Mitch Marsh will miss the first Test against Pakistan after breaking his hand, opening the door for fellow Western Australia all-rounder Marcus Stoinis to come into Test contention.
The 2019 Cricket World Cup is hurtling towards its conclusion, with the long, six-week group stage finally finished and the finals bearing down on us.
All but four teams have gone home, but with them leave some of the tournament’s standout players. This is my list of those who deserved to stay and play on.
Quinton de Kock (South Africa)
In my original plan I had the wicketkeeper spot reserved for Musfiqur Rahim, but successive failures for Rahim against India and Pakistan has forced me to look elsewhere. I have picked De Kock not so much for his batting but for his impressive wicketkeeping in the match against the Aussies. First, his alacrity resulted in the run out of Marcus Stoinis, and then his perfectly timed leap ended the innings of Glenn Maxwell.
As a batsman De Kock enjoyed a steady but not a spectacular World Cup. He crossed the 40-run mark on four occasions, but his highest score was only 68. This is unusual for someone who generally enjoys an excellent conversion rate in ODIs.
Babar Azam (Pakistan)
Although he is a No. 3 batsman, I have picked him as an opener here. Due to the poor form of the Pakistani openers in general and Fakhar Zaman in particular, Babar had to do effectively the openers’ job frequently. He came in to World Cup in excellent from and here he was a model of consistency. After scoring 22 in the opening fixture against the West Indies he never failed to reach the 30-run mark again. The highlight was a matchwinning hundred (101*) against New Zealand at Edgbaston.
Babar’s ODI strike rate of 86 isn’t extraordinary in the modern game, but as a batsman he belongs to the class of Lawrence Rowe and VVS Laxman. For them the art of batting often got the priority over scoring rapidly. Babar and opener Imam-Ul-Haq are both steady stroke-makers, and with Fakhar Zaman hopefully back in form and left-hander Haris Sohail batting at No. 4, they should form the top order for the Pakistan side as they start their post-World Cup plans.
Avishka Fernando (Sri Lanka)
He is 21 and bats like it – bold, aggressive, carefree and at times perhaps a bit naïve in his approach. But despite playing just four matches he has emerged as the most exciting batsman in the Lankan outfit. His highest – 104 – came against the West Indies and earnt him the man of the match award, but with a bit of luck and, more importantly, with a bit more caution he would have had at least one more big innings. But then the caution would have taken away some of the glamour from his batting.
In a World Cup where Chris Gayle has reminded me of Chris Tavare, Fernando was one batsman who never failed to entertain the crowd with his batting, even if, as it was the case against India, only for a short period.
Batting at No. 3 for the Sri Lanka ODI team is not easy, with comparisons with the great Kumar Sangakkara always on the cards. The Sri Lanka cricket pundits would do better not to start such comparisons in the near future; at least for the next few years they should allow Fernando to play his natural game, which is beautiful enough, and enjoy the game – and also allow the crowd enjoy his batting.
No need to discuss his achievements in this World Cup; they have been well documented. The most interesting aspect of his batting display is that it has raised a question: why hasn’t he batted at No .3 regularly before? Of course there was the question of both mental and physical preparation. It is important to note that he is not a part-time spinner like Glen Maxwell or Kedar Jadhav; he is expected to bowl ten overs pretty much regularly and often open the bowling as well.
The most impressive part of his batting here has been his selection of shots square of the wicket in the offside. Previously he has scored plenty of runs in this region, but such shots have brought about his dismissal many times as well. For the most part his selection of shots square of the wicket in the offside in this World Cup has been brilliant, his execution immaculate.
Nicholas Pooran (West Indies)
Throughout this World Cup the left-hander from Trinidad and Tobago looked the most compact batsman in the West Indies outfit. While some initially questioned his ability to convert starts in to scores, the doubters were silenced following his fine hundred against Sri Lanka; which unfortunately failed to secure victory for his side.
He is still very inexperienced but will only get better with more maturity. Of course there is scope for massive improvement in his running between the wickets and his calling while at the wicket. While his driving through the offside reminds me of Alvin Kallicharan and Saeed Anwar at their majestic best, his running between the wickets can only be compared with that of Inzamam-Ul-Haq.
Haris Sohail (Pakistan)
The Pakistan side finished the tournament in style, winning their last four games, but they still lost out to New Zealand on the net run rate count. Sohail, the attractive left-hander, played his part in the Pakistani resurgence with a couple of fine knocks.
His 59-ball 89 against South Africa earnt him the man of the match award – it was flamboyant, aggressive batting, perhaps aided a little bit by some good fortune. His 76-ball 68 against New Zealand was a more measured effort, and a fine century stand with Babar Azam handed the Kiwis their first defeat in the event. Together they tamed the threat of Mitchell Santer, who initially looked threatening on a turning track.
Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan)
This wasn’t a very happy experience for the Afghan team, losing all their matches, but Nabi, their veteran all-rounder, performed consistently throughout the event. In a World Cup dominated by the fast bowlers, he impressed with his gentle off-breaks. His two best bowling efforts 4-30 from nine against Sri Lanka and 2-23 from ten against Pakistan both should have resulted in Afghan victory but unfortunately didn’t.
Imran Tahir (South Africa)
Tahir stated the tournament with a bang, taking the wicket of Jonny Bairstow with the second delivery of the World Cup, and in his last match he picked up the big scalp of Aussie captain Aaron Finch. While he didn’t pick as many wickets as he and his team would have liked in between, he was consistent and mostly remained economical. His 4-29 against Afghanistan won him a man of the match award.
Tahir’s performance here looks more impressive if we consider the fact that some younger leggies like Rashid Khan, Adil Rashid and Adam Zampa have struggled to make their mark in this World Cup.
Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh)
In a World Cup dominated by left-arm seamers, the Fizz produced a string of consistent performances before really picking things up in the final two matches against Bangladesh’s big neighbours, taking five wickets each against both India and Pakistan. While Bangladesh lost both these fixtures, Mustafizur’s reputation as an emerging fast bowler was greatly enhanced.
Mustafiz’s job here was made difficult as a number of the Tigers’ frontline bowlers struggled badly, but he stuck to his task manfully. He was expensive at times but showed excellent skills and composure in the final overs.
Mohammad Amir (Pakistan)
He was consistent throughout, and if the Pakistan fielders, especially those in the slips, had shown greater awareness, he would have picked up a few more wickets. Even in batting-friendly conditions he got the ball to move in both directions, and even the best batsmen found the going tough against him.
Shaheen Afridi (Pakistan)
I have to confess that prior to this World Cup I knew little about him and considered him as a distant relative of a more famous Afridi. Now, like many other cricket fans worldwide, I know a lot more about him.
He came into this World Cup little short on confidence after the English batsmen scored heavily against him in the ODI series prior to the tournament. In the World Cup itself he started slowly, but after running through the New Zealand middle order at Edgbaston, he didn’t look back, and his 6-35 against Bangladesh is the best bowling figure in the League stage.