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ICC World Cup headed for a thrilling finish

Photo: K. Pichumani

Sporting moment:Ravi Rampaul of West Indies celebrate the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar of India in the World Cup match at MAC Stadium in Chennai on Sunday. –

More than a month after Virender Sehwag faced the first ball in the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup at Mirpur, we have reached the business end of the tournament.

After 42 group games, two major upsets and a couple of other surprises, it has boiled down to the top eight Test teams who took their appointed places in the quarterfinals. But at least a few would have thought of an uninvited guest in the elite group when minnows Ireland and Bangladesh defied the form book to script the two of the biggest upsets in the history of the World Cup.

But none of the associate nations made it to the knock-out stage and the basement dwellers in ICC ODI rankings, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Kenya too perished.

The criticism of the World Cup being bloated with meaningless matches having little or no impact on the final outcome was to some extent justified. But it has also been a vibrant World Cup with its dose of many unforgettable vignettes. England, who was at the receiving end of the upset defeats in this World Cup, scraped through only because of former champion West Indies' propensity to self destruct and when the burgeoning expectations weighed down Bangladesh's campaign.

Though thrill-a-minute and edge of seat climaxes were few and far between, England's topsy-turvy campaign ensured that cricket fans didn't miss it either. The side figured in a tie, a last over defeat and a narrow win in the league stages.

England's captain courageous Andrew Strauss played a splendid 158 which almost snatched an improbable win for his team against India. It is not often that a Sachin Tendulkar's masterpiece goes unnoticed but that day in Bangalore, it was Strauss who stole the limelight. Fittingly, the match ended in a pulsating tie – a rare occurrence nowadays in one-dayers. The South Africans shrugged off the image of chokers when they pipped Indians at the post for an important win that pitch-forked them to the top of the standings in the group.

Australians came to the World Cup with a proud record of remaining unbeaten since 1999. But Pakistan ended that record in a tense four-wicket win at the Premadasa Stadium. It may be a minor upset and a wake-up for the Aussie but the Pakistanis led by their energetic skipper Shahid Afridi have lived up to their billing as the dark horses. The associate nations too had their moments under the sun. The Irish not only caught attention with their purple hairdos but also with their deeds on the field. Kevin O'Brien stunned the entire cricket world when he muscled his way to the fastest hundred in World Cup history against England. It was a remarkable match in which Ireland successfully chased a mammoth 328 for victory. The Irish won the hearts and surely gave something for ICC to ponder about the exclusion of associates nations from the next World Cup. Canada restricted Pakistan to a small total but wasn't good enough to finish things off. Ryan Ten Doeschate may one day become a great player and he announced his arrival at the top level with a superbly crafted knock against England. He began the tournament with a century and ended it with another and with 307 runs and seven wickets was easily the pick of the players from associate nations. Sachin Tendulkar reignited the old debate on walking the other day in Chennai against West Indies. The great man, one short of 100 international hundreds, headed straight down to the pavilion without waiting for the umpire Steve Davis' decision. Tendulkar made only two but this innings would be remembered like any of his previous 99 centuries. The ICC was forced to tweak the LBW rule in UDRS when India was the aggrieved party. But it is still an open World Cup and for the first time in 12 years it will not be an undefeated team which will win the title. The keenly awaited India-Australia quarterfinal on Thursday could well be a thriller. – Staff Reporter

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