Captains all
Captains all (Clockwise from top): Babar Azam of Pakistan, Rohit Sharma of India, Aaron Finch of Australia and Temba Bavuma of South Africa. Centre: Jos Buttler of England Image Credit: AFP & AP

New Zealand have waltzed into the semifinals of the T20 World Cup. They are the first team to confirm a place in the last-four stage of an unpredictable tournament. A tournament which saw the first-round exit of two-time champions the West Indies, followed by some giant-killing acts, close finishes and matches abandoned due to rain.

All these have made the scramble for the semifinal berths a nerve-wracking affair. Until Friday, the winners and runners-up in both the Super 12 groups were uncertain. A win here or a loss there could alter the prevailing equation.

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Amid the flux, New Zealand did what they had to: beat plucky Ireland handily in Adelaide to grab two points so that they top Group 1 with seven points. Their net run rate of 2.113 is the best in the group, which helped them remain leaders and grab the semifinal spot.

Right behind the Kiwis are Australia, who survived a mighty scare from Afghanistan in the second game at the Adelaide Oval. They gained two points with Friday’s win to be on a level with New Zealand with seven points. But that’s not enough to guarantee them a spot in the semifinals.

Group 1
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Australia’s second position in Group 1 is rather shaky since it could change on Saturday. An England victory over Sri Lanka will help them supplant Australia as the second-placed team in the group. A win in Sydney is a must for England as their better net run rate will help overhaul Australia, although both will have seven points.

Any other result would hand the semifinal slot to defending champions Australia. If the match is abandoned due to rain, the teams will share points and England’s six points will pale in comparison to Australia’s seven.

Aaron Finch’s team would want Sri Lanka to upstage England, a distinct possibility since the Sydney strip will aid the Sri Lankan spinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana. That would help Australia move up while England remain on five points, and Sri Lanka will take the third position with six points.

Who will qualify from Group 2

So the Australians will be praying for rain or a Sri Lankan win. It makes the clash a must-win game for the 50-over World Cup champions England.

That’s the Group 1 scenario. The Group 2 race is even more puzzling, although India and South Africa are well-placed to take the two positions. A favourable result could bring Pakistan into the picture, and even Bangladesh could harbour hopes of landing a last-four spot.

The Group 2 standing will be clear on Sunday since all six teams will be in action for the triple-header. India, which head Group 2 with six points, lag in the net run rate. A win over Zimbabwe will take their tally to eight, which is insurmountable for other teams.

Group 2
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India’s semifinal prospects would remain unaffected even if the game against Zimbabwe is abandoned due to rain (there’s no rain forecast). South Africa are the only other team that could garner seven points. That means India will finish behind South Africa with a better run rate.

India cannot afford a loss to Zimbabwe, as it could send them out crashing of the tournament. An India setback would lift South Africa to the top of the group with seven points after beating the Netherlands, and Pakistan could jump into second place as they have a superior run rate than India’s.

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For that, Pakistan must beat Bangladesh in Adelaide and await the outcome of India’s game against Zimbabwe at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. That’s the last game of the Super 12.

What about Bangladesh? They too are in with a chance if they upset Pakistan. And a semifinal spot will materialise for them if India and South Africa lose their games. Because that will give Bangladesh six points, placing them second behind India.

Far-fetched, you may say. But this is cricket. And this is a tournament that witnessed the first-round ouster of the West Indies, England’s defeat to Ireland and a Zimbabwe win over Pakistan. So another upset is not impossible.

Keep your eyes peeled.