And then there were four. Australia, India, England, and New Zealand have qualified for the ICC World Cup 2019 semifinals – as expected. Pakistan made the late charge, but England stayed on course by defeating India and New Zealand in their final two games. The rest of the group matches – Afghanistan v/s West Indies, Pakistan v/s Bangladesh, India v/s Sri Lanka, Australia v/s South Africa – are now dead rubbers, except for some miraculous mathematical madness in the Pakistan-Bangladesh game. The semis, then, will read as: Australia v/s New Zealand and India v/s England. Unless India defeat Sri Lanka and South Africa defeat Australia, in which case it will be India v/s New Zealand and Australia v/s England.
It has been an exciting 35 days of group-stage matches so far. Enough to derive a few lasting conclusions from this World Cup stage. Here are five things we’ve learned from the phase:
AUSTRALIA PEAK LIKE CHAMPIONS
The Australian ODI team had lost 9 consecutive matches between 2018 and 2019. The team was down in the dumps. There was no Steve Smith and David Warner. No solution in sight. And then they toured India. 2-1 down in a 5-match bilateral series, and then they chased down 358 in Mohali in the fourth game. That is what changed the team. Ironically, the two heroes of that game weren’t even picked for the World Cup. The only match Australia has lost this World Cup out of 8 so far has been against India. Dhawan’s century was the difference. Aaron Finch’s men look mentally tough and scrappy, not unbeatable – they have repeatedly gotten themselves out of tough situations (against New Zealand, West Indies). With Mitchell Starc in his legendary World Cup form, the team is now the one to beat. The 5-time champions are, suddenly, favorites to win the 6th. And nobody likes to face Australia in the knockouts.
BANGLADESH IS BETTER THAN THE NUMBERS
This is perhaps Bangladesh’s best World Cup performance. In a format that would truly identify the best 4 teams, Bangladesh has beaten teams like South Africa and West Indies but will be disappointed that they couldn’t put one past India. They crashed out after their loss to India, but Shakib al Hasan has given one of the all-time great World Cup performances with his all-round splendor. Bangladesh has fought, this is the last of their golden generation, and each one of them can go back with their heads held high. If they end with a win against Pakistan, they will officially finish in 5th position, where they belong.
ENGLAND MADE IT EXCITING
An England team, in any sport, doesn’t make it easy on their fans. They started as favorites, pounded the minnows, lost their way against Asian teams, and then defeated the best Asian team to turn their campaign around and avoid a huge scare. This is England’s best chance to win a maiden title, and their rearguard wins against India and New Zealand have put them back on track. By losing to Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Australia, the hosts made the group stages very exciting, handing Pakistan a sniff before snatching it away with dominant Bairstow centuries. Only the best hosts make sure that everyone has their fun.
NEW ZEALAND GOT LUCKY
The Kiwis had a bizarre draw. They faced all the smaller teams – Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh – in the first half, with their only competent game against India washed out. As a result, they won 5 out of their first 6 matches. Then they promptly lost to Pakistan, Australia, and England. Their match against the West Indies was the clincher, with Carlos Brathwaite coming within one shot of upsetting them. That phantom six might have handed Pakistan a place in the last 4. But Boult’s catch is what took New Zealand through. Williamson’s men aren’t expected to go beyond the semis. Unlike 2015, they are not favorites and are not playing scintillating cricket by any standards. None of the batsmen are in form either.
PAKISTAN HAVE THEMSELVES TO BLAME
Sure, Pakistan can feel unlucky because of how England came back to beat India and New Zealand. But Pakistan have themselves to blame – they lost to West Indies in the first match, a defeat that resigned them to this fate. The loss to India was expected, but the thrashing by the West Indies wasn’t. Beating New Zealand and England wouldn’t be enough after losing to the teams they should have beaten. Sarfraz’s men came close, they made it exciting, they barely defeated Afghanistan too, but in the end, the similarities with the 1992 campaign ended there.
All images sourced from Getty.