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By Partab Ramchand
The line up for the World Cup has the ten Test playing nations and four associate members. There are 42 matches to be played at the group stage and the groupings have it that there are five Test playing nations along with two associate members in each pool. It would be tempting to predict that some of the matches may be rather meaningless but keeping in mind the number of upsets that have taken place in the mega event over the years one could be off the mark to assume that the four associate members are there just to make up the numbers. The prime example would be Kenya making it as far as the semifinals in 2003.
David getting the better of Goliath always makes for interesting news and with the format of the game being what it is the lesser lights always fancy their chances against the more experienced or seemingly better equipped teams. The list of upset results is long – Sri Lanka beating India in 1979, Zimbabwe beating Australia in 1983, Zimbabwe beating England in 1992, Kenya beating West Indies in 1996, Bangladesh beating Pakistan in 1999, Canada beating Bangladesh in 2003, Kenya beating Sri Lanka in 2003, Kenya beating Bangladesh in 2003, Kenya beating Zimbabwe in 2003, Ireland beating Pakistan in 2007, Ireland beating Bangladesh in 2007. In all these cases an associate member has got the better of a Test nation but there have been other major upsets too notably India getting the better of West Indies (twice) and England in 1983, Sri Lanka defeating New Zealand in 1983, Zimbabwe shocking South Africa in 1999, Bangladesh surprising South Africa in 2007 and Bangladesh stunning India in 2007.
On form, record and rankings Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (from group A) and India, South Africa, England and West Indies (from group B) should make it from the two pools and qualify for the quarterfinals. The three other teams in group A are Zimbabwe, Kenya and Canada while Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands are in group B. Interestingly enough Netherlands apart all these teams figure prominently in the list of upset results. Only two World Cup competitions - in 1975 and 1987 – have not been marked by major surprise results.
The six outsiders then will be the teams to watch and even if Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are Test nations it will constitute a major surprise if one of them gets the better of the fancied sides in the group. Such a result, besides having an overall influence on the group could also see one of the major teams being knocked out at the preliminary stage. In 2007 Bangladesh shocking India and Ireland stunning Pakistan meant that the two sub continental heavyweights were eliminated in the first round itself.
In 1999 when Zimbabwe scored a sensational win over in-form South Africa it had a major effect on the latter’s campaign. South Africa’s elimination in the semifinal could be backdated to losing this match. Bangladesh stunning Pakistan on the other hand had no real bearing on subsequent events as Pakistan continued to top the group and were first in the Super Six starting table.
Kenya of course had a whale of a time in 2003. Placed along with Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh and New Zealand in group B they were given little chance of making the Super Six. But victories over Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and a walk over from New Zealand who refused to travel to Nairobi citing security fears saw the East African nation finish second in the group and second in the Super Six starting table. This proved to be a major advantage for another surprise win over Zimbabwe – their first over that country in 15 meetings – saw them take defeats at the hands of India and Australia in their stride and qualify for the semifinals – the only time an associate member has made it so far in the World Cup. That however remained the extent of their fairy tale run for they went down to India.
Ireland’s shock win over Pakistan in 2007 knocked the latter out at the preliminary stage. But the Irishman proved this was no fluke for in the Super Eight they got the better of Bangladesh who a week earlier had stunned South Africa. This gives credence to the view that in limited overs cricket it is simply a case who plays better on a given day, who holds their nerves better and David getting the better of Goliath is always a possibility. That is the beauty and the unpredictable nature of the game. So look out for the six outsiders in the tournament – and the fancied teams would do well not to take them lightly.