It was one of those wins. The kind of match you look back on years later and wonder how on earth it happened. I’m still trying to fully work it out a few hours after the final ball.
We are continuing the series of articles on the analysis of the ten teams taking part in the next cricketing megaevent – the World Cup.
The following review is for South Africa, Pakistan, and England.
1. South Africa
The inspirational Faf Du Plessis leads South Africa and the team has done well not just at home, but away as well since 2017.
South African have decimated Australia home-away in Tests and ODIs, beaten Sri Lanka in their backyard and recently full strength Pakistan at home. But they lost to India at home in ODIs and to England in all three formats back in 2017.
Their record in ICC events in England has not been great either in the last five years as they were knocked out before semi-final in 2017, and in 2013 choked against England. They are the perennial favourite when it comes to ICC events but sadly the ICC World Cup Trophy has eluded them despite churning out the best team on the park.
Be it luck, rain factor or pressure of knockouts they haven’t progressed beyond semi-finals. The Africans are billed as one of the favourites this time around as well, but a closer look at the side shows a skewed team with crucial players well at the fag end of the career such as Hashim Amla, Faf Du Plessis, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir and some inexperienced players in ODIs such as Reeza Hendricks, HE Van Der Dussen, Heinrich Klassen, Aiden Markram and D Olivier.
So an injury to any of the key players does disturb the balance of the team. Amla looks the shadow of his former self, DeKock has been going through tough times. David Miller could be the man with the bat for South Africa. Faf’s captaincy will be vital to holding this team to take it to the semi-final, but demons of the past will perhaps hunt them again and its very much unlikely they will get past semi-final still.
Maybe the presence of AB DeVillers, along with the energy and experience he brings to the team, will be missed. India and Australia can attest how ABD singlehandedly tilted the balance in favour of the South African team when they toured the rainbow nation.
None of the cricket experts will be dropping jaws if Pakistan reaches the semis or even the finals of the World Cup. If any team can defend 200 and also successfully chase 300, it is Pakistan. Like the mercury in the barometer, they rise or fall when you expect the least from them. For example, winning the Champions Trophy in 2017 after getting thrashed by India in the opening game.
But under Sarfaraz Ahmed and coach Micky Arthur, the team has certainly improved its fielding and plays more like a professional unit in last year or so. And their record in England in excellent, not just winning CT back in 2017 but drawing the Test series in previous two tours, winning WC T-20 in 2009 or reaching finals of 50 overs World Cup in 1999.
They have a good record in England, and that certainly makes them a favourite.
Even the team has players who have tasted success in England. The young guns such as Fakhar Zaman, Imad Wasim, Imam Ul Haq, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali have created ripples in the cricketing world. The experienced players such as Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Mohammad Amir will be like the glue for the team.
The tall Shaheen Afridi can be devastating on his day using his height to good effect. The balance of team with destructive batters at the top, some experienced men in the middle and all-rounder who can strike big in the death with good spinners and pace means that this team can go all the way.
Don’t be surprised if they replicate the glory of Champions Trophy in the all-important marquee event. They will put in some spirited performances coupled with odd lacklustre games. But the only thing is no one knows which Pakistan will turn up on the field on a given day.
But they remain firm favourites.
England should reach the semis and also the finals. The No.1 ranked ODI team has done well both home and away in varying conditions. Whether be that spinning track of Sri Lanka, the bouncy track of Australia or seaming conditions in New Zealand or England.
They have a team too good not to reach finals. Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Ben Stokes will form the backbone of the batting. While Jos Buttler will provide the x-factor along with Moeen Ali. Adil Rashid has been in the best phase of his cricketing career in last year or so and expect it to continue in the World Cup too.
The two spinners are a handful when conditions are helpful for the spin. In the bowling department, they have Chris Woakes, Curran brothers, David Willey, Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood, who have excelled in home conditions. The fielding is top class as well given they are all very young.
But if anything at all could make or break England’s World Cup chances, it is Eoin Morgan’s injury. He is the MS Dhoni for England cricket, his presence on the field drives the team to put on excellent performances.
Morgan has given the team license to go and hit right from the word go after first round World Cup exit in 2015. He has said time and time again he would like to see his team 40-2 after ten overs than 20-0. As good a batter the most prolific run scorer for England in ODI cricket is, Eoin Morgan, the captain, is needed for the team than the Morgan as the batsman.
They are the team who had won matches even after losing top three early and have responded well even when they lost five wickets for less than 20 runs against Australia and South Africa. Be it chasing 350+ scores or defending 270 runs, England has merely run over the opposition in the last three years. Simply put it, it’s their World Cup to lose.
But can India or Australia challenge mighty England? Or can Afghanistan spring some surprise like they have done in last year or so? Watch this space closely for more.