ICC’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.
All 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 take a closer look at who or what will decide the team’s journey through the knockout stages.
This ODI side has largely relied on its deep batting strength over the years. With the bowlers also rising to the grand occasion (and the destruction of an incredible South African side), the team has resurfaced as a tournament favourite - with Ashwin turning out to be the primary part of the puzzle.
Where the team's problem lies though, is with the lower middle order firing. While the top order has been consistent as a unit, no one player has consistently scored for India in the recent matches. Sir Jadeja hasn’t been very reliable with the bat in the first three matches (and the tri-series before that) and MS Dhoni has been visibly struggling with his form. When teams work around Ashwin and score 300+ runs or even less on a good bowling track, this part of the team will be tested and how. While Yuvraj Singh pulled India through the last time around, India will need Dhoni to fire more than once to take the trophy back home.
Chris Gayle has defined the side’s performance on most occasions and he continues to stand tall this time around as well. But we know that he is not someone who gets the big score every day - and the pressure of keeping the team going falls on the next guy’s shoulders often.
This man is Dwayne Smith. While he hasn’t been getting into the groove of late, his form with the bat (and the occasional breakthrough with the ball) will decide how far the caribbean team progress in the tournament. West Indies could even swap his position with (in-form) Simmons’ to give him the time before the big matches come. He is the sleeping Achilles in this lineup. If Smith doesn’t fire, Andre Russell and Darren Sammy (and going by the last match, Jason Holder) will have to excel with the additional responsibility of adding those vital runs to the team. If Smith doesn’t fire (and he keeps playing), I don’t see them going too far in this tournament.
Sri Lanka have won their matches with key performances from their veterans, as expected. They are putting in everything to keep the team from sinking. Their unfortunate weakness is with the younger batsmen being a disaster and it has been their primary weakness for close to a year now. The Sanga-Mahela-Dilshan combo have absorbed most of the pressure on this team so far, but they can’t keep going through the knockout stages.
At least two more players need to come good for Sri Lanka to even be considered as contenders. And those two players are the dangerous Mathews who can dismantle oppositions single-handedly on his day and the out of form bowler, Lasith Malinga. Without Mathews firing, the top order needs to make the target every time. Without the Malinga threat, opponents will have little pressure to play the other bowlers recklessly - and neither is a good situation to be in.
No one is really certain about England making the cut above Bangladesh, and the team has been failing all over the place. Ian Bell, who was considered their key batsman before the tournament started, has not really stamped his name on the tournament yet, and should come good for the team to get some of its life back.
The bowling unit has been a colossal failure, even with Finn being among the wickets in one match. The opening pace combo of Broad-Anderson is far stronger on paper than it is on the pitch out there, and that performance gap needs to be bridged quickly - or a fighting Bangladesh could manage the upset.
Shoaib Akhtar has already listed some of the issues with this side - with a little extra emotional rant directed at Misbah. The sad part is that he isn’t all wrong either. Misbah has been the lone warrior with the bat for the big matches, true, but the scarier part is that the situation is expected to remain that way.
While the top order need to put at least some runs on the board, supposedly in-form Umar Akmal can be the key batsman to keep the team afloat in the tournament. He has been terrible behind the stumps, and taking that responsibility out of his hands might do wonders to his batting. Misbah should realise soon that the extra batsman isn’t really adding runs to the team and Akmal has been leaking a ginormous amount of runs as the misfit keeper. Sarfraz is not a bad batsman at all and it would make the rest of the batsmen fight to keep their place in the team. The bowling hasn’t been particularly good (or experienced), but Wahab and Afridi are doing their bit with the ball to balance it out.
Read Part 2 here.