Mumbai: An India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal is the most appetising prospect to emerge from a month of preliminary matches which otherwise served primarily to confirm the identity of a predictable final eight.
Pakistan and West Indies open the quarterfinals in Dhaka on Wednesday with the winners drawn against the victors of the India versus Australia match in Ahmedabad on the following day.
South Africa and New Zealand meet in Dhaka on Friday before Sri Lanka host England in Colombo on Saturday in the battle for the second semifinal spot.
If both the teams win their respective quarterfinal match they will face-off in Mohali on March 30.
Anxious to avoid an early exit for any of the leading contenders after India and Pakistan flew home early from the 2007 tournament, the International Cricket Council (ICC) pitched the 14 teams into a round-robin first round format.
"We trying to ensure we give every team the best opportunity of remaining in the competition and not losing out just because of one bad game so that the best do go through," ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said.
The ICC, the television networks and the sponsors got their wish in a tournament which, after finally reaching the knockout stages, now looks the most open since 1999.
Australia, aiming for a fourth consecutive title, are not the force of previous tournaments, losing a World Cup match for the first time in 12 years when they were deservedly beaten by Pakistan in the first round.
India have a nation willing them to success in the Mumbai final on April 2. But their collective temperament has been questioned after they emerged with only one point from their matches against England and South Africa despite centuries on both occasions to the peerless Sachin Tendulkar.
South Africa's belief that this may at last be their year after a history of underachievement in the tournament is based on a fine pace attack, able spin bowling, solid batting and their customary slick fielding. They are also the only team to have bowled out their opponents each time in the group stages.
Sceptics, though, point to their failure to overhaul a modest target against England as evidence of a continued fallibility under pressure.
England, who have looked at times physically and mentally spent since their Ashes heroics, lost to Ireland and Bangladesh but emphasised their fighting spirit under Andrew Strauss in a tie with India and victories over South Africa and West Indies.
Winning in Colombo against the 1996 champions still looks like a step too far after Sri Lanka did nothing in the first round to erode pre-tournament assessments that they have the best-balanced side in the competition.
With the weather getting hotter and the pitches starting to deteriorate faster, the sub-continental sides have an increasing advantage which Pakistan should exploit to West Indies' cost in Dhaka.
Their swashbuckling captain Shahid Afridi has led from the front, emerging as a match winner with the ball by taking 17 wickets with his aggressive wrist spin.
The winners of the New Zealand-South Africa semifinal will play the victors of the Sri Lanka-England tie in Colombo on March 29. Mohali will stage the second semi the following day.