Jostling for quarters could be interesting

At the start of most marathon races there’s usually at least one runner anxious for his or her 30 seconds of fame who sprints to the front of the pack and waves their arms around before being quickly caught by the real runners and fading away forever.

While there will be little ‘fading away’ for the 2011 World Cup, there will be a lengthy period of quiet, sensible running while the big players jostle for position in the quarter finals. The best chance of an upset would appear to lie with Zimbabwe whose bevy of spinners could cause problems for the major teams in their group.

If 34-year-old Ray Price and Prosper Utseya, two of the most economical bowlers in world cricket, are offered sufficient support from leggie Graeme Cremer and part-timers Greg Lamb, Sean Williams and one-time wicket keeper turned offie Brendan Taylor, then the Zimbos’ best chance of creating a breaking news story could come against an out-of-sorts New Zealand.

Beating Australia in their opening game on Monday or one of Pakistan or Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in two weeks time would appear to be much tougher prospect.

But if they can squeeze past New Zealand, and don’t slip up against ‘genuine’ minnows Kenya and Canada, then Elton Chigumbura’s team might give the eight-team quarter final line-up an unexpected shade of red. Kenya, of course, are plotting an identical rout to the semis by beating Zimbabwe and the Black Caps!

In group ‘B’ Ireland and Holland will find it even harder to reach the last eight. Both will be relying on victory against each other as well as an upset win against co-hosts Bangladesh which is stretching the boundaries of optimism let alone credibility in Dhaka. Even if they are able to win those two matches they will need a third victory against one out of South Africa, England, India and the West Indies in order to progress.

It’s not impossible that we might see an uninvited gatecrasher for the final fortnight of the tournament but the odds have been heavily and deliberately stacked against them after India and Pakistan’s premature departure four years ago cost the ICC around $50 million in lost advertising revenue amongst other income streams.

So, if things go according to plan, the speculation during the qualifying matches will revolve around which of the major Test nations (with respect to Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) will be playing each other in the last-eight rather than whether they will be going home early.

Can you imagine if a rampant South Africa, with five wins out of five and facing Bangladesh in the final game of the qualifying stages, could avoid Australia or India in the next round by losing? Would the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit be keeping a closer eye than usual on proceedings?

As much as every team will swear that they are simply playing their own game and not worrying about the other group or working out the possible permutations, it will become increasingly impossible not to think about potential opponents. And what will then be made of a team, already assured of a quarter final place, which chooses to play all its ‘reserves.’ Just some of the things we have to look forward to.

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