There has been another whole week of World Cup action. Sort of. There was quite a rainy bit in the middle. Anyway, here’s the best, the worst, and the Australian of the last seven days.
Back to winning ways, and reminded everyone that they possess a batting line-up with gears that simply are not available to their rivals. There have been only nine scores in excess of 300 during the first fortnight of the World Cup and England have made three of them, their 386/6 against Bangladesh comfortably the biggest of the tournament so far.
This time the now standard spinner-with-the-new-ball gambit didn’t work. Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow were able – albeit nervously and not always convincingly – to simply survive against Shakib and prosper against the rest. They have adapted to the new challenge and, crucially, now know that 14/0 after five can very quickly become 60/0 after 10 and eventually 386/6 after 50.
Bangladesh ended up burning through far too many overs of Shakib, who might have applied a handbrake in the middle overs when things really came apart for the Tigers.
While the team will be reluctant to throw things too far forward, we don’t have to worry about that. England could all but qualify for the semi-finals in the next eight days, without having played any of the other likely semi-finalists. Victory over West Indies on Friday – which cannot be assumed against perhaps the only side capable of going toe-to-toe in a hitting contest against England with any hope of prevailing – would cement a top-four spot ahead of games against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
Disappointing, as were so many others, in the defeat to Pakistan, but back to his devastating best against Pakistan. Sent the bail over the boundary rope via Soumya Sarkar’s off bail in one of the great viral moments this tournament is determined not to let anyone see, hounding clips off social media lest anyone should enjoy the cricket through any avenue the ICC has not monetised, and ensuring an almost impossible run-chase became an actually impossible one with his spell of 5-0-14-1 – six of those runs coming from the final ball of that spell.
A beauty from Jofra Archer!
Good length, the ball just nips back between bat and pad and clips the off bail!
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) June 8, 2019
Friday’s game against West Indies is sure to get almost as much attention as Usman Khawaja or Imran Tahir playing against Pakistan.
Harshly yet fairly the lightning rod for defeat against Pakistan having dropped Hafeez, huffed around in a strop for the rest of the innings, chucked his wicket away playing against type and then wasting England’s review in a crazed bid for redemption, Roy responded in the best possible way.
The highest individual score of the tournament, and the most correct way possible for such an innings to end, trying and failing to hit six sixes in an over. Unlikely to be the last such nonsense innings he plays in this tournament and the Ashes clamour is unlikely to quieten.
Shakib Al Hasan
An effortlessly cool hundred from world cricket’s leading all-rounder.
Batted his side out of the game against India for reasons that remain unclear but bounced back with a brilliant century against Pakistan to create a position from which even a middle-order of Smith, Marsh and Khawaja couldn’t help but squeeze past 300.
His numbers at this World Cup
Bowling average: 11
Number of functioning knees: 0
South Africa and now Australia dispatched with minimal fuss and a strong sense that there remains far more to come.
The loss of ICC tournament specialist Shikhar Dhawan for a decent length of time is a huge blow, though. Losing a man who has just scored his third World Cup hundred and was leading scorer in the last two Champions Trophies – both held in England – is bad enough. But India also lose the reliability of his opening alliance with the equally in-form Rohit Sharma.
They are key to India’s batting strategy which is in essence a powered-up version of old one-day cricket where a steady start, gradual acceleration and a late assault is designed to yield 350 rather than a mere 300.
KL Rahul’s promotion to open the innings is a decent enough solution to the specific problem immediately at hand but only shifts it elsewhere; India are now once again faced with a problem number-four position.
Three washouts saw Rain enter a lot of Banter Points Tables with six points, putting it just behind leaders New Zealand. ROFL.
But please do remember if you’re going to put Rain in the points table for banter you need to divide its total by five to account for the fact it can take points in all 45 games. Only fair. This still puts it on 1.2 points and therefore above South Africa so it is still banter but also honest banter which is the best kind of banter.
The softest possible landing into the World Cup, but they are already at least halfway to qualification after a third of the group games. The point-splitting washouts among assorted mid-table sides this week are also a boon for the Kiwis ahead of what is now very much a free swing against India.
The Fast Men
Only two spinners are among the 15 men to have taken five or more wickets thus far. Of the 13 assorted quicks on the list, nine have taken those wickets at an average below 20.
Mohammad Amir and Mitchell Starc sit in the top three to excite trend-spotters who know the leading wicket-taker at the World Cup is always a left-arm quick.
Starc, Lockie Ferguson, Archer and Mark Wood have all enjoyed themselves greatly in a tournament that has been kind to 150km/h merchants.
What’s great, though, is the wide variety of seamer to have enjoyed success so far at a tournament that wasn’t supposed to be about them.
The unerringly accurate wicket-to-wicket missiles of Archer, the bustling aggression of Oshane Thomas, the probing lines of Matt Henry, the Twitter banters of Jimmy Neesham, the cheeky stat-padders of Ben Stokes, the military exuberance of Sheldon Cottrell, the muscularity of Jasprit Bumrah and the doe eyes of Bhuvi Kumar. Tremendous.
Got lucky in week one. But not in week two. The flaws of the 1992-throwback World Cup format have been laid bare, with South Africa and Afghanistan already looking out of it at this early stage and the very real prospect of a clear top four being firmly established before the halfway mark.
If Thursday’s and Friday’s games go to form, with wins for India over New Zealand and England over the Windies, the top four will all be on six points and already boasting a two-point cushion over a chasing pack led by terrible cricket team but washout specialists Sri Lanka.
India’s late entry into the fray meant it took until the game 14 for the top four to comprise New Zealand, Australia, England and India. What price those four still being there after game 45?
Three washouts didn’t help – although one very minor benefit of this ludicrous nine-matches-per-team format is that nobody should really moan about a rain-out or two along the way (even though they all still absolutely are) – and those washouts have afflicted precisely those mid-table sides who the tournament now needs to perform above expectations in order to keep things interesting.
Not for the first time, cricket finds itself needing England to lose to West Indies for the good of the sport. It increasingly seems to be England’s major role in the sport to single-handedly save cricket by losing matches they are expected to win. In the case of losing matches they are expected to win against West Indies, they are at least thoroughly prepared after their enormously successful tour of the Caribbean earlier in the year.
There have been empty seats at sold-out venues. There has been some dreadful umpiring. The shitty format now looks every bit as shitty as it always was. The open secret about why the TV commentators (almost) never mention these facts is no longer any kind of secret. Oh, and the current weather forecast for India v Pakistan at Old Trafford is awful.
Technically an improvement, taking one point from one game in week two after none from three in week one. But a poor start against West Indies that will have done nothing for confidence before the rain came now leaves a side that has made a great many errors in its first four World Cup games with absolutely no margin for error in its remaining five. Imagine being Faf du Plessis right now.
A washout in a game Pakistan would have expected to win (although, honestly, who knows) against Sri Lanka followed by a defeat against Australia that contained enough Pakistan to fill a whole tournament. At least if their remaining games all fall foul of the weather they have, in games against the West Indies, England and Australia given us the full glorious range of Major Tournament Pakistan.
Pakistan being Pakistan, there is still scope for enough Pakistaning over the coming weeks for them to Pakistan their way into the semi-finals where they can Pakistan England, who should by then be busy Englanding themselves out of World Cup contention, ,in accordance with the prophecy.
But having worked wonders to drag Australia back from 146/0 after 22 overs and then 223/2 in the 34th to 307 all out after 49, and reached a serene 136/2 at halfway in reply, it’s hard not to think the subsequent five-over collapse to 160/6 might well be the half-hour of prime Pakistaning that ultimately costs them a semi-final spot.
That Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz then Pakistaned Pakistan to within striking range of Australia’s weirdly-acquired total (see below) only makes that earlier self-inflicted collapse, with its legside strangles and Aaron Finch full-tosses slapped to deep midwicket all the more galling.
Honestly… don’t know where to put Australia here. But we’ve got to say something. They are just too fundamentally weird a one-day side for such conformist labels as ‘winner’ or ‘loser’. Settled in the end on the losers section despite winning two and losing one this week because while those results have seen them improve their chances of reaching a semi-final all three games have also shown precisely why they should be unable to go any further than that.
Seriously. What a magnificently weird side they are. Lord help us, we’re starting to fall for them. They really should have lost against West Indies, rescued from 79/5 by a blistering 90-odd from *checks notes* Nathan Coulter-Nile and helped out in the field by the umpiring that prompted Michael Holding to forget all his ICC training and subsequently threaten to spend the rest of the tournament back at the gallops in Newmarket where he is happy and relaxed and nobody tells him not to be mean to Chris Gaffaney.
Then came that bizarrely passive display against India, in which the effectively ‘home’ side’s batsmen were allowed to compile 350 without much apparent resistance in front of a sea of blue at The Oval before Australia only truly began chasing the target with any conviction at the precise moment it disappeared over the horizon and out of sight.
But the best/worst was saved for the Pakistan game. Aaron Finch and David Warner finally clicked at the same time and amassed that admittedly fielding-and-bowling-assisted 146 for the first wicket in 22 overs. Australia, though, had sadly picked the worst possible side to exploit a position of 146/1. While Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja formed a touching tribute to every England ODI middle-order circa 1996-2015, things inevitably became gummed up.
Promoting Glenn Maxwell to number four was a welcome piece of progressive correctness rewarded with a typically Maxwellian 20 from 10 balls before being promptly undone when Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja found themselves cast as finishers, with predictable results.
The innings floundered, a seemingly inevitable 350 transformed into a limp 307 all out. That it proved enough owed as much to Pakistan’s generosity as any Australian excellence with the ball – although Pat Cummins was every bit as good as his 3/33 suggests.
Against all the odds we are falling hard for this Australia side. They are heroically unbalanced, contriving to somehow be almost totally reliant on two bowlers – an injury to either one of whom would be a) catastrophic and b) statistically quite likely – while also leaning heavily on all-rounders and bowlers to provide mid-innings impetus with the bat. They have a side in which Finch is forced to bowl some fill-in overs because they’ve only picked – and we’re being overwhelmingly generous here – four bowlers, yet also a side desperately lacking in batting depth. How does that even happen to a team at a World Cup after four years of planning and you’re not even England?
To repeat, though: Australia have played three games this week and won two of them, and, in West Indies and Pakistan, they’ve beaten the two sides most capable of disturbing the probable top four. Australia have then, in essence, spent this week showing precisely and repeatedly why they absolutely cannot win this World Cup, whilst also making it overwhelmingly likely that a few weeks from now they will be two wins away from doing just that.
So, yeah – losers. Just about. We think. In a way.
Five times already the stumps have been hit without the Zing bails being dislodged. While bails not being dislodged is not a new phenomenon, it’s still a hell of a cluster.
Theories abound about the weight of the bails, the depths of the grooves and more. We’re throwing our entirely unscientific support behind the school of thought that says the stumps are the problem.
Forget about the bails not falling off for a minute, and consider this: in a tournament that, as mentioned above, has been blessed by a glut of lads chucking the ball around thrillingly, consistently and successfully at 150km/h how often have you seen the stumps ripped from the ground and sent cartwheeling across the turf?
The bails are a red (flashing) herring. It’s been the stumps all along, we’re sure of it. We cannot stress enough here that we are not scienticians or boffins, but we’d bet that these gizmo-laden robostumps they have now are harder to shift and lack the natural flex of their humble lo-tech ash cousins when struck.
Or it could just be a coincidence. Or it could be the bails. Still, though. Bit weird.
Three World Cup games. Two washouts. A pisser.
🚨🚨🚨 EXCLUSIVE 🚨🚨🚨
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) June 12, 2019
Leaving absolutely everything else aside for one moment, a meerkat is not a cat.
If you know #CricketTwitter, though, you’re already asking yourself “Did India fans complain about the lack of Indian players in Brian’s squad?” If you know #CricketTwitter, you also already know the answer to that question.
I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or punch myself in the face for taking these screenshots pic.twitter.com/1YXLx7vw0C
— Subash (@cricketcouch) June 12, 2019
It should be noted that this all happened during the most exciting match of the tournament so far and not on one of the great many days when it rained.
Caffeine, naps, the carrot-and-stick principle and the strength of the pack…
Rory Burns remains grounded despite cementing his spot at the top of England’s order.
Paine claims Stokes is using Warner to spike sales of his new book.
Buttler feels invigorated after time off and chance to develop his batting under Trescothick.
Jofra Archer turned up the heat after Jos Buttler’s century but England settled for an underwhelming draw.
Ashley Giles has backed Joe Root to lead England’s next Ashes mission, saying regaining the urn in Australia represents “the Holy Grail”.
Mayank Agarwal scored his second double century as India dominated the second day of their Test against Bangladesh in Indore.
Stokes, Buttler and Archer will be captained by Steve Smith for Rajasthan.
Ben Stokes has no desire to be England captain, saying: “It’s just not one of those things I’m desperate to do.”
An England cricket fan talking about the Nineties, won’t be talking about a decade, but a phenomenon.