Sunday, February 16, 2003

And now onto today's World Cup Matches. To start with, two mismatches. England finally got onto the cricket field, with a match against Holland. Not much to be said there, as they scored an easy six wicket win with 26.4 overs to spare. Pakistan bowled out Namibia for 84 for an even easier 171 run win. This underlines a key fact about this tournament. There are eight teams who are good enough to feature in the later stages: Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and England. Of the other sides in the tournament, Namibia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Canada, and Holland are there to make up the numbers. Any match between a side in the first group and one in the second is going to be a mismatch. Zimbabwe sort of lie between the two groups. They are good enough to cause the odd upset against sides in the first group, and are good enough to beat any of the other teams in the second group easily.

For this reason, there will be a few more mismatches in the tournament.

Now, the key match today was the match between New Zealand and pre-tournament second favourites South Africa. South Africa had lost to the West Indies a week ago, and needed to win this match to get back into the tournament. New Zealand so far had beaten the West Indies but had lost to Sri Lanka. Given that New Zealand have said they will not play their match scheduled in Kenya for safety reasons, then New Zealand needed to win the game to stay in the tournament.

When South Africa scored a superb 6/306 off their 50 overs, largely due to 143 runs scored by Hershelle Gibbs, the situation looked pretty hopeless for New Zealand. However, New Zealand went for the runs and played superbly, particularly New Zealand's captain Stephen Fleming. The game was delayed with New Zealand 1/182 off 30.2 overs. The target was then revised to New Zealand requiring 226 from 39 overs, which New Zealand managed with ease, ending up with 1/229 off 36.5 overs. Fleming managed 134 not out, in my mind the innings of the tournament so far. Some might say that New Zealand's task was made easier by the Duckworth Lewis method being used to revise the target, but frankly I don't think so. Quite honestly a side that has scored 1/229 off 36.5 overs is certainly on target for 307 off 50 overs.

I saw the end of the game, and what I was most struck by was the tactics of South Africa in the field. After the rain delay, New Zealand needed less than a run a ball to win. South African captaincy Shaun Pollock put all his fieldsmen on the boundary. Why he did this I do not know, as this simply allowed the batsmen to score singles at will, and put no pressure at all on them. It was simply a gift of the game to New Zealand. A sensible strategy would have involved trying to take wickets and not giving away singles. The one vital thing that South Africa required was the wicket of Fleming, and after a rain delay it may have taken him a couple of overs to get his eye in again. But they didn't even try. Setting an attacking field might have meant that New Zealand hit a few boundaries and then won the game quickly, but it was South Africa's only chance, and they didn't take it. Stephen Fleming is acknowledged by almost everyone to be one of the best (in my mind probably the best) captains in the game. Today he showed that he is an outstanding batsman as well. South African captain Shaun Pollock on the other hand demonstrated that he is the worst international captain I have ever seen. South Africa's previous captain Hansie Cronje had an occasional tendency to lose matches in return for being paid large sums of money by Bombay bookmakers, but he at least knew what he was doing. Pollock has no idea at all, and needs to be sacked as soon as possible.

As for the tournament, it is possible to deduce a fair amount about which teams will proceed to the Super Six stage from Group B. Assuming that New Zealand doesn't get beaten by Canada or anything like that, the West Indies are now certain of a place. New Zealand would be certain of a place if they were willing to play in Kenya, but as it is must wait out other results. Still, however, they and Sri Lanka are very likely to be the other teams.

The only way that South Africa can now make the Super Six stage is for both them and the West Indies to beat Sri Lanka, and for South Africa to end up with a better net run rate than either New Zealand or Sri Lanka. This is a very tall order. Much more likely is that South Africa will be the third host team in four World Cups to fail to get past the first round of the tournament. (Australia in 1992 and England in 1999 being the other two).

(If you want to know how I have reached the above conclusions, the details are here).

As for group A, Australia are now certain to make the Super Six stage. There haven't been enough matches between India, Pakistan and England for me to have any idea yet which of these teams will make it.

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