With a little under half of the round matches completed at the ICC World Cup, the two groups of teams have started to shape towards the quarterfinals.
In Group A, the results and form (not always the same thing) of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand seem to indicate they will progress. Pakistan are their usual mix of erratic batting and a bowling attack more interested in wickets than runs. It's an approach that again makes them the most dangerous team at this tournament and their Skipper, Shahid Afridi typifies the approach of a bowling attack that wants to get you out, not contain you. Australia and Sri Lanka have been solid and the contrast between western and eastern bowling attacks will be highlighted in tonight's clash between them in Colombo. New Zealand have crushed two African nations but were dismal against their nearest neighbour. All that remains is jockeying for positions in the quarter finals.
Its a different story in Group B, thanks mainly to the poor form of the English bowlers who have forced their team into a narrow escape against the Netherlands, a tie with India and an astounding loss to Ireland. England have therefore played three and have three to play but its who they play which presents the potential boil over. Their remaining games are against South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh. On form, South Africa will beat them and both of their remaining games shape as difficult encounters. The Calypso Kings are a side which is growing in confidence, with runs coming from everyone, not just Chris Gayle and Kemar Roach bowling straight and quick, even on these feather bed surfaces. They lost to a dominant South Africa but flogged a Dutch team which almost beat England and handed an even bigger pasting to Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the Bangers beat Ireland easily and we all know what the Green Machine did to England.
So let's say England lose to South Africa and West Indies - after all, can a Swann withstand Gayle forced Windies? - that would leave them on 5 points. Bangladesh will lose to South Africa too but should be too good for the Netherlands. That will leave them on 4 points.
That makes the March 11th home game for Bangladesh against England at the Chowdhury Stadium at Chittagong the crucial match of this group. If other results go as predicted, England's chances will hang on this game. Its a wicket square which offers encouragement for all types of bowlers and a ground on which Graham Swann has taken two Test pfiefers.
What's up with England? Are they tired from too much cricket? It hardly seems likely. The basic problem is the bowling lineup. Like Australia, England have gambled that a pace attack and the balance of Swann will be too much for most international sides but it hasn't worked. Bresnan fired once against India but the rest have been canon fodder with Anderson and Broad being dreadful. Swann has bowled well but too much is falling on his shoulders with Yardy not really up to this standard. If England are to progress, Strauss and the team management need a change of strategy. If they were to flick through South Africa's playing strategy, they should pinch the leaf that has had offie Imran Tahir open the bowling at least once in the tournament. It would be a valuable tactic for England against Chris Gayle when they play the Windies and might just get them safely through to the quarter finals. The problem is, Swann seems to fire blanks when batsmen attack him, a tendency which Mike Hussey exposed during the Ashes and even Kevin O'Brien took advantage of as he blasted his super quick hundred against the red & blues (red for embarrassment, blue for their mood).
At this stage of the tournament, South Africa thanks to inspired captaincy and the batting of deVilliers are the warm favourites but Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and even those men in yellow looking up to the task.
Perhaps Sri Lanka and Australia will narrow that thinking in tonight's clash.
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