Some superb Super-eights

Hat-trick man Brett Lee castles Alok Kapali.-AP

With two teams from each group slated to make the semifinals, Group E was really wobbly and unpredictable. Group F looked less open. Nandita Sridhar reports.

Hat-trick man Brett Lee

The super eight matches had some living up to do. A lot had happened in the group stage of the World Twenty20, and with the better teams having come through the rough and tumble, a lot more was expected.

With two teams from each group slated to make the semifinals, Group E was really wobbly and unpredictable. Featuring India, South Africa, New Zealand and England, all the teams were perceived as having a decent chance of making it to the last four.

Group F looked less open. Bangladesh had knocked the Windies out, but was not expected to make any impact in the super eight. The battle was between Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

With batting records pouring out of every match, Brett Lee’s hat-trick against Bangladesh was much needed for the bowling brigade. Lee’s dismissals were a varied delight. The Aussies throttled Bangladesh, and Ponting made some smart bowling changes.

“It’s always nice to get three wickets in a row,” said Lee. “Sometimes you look up at the scoreboard and you see you have gone for 15 off two overs. It’s just a matter of knowing you’ve hit the spot. And I’ve been pretty happy.”

There was obvious tension in the England-South Africa match. The South Africans are yet to get over Kevin Pietersen’s move to England, and he was repeatedly booed in every match. England did well to derail South Africa’s run-scoring, but made a mess of chasing a gettable target. Shaun Pollock was at his miserly best, spot-on with his line, and impeccable with the slower deliveries.

Pietersen was run-out in controversial circumstances, after colliding with Pollock, but refused to read anything more into the incident. “It was just an accident,” he said after the match.

The Sri Lankans completely lost their way after a blistering start in the group stage. Sanath Jayasuriya’s failures in the super eight indicated how much his team was reliant on him upfront. Pakistan clobbered his bowling and got him out cheaply, before beating Sri Lanka by 33 runs. Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando were the only effective bowlers, with the others sorted out by Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan. Shahid Afridi sent across his difficult spinners and gave little room for the Lankans to score and plan their chase. The loss put the Lankans under severe pressure to beat the Aussies to qualify.

England’s misery deepened after its match against New Zealand. The English had to pay dearly for letting slip their early advantage in the middle overs.

New Zealand scored 124 off the last 11 overs, thanks to Craig McMillan and Scott Styris. Styris was particularly severe on Dimitri Mascarenhas, dispatching the ball over mid-wicket for three successive sixes.

England collapsed again while chasing. Darren Maddy did well for his fifty, but the end-overs weren’t exploited well enough. Shane Bond struck a double blow in the fag end of the England chase, after Pietersen’s utter lack of respect to Vettori. Attempting a reverse-sweep, he was embarrassingly bowled. England had lost again, and was left to rely on arithmetic and other teams for a semifinal spot.

Man of the Match Misbah-ul-Haq took the fight to the Aussies.-AP

Misbah-ul-Haq was, if critics had their way, not supposed to be here. He wasn’t young and was picked in the place of Mohammed Yousuf. But the 33-year-old was a revelation in the tournament.

Against Australia, the Pakistani bowlers, Mohammed Asif and Umar Gul, had done well to restrict the opposition. Chasing Australia’s score of 164, Pakistan was in trouble. It was then that Misbah and Malik put together a match-winning partnership.

Both attacked clinically. Misbah got off to a slower start than the captain, but played some glorious shots, especially over extra-cover. Andrew Symonds was mercilessly targeted, and carted around for three fours in an over.

Malik took less time to get going, and scored off Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark and Michael Clarke. It was Australia’s second defeat in the tournament. Pakistan had all but booked its semifinal spot.

The Aussie fielding wasn’t at its best in the group stage and the first two super eight matches. “(That we haven’t hit the stumps when fielding) probably shows we have not put in the time. We could have cut our break short by a month and come here peaking, but to be honest, at the time when we made those decisions we didn’t see it as a priority leading into a big run of cricket,” said captain Adam Gilchrist (after Ponting’s injury kept him out of the game).

Sri Lanka crawled its way to 147 for five against Bangladesh , but the latter was bundled out for 83. Vaas and Fernando were deadly again. After their mindless slam-bang approach was criticised in the group stages, the Bangladesh batsmen looked listless and confused in the super eight matches.

The crucial Group E match between New Zealand and South Africa saw the Proteas edge past the Kiwis, thanks to Morne Morkel’s four wickets, and some relentless hitting by Justin Kemp. Morkel restricted New Zealand to 153 for eight, after Lou Vincent and Brendon McCullum started well and were threatening to accelerate. McMillan was among the runs again, but had little support towards the end.

Bond and Mark Gillespie had South Africa in some trouble, but Kemp’s onslaught was staggering. He smashed six sixes in his unbeaten 89. His innings took South Africa home, and shut England out of the tournament.

Sri Lanka was blown out of the tournament by Australia . The morning pitch at Newlands was a hellhole for the team batting first (Sri Lanka). Stuart Clark was unreadable, and the Australian fielding, especially the catching, was classic. Michael Clarke’s one-handed blinder at point testified that.

The Sri Lankan batsmen were also to blame for poor shot-selection and were dismissed for 101. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden cleared the target in less than 10 overs. Sri Lanka had gone out after a positive start in the tournament.

Pakistan took 19 overs to reach Bangladesh’s modest target (140) in their inconsequential super eight match. South Africa and England failed to make it to the semifinals, after India beat both teams to advance.