Top-four breakaway could turn Cricket World Cup into a fizzer

Nottingham: Steve Waugh says four nations already seem "destined" to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Unfortunately, it's hard to argue against that after India claimed a rain-marred 89-run over Pakistan on Monday morning.

In what some regard as the greatest rivalry in international sports, complete with a history of war and general acrimony between the nations since partition in 1947, it was Virat Kohli's men who claimed an important win in Manchester under the Duckworth Lewis system, leaving them firmly ensconced in the top four of the 10-nation tournament.

India’s Kuldeep Yadav (left) and Virat Kohli celebrate the wicket of Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman.Credit:AP

But Pakistan's demise, the West Indies' slippage, the weakest ever South African side at a World Cup and Sri Lanka's on-and-off-field malaise, means World Cup officials have a hard sell at the mid-point of the tournament to heighten interest although ticket sales have largely been pre-sold.

"Can we make the semi-finals? There is still hope but it's only slim," said South African great turned commentator Shaun Pollock.

The Proteas need to win their remaining four games – and then hope for the best.

There have been 22 pool matches so far, and perhaps only five that stood out, and it may not get much better from here unless there are some upsets.

Already there have been grumblings about the pitches – too green say Sri Lanka – and the Kookaburra ball.

The overwhelming preference – and theory – has been to win the toss and bowl first but statistics show that batting first and putting a big score on the board has been the safest route.

The highest successful run chase so far has been the 245 the Black Caps made against Bangladesh.

In terms of broadcast ratings here, the divide between the top and the rest will make little difference, for matches are behind a pay television wall. In comparison, the Women's World Cup currently on in France is on free to air and has enjoyed strong ratings and coverage in the British newspapers.

India's win was a statement to even Australia, the latter enjoying a couple of days off before facing Bangladesh, having had four games in 10 days, the latest an 87-run win over Sri Lanka on Sunday.

"Whilst Sri Lanka didn’t really threaten Australia with perhaps the exception of their first 15 overs of batting, it was another positive step for a team that seems destined to be joined in the semis with England, New Zealand and India," Waugh, a 1987 and 1999 World Cup winner, said.

Australia’s Jason Behrendorff (second left) after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Thirimanne.Credit:AP

While India steam ahead, England are now dealing with injuries to skipper Eoin Morgan (back spasm) and opening batsman Jason Roy (left hamstring).

Morgan was expected to miss Tuesday's clash against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford, while the hard-hitting Roy was likely to miss this and Friday's match against Afghanistan, but hopes to return for next week's marquee fixture against Australia.

In the Barbados-born Archer and fellow speed king Mark Wood, England have two flat-out quicks who could flatten Australia's top order, one that had slipped to 4-38 from a bumper barrage against the West Indies. That battle will be must-watch viewing.

India have already beaten Australia – pacemen Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar shared six wickets – but it's their attacking spinners which former Australian captain Michael Clarke says sets them apart.

This contrasts to the Australians, who have opted against using specialist spinners Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon in their past two games.

If the final four is set, even at this early stage, the machinations of what transpires within those leading nations will hopefully provide plenty of drama deep into an Australian night.

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