David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Strauss' men still have a real shot at glory

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Check any predictions on who will win the World Cup, and aside from those possessing a fiercely parochial nature, you'll find the same names keep cropping up.

India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Australia are most often listed as the shortest price contenders.

Now don't laugh, but what about England?

It cannot be denied that they have given their fans plenty of value over the last month as they have progressed to where they have one foot in the quarter-final door.

But win it? You'd think not, and yet they keep hanging on. Out of 36 group games before last night, there have been a pile of one-sided matches. No surprise there, given the size of the tournament and format.

How you judge a tight game is a personal thing, but to these eyes seven would fit the bill so far.

England have been in five of them, the others being Pakistan's 11-run win over Sri Lanka, and South Africa's three-wicket scramble, with two balls to spare, against India.

There's a bit of box office about England. They're certainly not the best team/actor on the screen but viewers are drawn to them.

They have serious form for delivering either a great escape or playing Goliath to a couple of Davids and providing the feelgood factor for those who love the underdog.

The odd one out among their six group B matches was the first, and even then they had to chase down 292 to beat the Netherlands.

They tied with India, 338 vs 338 for eight, in a game they had in the bag; lost to Ireland when unable to defend 327; beat South Africa by six runs in a contest they had no right to win after making just 171; then lost by two wickets to Bangladesh, whose No 7 and 10 batsmen put on 58; before taking the last four West Indian wickets for three runs to scrape an 18-run win yesterday.

So they lost games they would have earmarked for two points, and won a couple they most certainly should not. One day inspired; the next just tired.

They have dropped their Ashes swing bowling hero, James Anderson, who has bowled like a drain at the cup, and are without their most dashing batsman, Kevin Pietersen, who was due to have a hernia operation at the end of the tournament, but felt in such discomfort that he left midway through the group games.

He was next sighted dancing at a nightclub and in the front row of a notorious London club, The Box, where scantily-clad entertainers perform acts you won't see on a cricket field. There his teammates were, assuming he was in a hospital bed. Their next meeting should be a hoot.

But will England be bringing the cup home for the first time in 10 attempts? You'd doubt it, for all their tightwire performances, and yet ...

The cup's two top runmakers are Jonathan Trott (336) and Andrew Strauss (329) but only offspinner Graeme Swann is among the 12 bowlers into double figures for wickets.

Now they can only sit, wait and watch. They need Bangladesh to lose to South Africa tonight or the West Indies to be beaten by India in the final group game tomorrow night.

At least one should fall their way. The quarter-finals start on Wednesday night. At that point, it's anyone's guess.

- NZ Herald

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