The World Cup finally came alive after a sombre start, with upsets and thrillers galore that helped spice up the event.
After yawning our way through the first couple of weeks, heart rates shot upwards in the ensuing two weeks as teams constantly sparred with each other, jostling for positions atop the leaderboard.
The weather gods finally relented as rain gave way to bright sunshine and most matches were completed without too many interruptions. We take a look at all the action that transpired over the last three weeks.
Pre-tournament favourites England began their quest for World Cup glory in such emphatic fashion, it seemed like they would just run away with the title. The ICC was worried the World Cup would turn out to be a one-horse race if the hosts continued unchecked, leading to a drop in interest and possibly revenue in Cricket’s showpiece event.
A quick call to the ECB to discuss strategy was made and a plan was hatched to convert the Three Lions campaign into a thriller rather than a straight-up one-team action flick. The hosts would need to lose a couple of matches before resurrecting their flagging campaign to ultimately claim cricket’s greatest prize.
The script seemed perfect and would keep the fans and rest of the cricket world engaged over the next six weeks. They would need cooperation from other teams to carry out their master plan though.
The services of Pakistan and Sri Lanka were enlisted, even though Mohammad Amir was clearly unsettled in being approached by anyone anymore. The sub-continent teams duly obliged – defeated England, the cricket world was shocked, waiting to see how the home team would respond; everything was going according to plan.
Now, it was time to get back to winning ways. However, when they approached arch-rivals Australia to help them out, the old enemy flatly refused. ‘Sorry mate, we’re going to thump you’, they said and thump them they did. Suddenly, England’s entire campaign looked like going off the rails. Engaged fans gave way for edgy ones as ‘God save The Three Lions’ quickly replaced the lyrics of the national anthem as the English cried out for a revival.
Thankfully, their prayers were answered as the hosts regained their form (and confidence) just in time to pummel India and New Zealand (yeah they played cricket as well) and seal a semi-final spot. Everything was back on track; everything was going according to script, again! Phew, talk about a plot going awry… almost.
(Note: None of the above ‘arrangements’ took place, England won emphatically and lost dramatically all on their own, the above description is purely satirical)
The cream rises to the top
After five high-octane weeks, the men were separated from the boys as The World Cup found its final four. Five-time champions Australia became the first team to qualify for the semi-finals with a string of convincing victories, after beginning the tournament on a none-too-impressive note. India, the co-favourites along with England were the second team to book their ticket with a commanding performance that saw them win their first five completed games in a row (their match against New Zealand was washed out).
Pre-tournament favourites England, after a mid-innings slump, rebounded in style towards the back end and barge through the door into third spot. Finally, New Zealand who started the competition strongly but stuttered towards the end rounded up the top four.
Among the teams to fall by the wayside, South Africa were the biggest disappointment of The World Cup. They suffered the ignominy of being the first team from their nation to lose three matches in succession at the event.
In an inexplicable instance of wires getting crossed, Proteas head coach Otis Gibson’s attempt to motivate the team with the timeless hit number of legendary band Queen’s We Will Rock You sensationally backfired.
The team, instead of rocking the tournament, was rocked by scandals starting from AB de Villiers’ retirement u-turn for the World Cup to skipper Faf du Plessis’ revelation about Kasigo Rabada’s IPL stint this year. Injury and indifferent form of key players rounded off their worst ever performance at a World Cup. They notched only three victories.
World Cricket’s fairytale team Afghanistan entered the tournament looking to add another sterling chapter to their already awe-inspiring story, however, the team was unsettled by cricket politics just prior to the start of the tournament which hampered their preparation and team atmosphere. They leave the tournament with nothing to show in the wins column, having lost all their matches, with the hope of a better showing next time around.
West Indies’ national anthem centring on the theme ‘Rally ‘Round The West Indies’ did not really morph into a performance as the Caribbeans flattered to deceive. Their undisciplined approach, inability to deliver the knock-out punch and often-casual attitude seemed as though they were here for the World Cup after party rather than the main event itself. They failed to rally and ended up losing six matches and winning just two.
Bangladesh was undoubtedly the most improved team at this year’s event. From being absolute no-hopers in previous editions, the Tigers were even in the running for an unlikely semi-final spot. The highlights were their amazing batting displays throughout the tournament and the phenomenal performances of their star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan.
In completing their epic chase of West Indians’ 321, they became the only team in the tournament so far to run down a total upwards of 300. They take a bow with three victories to show in the end.
The Lions from Sri Lanka entered the tournament with their team and administration in turmoil. A sea of controversies had left the team utterly deflated and in disarray, nothing much was expected from them in such tumultuous circumstances. To their credit, they did the best they could and managed to surprise with an unexpected victory over England.
They ended with three victories and were in the race for a semi-final spot until England’s defeat of New Zealand sealed their fate.
The unpredictability of Pakistan came back to haunt them as their blow hot, blow cold performance throughout the last five weeks meant they would have to depend on some favourable results going their way in order to qualify for the semi-finals. Their fans saw a similarity to their World Cup-winning campaign in 1992 where, despite starting slowly, they went on to capture the crown.
Fate had dealt them a lifeline then by way of a washed out match that handed them that all-important point that helped them progress to the knock-out rounds. This time though, they paid the price as the Gods of Fate decided not to intervene and turned the other way leading them to get knocked out.
They sign off with five victories and equal points with fourth-place New Zealand, but with an inferior run rate.
The winning formula
The template for this edition of the World Cup was established early on as win the toss, bat first, score 300 and win the game. So predominant has been this pattern that only one team, the West Indies, has lost a match after posting a score north of 300. In fact, a score of 285 and above has proved to be a winning score on 19 out of the 20 occasions it has been achieved in the tournament.
It would indeed be an anti-climax if the semi-finals and finals were to follow this all too familiar pattern.
Warner and Shakib 2.0: Men on a nission
Australian opener David Warner’s return to the national team has been nothing short of phenomenal. The once bad boy of Aussie cricket, whose calm, sage-like demeanour (and beard) has since earned him the moniker ‘The Reverend’ has put himself in prime position for the ‘golden bat’ (it should be cricket’s version for the highest run scorer of the tournament) with 516 runs under his belt.
His solid opening partnership with skipper Aaron Finch has been one of the primary reasons Australia find themselves in a familiar position of contending for the title, after an unfamiliar start to their campaign.
Similarly, Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan has been a revelation. The world’s top all-rounder hasn’t missed a beat in his team’s mission of being world-beaters. Head coach Steve Rhodes’ motivational challenge – telling him to ‘show the world why he’s the no.1 all-rounder’ – seemed to be the catalyst that has seen him set the World Cup on fire.
He has amassed 606 runs with two centuries and four half-centuries and has made a telling impact with the ball as well, grabbing 11 wickets.
He, in fact, became the first player in history to score 500 runs and take ten wickets in a single World Cup campaign. Not since 1999 has a genuine all-rounder (Yuvraj Singh was always a part-time bowler even when he won the award in 2011) been named ‘Player of the Tournament’, when South Africa’s Lance Klusener claimed the prestigious award. Bangladesh’s talismanic player has put himself in pole position to emulate the legendary ‘Zulu’ and secure another one for the all-rounders club.
So impressive have the new and improved versions of Warner and Shakib been that no matter where their teams end up, the indelible marks left by ‘The Reverend’ and ‘The World’s No. 1 All-rounder’ on this World Cup will be forever etched in our memory.
Mohammad Shami of India and Trent Boult of New Zealand lit up the World Cup, as they became the only two bowlers thus far to take a coveted hat-trick in the ongoing World Cup. The Indian achieved his feat when he cleaned up the Afghanistan tail in a nerve-wracking 11-run victory for the co-favourites, while the Kiwi conjured his in a valiant albeit futile effort against Australia as their Trans-Tasman neighbours easily put it across them in a 66-run defeat.
Shami, in fact, became only the second Indian, after Chetan Sharma, to take a World Cup hat-trick while Boult became the first New Zealander to achieve the rare feat at the event.
Fitness be damned: The paunchy tales
In a complete rebellion against the fitness mantra that has become the sign of our times, Afghanistan wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad, Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad and Sri Lankan pace veteran Lasith Malinga turned up to the event sporting paunches that would have left the likes of Virat Kohli, Faf Du Plessis and Gulbadin Naib, three of the fittest cricketers around, aghast.
While the Afghan keeper was eventually sent home on fitness grounds and the Pakistan skipper’s now famous yawn was his biggest contribution on the field, the Lankan showed that fitness levels have nothing to do with skills as he showed them off to take a four-for and sink the English ship.
It was indeed a victory for skill over fitness. Mohammad Shahzad may have left the tournament but his spirit and fitness regimen is still very much alive in the shapes and sizes of Lasith Malinga and Sarfaraz Ahmad. Fish and more chips anyone?
The marquee clashes fizzle out
The marquee clashes of the tournament – India versus Pakistan, Australia versus England and India versus England – all failed to live up to their top billing, petering out into one-sided affairs instead.
India maintained their perfect record against arch-rivals Pakistan at World Cups, clinching their seventh victory in as many meetings. Australia also continued their unbeaten record against the old enemy dating back to the ’92 event. The biggest clash of the tournament between co-favourites and the world’s two top-ranked ODI sides India and England went the way of the latter, as the hosts rediscovered their mojo to end the sub-continent giant’s unbeaten streak at this year’s event.
In all three matches, the team batting first ran out winners, in keeping with this edition’s concerning theme.
The Big Show(s) turn flop shows
The ball bashing, tattoo sporting, macho men of the global T20 bandwagon brought their irrefutable talent to the mother of all cricket events. All the Big Show(s); Glenn Maxwell, Chris Gayle, David Miller, Andre Russell, Colin Munro and Fakhar Zaman brought their big games to the quadrennial event.
However, they all thought that they had landed at the T20 World Cup instead of the 50-over version. Match after match they tried to smash the white leather into the nearest planet and failed spectacularly. Not one of them managed a single century and only Gayle and Zaman managed to cross 50 in an innings over the course of the tournament.
It just went to show that, even in this day and age of 100-plus strike rates, massive bats and ultra-aggressive mindsets, there’s no substitute for proper technique, innings building temperament and some good old-fashioned common sense.
Starc of House Australia
The Starks of Winterfell may have ridden into the sunset (or into the dark cold winter in this case) but the story of yet another Starc remains unfinished. Mitchell of House Starc and of Australia, after the last two forgettable years in ODI cricket, exploded at the tournament snaring 24 wickets to date to surpass his own player of the tournament performance of 22 wickets in the last edition.
He’s now just one wicket shy of fellow Aussie paceman Glenn McGrath’s world record tally of 26 wickets in a single World Cup (2007). As of now, he is also the leading wicket-taker in this year’s tournament and is sitting pretty to claim the ‘golden ball’ (again, it should be cricket’s version for the highest wicket-taker of the tournament) award.
His ‘seed’ to Ben Stokes, hitting the base of off-stump at 150 plus clicks, when the Englishman was batting beautifully, remains the ‘ball of the tournament’. With his stellar performance thus far, he has once again shown why he remains Australia’s most lethal weapon in the Game for the Throne.
We believe we can fly
Not to be outdone by Ben Stokes’ acrobatic catch, the supreme athletes of the cricketverse decided to put on a show for their millions of awestruck fans. Steve Smith, Chris Woakes, Ravindra Jadeja, Jos Buttler and Fabian Allan defied gravity to pluck the flying orb out of thin air.
The sequel to Man of Steel might be a few years away, but these supermen used the World Cup as a stage to audition for the role left vacant by Henry Cavill. It was Martin Guptill though, with his stunning left-handed grab of a full-blooded Steve Smith pull, who wound up as the frontrunner to play the lead, as the last son of Krypton.
Remember the name(s)
While the marquee matches failed to live up to expectations, it was the relatively smaller matches (without sounding disrespectful) that provided the tournament with the thrillers it so desperately craved. A calm Kane Williamson guided his team to a four-wicket victory, with an over and a half to spare, in a tense chase as New Zealand downed South Africa in the first close contest of the competition.
India then decided to up the spice quotient as a supposed-easy match against underdogs Afghanistan suddenly turned into a palpitation filled encounter, with India’s bowlers saving the day by snatching a narrow 11-run win.
Carlos Brathwaite, in the biggest thriller of the World Cup so far, hit a magnificent century and almost got his team (and the ball) over the line until a splendid overhead catch at the long on boundary by Boult put paid to West Indies’ hopes as they fell agonisingly short by a mere five runs.
Pakistan’s band of brash warriors then decided to make heavy weather of a none-too-difficult chase of 227 runs against neighbours Afghanistan, before ice-cool Imad Wasim struck the winning runs off the last over of the match to signal a three-wicket triumph for Sarfaraz’s men.
In a show of batting stars of the future, Avishka Fernando of Sri Lanka and Nicholas Pooran of the West Indies gave the world a glimpse of their precocious talent as they both struck brilliant hundreds with the Lankan’s innings resulting in a 23-run first place for his side, in what would have been a record World Cup chase if the Windies had achieved it.
Finally, England skipper Eoin Morgan shattered the world record of most sixes in an ODI innings as he thumped the hapless Afghan bowlers for 17 maximums. The demolition job ensured Afghan Rashid Khan became the unenviable owner of the most expensive bowling figures in the tournament’s history as he conceded 110 runs in nine nightmarish overs.
These were the performances that lit up the tournament over the last three weeks and you can be sure everyone will – as Ian Bishop so famously said – ‘remember the name(s)’.
India vs Pakistan – The backlash
The Pakistan team faced a huge backlash from their fans on social media for their abject surrender to bitter rivals for the seventh straight time at the game’s premier event
More than the mere defeat, what infuriated the Pakistani fans was their team’s lack of intent and strategy in such a big game. On winning the toss, skipper Sarfaraz elected to bowl, when all the experts clearly stated it was a win-the-toss-and-bat-first pitch and then during a huge chase of over 300 plus, the entire team showed a clear lack of urgency in pursuit of the target.
Perhaps the last straw for the fans was witnessing their captain displaying his bored bear look to the world while in the field, highlighting a clear lack of intensity in such an intense match.
Sachin trolled by Dhoni fans
India’s legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar was trolled by die-hard fans of former Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni when the highest run scorer of all time criticised the current wicketkeeper-batsman for his slow-paced innings of 28 from 52 deliveries, in the match Afghanistan.
His lack of intent and urgency nearly cost India the match, as the Afghans fell short by just 11 runs. But his irrational, blind fans would have none of it. Rather than listen to reason, from a man who knows a thing or two about the game, MSD’s deranged fans decided to troll his illustrious predecessor.
It was the day that the so-called God of cricket was brought crashing down to earth by the obsessed fans of a mere mortal.
Afghanistan and Pakistan fans clash
In a highly charged match, Pakistan downed Afghanistan by three wickets off the last ball in a thrilling contest. But more than the match itself, the contest at Leeds will be most likely remembered for the clash between fans of the opposing sides. Geopolitical friction between the two nations has caused tensions to spill onto the cricket field. In a first for the current World Cup, fans of both sides invaded the pitch as Imad Wasim of Pakistan hit the winning runs.
They had been clashing all morning and security had to apprehend some fans as things turned very ugly. The ICC has vowed to take appropriate action against all involved but that couldn’t mask the fact that the cricket field was once again transformed into a battlefield.
Jonny Bairstow’s outburst and emphatic response
England opener Jonny Bairstow hit back at ex-former England players turned commentators Kevin Pietersen and Michael Vaughan’s scathing comments about his team’s performance at The World Cup. At that stage, England were facing a must-win situation in their last two matches against India and New Zealand.
‘People were waiting for us to fail. They are not willing us on to win, in many ways they are waiting for you to get that loss, so they can jump on your throat. It’s a typical English thing to do, in every sport’ was the response from the Archie Andrews lookalike Englishman.
The fiery Yorkshireman then went onto play the starring role in his team’s back-to-back victories with consecutive centuries that paved their way into the final four.
Things have really heated up and the final week of The World Cup promises to be electrifying as the last four standing battle for world supremacy!