The 2015 Cricket World Cup is still approaching the halfway point of the group stage, yet some major statements of intent have already been made. Co-hosts New Zealand and holders India have put forward their case for lifting the trophy next month, while South Africa and England have been dealt heavy defeats to call their contention into question.
More concrete conclusions will start to be drawn after some intriguing contests over the coming days.
Afghanistan vs. Scotland (University Oval, Dunedin, Wednesday, 5 p.m. EST)
While Afghanistan and Scotland have lost their opening two group games, both will have somewhat positive memories of the University Oval. It was there that Afghanistan pushed Sri Lanka in a narrow defeat, while Scotland gave New Zealand something of a scare when taking seven wickets as the co-hosts chased a meager total. For both Associate nations this encounter now presents their best chance to come away from the World Cup with a victory. Scotland have the greater experience at this level, yet it is Afghanistan who have won five of the nations’ eight one-day meetings.
Sri Lanka vs. Bangladesh (Melbourne Cricket Ground, Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. EST)
The weather provided Bangladesh with an unexpected boost last Saturday when their match with Australia was called off, giving them a point from a match in which they were expected to be soundly beaten. That break gives them a point advantage over their next opponents. Sri Lanka were beaten handily by New Zealand before squeaking past Bangladesh on Sunday. History is with the 1996 World Cup winners, but Bangladesh will know this match presents a big chance to survive beyond the group phase.
South Africa vs. West Indies (Sydney Cricket Ground, Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EST)
After a chastening defeat to India, South Africa are again facing doubts about whether they have the mentality required to backup their undoubted ability. Having suffered several calamitous disappointments in the latter stages of World Cups, South Africa came into the tournament as one of the leading favorites. But an emphatic 130-run defeat to India has left them reeling. They will aim to get back on track on Thursday, but, after a tumultuous start, the West Indies showed their potential with a victory over Zimbabwe fuelled by a incredible double-century for Chris Gayle.
Australia vs. New Zealand (Eden Park, Auckland, Friday 8 p.m. EST)
One of the most eagerly awaited matches of the group phase provides a showdown between the World Cup co-hosts, with top spot in Pool A potentially on the line. Perhaps more significantly, it presents the two tournament favorites with a chance to gain a psychological edge for a potential meeting in the competition’s latter stages. Australia have the historical edge, but have had a long layoff after the Bangladesh abandonment and face reintegrating Michael Clarke into their lineup. Meanwhile, New Zealand were in peak form in annihilating England at the weekend.
India vs. UAE (WACA, Perth, Saturday 1:30 a.m. EST)
The World Cup has so far gone as well as India could have possibly imagined. A victory over fierce rivals Pakistan was followed up by what was an emphatic upset win over South Africa to leave Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men already in prime position to top Pool B. With their batting firing and their bowling attack exceeding expectations, they are now a force to be reckoned with in the defense of the trophy they won for a second time four years ago. Meanwhile, in just their second World Cup, the United Arab Emirates’ expectations have already been reduced to simply aiming to make a positive impression against one of the test nations. A two-wicket defeat to Ireland on Wednesday, following on from a loss to Zimbabwe, means a quarterfinal place is surely beyond them.
England vs. Sri Lanka (Wellington Regional Stadium, Saturday 10:30 p.m. EST)
England got their World Cup campaign back on track with a win over neighbors Scotland on Monday, but they will have to do a lot more than that to convince that they are capable of being a real factor in this tournament. Heavy defeats to Australia and New Zealand took the stuffing out a team that was already struggling. A win over Sri Lanka would do more to restore confidence, but anything less and their hopes of simply making the quarterfinals will be thrown into jeopardy.
TV info: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch each match via pay per view. More info here.