So the preliminary group matches are over and the stage is set for the Super Eight in the ongoing T-20 World Cup. These have not been without surprises for we have seen the exit of former champions Pakistan and Sri Lanka besides New Zealand who were all expected to make the grade. In their place we have the United States, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

It is always good to welcome surprise entrants particularly the US who were expected to just make up the numbers. The co-hosts have obviously risen to the occasion playing some splendid cricket which has come about thanks mainly to expatriates.

Well over half the US team has Asian connections. The role of the Asian diaspora who have migrated to that country in encouraging cricket has been well established but hardly anyone would have expected that the enthusiasm would be so high as to inspire the US to advance to the Super Eight of a World Cup.

Getting the better of Pakistan was obviously the key to their passage but it was clear that they had prepared assiduously for the mega event being galvanised by the fact that they were co-hosts. Cricket has not exactly been an unknown quantity in the country and there are several pockets in the huge country where the game is played enthusiastically and even seriously for years.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has always had the US uppermost in their minds as a potential market to spread the game globally and the T-20 format came in handy. The shortest format of the game has proved to be very popular and the US could well emerge as a serious challenger in world cricket sooner or later.

Much would depend on how the team fares in the Super Eight where the men have been separated from the boys. But now that they are a part of it one cannot see the US surrender meekly in their group matches.

Like India in 1983 and Sri Lanka in 1996 their fortunes will now be followed closely and while it would be too much to expect the US to pull off what the Indians and the Lankans did their play in the preliminary stage has been so heartening that cricket fans will be disappointed if they are not able to match that intensity in the Super Eight.

Afghanistan and Bangladesh advancing is a minor surprise even though to their credit they made their way in tough groups. Afghanistan had West Indies and New Zealand in their group while Bangladesh had Sri Lanka and South Africa to contend with.

Afghanistan routing the Kiwis paved their way for the Super Eight while Bangladesh getting the better of Sri Lanka saw them advance. For both these teams anything now will be a bonus but one can’t see them make it to the semifinals with Australia, England, West Indies, South Africa and India around.

A much talked about subject about the World Cup has been the pitches. Batsmen have found it difficult to do anything of note and it is the bowlers who have dominated. In a way it is good to see the bowlers get some reward for these days in T-20 games they have just been sent to the cleaners.

Huge scores, sixes and fours being hit at will and bowlers ending up with figures they see in their worst dreams has been the trend and the IPL this year saw all sorts of records being set in this regard. Teams with 250 plus behind them were still apprehensive about their chances while at the World Cup totals of less than 150 have been defended several times.

Close finishes have still been witnessed so this has been excitement of a different sort. In 40 matches there were only three totals in excess of 200. On the other hand teams have been dismissed for double digit scores no less than eleven times and totals of less than 120 have been defended four times.

Perhaps the most significant stat has been there has been no individual hundred in as many as 40 games with Nicholas Pooran’s 98 for West Indies against Afghanistan being the highest. On the other hand there have been two bowlers with five-wicket hauls and as many as 13 with four-wicket hauls.

So what can we expect in the Super Eight stage? Less surprises for a start for generally it is here that the stronger teams prove to be too good for the less fancied sides. South Africa have won all their four matches but they have been far from impressive with victories being very narrow and luck has played a part in their progress to the Super Eight.

Australia with a similar record is looking good and at this juncture they must be the favourites. Holders England who edged out Scotland for a place in the Super Eight are starting to find form after an indifferent start. Two-time champion West Indies have fitted their billing of dark horses by finishing with an all-win record in their group with a particularly strong finish and one feels that a semifinal place at least beckons for the co-hosts.

And what about India, the No 1 side in the ICC rankings? But for their game against Canada being washed out they too would have finished with an all- win record so overall their performance has been up to par with the highlight being the narrow win over Pakistan when they defended 119.

But while the bowlers have risen to the occasion on helpful surfaces the batting remains a problem symbolised by Virat Kohli’s tally of five runs in three matches. The batting and specifically Kohli must be seen in a better light if India are to make the semifinals and beyond.

Among the Super Eight groups the one that has England, West Indies, South Africa and the US is clearly the tougher with the first three teams battling it out for two semifinal places. The other group is comparatively lightweight with Australia and India clear favourites to make the semifinals after being paired with Afghanistan and Bangladesh. But then of course stranger things have happened before in the T-20 World Cup.