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Knockouts Promise Fireworks in Diwali Season

The final week of the league stage in the ODI World Cup is now underway and has witnessed a flurry of records being smashed. Hosts India mowed down the famed South African batting by skittling them out for just 83 and winning the match by a whopping 243 runs! This performance came just a couple of days after wrapping up Sri Lanka for a paltry 55. India’s 8 wins in 8 games has not only created history but also made them firm favourites for World Cup glory!

If Team India’s heroics were not enough, we soon saw the knock of a lifetime by Glen Maxwell against Afghanistan where he smashed 201 not out and clinched victory from the jaws of defeat! The cherry on top for the week was the controversial ‘timed out’ dismissal of Angelo Matthews - a first ever in the history of international cricket and the debate surrounding cricketing ethics! This breath-taking ensemble in the final phase of the league promises a truly mouth-watering finale to the World Cup in the knockout stage.

The first few days of the week have definitely ensured that we don’t have to wait for the final game of the league for the semis spots to be finalised. It is now almost a certainty, barring a miracle, that Wankhede will host India versus New Zealand and Eden Gardens will see a South Africa-Australia clash on 15th and 16th November respectively. While India and South Africa had already sealed their spots, the Aussies officially qualified for the knockouts only after their incredible win against Afghanistan.

It’s not always that teams down 91 for 7 and requiring a further 200 runs more to win, ultimately emerge victorious without losing any more wickets. It was a special night for Maxwell’s Indian fans as he single-handedly carried Australia over the line, while battling cramps for most of his exceptional knock. Fighting on one leg and cramping badly, Maxwell in a stunning display of clean hitting, took just 128 balls to get his double ton, the biggest in a run chase in ODIs. So remarkable was his stroke-play that in the 202-run unbeaten partnership, Pat Cummins made only 12 runs! Eventually, the Aussies overhauled the target with 19 balls remaining.

Credit, however, must also be given to the talented Afghan side. They have been consistently on the rise and have played phenomenal cricket in this World Cup, beating top sides like Pakistan, England, Sri Lanka in the process. Their loss to Bangladesh at the start of the tournament will sting them as that would have given them a stronger chance to qualify for the semi-finals. Importantly, despite the poor shows by other Asian sides in the competition apart from India, Afghanistan is the one story that will bring joy to many cricket lovers!

Much was expected from Bangladesh in conditions which are similar to their own back home. Unfortunately, their campaign started with a controversy when Tamim Iqbal was left out of the World Cup squad. It has been a downward spiral since then for the side led by the gritty all-rounder, Shakib Al Hasan. After continuous defeats and lack of competitive spirit, the Bangla captain got himself involved in an unsavoury incident after he appealed for a ‘time out’ against Sri Lankan batter, Angelo Mathews.

Umpires did ask Shakib a couple of times to reconsider his appeal but he didn’t, much to the disappointment of the Sri Lankan side. While it brought about disharmony among the two teams, the incident has also invoked many debates about cricketing ethics. That conversation may be reserved till after the World Cup but the Bangladeshi players will rue an opportunity missed where they could have shone brightly in an ICC event!

In the midst of all the madness and brilliance, the Indian juggernaut is calmly destroying all oppositions! In a one-sided affair, India defeated the Proteas as Indian bowlers wreaked havoc once again. It was India’s biggest victory against the South Africans in World Cup history. The two sides have been the best teams in the tournament so far but Team India demonstrated that in current form, they are far ahead even against the next best!

With the picture for knockouts quite clear, India will face Netherlands in the final league game. Though it will have no bearing on the final standings, the match will be important for India to continue their momentum. The Men in Blue will do well to keep their foot on the accelerator and not take the game lightly. Everyone remembers that India topped the group stages in the previous two World Cups, only to falter in the semis. This time though the Indian side looks far more determined and focussed to end its 10-year ICC championship drought!

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

Siddhaarth Mahan The writer is a specialist on Sports and Cinema who works as an actor in the Hindi film industry

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