5 things we have learnt from the World Cup so far

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From Virat Kohli’s mastery of the ODI format to New Zealand’s intelligent use of the net run rate, here are five things we’ve learnt from the World Cup



Virat Kohli’s masterclass in the demolition of South Africa at the Eden Gardens. Pakistan’s stunning 200 for 1 in 25.3 overs to win by the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) method over New Zealand. Defending champions England enduring a nightmare tournament. Each of these highlights of the World Cup so far hold secrets that will define success or failure in the knockout stages. Here are five counterintuitive insights.

England’s aggression comes unstuck: The biggest story of the World Cup is the sinking of the defending champions to the lowest position in the league. Nobody can quite put a finger on it, with vice-captain Moeen Ali calling for a reboot of an ageing side to return to a fearless approach.

But that doesn’t begin to describe the whole picture. England enjoyed series wins over New Zealand, Bangladesh and Ireland heading into the World Cup. If anything, it is their hyper-aggressive approach coming unstuck in Indian conditions, that has led to confusion and disarray.

This was evident in the World Cup opener on 5 October against New Zealand. England went merrily along at a run a ball, but lost too many wickets in the middle overs, to finish below 300. The batsmen failed to adapt to an Ahmedabad pitch getting tackier under a hot sun, and none of them carried on to a big score after getting set.

Ben Stokes reacts after losing his wicket against Australia.

Ben Stokes reacts after losing his wicket against Australia.
(Reuters)

Ben Stokes hitting out in desperation against India’s Mohammed Shami, nearly a month later on 29 October, after being pinned down by the seam wizard, epitomised England’s confusion. A Virat Kohli in that situation, with a modest target of 230, would have soaked up the pressure until the scoring got relatively easier. But England appear to have forgotten how to adapt to situations and conditions, instead sticking to their ODI template dogmatically.

The blitzkrieg formula that worked wonders for them after their debacle in the 2015 World Cup, turned into a damp squib this time. Then they overcorrected and appeared caught between aggression and conservatism, as in their failure to chase 287 against Australia on 4 November, getting bowled out for 253 in 48 overs in Ahmedabad.

Virat Kohli shows how to build an innings: If England need a refresher on how to build an ODI innings, there’s no better model than Kohli. The spotlight last Sunday in Kolkata was on the landmark 49th ODI century, equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record in 175 fewer matches. But the real masterclass was the manner in which Kohli did it against South Africa.

India got off to a flyer with 91 for 1 in 10 overs. The second wicket fell in the 11th over and India scored only 41 in the next 12 overs. Left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj was a danger on the slow turning pitch, so Kohli and Shreyas Iyer decided to see off the spell. It would have been easy to keep going hard and lose half the side in 25 overs in that game. Instead, Kohli ensured India kept wickets in hand for an onslaught towards the end, the old-fashioned way.

Virat Kohli in action against South Africa at the Eden Gardens.

Virat Kohli in action against South Africa at the Eden Gardens.
(Hindustan Times)

Kohli’s 85 in India’s first game on 8 October against Australia was equally impressive. He did get an early reprieve but then proceeded to dig India out of the hole of being three down for two runs. His supreme fitness and ability to manoeuvre the ball into gaps enable him to keep the scoreboard ticking in a risk-free manner, waiting for loose deliveries to hit boundaries and sixes.

That’s a different template from the current, T20-inspired, way of going for big hits regardless of the fall of wickets. But an approach that works in a 20-over format—teams will rarely get bowled out—doesn’t necessarily over a longer innings. The varied conditions at different venues and some bowler-friendly pitches have brought out the nuances of the 50-over cricket, thus restoring its value.

Bowlers win tournaments: While Virat Kohli’s four fifties and two centuries have hogged the limelight, the enviable bowling attack is what has given India a clean sheet of eight wins in eight games. India bowled out the opposition in six games, five of which were for scores below 200. They haven’t won the World Cup yet, but the bowling performance so far has been stunning.

When there’s help for swing and seam, the pace of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, and Mohammed Shami has been too hot to handle. On a slow turning wicket like in Kolkata, the spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav become the trump card.

Mohammed Shami in action against England.

Mohammed Shami in action against England.
(AP)

Only Afghanistan and Bangladesh have escaped the fate of being bowled out. That was because India had not yet brought in Shami, preferring the slow medium pacer, Shardul Thakur. An injury to all-rounder Hardik Pandya forced the team management to field Shami as the third fast bowler.

Although losing an all-rounder of the class of Pandya is a blow, the positive aspect of the fallout is a pack of five bowlers who are all wicket-takers. Imran Khan showed the value of a wicket-taking mindset in 1992 when Pakistan won the World Cup, and we’re seeing that again under Rohit Sharma.

Pakistan’s late charge: If the current Pakistan side has anything in common with Imran Khan’s team, it is their late charge in the tournament. Victories in their last two games, especially their win over New Zealand in the rain-shortened game in Bangalore on 4 November, sound a warning. If they sneak into the knockouts, Pakistan will be a dangerous side with the tailwind of momentum.

A mitigating factor in Pakistan’s four back-to-back losses earlier was their unfamiliarity with conditions on Indian grounds. All the other major teams have players in the Indian Premier League (IPL), and that works to their advantage. When Lounge asked Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur how much this lack of familiarity had affected the performance, he was careful in his response: “I can see the headlines now,” he retorted with a laugh.

Pakistan players celebrate the fall of a wicket against New Zealand.

Pakistan players celebrate the fall of a wicket against New Zealand.
(Reuters)

But he admitted it was a factor. “They’ve watched IPL on TV and seen Test matches at iconic grounds like the Eden Gardens, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Chennai. So to play at these grounds has been really exciting for them. Of course, it’s the first time they’re playing there, so it has taken a little bit of time to get used to the conditions.”

When Pakistan return to the Eden Gardens to play their last game against England this Saturday, they will be better prepared after their win over Bangladesh there. And if they do get into the knockouts, their semi-final against India will also be on that ground, because the Wankhede in Mumbai isn’t an option, due to security concerns. Just another twist in this fascinating World Cup.

Kiwis master net run rate: Pakistan and New Zealand were tied on 11 points each in the 2019 ODI World Cup in England. And the Kiwis got through to the knockouts on net run rate (NRR). It’s shaping into a similar scenario this time.

“We’re grounded like the kiwi,” quipped Daryl Mitchell at the press conference in Bengaluru, before their high-scoring game against Pakistan last Saturday. Rather than being high-flyers, the Kiwis are an efficient outfit maximising their resources and opportunities.

The New Zealand team at a practice session.

The New Zealand team at a practice session.
(PTI)

At this World Cup, barring their initial victory over England, New Zealand have lost against all the major teams: India, Australia, South Africa, and Pakistan. What has worked in their favour is that they minimised the margin of loss in three of those games. And they won by big margins over the lower-ranked Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and the Netherlands.

That has kept their NRR well above other contenders for the fourth semi-final spot. And if they maintain that trend against Sri Lanka in Bengaluru on Thursday, they will again pip Pakistan to the post. Provided the rain doesn’t play spoilsport.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

 

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