Commentary

All eyes remain on England

Updated: March 8, 2011, 3:29 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

The Cricket World Cup is taking shape. Teams currently in the top four in both groups might stay there, although the order figures to change before the quarterfinals.

England recovered from a humbling loss to Ireland, battling past South Africa in yet another thriller, while India ensured the Irish didn't make it two upsets in a row.

As for perennially embattled Pakistan, so far so good.

Here are five reasons to cast an eye on Week 3.

England versus anyone

Assuming palpitations aren't a concern, England is the team to watch at the World Cup. Expected to coast against the Netherlands, England looked nervy, only advancing with fewer than two overs remaining.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Strauss
Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty ImagesAndrew Strauss and England know that they're in a must-win situation.

Against India on Feb. 27, the pendulum swung throughout. England was cruising as it chased a daunting 339, easing to 281-2 thanks mainly to captain Andrew Strauss. Minutes later, England slumped, needing 29 from 11 balls. In the end, Strauss & Co. were fortunate to draw.

Then they couldn't muster even a draw against Ireland, which engineered one of the tournament's biggest upsets Wednesday.

On Sunday, the excitement continued. England, confronting the dangerous South Africa, capitulated for 171, only to miraculously recover and triumph by six runs to rise to 2-1-1 in Group B. This time, the bowlers and fielders didn't stutter.

England's match against Bangladesh on Friday is a must-watch and a must-win for the co-hosts. Bangladesh lost to India, escaped against Ireland and was embarrassed -- falling by nine wickets -- by the West Indies in Mirpur on Friday. The Tigers amassed 58, their lowest one-day total, leaving the cricket-mad locals furious.

"The anger from the crowd is acceptable because of the way we have performed," Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan said.

A flurry of fans took it out on the West Indies, pelting the team bus with stones on the trek back to the hotel.

India versus South Africa

The bad news for the Proteas, who suffered their first defeat, is that they have several days to stew over the England loss.

The good news is that captain Graeme Smith and his troops won't need much motivating when meeting India in Nagpur on Saturday.

Virtually any time India plays at home, the atmosphere is special.

With the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Mahendra Dhoni on show, the sixes should flow, especially because the pitch is batter-friendly.

The Netherlands and England combined for nearly 600 runs, and Australia compiled 207 in a rout against New Zealand -- with about 15 overs in the bank.

No one can question Kallis' pedigree, but the all-rounder is struggling, chalking up four, two and 15, respectively, in South Africa's three games. Two were against subpar opposition. He's taken three wickets.

Singh is heating up. On Sunday against Ireland, he became the first player in World Cup history to hit a half-century and take five wickets in the same match.

Afridi's wicket haul

Pakistan and drama have made for familiar bedfellows. There's always something happening.

Just when it was thought that Pakistan was in for a comfortable afternoon against Canada, one of the lightweights, in Colombo, the Asians almost blew it.

On the same pitch Pakistan hit a hefty 277 to surprise Sri Lanka on Feb. 27, Thursday brought an unflattering 184. Only two players exceeded 20 runs.

Canada rolled along at 104-3 in reply -- before a collapse. Who else but Pakistan's man of the moment, Shahid Afridi, led the charge.

Afridi took five wickets to boost his tally to 14, leading the standings, and Canada finished with 138.

Afridi is raising his game, with the ball, anyway, at the right time. Entering the World Cup, only five times in more than 285 one-day innings had he produced a haul of at least four wickets. He's now done it three matches in a row.

Pakistan, 3-0 in Group A, faces a somewhat rejuvenated New Zealand on Tuesday.

With its morale boosted given the bright start, Pakistan should be more optimistic after recently downing the Kiwis in their Test and one-day series.

The Aussie run rate

Mother Nature ensured that last week's most anticipated encounter, between Australia and Sri Lanka in a repeat of the 2007 final, never got off the ground.

At least no one had the chance to scrutinize Australia's run rate.

Following a predictably convincing win over Zimbabwe on Feb. 21, Australia's slow batting -- in the first two overs -- was highlighted by a portion of the Indian media. Openers Brad Haddin and Shane Watson, dealing with Zimbabwe's spin, labored to five runs.

India's national news agency, Press Trust of India, subsequently reported that the ICC looked into the matter, no doubt spurred by last summer's spot-fixing scandal focusing on Pakistan.

The Aussies largely laughed off the affair, and a few suspected the Indian media was out to unsettle the three-time defending champions, making something out of nothing.

"It's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard in my life, that a team could be none-for-five after two overs, and that's suspicious," said Australia's team manager, Steve Bernard.

Still, Haddin and Watson just might let loose early when Australia faces Kenya, even more of an underdog than Zimbabwe, on Sunday.

"Mr. Cricket," the healthy-again Michael Hussey, could feature. Hussey, recovered from a hamstring injury, was called up after fast bowler Doug Bollinger hurt his ankle.

Big-hitting Kevin

A tall, free-swinging "Kevin" recorded the fastest century in World Cup play in Ireland's win against England. It wasn't Kevin Pietersen. Rather, Kevin O'Brien electrified the cricket world with his 100 from 50 balls, leading Ireland to the highest-ever successful run chase in the event.

O'Brien was thrust into the spotlight. Some suggested, or hoped, he'd follow Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce in eventually leaving Ireland for England. Others speculated the 27-year-old would receive a lucrative offer to compete in the Indian Premier League.

All the attention must have gotten to him. O'Brien fell flat against India, gone for nine runs.

Ireland needs O'Brien to regain form when it takes on the West Indies in a winnable clash Friday. A loss and Ireland realistically won't reach the last eight for the second World Cup in succession.

Pietersen, meanwhile, was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament due to a problem with his hernia, replaced by Morgan, who has overcome a finger injury. Who'll open the batting now with Strauss?

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.