England began their defence of the World Cup with a 9 wicket hammering at the hands of New Zealand at the Narendra Modi Stadium today. Four years ago, Eoin Morgan’s men had defeated the Blackcaps by, in commentator Ian Smith’s words, “the barest of margins” at Lords to lift the trophy but, under the unforgiving glow of the Ahmedabad floodlights, the margin between the sides this evening was huge.
Indeed, the contrast between Jos Buttler’s men and stand in captain Tom Latham’s Black Caps could not have been greater. New Zealand were ruthless, England simply careless.
Time and again English batsmen gave their wickets away to New Zealand’s spinners when well set. After David Malan’s early dismissal, Jonny Bairstow chipped the excellent Mitchell Santner to mid on for 33. Harry Brook was caught on the leg side boundary trying to hit Rachin Ravindra for a second successive six while Moeen Ali was bowled by Glenn Phillips while attempting an ugly heave across the line.
Jos Buttler and Joe Root came together at 118-4 and threatened to take England to an imposing score before feathering the pick of the seamers, Matt Henry, behind on 43. Henry’s passionate celebration suggested he knew it was a key moment in the game. It certainly proved to be, with England’s innings losing all momentum after the captain’s dismissal. Liam Livingstone followed cheaply for 20 but while Joe Root was still there, performing his customary anchor role, there was still hope. That hope disappeared in the 42nd over when Root, on 77, was bowled by Phillips. The former England captain attempted a reverse sweep and, to use a term from another sport, was nutmegged by the New Zealand spinner, the ball turning through the gap between Root’s legs and on to the stumps. Phillips, considered a part time bowler at the start of the tournament, suddenly had two wickets from seven balls and England were staring down the barrel at 229-7.
A few lower order heaves from Adil Rashid and Mark Wood got the total up to 282-9 but it never felt anywhere near enough.
Sam Curran gave England hope by inducing an edge down the legside from Will Young first ball but that brought Rachin Ravindra to the crease. Playing as a makeshift number 3 in the absence of captain Kane Williamson through injury, Ravindra proceeded to play the innings of his life in partnership with the outstanding Devon Conway. England’s bowlers were dispatched to all parts of the Ahmedabad night. Mark Wood, in particular, came in for some brutal treatment as England’s fastest bowler went for 55 runs off his 5 overs, at a rate of 11 an over. Nothing Buttler tried could stop the flow of runs from the bats of Ravindra and Conway although, in fairness to the England captain, his bowlers certainly did not help him. No England bowler went at an economy rate of less than 6 an over with spinners Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali the only ones to go for under 7.
Conway was the first to a century, jogging through so understatedly for a single after a gloved pull down the legside that most of the crowd failed to realise that he had actually achieved the landmark until the South African-born opener removed his helmet and raised his bat to the dressing room.
Ravindra soon followed, nudging Liam Livingstone down to deep square leg to bring up his first ever international hundred, a remarkable achievement for a player who may not have even been playing had Williamson been fit.
With both batsmen having achieved their landmarks, New Zealand pressed the accelerator to finish the game quickly. The last 69 runs were made in only 5.4 overs as the Black Caps raced to a crushing victory with 13.4 overs to spare to turbocharge their bid to go one better than they have at the two previous tournaments.
As for the World Cup itself, it could not have got off to a more inauspicious start as Sachin Tendulkar brought the trophy out to the middle in front of a near empty Narendra Modi stadium.
Much has been made in the media since about the embarrassingly low turnout for the start of what is supposed to be cricket’s showpiece event. However, a few caveats are needed. The crowd improved markedly throughout the day and by the end, the stadium appeared close to half full. Crowds for ODI’s in India tend to improve in the evenings as people come to the stadium after work. It is also worth remembering that the Ahmedabad venue is the largest in the sport, with a capacity of 132,000. A sell out crowd at Lords would not even fill a quarter of the seats in this concrete colossus.
It is still, though, a bad look for the game and reflects poorly on the BCCI, whose organisation of this tournament has bordered on the chaotic. Dates and venues for the games have been subject to constant change, with the date of the final not even being confirmed until three months before the start of the tournament, leaving it extremely challenging for fans from across the world to plan their itineraries. Tickets for the competition did not go on sale until 41 days before the opening match. Contrast this with the 2019 World Cup in England where fans were able to purchase tickets for confirmed dates of games up to a year before the first game.
Some World Cup venues also appear to be in a shocking state of disrepair with photos emerging from journalists on social media of filthy, bird faeces covered, broken seats at the venue for tomorrow’s Pakistan v Netherlands game in Hyderabad.
In May, the BCCI negotiated for themselves a 38.5% share of the ICC’s global broadcasting revenue, estimated to be worth $230 million a year. It is difficult to see where it has been spent. If the richest cricket board in the world cannot organise a successful global tournament, then perhaps the ICC should consider whether the BCCI deserve quite so much of its’ money.
One hopes that, over the next seven weeks, the actual cricket will shine through the administrative incompetence as it so often does. New Zealand’s play certainly lit up the World Cup tonight. The Black Caps are far too gracious to talk about things such as revenge, but, after the events of 2019, this crushing victory over their old adversaries today will feel even sweeter.