The Cricket World Cup is a long, drawn-out affair, lasting six weeks and, in theory, providing ample room for error. Yet for some countries just one week in to the 2015 edition in Australia and New Zealand, they are already drinking in, or at least perilously close to, the last-chance saloon. Among the five matches over the next three days, some crucial contests will take place.
Here’s a look ahead to what’s in store.
Pakistan vs. West Indies (Hagley Oval, Christchurch, Friday, 5 p.m. EST)
The situation is already serious for the West Indies after an upset loss to Ireland in their opening match. Having come into the World Cup under an all-too familiar cloud of unrest, the once all conquering cricket power now badly needs to pull together and get a win against Pakistan in order to get back on track for a place in the quarterfinals. The scenario is not quite so perilous for Pakistan, but a convincing loss to fierce rivals India was still a significant blow.
Australia vs. Bangladesh (Brisbane Cricket Ground, Friday, 10:30 p.m. EST)
Bangladesh saw off World Cup first-timers Afghanistan to start their tournament on a positive note and will be looking to take a scalp of one of the established powers in Pool A. But it would be a titanic upset were it to come this weekend. Ranked No. 1 in the world in the one-day format, co-hosts Australia were backed as the favorites ahead of the tournament and did nothing to discourage those expectations with a comfortable victory over Ashes rivals England. There will be much interest, though, in how the team reacts to the return from injury of captain Michael Clarke, after George Bailey led them sterlingly in his absence.
Sri Lanka vs. Afghanistan (Uni Oval, Dunedin, Saturday, 5 p.m. EST)
Sri Lanka will be looking at this contest as an ideal opportunity to get a win under their belts after they were handily beaten by New Zealand in the World Cup’s opening match. Still, with that expectation comes pressure. While there was no disgrace in losing to the co-hosts, anything other than a comfortable win against debutantes Afghanistan and the alarm bells will be ringing. Afghanistan also showed that they aren’t to be taken lightly despite their loss to Bangladesh. Sri Lanka will be hoping key bowler Lasith Malinga puts in a much improved performance as he continues to rediscover his sharpness after injury.
South Africa vs. India (Melbourne Cricket Ground, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EST)
Who will put themselves in pole position in Pool B, and who will make a strong statement about their abilities to go all the way and lift the World Cup title next month? Those issues are at stake in one of the headline matches of the group phase, as holders India go up against one of the leading favorites, South Africa. Both enjoyed wins in their opening matches, but South Africa will be hoping that the conditions at the Melbourne Cricket Ground will favor their pace attack. The crowd, as against Pakistan in Adelaide, is set to be strongly in favor of India.
England vs. Scotland (Hagley Oval Christchurch, Sunday, 5 p.m. EST)
England are already deep in the doldrums after two emphatic defeats to begin their World Cup, but should they lose to Scotland then there really will be a crisis. Having endured shaky preparations for the tournament, England were handily brushed aside by Australia before being truly humbled by New Zealand on Friday. With the likes of captain Eoin Morgan again failing with the bat, England were dismissed for just 123 in their eight-wicket defeat, losing their last seven wickets for just 19 runs. Their total was, indeed, less than Scotland managed in their comparatively respectable three wicket loss against the same opponents in their opening match. England really should be far too good for their neighbors to the north, but it would be difficult to be entirely confident of them beating anyone at this moment.
TV channel: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch the matches via pay per view. More info here.