Australia versus India. The cricketing giants were expected to meet in the final of the World Cup. Instead, the four-time champion, and India face each other in what should be a tantalizing quarterfinal.
Both were favoured to top their respective groups in the round-robin phase of the competition. But it wasnít to be. Australia stumbled its way to third behind darkhorse Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Group A while India was second to South Africa in Group B.
Pakistan will fancy its chances of advancing against the bumbling West Indies and, in the other two matchups, Sri Lanka hosts England while New Zealand has a fight on its hands versus South Africa.
If India does defeat Australia, it would set up an intriguing semi against its nemesis Pakistan, assuming it beats the West Indies.
Although India and the West Indies had already sealed their berths in the quarterfinals prior to Sundayís match at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, the match held a great significance as the result determined the quarterfinal pairings.
The 45,000 in attendance braved the humid 27C weather to cheer their hero Sachin Tendulkar to his 100th international century. Unfortunately, they only got a fleeting glimpse of the icon as he departed in Ravi Rampaulís very first over caught behind for two. Rampaul, making his debut in the tournament, was the pick of the West Indies bowlers with five for 51 runs.
Unlike Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who refused to leave when caught behind against Pakistan the previous day, Tendulkar voluntarily walked off even though the umpire hadnít ruled him out. He has been a class act at the crease.
His dismissal was a massive letdown for the raucous crowd, but Yuvraj Singh gave them something to cheer about as he stroked his way to a brave 113 despite suffering from dehydration. His century coupled with a fine 59 from Virat Kohli helped India to 268. West Indies folded like a cheap suitcase, losing by 80 runs after making 188 off 43 overs.
West Indies looked well-placed to surprise India by breezing to 154 for three, but then came a dramatic collapse. Its last eight wickets tumbled for 34 runs. India wasnít much better. It was coasting at 173 for three when it suffered another one of its traditional power outages with the last seven wickets adding 50.
Barring that first game against Bangladesh, Indiaís bats have been firing blanks and its billion fans are no longer convinced it can win its second trophy since 1983.
It failed to add more runs in the tied match against England, lost its top four batsmen for inside 100 runs against minnows Netherlands and Ireland and then came that meltdown versus South Africa ó nine gone for 29.
Australia, a team that has been so merciless over the past 12 years, reeling in three World Cups, is also showing chinks in its armour. When Pakistan ended Australiaís winning streak at 34 on Saturday, there were indications that the underbelly of the middle order was ripe for the taking, though its bowling attack remains lethal.
Sri Lanka should make it to the semis at the expense of stuttering England, while Pakistan will have the edge over the inconsistent West Indies.
Every top country in this tournament has, at one time or the other, had its shortcomings exposed. While all the hype has surrounded India and Australia, one country that has stayed under the radar and not attracted much fanfare is South Africa.
It possesses an explosive batting lineup and its battery of paceman and spinners are peaking at just about the right time.