Murphy, you are such a genius! Two top teams went into the semi-finals with obvious weaknesses and they chose the semifinals to face the consequences. India and Australia, who stole the show in the league phase, knew that their middle order was weak. They depended on their top order to fire, always. As it happens in life, Murphy wins eventually!!
Now, in this article, let us look at how Murphy won in the last four and what is in store for the Murphy’s children in the finals…
Semi-finals 1 – India vs New Zealand
Two decades ago a scenario played out at in the Eden Gardens on a humid evening. The bowling team wanted to remove the two openers, who had massacred their bowling in the league phase, early. They managed to do it. Then, they went one better and got their No.3 batsman as well early. The supporters of the bowling team were gung-ho and they thought that their team had one foot in the World Cup finals already.
In 2019 on a damp morning at Old Trafford, another bowling team wanted to do the same as what the other bowling team had done in Eden Gardens. They achieved the same result. They dismissed the top three batsmen for cheap runs.
The similarities in the eventual outcome for the batting teams end right here. The difference is, for the first batting team, the batsmen who faced this dire situation were Aravinda De Silva and Roshan Mahanama. Whereas for the second team, it was Dinesh Karthik and Rishab Pant. The difference in experience and quality between the earlier duo and the latter is like day and night. Aravinda took the India bowling by the scruff of the neck and played a match winning innings. Whereas Dinesh Karthik, pushed and plodded and eventually got himself out. Aravinda’s team went on to win the Cup, whereas Dinesh’s team were left searching for an early flight ticket back home!!
India’s middle order problems, particularly No.4, were known since CT 2017. To think that the selectors and the team management thought that greenhorns like Vijay Shankar and Pant could play the role that Aravinda played in a top order crisis is inexplicable. That too working for a rich cricketing country, which had all the resources at their disposal, this is incompetence and negligence.
Unlike India, New Zealand is a team that have always used their resources wisely. In this match as well, they assessed the conditions right and decided to play within their limitations with the bat. So, they relied on their two experienced batsmen, Kane and Ross, to play responsibly and take their score to something their World class bowling attack can try to defend. Kane and Ross delivered on the big day, just like Aravinda did. The pair scored the bulk of New Zealand’s 239 runs and ensured that Boult, Henry and Fergusson had a good score to defend. When one thinks positively and plays to their strengths, Murphy does not interfere. He strikes only those who are cocky and leave obvious weaknesses unaddressed. India, rather than playing in form wicket taking Shami, played an out of form Chahal. Chahal duly obliged with the worst bowling figures of the match, 63 runs in 10 overs.
When it came to batting, Rohit and Virat did what they have done in big matches in the last five years. Before the match, I had imagined the worst scenario where Boult would get Rohit LBW and Henry would have Virat caught behind or in the slips. The reverse happened in reality. But, the effect on the match was still the same. Their modes of dismissal have been the same in each of these failed knock out matches. If an outsider like me can imagine this method of getting out, it is so surprising that Rohit and Virat have still not found a way to stay at the wicket for the first 10 overs. It is as though the opponents wait for India to reach the knock outs and play their trump cards at the right time.
Ravindra Jadeja, was the one saving grace to come out of this match for India. His efforts on the field, with the ball and the bat, showed why he has to be in every Indian team. Athletic fielders like him create magic on the field and make the rest believe that it is going to be their day. Neesham’s catch, Guptil’s direct hit and Jadeja’s direct hit are examples.
In the end, the team that used its brains and managed their resources efficiently won the game. Well done Kane!!
Semi-finals 2 – Australia vs England
Australia is another team, whose ODI team planning left a lot to be desired. The methods that they have tried over the past two years to win, tells me that their focus has not been to build a strong enduring team but to win somehow. Just like India, to think that players like Stoinis and Maxwell can handle top order collapses is not sound thinking. Maxwell could have been a great player by now, but he seems to be happy scoring attractive 20s than playing a dour 70 or 80. After seeing how well he played in the India series, I expected him to have turned the corner. But, alas!
My respect for Steven Smith, has gone much higher now than what it was before the events of Sandpaper gate. The guy has taken the shame to heart and has come out a focused man. The way he put his head down and tried to pull Australia out of the hole, shows that he has emerged as a better man. However, his batting seems to have lost some fluency in the interim. I hope that he gets some of the old touch back and plays well in the Ashes. He is a good man, do well mate!
Coming to the match, England bossed over the Aussies and showed to the World the kind of play we all expected from them at the start of the tournament. Here is a management, like New Zealand, that has built a team with thought and efficiency. In one of my earlier articles, I had called their methods pedantic. I will take it back now! In my defense, I would say that they displayed a previously missing dimension only in the latter half of the tournament. That is the ability to handle pressure. England have been playing knock out matches since June 30th and have come out bossing each of those moments. They did not scrape through, they bull dozed their opponents, India, NZ and Australia.
The only weakness, if I may say so, is the lack of variety in their bowling. English bowlers, barring Rashid, are all hit the deck, back of a length bowlers. Their prime focus seems to be to contain the batsmen and then get them out rather than to price them out. However in Edgbaston, Rashid bowled brilliantly looking for wickets and duly took important wickets in the middle period against Australia. When he came on to bowl, Carey and Smith looked like they would take Australia to a big score.
English batting unit has been the best in this World Cup by a mile. All the other major teams are built around their bowling rather than batting. Roy, Bairstow and Root played brilliantly with high percentage of boundary hits to take their team to an easy win in the semi-finals.
The Final – New Zealand vs England
Lord’s is an interesting venue for these two teams to go head to head in the finals. England banks on their batting to win, while New Zealand on their bowling. Lord’s is a ground that helps swing bowling. The battle between the English openers and the New Zealand opening bowlers will set the tone for this match. NZ will be a force in this match, if they can make early in-roads in to the English batting, knocking off Roy and Bairstow. We have seen that England have struggled to win in this tournament, whenever this opening pair has failed. As Malinga demonstrated in their match, Bairstow is a LBW candidate. Shami showed that he drives loosely on the offside, albeit those inside edges missed the stumps. Boult is the ideal candidate to exploit both these weaknesses. However, Roy has not shown any apparent weakness. He will be a threat for the Kiwis.
When it comes to batting, Kiwis have to ensure that Kane and Ross contribute big once again. If they win the toss and bat first, they have to repeat their conservative approach to scoring. They should not bat thinking that England batting is very strong and that they need a big score to defend. This will open up their weakness in batting and provide a flank for England to defeat them easily. NZ, I am sure, will aim for a 240 to 250 kind of score and want to stay relevant in the match. However, if they bat second, to state the obvious, they have no choice but to play according to the score they are chasing. I don’t think Kiwis have it in them to chase anything beyond 250 or 260!! They will win or lose based on how well they bowl.
As far as England goes, their batting is their trump card. They would want Bairstow to play nice and tight against the opening bowling of the Kiwis. If the English openers can stay put until the first 6 to 7 overs, I think NZ have no way to win the match. From that position, one can bet that the English batting unit will chase down anything that the limited Kiwi batting would put up OR will ensure a huge score that the Kiwis cannot hope to chase.
Considering the all round strength of the teams, I expect England to win the finals easily. Lord’s swing and slope, plus NZ opening bowling are the jokers in the pack. Even if the NZ opening bowlers burst through the English top order, I expect their solid middle to take the English team home. My bet is on a cake walk for England. However,…you know the oft used phrase in Cricket about uncertainties!!