Commentary

Grumpy England seeks consistency

Updated: March 25, 2011, 1:50 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

Neutrals are pulling for England to advance at the World Cup -- they'd be guaranteed a nail-biting quarterfinal.

England did it again Friday, going from loser to winner and back again against Bangladesh in a heaving Chittagong, meaning a spot in the elite eight isn't guaranteed.

India provided further drama Saturday, blowing it against South Africa.

Here are five reasons to watch Week 4, the final week of group action.

England's fatigue factor

Anyone with kids will tell you that when they're tired, they can get pretty grumpy. Alas, it doesn't just happen with youngsters.

England, on the road for more than five months now, looked irritable against Bangladesh, with spinner Graeme Swann leading the way. Swann routinely jawed with the umpires, later earning a fine for using "obscene and offensive" language.

Although he didn't harangue officials, James Anderson, who sparkled in Australia, appeared to be running on fumes. Anderson was awful, conceding 54 runs in nine overs without taking a wicket and throwing in several wides. Ian Bell, steady in Australia and efficient as the World Cup began, has produced 10 runs in his past two innings.

Not good.

It's hardly a coincidence that England's top bowler and batsman against Bangladesh were the freshest players of the bunch. Ajmal Shahzad recovered to take three wickets, and Eoin Morgan, replacing injured Kevin Pietersen, clubbed 63 off 72 balls.

"Our performance hasn't dropped off," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss. "We've just been very inconsistent, which is not something we want to be making a habit of."

England continues to stutter against the weaker nations, which means Thursday's match against the West Indies, which could be a must-win in Group B, is a worry. Strauss, also struggling with the bat in his past two outings, needs to deliver a captain's performance.

Pakistan versus Australia

Somewhat surprisingly, a link on the World Cup's official website permitted surfers to access jokes revolving around Pakistan's bumbling wicket-keeper, Kamran Akmal.

Shouldn't it be neutral?

Among the 17 jests were, admittedly, some beauties. (Who could resist looking?)

"What is Kamran Akmal's favorite pick-up line? Can I drop you somewhere?"

Or, "It's time to drop Kamran Akmal so he knows how the ball feels."

Whispers this weekend suggested Akmal could be omitted from Pakistan's tussle against Zimbabwe on Monday, but he kept his spot.

Akmal dropped Ross Taylor twice last week, allowing the New Zealand batsman to hit a century and deflate the Asians in the process. Pakistan's run chase was meek, and a first defeat followed. Ironically, on Monday, Akmal caught Brendan Taylor in the first over to account for Zimbabwe's first wicket.

Pakistan has options at wicket-keeper in Akmal's brother, Umar, or veteran Younis Khan, in that order.

Pakistan can ill afford any mistakes when confronting Australia, the three-time defending champion, Saturday in a tussle likely to decide the Group A winner.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, its results against Australia at recent World Cups have been dismal. Australia overwhelmed Pakistan in the 1999 finale and won by 82 runs in 2003. Further, the Aussies cruised 5-0 in the squads' one-day series in 2010.

Optimists would argue, though, that none of those matches was held in Asia.

India's reply

India still isn't firing, a worry with the quarterfinals looming. That was evident in Saturday's shocking -- no understatement -- loss to South Africa.

India seemed destined to coast to at least 350 batting first, getting another century from majestic Sachin Tendulkar and half-centuries from Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Rolling along at 267-1, India inexplicably collapsed, losing the next nine wickets for fewer than 30 runs to give the Proteas hope.

Even with the batting slip-up, India's bowlers were doing a good enough job until the final over, when Ashish Nehra was pummeled by tail-ender Robin Peterson. For a moment, Peterson transformed into Tendulkar, smacking 18 off seven balls to complete the comeback.

All of a sudden, South Africa is favored to win Group B, ahead of India.

Barring events unforeseen, India should rebound against the West Indies on Sunday, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Chris Gayle.

What India needs is a dominant performance.

Gayle, who has the potential to outperform anyone in India's squad, missed the West Indies' win against Ireland with an abdominal strain, which means he might not be 100 percent against England and India -- if he returns at all.

A host -- on the road

Sri Lanka, one of the three co-hosts, said all the right things after trouncing Zimbabwe to reach the quarterfinals. Asked about playing its next game, against a rejuvenated New Zealand, in India, captain Kumar Sangakkara was diplomatic.

He wasn't as tactful earlier in March.

"Why should we play in India against New Zealand when we are the hosts?" he mused to Sri Lankan reporters. "India and Bangladesh play all their matches at home. Why should we be exposed to alien conditions?"

Legendary spinner Muttiah Muralitharan wasn't happy, either, saying in February that he was puzzled by the decision.

"If we play India in India, that's fine, and playing Bangladesh in Bangladesh is also fine, but why should we give a home game to someone else?" he said.

On the bright side for Sri Lanka, it gets an opportunity to compete at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, venue for the final April 2, and thus assess conditions.

The winner likely will finish second in Group A behind Australia.

Permutations and combinations

The quarterfinals begin March 23, and we're still unsure of any pairings.

However, the possibilities are endless, given how the standings figure to shuffle in the next week.

Could Australia meet India much earlier than planned? India and Sri Lanka were the pre-tournament favorites, yet they could square off. Maybe an early rematch between Australia and England?

As the saying goes, it's all to play for.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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