The 2011 World Cup has panned out to be resounding success © Getty Images
The 2011 World Cup has panned out to be resounding success © Getty Images

 

By Jamie Alter

 

Has the World Cup been a success so far?
The answer has to be in the “yes”.
Yes, because India and Pakistan made it beyond the first round and, hush, may face each other in the semi-final in Mohali. Yes, because of the tightness in Group B, aided largely and spectacularly by England’s sheer ability to keep you glued to their every move.

 

Yes, because of Kevin O’Brien and Ireland. Yes, because Australia were finally beaten. Yes, because of the inconsistency of India’s bowling and their fractious relationship with the batting Powerplay. Yes, because of Shahid Afridi, Ross Taylor, Sachin Tendulkar, Andrew Strauss, Lasith Malinga, Imran Tahir, Shafiul Islam, Brett Lee, and Hiral Patel.

 

Sure, there have been roadblocks along the way: the number of mismatches, the stone-pelting in Dhaka, the ticketing fiasco, and the criticism of the UDRS. But held against the last three World Cups, the 2011 event has been exciting and unpredictable, if not always of a high quality. Most importantly it has, few will contest, dispelled doubts about the future of the 50-over format.

 

The tournament has played out to a strange pattern so far. Australia were finally beaten in their last league fixture, bringing to an end a 12-year unbeaten World Cup run and, even though Sri Lanka and South Africa have looked comprehensive units, there are no clear contenders. Ireland beat England who beat South Africa who but beat West Indies.  England lost to Ireland and Bangladesh, but their win over West Indies is the only reason they are still alive.

 

In Group A, Australia shrugged off two warm-up defeats by easing past Zimbabwe and New Zealand, didn’t get a chance to test themselves when rain ruined their match against Sri Lanka, knocked over Canada and Kenya, and then ran into Pakistan.

 

That win took Pakistan to the top of the group, and capped off a quixotic league phase in which they beat Sri Lanka, lost to New Zealand, and were pushed hard by Canada. Sri Lanka’s only black spot was a narrow 11-run defeat to Pakistan, and they go into the knock-outs having trampled over New Zealand. New Zealand, crushed by defeat to Australia and distracted by the terrible earthquake in Christchurch, picked themselves up only to come crashing down against Sri Lanka.

 

Group B began with India beating Bangladesh comfortably, but doubts about their bowling attack were compounded as they failed to defend 338 against England and were beaten by South Africa. Their much-vaunted batting line-up has also stumbled, with epic collapses against South Africa and West Indies leaving many to question just why they had been billed as tournament favourites.
West Indies have, expectantly, blown hot and cold and will need a minor miracle to progress beyond the quarter-finals. England have been the team to watch, never once playing a dull game. And as Ian Bell said recently, such inconsistency could work in their favour when they take on Sri Lanka in the fourth quarter-final in Colombo on Saturday.

 

Bangladesh stuttered and stumbled, famously beating England after they’d been routed for a paltry 58 by West Indies. From having stones thrown at them in Mirpur, the home team was celebrated vivaciously after trumping England in a thriller in Chittagong, but the final image of Bangladesh’s campaign was of the fans trudging out early as South Africa cruised to an emphatic win.
South Africa have been the team to beat, boldly going against tradition by playing a phalanx of spinners, and New Zealand will hope that South Africa suffer a bout of the nerves like they did in a low-scorer against England.

 

Along the way, there was a big debate over the Associates. While a Kevin O’Brien-inspired Ireland provided the thrill of the World Cup, beating England in Bangalore, the lasting impression was of the presence of minnows weighing down the tournament. The worst of the lot was Kenya, whose downward spiral since the heady days of 2003 were all too evident in the way they were slain. Kenya stumbled through like zombies, conquering nothing, not even Canada, who apart from briefly scaring Pakistan and giving Australia some nervous moments failed to impress.

 

Netherlands promised much by posting 292 against England, led by the extremely talented Ryan ten Doeschate, but failed to build on that high. A second century from ten Doeschate in their final fixture promised to set up another win, but Netherlands were easily downed by Ireland, who continued to expand the gulf between them and the remaining Associates. The ICC will trim the number of participants in 2015 to ten, and surely Ireland will return a stronger side.

 

Zimbabwe ended their World Cup campaign on a positive note, beating Kenya comprehensively at the Eden Gardens to finish with two wins, both against minnows, out of six games. Due to play Tests against Pakistan, Bangladesh and New Zealand later this year, Zimbabwe know all too well how crucial such exposure will be in picking up the pieces.

 

And so, after 42 matches and 32 days, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the Associates have been ousted and the ICC has got the eight teams it wanted for the quarter-finals, although only one of India and Australia will make it to the final four. But then that has just been in keeping with the tone of what has been the most exciting and pleasing World Cup since 1996. The common factor? Both were held in the subcontinent, which has yet again proved capable of holding an entertaining sports event. The games have just begun.

 

(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now. His twitter feed is @jamie_alter)