Finally the men have been separated from the boys. The pretenders did threaten to upstage the big boys and even qualify for the quarterfinals. But when it came to the crunch situation it is the Goliaths who survived while the Davids fell by the wayside. But then it has always been like that when it comes to the World Cup or other such major events. Kenya's entry into the semifinals in 2003 can be taken as a one-off. The associate members will always be capable of pulling off the odd upset or two as they have done repeatedly over the years. After all in limited overs cricket it is a question of one team having a good day and another having a bad day at the office. Sustained campaigns however can only be carried out by experienced teams with the skill and class and the self belief to take such ups and downs in their strides.
It was always on the cards that Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka from group A and South Africa, India, West Indies and England from group B would make it to the quarterfinals. The predictable has happened even if some of the fancied teams did have a few hiccups especially in group B which always seemed to be the more interesting pool. At the start of the World Cup Bangladesh were reckoned to be the tricky banana skins. Their achievement four years ago when they defeated both India and South Africa, their steady improvement over the years and the fact that they were playing all their group matches at home marked them out as a side not to be taken lightly. Whatever their limitations at Test level Bangladesh are a handy side in limited overs cricket and have at least one victory over every senior Test playing nation. In the current World Cup too there were sunny moments that shone through a rather inconsistent campaign notably when they came from nowhere to defeat England – a result that kept them in the hunt for a quarterfinal berth despite the strong competition in the group. But abject surrenders to South Africa and West Indies showed that Bangladesh still did not have the firepower to make it to the big league.
Ireland for a short while were the most talked about team in the competition. Their sensational win over England suddenly had fans talking of a possible quarterfinal berth for them. It was not the first time that Ireland were holding centre stage. They had attracted enough attention four years ago when they knocked out Pakistan at the preliminary stage and then for good measure upset Bangladesh in the Super Eight. However in a tough group they were given little chance of pulling off similar heroics. And even if they fell off a little following the shock win over England their players – particularly Kevin O'Brien - suddenly became household names and their games invited a lot of attention.
Group A was always going to be clear cut. The presence of three minnows in the true sense of the word meant that the four big fish were assured of a quarterfinal berth without being extended. Only the final placings had to be determined and about the only real surprise was that Australia did not occupy top slot after losing their remarkable 34-match unbroken run. A couple of minor surprises marked the matches in the group but that was only to be expected as there was very little separating the four top teams. For that matter there were a couple of up and down results in group B too before the big four kept their tryst with destiny.
Overall however one must say that the minnows dished out insipid fare and seemed uncomfortable while being placed in elite company. Frequently they seemed overawed by the opposition. Zimbabwe does not play Test matches these days but one thought they would still be a handy one day side. They disappointed as did Canada, Kenya and the Netherlands. A few crumbs of comfort were provided by the European team thanks mainly to the gallant deeds of Ryan ten Doeschate who hit two hundreds and obviously belonged to a higher level but in the final analysis one has to agree with the views of Haroon Lorgat. The ICC chief executive would like to see the 2015 World Cup being contested by only ten teams so that lop sided results and matches that don't attract much attention or are played before empty stands are rooted out besides having the playing standards in keeping with a mega event like the World Cup. Perhaps there could be a return to the format of the 1992 competition wherein all nine participants played each other with the top four teams making it to the semifinals. The top eight teams from the current competition – or those occupying the ICC rankings at that time - and two squads from a tournament that the ICC could stage could form the ten participants four years from now. That way the associate members will have an avenue to play in the World Cup.
The views expressed here are of the author and not the ICC.