Well thank heavens for that. The Sado-Masochists in the ICC World Cup Planning Committee devised a format to guarantee the top eight teams would contest the quarter-finals and, despite a few scary moments almost entirely generated by England's exhausted, frequently inept and fractious squad, they have been rewarded.
Whether it was strictly necessary to spend 29 days confirming what we already knew would happen is another matter. And indeed next time the ICC are dispensing with the tiresome lesser nations altogether, but in spite of the ridiculously attenuated format and regular diet of one sided matches, this World Cup has been by far the most enjoyable since 1996.
Paradoxically the fascination has been caused by a succession of unpredictable games between the top sides. Of the eight quarter-finalists only England remain undefeated in matches between the survivors. Australia's irksome unbeaten record has now been consigned to history leading Ian Chappell to fume about Shahid Afridi's wicket taking celebration. I suppose raising one's hands aloft in triumph must constitute some awfully disrespectful faux pas in Australia, just as Brett Lee's fist pumps and mock Irish heel clicking is regarded as the very essence of naffness everywhere else in the world. But we forgive Brett because he's universally acknowledged to be a likeable Australian and thus falls under the protective custody of the Endangered Species Act 1973 along with Germaine Greer, Guy Pearce, and Rolf Harris. Ian Chappell, sadly, does not.
It is with some difficulty, therefore, that I have identified my top ten favourite moments so far in a World Cup that has yielded shocks, hat tricks, collapses and controversies but here goes:
- Virender Sehwag. Is he strictly speaking a moment? Well, every moment spent watching him merges into an extended moment of almost illegal pleasure. Perhaps he deserves a top ten to himself starting with the first ball of each of his five innings to date, all of which have been dispatched for four. That in itself is ludicrous, as if he is toying with us, suggesting he could in fact hit every ball for four but decides against it for the good of cricket. As the tournament has progressed he has become steadily slower between the wickets (on the rare occasions when he doesn't rely on a runner), and when he deigns to field it is either at slip or short mid wicket where he can safely watch the ball sail past him to the boundary where lesser mortals such as Kohli or Tendulkar can engage in the tiresome business of retrieving it and throwing it in. He began with a genius century against Bangladesh including a new shot unplayable by anyone else, the back foot aerial straight drive. Thereafter he has simply flayed the bowling until he thinks even his ridiculously flaky middle order team mates can't fail to reach 300 and contrives his own downfall. I used only to have eyes for Victor Trumper but have filed the divorce papers in expectation of an early autumn wedding to Viru.
- Kevin O'Brien's hundred against England. This qualifies as a moment by dint of being completed in the time in takes to prepare a decent sized omelette. He was in some ways assisted by England's bowlers, but still managed to record the biggest six of the World Cup and take his side from certain defeat to certain victory. Furthermore, when he lay awake at night imagining his day in the sun I bet he didn't see himself finally attaining unsurpassable glory while sporting pink hair. The removal of the lesser nations from the next tournament will deprive us of singular and extraordinary moments such as these and will render the WC that much the poorer.
- New Zealand's demolition of the Pakistan attack to the tune of 114 runs off their last six overs. Again the bowling was beyond diabolical (or "not the greatest" as Iain O'Brien so understatedly said on Test Match Sofa) but you try hitting thigh high 90 mph balls 100 metres. It isn't easy. Taylor's partnership with Oram put on 85 in 21 balls at just over 4 runs per ball. No one will see its like again in an international match now that Shoaib Akhtar has retired.
- England's run chase against India. 338 is way too much to get in any match but against the hosts in Bangalore it was simply unattainable. Then, with 10 overs to go, 60 odd to get and 8 wickets in hand it was impossible to lose. Zaheer Khan came on to bowl and the match was lost to England within an over, but last ditch sixes just in time by Bresnan, Swann and most extraordinarily of all Shahzad in the last over brought a tie that neither side was happy with. Who says ODI cricket was designed to ensure a result? Beautiful.
- Ricky Ponting's protracted mental breakdown. No one should take pleasure in that, and in fact I don't, but it is undeniably curious. Witness his infuriation with Steve Smith for not getting out of his way when taking that catch. Recall Brad Haddin weighing in on his behalf after he smacked the cover off the ball and didn't walk against Pakistan. Observe the continuing lack of runs, shrinking eyes, and bizarre schoolboy haircut. Something is happening. For what it's worth my theory is that his body has been taken over by the brain of a 12 year old who has devised the best possible way to avoid a tricky Maths exam in the morning by escaping into the form of an international cricketer and is now regretting it.
- India's collapse against South Africa. We are constantly being told India has the best batting line up in the world. They probably do, but losing 9 wickets for 29 runs is not great evidence for that hypothesis. Watching Dhoni grow increasingly but silently furious whilst his team mates disappeared in a hail of idiocy was an object listen in how to communicate profound displeasure without raising your voice. By the way, since I'm on the subject of Indian batting can I make a very obvious point? If your side contains the best batsmen but your bowlers, with the exception of Zaheer Khan, are by some way the wrong side of mediocre, it makes little sense to prepare good batting wickets. Trust your superior batsmen to score the runs whatever the surface and give the useless bowlers a helping hand by producing a raging turner on which even Bhaji and Pathan could be effective.
- Jonathan Trott's "catch" against the West Indies that went for six. This was a true moment and had all the makings of being an English classic, albeit provided by a South African. With England desperate for a breakthrough and facing a humiliating early exit, Trott caught a ball on the boundary from the hitherto unfancied Andre Russell. He fell. He avoided the boundary rope. He claimed the catch. But TV replays couldn't be sure that his sleeve hadn't brushed the raised advertising sponge that sits on top of the rope owing to a shadow caused by the floodlights. It seemed that at last the English had a moment of injustice and desperately poor luck that they could use as a soothing comfort blanket of despair to explain yet another failure at a World Cup. Unfortunately for them the West Indies imploded immediately, losing 4 wickets for 3 runs thus prolonging their agony into the quarter finals (where a stray dog will undoubtedly prevent the ball from going for a winning boundary resulting in last ball heartache).
- Balaji Rao doing anything. Yes. Balaji Rao. What's not to love about Balaji Rao?
- Billy Bowden refusing to give Ian Bell out against India when the ball was clearly shown to be hitting middle stump by Hawkeye. So determined was Bowden not to be undermined by the DRS having turned down an appeal which was subsequently and immediately reviewed that despite incontrovertible evidence that a slow, low non turning delivery was going to hit middle and off stumps, he invoked a little known sub clause in the DRS that states "if a batsman is over 2.5 metres down the track the ball must be shown to be hitting a very specific spot in the middle of the middle stump in order to be given out". A man who puts his own DRS stats above common sense is a man we should cherish. See also Asoka da Silva.
- Hiral Patel's back foot cut over extra cover for six off Shaun Tait for Canada against Australia. It is quite simply the greatest shot I have ever seen.
And I haven't even started on Imran Tahir...