The surprising results that have happened in Group B mean that the losers of crucial games in Group A could get easier quarter-final games than the winners. Let me explain why.
Group B has been the more interesting half of the draw in this year’s Cricket World Cup. It’s seen nail-biting finishes, the first World Cup double century, the biggest ODI win by one Test-playing country over another and the question of which four teams will go through from it is still not settled. Ireland’s victories and the mercurial nature of the West Indies and Pakistan have opened up the battle for third and fourth place in the group, whilst India’s win over South Africa puts them as favourites to top the group, despite AB De Villiers’ demolition of the West Indies.
Meanwhile, Group A has been progressing more sedately and more in line with form. There’s the mild surprise of New Zealand’s overnight win against Australia, but the Kiwis seem to have come into form at just the right time as they did last time they co-hosted the World Cup. Behind the two hosts, England’s match against Sri Lanka will likely settle who takes third place in the group, while Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland squabble over the minor places.
However, because of the unexpected results in Group B, the losers of this weekend’s big clashes may find themselves with the easier match in the quarter-finals. Australia’s loss means they’re now most likely to finish second in the group, which will match them up with Group B’s third place side. That now seems most likely to be Ireland, while New Zealand as group winners will face whoever comes in fourth, which will likely be Pakistan or West Indies. While Ireland are good, I’m sure the Kiwis would rather face them rather than risk another Chris Gayle explosion.
Likewise for Sri Lanka and England. The winner of their game seems likely to finish third (though Sri Lanka could still finish second if they also beat Australia), which means playing the runner-up of Group B, while the loser should finish fourth, where they’ll meat Group B’s winner. India seem highly likely to win the group now (they’d need to lose two of their remaining games to not do so), but South Africa seem the more dangerous team to face after their record-obliterating performance against the West Indies. I suspect England especially would much rather face the team they beat twice in the pre-World Cup triangular tournament than discover just how much damage AB De Villiers can do to their bowlers.
While I’m sure Australia are kicking themselves over their loss to New Zealand, and both Sri Lanka and England will be giving their best for victory tonight, they’ll all have it in the back of their minds that losing isn’t the end of the world, and the escape route could be the easier way to the semi-finals.