Cricket: Tussle for World Cup begins in earnest with quarter-finals

After the long-drawn opening stage, the eight best cricket teams in the world have finally been unearthed, and the battle for the coveted World Cup can finally begin in earnest. How do the eight teams shape up ahead of their crunch quarter-final clashes?

Quarter-final 1

Wednesday: Sri Lanka v South Africa

Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground

The world's top two one-day batsmen will lock horns. The No. 1 A.B. de Villiers of South Africa is in scintillating form, and has a range of improvised shots that no one else can match in world cricket.

Sri Lankan No. 2 Kumar Sangakkara is probably playing in his last one-day tournament, but may reconsider retirement after scoring four centuries in a row.

South Africa have the edge in the bowling department, boasting the world's most feared fast bowler Dale Steyn. Sri Lanka's danger man Lasith Malinga, on the other hand, has lost his sting.

Sri Lanka were winners in 1996 and finalists in 2007 and 2011. It will take a tall all-round effort for them to reach the semi-finals this time.

South Africa have never won a knockout match at a World Cup. Looks like they will shun their "chokers" tag on Wednesday.

Quarter-final 2

Thursday: India v Bangladesh

Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground

India's batting is undoubtedly their strength and it has fired consistently to enable the team to win all their six round-robin matches with ease.

Surprisingly, their bowling has clicked too. Pace bowler Mohammad Shami is one of the tournament's leading wicket-takers with 15, while Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma too have been penetrative. Then there is spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who can stifle the opposition.

In the league matches,the Indians also showed they can lift their fielding when required.

Batting is Bangladesh's strength, too. They have shown no fear while tackling reputed attacks, with Mohammad Mahmudullah commanding with two centuries in a row.

Bowling and fielding are the Asian minnows' drawbacks, and India are capable of taking advantage of that even if Bangladesh, playing in their first World Cup knockout match, put up a decent score.

Quarter-final 3

Friday: Australia v Pakistan

Venue: Adelaide Oval

The batsmen are likely to win it for Australia. They are just awesome: Aaron Finch, David Warner or Glenn Maxwell can do it single-handedly. And they can bat up to No. 10.

The home side's bowling too is menacing, with Mitchell Starc the top wicket-taker of the tournament so far with 16, and Mitchell Johnson pacy and mean. What they lack is a quality spinner.

Pakistan's batting line-up is suspect, even though wicketkeeper-opener Sarfraz Ahmed came good with a century against Ireland on Sunday. It is a question of whether the line-up can handle the pressure.

The Asian side's bowling and fielding are prone to be erratic, and that could play into the Australians' hands.

Quarter-final 4

Saturday: New Zealand v West Indies

Venue: Wellington Regional Stadium

Unbeaten New Zealand are simply too strong on home turf, especially in conditions where the ball swings. Trent Boult and Tim Southee generate tremendous pace and swing, and are unplayable most of the time.

And on the smallish New Zealand grounds, captain Brendon McCullum can go berserk with the bat. Amazingly, the Kiwis have become a dependable and consistent batting unit in recent months.

The West Indies won three and lost three in the league phase. They have too many problems, with inconsistency the main one. If their seasoned players, especially big-hitter Chris Gayle, do not shine, they have no chance.