The first objective in a World Cup is to qualify for the semi-finals. The best result then is to meet your preferred opponent in a knockout match.
As we reach the climax of the round-robin stage, the most likely semi-finals look to be India vs New Zealand, and South Africa vs Australia. For two of the tournament favourites, India and Australia, this would be their favoured semi-final match-ups, if the actual finishing order of the top four does result in those contests.
While there have been a number of upsets so far – England’s utter collapse being monumental – there have been no real surprises in terms of the best way to win 50-over matches.
Taking early wickets and then maintaining momentum in the middle overs is a surefire way to restrict an opponent. If the best batters are back in the pavilion during the death overs of the first innings, you are likely to be chasing a reasonable target. Having good, wicket-taking spinners is important.
Picking the right thing to do on winning the toss is critical. The toss-winning captain faces a challenging decision. One thing you don’t want is to send the opposition in and then find yourself chasing a huge total. Having a decent score on the board is a positive result, especially when the match decides who progresses and who goes home.
For that top four finishing order I laid out above to occur, there are still a few crucial games. India, despite remaining undefeated in the round robin, have to stay ahead of South Africa on points. Victory over the South Africa in their group match is still a must, though India are now 7-0 up, after humiliating Sri Lanka.
Australia are now almost assured of a third-place finish (which could help them avoid India in the semis) as long as they keep winning. With the unexpected injury to Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh’s untimely absence, this could have been a difficult exercise, except that their arch-rivals, England, have played like headless chooks.
New Zealand, though they lost to Pakistan on Saturday, and are tied on points with them, are ahead on net run rate.
Pakistan, though they have overcome the first of their last two hurdles before the semi-finals, still need to beat their last opponent, England, by a handy margin and have other results go their way.
Despite being easy to barrack for and producing a clinical win over Netherlands, Afghanistan have a tough job to sneak into the final four. While mathematically they could finish ahead of New Zealand on points, they have two huge obstacles in their way.
Firstly they have a brutal finish, with hard games against Australia and South Africa. That is a difficult enough task, but they are also well behind New Zealand and Pakistan on net run rate, which means Afghanistan have to both bat and bowl outrageously well in those last two matches if they are to have a chance. Nevertheless, they have won a lot of fans with their aggressive approach and continuing improvement in skill. It also doesn’t hurt that their spinners maintain line and length under fire and seek wickets at every opportunity.
New Zealand find themselves in a precarious position. They had a reasonably gentle early schedule, considering the absolute disintegration of England. They’ve also suffered some serious injuries along the way, but it is their fielding frailty – normally a strength – that has been a worry of late.
South Africa stumbled badly against Netherlands. Australia will hope they commit a playoff crime by producing another inexplicable mix-up to bow out of the World Cup with a poor semi-final performance.
Apart from England’s collapse and South Africa’s surprisingly good form, the tournament has progressed as the superpowers, India and Australia, would like. This is an ongoing headache for the ICC if they don’t resolve the current financial imbalance in world cricket.