Eight essential players
After the completion of the group stage, eight teams remain with a chance to raise the World Cup trophy on April 2 in Mumbai. Here are eight players who have been indispensible to their respective teams thus far and who will be vital to each country's continued success in the knockout stage.
Australia: Brett Lee -- The fast bowler's international career appeared to be done after a string of injuries beginning in 2008, but Lee fought his way back into Australia's One Day International squad in January and has been its most consistent bowler during the World Cup. He leads the side with 12 wickets and has been good at building pressure at one end to allow Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait to attack from the other.
England: Jonathan Trott -- Trott has produced Wade Boggs-esque consistency ever since his debut for England in 2009, and this tournament hasn't been any different. He's scored 336 runs in the World Cup, second-most in the tournament, plus four half-centuries. While the rest of England's batting is prone to collapsing, Trott continues to be rock-solid.
India: Yuvraj Singh -- Often maligned as a player who hasn't lived up to his potential, Yuvraj has been digging deep in this World Cup to silence some of his critics. He tops the Indian averages at 94.66 with a century and three 50s. When he hasn't scored runs, several others in India's lineup have picked up the slack. However, his ability to chip in with his spin bowling to claim nine wickets at key times has been extremely valuable.
New Zealand: Tim Southee -- After excelling at the U-19 level, it has taken a few years for Southee to get up to speed at the senior level, but he's been one of the few bright spots for the Black Caps in a mediocre campaign. He's taken 14 wickets, tied for third at the World Cup, while maintaining a superb 3.95 economy rate.
Pakistan: Umar Gul -- Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 17, but 10 of those came against easy opponents Kenya and Canada. Gul's role as a pace threat has been much more valuable against stiffer competition. After the departure of Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif to suspensions, Pakistan had to depend on Gul to lead the pace attack, and he hasn't let his team down by taking 13 wickets at the World Cup.
South Africa: AB de Villiers -- Despite missing the past two games, he is still sixth overall with 318 runs in the tournament. South Africa is a more confident team with him in the middle of the order, and they'll be eager for him to return to the starting lineup without any lingering effects from a thigh injury.
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara -- Perhaps no player is more valuable to his team than Sangakkara. He's the tournament's leading scorer with 363 runs, including a century and two 50s. This is doubly impressive considering he is keeping wicket, one of the most physically taxing and mentally draining roles in any sport, as well as captaining his team.
West Indies: Devon Smith -- Some West Indian fans might have trouble identifying Smith, but the unheralded opening batsman has been huge for his team in the subcontinent. He leads them with 293 runs, including a century and two 50s. The next-closest teammate, Kieron Pollard, is 114 runs behind. Smith's last ODI prior to the World Cup was in 2009. He has gone from being a fringe player to an automatic selection in the span of six games.
Peter Della Penna is an American-born and raised cricket journalist who writes for ESPNcricinfo.com and DreamCricket.com. His work has also appeared in "The Wisden Cricketer" and "Wisden Cricketers" Almanack.
Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterDellaPenna
ESPN TOP HEADLINES
- Kobe likely out six weeks with injured knee
- Rodgers has idea of status, but not saying
- Sources: Rockets can't make Asik deal now
- Browner vows to sue NFL if ban not dropped