Saturday, March 31, 2007

Austtralia continue on their way

As Scott wrote, England did what was necessary (ie they won) against Ireland yesterday, but they could not be said to have been impressive. A similar situation was never likely between Australia and Bangladesh today. Australia look too focused and too disciplined to give Bangladesh a break.

Due to a lot of overnight rain, the outfield in Antigua was drenched, and a lot of work to dry the outfield was necessary before any play was possible. No play was possible until well after the scheduled interval, and eventually when play started the game had been reduced to 22 overs a side. By the eight over mark, Bangladesh had lost four wickets for 37, and after that Bangladesh just eked out runs to survive the full 22 overs, ending up with 6/104 off their 50 overs, with Saqibul Hasan and Mashrafe Mortaza and Habibul Bashar scoring most of the runs between then with about 25 each. McGrath was the most successful bowler with 3/16. His second wicket of Aftab Ahmed took him past Wasim Akram to make him the highest wicket taker in World Cup cricket.

Australia got the runs with ease, and with ten wickets remaining. Gilchrist score 59 off 44 balls with eight fours and a six, and Hayden 47 off 39 with three fours and three sixes. This only took the Autstralians 13.5 overs, and the win win was the easiest imaginable. Bangladesh shouldn't take this too hard - in their present mood Australia are doing it to everybody - and will hopefully show fight in their upcoming games. That said, they have a rough patch, as their next two games are against New Zealand next Monday and then South Africa next Saturday. (They should find their final three games after that against England, Ireland and the West Indies easier going).

Australia on the other hand now have a bit of a break - their next game is against England on Easter Sunday April 8. I think they have earned a couple of days rest.

Tomorrow we have West Indies v Sri Lanka. A West Indian victory in this would open the tournament up a lot, but on recent form I really can't see it. Sri Lanka to win that one easily.
On this showing, England won't be in the semi-finals

England played Ireland last night in the Super 8's and although they did enough to win, they did not do enough to convince me, and I suspect others, that they will progress any further in the tournament.

To my eyes, it did not seem like an established international team taking on a minnow- for large swathes of the game, it seemed like a meeting of equals. Bangladesh will take a lot of heart from England's inability to rise to the occasion. England will no doubt say that they did enough to win, and that is true. But there was nothing in their performance to suggest that they'll give the slightest trouble to the 'big four' emerging- South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand.

What was wrong was simply a lack of 'big-match' intensity in England's performance, except for Collingwood at the end of England's innings and Flintoff's at the end of Ireland's innings. It was an underwhelming performance by England and they'll have to work much harder if they are to challenge Sri Lanka next week.

Ireland on the other hand once again put in a performance that was greater then the sum of its parts, although Niall O'Brien's 63 was a great knock. There might be a few more Irish surprises in this World Cup yet.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I hate to say it, but the West Indies are dreadful

I was perhaps a little too hard on the Sri Lankans yesterday. They made a few mistakes, and were outplayed and lost the game, but at least they showed some fight. If one ball from Malinga had been ever so slightly differently aimed, they would have won.

The contrast with today was really striking. The West Indies batted first in similar conditions to those on which Australia scored 322 on Tuesday. As one expects from New Zealand, the bowling was tight and the fielding was good. And the West Inides just succumbed to this. Bond took 3/31. Oram 3/23. Vettori 3/39. Lara hung in for a bit, but didn't get going, and the rest of the side just got out to terrible shot selection and a complete lack of discipline. Gayle 44 and Lara 37 were the only batsmen who got 20. The West Indies got a lousy 177, and there was no way this was enough.
New Zealand lost Fulton to the second ball of the innings, but that was the most joy that the West Indians got. To insipid bowling from the West Indians, New Zealand carefully and slowly got the runs. Fleming got 45, McMillan 33 no out and Styris 80 not out. The Australian couple in the pub where I was watching the game were critical of the New Zealanders for not scoring the runs faster, but I wasn't. New Zealand want to get the points, and not slip up. They did that. New Zealand won, easily, by seven wickets. Solid performance by New Zealand. Terrible performance by the West Indies. Bangladesh will be fancying their chances against the West Indies if they continue to play like this.

The table looks like this.
Super 8PlayedWonLostTied/NRPtsNet RR
New Zealand220040.982
Sri Lanka211021.972
South Africa21102-0.714
West Indies31202-0.783

It is likely that eights points will be needed to make the semi finals, although this is not certain. (It is actually possible for sides to score as many as ten points and miss out, but it requires very unusual circumstances for a side to score nine or more points and miss out. Eights points and missing out is quite conceivable, but still not all that likely. Similarly depending on other results it is possible for sides to qualify for the semi-finals with as few as four points, but this would require freak results. Six or seven points and a good run-rate might be enough, but no side can rely on this). Australia and New Zealand still have to play both Bangladesh and Ireland, and as both will have little difficulty beating those two sides on present form, one has to say it is very unlikely that either Australia or New Zealand will miss out on the semi-finals. The West Indies, Bangladesh, and Ireland are unlikely to make the semi-finals, so we essentially have three sides (Sri Lanka, South Africa, and England) in the hunt for the other two spots. England have not been impressive so far but have done enough. (Of course, three days ago this was also true of the West Indies). My money is still on Sri Lanka and South Africa, but a couple of good performances from England and they are in the semi-finals. And from there, who knows.

The next few days do not in truth look very interesting. England play Ireland tomorrow, and while as an Australian I would love to see an upset, it is unlikely. Australia play Bangladesh on Saturday, and the way Australia are playing at the moment I really cannot see Bangladesh getting close. On Sunday the West Indies play Sri Lanka. On present form, the West Indies will get destroyed, but if there was to be an upset it would put a cat amongst the pigeons and Sri Lanka, England, the West Indies would be frantically struggling for the last semi-final place. On Monday Bangladesh play New Zealand, and New Zealand should be too good (although go Bangladesh). Ireland play South Africa on Tuesday, which should be an easy win for the South Africans. It is not until England v Sri Lanka next Wednesday that we get something that promises to be a good game. Still, we can hope that something interesting happens between now and then.

On the other hand, if England, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and South Africa win the games up to Tuesday, the table looks like this.

Super 8PlayedWonLostTied/NRPtsNet RR
New Zealand33006-
Sri Lanka32104-
South Africa32104-
West Indies41302-

If Sri Lanka are then able to beat England on Wednesday, then we have a pretty clear situation of four likely semi-finalists and an uphill battle for other sides to challenge them. If England can win that, the last couple of spots will be much more open.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A fairly dull conclusion to one game, and something remarkable in another

Firstly, a piece of cricketing terminology. A "hat trick" is well known. This is when a bowler takes three wickets with three consecutive balls. These seem to be one in a career things in test criket for great bowlers. Shane Warne took one in test cricket. Glenn McGrath took one in test cricket. In one day international cricket they are a little more common as towards the end of the innings batsmen are more concerned with scoring runs than not getting out. However, they are still considered quite rare ans special when they happen.

A less well known piece of terminology is a "double hat trick". A first thought is that this might mean six wickets from six balls, but in fact it means four wickets from four consecutive balls. The "double" comes from the fact that four wickets in four balls contains two hat tricks, one with the first, second, and third balls, and one with the second, third, and fourth balls. As of this morning, nobody had ever taken a double hat trick in international cricket, although a very small number had happened in first class cricket.

But, back to that later. Firstly, today's cricket. The West Indies started their innings in Antigua today requiring 323 to beat Australia. It had rained overnight and the moisture in the air led to speculation that the ball would swing pretty much from the start. Thinking of Shaun Tait's successful inswingers against the South Africans on Saturday made us think that the West Indian batsmen might be in trouble.

And so it happened. McGrath and Tait got movement. Chanderpaul, Gayle, and Samuels were all out with only 20 runs on the board. Somehow that took them ten overs. (Part of the somehow was tight fielding and bowling from Australia, of course). Sarwan and Lara dug in, but the run rate required was fairly quickly qpproaching ten an over. The strategy seemed to be to stick in until about the 35th over, and then hope that Lara could find a really purple patch. It really would have had to have been something to even match Hayden's purple patch of the previous day, and it was always a really long shot. Lara stayed in, but lost Sarwan and Bravo along the way. At 5/132 in the 33rd over, Lara understood it was time, and went after Brad Hogg, in particular hitting a big six over long off. It was crunch time.

However, Hogg was as canny as always, and bowled an accurate ball with plenty of air in the next over, that hit the inside of Lara's pad right in front as he was trying to sweep. Lara was out LBW. For all practical purposes that was it. Hogg did almost exactly the same thing to Smith an over later - he was hit for six and then immediately bowled a good one and took the wicket, again lbw. Hogg is so good in these situations.

At that point the West Indians did not know whether to defend of attack pointlessly, and despite a solid 52 from wicket keeper Ramdin, they surrended the rest of their wickets fairly feebly to be all out for 219 off 45.3 overs. Australia won by an extremely convinving 103 runs. There is not much to say. The West Indies were never really in it. They were not impressive. Right now they do not look like making much of a challenge for the tournament. Thanks to scheduling and the rain delay, tomorrow will be the third day in a row that they have to play. They really need a win against New Zealand to get some confidence back.

Australia on the other hand were very impressive. Tait and Hogg bowled well again, Australia's fielding was good, and the batting was great yesterday. Hayden's batting was awesome. Australians were not certain whether to play him in this tournament, but we are now glad they did. Symonds needs still to spend more time in the middle - I might be tempted to bat him at three or four in one of the next games to give him a little time to get his eye in. Hussey similarly could use some runs, but it is probably to early to yet say he is out of form. The truth though is that Australia's batting is spectacular, and the bowling and feeling is better than I expected, and much better than I feared it might be.

In the other game, I was thinking positive things about Sri Lanka's chances, but they did not start well. Tharanga, Jayasuriya, Jayawardene, Sangakkara and went, and it was 5/98 off 24.3 overs. It was possible that they could have lost their remaining wickets and really suffered embarrassment, but Dilshan and Arnold both scored 50s, and took Sri Lanka to 5/195 off 45.5 overs. At that point, Sri Lanka should have got the score to about 230, which in tricky conditions would have been reasonable. However, Sri Lanka played the last five overs extremely badly. Dilshan and Arnold both got out attempting to push the run rate. This can happen, but the players who come in then have a responsibility to not waste the good work. That means under no circumstances get all out, and keep the scoreboard ticking over. Instead the remaining Sri Lankans attempted to do things like the first ball they faced for six, and thus get caught in the outfield first ball. Scoring three singles and then attempting to hit a six would have been much smarter, but there was none of this. Sri Lanka were all out after 49.3 overs for 209, having scored little more than ten runs in the last four overs. It was a waste of a good recovery, and at that point I was disappointed - Sri Lanka do not appear to be as canny a side as I thought.

South Africa lost de Villers in the first over, but after that Smith, Kallis, and then Gibbs appeared to be cruising to the target. South Africa took the score to 2/160 off 32 overs. At that point, I was talking on the phone to Brian Micklethwait. As we spoke, Muralitharan took two wickets in two balls to reduce the score to 4/160. He didn't complete the hat trick, and Brian and I both thought that it didn't matter and South Africa would win still win easily. Slightly prophetically I said that it would require something remarkable, like "Muralitharan now taking a hat trick" (in addition to those wickets) for Sri Lanka to win.

It didn't initially appear to happen. Kemp got out a little later to take it to 5/182, but there was plenty of time and it still looked easy enough. However, Malinga was bowling. Malinga is a wonderful bowler to watch when on his day. He has a Jeff Thomson like slingshot action, and although he ocasionally sprays it around, he is very fast and very hard to play when on his game.

However, at 5/106 with four needed to win, this did not seem to matter. Malinga removed both Kallis and Hall to really good fast yorkers with the last two balls of the 45th over. This was impressive, but the interest was still really whether the game would finish in the 46th over to deny him the chance to go for his hat trick in the 47th. It didn't, and Kallis faced in on the hat trick ball. Kallis went for a square drive, nicked it and was caught behind. That hat trick was taken, but there were only three runs needed and two wickets and three overs to go. This probably the moment when the South Africans got nervous. Malinga, amazingly, bowled the next ball This was yet another screaming yorker and Ntini was bowled first ball. Malinga had taken the first double hat trick in the history of international cricket.

South Africa could suddenly lose it. It still required another wicket though. If the South Africans could avoid this, then they would get the runs and win. Malinga had to take another wicket. He almost did, his next ball just missing the stumps. I am so sorry he didn't do it, because a triple hat trick to win a match from an impossible position would have been one of the great moments in one day cricket. Langevelt (who, I think, has one of the best names in world cricket) survived the over, and he and Peterson got the runs and got South Africa home. For some stupid reason (well, for taking 5/39) Langevelt was given the man of the match award. Sometimes it should be given to a player from the losing side, and this actually was one of those times. This game will be remembered for Malinga's double hat trick and his bowling, and it should have been given to him

Still, South Africa won by one wicket with ten balls to spare. In truth, South Africa will take more from this game from Sri Lanka. South Africa were on top for the whole game except for five minutes at the end. Their bowling was good, and their top order was pretty good too. Sri Lanka did not look well organised when batting or bowling. The fact that they got back into it speaks well of them, and having a fine bowler like Malinga in form is good, but their canniness and ability to graft a win looks worse after today than it did before.

In truth though, both sides showed weakness. As these are the second and third favourites in the tournament and I am an Australian, I thought it was a very positive day.
Michael Jennings Cricket quote of the day

Definitely no one will be going for autographs any more.

-Bangladesh cricket captain Habibal Bashar displays a new level of toughness about his country's cricket as they try to shake the 'minnow' tag.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The rain in Antigua ruins my evening

As I thought might happen this morning, the winner of the toss in the game between the West Indies and Australia did indeed choose to send the opposition in. It may have been that Brian Lara wanted to see how the pitch behaved for someone else before his side attempted to bat on it, or it may just have been that he thought that Australia have a weakness defening targets, but in any event Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden found thmeselves batting at 2.30pm this afternoon London time, whatever the time may have been in Antigua. The batsmen got off to a middling start: Gilchrist got and edge and was out cheaply, and Ponting was okay (although still perhaps a little below his best) before being brilliantly run out by Ramnaresh Sarwan for 35. Clarke looked okay for 41, and Symonds and Hussey didn't do that much, being out for 9 and 13 respectively. Hussey hasn't really found form yet in this tournament, and Symonds is recovering from an injury. Both of them could do with some time in the middle.

However, Hayden stayed in, and accumulated runs. He wasn't really quick about it, but was not especially slow either. Australia seemed headed for about 300 - with the possibility of more if someone got hitting - until about the 42 over mark. At that point Hayden really got his eye in, hitting two sixes and a four during the 45th over, and two fours and a six off the 46th. At that point Australia had 5/284 with four overs to go, and Hayden was 152 not out. If Hayden could follow up those two overs with four more in which he kept the strike to end the innings, Australia would be around 360 at the end, and Hayden would be close to one of the holy grails of cricket - the first double century in one day international cricket. It would be in a serious match against serious opposition in the World Cup, and on a reasonably large ground. A 200 will be scored by somebody eventually, and a circumstance like this would be good for it.

Unfortunately, it then started raining. The players went off. The game was not shortened, but it was about 20 minutes before the players came back on again. Unfortunately Hayden's timing was not quite what it was before he went off. He cut the first ball for four, whereas before the break he would have hit it for six. The first ball of the next over he tried to hit for six over long off. Again, before he went off he would have succeeded, but trying to hit the ball for six over long off is a risky shot when there is a player fielding at long off, and Hayden was caught by Samuels off Bravo. Make no mistake, it was a really outstanding innings from Hayden, but it wasn't far from being an innings of legend, so the rain break was a shame.

Watson again demonstrated the ability to play shots bother powerful and clever in the final stages, and although there were no more sixes he scored a number of fours. Australia ended up with 6/322 off 50 overs. In truth this was an excellent score, although I think the rain delay actually cost them twenty to forty runs.

And that was it for the day. The rain fell again, and although there were various attempts to get the West Indian innings started, none of them succeeded. At one point it looked like they would just get on the field in time, and the chase would be reduced to a frantic 20 over scramble. (WestIndies would have needed 163 from 20 overs).

As it happens, the game is still a full 50 over match, and the West Indies need 323 off 50 overs tomorrow to win the match. The pitch is good to bat on, but the ground is large and the boundaries are long. In my mind, the West Indies need something special from Brian Lara to win it. I don't think the other players are quite good enough. This all assumes that Australia's much tighter and improved bowling from the other night at least partly remains. I think it will. Australia's problems stemmed at least partly from selection errors and, mercifully, selection now seems pretty right.

In any event, come back to check the accuracy of my predictions tomorrow, as well as South Africa versus Sri Lanka in Guyana. Are Sri Lanka as I think they might be? Assuming there is no more rain, we will have a better idea by this time tomorrow.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Super Eight begins with three big games

Tomorrow, Australia takes on the West Indies in Antigua. Australia come fresh off their fine win against South Africa, and will be on a high. West Indies have perhaps been less impressive in the tournament so far, but they won all three games in the first round and carried two points over into the Super Eight, so they did none the less do everything that was asked of them. I think the cricketing world would love a home win in this tournament, and I wouldn't mind it myself. However, I none the less do not want them to beat us. Similarly, while I would like to see Brian Lara batting at his best in the tournament, I would once again prefer he did it against South Africa, or perhaps England. However, if he did it against us, I wouldn't mind too much. There are few things in cricket that are finer to watch than Brian Lara at his best.

I do not know what the pitch in Antigua is going to be like, and I do not know what a good score is going to be. It is possible that Ponting does not really know either. Threfore I think it might be a game in which the captain who wins the toss might elect to bat second. None the less, both sides have stronger batting than bowling, so the side that does bat first may well have a chance to score a big total. It will be interesting to see what happens.

On Wednesday, South Africa take on Sri Lanka in Guyana. South Africa were steadily firming second favouries until their loss to Australia on Saturday, when they eased a bit. Sri Lanka are now given shorter odds than South Africa, and have looked hungry and disciplined in the tournament so far. We shall see if South Africa can fight back, but my money is on Sri Lanka. If Sri Lanka can win this one, South Africa will have to then win four out of five to make the semi-finals, so it is looking like they will need to concentrate.

On Thursday, West Indies take on New Zealand, again in Antigua. New Zealand unfortunately will be missing Lou Vincent, who is out of the tournament after breaking his wrist in training, which is very bad luck for him and New Zealand. (His tournament so far was inconsistent - two ducks and a century. I am sure he would have liked to have had a chance to decide on the field whether he was having a good or bad tournament). Shane Bond versus Brian Lara could be an interesting duel. West Indies have the power to overwhelm New Zealand, but New Zealand have the niggling players and tactical skills to take advantage of any ill discipline or casual cricket on the part of the West Indies. Should be an interesting game.

If the West Indies lose both games, I think the case that they were flattered by winning their group and carrying points over into the Super Eight would be a strong one. If they can win at least one of the two games, things will be going well for them.
Making the pitch

One of the interesting factors in the group phases was the differences in the pitch conditions in the four venues that games have been played at so far. And as you would expect, the games have reflected those conditions.

Basically you can divide the groups into two- in Jamaica, the Sabina Park wicket was green and seamy, and offered plenty to the bowlers early on. The Queens Park Oval in Trinidad did not offer quite so much, but the prevailing weather conditions conspired to give bowlers plenty of assistance.

Whereas at St. Lucia and especially St. Kitts, there was little to assist the bowlers, just a flat pitch and short boundaries.

This was reflected in the results; there were big upsets in Jamaica, where Ireland were able to scrounge a tie against Zimbabwe, and to beat Pakistan. Meanwhile, Bangladesh were able to bowl wonderfully well in Trinidad to knock over a lazy Indian team, which has seen them eliminated from the tournament.

But in the batting friendly conditions of St. Lucia and St. Kitts, there has not been a sniff of an upset. The Test nations went through and the minnows were duly hammered.

The ICC and ground authorities world-wide are deluded into thinking that because crowds want to see lots of boundaries that flat tracks are the way to go. But what spectators really want to see are tight, exciting finishes, and you need helpful bowling tracks for that. Consider Australia vs South Africa the other day. South Africa were in the hunt for half of their innings, but once they lost a couple of wickets, they fell away and were beaten by 83 runs. In ODI terms, 83 runs is a fairly large margain. Had the match been played in fairer conditions, it might have gone right down to the wire.

But in the Super Eight phase, the matches move to Antigua and Guyana, and into brand new grounds. New grounds mean new pitches, which is good news, as new pitches are rarely batsmen friendly. I am hoping that we can still see some upsets in this stage of the tournament, and lots of close results ahead.
England poor – Flintoff – empty seats – South Africa lose momentum - lots of TV sets – England poor at soccer too

This is not Michael or Scott, this is Brian Micklethwait, guest posting at Michael's about the cricket, from a non-Oz, London point of view.

I've been sitting in my kitchen in London, keeping track of the scores on Ceefax (never mind) during the day if I'm at home, and then watching and hard discing the highlights on BBC1 TV, at around midnight. Most of the latest show was padding, a lot of repetitious stuff about Scotland and Ireland and all those sixes that Herschelle Gibbs hit off that Dutch guy, again, with a lot of archive video of Sobers, again. And in among that, there was the Bangladesh Bermuda game that Michael has already described. There was hardly anything about India, which is the real story of this game. Couldn't we have had video of agonised Indians in Mumbai, watching appalled as the Bermudans dropped the catches that would have made it Bangladesh four or five down and wobbly, instead of three and cruising?

So anyway, aside from the Bob Woolmer murder mystery and resulting controversy (apart from that Mrs Lincoln ...?) what else do I notice about this Cricket World Cup?

First things first. England look very ropey, with the recent ODI success against Australia in Australia looking more and more of an Australian aberration as the days go by. But, in ODI knock out tournaments, good sides can look very good, right up to the bit where they get knocked out by a side that looked rather poor until then. That, after all, is what happened to Australia in Australia. I hope England can do well, but to do well they will have to do much better.

I hated all the grovelling that Flintoff had to do, after going out on a bender. Okay it was a bit stupid and all that, but being a sportsman is like being a sort of paid child, and I expect childishness from these people, some of them anyway. Sober citizens like Michael Vaughan, who play cricket the way Chartered Accountants do whatever it is they do to accounts, are sober citizens off the field also and to go to bed sober, at their proper bedtime. But Flintoff? He's a boy-man if ever there was one, like Ian Botham before him. And now he's in the West Indies. Of course he would drag some of his friends out with him to try some of the local tipples at the first possible opportunity, and then want to have a go on a bicycle boat.

As so often with World Cups of all kinds, a TV viewer like me can't help notice how few of the locals are bothering to turn up to watch the games. Given how important TV is in all this, can't the TV people buy up the spare tickets and give them away, preferably to young and pretty people, maybe even paying them or otherwise bribing them to show up and fill all those swathes of empty plastic seats? Maybe the locals have already bought all tickets, but then they only show up towards the end, after work, if it looks like it's a good game.

The Australia South Africa (oops wrong link) game was the first one to really get my attention. As Michael has already written here, he witnessed the conclusion of that game in a South African London bar. I was with him there for a while, just when the South African innings was fatally losing its momentum. This showed, I think, how important it is for an ODI batting side, once it is going well, to go on going well. A couple of wickets and everything can change in a blink. From being set fair to get three hundred, they can suddenly be struggling to get over two hundred. Or in this case they can be half way to nearly four hundred with only one wicket down, and still lose by a hundred.

I don't usually watch sport in bars, and I was struck by the sheer number of TV sets there were in this one, even little ones at each of the little tables in the corridor where we watched it, not just big screens in the big bar areas. Cheap flatscreen TVs is what this is all about. Remember those how the first pub TVs used to lean precariously out into the room, to accommodate the bulges behind them. Those days are long gone.

Most of sport-gawping London's attention on Saturday night seemed to be on the Israel England soccer game, which I ignored, sensing tedium and disappointment. I was not wrong. (England are not the same without Beckham, a greatly underrated individual in my opinion.) Before we watched the South Africa game, Michael and I had tried another place where they were showing England versus Kenya, the end of the Kenya innings. But then they switched to the soccer. I should have known, what with the brain-dead chanting that fat blokes in T-shirts had already started doing: Ing! Ger! Land! Ing! Ger! Land! I hate that.

Just looking at the readership stats, I see I have a reader in Saint George Basseterre, Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis. I would like to hope that Ricky Ponting is a regular reader, but I suspect he probably isn't. Anyway, hello, whoever you are. If you got to see Australia v South Africa live, I am very jealous.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Super Eight is Settled

The final match in the first round occurred today, when Bangladesh played Bermuda. Bangladesh needed to win, draw, or tie this match to make the Super Eight. If they failed, India would rather improbably go through. However, that was never likely. The game was, however, repeatedly delayed by rain. In the end, after a number of delays the game was reduced to 21 overs per side. Bermuda scored 9/94 off 21 overs. Abdur Razzak took 3/20 for Bangladesh, but wickets were shared around. Thanks to the subtle (but completely fair) details of the Duckworth Lewis rule, Bangladesh were required to score 96 off 21 overs to win. This was never going to be difficult, but chases of this nature almost always have a hiccup or two along the way, and this was no exception. Mukuddem took three wickets for Bermuda, the score was 3/37, everyone got nervous in the Bangladesh dressing room, and then.....

And then Bangladesh cruised home. Saqibul Hasan and Mohammad Ahraful scored 26 not out and 29 not out respectively. Bangladesh won by seven wickets with 3.3 overs remaining. Bangladesh qualified for the Super Eight, with much apparent joy in the Bangladesh dressing room. Bangladesh are delighted to make the Super Eight, and I am sure quite amused that they have done better than either India or Pakistan. Their task now is to win at least a couple of their remaining six games. If they go home having beaten Ireland and one other side in the Super Eight, and are able to finish sixth (or similar) in the World Cup, they would go home with their heads high and it genuinely would be a job well done.

I haven't discussed India's elimination on this blog in cricketing terms. I may (or may not) discuss this tomorrow, which is (thankfully) a rest day in the tournament. The main story from their last game was continues fine form from Sri Lanka, who are now rated second favourites (after Australia) by bookmakers to win the tournament. This is fair - they are clearly a real chance. And England have won the games they were supposed to (finishing with yesterday's easy victory over Kenya) to go through to the second round. England haven't been especially impressive and I do not expect them to make the semi-finals, but they have done what was necessary so far. When you consider that both Pakistan and India were unable to do what was necessary, and that England failed to get to the second round in either of the last two World Cups, then they must be given at least some credit for achieving this.

But here we have it. The Super Eight consists of Sri Lanka, Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, England, Ireland, South Africa, and Bangladesh. After points and run rates are carried over, they are in that order on the table. The carrying over of points into the Super Eight has worked well this time. I doubt anyone thinks that the present table positions are unfair. At the start of the tournament I predicted that South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and India would make the semi-finals. Those predictions are looking good except for the fact that India have been eliminated from the tournament. Australia are the obvious side to substitute into my semi-final predictions.
The Super Eight seems settled, and I may have regained faith in the Australian team.

About 18 months ago, I started to get worried about the Australian one day team. There was nothing wrong with the batting - when you have Gilchrist, Ponting, Hussey, and Symonds in the team, and people like Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke, and Simon Katich in the second list, you have nothing much to complain about. However, the bowling worried me. I have mixed feelings about Brett Lee as a test bowler, but in one day cricket, he is a terrific finisher. The side batting second can be four or five down and looking like getting the target, and two or three fast yorkers from him and the game is over. However, the rest of the bowling looked tepid. Glenn McGrath was coming to the end of a great career. And beyond that Australia was playing a series of tepid seam bowlers in the middle order. Opposition batting lineups were slowly figuring this out. This came to a head in my mind against New Zealand in Wellington in December 2005, when Australia allowed New Zealand to score 320 and 322 in consecutive matches batting second. Australia won that series, and (largely through batting strength kept winning that season, but they always looked shakey in the middle overs batting second. In Johannesburg later that season they did (famously) manage the extraordinary feat of failing to defend 434. My mind is still boggling at that one. (That said, I know no cricket fan whose mind is not.

Again though, Australia seemed to recover, winning a One Day Series in Malaysia, the Champions Trophy, and seeming to be just fine until half way through the CB series in Australia in January. However, they still wobbled in the middle overs when attempting to defend targets. I was not convinced, and my expectation was that they would go into the World Cup full of confidence, be found out horribly, and then bomb out of it. There seemed a complete lack of appreciation of the problems in the Australian camp, with comments being made about Australia wishing for "more fight from the opposition", and the bowling balance being completely wrong. I continued telling anyone who would listen that I thought Australia would not win the World Cup.

And then Australia were found out early, or so it appeared, losing three times to England at the end of the CB series to lose the tournament, and then losing 3-0 horrendously to New Zealand in the Chappell Hadlee trophy, by ten wickets and then failing to defend 336 and 346 in consecutive matches. All my fears had been confirmed, and Australia were not much of a chance. At the start of the tournament when I previewed the sides on this blog, I predicted Australia to miss the semi-finals. I didn't really believe that - a colleague at work asked me to actually put money on the prediction and I declined - but my expectation was that some other side would eliminate Australia quickly in a semi-final. And that may still happen.

But the tournament started oddly. India and Pakistan either bombed out or appeared in great risk of doing so. The competition was less. Australia and South Africa defeated lesser opposition easily. Anticipation was high for yesterday's match. The game was on the small ground at St Kitts. Given the batting strength of the two sides and the quality of the pitch, big scores were expected. Presumably betting on Australia's reputation of being unable to defend, South African captain Graeme Smith won the toss and sent Australia in. Australia came out of the blocks firing. Matthew Hayden seems to have finally figured out how to play one day cricket, and he and Adam Gilchrist came out of the blocks firing, putting on 106 in 14.5 overs for the first wicket. Hayden then went on with it, scoring the fastest century in World Cup history before he was out and it was 2/167 after 23.3 overs. At that point 400 was on, and I thought that was needed, but the South African bowlers and fieldsmen then did a good job of containing the Australians. It seems remarkable to say that when they ultimately scores 377, but the boundaries largely dried up after about 35 overs. Ponting was sluggish by his standards. Michael Clarke at times played shots that demonstrated why the amounts of hype that accompanies his arrival to the word stage were so large, and played the odd stupid shot and was luck that a couple of catches were dropped. But he generally played well for 92 off 75 balls to accompany Ponting's 91 off 91. Australia really needed one of those players to hit sixes in the last five overs, but it just didn't happen. They both got out, and Symonds came in briefly, played a couple of shots that demonstrated that he will be fine by the semi-finals (in injury recovery terms) and then got out. Hussey came and went, and Watson came in and played a few nice shots, but nobody really boosted the run rate. The last ten overs did not feature much of an acceleration. I thought Australia were 30 to 50 runs short of what they needed. It is a remarkable change in one day cricket that a side can score 6/377 off 50 overs and I can think this, but I did and do.

South Africa came out to bat, and South Africa scored 154 for no wicket off the first 20 overs. All my worst fears were confirmed. Australia couldn't defend anything. There was a brief respite when de Villiers was run out for 92 off 70 balls thanks to a great direct hit from the outfield from Shane Watson. At the time I felt a certain feeling or irony ("Our bowlers *still* can't take a wicket") but it was crucial. Kallis came in and started slowly. Smith kept going full ahead. I was watching the game in the Springbok Bar in Covent Garden (which was one of the few bars in London with no England football supporters in it and where the main game was the cricket) and the crowd was happy, cheering every four.

However, Kallis batting slowly mattered, because he didn't accelerate. Smith had to retire hurt with a cramp, and suddenly the runs stopped. Australia's fielding was excellent, and the bowling was suddenly tight. The required run rate started to move upwards. If this happens for a few overs this doesn't matter as much as some people think - a few sixes will bring it back down again - but the target was 378. That was still a lot. South Africa managed half the required score off 25 overs for the loss of only one wicket, but the second half suddenly looked a lot harder. Without Smith, Kallis' slow scoring suddenly mattered. Brad Hogg was on. Brad Hogg was bowling well. Some fine work from Hogg and Gilchrist had Gibbs stumped, McGrath had Prince caught shortly afterwards, and suddenly Australia was on top. Shaun Tait came on, and the ball started swinging. The fielding remained tight and the runs didn't restart. The South Africans tried to boost the run-rate, and rather than doing so wickets tumbled. Boucher and Kemp went to fine inswingers from Tait. Kallis didn't get out, but didn't score runs either, and the South African crowd in the bar started to savagely criticise him. Smith came back at a moment where fast runs were needed, and just got out to Hogg. At that point South Africa gave up, and batted on for a little as Australia cleaned up the tail. South Africa all out 294. Australia won by 83 runs. The South African supporters switched in about 30 minutes from cheering loudly and intently to savagely attacking their own players, wondering why South Africans were such chokers, and announcing how terrible it was to have one side winning all the time. If the players' confidence is as fragile as the fans, South Africa will not have much chance of winning the tournament.

From Australia's point of view, I couldn't help but be much more positive. The messing around with tepid medium-pacers has perhaps been fixed in time. Tait and Hogg are in the side, and were both excellent yesterday. Brackan, McGrath, and Watson were good. Australia's bowling stopped the flow of runs against good batting in a way they haven't for a while. I may regret saying this, but I think Australia might win this.

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