At the recent Cricket Writers Club lunch, TMS commentator Dan Norcross noted that the duration of the 2023 Cricket World Cup was the same length as the gestation period of the fox. To many of us watching, it felt more like the gestation of an elephant.

Here at the Bouncer, we always look for the positives in the game, rather than seeking to put a negative spin on things. There were some memorable matches in this World Cup, such as Australia’s 5 run win over New Zealand and the Netherlands extraordinary victory over South Africa. However, the format of the tournament ensured that these moments were too few and far between. A round robin between 10 teams is simply too long and unwieldy, leading to many meaningless games and, more significantly, a lack of jeopardy, something all sporting tournaments thrive on. The ever present risk of elimination is what provides the dramatic backdrop to the contest. In the recent rugby World Cup, all four of the quarter finals were arguably some of the best games of rugby ever played.  The Cricket World Cup, by contrast, doesn’t even have a quarter final stage. There were only two knockout games before the final, both of which were unsurprisingly two of the best games of the tournament, compared to 45 group matches.

We all know the reason, of course. The current format ensures a minimum of 9 guaranteed India games and a money spinning India v Pakistan clash to drive up the value of the TV deal for the ICC and BCCI. The fact that it is an unworkable format for the fans is neither here nor there.

As far as the cricket itself goes, Australia were worthy winners. In any other tournament they would have probably been eliminated after losing their first two games heavily but the competition allowed for teams to start slowly and, as Pakistan did in 1992, they peaked at exactly the right time to win a record breaking sixth World Cup.

So, there is only one thing left to do now and that is to give out The Bouncer’s World Cup awards

Player of the tournament – Virat Kohli

For much of this World Cup it felt as if India 2023 would become Kohli’s tournament in the same way that Lionel Messi claimed Qatar 2022 as his own. An all time great moving towards the end of his career, dominating game after game in pursuit of the crowning glory his career deserved as records tumbled in his wake. Pat Cummins’ Australians, though, hadn’t read the script and Kohli was denied his fairytale ending victory in front of his own people in Ahmedabad.
Of course, he had won the World Cup before, announcing himself on the global stage the last time the competition was played in India in 2011.  However, there was something achingly incomplete about Kohli’s 2023 tournament. Having reached 54 in the final, he played on to his stumps trying to eke out another precious run off the relentless Cummins. Even at the time it felt a seminal moment in the match. Kohli is unlikely to still be around in 2027 so he leaves white-ball cricket’s greatest stage with a sense of destiny not quite fulfilled.

Performance of the tournament – Glenn Maxwell 200* Australia v Afghanistan

Can there be any other? It is a measure of Maxwell’s brilliance that there are two of his innings that could be considered here. The 40 ball century against the Netherlands broke the record for the fastest ever World Cup hundred, set only a few days previously by South Africa’s Aiden Markram. However, against Afghanistan, one of the surprises of the tournament, the Victorian native surpassed himself. With Australia 91-7 and needing a win to guarantee progress to the semi-finals, Maxwell took centre stage. To describe what he did as slogging would be to do him a great disservice. This was brutal, calculated hitting of the highest order, much of it on one leg after cramp rendered him unable to run. Few in the game possess the ability to take a match by the scruff of the neck and make it their own quite like Maxwell. Reaching his double century, the first in World Cup history, with a six to win the match felt like too implausible a script for even this most gifted of all-rounders. Bizarrely, Maxwell had missed the previous game against England with concussion after falling off the back of a golf cart making his comeback performance even more remarkable.

Match of the tournament – Netherlands v South Africa

Australia’s last ball, 5 run, victory over New Zealand in a high scoring nailbiter at Dharamsala was arguably the World Cup’s most exciting game but this match was far more significant. Remember that the 10 team format of the World Cup was designed, in part, to prevent teams such as the Netherlands from being able to compete, reserving the World Cup for the game’s elite. Yet here they were, Scott Edwards’s men, not just competing but winning on the biggest stage. Mercurial all- rounder Bas de Leede, explosive fast bowler Paul Van Meekeren and, in the middle of it all, Roelof Van de Merwe, scoring vital lower order runs, spinning batsmen out with flight and guile and belying his 38 years by diving like a salmon in the field, all to inspire his team against the country he used to represent. Netherlands’ victory over South Africa was a game for the ages and it wasn’t their only success. After being given a bloody nose by Maxwell and co against Australia, the Dutch proved the South Africa game was no flash in the pan with a comprehensive victory over another Test nation in Bangladesh. One wonders how far Dutch cricket could go with financial support and regular competitive games against top opponents. Sadly, after the scrapping of the ICC World League for the next four years, we may have to continue to wonder.

Leader of the tournament – Pat Cummins

There are few more impressive people in cricket at the moment than the 6ft 4in New South Welshman, a man who is determined to do things his own way. From the moment that Cummins replied to the line of Australian cricketing legends queuing up to criticise him for the ousting of coach Justin Langer by stating; “In the same way you have always stuck up for your mates, I will stick up for mine”, it was clear that he would be no ordinary captain. Cummins possesses the same steely determination and bloody mindedness that enabled Alan Border to reshape the Australian game in his image. From resolutely refusing to be drawn into the razzamatazz of Bazball during the Ashes to bowling first in the World Cup final in India when all perceived wisdom would have suggested batting as the only way to go, Cummins has done it his way in 2023 in a manner that would make Frank Sinatra proud.
His regular pronouncements on issues such as climate change and politics mean he may never truly be loved by a section of the Australian public in the way that Border or Steve Waugh were but perhaps that is just another example of Cummins refusing to bend his beliefs to suit others.

In a year where his team won the World Test Championship, World Cup and retained the Ashes, Australian cricket may count itself very lucky to have him.

Disappointment of the tournament – Sri Lanka

You might be surprised not to be reading about England in this section. While it is true that Jos Buttler, Matthew Mott and a collection of some of the best players ever to pull on a set of blue pyjamas plumbed the depths of ineptitude over the last few months, there is one other significant disappointment from the 2023 World Cup that hasn’t really been discussed.

The Sri Lankans may not have come into the tournament as one of the favourites but they had every right to be considered dark horses. After all, they had reached the final of the Asia Cup the previous month and had defeated Australia with some superb performances in both Test and ODIs in 2022. Under coach Chris Silverwood it also felt as if some momentum was finally building again in the country’s cricket. Sadly, that was snuffed out in the most spectacular way in India. Perhaps the warning signs were already there. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 50 in the final of that Asia Cup by India, five runs less than they managed in being dismissed for 55 by the hosts in front of a cacophony of noise under the lights in Mumbai. This result led to the nation’s government intervening and sacking the entire board of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). While some readers might wish for Rishi Sunak to deal with some of the ECB bigwigs in a similar way, the results were catastrophic.

The ICC stepped in and suspended Sri Lanka from international cricket, allegedly after a request from the deposed board. At the time of writing, the Lankans are once again able to compete in international events but all funding to SLC will be controlled by the ICC board.

One wonders if the ICC will deal with the alleged involvement of the ruling BJP party in the running of the BCCI. I wouldn’t hold your breath

Moment of the tournament – Travis Head catching Rohit Sharma Australia v India

This was a tournament short on truly memorable moments. The significance of a moment is what makes it truly stick in our minds and, in a competition lacking jeopardy, many matches lacked that

However, Travis Head’s full length diving catch to dismiss Indian captain Rohit Sharma in the final felt truly significant. Rohit had been doing what Rohit does, fearlessly laying into the opposition’s bowlers at the top of the innings, getting India off to the sort of flying start that had carried them past every team they had played thus far. Sharma had just hit Glenn Maxwell for a six and a four in the previous two balls. However, aiming for a third big shot in a row, he failed to get his feet to the pitch of the ball and skied it high into the air where Head, running round, took a superb diving catch. It felt significant at the time and so it proved. Having scored 80-2 off the first 10 overs, India only added another 69 runs in the next 20, failing to score a boundary for 97 deliveries in a row, an almost unthinkable stat for such an explosive batting line up. It wouldn’t be Head’s greatest contribution to the match, he went on to score 137 in the run chase, but it was the first moment that suggested India wouldn’t have things all their own way in the World Cup final. Indeed, after their captain’s dismissal, almost nothing went the hosts way as Australia strangled the life out of India’s innings before completing a (nearly) nerveless run chase

The “where did everybody go?” award – Pat Cummins and Narendra Modi

Only cricket could produce such a bizarre sight as the World Cup winning captain standing awkwardly by himself with the trophy, glancing around to see if anyone else would join him, while a fireworks display goes off in the background.

Such was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to make himself centre stage that naming the World Cup final venue after himself simply wasn’t enough. Instead, after presenting Cummins with the trophy, the Australian skipper was made to wait by himself on the podium while Modi shook hands with all of the victorious players in turn. Cummins’ facial expressions during the charade seemed to flit between bewilderment and stifled laughter
The rest of the Australian team did eventually join their captain, but as far as political grandstanding goes, Modi made South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, who grabbed the rugby World Cup trophy off captain Siya Kolisi in the moment of triumph, seem like a shrinking violet in comparison.

It was a truly surreal end to a memorable, if, at times anti-climactic World Cup

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