We’re a little more than a week into the 12th edition of the ICC World Cup 2019, with the ninth match – Bangladesh vs New Zealand on June 5th rounding of Week 1 in one of the most exciting starts to an ICC event. Though it started a bit tepidly with a flurry of one-sided matches, the tournament has livened up in the last few days, with upsets galore, rain delays and even a close game.
From the players’ perspective, there weren’t many breathtaking performances. The contest between the bat and the ball was quite even. There were a few games where the batsmen dominated while the bowlers reigned supreme in the other matches. Also, the number of games that the teams played in the first week varied a great deal. While South Africa played the most number of games, i.e., 3, India started on the last day of the week and played just one match.
Things looked encouraging for the first few days, when the 10-team tournament that definitely existed to ensure there were no mismatches and not in any way because it was the least awful way to ensure nine games for India served up four total mismatches. When you’re clinging to a game won by 104 runs as an exciting close one, you’re in bother.
Yet since then there have been a flurry of quite brilliant games. Bangladesh’s win over South Africa was superb, Pakistan’s over England better still. Sri Lanka and Afghanistan served up one of the very silly yet thrillingly bonkers games in which Cardiff seems to specialise for some reason. Here we attempt to decipher what we learned and the top performers from Week 1…
GAME 1: England vs South Africa, England won by 104 runs
GAME 2: West Indies vs Pakistan, West Indies won by seven wickets
GAME 3: New Zealand vs Sri Lanka, New Zealand won by ten wickets
GAME 4: Australia vs Afghanistan, Australia won by seven wickets
GAME 5: South Africa vs Bangladesh, Bangladesh won by 21 runs
GAME 6: England vs Pakistan, Pakistan won by 14 runs
GAME 7: Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka won by 34 runs
GAME 8: India vs South Africa, India won by six wickets
GAME 9: Bangladesh vs New Zealand, New Zealand won by two wickets
The format is terrible, yet the cricket has been excellent. The ticketing has been a shambles, yet the atmosphere at the grounds has been excellent.
The ICC are helped here by the fact that even while Britain repeatedly and determinedly spends its days punching itself in the face it remains a spectacular place to hold a cricket tournament. The grounds are great, the travel times manageable and because of the multiculturalism that so enrages the moronic nativists who have taken over the national discourse at every level, all teams have had great support within the stadiums. There are no home teams. It’s been glorious.
The first game even provided precisely the sort of global viral moment that helps propel any tournament thanks to Ben Stokes’ ridiculous catch.
Yes, there was briefly an eight-way tie on two points at the top of the table. Yes, South Africa have lost three games yet remain very much in the competition – something that Harsha Bhogle gamely attempted to suggest on commentary during the defeat to India was evidence of a good format rather than a terrible one – and yes, there have been one-sided matches polished off in the time it’ll take Chennai and Mumbai to knock out a quick game of 100-ball cricketainment.
But the overriding sensation after the first week is that, despite the format, despite the absence of at least half-a-dozen teams who would have added so much to the event, despite match-going fans being treated with typical contempt, the World Cup has actually been great.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
GIANTS NO MORE
South Africa, a team that enters every World Cup and ICC tournament as joint-favorites or genuine contenders, a team that has a superb record in the group stages of most World Cups since their re-entry in 1992, is perhaps the “weakest” of the regular test-playing nations at this tournament. Faf du Plessis’ squad has been hit with injuries and bad luck, but the Proteas have lost all 3 of their games so far, leaving them with 6 remaining must-win matches – an unlikely scenario, given the tatters their fielding, batting and bowling are in. With Lungi Ngidi and Dale Steyn injured, it has fallen upon Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Imran Tahir to carry a difficult load, while the South African middle order – of Duminy and Miller – is arguably weaker than the Indian middle order. Never has a South African team been out of contention so early in any World Cup. It’s not just AB de Villiers missing, it’s Amla’s bad form, De Kock’s lack of consistency, Faf du Plessis’ non-big innings, and their shoddy catching this week. Sad for cricket.
PUSHOVERS NO MORE
Bangladesh, ably led by veteran Mashrafe Mortaza, is a team full of experienced players who know how to get the job done. They won their first-ever tri-series tournament a week before the World Cup and defeated South Africa in their opening game. The Tigers narrowly fell to New Zealand on Sunday night, but have already proved that they will be a challenge, even four years after beating England and reaching the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup. “Minnows” no more, the Bangladeshis lack a bit of mental fight – they have the skill and talent, and in Shakib they have the best all-rounder in cricket. It’s a matter of belief now.
NO FAIRYTALE YET
Afghanistan, a team that miraculously qualified for the World Cup four years after playing their first, is expected to cause a few shocks. They weren’t expected to beat Australia in their first game, which they didn’t, but they were virtually favorites against one of the worst Sri Lankan teams of all time. Yet, despite a great bowling effort, as usual, it’s Afghanistan careless batting that let them down while chasing a moderate total on a rain-delayed evening. They needed to play smarter, but came out all guns blazing and lost to the experience of Sri Lanka eventually. If Afghanistan is to be equal, they need to sort out their temperament with the bat. They will hope to beat teams like Bangladesh, West Indies or Pakistan (who they defeated in the warm-ups) down the road.
Pakistan was absolutely humiliated by West Indies fast bowlers in their first match. Ordinary thinking would suggest that they stood absolutely no chance against favorites and hosts England in the next. But Pakistan is no ordinary team. They thrive on going from ridiculous to sublime in a few days. Also, they had the advantage of having played a 5-match ODI series in England only last month. They were familiar with the conditions and had crossed more than 300 four times in the series. The batting fired again against England, and Eoin Morgan’s star-studded batting line-up couldn’t chase it down under pressure despite centuries from Joe Root and Jos Buttler. England was shocked, Pakistan was elated, and fans went ballistic about the bipolar beauty of this team.
INDIA IN THE MIDDLE
As expected, one of the two-three batsmen had to score a century for India to chase a tricky 228 against South Africa in testing conditions. If not for Rohit Sharma’s century, though, India might have been in deep trouble, given that Dhawan and Kohli went cheaply and Dhoni found it hard to time the ball again. But India’s bowling lived up to the expectations of being the best – Jasprit Bumrah was brilliant, Yuzvendra Chahal spun a web around clueless Proteas batsmen and even Bhuvi came to the party late. This will be the narrative for India if they are to move forward against better teams.
BEST XI FROM WEEK 1
1. David Warner | Australia
After a gap of about 16 months, David Warner was finally back in the Australian colours. He did make his first appearance after all this while with an excellent half-century. Warner, in the game against Afghanistan, scored 89* runs off 114 balls. He hit 8 fours in his innings and ensured that he took Australia over the winning line. The former Australian vice-captain will gain a lot of confidence from this knock and is due to bigger innings in the times to come.
2. Rohit Sharma (c) | India
The conditions were tough and it wasn’t easy facing Kagiso Rabada when India met South Africa in their first game. But a flamboyant Rohit Sharma took the challenge head-on and registered his 23rd ODI century in that game. He applied himself beautifully and the luck favoured him as well. This was the first hundred scored in the World Cup 2019 which came in a winning cause. It sure has to be one of the better hundreds this tournament and was a delight to watch Rohit in action.
3. Joe Root | England
The fans had to wait for a while to witness the first century of World Cup 2019. And it was the most elegant of players, Joe Root, who brought it up first. Although it was in a losing cause, Root played an excellent knock where he scored 107 runs off 104 balls. He hit 10 fours and a six during while he scored this excellent century. He was impressive in the first game against South Africa as well where he scored 51 runs from 59 deliveries.
4. Shakib Al Hasan | Bangladesh
Shakib Al Hasan in another player who has had an excellent start to the tournament. He scored 75 runs and picked up one wicket in a memorable win against South Africa. Shakib continued with the good form in the game against New Zealand where he further scored another 64 runs and was the highest scorer for his team. The ICC No.1 ODI all-rounder also picked up three wickets in the first week of the World Cup out of which two came under pressure against the Kiwis.
5. Jos Buttler (wk) | England
Jos Buttler was the second player to have scored a century in the tournament. The wicket-keeper batsman didn’t have the best of starts against South Africa where he just scored 18 runs. But the way he played against Pakistan was a visual treat. It was heartbreaking to see two of the finest centuries – one from Root and the other from Buttler go in vain. When all the odds were against them, it was Jos Buttler who instilled back the hope with a 76-ball 103. This was also the fastest century by an England batsman in a World Cup game.
6. Ben Stokes | England
Ben Stokes had a key role to play in England’s win in the first game. The left-hander scored a vital 89 which ultimately turned out to be the differentiator between both the teams. He also picked two wickets in that game. In the game versus Pakistan, the all-rounder gave away just 43 runs in his 7 overs on a belter of a batting pitch. Though, he failed to make an impact with the bat in this game as he could only get 13 runs.
7. Yuzvendra Chahal | India
Yuzvendra Chahal had just as important contribution as that of Rohit Sharma in India’s win against South Africa. Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen clearly set their eyes on a massive partnership and were cruising along well. But the leg-spinner sent them both back into the pavilion in the same over. He also dismissed two dangerous left-handers – David Miler and Andile Phehlukwayo making it a four-wicket haul in the only game that he played.
8. Nuwan Pradeep | Sri Lanka
After their embarrassing 10-wicket loss to New Zealand, Sri Lanka was in the trouble of losing the game to Afghanistan as well. In what turned out to be one of their worst collapses ever, the Lankans only managed to get 201 runs and the target was adjusted to 187 for Afghanistan according to the DLS method.
While a win seemed to be a cakewalk for the Afghans, Nuwan Pradeep had other plans. He came up with one of the finest spells ever by a Sri Lankan bowler in recent times where he picked up 4 wickets and took the opposition out of the equation. His efforts helped his team win the game by 34 runs.
9. Mohammad Amir | Pakistan
Mohammad Amir was undergoing the worst possible phase of his career with him hardly picking in wickets in the last twelve months. He was also ignored from Pakistan’s provisional squad. But the selectors kept faith in him and gave him another chance. He grabbed it with both the hands and had an important role to play in Pakistan’s first win of the tournament. The left-arm pacer started the tournament with a three-wicket haul against Windies and followed this up with a two-wicket haul against the hosts. He was excellent at the death in the second game.
Economy: 5.8110. Oshane Thomas | Windies
Oshane Thomas dictated terms in the game against Pakistan with his bowling. He aimed some sharp bouncers at the heads of the opposition batsmen and bowled extremely quick. The 22-year-old put most of the opposition’s batsmen in a tough spot with his excellent bowling. First, he got the big fish, Babar Azam. He then went on to dismiss Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan and Wahab Riaz in the same game helping bowl Pakistan out for just 105 runs. All he took to pick these four wickets was 5.4 overs.
11. Matt Henry | New Zealand
Matt Henry has set the speed gun on fire with his bowling this tournament. He consistently clocked the 140s and most of the batsmen who faced him had no answers to the speed at which he bowled. The 27-year-old pacer left the Sri Lankan batsmen grasping for breath with sheer pace.
He broke through the top-order of the side subjecting them to an irrecoverable blow. He then followed this up with a four-wicket haul against Bangladesh helping his team restrict the opposition for just 244 runs. Henry finished the first week of the World Cup as the leading wicket-taker.
So far, the tournament has been somewhat moderate. While there have been a few incredible catches, no one has really set the tournament alight. With 45 group games to get through to decide the knock-out contenders, perhaps it’s not all that unsurprising that players are taking it easy.
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