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Time for lesser teams to weigh results

Grenada: With the grain finally separated from the chaff and familiar world order restored, the lesser of the Super Eight teams are busy counting home truths.

Bangladesh, Ireland, England and the West Indies enjoyed being spoken of in the same breath as Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa, but now wait for the formal end to their campaign.

There is every reason for Bangladesh to hold their heads high as they shook up a semi-finalist (New Zealand) during the warm-up stage, bumped a potential semi-finalist during the group phase (India) and nearly killed semi-final hopes of a potential topper (South Africa) with a stunning win in the Super Eight stage.

Bangladesh had to suffer the agony of a loss to Ireland, and also got mauled by Australia and New Zealand in Super Eight. But they will be pardoned if they sidestep those results.

They have a young team with potential — a few teenaged batsmen destined to make headlines and medium pacer Mashrafe Mortaza who is coming of age. “It’s been satisfying for we would have happily accepted the present position if we were told so before the start of the World Cup,” said skipper Habibul Bashar. “One thing which we would definitely go away with is self-belief.”

Coach Dav Whatmore provided an insight into where this self-belief came from.“We are now giving back as good as we are getting. I would have been very upset if my boys had gone into a match completely overawed by the superstars of world cricket.”

Ireland have been no less sensational. They knocked over two Test nations (Pakistan and Bangladesh) and even tested the likes of South Africa and England. The Irish caught the eye with their team spirit, a disciplined bowling and batting line-up.

“If we have surprised the world, it’s because we have worked hard on our game away from the limelight. Our cricketers work as much on their physical fitness as stars from the bigger nations do,” said coach Adrian Birrel, whose tenure will end after the last game against Sri Lanka.

England face an inquest back home. Coach Duncan Fletcher almost certainly would be dumped, while captain Michael Vaughan would be lucky to avoid a similar fate.

The team relied too heavily on Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, who was a mere shadow of his imposing self. The worst condemnation of their one-day cricket came from former captain Nasser Hussain.

“England still follow the old principle of keeping wickets in hand and making the best use of final 10 overs. For them it seems the power plays don’t exist. Teams like Australia and South Africa, meanwhile, look at power plays as an opportunity to set the pace,” Hussain said.

The West Indies have gone into a bigger slump than anyone had envisaged. They were being touted as potential semi-finalists and their three wins in the group stage certainly stoked the hype.

But the Super Eight stage has been a disaster with bowlers regularly conceding over 300 runs and virtually no batsman coming to the party.

“Our batsmen just couldn’t cope with the pressure,” said Ramnaresh Sarwan, who has thrown his hat in the ring for captaincy. Brian Lara is playing his last two ODIs this weekend and there are whispers he might not even be picked for the England tour in May-July.

“We have let our people down. Nobody is more aware than us. We’ve tried as best as we could, but other teams have played superior cricket. The pressure of the World Cup at home in the end proved too much,” remarked Lara.

These four teams, along with India and Pakistan, appear light years behind the other four which are gunning for the ultimate prize in the game.

Much as the rise of Bangladesh and Ireland is praiseworthy, it cannot hide the lopsidedness in international cricket. Competition, the essence of any sport, is missing in cricket.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note the fate of most coaches of these international teams. Whatmore is looking for greener pastures, while Birrel has decided to call it quits. Fletcher’s fate looks sealed and so it appears for Bennett King of the West Indies.

India and Pakistan, too, are preparing for post-Greg Chappell and Bob Woolmer eras. John Buchanan (Australia) has decided to move on from coaching and Tom Moody, too, is counting the toll on family life. Only Mickey Arthur (South Africa) and John Bracewell (New Zealand) seem secure. (PTI)

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