The World Cup so far…
Updated: Jun 23, 2019
It’s been a fortnight since cricket’s premier event kicked off but we are yet to see The World Cup truly take off.
On May 30, 2019, the 12th edition of cricket’s showpiece event – The 50 over World Cup – kicked off in England and Wales with much anticipation and fanfare. Hosts and tournament favourite England took on a strong yet vulnerable South Africa in the tournament opener. As expected, the might of The Three Lions proved too much for The Proteas, as the latter went down by 104 runs.
A fortnight has passed since the tournament kicked off, yet the event in itself is yet to get a kick-start. It usually takes a couple of weeks before the event really kicks into gear but by this time in the last edition, we at least had one nail-biting finish when co-hosts Australia and New Zealand took on each other. Trent Boult (5 for 27) wrecked the Aussies for a paltry 151 and a chase that should have been a walk in the park quickly turned into a nightmare as Mitchell Starc (6 for 28) returned the favour with a devastating spell. It was indeed nail biting stuff and in the end, it was the cool headedness of Kane Williamson that got the Black Caps over the line. By comparison, this year’s tournament is yet to see a thriller of a match, with the closest result being Pakistan’s defeat of hosts England by 14 runs. Things are sure to go up a notch in the coming weeks.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights from a fortnight at the quadrennial event.
Favourites bolt out of the gates
The favourites for this edition’s title – England and India – began their campaigns in telling fashion as they bolted out of the gates. The hosts trampled a strong South Africa by 104 runs in the tournament opener before being stunned by unpredictable Pakistan in their next encounter, a defeat by 14 runs. They quickly rebounded though to get their campaign back on track with a crushing 106 run defeat of Bangladesh.
India who began their tournament a week after everyone else, quickly hit their straps with convincing wins over tough opponents South Africa and Australia in their opening matches, the former being defeated by 6 wickets and the five-time defending champions going down by 36 runs.
The batting juggernaut of England was on full display in all their matches while India’s magnificent top 3 and the tournament’s most versatile bowling attack made a telling statement of their own. Both teams are red-hot at the moment and it will be interesting to watch how they fare in the remainder of the tournament.
Warning: Turbulence ahead
The once mighty South Africa began their bid for a World title in horrendous fashion losing their first three matches before salvaging a point in a rain-abandoned match against The West Indians. The Proteas have just a solitary point after 4 matches. To compound matters, their famed pace bowling arsenal were dealt two massive blows when pace legend Dale Steyn, playing in his last World Cup, was ruled out of the tournament with a recurring shoulder injury and young gun Lungi Ngidi being sidelined for the next few matches with a hamstring injury. On top of that, the entire ABD issue that sprung up last week just added to the turbulence the team is facing. It will indeed take a herculean effort from strongman skipper Faf du Plessis and his men to turn things around.
The Name’s Archer… Jofra Archer
The world, which previously only got a glimpse, bore witness to the electrifying talent of Jofra Archer. The Barbados born speedster, who made a name for himself in franchise cricket over the last couple of seasons, was finally unveiled on the international stage, in the sky or electric or whatever-you-want-to-call-it blue of England and he wasted no time in serving notice of his extraordinary talent. His ability to generate speeds of 150kph from a very short run up and easy action left cricket aficionados awe struck. He announced his arrival on the big stage by first striking The Proteas opener Amla flush on the helmet before removing skipper du Plessis, a wonderful player of fast bowling, with a bouncer that was too hot to handle. He ended up with 3 wickets on his World Cup debut. Next up was Bangladeshi opener Soumya Sarkar, who didn’t know what hit him and neither did his off bail, castled by an express delivery by the lanky Englishman. The ball knocked the batsman’s bail off and went straight over the boundary rope in what would have been signaled a six, had it come off the bat. Such has been the searing pace that this wonderful new talent has been able to generate. He has got the game buzzing again and everyone will be eager to see what this exciting youngster conjures up next.
Of backaches and headaches: The return of short-pitched bowling
The return of short-pitched bowling had batsmen ducking and weaving in the first couple of weeks of the event. The West Indians were the first to employ it as a tactic in this year’s event, as they wound back the clock to the glory days of their big fast bowlers, and promptly blew The Pakistanis away, setting a template for others to follow. Such has been the ferocity of the short-stuff that many a batsman has left the field with a disfigured helmet, broken spirit and a jarring headache. Ask Hashim Amla, whom Jofra Archer struck in the very first match of the tournament. He left the field, returning later to complete his innings, but the knock he took ruled him out of the following match. Usman Khawaja then joined the ‘hit list’ when he was struck on the grill by young Windies paceman Oshane Thomas, shortly before surrendering his wicket. In fact so relentless has been the barrage of bouncers this year that team physios have been seen taking the field more often than some of the players themselves. And those who have been fortunate enough to get out of the way of the flying orb have likely ended up on massage tables, tending to their aching backs. This is just the beginning and by the time this tournament is done, don’t be surprised if a few batsmen end up with lifetime spa memberships to go along with their year’s supply of Advil.
Stokes, Woakes and there’s still a lot more, folks
There have been a number of outstanding catches in the 14 days since the tournament was declared open. Ben Stokes set the tournament alight with what Nasser Hussain called one of the best catches of all time, flinging himself backwards, goalkeeper style and plucking the ball out of thin air. Not to be outdone, his teammate Chris Woakes then pouched four catches in England’s next match against Pakistan, two of them at full stretch nonetheless. Shai Hope, Quinton de Kock, Glenn Maxwell, Sheldon Cottrell and Mohammad Hafeez then decided to crash the English party and soon had their names up on the honours board. With exactly a month to go before the curtain comes down, you can be sure to witness many more dazzling catches. Don’t go anywhere folks, we’re just getting started!
To retire or not to retire
The most shocking news to come out of the World cup in the last fortnight was that South African great AB de Villiers was willing to come out of retirement to represent his country at The World Cup. However his decision to turn out in Proteas colours came a little too late, as the team for the tournament was to be announced the next day (this was sometime in April). The team and management would have loved to have the legend in the side, but deciding that it would be unfair to the rest of the eligible candidates (who qualified through a proper selection process), the management turned down his request. ABD had previously stated that The World Cup was no longer a priority, that he had made his peace with it and that there was no chance of a comeback in his mind, until uh… just before the World Cup? ‘Confused’icious, thy name truly is ABD.
Return of The Jedi (from the dark side)
Australia’s batting Jedi masters David Warner and Steve Smith made their long-awaited return to international cricket at this year’s ongoing event. The two stalwarts who spent the last year with Master Yoda, learning how to tame their dark sides and emerge from the ‘sandpapergate’ saga, turned up with light-sabers in hand, ready to do battle, ready to redeem themselves. While the force was not particularly strong with Warner early on, despite consecutive half-centuries in his first two outings, it was very strong with Smith from the get go. The former No.1 Test batsman first crafted a tenacious knock that held the innings together against the West Indians, and together with Nathan Coulter-Nile, secured a win for his team. He followed that up with another crucial half-century against the Indians, albeit this time in vain. Warner finally found his mojo in the match against Pakistan, scoring a typically fluent and aggressive match- winning century. They have both maintained a low profile so far but things are definitely beginning to look up for the beleaguered duo. May the force be with them!
The bail is mightier than the ball
If you ever wondered whether the short and stout stature of the letter ‘i’, in the word bail, made it seem inferior than its taller compatriot the letter ‘l’ in it, then you might want to consider the unique scenario of the bail and the ball playing out at this year’s tournament. Perhaps the most bizarre incident to occur at the World Cup thus far has been the stubbornness of the electronic ‘Zing’ bails to be dislodged after fast men such as Jasprit Bumrah have struck the stumps hard. This has occurred no less than 5 times in 13 games when the bails have refused to budge, firmly letting the batsmen know that they have got their backs. As if it wasn’t enough of a batsman’s game already, now the furniture itself has stated its clear disdain for the bowlers and the 5 and a half-ounce sphere as well. Previously resigned to their fate of being knocked around, the bails are now fighting back.
The Cottrell Salute
Trust the West Indians to bring the joy to any event. The men from The Caribbean just know how to have a good time, even while competing in a major tournament like The World Cup. Their fast bowler Sheldon Cottrell just upped the fun-o-meter with his unique wicket taking celebration – The Cottrell Salute. So entertaining has it been – a quick march and salute before exploding into a backward arch with arms spread out - that most fans hope the Jamaican gets a wicket every time he bowls, just to witness the exaggerated celebration. The Cottrell salute has indeed become ‘the wicket taking celebration’ at The World Cup. It could even well be cricket's version of the 21 gun 'Royal Salute'.
Rain, rain go away
The English summer, no wait monsoon, no wait summer, well this is all very confusing, anyway 'the weather' has wreaked havoc on the cricket as already 4 matches have been abandoned due to rain, in just the second week. That’s more than the number of matches that were lost in the entire tournaments of 1992 & 2003 (2 matches each) and 1979,1996,1999 & 2011 where only a single match each was lost because of inclement weather. Rain, rain go away, all the cricketers want to play may well be the anthem of The World Cup. Hopefully the weather takes a turn for the better in the coming weeks lest the tournament organizers decide to coin their own version of ‘Brexit’.
The Spirit of Cricket
Even the intensity of an India vs. Australia contest at The World Cup no less, wasn’t enough for players to wear their meanest 'game faces'. In a heartwarming gesture, the Indian skipper Virat Kohli, who was batting at the time, signaled to the Indian crowd not to boo Steve Smith, who was fielding at the boundary in front of them, but instead to cheer him. The gesture did not go unnoticed as the Australian made it a point to shake his great rival’s hand at the first instance he got. The Spirit of Cricket is well and truly alive at The Cup.
Well, the first couple of weeks of The World Cup have been eventful to say the least and the ensuing weeks are sure to bring plenty of thrills and spills, as teams jostle for positions atop the leader board.