We’re a little more than a week into the 12th edition of the ICC World Cup 2019, with 9 cricket matches played so far. Though it started a bit tepidly with a flurry of one-sided matches, the tournament has livened up in the last few days, with upsets galore, rain delays and even a close game.
Here are five things we’ve learned so far:
GIANTS NO MORE
South Africa, a team that enters every World Cup and ICC tournament as joint-favorites or genuine contenders, a team that has a superb record in the group stages of most World Cups since their re-entry in 1992, is perhaps the “weakest” of the regular test-playing nations at this tournament. Faf du Plessis’ squad has been hit with injuries and bad luck, but the Proteas have lost all 3 of their games so far, leaving them with 6 remaining must-win matches – an unlikely scenario, given the tatters their fielding, batting and bowling are in. With Lungi Ngidi and Dale Steyn injured, it has fallen upon Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Imran Tahir to carry a difficult load, while the South African middle order – of Duminy and Miller – is arguably weaker than the Indian middle order. Never has a South African team been out of contention so early in any World Cup. It’s not just AB de Villiers missing, it’s Amla’s bad form, De Kock’s lack of consistency, Faf du Plessis’ non-big innings, and their shoddy catching this week. Sad for cricket.
PUSHOVERS NO MORE
Bangladesh, ably led by veteran Mashrafe Mortaza, is a team full of experienced players who know how to get the job done. They won their first-ever tri-series tournament a week before the World Cup and defeated South Africa in their opening game. The Tigers narrowly fell to New Zealand on Sunday night, but have already proved that they will be a challenge, even four years after beating England and reaching the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup. “Minnows” no more, the Bangladeshis lack a bit of mental fight – they have the skill and talent, and in Shakib they have the best all-rounder in cricket. It’s a matter of belief now.
NO FAIRYTALE YET
Afghanistan, a team that miraculously qualified for the World Cup four years after playing their first, is expected to cause a few shocks. They weren’t expected to beat Australia in their first game, which they didn’t, but they were virtually favorites against one of the worst Sri Lankan teams of all time. Yet, despite a great bowling effort, as usual, it’s Afghanistan careless batting that let them down while chasing a moderate total on a rain-delayed evening. They needed to play smarter, but came out all guns blazing and lost to the experience of Sri Lanka eventually. If Afghanistan is to be equal, they need to sort out their temperament with the bat. They will hope to beat teams like Bangladesh, West Indies or Pakistan (who they defeated in the warm-ups) down the road.
Pakistan was absolutely humiliated by West Indies fast bowlers in their first match. Ordinary thinking would suggest that they stood absolutely no chance against favorites and hosts England in the next. But Pakistan is no ordinary team. They thrive on going from ridiculous to sublime in a few days. Also, they had the advantage of having played a 5-match ODI series in England only last month. They were familiar with the conditions and had crossed more than 300 four times in the series. The batting fired again against England, and Eoin Morgan’s star-studded batting line-up couldn’t chase it down under pressure despite centuries from Joe Root and Jos Buttler. England was shocked, Pakistan was elated, and fans went ballistic about the bipolar beauty of this team.
INDIA IN THE MIDDLE
As expected, one of the two-three batsmen had to score a century for India to chase a tricky 228 against South Africa in testing conditions. If not for Rohit Sharma’s century, though, India might have been in deep trouble, given that Dhawan and Kohli went cheaply and Dhoni found it hard to time the ball again. But India’s bowling lived up to the expectations of being the best – Jasprit Bumrah was brilliant, Yuzvendra Chahal spun a web around clueless Proteas batsmen and even Bhuvi came to the party late. This will be the narrative for India if they are to move forward against better teams.
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