Associates sweeten the Cup
The cricket World Cup is well under way, and the action has been hot, very hot, with the promise of things getting hotter going into the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, and the much anticipated final.
It promises to be a red-hot, blazing showdown for cricket's biggest prize.
So far, the action has been sizzling with the Associate members putting up a good show among themselves and leaving their mark on a few of the big boys, while the Full members, the big boys, most of them, have been marching along in fine style.
The Associates, represented by Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have all been playing well, not only among themselves, but also against their more celebrated opponents.
Ireland, the leader of the pack, have been in their usual mood, confidently knocking off the West Indies early in the proceedings, as they did to Pakistan in 2003 and to England in 2011, and battling for a place with the West Indies and Pakistan.
On the other hand, Afghanistan have not, up to now, taken a prized scalp in their debut performance, but in defeating Scotland by one wicket with three deliveries to spare, and by parading batsmen Samiulla Shemwari and unleashing fast bowlers Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, and Hamid Hassan on the opposition, they have truly impressed.
And so, too, have Scotland, who held New Zealand to 146 for seven after scoring 142, and the UAE, who, despite an innings of 106 off 83 deliveries by Shaiman Anwar, lost by two wickets with four deliveries to go to Ireland.
The Afghans certainly left their mark on Sri Lanka when they reached 232, and then, with the 1996 champions reeling at zero for one, at two for two, and at 53 for four, scared the daylights out of them before they escaped, squeezing through on the back of Mahela Jayawardene, who saved them with an innings of 100 not out.
While the Full members, the aristocrats of cricket, look set to make it to the quarter-finals, three of them, England, the West Indies, and Pakistan, are in a dog fight, with Bangladesh and Ireland breathing down their necks.
England, the mother of cricket and beaten by three Full members, and easily at that, are in serious trouble.
They lost to Australia by 111 runs; they lost to New Zealand by eight wickets when, after falling for 123 and mainly to Tim Southee who finished with seven for 33, they were blasted for 125 for two in 12. 2 overs, and after posting 309 for six, they lost the third match by nine wickets as Sri Lanka raced to 312 for one.
roller coaster ride
For the West Indies, it has been a roller coaster ride so far.
After a surprising loss to Ireland, the West Indies nailed Pakistan by 150 runs as Pakistan slumped to one run for four wickets in reply to the West Indies' 310 for six and never recovered.
They then plundered Zimbabwe, scoring 372 for two, with Chris Gayle cracking 215 and Marlon Samuels 138 not out in a partnership of 372 before removing Zimbabwe for 289, and then, just as they appeared well on the way, they buckled to South Africa and India.
South Africa blasted the West Indies for 408 for five, with AB de Villiers hitting 167 not out in 103 minutes off 69 deliveries and routed them for 151 before India followed up with a four-wicket victory, and now, with victory expected against the UAE, it may come down to net run rate among Pakistan, Ireland, and the West Indies.
After falling to India by 76 runs, and after their disastrous start against the West Indies, Pakistan defeated Zimbabwe and the UAE and are still in it with matches against and South Africa and against the dangerous Ireland.
Despite two low scores against Scotland and Australia, however, the expected big four - Australia, South Africa, India, and New Zealand - are all going well, with India and New Zealand still unbeaten.
And in spite of one loss by Australia and one by South Africa, to New Zealand and to India, respectively, all four, blessed with top-class batsmen, excellent bowlers, and good fielders, look good, set, and ready for the big showdown.
The low-scoring New Zealand-Australia match was not one for the feint hearted. It was a close, nail-biting contest, and one to remember.
After racing to 80 for one, with David Weller looking in good nick, Australia slumped to 106 for nine on the way to 151, and after Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill had got them off to a rollicking start, especially after New Zealand had sprinted to 73 for one and had started to celebrate, the Kiwis inched home breathlessly and just in time by one wicket.
And if the bowling has been spot on with right-hand leg-spinner Imran Tahir five for 45 versus the West Indies, left-handed pacer Tim Boult, five for 22 versus Australia, and another left-handed pacer, Mitchell Starc, six for 28 versus New Zealand, leading the way, the batting has been awesome.
Innings such as McCullum's 77 off 25 deliveries for New Zealand against England, and Andrew Russell's 42 off 13 deliveries for the West Indies versus Pakistan were explosive. They were, however, pedestrian in comparison to the size and speed of Gayle's innings against Zimbabwe and de Villiers against the West Indies.
Gayle's treat, 215 in 212 minutes, off 147 deliveries, with 10 fours and 16 sixes, and de Villiers' 162 not out in 103 minutes, off 69 deliveries, with 17 fours and eight sixes were magnificent and out of this world.
With four teams - England, the West Indies, Pakistan, and Ireland - fighting for survival, and with the quarter-finals, semi-finals, and final still to come, the World Cup of cricket appears heading for a grand showdown - a shoot-out to remember.