The quarter-finalists for the 2015 Cricket World Cup are finally known after a long and gruelling group-stage campaign, and the eventual list of qualifiers shows little surprises. England had likely hoped for a better fate, but the four teams advancing from Pool A all proved to be far superior.
Co-hosts New Zealand and Australia are joined in the last eight by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, while the four teams to qualify from Pool B are defending champions India, South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies. The Windies qualified thanks to a big win over the United Arab Emirates on the final day of group play and Ireland's subsequent loss to Pakistan.
Here's what the schedule for the quarter-finals looks like, along with full predictions:
|South Africa vs. Sri Lanka||March 18||3:30 a.m.||Sydney||South Africa Win|
|India vs. Bangladesh||March 19||3:30 a.m.||Melbourne||India Win|
|Australia vs. Pakistan||March 20||3:30 a.m.||Adelaide||Australia Win|
|New Zealand vs. West Indies||March 21||1:30 a.m.||Wellington||New Zealand Win|
The championship odds for all remaining teams, courtesy of Oddschecker:
|2015 CWC Updated Odds|
South Africa vs. Sri Lanka
Cricket journalist Harsha Bhogle thinks the first quarter-final between Sri Lanka and South Africa carries the most intrigue of all four fixtures, and it's easy to see why:
The Proteas have plenty of batting power, led by the likes of AB de Villiers, David Miller and JP Duminy. The first two in that list rank near the top when it comes to batting average, but South Africa's group of batsmen runs deeper than most.
Sri Lanka's batsmen have also been in excellent form, however, and the duo of Kumar Sangakkara (124.00 average) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (79.00 average) has the potential to at least keep pace with the Proteas.
Then there's Lasith Malinga, who hasn't been at his best but will be delighted to face South Africa on Sydney's slower wicket. ESPN Cricinfo's Andrew Fernando believes the veteran bowler is the team's best chance of springing the upset:
Pakistan proved South Africa can drop wickets in a hurry, and if Malinga gets in a groove, Sri Lanka certainly have a chance to beat the favoured Proteas.
India vs. Bangladesh
The defending champions have now won 10 matches in a row, are arguably the most well-rounded squad in the tournament and come into this match with all the momentum in the world. So things should be easy, right?
Not quite. Bangladesh have proved themselves to be a feisty team, easily dispatching of England before pushing New Zealand all the way. Cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar is more than wary of the threat the Tigers present, via NDTV:
Mahmudullah has been lights out the last few matches and currently averages 86 runs. Shakib Al Hasan is putting together a fantastic stretch with the ball, leading a deep and well rounded group of bowlers.
They'll have their hands more than full against MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and the rest of India's batsmen, but don't be shocked if the Tigers manage to keep this match close until the very end.
Australia vs. Pakistan
This is yet another match that should be far closer than it looks on paper. Pakistan have bounced back nicely after a difficult start to the tournament, and as ever, they're playing their finest cricket with their backs against the wall.
Both teams met for an ODI series in the UAE back in October, with the Baggy Greens recording a clean sweep, but Pakistan's bowlers have come a long way since then. Rahat Ali and Mohammad Irfan are both in excellent form, and after a big win over Ireland, fans such as TV presenter Aatif Nawaz are beyond optimistic:
The co-hosts will be fielding arguably the most in-form bowler in the world right now in Mitchell Starc, and with David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and George Bailey all in strong form, they'll like their chances of pulling off the win.
The match will be played in Adelaide, the first chance those fans have had to cheer on the Baggy Greens this tournament. Home-field advantage will be a factor, but Pakistan have already shown they have what it takes to overcome the odds.
New Zealand vs. West Indies
Incredibly enough, this should be the most one-sided match of the quarter-finals. West Indies limped into the tournament and pretty much lucked their way into the quarter-finals, while New Zealand have thoroughly beaten every team they've faced so far.
Windies captain Jason Holder is relishing the chance of going up against the Black Caps, as shared by NDTV, but he should be careful what he wishes for:
Holder was brilliant with the ball against the UAE, but the Black Caps batsmen present a whole different challenge. Between Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill, there's an incredible potential for runs early in the innings, and Corey Anderson and Ross Taylor are no slouches, either.
Meanwhile, Trent Boult is the second-leading wicket-taker in the tournament, while Tim Southee and Daniel Vettori also sit comfortably in the top 10. New Zealand should be the favourites to win the title, along with India, and they should have little trouble advancing past an inconsistent Windies squad.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN Cricinfo.