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Super Eights team by team prospects
Richard Sydenham | March 27, 2007 11:56 IST
The defending champions entered the tournament in near crisis having lost their last five one-day internationals, while leading fast bowler Brett Lee was ruled out through injury and Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden had to overcome injuries.
But after three conclusive victories against Group A opponents Scotland, the Netherlands and world number one side South Africa, Ricky Ponting's team have shown they will not be relinquishing their grip on the World Cup without a battle.
Players of the calibre of Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Symonds, now recovered from bicep surgery, still appear to be going through the gears with their best to come. Expect them to be in the final with every chance of winning their third title running.
Also read: The Super Eight: How the format works
They progressed against expectation following victory over Asian neighbours India, which ultimately resulted in India's elimination. With that confidence-boosting win behind them, they will not be wanting in self-belief.
In Dav Whatmore they have a coach who has seen it and done it before when he guided Sri Lanka to an unlikely World Cup triumph in 1996.
Do not expect them to progress beyond the Super Eights but they certainly have the capabilities to inflict another defeat on an unsuspecting favourite along the way.
Michael Vaughan's team are maybe the dark horses as they entered the tournament with renewed confidence having won the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia last month but still they would not have been fancied all that much.
Their opening defeat to New Zealand made their task all the more difficult as they do not bring any points through to this stage, while their struggle against Canada did not impress after the disciplining of key player Andrew Flintoff because of late-night drinking.
Bearing all that in mind, though, teams are aware still that the world's number one-ranked batsman Kevin Pietersen and influential all-rounder Flintoff can single-handedly produce match-winning performances against any team on their day.
There is no pressure on Ireland and whatever they achieve from this stage will receive only extra credit for coming this far, after they defeated Pakistan in Group D.
They have a shrewd strategist in South African coach Adrian Birrell, an influential skipper in Australian-born Trent Johnston and a team of competitors who will not lie down no matter who the opponents.
Local rivals England will not relish their first Super Eights match against the Irish and will be nervous of suffering a shock defeat like Pakistan. Do not rule out another surprise somewhere, but it is hard to see them finishing any higher than eighth.
They have the benefit of carrying through two points from their win in Group C against England. The Kiwis are always competitive.
Shane Bond's continued fitness is paramount to their chances of a semi-finals berth, while Daniel Vettori's left-arm spin on the helpful Caribbean wickets will be key.
The depth of their batting will concern opposition and it would be no surprise to see them through to the last four, as they seek their first World Cup final appearance.
The manner of their victories over the unrated teams in Group A was totally ruthless and sent a message out to the field that here was a team that would be a serious contender for the final on April 28.
A limp finish to the final group match against Australia, though, would have dented their confidence somewhat as they enter the Super Eights with no points.
The lack of a quality spinner may still hurt them, too, though they have enough ability in other areas, such as several players who are capable of striking the ball over the ropes and ample all-round depth.
Their three wins out of three in Group B showed how seriously the Sri Lankan challenge for this World Cup should be taken.
Sri Lanka are consistent and players like batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and skipper Mahela Jayawardene deliver almost every time. Openers Upul Tharanga and Sanath Jayasuriya re one of the best combinations in the event and in Muttiah Muralitharan they have possibly the best bowler in the tournament.
Coach Tom Moody has been involved in two World Cup-winning campaigns before with Australia in 1987 and 1999 and his input and advice will be a significant help.
Brian Lara's side are under tremendous pressure as hosts but they seem to be coping well with nerves, following three opening wins over Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland.
Unlike their Super Eights rivals they will not have the perceived advantage of playing against Ireland, yet with a slew of match-winning players like Chris Gayle, Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo in their ranks this may not necessarily be so damaging.
If their form up to now is anything to go by, where bowlers have been accurate and enough batsmen have been responsible, they seem to be heading for the semi-finals.
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