Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand may be the teams to beat, but the striking feature of this World Cup is Asia’s four Test nations defying conventional wisdom to make the quarter-finals.
The belief that Asian cricketers struggle on the hard, bouncy wickets Down Under was thrown out of the window as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh moved ahead from the group stages.
Three more wins will see a team crowned the 2015 champions — just like Pakistan did when the World Cup was last held in Australia and New Zealand in 1992 — and another victory for Asia cannot be ruled out.
“There is no reason why an Asian side can’t win this time,” legendary Pakistani fast bowler Wasim Akram, who was part of the 1992 winning team, told AFP.
“They have played well and deserve to go through. In a knock-out situation, past form will really not count. Everything depends on how you play on that day.”
Defending champions India bounced back from a dismal tour of Australia prior to the World Cup to record six straight wins in the league, which surprised many, but not team director Ravi Shastri.
“I’m not one bit surprised,” the former all-rounder told the Wisden India website. “What we are looking forward to now is to carry on the good work. Not think too far ahead, but keep the momentum going.”
India’s quarter-final opponents at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday will be Bangladesh, the surprise team of the tournament who knocked England out in the league.
Bangladesh went through almost the entire last year without a win in Test or one-day cricket, but the tactical acumen of their Sri Lankan coach Chandika Hathurusinghe and fast bowling adviser Heath Streak has paid dividends.
Two consecutive centuries by Mohammad Mahmudullah and incisive fast bowling by Rubel Hossain and young Taskin Ahmed led the turnaround for the Tigers, and skipper Mashrafe Mortaza promises more from his side.
“We are hungry for success and I am confident we can reach new heights,” said Mortaza, whose team sent India crashing from the first stage of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.
Mortaza said his biggest challenge was to check the growing excitement in the team over making the knock-out rounds for the first time and the prospect of playing before some 90,000 spectators at the MCG.
“Everyone is excited about the game but as a professional unit we must focus on the task ahead,” he said. “It’s a chance to show the world that we are among the top teams.”
– Semi-final guarantee –
The India-Bangladesh match means that at least one Asian team will be guaranteed a place in the semi-finals, but Sri Lanka and Pakistan will also be strong contenders for the last four.
Sri Lanka, who take on the powerful but inconsistent South Africa in Wednesday’s first quarter-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground, have the prolific Kumar Sangakkara in their ranks.
The 37-year-old left-hander, playing one-day cricket for the last time, has already hammered an unprecedented four consecutive centuries and tops the batting charts with 496 runs.
With the 38-year-old Tillakaratne Dilshan having made 395 runs with two hundreds, it promises to be an enthralling contest between Sri Lanka’s in-form batsmen and the Proteas’ attack led by Dale Steyn.
Coach Marvan Atapattu is confident that Sri Lanka, the 1996 champions who lost in the finals in both the last two editions, are equipped to deal with the pressures of a knock-out game.
“Over the last few years in big tournament matches, I’ve seen people raise their game and raise the whole team,” he said.
“These guys can do it again. When it comes to pulling together and working towards a common goal, we’re among the best.”
Pakistan, described by South African coach Russell Domingo as “predictably unpredictable”, lived up to that reputation by bouncing back from two defeats to win four in a row.
And as they prepare to tackle mighty Australia at the Adelaide Oval on Friday, skipper Misbah-ul Haq was convinced his team can win the tournament and repeat the feat of their 1992 predecessors.
“Of course we can win the World Cup,” Misbah said after knocking Ireland out of the race. “We have the momentum.” -AFP