World Cup 2015: Quarterfinals Preview

Here we are friends, at that juncture of the World Cup, where the performance on the day matters, rather than all the history they have so far in the tournament.

Here is a sneak peak into each of the teams that got to the Quarter finals.

Australia

By just being the hosts, they have the biggest advantage, to begin with. On top of it, they have the depth of the batting that goes all the way to number eleven. With Watson going down the order and Maxwell showcasing his pyrotechnics, the opponents, in this case Pakistan are in for a serious challenge. Any opposition that bowled to Warner, Steven Smith, Maxwell in the last 12 months know what they are capable of.  With Clarke and Finch at the top and Haddin and Faulkner at the bottom, they have the depth of batting to last the full innings and push the accelerator when needed.

In the two Mitchell’s they have the most potent pace attack at home. To support them are Watson, Faulkner, Cummins and if required Smith and Clarke. The game against New Zealand showed that they can defend any total.

Bangladesh

They have upset the Indian party once in a World Cup and once more in Asian Cup. Although they are still waiting for the aggressive Tamim to click at the top of the order, the new found duo of Mahmadullah and Sarkar are putting the runs on the board. In Shakib they have one of the best all rounders in business. Mushfiqur and Sabbir provide additional coverage down the order.

In Mortaza and Shakib, they have one of the most experienced bowlers. Add to that Rubel,Taskin,Mahmadullah and their never ending supply of left arm spinners, they have the potential to upset the current champions India.

India

Team India has been really performing like defending champion so far. The tired and worn out bowlers of the series Down Under have suddenly seem to have woken up from slumber. The consistency in line and length delivered by the trio of Shami, Umesh and Mohit have given a reason for the Indian fan to raise their hopes beyond semis. The weaknesses of the spin duo overseas are now under the carpet.

India’s One day success has always been driven by the batting depth. The fact that India notched 6 wins in a row with Rohit and Jadeja  yet to deliver is a good sign. Although both of them play important roles for the team and everyone wants them to deliver, specially Rohit Sharma as that would impact the kind of start that the team would get.

Virat Kohli has been playing very important role whenever India chased in the last couple of years. He is vital for the team’s success especially when chasing in the knockouts. With one of the best finishers in the batting line up in the form of Dhoni, Indian batting seems to have the depth to go beyond the quarters and much more.This Indian fielding unit is not afraid to throw their bodies around to stop the ball. The key fielders Rahane and Raina have chipped in with their bat in big games at a very good strike rate against South Africa and Pakistan.

The captain has been leading from the front by setting up aggressive fields for the bowling attack. Since 2011, India have played 7 knock-out matches in ICC global events (both T20 and ODI) and lost only one – the 2014 T20 World Cup final to Sri Lanka. Under Dhoni’s leadership, they have a great chance to extend that run.

New Zealand

If there is any team which is running in top gear this world cup, it is New Zealand so far. Their batting starts off, with the belligerent McCullum leading the effort of attacking the opposition with Guptill providing the support. The top order is being well supported by the versatile Williamson. Ross Taylor’s big hits are not being missed yet as Anderson, Elliott and Ronchi are playing the support role well.

New Zealand bowling has really excelled in home conditions with Southee and Boult taking turns to demolish the opposition. And whenever the opposition seems to have taken control Vettori steps in to wrest the control away from them. The batting all rounders are providing good support to the bowlers.

15 years ago, New Zealand put an end to being the eternal “also rans” by winning the ICC Champion’s trophy. However, their bridesmaid role in the World Cups continues with New Zealand having never made it past the final 4 stage. McCullum and his men are certainly aware of the advantage home conditions provide and they have clearly demonstrated their intent in Phase 1. This, now is the moment of truth. New Zealand will have zero margin for error as they pursue their aggressive brand of cricket – which many cricket fans hope will take them to the very summit.

Pakistan

Pakistan seems to be finally getting together as a unit specially with Sarfaraz at the top of the order providing the much needed start that they need and Misbah and Younis providing the balance and stability in the middle. With Umar Akmal yet to fire and Afridi well beyond his use by date in the batting department, the Pakistan team lacks the depth in case of a top order collapse.

The Pakistan team always had a strong bowling line up. This team is one of the few teams which has three left arm seamers operating in tandem. The bounce that Irfan generates added to the bounce of Australian and New Zealand pitches have proved to be very discomforting for lot of batsmen. Rahat Ali has been providing some good support along with Afridi to complete the unit.

If the unit plays to their potential they have the ability to reach to the semis and probably repeat the success of their predecessors from 1992. They will have to hit the ground running as they face Australia in the Quarterfinals and even the most minor of mistakes will be magnified when you take on a team that does not concede an inch like Australia does. Pakistan and their equally volatile fans will be hoping for the REAL Pakistan to show up for the next 10 days.

Sri Lanka

This is the last world cup for Sri Lanka, where in, they will have stalwarts of players with three of those players possessing a combined total of about 25,000 ODI runs between the three of them. Although he has announced his retirement, Sangakkara seems to be in the form of his life. No one has scored 4 centuries on the trot in the nearly 50yr old ODI history. He seems to be all set for one more, although against a much tougher opposition. With Jayawardene and Dilshan also putting runs on board Sri Lanka, once more is the top contender for the World Cup. As with all good teams, Sri Lanka also bats pretty deep, with Thirimanne, Perera and Matthews providing the additional fire power.

In Malinga they have a match winning bowler and their bowling unit has spent lot of time in New Zealand before the World Cup getting used to the conditions. He has enough support from Kulasekara and the spinners to give a tough fight against the Proteas and the other big teams they will face in their path. In 2007 World Cup final, it took Gilchrist blitz to stop the Lankans and in the 2011 final, they had one hand on the World Cup, before MS Dhoni stopped them in their tracks. One gets the feeling that it will take something equally mighty to stop the Sri Lankans this time around, as well.

South Africa

If there is one team that can self destruct itself at the Quarters stage it would be South Africa, known for their ability to  C at the key moments. They had entered the World Cup, as always, as a prohibitive favorite. One can safely infer that South Africa have failed their two gut-check moments thus far in this tournament.

So far they have gone through the practice of what they are known for, already couple of times against India and Pakistan. Hopefully the team has learnt from those two games and has built the nerves to clear the next hurdle. With the likes of Amla, De Villiers and Miller in the lineup supported by Duminy and Russouw, the batting has the depth, but showed the lack of nerves in big games.

The likes of Steyn, Morkel and Philander may not relish bowling in Sydney as much as they would like at MCG or in New Zealand. But for now they have to be content and have a go at Sri Lanka, who will be feeling more at home at the SCG. Over the years, South Africa have always held their own in the group stages and seem to be short of energy when they needed it the most – in the knock out stages. To be humbled early in the tournament might just give them the chip on the shoulder they might require to go full throttle at the business end of the tournament. Fingers crossed then…..

West Indies

In the line up of 8 teams in the Quarterfinals, there are two batsmen who can make a mockery of  New Zealand’s bowling attack on their smaller grounds, AB De Villiers and Chris Gayle. One of them is likely to play the game against the hosts if his fitness permits. And if Gayle clicks, he will be a game changer. Simmons, Sammy and Russell can provide the additional firepower once the foundation is laid. Samuels is another key cog too for a solid foundation.

On the bowling front Jerome Taylor might be looking for some support from his young captain and other bowlers although the team is probably missing their most important slow bowler now. West Indies will do well to watch the last knock-out match they have won in ODI World Cups – the 1996 Quarterfinal against South Africa where Brian Lara conjured some magic to knock a heavy favourite out. Gayle will have to produce something similar to give the West Indians a chance at moving ahead in this event.

Predictions

With the exception of Bangladesh, the Quarterfinalists were more or less the usual suspects. The beauty of the knock-outs is that it resets the slate for all the teams that have survived the group phase. There is no more margin for error and the only way to survive is to win. Having said that, India vs Bangladesh and New Zealand vs West Indies seem to be the rather more straightforward calls of the knock-outs.

To some extent Australia vs Pakistan also has the balance tilted towards one team a little more than the other, however Pakistan seem to have righted their ship just in time to prevent this from being a runaway. That brings us to the marquee match of the Quarterfinals – Sri Lanka vs South Africa. Given the fact that this is a knock out, this could get real ugly. Call it hope, faith or law of averages, but one gets a sense South Africa will not let themselves and the cricketing world down, this time. Should they get a grip on their nerves, this match will be a real barn burner.

South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand to move to the semifinals. Who are your picks Cricket Galaxy?

– Saikumar Singaraju [Sai leads the efforts of our team in the Cricket Galaxy . Join him on twitter here.]

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