Sunday, April 01, 2007

Things remain predictable

Ian Chappell has a piece on Cricinfo in which he decries the way in which apparently good sides seem to be falling away from the leaders, and in which he argues that Australia and New Zealand are the only two sides still looking good, and that there is therefore a good chance that those two sides will meet in the final.

I don't really disagree with any of this. An Australia v New Zealand final is very possible, and I am certainly disappointed with the performances of the West Indies and England (and for that matter Pakistan and Inida) in this tournament. Chappell is critical of the South African batting against Sri Lanka and their bowling against Australia, and also by the Sri Lankan top order batting against South Africa. These are fair criticisms, but they are only about one or two matches (or parts of matches). It would be foolish to write off either Sri Lanka or South Africa at this point. All either side needs to do is make the semi-finals (which is looking pretty easy for both) and then win two matches. And the strengths of both sides are considerable.

As it happened, Sri Lanka's top order batted well against the West Indies today. Sri Lanka lost Tharanga and Sangakkara early to be 2/35, but Jayasuriya and Jayawardene then batted superbly, putting on nearly 200 as Jayasuriya scored 115 and Jayawardene (who, incidentally and very well deservedly is named one of the five cricketers of the year in the new Wisden) 82. At 2/218 off 34.4 overs, a score of 330 or 340 was possible, but Sri Lanka were pegged back perhaps a little and ended up with 5/303 after Dilshan hit 39 off 22 balls at the end.

The way the West Indies have been batting, that was likely to be plenty, and so it turned out. The West Indies lost Gayle, Bravo and Lara quite quickly and it was 3/42 off 10.1 overs. After that they were never really in it, and although Chanderpaul (76) and Sarwan (44) put on 92 for the fourth wicket they were a very long way below the Sri Lankan run rate and they were only adding respectability. Once they were out, any respectability went quickly, as wickets tumbled and the West Indies were all out for 190, a third consecutive pathetic defeat for the West Indies with Sri Lanka winning by 113 runs. Wickets were shared around, but Malinga took the two important wickets of Gayle and Chanderpaul. His form is important. He is a bowler who can rapidly turn around a match the way Brett Lee can for Australia when he is playing. (It is such a shame that he isn't).

The table looks like this.
Super 8PlayedWonLostTied/NRPtsNet RR
Sri Lanka321042.069
New Zealand220040.982
England 211020.047
South Africa21102-0.714
West Indies41302-1.177

Sri Lanka will take heart at this after their lacklustre performance against South Africa. This was a good win. On the other hand, the West Indies remain dreadful. They will still likely (but not definitely) make the semi-finals if they can defeat South Africa, Bangladesh and England. This is an easier combination of opponents than Australia, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka, but on presently form their chances of winning all three games do not look good. Their next game is not until April 10, so they do have time to regroup, but oh boy do they need to regroup.

We are in fact only a quarter of the way through the Super Eights - six games have been played. However, the semi-finals almost seem settled, with Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa lookings odds on to be the four semi-finalists. The one proviso is that England and South Africa have each only played one Super Eight game, and each have two points. (It would have been more interesting if Sri Lanka had got that last wicket against South Africa, because in that case South Africa would really be playing catchup, albeit with weaker opposition in front of them than behind them). The expectation is that South Africa will get well ahead of England on the basis of form and ability, not on presently positions on the table. If South Africa could unexpectedly lose a game or England unepectedly win one, then things could be interesting. I stress could, because in truth I doubt it.
In the short terms, this would require England to upset Sri Lanka on Wednesday, and I can't see that.

New Zealand v Bangladesh in Antigua tomorrow. New Zealand are making all the correct noises about not taking Sri Lanka lightly, but I can't see the game being remotely close. New Zealand are not going to let their guard down, and Bangladesh are not good enough to beat them if they do not.

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