T-20 World Cup: No Surprises So Far
When the tournament schedule was drawn up, it was clear who the four semifinalists will be
For all the dramatic events, the upsets some of which were rain infused, and gallant performances of the underdogs, the semifinalists of the T-20 World Cup have been along predictable lines. When the tournament schedule was drawn up it was clear that the two semifinalists from group I would be from New Zealand, Australia and England whereas from group 2 it would be two from India, Pakistan and South Africa.
These were the six leading teams in the ICC rankings coming into the tournament. Given the unpredictability of the T-20 format it was reckoned that there would be the odd upset win notched up by the six other sides.
However, the lesser lights generally are not able to follow this up with another shock victory over a second fancied team and that is what happened this time too. The Netherlands were a glorious exception. They came through the qualifying rounds, lost their first three games in group 2 but then got the better of two sides ranked above them, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The latter result was the upset of the tournament – South Africa at No 3 is ranked 14 places above Netherlands, knocking the Proteas out when they were on the cusp of a semifinalist slot.
Otherwise, the lesser lights did not have it in them to pull off more than one upset. Ireland for example defeated England though it was a rain- affected game but could do little else noteworthy in the competition. Afghanistan never had a chance of avoiding the cellar position in the group and obtained their only two points from no-results.
Sri Lanka who are these days a pale shadow of a once great limited overs side, even if they emerged surprise victors in the Asia Cup, were never really in the running for a place in the last four their only two victories being notched up against Ireland and Afghanistan. England took the defeat by Ireland in their stride and with a superior run rate pipped Australia for a place in the semifinals.
Australia recovered from their loss to New Zealand in the opening match of the tournament but not enough to finish in the top two. Their failure cemented a jinx, the host nation has never won the trophy. New Zealand despite going down to England always looked good enough to make the last four once they got off to a confident start against Australia and they were one team who looked strong enough to make the last four. They even took the one point they lost in the abandoned game against Afghanistan in their stride.
Group 2 had enough twists and turns but ultimately the script was very much the same. Here Netherlands stunned South Africa and Zimbabwe who in turn shocked Pakistan. The India–Pakistan game was a real scorcher that could have gone either way, But thanks in the main to a sublime knock by Virat Kohli India kept their cool and this victory always made them certainties for a place in the last four.
South Africa blew hot and cold and ultimately was unable to shake off the choker's tag. They defeated India but went down to Pakistan and even lost a sure point when the game against Zimbabwe ended in a no-result due to rain. However, there was no excuse for the shock defeat at the hands of Netherlands that ended their campaign ingloriously.
Pakistan were as usual a mercurial lot, going down in a thriller to India but getting the better of South Africa though in the ultimate analysis it was their shock loss to Zimbabwe which seemed to rule them out from a semifinalist slot till they got a lease of life with South Africa going down to Netherlands.
This they grabbed with both hands and with a comfortable victory over Bangladesh squeaked through to the last four. Bangladesh despite performing gallantly always looked to be falling short until artificial excitement was provided during their last game against Pakistan in which they never really had a chance.
Two things have stood out during the league stage. One, the number of close finishes which is not uncommon in a tournament of this format. But many of them have involved lesser lights against more fancied sides and this illustrates that the gap is narrowing. Second, any competition where the qualifiers are not known till the last league game can already be termed a success.
All this is, however, behind us and looking forward to the semifinals and final one thing is sure. Three thrillers are bound to unfold before our eyes. As if the unpredictable nature of the format is not enough, where there is hardly any room for error and any mistake be it by the batting side or the fielding side could turn out to be a major blunder or even a match turner, these are the four top teams with very little to choose between them.
From now on there are no favourites, and predicting the winner will be a mug's game. The team that lifts its game on the day, which performs above its potential, commits lesser mistakes will emerge the winner with luck playing a major part.
One only hopes that the rain that has been a villain of sorts so far, it even ruined a potentially exciting game between Australia and England in which even the toss could not be held, will stay away.