At The Wicket... Three Down

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At the end of three cycles, there are eight teams with a realistic chance of making the Super Six stage. It's unlikely India and Sri Lanka will both make it (unless the English flame out), but Pakistan looks like a cinch. In other Asian news, Bangladesh made a little bit of history by beating the Scots. Who knows, the Bengalis may be contenders in 2003! Stranger things have happened--like the fact that none of the matches so far have been rained out.

AUSTRALIA: Poor Steve Waugh! It's hard enough trying to fill ex-skipper Mark Taylor's cavernous boots with your best bowlers in good form; it's well nigh impossible when the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne are made to look like schoolboys by a Pakistani batting lineup that isn't yet firing on all cylinders. It doesn't help that the much-vaunted Aussie hitman Adam Gilchrist hasn't yet got going in this tournament. Waugh and Co. can still make it to the Super Six, but it will be touch and go--not the stuff you'd expect from potential champions.

ENGLAND: Alec Stewart's boys in blue were looking good until they met the green, mean machine that is South Africa. In perhaps the worst batting performance of the tournament, the Englishmen were mauled by a ferocious Alan Donald. They were lucky to get to three figures. Can they recover from shell-shock before tonight's encounter with Zimbabwe?

INDIA: Came the hour, came Tendulkar. The Bombay Bomber returned from his father's funeral to give the poor Kenyans a terrible caning. Rahul Dravid chipped in with a ton of his own. Theirs were, by the way, the first two centuries of the Cup--and a long time coming, too. The Indians gave Mohanty a run, and he produced some nasty deliveries, taking four wickets. But he was frequently wayward. Once again, the Indians gave away far too many extras (44). Still, it was a morale-boosting day in the field for the Indians and their legions of traveling fans. Now, if only Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe will lose their remaining games ...

NEW ZEALAND: After the high of beating Australia, the Kiwis were ripe for a fall--and the West Indies were happy to do the shoving. A truly appalling display left New Zealand looking like the wooden spooners of yesteryear. Worst of all, the Kiwis showed none of the imagination we've come to expect of them. It's back to the drawing board for captain Stephen Flemming.

PAKISTAN: Ahh! There you are Inzi! The middle-order batsman with the disorderly middle finally showed off some of his flair against the Aussies, even if his running between the wickets was better suited to pantomime than to World Cup cricket. But it was the bowlers, again, who won the day for Pakistan: skipper Akram and expressman Akhtar made the Australians look pedestrian. Unlike the South Africans, the Pakistanis have some kinks to iron out--notably their top-order batting--but they are the side other captains would least like to meet before the finals.

SOUTH AFRICA: They beat the Indians, hammered the Sri Lankans and then slaughtered the Englishmen. Are the Springboks doing too much, too soon? Rival captains will pray that is the case. After their batsmen failed to capitalize on a good start, Donald and gang produced another masterclass in pace and seam bowling to bring the English to their knees. Message to 'Bok skipper Hansie Cronje: there's no tax on smiling, y'know. Try it sometime.

SRI LANKA: The reigning champions got their act together just enough to beat the Zimbabwe. Captain Ranatunga will take little comfort from the form of several key players, but he now has two points and a lifeline. The Lankans must beat India and Kenya--and by big margins--to be sure of a place in the Super Six. Jayasuriya update: no, he hasn't awakened as yet, although God knows it's about time.

WEST INDIES: The Caribbean kings finally came to life against the Kiwis, with keeper Ridley Jacobs shining on both sides of the wicket. For a change, the bowling burden didn't rest on Walsh and Ambrose, with Dillon, Simmons and King all collecting wickets. The batsmen took their time reaching the 157-run target, but that's understandable. The Windies now look a whole lot more confident of themselves--and a cert for the Super Six.

THE MINNOWS: Bangladesh won its first World Cup game against Scotland. Zimbabwe and New Zealand couldn't sustain their winning streaks. And Kenya maintained its 0% record.