out For: Sarfraz Ahmed, Misbah-ul-Haq, Wahab Riaz, David Warner, Mtichel Starc, Mitchel Johnson, Steve Smith
March 21: New Zealand v West Indies
The West Indies must consider themselves lucky to be in the quarter-finals. A better net run rate helped them nudge out Ireland, who had shown admirable gumption and certainly more consistency throughout the league stage.
The West Indies swung dramatically between some instances of true brilliance and many more of rank mediocrity. This is where New Zealand have been in stark contrast, showing controlled aggression, method and excellent team work.
The biggest factor in New Zealand's unbeaten run yet has been splendid, the bowling. Trent Boult and Tim Southee, in their mid-20s still, have bowled late swing like thespians in the art. Crafty spinner Daniel Vettori has been hugely economical and picked up wickets too.
Like New Zealand, the West Indies have depth in batting and bowling, but despite the best their efforts of young captain Jason Holder to hold the team together, their efforts have been fragmented.
Gayle's prowess can hardly be questioned. But he remains moody and unpredictable. Ditto almost all the players, much to the chagrin of their supporters. Ultimately the West Indies players will have to decide whether they are their own best friends or worst enemies.
Players To Watch Out For: Boult, Vettori, McCullum, Richardson, Gayle, Holder, Russell
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