World Cup 2019: A tournament of imperfections
On the 3rd of June, 2019, England clashed swords with Pakistan at Trent Bridge, hoping to continue the narrative that had seen them dispatch the same opponents four times in the space of a fortnight. However, on that evening in Nottingham, the Asian side had its first say on its British adventure. They eventually won by 14 runs and while that meant the English had lost a couple of points, it also hinted that several sutured wounds had reopened.
A couple of weeks later, the hosts again found themselves chasing a target but this time it was a rather paltry total of 233. Yet, their pursuit unravelled spectacularly and they fell short by 20 runs. If the earlier loss was looked upon as just an aberration, this defeat certainly caused more than a furrowed brow or two.
To put things into perspective, the English, who had not lost an ODI chasing at home since 2015, had suddenly gone down to two unheralded sides in the World Cup. Subsequently, the talk before the competition, which was about how Eoin Morgan’s charges were different from its predecessors metamorphosed into a conversation where the cries of ‘same, old England’ grew louder.
However, the home side aren’t the only ones facing questions about their deficiencies. And to be fair to them, each team has been guilty of showcasing its fair share of shortcomings.
The bookmakers’ current favourites, India, too has a can of worms that they might have to deal with in the near future. The Men In Blue’s campaign got off to a rollicking start yet that came at a cost. After a masterful ton against Australia, Shikhar Dhawan found himself ruled out of the tournament.
The above prompted the Indians to move KL Rahul to the top of the order with the No.4 slot falling to Vijay Shankar. Though they’ve won both games without Dhawan so far, one feels that the batting line-up just isn’t the same in his absence.
Against Afghanistan, the old problems of the middle order failing to rotate the strike resurfaced whereas the death overs hitting also failed to inspire. MS Dhoni returned to his lackadaisical form of 2018 while Jadhav was a little too lacklustre, despite his half-century.
The game culminated with an Indian victory but one feels oppositions with a better pedigree than Afghanistan would’ve put the Indians to the sword.
Thus, even India, seemingly the strongest side on paper, has its loose ends to tie. And the quantum of frailties keeps increasing as we move lower down the list of potential semi-finalists.
Australia has lost just a solitary game so far yet one believes that both their primary suits are too dependent on a couple of individuals. David Warner and Aaron Finch have done the heavy lifting on the batting front so far and have largely succeeded. However, on the one occasion they didn’t set the world ablaze, the Aussies lost.
Their middle order doesn’t seem capable of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and turning it their way. Though that may happen the odd time, it definitely isn’t as tight-knit as their unit four years ago.
As for their bowling, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins find themselves around the higher echelons of the wicket-taking charts. Yet, the duo has had fiery ‘spells’ through the course of the tournament rather than a crisp display of fast bowling throughout a match. Hence, that aspect is another which might come unstuck in a clutch knock-out game.
New Zealand, the surprise package of the World Cup, too seems to have holes that need plugging. Their openers have blown more cold than hot and had Kane Williamson not dug them out, they could well have boasted a much lesser points tally.
Additionally, the jury still seems to be out on how their bowlers would respond to a placid pitch. Trent Boult and Matt Henry have bowled superbly till now but both aren’t bowlers one would particularly fear on a docile strip.
With regards to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the trio is just too unpredictable to be able to sustain a mighty assault on the semi-final spots. While the Tigers have looked a lot more accomplished than previous editions, their bowling still looks a little off-colour. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has an extremely fragile batting line-up to contend with. And Pakistan has just been Pakistan so far.
Thus, the aforementioned points bring to light that the potential last four aspirants have several areas they need to address. In the process, highlighting that no team has all its bases covered. After all, even the seemingly invincible England side has started developing cracks.
However, what makes things even more intriguing is that each of them has the ability to overcome those blemishes on a given day. And that facet is one of the few reasons that could explain the increasing frequency of lop-sided matches in this year’s competition.
For example, India exploited Australia’s weakness in the middle phases and pounced on it. Unsurprisingly, a game which was dubbed as a nail-biter ended as a damp squib.
Thus, as the tournament enters the final fortnight, more teams would be under pressure to hide their own flaws while wanting to expose the others’ faults. While some may achieve it, the rest could just fall agonisingly short. And that, above all, would define where this World Cup ends up.
After all, a World Cup is always decided on terribly tiny margins and this time around, the decisive tilting scale could rest on who masks their own imperfections best.
In isolation, that might seem slightly tedious but then again, isn’t that cricket (and life) in a microcosm?
Also read – Most matches played in world cup by a player