18 Mar 2015

And then there were eight

7:31 am on 18 March 2015

The knockout phase of the Cricket World Cup has finally arrived after a month of competition, and the most notable omission from the final eight is, of course, England.

Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum with the Chappell-Hadlee trophy, is there more silverware to come for the New Zealand cricketers?

Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum with the Chappell-Hadlee trophy, is there more silverware to come for the New Zealand cricketers? Photo: Photosport

The format is now sudden death, and results so far count for little. One slip-up, and no matter how well a side's World Cup has gone so far, they can quickly find their tournament over.

South Africa versus Sri Lanka, Sydney Cricket Ground, Wednesday 18 March

The most intriguing match of the opening elimination rounds.

Going into the tournament, most would have predicted South Africa a straightforward winner but given their underwhelming performance so far the match seems very even.

Both teams have won four games and lost two in pool play, South Africa losing to India and Pakistan, which suggests a weakness against the sub-continent sides.

The 'chokers' tag still also haunts South Africa. To reach the semi-finals this time, they are going to have to achieve something no other South African side has done, and that is win a sudden death match at World Cup.

Captain A B de Villiers sits third on the leading run scorers chart at the tournament behind Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakarra and Zimbabwe's Brendan Taylor, with Hashim Amlah in tenth spot.

South Africa Cricket Captain A B de Villiers

South Africa Cricket Captain A B de Villiers Photo: Photosport

While de Villiers and Amlah have been among the runs, the wickets haven't been tumbling for their bowlers - Dale Steyne and Morne Morkel were expected to be at the top of the wicket list but only Morkel is among the top ten.

He sits in seventh equal spot with New Zealand's Tim Southee and Dan Vettori on 13.

Sri Lanka started the tournament slowly but there's been a run feast for Sangakkara in recent matches.

He's scored four successive centuries against Bangladesh, England, Australia and Scotland, and sits at the top of the tournament run scorers list, averaging 124, and has a strike rate of 119.

Kumar Sangakkara has scored four centuries at this World Cup.

Kumar Sangakkara has scored four centuries at this World Cup. Photo: Photosport

He and Tillakarathne Dilshan, who sits fourth on the runs scoring list, will be key to giving Sri Lanka a large target to defend or chasing down a target.

While the South African bowlers have hardly set the world cup alight, Sri Lanka's have been missing in action - there are none among the top ten and Lasith Malinga is no longer the threat he once was. He comes in at 12th with six wickets at this tournament.

Sri Lanka's front-line spinner Rangana Herath is set to return having for today's quarter-final at the SCG.

36-year-old Herath split the webbing between two fingers on his bowling hand trying to take a catch in the defeat of England.

He missed the last two pool matches against Australia and Scotland but could be a threat at the SCG ground, which generally assists the spinners.

Interestingly enough, though, of the last 16 matches between the two teams, there have been eight wins apiece.

Key to the result of this match will be the toss. Whoever wins will bat first not wanting to bat second on a turning wicket.

Prediction: South Africa.

India versus Bangladesh, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Thursday 19 March

Have Bangladesh already played their 'final' at this tournament? The win over England is undoubtedly their tournament highlight and meant they advanced to the final eight.

The Bangladeshis also made life difficult for the Black Caps in their final pool match, with the New Zealand batsman struggling to get on top of the spinners.

There'll be no such problems for the Indian batsman, and the defending champions should comfortably advance, although they'll have to work for it.

Mohammed Mahmudullah sits fifth on the tournament batting list and has scored two centuries against New Zealand and England, and the Indian bowling lineup will hold little fear for him.

Mohammed Mahmudullah in full swing against the Black Caps.

Mohammed Mahmudullah in full swing against the Black Caps. Photo: Photosport

History though is against Bangladesh, for India won all but three of their 27 completed matches between the two nations.

Bangladesh have been the battlers of this world cup and making the knockout phase is an achievement that shouldn't be ignored, but their bowling attack will struggle against the quality of the India batting lineup, with none of the Bangladeshi bowlers featuring in the top 30 wicket takers at this tournament.

Prediction: India.

Australia versus Pakistan, Adelaide Oval, Friday 20 March

With skipper Michael Clarke back at the helm Australia are looking more and more polished.

The only match they've lost was to New Zealand in a one wicket thriller at Eden Park.

Interestingly enough, though, there are no Australian batsmen inside the top ten runscorers of the tournament while Pakistan captain Misbah Ul Haq sits at eighth.

Australia have looked a much more polished outfit with Michael Clarke at the helm.

Australia have looked a much more polished outfit with Michael Clarke at the helm. Photo: Photosport

On the bowling front, Australia have paceman Mitchell Starc, who sits at the top of the tournament wicket takers.

He's on 16, while Pakistan left arm pace bowler Wahab Riaz is two back with 14. His teammate and fellow left-armer Mohammed Irfan - the tallest bowler on the international scene, at 2 metres 16 or just over 7 ft - is in doubt with a recurring hip injury. His absence would be a major blow to Pakistan's slim chances.

Pakistan will miss Mohammed Irfan if he's unavailable for the quarterfinal.

Pakistan will miss Mohammed Irfan if he's unavailable for the quarterfinal. Photo: Photosport

Australia will be in their element as the competition goes into its sudden death phase.

Prediction: Australia.

New Zealand versus West Indies, Wellington Stadium, Satuday 21 March

The odds are stacked in the Black Caps' favour, unbeaten at the tournament so far.

Playing at a venue where they've enjoyed plenty of success, having won 15 of the 22 one dayers they've completed there, and where they've beaten the West Indies on each of the three occasions they've played there, another World Cup semi-final beckons for the Black Caps.

But if anything can fluster New Zealand coach Mike Hesson in his preparations for this match, it's an unpredictable side like the West Indies.

The Windies were a mess coming into this tournament, with off-field issues surrounding player selection for the tournament.

They've beaten Pakistan but also lost to Ireland.

Chris Gayle scored 215 when he clubbed the Zimbabwe bowlers around Maunuka Oval in Canberra in pool play, but has done little else, scoring 64 runs in his other four innings. He is however a talisman for this Windies side, and limiting his time at the crease will be key to the Black Caps' chances.

Batsman Chris Gayle celebrates a wicket with a West Indies team-mate.

West Indies talisman Chris Gayle. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Gayle has struggled with New Zealand bowler Tim Southee during his career, and, with Southee returning to the venue of his wicket haul against England, an intriguing contest looms.

Neither side has any batsmen ranked inside the tournament's top ten, but three New Zealand bowlers, Trent Boult, Southee and Dan Vettori, sit among the most successful wicket-takers compared to the West Indies' sole representative Jerome Taylor.

Prediction: New Zealand.

New Zealand bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee.

New Zealand bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

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