Spate of upsets

Virat Kohli proved his worth against West Indies.-AP

Three fancied sides, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India, were knocked out before the semifinals. The different nature of the surfaces at Centurion and the Wanderers had a huge say in the results.

This has been a Champions Trophy of upsets. Three fancied sides, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India, were knocked out before the semifinals. The different nature of the surfaces at Centurion and the Wanderers had a huge say in the results.

For instance, Sri Lanka overcame the fancied South Africa at Centurion. The rather slow track with the ball gripping the pitch, suited the Sri Lankan bowling.

Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan were huge factors on such a track. And the Lankan batsmen too were familiar with these conditions. The Lankans played their last two games at the Wanderers where there was bounce and appreciable movement off the seam for the pacemen.

The Lankan batting wasn’t the same threat, nor was its bowling. In a significant indication, off-spinning great Muralitharan opted out of the last contest against New Zealand since the pitch did not suit his bowling.

The Lankans went down in their last two games, to England and New Zealand. Kumar Sangakkara’s men were out.

There were massive swings in fortunes in Group ‘B’. The fancied South Africa, the host, played all its matches at Centurion where its pacemen struggled. The South African bowling was taken to the cleaners by England. Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah attacked the spinners in the middle-overs and then the left-handed Eoin Morgan launched into the host bowling in the end overs.

Once England had posted a score well over 300, South Africa came under pressure during the chase under the lights. Skipper Graeme Smith batted with resolve even as wickets fell at the other end. This was courage under fire. During the later stages of his innings Smith was clearly cramping but England skipper Andrew Strauss was within his rights to deny him a runner. Smith’s heroic 141 was the innings of the league phase. There was hardly any support for him from the other end. Abraham de Villiers’ 36 was the next best score.

Questions were being asked again about South Africa’s ability to win the big tournaments. This time round, it could not even come close. All credit to England. The side’s display against South Africa took many of its critics by surprise. England did not plod in the middle overs and actually went after the bowling.

England’s bowling was spearheaded by paceman James Anderson. His control, two-way movement around the off-stump, conventional yorkers and reverse swing were compelling. Off-spinner Graeme Swann was crafty and the lanky paceman, Stuart Broad, picked up wickets regularly even if he lacked control. England had qualified after two matches but required to beat New Zealand in its last match at the Wanderers to top the pool.

For South Africa, the defeat was bitter. This said, the South Africans would have been better off on the fast and bouncy Wanderers than at Centurion. Roelof van der Merwe and Johan Botha are useful spinners but not world class. The side’s pace attack — its strength — would have relished bowling at the Wanderers. Dale Steyn & Co. would have been more than a handful.

Meanwhile, the Kiwis, riding on Jesse Ryder’s brilliance at the top of the order and fired by some spunky batting lower down by skipper Daniel Vettori, James Franklin and Kyle Mills, put the runs on the board against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers and then picked early wickets.

Despite brilliant batting by Mahela Jayawardene and some big hits from Nuwan Kulasekara down the order, the Lankans finished well short of the target. The pitch at the Wanderers suited the Kiwi brand of cricket.

Vettori’s men were rocked by injuries — Ryder too was out of the competition with a groin strain — but found strength from within. New Zealand had to defeat England in its last league game at the Wanderers. In the event of New Zealand losing by anything less than a very close margin, Sri Lanka would go through.

The Kiwis lifted their game against the Englishmen. Shane Bond and Mills struck early. Then, Grant Elliott — he played much of his cricket in South Africa before moving to New Zealand — hit the deck extracting bounce and gaining movement to end up with four wickets.

A total around the 150-run mark was made to look even smaller as Brendon McCullum blitzed at the top of the order. Broad extracted disconcerting bounce to rattle the Kiwis and sliced through the middle-order but the Kiwis were eventually home by four wickets.

Vettori’s men had defied the odds by topping the group. The skipper’s bowling changes and field-placements had been slick. Despite the fitness concerns and the loss of key players, the belief in the side was immense.

Apart from possessing a capable pace attacked spearheaded by Bond, the Kiwi batsmen were also familiar with horizontal bat strokes to make use of the scoring opportunities on a bouncy track.

Eventually, New Zealand and England were through from Group ‘B’. The highly-rated South Africa and Sri Lanka had been eliminated.

In Group ‘A’ Australia was progressing towards a healthy score against India at Centurion when rain ended the duel. India, with just one point from two matches, was on the brink. Apart from defeating the West Indies convincingly at the Wanderers, the side had to hope for a Pakistan win over Australia.

With pacemen Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar delivering telling blows and the young Virat Kohli (79 not out) cutting, pulling and driving with aplomb, India outplayed the second string West Indies.

The other result almost went its way. Australia, chasing a score just over 200, appeared to be coasting when some superb bowling by paceman Rana Naved, Mohammad Asif and off-spinner Saeed Ajmal triggered a collapse. A combination of reverse swing and probing spin on a sluggish track made Australia sweat.

The humdinger was clinched by the ninth-wicket pair of Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz off the last ball. This game at Centurion was the match of the league phase. India was out while Australia topped the group, edging Pakistan to the second spot.

The league script was not on expected lines. S. Dinakar THE SCORES

New Zealand 315 for seven in 50 overs (B. McCullum 46, J. Ryder 74, M. Guptill 66, D. Vettori 48, J. Franklin 28 not out, S. Jayasuriya three for 39) bt Sri Lanka 277 in 46.4 overs (T. Dilshan 41, M. Jayawardene 77, N. Kulaskara 57 not out, K. Mills three for 69).

England 323 for eight in 50 overs (A. Strauss 25, O. Shah 98, P. Collingwood 82, E. Morgan 67, W. Parnell three for 60) bt South Africa 301 for nine in 50 overs (G. Smith 141, A. de Villiers 36, J. Anderson three for 42, S. Broad three for 67).

Australia 234 for four in 42.3 overs (T. Paine 56, R. Ponting 65, M. Hussey 67, C. White 35 not out) v India. No result because of rain.

England 146 in 43.1 overs (P. Collingwood 40, R. Bopara 30, S. Bond two for 21, G. Elliott four for 31) lost to New Zealand 147 for six in 27.1 overs (B. McCullum 48, M. Guptill 53, S. Broad four for 39).

Pakistan 205 for six in 50 overs (K. Akmal 44, S. Malik 27, M. Yousuf 45, Misbah-ul-Haq 41) lost to Australia 206 for eight in 50 overs (T. Paine 29, R. Ponting 32, M. Hussey 64).

West Indies 129 in 36 overs (P. Kumar three for 22, A. Nehra three for 31) lost to India 130 for three in 32.1 overs (D. Karthik 34, V. Kohli 79 not out).