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The Achilles’ Heel - Part 2

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ICC Cricket ODI World Cup 2015ICC’s marketing driven round robin league is nearly over. Despite the heroics of the associate nations, ICC has stacked enough odds against them to keep them out of the knock-out phase. Each team in that phase could play upto three knockout matches one after the other, and whoever wins all three would end up being the World Champions for the next four years. Well, it’s not as simple as that. Winning three matches in a row with such high stakes is never simple. This is the phase where teams are one mistake away from crashing out.

The lineups this year have very strong positives - but even the strongest teams have some stark negatives that could do them in, even on a good day. Let’s continue taking a closer look at who or what will decide the team’s journey through the knockout stages. You can see the part 1 of this article here.

New Zealand:

Brendon McCullum has been leading a beast of a team this year. The opening pace combo of Trent-Southee has been consistently good so far in New Zealand, but needs to be tested in Australian conditions against the strong teams. Even if opponents weather the onslaught, there is the craft of Vettori, the accuracy of Milne and a mighty decent fifth bowler in Corey Anderson.

Their batting, however, hasn’t clicked as much yet, with the likes of Elliott and Ross Taylor not looking comfortable in the middle. The initial McClubbing and the rock solid Kane Williamson have covered for them so far. And therein lies their weakness. Two quick wickets and New Zealand could be in a world of trouble, leaving Guptill to fight it out with a rather strong lower middle order - another clubber of the ball, Anderson and the promising Luke Ronchi. Quick wickets are bound to fall over three knockout games and Taylor / Elliott will have to come good for the Kiwis to survive.

Australia:

One of the more balanced sides in the tournament, Australia is the one team that can afford to keep incredible players like Bailey and Watto on the bench. The batting unit has been clicking well, with Warner, Smith, Finch and Maxwell in good touch. This team has one of the brightest chances to win the cup, because the batting and bowling strengths are split across multiple in form players. They bat deep, even with seven bowlers each of whom are more than capable of dismantling strong oppositions.

With Faulkner fit to play again, the only concern in the pace department right now is Mitchell Johnson struggling against the good batsmen. Finding his rhythm back will be key to Australia’s chances this year. Australia are also short staffed in the spin department, with Maxwell filling in with a few overs. On a surface where spinners can pose a threat, they will be at a disadvantage against the Vettoris and the Ashwins. How the multiple captains (Bailey, Clarke, Smith...) work together behind the screens will also play a role - though there aren’t any visible cracks yet.

Bangladesh:

From being another minnow that caused an upset or two in the previous world cups, they have grown to wreak havoc on out of form giants that do not take them seriously. Bangladesh eased past a positive looking Scotland in a high score encounter, looking safe throughout the chase of a 300 plus score. Tamim Iqbal has only scored against them so far - and he needs to start hitting big sides out of the park for Bangladesh to pose any serious threat for the fourth place. The rest of their batting unit has been rather solid, exceeding expectations. Continuing to hold the fort will be key to Bangladesh’s remote chances.

What makes their fourth place chance ‘remote' is their bowling unit. They have experienced bowlers, true, but the only team they have contained so far is Afghanistan, courtesy of Mortaza. Coetzer ran them ragged this week while Dilshan and Sangakkara made them look toothless. Bangla bowling needs to get its act together against a struggling England or it will be a cakewalk for the British side to take the game and the tournament out of their reach. Even if Bangladesh do cross the hurdle and enter the knockout stages, they will face a much stronger unit (India or South Africa) and won’t really stand much of a chance. In a way, I sincerely hope they do not run into a rampaging de Villiers on their way out.

South Africa:

Cricket fandom is divided into two vocal halves - one half pegging the Proteas as the tournament favourites, while the other looking at every match wondering if they would choke already or wait for the knockout games. And they have already demonstrated why both the arguments are right. They are one of the strongest sides and also the most unpredictable. Amla and de Villiers are ably covered by Faf, Miller, Duminy (when he plays) and the impressive Rossouw.

Yet, the Indian bowlers - who aren’t rated as highly as, say, Australia or New Zealand - were able to rip through the side. The addition of Rossouw seems to have hidden the issue temporarily, but the problem is still there. Their bowling attack of Morkel, Steyn, Tahir and Abbott aren’t very good at weathering a top order collapse or at providing support to a batsman at the other end. They are no Johnsons or Starcs or Marshes. There is, hence, a tremendous amount of pressure on Miller, Duminy and Rossouw if Amla and ABD get out cheaply. Quinton de Kock’s terrible scores so far only add to that pressure. This is a test they are likely to face again before this tournament is over.

The bowling unit has been above average so far, but they haven’t faced any powerful sides apart from India yet. Steyn is some way off his best & Morkel seems to be wavering between excellent and erratic. Their other bowlers seem to be holding the fort at the moment, which will break when McCullum or Warner come knocking. If Steyn and Morkel start delivering though, there will be less pressure on the other bowlers and the middle order batsmen. At least one of the two spearheads needs to be at his best for South Africa to win the knockout games.

Or, you know, a signature de Villiers knock will do.



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