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This World Cup had everything

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Roar Guru
14th July, 2019
5

Forty-five days and 48 matches later, another chapter of World Cup cricket finally draws to a close.

An exhausting tournament that began back on May 30 saw Imran Tahir claim a wicket on the second delivery, yet the influence of spin did not live up to its hype.

Instead, fast bowling dominated a slow tournament, where the leading wicket-takers – the top 15 comprised entirely of quicks – showed the value of raw pace and accuracy, with just a touch of swing early on.

It was yorkers galore too, with an embarrassment of full stuff in the highlight packages. No matter who you support, there aren’t many better sights than Mitchell Starc, Lasith Malinga and co. ploughing through hapless lower order defences.

The bold format where everyone plays everyone was a throwback to 1992, much like England’s light blue uniform. There were unique kits of all kind on display, and perhaps none more appealing than the culmination of orange and navy sported by the Indians against the hosts.

Some justified criticism hit the dicey formatting and length of the tournament, and one could expect plenty more ahead of India in 2023. It was fitting, at least, that our two finalists were vying for a first trophy which has eluded both for so long.

A tournament that many – myself included – felt was ambling along with exciting bits and pieces but without enough close matches was thankfully was anything but. Uncertainty plagued the final four right to the last group match, of which the result had a tremendous bearing on the semis.

In the end, it was the World Cup that had everything.

Proceedings fortunately took place in good spirit, as teams like New Zealand continued to prove you can play attacking cricket without being obnoxious. Virat Kohli voiced his disapproval of the Indian fans’ disapproval of Steve Smith, in the sort of fine display of sportsmanship that remains etched into your memory forever.

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The cup was awash with fantastic and humorous imagery. The handshake between Kohli and Smith was only rivalled by the one Shakib Al Hasan received upon collecting his man-of-the-match award.

Few will forget a slow-motion of Ben Stokes angrily kicking his bat as it lay on the turf after a searing Mitchell Starc in-swinger castled him. Known for memorable deliveries – that Brendon McCullum ball and James Vince in Perth come to mind – the Australian ODI bedrock added another to the collection.

Mitchell Starc bowling

(Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto)

Quick bowlers made the World Cup their playground, but so did others. The all-rounders took centre stage in a significant way.

Shakib was in the top few players in the tournament. We knew he was a star, but did we know he was that good? A pair of finalists in Ben Stokes and Jimmy Neesham had outstanding tournaments, while Hardik Pandya and Glenn Maxwell threatened to be their typical match-winning selves, but it never quite eventuated.

And yet, it wasn’t just the all-rounders either. We had part-timers and even casuals taking wickets! Yes, all of Aaron Finch, Joe Root, JP Duminy, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith did so. No, I am not joking.

We were treated to 45 days of wacky and downright bizarre scenes at times. I cannot recall as much quirk over a tournament or series ever.

I’m not sure if it was the fact the first week and a half of cricket saw five separate instances of struck bails left undisturbed, or Jofra Archer pinging back the off stump for the ball to then rocket away over the rope for six.

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It gets weirder, though. Sri Lanka’s new captain Dimuth Karunaratne – having not played the format since the last World Cup and being rushed into the role – would carry his bat in their opening match, occupying the crease for 146 minutes.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an ICC tournament without the expected media circus. Jonny Bairstow hit hard at the state of the pitches, and then hit even harder in England’s next match. The media would also unearth the prickly sides to Eoin Morgan and Justin Langer on separate occasions. This tournament had an overdose of peculiar.

England’s 397 was the closest pursuit of 400, where Morgan blasted a century of sixes – the first man to achieve the feat – while Rashid Khan notched a ton of his own in the same match, but sadly it was with the ball. Centuries were a common occurrence, especially for top order batsmen yet it was hardly a tournament dictated by the blade.

There was a nice balance between bat and ball, where a considered, measured approach to batting in almost a Test match mindset was regularly effective in the conditions. Perhaps not so much for MS Dhoni, an icon of ODI cricket, opting to leave the ball despite his side needing something ridiculous like 15 per over to win.

Nonetheless, most fans would feel relief in witnessing a tournament not stacked with high scores in the tonking frenzy many feared. Batting first remained the key, however, to the point where it almost became win the toss and you can have the match too. Far less than half of the decisions to bowl first were fruitful.

While the cricket was not overwhelmed by mass totals, it was littered with ageing stars. The above-mentioned Tahir tops the list at 40, with a raft of others not far behind – Chris Gayle (39), Dhoni (37), Hashim Amla (36), Lasith Malinga and Ross Taylor (35). Even if some looked to have gone one big dance too many, there is a certain sadness in knowing this is the last time the World Cup is graced with such names.

West Indies’ Chris Gayle raises his bat

(AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

On the flipside, the last seven weeks uncovered incredible younger talent producing some breakout performances. Some were quite well-known to fans, others not so much. Thankfully, it likely won’t be the last World Cup for such uprising quality.

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Babar Azam was special at times, Alex Carey was hands-down the best performed keeper of the tournament, Nicholas Pooran dazzled and dazzled some more, Avishka Fernando came into the Sri Lankan side and left many wondering why he was ever out of it.

Archer’s introduction to international cricket was breathtaking at times, making his steep, rapid bowling look so simple. It would be negligent of me to forget Mustafizur Rahman – a beacon of hope for a post-Mashrafe Bangladeshi pace attack. For Jasprit Bumrah, not much more can be said that hasn’t already.

Imran Tahir has been mentioned more than once, but I just must again. He is competing with Sheldon Cottrell for the best celebration of the tournament award. For Trent Boult, dismissing Kohli in the semi-final may have been less eccentric, but the sheer passion involved was spine-tingling.

You know what else this crazy period of cricket had? A five-ball over. Yep – unbelievable. It had Sarfaraz Ahmed attempting to review an umpire review, surely something never seen before, and had a swarm of bees interrupt the clash between Sri Lanka and South Africa having also impacted a match between the same teams in 2017.

There were upsets. South Africa may have checked out of the tournament well before its conclusion, yet they needed no extra motivation to knock off Australia in the final group match and making their campaign consequently tougher.

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Many would label the extraordinary two-day semi at Manchester an upset, given the contrasting form lines heading in. The hosts suffered a little stage fright upon their capitulation chasing against Sri Lanka, and India oh-so-nearly bottled their match with Afghanistan, crawling to victory by 11 runs.

The Afghanis failed to manage a victory in an underwhelming tournament but put up some steely performances throughout and might be only a classy batsman or two away from seriously competing. They would fight hard in matches against India, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. So did their fans as crowd control was sought during their loss to Pakistan as tensions flared on the wrong side of the fence.

Weather played its part – of course it did, we are talking about the early stages of an English summer. Previous World Cups have totalled for a combined two days of washed out play, and yet this single tournament contained three. To add to the drama, the largely discussed reserve day became a necessity in the first semi-final.

In addition, there were hat tricks – Mohammed Shami would claim this in the latter stages of the tournament, and others came agonisingly close. These were almost as exciting as some of the dazzling, result-defining fielding. There was the odd poor piece, but it was heavily outweighed by the good.

Who could forget the phenomenal catching from a leaping Ben Stokes in the deep, Ravindra Jadeja low to the ground, to Sheldon Cottrell amazingly in mid-air or Chris Morris’ effort to remove David Warner. Martin Guptil went a long way to making amends for an unproductive campaign with the bat by running out MS Dhoni in stunning fashion to help his side land a final berth. Jos Buttler pulled off an almost equally superb act the next day to capture Steve Smith’s wicket.

This tournament had everything. OK, it didn’t have AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn or Josh Hazlewood, but it had everything else!

After a month and a half of stealing hours of sleep around the world, I am delighted to say this has been well and truly worth it.