So now we know. After a protracted first phase, far too long, yes, but also far more interesting than in the previous World Cup in the Caribbean, the eight senior Test nations will duly compete for the biggest prize in the one-day international game.
It is quite a triumph, I suppose, that quarter-final placings should have remained in doubt until the conclusion of the final match of the first round. There have been, too, some memorable games, most of them involving England. The tie with India had not just two brilliant individual innings but sufficient twists and turns for a five-day Test packed into 100 overs. Each of their other five games has kept everyone guessing until late in the second innings.
No country goes to the knock-out stage unbeaten after Australia’s deflowering by Pakistan at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on Saturday. England now know that their next game will be played in the same steamy heat. Sangakkara versus Strauss and Murali versus Swann will be just two duels between the main battle: an intriguing one.
The demonstration of India’s prowess in the searing heat of Chennai in the final first round game means that England’s quarter-final will be a tougher challenge even than their previous ‘must win’ games against India, South Africa and the West Indies.
Sri Lanka, with their five champions – Muralitharan, Sangakkara, Jayawardena, Malinga and Dilshan – all in prime form, should be too strong on a home ground before a passionate home crowd. Should be, but then England should have beaten Ireland and Bangladesh. Equally, at certain times of the tie with India, they should have gone on to win. And at other times against South Africa and the West Indies, they should have lost.
They would much have preferred a simpler passage to the second stage but Andrew Strauss and his men have guaranteed high entertainment value every time. Not that anything has been confidently predictable so far in the tournament. It is a cliché but the best thing to expect is the unexpected. Which means, I think, that any country could still win.
If one had to evaluate the quarter-final cast, in the order not of their appearance but of their likely chances of winning, the verdict might be this: Sri Lanka, South Africa, India, Australia, Pakistan, England, New Zealand and West Indies.
The last minute resolution of who is going to play whom in the quarter-finals made life even more difficult for travelling spectators as it did for players waiting to see how the cookie finally crumbled. As we all know, the ICC World Cup is primarily a TV event, its vast profits generated not by bottoms on seats but by advertising on the small screen.
If you are watching on the subcontinent, that means advertising after every wicket, every over, every incident of note and, sometimes, between balls or even as a ball is being bowled. Just a section of the screen, perhaps, but more money. Incredible to think that the IPL is going to generate even more advertising income. The current boom cannot and will not last, but that is another matter.
Finally, for your enlightenment, let me list the final places and the remaining games:
Group A: 1. Pakistan, 2. Sri Lanka, 3. Australia, 4. New Zealand
Group B : 1. South Africa, 2. India, 3. England, 4. West Indies
The quarter-final matches are thus:
Pakistan v West Indies in Dhaka on 23 March;Australia v India in Ahmedabad on 24 March;
New Zealand v South Africa in Dhaka on 25 March; Sri Lanka v England in Colombo on 26 March
Semi-finals (provided one of Sri Lanka or India make the semi-finals):
NZ / SA v SL / Eng in Colombo 29 March; Pak / WI v Aus / India in Mohali 30 March
Now, if you must, put your money on the winners!