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World Cup remains too tough to call

Posted in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011

Just over a month ago, I ran the rule over the contenders for the ICC Cricket World Cup and came to a simple conclusion - I had no idea who was going to win.

With many of the leading teams appearing evenly matched, I reasoned it would be better to wait until the group stage had been completed before making any bold predictions.

After 30 days and 42 matches, that time has now arrived and I can safely say that I am no closer to judging who will come out on top when the final takes place at Mumbai’s magnificent Wankhede Stadium on April 2.

In my defence, I feel there are mitigating circumstances. After all, you know it’s been a strange tournament when Pakistan emerge as one of the more consistent sides.

The 1992 champions did suffer a customary blip against New Zealand, but, in defeating Sri Lanka and ending Australia’s 34-match unbeaten run in the competition, they have otherwise sent a message of intent to their rivals and will surely fancy their chances of defeating West Indies in the first quarter-final in Dhaka on Wednesday.

While Pakistan have exceeded expectations thus far, the same cannot be said of India, who will face Australia in a mouth-watering tie in Ahmedabad.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side were installed as favourites prior to the event and have benefited from the impressive form of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan.

However, a series of batting collapses - most notably against South Africa, where they lost nine wickets for just 29 runs - have undermined their progress and there are also serious question marks over their bowling attack, with the likes of Piyush Chawla and Munaf Patel coming in for criticism.

Pakistan

The usually unpredictable Pakistan have surprisingly emerged as one of the more consistent teams in the ongoing World Cup

Australia’s own frailties were exposed in their loss to Pakistan, yet it would still take a brave man (or at least a man braver than me) to write off the winners of the last three World Cups.

Then, of course, there is South Africa, who take on perennial over-achievers New Zealand on Friday.

The Proteas deserve credit for topping Group B and appear to be functioning well in all three disciplines of the game. However, the manner of their sole defeat, against England in Chennai, served as a reminder of their uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on the big stage.

Despite this, I thoroughly expect South Africa to make it through to the last four - particularly if they steer clear of the leg-side full-toss policy that Pakistan adopted against Ross Taylor - and I’m also prepeared to suggest a fascinating semi-final between India and Pakistan will come to pass.

I will refrain, however, from making any forecasts regarding Saturday’s clash between England and Sri Lanka. At this moment in time it’s probably easier to predict the behaviour of Charlie Sheen.

If England perform to the best of their ability in Colombo, they undoubtedly have what it takes to win and there appears to be a growing belief within the camp after their Lazarus-style recovery against West Indies last week.

Yet the defeats against Ireland and Bangladesh, not to mention a less than convincing victory over the Netherlands, cannot be ignored and team director Andy Flower will be well aware that his side cannot afford to let their standards drop again.

England

England have been buoyed by their dramatic victory over West Indies, but face a formidable test against co-hosts Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka represent formidable opponents - and arguably the most difficult test England could have faced at this stage - but they have yet to hit top form and will be forced to cope with enormous expectations at the R Premadasa Stadium.

Much could depend on how they react to such pressure, particularly if England take things down to the wire for an incredible seventh match in succession.

One thing is certain. By Saturday night I will finally have a clearer idea of who will lift the World Cup.

If nothing else, I will be able to narrow it down to four teams.