Cricket’s greatest celebration set for a climax next Sunday at the Lord’s
Gautam Bhattacharyya, Sports Editor
Dubai: It’s just three more matches and the" ‘world’s greatest cricket celebration", as the catchline for the 12th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup says, will come to an end in England.
A competition among top 10 countries over a period of 47 days, watched by a global audience running into millions, will come to an end on July 14 (Saturday) at the hallowed portals of Lord’s.
Who among the four semi-finalists: India, holders Australia, England or New Zealand will have the last laugh? There were only the usual suspects making up the last four — though one can’t help but feel sorry for the mercurial
Pakistan team — who ended with the same number of points as New Zealanders but were edged out by the net run-rate. A disappointed Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur had a point when he said in such cases, the winners of the head-to-head contest should simply go through.
Virat Kohli’s Men in Blue, whose league match against New Zealand was washed out last month, will go into the first semi-final as favourites at Old Trafford on Tuesday, though there could be the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip.
The Kiwis, despite remaining unbeaten in their first six matches in this campaign before going into bit of a slump, have betrayed signs of caving in under pressure and will hope for a real off-day from India to make the second final on the trot.
The second semi-final between Australia and England, scheduled at Edgbaston on Thursday, is nothing short of a ‘blockbuster’ — as described by the Australian captain Aaron Finch.
The Australians had won a tense league game between the two old foes by 64 runs earlier, but it will count for little against a rejuvenated England, who came back from the brink to keep alive their dreams of ending the bridesmaid tag in the history of the tournament.
If the World Cup had opened with an iota of doubt as to if it can retain the fans’ interest through such a long 50-over event — it proved unfounded in the end. Rohit Sharma, the gifted Indian vice-captain, stood head and shoulders above other batsmen while performers like Mitchell Starc, Jofra Archer or Mohammad Amir also made their presence felt with memorable spells.
Over then to the business-end of the tournament, which may still see the birth of new heroes — or a few villains!
PUNDITS SPEAK: Who will win the ICC World Cup?
Australia will win a sixth time
By Shyam A. Krishna, Opinion Editor
Winning has become a habit for Australia. Having won five times in 11 editions, the defending champions should extend their win-streak this year too.
Chasing targets, Australia have lost to India and South Africa in the league phase. There are injury worries too. But setbacks never bog them down. They are capable of winning even from losing positions. So victories against England in the semi-final (they won the clash in the prelims), and India or New Zealand in the final will not be surprising.
If Aaron Finch’s captaincy has been impressive, his partnership with David Warner has given some brisk starts. But the middle order had struggled with former skipper Steve Smith unable to take charge. Pinch-hitters Glen Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis too have failed to fire.
It was left to wicketkeeper Alex Carey to provide the thrust down the order.
Australia’s bowling, where Mitchell Starc and Jason Behrendorff are at the incisive best, has been formidable. In the final two games too, it will be the left-arm pacers who will bowl Australia to victory.
Player to watch: Mitchell Starc
Leave it to Kohli & Co to win it for India
By Gautam Bhattacharya, Sports Editor
The formbook will say that any of the four semi-finalists are capable of winning the World Cup at the Lord’s next Sunday, but my vote will go the battle-hardened Indian side.
It’s not because I will be perceived as a ‘natural’ supporter of the Men in Blue, but it stems from the enormous self-belief that even a non-regular member of their dugout possesses.
One has to agree that the last-minute twist in the tale, which made India the table-toppers after South Africa pulled off an upset win over Australia, has benefited the two-time champions. It will be a relatively easier battle for them against New Zealand in the semi-final, even though the final could be anybody’s contest against either hosts England or Australia.
It’s all very fine to analyse man-to-man strengths and weaknesses before a big game — and the uncertainty over their middle order has turned out to be a ticklish problem for India on the home stretch of the campaign. However, barring England, none of the top four’s middle order wears a foolproof look and all India need is a good start to seize the initiative.
As for the rest, leave it for Bumrah & co.
Player to watch: Jasprit Bumrah
This time, it’s England
By Chiranjib Sengupta, Assistant Editor
The memories of 1979, 1987 and 1992 will be hard to forget — but next Sunday is the closest that England will ever get to grabbing the cricket World Cup.
An injured Usman Khawaja said it all when he walked out gingerly to the crease yesterday in the game against South Africa — Australia were loath to face England in the semi-final. That’s the kind of spirit that England captain Eoin Morgan has infused into his team — so much so that defending champions Australia are wary of the team.
Then there’s Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow: as explosive and magnificent as it gets with an opening pair. Throw in Morgan, Jos Buttler, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes — and you have one of the deadliest batting line-ups in the tournament.
The most critical player in the English line-up, however, is their immense self-belief and swagger. It’s the swagger with which Bairstow brought up his century days after a nasty Michael Vaughan retort.
It’s this lethal combination of positive cricket, a groundswell of home support and familiar conditions that will get Morgan’s formidable boys over the ropes and into history books next Sunday.
Player to watch: Jason Roy
Write off the Kiwis at your own peril
By A.K.S. Satish, Senior Pages Editor
Dubai: New Zealand might start the knockout stage as the underdogs, but write them off at your own peril, they surely have the mettle to clinch the title. It’s time for the eternal bridesmaid and the current runners-up in the World Cup to prove their worth by winning the showpiece in England.
The Black Caps, under the astute captaincy of Kane Williamson, have reached the semi-finals with only part of the squad firing in full steam. The dangerous opener Martin Guptill, the leading run-scorer in the previous edition, has only one half-century to his credit, but on his day when he gets going, he could wreak havoc against the rival attack.
Williamson, who has been one of the top-scorers in this World Cup, has been carrying the weight of burden on his shoulders with minimal support from veteran Ross Taylor, who could be playing in his last World Cup will be aiming to leave on a high. New Zealand are team filled with all-rounders, who can bat deep down the order and who are capable of a strong counter-offensive. So if their batting goes full steam, then it will be difficult to stop them.
The bowling, though exhibiting its potency at times, has also not been on top of the mark. A well-rounded attack, led by Trent Boult, Lockie Feguson and Mitchell Santner, has the versatility to strike even against their best. On favourable conditions, it’s difficult to face them.
Even in the past, the New Zealanders have not been short of talent, it is only their mental strength that has led them down. Now, being in the top for a prolonged period of time, after starting the World Cup in No. 3 position in the ICC One Day International ranking, the Black Caps this time will not be affected by the stage fright and will be ready to clinch their maiden World Cup title.
Player to watch: Martin Guptill
FAN SPEAK: WHO WILL WIN THE WORLD CUP AND WHY?
By Anjana Kumar, Web Reporter
Courtley Winter, Australian
Australia will go in as the underdogs against England in the semi-final, not a position they are unaccustomed to. If they can get up against England they will be strong contenders for the final. As for the semi-final between India and New Zealand, I think, I have to favour the Kiwis. But I would never underestimate a strong Indian team.
Jenson Mathew, Indian
There is no doubt in my mind that the Men in Blue will win all the way. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are in great form. If there is a batsman who can strike fear in the hearts of opposition teams and tear down the best bowling attacks in the world — it is Kohli. He is a clean striker and by far the best cricketer in the world cricket. Team India it will be.
Phil Daglish, Kiwi
I reckon the winner will be India or England. They are both sensational teams and they have splendid opening batsmen. From India side there is Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli who are looking absolutely dangerous. From England Jonny Bairstow has come out looking quite a winner. He (Bairstow) has gone past Kohli’s numbers as top batsman in the World Cup. So all eyes will be on him. From my end I wish both teams the very best.
Dominic Duke, British
I think England will win the World Cup. Not only do they have home advantage, beating the formidable Indian team was a good boost for them, and they are on good form right now!
Ali Fehmi, Pakistani
I would put my bet on Australia. The team is peaking at the right time. What is more, Australia is coming out a winner in critical matches and that shows their mental strength. India is a very strong team as well. They have some world-class players, but I think Australia scores over them when it comes to winning critical matches. I will not dismiss England. They are looking every bit the dark horse in this game. This team too has peaked at the right time.
Yoshita Ahmad, Sri Lankan
It is going to be India all the way. Virat Kohli has been leading his team very well. He is constantly talking to players, motivating them. Whether it is the team’s unity that we have seen in this World Cup or the country’s top notch batsmen, India has all the ingredients to take the World Cup.
Suresh Gunathilaka, Sri Lankan
For me, it’s a toss between Australia and India. Both are super strong teams. India is my personal favourite though, as I have many Indian friends and I don’t want to disappoint them. But I think both teams have a very strong chance of winning.
Lenwick D’souza, Indian
India it will be. Meeting New Zealand in the semi-finals gives them a huge advantage to reach finals. And then it will be their mental toughness when they reach final. Australia, if they reach final, will be a tough contender. But I think they (India) will still take the cup.