ICC cricket World Cup 201: Runs and Ruins

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 Two for Tango  Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirumanne saved the blushes for Sri Lanka
Two for Tango Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirumanne saved the blushes for Sri Lanka

If the last two weeks were dominated by Shikhar Dhawan and Chris Gayle, then this week clearly belongs to AB de Villiers. For a change, Gayle got a taste of his own medicine as the destructive de Villiers pulverised the hapless West Indian bowlers. Such was the devastating form of the South African that had he been asked to walk on waters he would have shouted back, “How many kilometres?” His 66-ball knock of I62 was a sight to behold for everyone except for the Carribeans. And, the Windies could only manage 151 in response to the 408 amassed by South Africa, which was a definite shot in the arm for the Proteas’ campaign. Maybe de Villiers relish the prospect of facing the West Indian bowlers as his record-breaking 149 also came against the same side a few weeks ago. Also he has the enviable feats of scoring the fastest 50, 100 and 150 in the ODIs and all these also incidentally came against the Windies.

Most of the games in the tournament so far have been one-sided with the exception of the Australia-New Zealand clash. India humbled the UAE with consummate ease making the game a no-contest. Not that anyone expected anything substantial from the UAE, but the practice session of both the team lasted longer than the match points to the fact that non-Test playing sides have a lot of catching up to do to compete with the best at international level. India, aided by the guiles of Ravichandran Ashwin, dismissed UAE for 102, and then Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli overhauled the total in 20 overs. For India, Sharma gained some valuable match practice and the only consolation for the UAE was the wicket of in-form Dhawan. This makes us wonder whether ICC was right when they proposed to restrict the number of teams in the next World Cup to 10.

Sri Lanka’s campaign has finally come alive with a thumping win over England. The island nation was languishing in the corridor of uncertainty after their mediocre performances against Kiwis and Afghanistan. Though they won against the latter, the victory came after a lot of huffing and puffing. However, their triumph against England was heart-warming as the Lankans chased down 309 in 48 overs. Veteran Kumara Sangakkara along with Lahiru Thirumanne remained unbeaten with 117 and 139 respectively and completed the formality without much help of other batsmen. That almost all the batters in the Sri Lanka have had a nice hit in the middle augurs well for them as the tournament progresses. The Lankan revival also makes their upcoming game against Australia a mouth-watering contest. Both the side will be locked in a fierce battle to dominate the proceedings. Though Sri Lanka is better placed than the Aussies, the former cannot afford to lose the momentum.

For Pakistan, who remained winless till now, the victory against Zimbabwe was quite welcoming. One more defeat would have seriously damaged their World Cup prospects beyond repair, so it was imperative that they won. Misbah-ul-Haq yet again came to their rescue with a superbly crafted 73 and Wahab Riaz with a quick-fire 54 ensured a decent total of 235. In the end, Zimbabawe fell short by 20 runs despite Brendon Taylor’s spirited half-century. So, Pakistan have one point finally but the net run rate continues to pose a problem for them. They need some big wins to improve upon that. The ineffectiveness of Shahid Afridi thus far is another issue the team management is grappling with. In the ’92 edition also the team came back from behind to win the Cup. But then Pakistan were under the charismatic leadership of Imran Khan with a team that was brimming with immense talent. Can someone from the current crop repeat the magic of Inzamam or Wasim Akram? Will Pakistan effect a turnaround similar to that of 1992?

Coming to the Australians, they are still a force to reckon with but they only have one point from three matches. The loss to Kiwis should hurt them deep for they had come tantalisingly close to winning the match after an ordinary effort with the bat. Mitchell Starc almost won the game for the Kangaroos but for the ice-cool temparament of Kane Williamson. The encounter provided the much-needed spice which was so far missing in other matches. Fortune swung like a pendulum towards Aussies and Kiwis till the end. It could have been anybody’s game with Australia getting all out for 151 but the efforts of Skipper Brendon Mcullum and Williams ended the thrilling chase. Australians must be cursing the rain gods for the abandonment of their match against Bangladesh which robbed them off a point. Still Australia can spring a surprise and it would be perilous to write them off at this juncture. Give them an inch they will take a yard out of it.

As for the rest, Kiwis are placed comfortably with four wins in as many matches. If they continue in this vein they can easily go past their efforts of 1992 World Cup. England can make it to the quarters but they will be up against the likes of South Africa and India, who have always had the better of them in the limited over format. With James Anderson and Stuart Broad reduced to ordinariness, the going for them would be quite tough. For England to pose any challenge Anderson and Broad have to regain their touch; sooner the better. For West Indies things were looking bright till de Villiers came their way. West Indies will have to quickly forget the thrashing they got from the South African marauder to make an impact against India on Friday. They have two points but a couple of more would help them avoid the toughies in Pool A in the quarterfinals.

This edition also witnessed some high-scoring games. Out of the 20-odd matches played till now, 12 had totals in excess of 300, discounting the games where South Africa posted over 400. Scotland and Sri Lanka even chased down the totals of 300 without breaking a drop of sweat. This type of run-feast has prompted many to question the new rules brought in by the ICC, latest being the former Pakistan all-rounder Wasim Akram. According to the new rules, during the non-Powerplay overs only four fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle. There is criticism that this has tilted the scales totally in favour of batsmen as captains and bowlers are finding it difficult to contain in the slog overs. Even Indian skipper MS Dhoni has also called for a relook into the new rules as he felt in future cricket runs the risk of getting monotonous. Without taking anything away from de Villiers or Gayle, cricket should be a game of equals and this four-fielder rule upsets the equilibrium of the game. Let’s hope ICC revisits the new rules or else the fielders would turn into spectators and spectators, fielders.

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