The Cricket World Cup has meandered through 23 pool fixtures to date with a mix of excellent cricket and mismatches keeping fans around the world entranced. Much has been made about the length of the tournament and, at the time of writing, there are some 19 pool games left to go before the quarter finals commence on 18 March.
Having run the eye over the table and thought about who might win which games I have come to the conclusion that only two of the coming fixtures have the potential to significantly impact on how participates in the final series. Those games are:
- England v Bangladesh, Match 33; and
- Ireland v Pakistan, Match 42.
To understand why these two games are the “only” important games lefts, one must consider the following:
- New Zealand and Sri Lanka presently sit atop Pool A. Each have two games left (NZ face Afghanistan and Bangladesh whilst Sri Lanka play Australia and Scotland) and I think they are unlikely to lose either. That puts them at the top of Pool A and in the finals.
- Scotland will not win a game and thus will not make the finals.
- Afghanistan, who have been one of the revelations of this World Cup, have the toughest run home playing Australia, New Zealand and England to complete their campaign. I do not expect them to win any of these games and thus predict they will not advance beyond the two points they presently hold.
- Australia have a soft draw for the rest of the pool rounds with the exception of their fixture against Sri Lanka which, on current form, they are likely to struggle to win. Whether they win or lose that game they will be in the finals with victories against Afghanistan and Scotland.
- That leaves Bangladesh and England to fight the battle for the 4th spot in this pool. Bangladesh have 3 points from 3 games and face Scotland, England and New Zealand to final the pool rounds. They will defeat Scotland and, absent any strategic play from New Zealand, will be defeated by them which means they will would sit on 5 points with their game against England in dispute. England are on 2 points with 2 games to play against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Even in their current woeful form I think they will defeat Afghanistan which just leaves their game against Bangladesh to gain points from.
- The winner of Bangladesh v England on 9 March will have the advantage and make the finals. The loser will head home. It is that simple.
- Much like in Pool A there are two stand out teams in Pool A at the moment: India and South Africa. Both are yet to play Ireland. India also play the West Indies and Zimbabwe whilst South Africa is yet to play Pakistan and the UAE. I can not see them losing in their remaining fixtures and thus predict they will be the top two teams in Pool B.
- UAE will not win a game and thus will not make the finals.
- Zimbabwe have two games left against Ireland and India. They are presently on 2 points from a victory against the UAE and whilst they were plucky in defeat against Pakistan I do not think they have the team to best either Ireland or India on current form. They will stay on 2 points.
- The West Indies have two games left with which to add to their current tally of 4 points. The West Indies have been scratchy at times in the competition and then at times they have been brilliant. Against the quality of India I can not see them winning but they will bank 2 points from a run rate enhancing win against the UAE. This will put them on 6 points and in the frame for the finals (subject to the final bullet point).
- That leaves Ireland and Pakistan. Pakistan have had an ordinary start to the competition raising, unsurprisingly, comparisons to 1992. Presently on 2 points from 3 games they face South Africa and the UAE before they contest the final pool fixture against Ireland at the Adelaide Oval. I would expect them to best the UAE but lose to South Africa. Ireland have been one of the stories of this World Cup but now they face the worse schedule with 4 games in the next 12 days whilst travelling extensively including across the ditch for their game against India. In addition to that game I suspect they will lose to South Africa tomorrow but defeat Zimbabwe.
- These results would love Pakistan on 4 points and Ireland on 6 points with the last (42nd) pool game to be played. If Ireland win they will end up 3rd in Pool B. If Pakistan win they will join Ireland and West Indies on 6 points and then Net Run Rate will decide who fill the final two spots in Pool B.
Obviously there is still some great cricket to come in this World Cup. That said: given the form of the teams to date it is easy, in my view, to predict who will win what games. Those predictions taken into account the race to the finals could really go down to the wire with the last pool game almost a preliminary final in Pool B.