World Cup starts at last

Andy Lloyd
AT LONG long last after 42 generally one-sided and predictable matches the World Cup can officially begin with the top eight teams in the world having made it through to the last eight.

The group stages have been a complete waste of time and by maintaining such a long-winded format the latter stages have potentially been robbed of some stellar performers in the shape of India’s Virender Sehwag and New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori, who are both doubts for their side’s quarter-finals.

England, too, have been robbed of several key performers – the absence of Stuart Broad has hurt them the most – and had it not been for the rollercoaster ride Andrew Strauss’s side have endured the group stages would have been even more of damp squib than they were.

That we’ve ended up with these eight teams is a surprise to nobody and what the smaller nations, Ireland aside, have gained from taking a series of hefty beatings is a question only their players can answer.

Surely the likes of Kenya and Zimbabwe would have been better served by playing a few friendly games against the big guns prior to the tournament but, as ever, money gets the in way of common sense

It’s a shame it has taken over three weeks to get to this stage and we’ve had to endure some pretty average cricket to get here, but overall thus far the tournament has been a success.

It’s been healthily supported and well attended by the local public, which could hardly be said of the last 50 over World Cup in the Caribbean.

With the quarter-finals getting underway today the quality and intensity of the cricket will naturally go up several notches and it’s not before time.

I’ve said all along that home advantage is going to prove vital in this tournament and although Pakistan are technically playing away, the conditions in Mirpur will be very much to the liking of Shahid Afridi’s men. The battle between Afridi and Windies’ opener Chris Gayle will be fascinating, but the Pakistani leg-spinner will be backed up by a vastly superior bowling attack. VERDICT: PAKISTAN

India’s top four, spearheaded by Sachin Tendulkar, have been on fire so far in this tournament and they will, more than likely, hold the key to victory here. Australia do have genuine pace in their attack and if they win the toss and should Shaun Tait and Brett Lee make early inroads, India’s fragile middle order may not be capable of carrying them to a competitive total. VERDICT: INDIA

If there is going to be an upset I can see it happening in Mirpur. New Zealand are a thoroughly professional unit, who yet again have slipped under the radar. They have a long list of powerful hitters and a well balanced attack. South Africa have dazzled at times, particularly in the win against India, but their suspect temperament reared its head against England.

England’s campaign has been a shambles. It’s not been entirely of their own making, with injuries playing a part, but hardly anything has gone to plan. There is always the hope that Graeme Swann could bowl a matchwinning spell but I really don’t think England have a chance here. Murali and the rest of Sri Lanka’s stars are fit and firing and I can see them walking it. VERDICT: SRI LANKA