World Cup 2015 has had some highlights, but in the main, it has had a low excitement quotient. Four quarter-finals and what did we get — boredom. The most exciting of the four was perhaps the New Zealand vs West Indies match; excitement not with the foregone conclusion that New Zealand would win, but for Martin Guptill’s demonstration of aggressive batting as he galloped to the highest score in World Cup history — 237, and still waiting to be out. Notably, the only genuine excitement in the tournament so far has been provided by the traditionally volatile Pakistan, and underdogs Ireland and Bangladesh. Ireland sprang a surprise by beating a weak West Indian team, possibly the weakest in history. And there has been much excitement with Bangladesh entering its first quarter-final, at the expense of the formerly (how former do we have to go — possibly 1992!) strong but not mighty England.
However, redemption might be around the corner. What we can look forward to is the prospect of three finals rather than just one. The first is being played in Auckland as you read this article, between two teams that have never made it to a World Cup final — New Zealand and South Africa. And they bring some history as well. In the last World Cup, South Africa was knocked out (choked out?) by underdogs New Zealand in the quarter-finals while chasing a paltry score of 221. However, this time it’s different. According to Criconomics — your friendly neighbourhood World Cup forecaster (with accuracy of about 80 per cent so far in this cup) — New Zealand is the favourite and playing at home.
By the time the tournament kicked-off, we at Criconomics had already pegged New Zealand as the team to finish at the top of Pool A (‘A fifth triumph for Australia?’, IE, February 14). However, just four months ago, at the end of November 2014 when we released our Criconomics book, New Zealand was not even in the top four. What changed? A lot. Between then and the beginning of the World Cup, New Zealand played 14 matches — the most by any team during this period. It notched nine wins, four losses and one no-result — a success rate of 69 per cent — and four out of the nine wins were by at least 100 runs or five wickets. New Zealand was outperforming bigtime, and that was captured accurately in Criconomics rankings even as the World Cup began.
South Africa has always flattered to deceive, most famously in 1999 against Australia, when a disastrous run-out involving Allan Donald and Lance Klusener ended the game in a tie and Australia advanced to the final because it had finished higher in the Super Sixes. Even today, its team roster is as strong as any on paper. But it has not been delivering as it should, especially in bowling, unlike the Kiwis, who have Daniel Vettori ageing like wine and Trent Boult and Tim Southee swinging away to stardom and victories.
The second “(semi-) final” between Australia and India is likely to be as close as the first. Where was India before the cup started? The second best bet in Pool B, but overall in tatters — either the batting gave way, or the bowling gave away too many runs. We all complained, rightfully, about the lack of a bowling attack. India has come a long way since. It has improved the most during the World Cup amongst all teams (about eight points in the Criconomics team index) and in the department where it mattered the most — bowling (by a largish 11 points). It has bowled out its opposition in all seven matches so far — with Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami leading the charge.
But is it improvement enough for India to wrestle its way to the final by beating the mighty Australians (and the World Cup favourites)? According to Criconomics, the Indians have a one-in-three chance to do so. As Indians, we will be praying for them to make that chance count. Like the Kiwis, the Indians have momentum, and the Sydney pitch might just be overly helpful to the in-form Indians. If India win against Australia, it will be one of the big upsets in World Cup history. Can happen, pleasant and a prayed-for surprise, but less than an even chance.
And then we come to the final, most likely between the two host teams. It would not be a stretch to say that the only thing standing between New Zealand and its first World Cup is the venue of the final — Melbourne. Both teams are within striking distance of each other. However, the significance of home-team advantage cannot be ignored, which gives Australia a definite edge in the final over any other team (‘A fifth triumph for Australia?’).
As lovers of cricket, we are torn between what the numbers say and what the mind (and heart) wishes for. A fifth win for Australia would be well deserved, but also predictable and uninspiring. Also, as Indians, we definitely wouldn’t mind India keeping the cup. But we have been there and done that. The real good cricketing stuff would be if New Zealand or South Africa took the trophy home by playing their minds and hearts out. To be sure, Criconomics forecasts have been wrong before, three out of 10 to be precise — 1983 (India), 1987 (Australia) and 1992 (Pakistan). Will World Cup 2015 prove Criconomics wrong for the fourth time?
Bhalla is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company. He and Choudhary are authors of the recently released book, ‘Criconomics: Everything you wanted to know about ODI cricket and more’