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Top-four breakaway could turn Cricket World Cup into a fizzer

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Nottingham: Steve Waugh says four nations already seem "destined" to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Unfortunately, it's hard to argue against that after India claimed a rain-marred 89-run over Pakistan on Monday morning.

In what some regard as the greatest rivalry in international sports, complete with a history of war and general acrimony between the nations since partition in 1947, it was Virat Kohli's men who claimed an important win in Manchester under the Duckworth Lewis system, leaving them firmly ensconced in the top four of the 10-nation tournament.

This contest was largely an over-hyped fizzer, and all but ended Pakistan's hopes of making the semi-finals.

It preserved India's unbeaten record in World Cups against their neighbour, and highlighted, as Nasser Hussain pointed out, the growing cricketing divide between the nations, with Kohli instrumental in India's greater fitness, fielding skills and overall professionalism.

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Competition leader Australia (eight points), unbeaten India (seven), under-the-radar New Zealand (seven), who admittedly have yet to face a major nation, and England (six) will almost certainly reach the semi-finals on July 9 and 11 although the match-ups then remain a point of intrigue, and may not be determined until the final match of the pool rounds, when Australia and South Africa clash in Manchester on July 6.

India's Kuldeep Yadav (left) and Virat Kohli celebrate the wicket of Pakistan's Fakhar Zaman.

India's Kuldeep Yadav (left) and Virat Kohli celebrate the wicket of Pakistan's Fakhar Zaman.Credit:AP

But Pakistan's demise, the West Indies' slippage, the weakest ever South African side at a World Cup and Sri Lanka's on-and-off-field malaise, means World Cup officials have a hard sell at the mid-point of the tournament to heighten interest although ticket sales have largely been pre-sold.

"Can we make the semi-finals? There is still hope but it's only slim," said South African great turned commentator Shaun Pollock.

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The Proteas need to win their remaining four games – and then hope for the best.

There have been 22 pool matches so far, and perhaps only five that stood out, and it may not get much better from here unless there are some upsets.

Already there have been grumblings about the pitches – too green say Sri Lanka – and the Kookaburra ball.

The overwhelming preference – and theory – has been to win the toss and bowl first but statistics show that batting first and putting a big score on the board has been the safest route.

The highest successful run chase so far has been the 245 the Black Caps made against Bangladesh.

In terms of broadcast ratings here, the divide between the top and the rest will make little difference, for matches are behind a pay television wall. In comparison, the Women's World Cup currently on in France is on free to air and has enjoyed strong ratings and coverage in the British newspapers.

India's win was a statement to even Australia, the latter enjoying a couple of days off before facing Bangladesh, having had four games in 10 days, the latest an 87-run win over Sri Lanka on Sunday.

"Whilst Sri Lanka didnt really threaten Australia with perhaps the exception of their first 15 overs of batting, it was another positive step for a team that seems destined to be joined in the semis with England, New Zealand and India," Waugh, a 1987 and 1999 World Cup winner, said.

Australia's Jason Behrendorff (second left) after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka's Lahiru Thirimanne.

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