Chennai, March 16 (IANS) The heat is on in more ways than one for England as they face the West Indies in a must-win World Cup Group B match here Thursday.
With South Africa already booking one of the four quarterfinal spots from the Group with four wins in five matches, England (5 points) are involved in a four-way tussle for the remaining three berths along with India (7), the West Indies (6) and Bangladesh (6).
Indeed, it is a precarious situation for England even if they beat the West Indies to move to seven points. They then will have to await the results of the South Africa-Bangladesh and India-West Indies matches over the weekend to know their fate in the tournament.
Thus, on the morrow, the pressure will be more on England, who will have to draw inspiration from their thrilling six-run win against the South Africans at this very venue earlier this month.
England has had a roller-coaster ride in the World Cup with shock defeats to Ireland and Bangladesh besides a tie with India. The wins against the Proteas and minnows the Netherlands have kept them afloat, albeit barely.
On the other hand, the West Indies shrugged off a first round defeat to South Africa to beat Ireland, the Netherlands and Bangladesh to secure six points and be in contention for a quarterfinal spot.
The outcome of Thursday’s game could well be influenced by the pitch conditions that came in for some adverse remarks from both the English and South African camps following their low-scoring day game March 6.
England defended a modest total of 171 as the South Africans crumbled on a pitch that was turning square, not to mention the inconsistent bounce, virtually from the first over.
Since then, the pitch for Thursday’s game has been shielded from the sun through make-shift tents even as the day temperature soared to 37 degrees Celsius last week as Chennai experienced its hottest March in many years.
Both England and the West Indies are only too aware of the scenario and it is quite likely each team would be looking up to their spinners to deliver. The sea breeze that sets in late afternoon and has unrestricted access to the ground between the widely spaced stands also needs to be factored in.
While England have been creaking and groaning from a long winter of cricket with a successful Ashes tour followed by a 1-6 defeat in the ODI series to Australia and then just a three-day peek at home before flying out to India for the World Cup, the West Indies are in a buoyant mood.
England have already lost two frontline players in batsman Kevin Pietersen and seamer Stuart Broad while skipper Andrew Strauss and spinner Graeme Swann were down with fever, but are expected to be battle fit Thursday.
The West Indies, despite their three wins, have not exactly been put to test, but hope to carry the momentum against England whose bowling and fielding have not exactly been of highest quality while batting has been rather iffy at the best of times.
In fact, no England bowler figures in the top-10 wicket-takers list with Swann and seamer Tim Bresnan having nine apiece.
On their part, the West Indies are hoping that their left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn would sustain his form that has seen him take 12 wickets, the second highest in the tournament so far, with the fast bowlers, notably Kemar Roach (11 wickets) providing support.
A lot is also expected from their batsmen, especially Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, both capable of playing destructive and match-winning innings.