Cape Town – The 2015 World Cup nailed down its perfect, confirmed last-four line-up on Saturday.
With joint host nations New Zealand and Australia involved in respective home semi-finals against South Africa (Tuesday, Eden Park, Auckland, 03:00 SA time) and defending champions India (Thursday, Sydney Cricket Ground, 05:30), the International Cricket Council will be gladdened that the last trio of matches in the tournament should belatedly bring some humdingers between premier global powers.
The latest official rankings show Australia at the head of the pile on 121 rating points, followed by their commercial juggernaut, mass-supported semis foes India (116) and then the Proteas (113) and fellow southern hemisphere customers the Black Caps (107).
So the rankings pecking order has been fittingly affirmed by the semis mix.
It was also suggested in TV commentary on the last quarter-final -- where New Zealand not unexpectedly trounced West Indies at Wellington on Saturday -- by the likes of Mike Hussey and Ian Bishop that this quartet possibly stand head and shoulders above the rest of the world pack, thus explaining the relative one-sidedness of all four quarter-finals.
The event thus far has broadly lacked many truly enthralling, see-sawing contests between stronger nations, although this has been positively counter-balanced to a fair degree by plenty of minnows being acceptably competitive in the pool stage, as well as an array of inspiring individual achievements.
Just the latest of the latter trend was Black Caps opener Martin Guptill’s achievement of the highest CWC innings ever (237 not out on Saturday) and second-best ODI knock as a whole, behind India’s Rohit Sharma’s still supreme 264.
Not much more than a few weeks ago, most observers would have been heavily inclined to favour both Australia and South Africa had it been known then that they would be playing India and New Zealand respectively in the World Cup semis.
That is because earlier in the current summer the Aussies dominated a home triangular series also featuring India and England, with the Indians ending last – below an English side subsequently to go home in disgrace from the CWC after failing to crack even the last eight.
Similarly, New Zealand didn’t look anything like world-beaters in October when the Proteas whipped them 2-0 away in a scheduled three-match series, each completed match won by relatively wide margins.
But since then it has been all change: the Indians have added much more purposeful and penetrative bowling to their already-known stroke-playing prowess, whilst the Black Caps have introduced a couple of new faces and generally stiffened their collective act to an amazing degree.
They are on a record-equalling run for them of nine consecutive ODI wins, including all seven games at the World Cup so far, and captain Brendon McCullum said after Saturday’s latest slick performance that he felt this was the best New Zealand one-day team he had been involved in.
That is some statement given his 247 caps and presence for the country in the 50-overs format since 2002.
Still, they will be up against a South African side which, after an inconsistent pool phase, produced its most brutal performance yet in thrashing Sri Lanka by nine wickets in the quarter-final and contains such already-established legends of the game in its fullest sense as AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn.
Simply by getting past their semi-final, people like captain De Villiers and coach Russell Domingo – though naturally aiming for bigger things -- will know that they have taken the country to its furthest point in what has so often been a cursed tournament for South Africa.
Already guaranteed now is that one of the finalists, whether it be the Black Caps or Proteas, will be playing in the showpiece (next Sunday in Melbourne) for the first time.
South Africa lead the ODI overall head-to-head stakes between the two nations 36-20, with five no-results.
But the New Zealanders will also know that they have bragging rights from the last knockout meeting at CWC level, when they bossed a sometimes stormy quarter-final in Dhaka in 2011 by 49 runs.
Three games from the finish, this World Cup may finally be said to have caught fire ...
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