ICC World Cup 2011: Are India, Pakistan Heading For Quarter-Final Showdown?

India’s loss to South Africa has enhanced the chances of an India-Pakistan match-up in the quarter-finals of ICC World Cup 2011.

Unlike in Group B, in which the situation is fluid, it is quite possible to predict which teams will qualify for the quarter-finals, from Group A.

These are likely to be Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, though not necessarily in that order. Zimbabwe have an outside chance of qualifying at Pakistan’s cost. For that to happen, the Africans will need to beat Shahid Afridi’s men, when the sides meet on Monday, March 14, at Kandy, and then await the result of Pakistan’s game against Australia.

Zimbabwe have just the solitary win, with games against Pakistan and Kenya to be played. The best they can hope to achieve is 3 wins by winning both their remaining games. If Pakistan were to lose to Zimbabwe and beat Australia, that would give the sub-continental squad 4 wins and 2 losses, sufficient to trump Zimbabwe’s bid.

Zimbabwe’s best hope of qualifying would be to beat Pakistan and hope that Australia would prevail over Afridi’s wards. In such an eventuality, both Zimbabwe and Pakistan would end up with 3 wins and 3 losses each, and a net run rate comparison would come into play. Currently, Pakistan have an NRR of +0.76, as against Zimbabwe’s -0.69. So Zimbabwe would need to win by sufficiently large margins against Pakistan and Kenya, to offset the difference.

The other three teams, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, have already qualified for the quarter-finals. But the pecking order in Group A is far from decided. Were Pakistan to win both their remaining games, they would have 5 wins and a loss, which would be better than the best result of 5 wins and a tie that Sri Lanka and Australia could achieve. Pakistan’s rivals for the top spot in the group (based on an NRR comparison) could then be New Zealand, also with 5 wins and a loss, assuming that they beat Sri Lanka, in their last game, on March 18.

In their worst-case scenario, Pakistan could end up with 3 wins and 3 losses and still qualify, in fourth place, assuming they had a better NRR compared with Zimbabwe. Afridi’s charges could also end up in 2nd or 3rd position were they to win one of their two remaining games against Zimbabwe and Australia.

For Australia to top the group, they would need to beat Canada and Pakistan, and await a Sri Lanka win over New Zealand. For Sri Lanka to get to the top of the Group A heap, they would need to beat New Zealand, and hope for an Australia win over Pakistan (assuming that Pakistan had earlier beaten Zimbabwe). That would lead to an NRR comparison between Sri Lanka and Australia, a battle that Sri Lanka are currently winning, with an NRR of +2.705, as against Australia’s +1.645. But were Pakistan to lose to Zimbabwe, and beat Australia, that would automatically propel Sri Lanka to the top of the group, assuming the co-hosts prevailed over New Zealand.

We will need to know the results of the New Zealand-Sri Lanka and Australia-Pakistan games to be able to say with certainty how the Group A rankings are likely to pan out. But conventional wisdom (for whatever it’s worth) tells us that Pakistan are likely to beat Zimbabwe and lose to Australia. Conventional wisdom, garrulous as it always is, also tells us that India are likely to finish second in Group B. For an India-Pakistan quarter-final meeting to transpire, Pakistan would have to finish in 3rd place in Group A. This would depend on an NRR comparison between Pakistan and the loser of the Sri Lanka-New Zealand game.

Depending on whether they want to meet South Africa or India, in the quarter-finals, Pakistan should aim for a high or low NRR, while beating Zimbabwe, on March 14.

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