I have been thoroughly enjoying the Cricket World Cup so far. From a cursory look at Twitter and the cricket media, however, I appear to be the only one.
No one likes to talk their own sport down quite as much as cricket people. Many fans have been complaining about the format and comparing it unfavourably to the Rugby World Cup currently taking place in France. One newspaper article even complained about teams having to “wait 5 days between matches”, ignoring the fact that in the rugby there is no action for up to a week in between games.
I believe the format of this World Cup actually works to a degree. The league structure slowly builds tension throughout the competition which, let’s face it, is what cricket is all about. The main problem with the tournament is the travesty of excluding all but one of the associate nations. Even the qualification of Scott Edwards’ outstanding Dutch team was more by accident than the design of the ICC, one feels.
Cricket and rugby have taken different paths on this. While cricket presents its World Cup as an exclusive member’s event, only open to the biggest and the best, rugby has thrown open its’ doors to its’ lesser teams, or Tier 2 nations as they are called. However, it’s worth noting that the ritual humiliations of the likes of Romania and Namibia serve neither themselves nor the global game.
Neither sport has got it quite right, it would appear.
The Netherlands success so far has been made even more joyous by the fact that one suspects the ICC would prefer it if they weren’t there. They are the great disrupters, crashing India’s red carpet party without a VIP invitation.
Cricket world cups are always slightly short on shocks. We remember Kenya’s triumph over the West Indies in 1996 or Ireland’s victories over Pakistan and England in ’07 and 2011 precisely because they are so rare. Indeed, that Kevin O’Brien inspired triumph in Bangalore 12 years ago was arguably the last true surprise result in the competition’s history. Four years ago, Afghanistan were the only true underdogs in England, and they failed to win a single game.
Not so this time round. The Afghani victory over England had an air of almost inevitability about it from the moment removed Jonny Bairstow in the second over. For a nation that has endured almost constant suffering for over 40 years, the victory of this superbly talented group of cricketers was a heartening sight. Credit to must go to Jonathan Trott who could have chosen far easier gigs for his first coaching job but instead has moulded Afghanistan into a team that finally knows how to win, sprinkled with a touch of the ruthlessness which he displayed in his own batting.
The intriguing thing about this World Cup so far is that many of the teams appear evenly matched. New Zealand and India may have broke free of the pack but there is still the suspicion that India may not be able to cope with the expectation of a billion home fans when the tournament reaches its pressure point. The rest of the sides have been trading wins without clear frontrunners emerging. Australia endured a disastrous start but seem now to have found some form, while South Africa appear to have done things the opposite way. Pakistan were this blog’s tip to win the trophy at the start of the competition but have yet to fully click into gear. It will be interesting to see whether the spectacular collapse against India on Saturday will derail their confidence or force them into “cornered tiger” mode.
England have played exactly how I imagined they would. Flashes of brilliance but, overall, with the air of a team full of players for whom this is perhaps one tournament to many. They may yet burst into life but the signs are not good. Saturday’s game against South Africa, still smarting from their shock defeat to the Netherlands, will prove crucial.
Bangladesh have flattered to deceive so far, and one feels a team with such talented players should be doing better, but the real disappointment of the tournament so far has to be the Sri Lankans. Chris Silverwood’s men arrived in India with high hopes having reached the final of the Asia Cup last month. However, they are now the only team with three defeats from their opening three games. There has been a certain naivety about their bowling, which may not be surprising considering the lack of experience of some of their bowlers. The Lankans posted scores of 326 and 334-9 in their opening two games and yet still lost both fairly comfortably which does not bode well for the rest of the competition.
Overall, the World Cup has been thoroughly enjoyable so far. There have certainly been issues with the administration, and one questions exactly what the BCCI spends their vast resources on given the state of some of the stadiums but the tournament itself has reminded us of exactly what a good format 50 over cricket can be. There is time for the game to ebb and flow in a way that T20 simply does not allow. If Test cricket is, to use Shaun Pollock’s analogy, a Sunday roast and T20 a fast food takeaway then the 50 over game is the equivalent of a pub dinner, not quite as satisfying as a home cooked meal but still rich and varied enough to sate the palate.
All we need now is a few more last over thrillers, but there is plenty of games left to provide them.