The second week of the World Cup turned out to be the perfect follow-up for the exciting first week. This week had high voltage games, upsets and tight contests. If I started to list the exciting matches, I may have to mark almost each one of them down. Such was the quality of the matches!! I will still highlight my three favorite matches from this week based on their sustained brilliance throughout the ~100 overs.
Another important aspect of this World cup came out in the second week! We found out, much against our expectations, that the English ‘roads’ weren’t so well paved after all! The pitches had good bounce for the fast bowlers and enough grip for quality spinners. When the bowlers are in the game, cricket matches tend to be gripping and exciting. So they were this week!!
India vs South Africa
Being an Indian fan, I went through an agonizing time waiting for the first outing of the Indian team. In the previous World Cups, baring 1987, where India started with a loss, their performance in the tournament has been abysmal. So, all of us Indian fans, wanted a winning start.
Bumrah started off for India with a venomous spell at the start. We have so come to expect this kind of brilliance from Jasprit that it was hardly surprising. Such was the pace of his bowling that Virat spoke about how his hands were hurting for a long time after he took that sharp catch of Quinton!!
Chahal continued the good work of Bumrah, picking up important wickets in the middle overs and stopped the South Africans from making a big score. Chahal bowled at the right speed and got enough turn to trouble the batsmen. Kuldeep on the other hand, though he bowled quite well, was slower off the pitch. The slowness of his turn, enabled batsmen to make adjustments. The way he bowled to Duminy should be his game plan for future games. Get the ball above the eye line of the batsman and bowl much fuller lengths than Chahal. While he does that, Virat, please keep a slip for him all the time!
Morris, Rabada and Andile batted well in the latter half of the innings to provide a reasonable total to defend. As the game progressed, I realized that they were actually doing themselves a favor, for this trio turned out to be the best bowlers for SA as well.
Coming to the Indian reply, the conditions continued to be tough for the batsmen. Rabada spewed venom with the ball. Dhawan’s miserable recent form continued as he edged one to the keeper. Rohit had a tough time in the middle; but was lucky that his false shots fell in no-man’s land. India, on another day, could have been two or three down in the first few overs. However, SA come to World Cups with their own misfortune; if they were Americans, they would have attached some goat or cow’s curse to their continued misfortune in the tournament. Faf, anyway, please have a chat with an American psychic!!
Virat Kohli must be worried about his innings in this match. He was led into a beautifully laid trap outside the off stump by some high quality fast bowling. His dismissal was similar to the way he got out in the first innings of the 2018 Cape town test. I am sure Starc and his mates are making similar plans for this Sunday’s game.
Despite his ordinary display with the bat, Virat will be a very happy man having found some answers to his team’s middle order batting problems. Rahul looked composed and competent. Dhoni looked in very good touch; though we fans would love to see him let go off his ’50th-over-finish’ fetish!!
With all the above support cast around him, Rohit played the best innings of his international career. This was not the smooth Rohit innings played in flat conditions. This magnificent century came against a fast bowling lineup that used the conditions admirably. Granted that he got many lives, but he did not let those missed chances impact the next ball he faced. Rohit played with his customary calmness and put the bad ball away for runs. His back foot play was majestic. All in all a brilliant performance from Rohit; one that was dictated by the pitch, conditions and the opposition. Mr.Talented is slowly becoming Mr.Responsible for the Indian team!! Captaincy beckons.
If there was one aspect the whole Indian team needs to be worried about, it is their fielding. It was terrible at times. During the 2000s and early 2010s, Indian teams had made considerable progress in this aspect. However, the last couple of years has seen this aspect go down drastically. This has to do with the personnel that have replaced folks like Raina, Jadeja, Yuvi etc. All the gym work does not seem have yielded any result on the throwing from the outfield. We got to see those relay throws of the yore come back regularly!! There were many sloppy efforts and mis-fielding. The fact that Virat had two substitutes on the field at a point in time, lends credence to my bemoaning. Fielding is not an aspect that will improve overnight. So, this will be a major drawback for this team in this World Cup.
India’s big test will be on Sunday at The Oval. Australia will show whether this Indian team has got back its balance or not.
Australia vs West Indies
This match at Trent Bridge was a brilliant exhibition of why Australian teams win World Cups regularly and others don’t. When the big tournament arrives, Australian teams refuse to lose. West Indies played brilliantly for 90% of the time but missed those key moments that comprised the remaining 10%.
West Indies had the Aussies on the mat after scalping four quick wickets. However, the combination of lack of variation in WI bowling and the usual indomitable Aussie spirit, led to the Aussies getting away to a par score. Australia found heroes in Coulter-Nile, Smith and Carey to carry the day for them. This is how Australia wins World Cups. Different players step up at different times to win it for them!!
When it came to the WI chase, the Calypso kings were comfortably placed right till the end of the innings. However, their players missed the necessary tactical nous at the end and played right into the hands of Finch. One must compliment Finch for picking up some valuable lessons from Mark Taylor’s match winning gamble in 1996. The gamble to bowl his wicket taking bowlers ahead of the part timers in the death overs, proved to be a valuable punt. The fact that Starc and Cummins executed the plan well for Finch, is a testament to their abilities.
Having said all this, WI looks like a team, with a little bit of timely learning, can be a World Cup champion. Watch out for this team in the remainder of this tournament. With a smart captain in Holder, they will not repeat these mistakes!!
Before I conclude this section, I need to voice my concern on the appalling umpiring during this game. They were completely bullied by the Aussies and were trigger happy to please them. To have such umpires stand in a World Cup match is completely unacceptable.
England vs Pakistan
Pakistan have the proverbial wood on the English, when it comes to World Cups and ICC tournaments. Whether it was the 1992 finals or the Champions Trophy 2017 semi-finals, it was Pakistan that ended their dreams. They proved to be the English’s nemesis in this round robin match as well.
This English team’s physical ability was not in doubt all. At the start of the tournament, the only question against them was about how they will handle the expectations at home. They gave a fitting reply to this question in their first match against the South Africans. However, the doubting Thomases will be out again after their nervous display in Trent Bridge against the Pakistanis.
When a team is nervous, the first aspect to falter is their fielding. English ground fielding and catching was below par throughout the Pakistani batting. The next aspect that goes bad is the decision-making by the Captain. It is one thing chasing 350 plus scores in bilateral series; it is quite another in a World Cup match. Eoin Morgan, will do well to bat first against big teams, if he gets the chance. One needs as many allies as they can get to win the Cup. Scoreboard pressure is a big ally to have by one’s side!!
Having said all this against the English, they did not lose the game by a big distance. Root and Butler played brilliantly to get their centuries. Butler is the best middle order batsman in the World today. He has been notching up centuries in all forms of the game. Indian fans will remember his contributions in the test series last year.
As far as the Pakistani team is concerned, their decision to bring back experienced Amir and Riaz to the World cup team proved to be a master stroke. They bowled the decisive spells of the match, particularly towards the end, and stopped the English team well short of the target. Their spinners did a fine job too to pick up some valuable top & middle order wickets to suck momentum out of the English chase. However, Root and Butler creamed them, once they got together.
Pakistan team should remember that this was their perfect game at full capacity. They batted first on a flat pitch, scored big, got all their bowlers in form, but still won the game by a relatively small margin. If one of the above conditions go wrong, they will pay for it. Sarfarz needs to plan and have his team ready to face that situation.
An honorable mention must go to the NZ vs Bangladesh and the SA vs Bangladesh games at the Oval. Both were fantastic efforts by the Bangla tigers to show that they are a force in this World cup. If one traced Bangladesh’s recent performances, they will notice that Bangladesh have been the N0.2 Asian team in terms of results. Bangladesh has a well-balanced team which can beat any opposition on their day, like they did against SA. On other days, they will run teams close like they did against NZ.
For me, Bangladesh are the dark horses of this tournament!!
The second week of the World Cup has taken the tournament to the next level of excitement. The matches were gripping and the playing conditions were sporting. If the weather holds up, we are in for a fantastic time in the coming days. I can’t wait for the next set of enthralling matches to begin!!
For details of all these matches, please visit Cricinfo