An esteemed member of PakPassion forums reviews the 2019 World Cup and its importance to ODI cricket.
By Mamoon (22nd July, 2019)
If the 1983 World Cup shaped the future of Indian cricket and if the 1999 World Cup kick-started an era of unparalleled dominance for Australia, the 2019 World Cup may as well have saved the ODI format. Over the last few years, cricket fans and observers were becoming increasingly sceptical over the future of ODI cricket. The perceived imbalance between bat and ball made the format look like an extended version of T20 cricket, and there over growing concerns over whether it had a place in the game at all. However, the 2019 World Cup laid all those doubts to rest. It had controversy, it had chaos and it had worthy champions. The World Cup [i]finally[/i] came home, and it came home in style.
In many ways, the 2019 World Cup was a tribute to the ODI cricket of yesteryear - chasing anything above 250 needed a herculean effort. It would not have looked out of place in 1999 or 1989, but more than the unexpected fierce competition between bat and ball, it gave every team what they deserved. India went into the World Cup with an outstanding core of players, but an Achilles heel that they have failed to address for several years. They were predictability imperious throughout the World Cup, with their top three doing the bulk of the scoring and their bowling attack giving the opposition no room to breathe. However, as it happened in the Champions Trophy two years ago, their middle-order failed to provide stability when they needed them the most. A clear example of failing to learn from their mistakes.
Pakistan went into the World Cup like they always do - unprepared, hoping for magic and miracles to compensate for their lack of quality and temperament. The Champions Trophy triumph in 2017 a distant memory that only served to strengthen their belief that winning tournaments is more about producing the goods on a given day and less about immaculate preparation. Unfortunately for Pakistan, it wasn't to be - the capitulation in their opening game against the West Indies proved to be too costly - the upset win over England and the late surge were not enough to propel them into the semi-finals, and Pakistan learned yet another harsh lesson. Success is a process, and they are yet to identify that process.
Australia's anti-climatic exit in the semi-final mirrored their preparation for the World Cup. After winning their fifth World Cup in 2015, Australia essentially went into sleep mode in ODIs, and the self-imposed bans on Steve Smith and David Warner result in an unnecessary distraction. The series wins over India and Pakistan before the World Cup provided them with much-needed momentum, and the timely return of David Warner, the relentless Mitchel Starc who took off from where he left in 2015, and the understated captaincy of Aaron Finch put Australia within touching distance of retaining their crown, but they saw the best of a hungry England who played with an intensity people did not believe that they possessed.
The 2019 World Cup saw South Africa at their worst after 16 years. It was a continuation of the stagnant cricket that they have played in the last couple of years. The bizarre retirement of AB de Villiers and his last-ditch attempt to get into the final 15, the deadwood in Hashim Amla and JP Duminy, and a Dale Steyn who refuses to accept that his body was gone, were some of the reasons why South Africa never had a realistic chance of finally winning the World Cup. After the first over of the World Cup, South Africa saw little joy until their final match against Australia, where they produced a performance that highlighted Australia's vulnerability as much as it highlighted the potential that South Africa still has.
New Zealand's 2019 World Cup journey was perhaps the most New Zealand-like performance to date. New Zealand making a World Cup semi-final and losing has almost become a stereotype, and the 2019 World Cup saw its extreme version - they made more headlines for their exemplary attitude led by their captain Kane Williamson than for their cricket, until they clinically dissected India in the semi-final to meet their harrowing fate in the final, a tragic story in itself that would never be forgotten in the gloomy world of New Zealand cricket.
West Indies on the back of Holder's inspirational captaincy was considered as a potential dark horse. After their emphatic victory over Pakistan in the opening game, they faltered like they always have on so many occasions in the near and distant past. Nevertheless, Holder's leadership and the presence of a few talented young players is enough hope for West Indies supporters to believe that they are on the right track.
Sri Lanka entered the World Cup with no friends and no enemies. Critics did not give them a chance and the supporters did not hype them. The meek surrender against New Zealand in their opening game was the start of a painful journey, highlighting all the issues that have plagued Sri Lankan cricket since 2015. However, ironically, it was their remarkable victory over favourites England on June 21that opened up the tournament, giving themselves, Pakistan and Bangladesh a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. Ultimately, it proved to be a false dawn and the future of Sri Lankan cricket remains dark, in spite of the highly impressive Avishka Fernando's bright performances.
For Bangladesh, the World Cup was just another step in the right direction. Their journey from minnows to potentially the second-best team in Asia in just over 18 years is a testament to their hard work and passion for the game, and in Shakib Al Hasan - their most celebrated hero - they have a player who can rub shoulders with the very best in the game, and not just today. In many ways, this was his last opportunity of getting the spotlight he has richly deserved for so many years. At 32, the 2019 World Cup was his last chance of proving himself to the world that he was more than just a big fish in a small pond, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Purely in terms of performances, he was the player of the tournament by some distance. Collectively, the match against New Zealand was an opportunity missed for Bangladesh. New Zealand has seen the best of Bangladesh long before other teams have, but on that day, the world also saw a side of Bangladesh that has prevented them from completing their transition from minnows to heavyweights - a distinct lack of killer-instinct.
Afghanistan entered the World Cup with all the passion and the flavor that few teams can match. A uniquely imbalanced team with no batsmen and pacers to speak of, but a spin bowling attack that is as good as anyone. It was said that if their batsmen put up a competitive total, their spin attack led by Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman had the potential to dismantle any lineup. Unfortunately, none of that happened. Afghanistan's batting looked a good 10 years behind the rest of the world and their problems compounded when their aggressive opening batsman and wicket-keeper Mohammad Shahzad was sent home in controversial fashion. Rashid Khan himself was perhaps the disappointment of the tournament, and his lowest point came against England where Eoin Morgan took him apart like no batsman ever has. They did produce a few inspiring moments and came agonisingly close to beating both India and Pakistan, but their lack of experience and temperament proved to be their undoing. Afghanistan may not have a lot of positives to take from this World Cup, but to see them reach this platform is a miracle in itself, and the realisation that at this point, they are perhaps lagging behind more than they thought could spur them to greater heights in the future.
Lastly, England, the champions. Their appalling campaign in 2015 is now a distant memory. It all started with Andrew Strauss, the captain of their 2011 campaign realising that England had to change their ways to have any chance of making an impact in their home World Cup in 2019. They ruthlessly axed the core of their 2015 World Cup squad and embraced a brand of cricket that quickly became the benchmark. There was a purpose behind every single selection and they looked like a team that wanted glory more than anyone else. It was a World Cup that they had to win - with the core of their greatest ever ODI team in their late 20's, the 2019 World Cup in England was the occasion where everything had to come together. If the World Cup was a movie, England was its hero with plot armor. Leading their charge was Ben Stokes, whose bowling cost them a World T20 and aggression nearly cost him his career. He had a point to prove, and he did emphatically. Coming into the World Cup, England faced a paradox - they had to prove that they were the big favorites, but they also had to prove that they had the mettle to perform under pressure that many doubted that they possessed. Their performances in must-win matches against India, New Zealand and Australia proved that they could deliver with their backs against the wall. A quality that the English sides of the past seemingly did not have.
The events before July 14th had already made the 2019 World Cup a classic - however, what happened in the final took an already great spectacle to a completely different. Where does one begin with the final? 20 years ago, Australia and South Africa scripted a semi-final that was widely regarded as the greatest ODI of all time. It was only fitting that the next World Cup in England went one step ahead and produced a final worthy of the occasion and worthy of the tournament. It was chaotic, it was controversial and it produced a worthy champion. A champion that deserved to win the World Cup but perhaps not in that fashion. A runner-up that deserved to finish runner-up but perhaps not in that fashion.
Much like Trevor Chappell's underarm delivery in 1981, the overthrow of Ben Stokes' bat and the tied Super Over could potentially change the rules of the game. The overthrow rules and the decision to declare a winner based on the number of boundaries are likely to be reviewed. Will it be for the better? We don't know, but all in all, the World Cup provided more answers than questions. The ODI format is truly alive and kicking, In a world of two extremes, i.e. Test cricket and T20 cricket, the 50 over format provides a wonderful balance and the best (and the worst) of both extremes. Furthermore, the glory belongs to the team that this is best prepared. Rankings do matter, and the team that works the hardest over a long period gives itself the best possible chance of winning the World Cup. For England, the World Cup has come home and the next chapter begins. For everyone else, the preparation of the 2023 World Cup starts today.