In the run-up to the World Cup, I hadn’t been following cricket much because India’s pathetic performance in the warm-up matches had dispirited me. However, once the World Cup started it brought back the joy of cricket and I have been following it closely on ESPN Cricinfo. Here are some thoughts on the first week’s play:
1. The surprising performance of the “minnows“: has been a revelation. I don’t read much about the associates in between World Cups and their performance so far has exceeded all expectations. It’s not just Ireland’s upset of the West Indies. Zimbabwe, Scotland and Ireland have all been impressive in their matches against the Test playing countries they have faced and are no longer easy meat. It will still be difficult for any of them to make it to the quarterfinal stage but Ireland and Zimbabwe have a fighting chance. I am most appreciative of Afghanistan’s performance. It is amazing that they have been able to field a team given the chaotic, war-torn state of that unfortunate country; for them to be so competitive is laudable.
2. The format: has come in for some criticism but given the time constraints, I think it is about the best that we can expect. For every team to play everyone else in a round robin would make an already long tournament even longer. It is simply impossible. The present format in which each of the two groups has five test-playing nations and two associates is fair because it means the stronger teams have a good chance of making it to the next round while still giving the associates a chance. To make the draw absolutely random might result in the strong teams being bunched in one group resulting in some of them being eliminated while weaker teams from the other group have an easier path to the next round. The present format is analogous to a tournament in which the better players are seeded to ensure that they don’t meet in an early round and one of them has to make an early exit.
The 2019 tournament format calls for reducing the field to 10 teams( the hosts England + the seven highest ranked teams as of 2017 + the two best of the associates) On the one hand, this would mean fewer associates make it to the main event. On the other hand it, the format would be streamlined and the tournament would be less unwieldy. I understand the need to popularize cricket around the world but, really, some of the associates do not belong. UAE is a good example.
3. Nothing has changed as a result of the first week’s play: True, England and Pakistan have lost their first two matches and Ireland upset the West Indies but it is still early days. England lost to NZ and Australia, the two strongest teams in the tournament. If they win their remaining matches and Pakistan win three of their remaining four, they can still advance. Ireland has some chance and I’m rooting for them but they will have to defeat Pakistan and perhaps Zimbabwe to survive the first round. (I’m assuming that both South Africa and India will defeat them, though that is by no means a given).
4. The ESPN coverage has been fantastic: The expanded video coverage, the match highlights , the extensive analysis and articles are a plethora of riches for viewers. It’s so good that I don’t even mind sitting through the ads. I am a little mystified why some of the videos are not available to viewers in the U.S but there is so much else that I can’t complain. Thank you Cricinfo.
5. The just concluded India/ South Africa match: actually took place in the beginning of the second week but I can’t wait to write about it. When I went to bed last night, India had lost the early wicket of Rohit Sharma and were 36 for 1. Understandably pessimistic about India’s chances, I fully expected a decisive South African win. What a shock to wake up this morning and read that India defeated SA in such a dominant manner. The Cricinfo commentators have already dissected the match expertly and given props to India for its unexpectedly good fielding and bowling. I don’t want to rehash their comments but want to add this: Not enough credit has been given to the coaches and the support staff which transformed the team into more than the sum of its parts. The brains trust fine tuned the strategy and built up the team’s confidence. The players were focused and played as a team and Dhoni’s captaincy was more aggressive than previously. I am also thankful to a man who was not there, Ishant Sharma. His absence gave Mohit Sharma a chance and resulted in a much better fielding side. Winning this tie does not mean much except that, if they play to their abilities, India & South Africa will probably finish 1-2 rather than the other way around. However, it will hopefully give India the confidence it was previously lacking and spur them to greater heights. As for South Africa, I hope Vernon Philander’s injury is not serious and that they are able to regroup before the next match. They are a very good team that had a bad day and I want to see them in the semi-finals.