Whether or not you're a conchordant Kiwi attempting to seduce Nancy from Peep Show by swinging your tackle around when wearing just your socks, it's certainly business time at the World Cup. Whilst we've predictably arrived at a set of quarter-finals comprised of the top eight sides, only the most curmudgeonly wouldn't acknowledge the tournament has probably exceeded the expectations of everyone. Well done, ICC head, Sharad Pawar. It transpires you are a genius, albeit in much the same way Andrew Hilditch will be if Michael Hussey averages 70 in the knock-out stages.
England, the maverick destroyers of dirge, don't enter the fray until Saturday when they will either lose to Sri Lanka by 6 wickets or win by 4 runs, but on Wednesday there's more than enough excitement in prospect in the shape of Pakistan against the Windies. With their dominant displays throughout the group stages, Afridi's men have really let their wayward genius crown be swiped from over their noses by Andrew Strauss's side. The captain himself - the tournament's leading wicket taker - has been a model of consistency with the ball, although he's batted as if his own disdain for reserve has been surgically enhanced with Chris Gayle's. His shot against Australia in Pakistan's last group match was a shocker even by his own standards of impatience, but he has shown guile and coherence in his leadership and even Younis Khan seems untroubled by his continued messianic wicket celebrations. His opposite number, Darren Sammy, has been less Brearley-esque, particularly in choosing to (over)bowl himself, but it's hard to imagine this match will come down to tactical nuances.
The Windies have decided to recall Shivnarine Chanderpaul, whilst fast bowler Kemar Roach will also play. Unless Gayle or Younis either explode or bed down respectively, I can't see there being mammoth totals posted so the inclusion of the crustacean left-hander Chanderpaul is logical, especially after the Windies lost four wickets for three runs in a tight chase against England. For the first time in a few years this side includes at least half a dozen names that will, if not frighten an opposition, certainly let them know know they're up against a Caribbean outfit that is more Savile Row than Jimmy Savile: Gayle, the emerging Darren Bravo, the impish/cheating run up stop-starter and big hitter Andre Russell, the vulgarly thuggish Kieron Pollard, the pacy Roach and even the prematurely canny leg spinner Devendra Bishoo.
Pakistan, for their part, have Umar Gul bowling rhythmically and, with Razzaq at eight as a bulwark to his captain's excesses, their tail looks slightly shorter, especially as Sammy and Windies keeper Devon Thomas are averaging just eight and ten respectively batting at six and seven. Thomas, however, has effected ten dismissals to the eight of the hapless Kamran Akmal, who has at times allowed looked as if he was wearing pincers laced with massage oil rather than gloves. In a close game, a repeat of his New Zealand performance could be the difference.
A few stats:
- The sides have met eight times in the World Cup with the Windies holding sway winning six of those encounters.
- Courtney Walsh has the most wickets, nine, faring rather better than the mystical maestro that was Abdul Qadir, who has the dubious honour of topping the leakage averages (for those who bowled over ten overs in total) with 113.
I predict a tight Pakistan win, but with the combustible parade of crackerjack cricketers on either side, the match, like the World Cup itself, is anyone's.