Final four take aim at Cricket World Cup final

Nigel Reed writes that the official engraver for the Cricket World Cup will be etching a name other than Australia on the base of the prestigious winner's trophy for the first time since 1999.

Cricket's overlords must have realized the engraver was getting bored, so they've given him a different name to etch into the ICC World Cup trophy this year.

For the first time since 1999, he won't have to inscribe the word "Australia" onto the base of the cup. He'll have to come up with a new one.

New Zealand has never triumphed at cricket's global ODI competition, and the Black Caps probably won't in 2011.

Stranger things have happened.

Lest we forget, this is the World Cup where Ireland beat England.

It is also the World Cup where the Aussie's dominance of the limited-overs game ground to a halt after more than a decade.

Too many of the old guard had retired and not been replaced. The cracks were not immediately evident for the three-time defending champions as they cantered to victory in four of their opening five group games. The fifth, a fascinating encounter with co-host Sri Lanka, was ruined by the weather.

The wheels started to fall off in the final round-robin fixture against Pakistan. Controversy and chaos ensued with Australia dismissed for 176 — their lowest World Cup total in nearly 20 years. After a nervous start, Pakistan knocked off the runs with nine overs to spare.

Five days later, they were found wanting again in the quarter-finals. Ricky Ponting played a captain's innings with a century against India, but his supporting cast was virtually non-existent. The co-hosts timed the run chase to perfection to advance to the semifinals and end Australia's reign.

All of which allows us to witness one of the biggest rivalries in world sport. When India and Pakistan play cricket against each other, it is much more than a game. It is an international event where passions run high and the atmosphere is white hot.

Thousands of extra police and security forces have been drafted into the northern Indian city of Mohali to keep order. The Prime Ministers of both countries are expected to attend. The two nations will come to a standstill and defeat for either would represent an unfathomable disgrace.

History favours the hosts. India has won all four World Cup meetings with Pakistan - most recently a six-wicket victory during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. That was a pool game in a foreign land. This time, on home soil, the stakes could scarcely be higher.

So which is the stronger?

Pakistan believes it has the best bowling attack, and has the stats to back up the claim. Not only did the Pakistanis bowl out Australia for well under 200, they stopped Sri Lanka from reaching their target and rebounded well from their only loss to New Zealand.

India's batsmen have been among the most prolific at the World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh all feature in the tournament's Top 10 run makers. None will be in any mood to give away their wickets against their arch rivals.

Home advantage could be crucial.

India will relish the occasion and will be roared on by a hugely partisan crowd. Pakistan, captained by the leading wicket taker in Shahid Afridi, has displayed unity and discipline - so often its Achilles' heel in past tournaments.

For all the hype surrounding the India-Pakistan match, the eventual champions may well be employed elsewhere. Sri Lanka are overwhelming favourites to beat New Zealand in the first semifinal, just as they did four years ago in Jamaica.

The Sri Lankans are getting better as the World Cup progresses. With the exception of a narrow loss to Pakistan, they have won every game by a wide margin. Their quarter-final annihilation of England was a breathtaking display of power batting from the opening pair. 

A week earlier, Sri Lanka recovered from a rocky start to dominate the Black Caps in their final group match. Back in the heat and humidity of Colombo, Sri Lanka, it's difficult to forecast any other outcome but another win and another World Cup final for the co-host.

The New Zealanders may be huge underdogs, but they are not without pedigree. This will be their sixth World Cup semifinal and, though they've lost each time, there is certainly tenacity about this team which makes up, in part, for its lack of star power.

In the quarter-finals, New Zealand managed to defend a modest batting total against the highly fancied South Africans. Jacob Oram's tight bowling — and some brilliant fielding — won the day, and the Kiwis will need a similarly gritty performance to have any chance against Sri Lanka.

Many believe India and Sri Lanka will contest the World Cup final. But there are four passionate, talented teams chasing those two coveted berths.

Those who can handle the pressure and hold their nerve will, ultimately, determine who goes on and who goes home.