Crunch time at Cricket World Cup

The last eight prepare for quarterfinal showdowns as India and Pakistan relish a potential semifinal encounter.

    Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi said his team is 'blessed with talent' ahead of their Windies showdown [AFP]

    And then there were eight.

    The Cricket World Cup is settling down to business this week with the last eight teams facing quarterfinal knockout matches as the marathon tournament enters its sixth week.

    Pakistan kick-start the last eight stages on Wednesday when they face West Indies, India take on defending champions Australia in Ahmedabad on Thursday, New Zealand and South Africa meet in Dhaka on Friday before Sri Lanka and England clash in Colombo on Saturday.

    And if all goes to plan for the co-hosts, India could face bitter rivals Pakistan in the semifinals in Mohali on March 30.

    Focused

    Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi insisted he was still focused on beating the Windies.

    "Our focus is on the quarterfinals, we have to win that to reach the semifinal, so we are not thinking that far. First we have a must-win match against a dangerous opponent," said Afridi.

    Pakistan take momentum and confidence against a West Indies team that is lacking both.

    Pakistan sprung a surprise by finishing at the top of Group A, relegating Australia to third place by ending the three-time defending champion's 34-match unbeaten run in the World Cup.

    The Windies however won their three matches against the lower-ranked sides in Group B, but were beaten by the three higher-ranked teams and threw away winning positions in their last two games.

    Pakistan seem unlikely to change their line-up after the four-wicket win over Australia on Saturday.

    Afridi's team came into the tournament having lost three players to long-term bans following the spot-fixing scandal in England last year, but opened the World Cup with a thumping win over Kenya and followed it by beating co-hosts Sri Lanka.

    "Despite all the problems, Pakistan is blessed with talent,'' captain Shahid Afridi said.

    "It's because of this talent that we are a dangerous team and can win against anyone."

    Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi

    "It's because of this talent that we are a dangerous team and can win against anyone. We now hope to carry on the momentum.''

    Aussie threat

    India's 80-run win over the Windies on Sunday handed Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men a quarterfinal against Ricky Ponting's Australia, not a team they would have liked to have met before the final.

    India have lost to Australia in nine out of 15 matches played on home soil in the last five years.
    .
    Not only has the Indian Premier League made the country a second home for many players in the opposing squad, but Australia also has a superb record on Indian soil, having won four of six bilateral limited-overs international series in India, with a win-loss record of 16-10.

    India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni knows exactly the challenge his team confronts against the world's No1-ranked team.

    "Australia are a very strong side and very expressive on the field," said Dhoni.

    "But it's about how we prepare. Preparation is very important and we are just thinking about that particular day and match rather than thinking about the result."

    The last World Cup match India won against Australia was in 1987, one of their only two wins against the four-time champions in the tournament.

    Australia, of course, have been nearly invincible in recent World Cups, their surprise loss to Pakistan on Saturday ending a 34-match unbroken streak in the tournament.

    In form

    South Africa have emerged as the team to beat since prevailing in a tight match against co-hosts India, topping Group B to set up Friday's knockout match with New Zealand.

    "I'm happy with playing New Zealand,'' South Africa allrounder Faf du Plessis said.

    Quarterfinals

    Wednesday March 23

     Pakistan v West Indies

    Thursday March 24

     Australia v India

    Friday March 25

     New Zealand v South Africa

    Saturday March 26

     Sri Lanka v England

    "Even if we were playing any of the other teams, we wouldn't have been too worried. We specifically said we didn't want to focus on who we're playing and have our minds distracted.

    "If we prepare well and we're ready for the game and play to our full ability, we're confident we'll win the quarterfinal.''

    Apart from one hiccup against England, South Africa has looked like one of the best all-round sides at the tournament and the pressure is once again on the team to break their World Cup duck.

    With the game not until Friday, New Zealand have time to nurse bowlers Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills back to full fitness. The South Africa players didn't even have to travel after beating Bangladesh in Dhaka on Saturday, allowing them some vital rest days.

    Favourites

    In the final quarter, co-hosts Sri Lanka could not have asked for a more favourable draw, as they face an inconsistent England that just scraped into the knockout stages.

    The Sri Lankans won the last World Cup that was staged in Asia, in 1996, and reached the final in the last edition before losing to Australia.

    Sri Lanka qualified comfortably for this stage, while England went through the most nerve-racking results in the tournament with shocking defeats against Ireland and Bangladesh.

    England have twice scored totals of more than 300 runs, but they might find it tough to score at R. Premadasa Stadium on Saturday. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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