World Cup 2015 has had some highlights, but in the main, it has had a low excitement quotient. All four quarter-finals ended and what did we get? Boredom. The most exciting match of the four was perhaps the New Zealand (NZ) versus West Indies match; excitement not with the foregone conclusion that NZ would win, but for Guptill’s demonstration of aggressive batting as he galloped to a highest score in World Cup history—237, and still waiting to be out. Notably, the only genuine excitement in the World Cup so far has been provided by the traditionally volatile Pakistan, and the under-dogs, Ireland and Bangladesh. Ireland sprang a surprise by beating a weak—possibly, the weakest in its history—West Indian team. And much excitement followed with Bangladesh entering their first World Cup quarter-finals, at the expense of the formerly (How “former” do we have to go? Possibly as far back as 1992!) strong but not mighty England.
However, redemption might just be around the corner. What we can look forward to is the prospect of three finals rather than just one. The first being played in Auckland as you read this article, between two teams that have never made it to a World Cup Final—New Zealand and South Africa. And they bring some history as well. In the last World Cup, South Africa was knocked-out (choked out?) by under-dogs New Zealand in the quarter-finals while chasing a paltry score of 221. However, this time it is different. As per our new book, Criconomics—your friendly neighbourhood World Cup forecaster (with accuracy of about 80% so far in this World Cup)—New Zealand is the favourite and playing at home.
By the time the World Cup kicked-off, we at Criconomics had already pegged New Zealand as the team to finish at the top of Pool A (The Financial Express, ‘World Cup: Australia a fifth time?’, goo.gl/jpkz0D). However, just 4 months ago, at the end of November 2014, when we released our book, New Zealand was not even in the top four. What changed? A lot. Between then and the beginning of the World Cup, New Zealand played 14 matches—the most by any team during this period. They notched 9 wins, 4 losses and 1 no result—a success rate of 69%—and 4 out of the 9 wins were won by at least 100 runs or 5 wickets. New Zealand were outperforming big-time and that was captured accurately in Criconomics rankings even as the World Cup began.
South Africa have always flattered to deceive, most famously in 1999 against Australia when a disastrous run-out involving Allan Donald and Lance Klusener ended the game in a tie and Australia advanced to the final because they had finished higher in the Super Sixes round. Even today, on paper, the South African team roster is as strong as any others, but they have not been delivering as they should, especially in bowling, unlike the Kiwis, who have Vettori ageing like wine and Boult and Southee swinging away to stardom and victories.
The second “(semi-)final”, between Australia and India, is likely to be as close as the first. Where was India before the Cup started? The second-best bet in Pool B, but overall, in tatters—either the batting gave way, or the bowling gave away too many runs. We all complained, rightfully, about the lack of a bowling attack. India, however, has come a long way since. They have improved the most during the World Cup amongst all teams (about 8 points in the Criconomics Team Index) and in the department where it mattered the most—bowling (by a largish 11 points). They have bowled out their opposition in all seven matches so far—with Ashwin and Shami leading the charge.
But is it improvement enough for India to wrestle their way to the final by beating the mighty Australia (and the World Cup favourite)?
According to Criconomics, they have a one-in-three chance to do so. As Indians, we will be praying for them to make that chance count. Like the Kiwis, Indians have momentum, and the Sydney pitch might just be overly helpful to the in-form Indians. If India wins against Australia, it will be one of the big upsets in World Cup history. Can happen, pleasant and a prayed-for surprise, but less than an even chance.
And then we come to the actual final, most likely to happen between the two host teams. It would not be a stretch to say that the only thing standing between New Zealand and their first World Cup is the venue of the final—Melbourne. Both the teams are within striking distance of each other. However, the significance of home team advantage cannot be ignored which gives Australia a definite edge in the final over any
As lovers of cricket, we are torn between what the numbers say and what the mind (and the heart) wishes for. A fifth win for Australia would be well-deserved, but also predictable and uninspiring. Also as Indians, we definitely wouldn’t mind India keeping the Cup, but we have been there and done that. The real good cricketing stuff would be if New Zealand or South Africa take the trophy home by playing their minds and hearts out. To be sure, Criconomics forecasts have been wrong before, three out of 10, to be precise—1983 (India), 1987 (Australia) and 1992 (Pakistan). Will World Cup 2015 prove Criconomics wrong for the fourth time?
Bhalla and Choudhary are the authors of a recently-released book, Criconomics – Everything you wanted to know about ODI cricket and More.
Visit criconomics.com or follow @criconomics2015 on Twitter for match-previews, projected scores and win% during live World Cup matches