World Cup format fizzles out
England and India were widely regarded as certainties for the final four, although the hosts took a fairly dramatic journey to the play-offs, losing three matches along the way.
India have been remorseless, Australia their usual tournament selves, and New Zealand will be playing in their seventh World Cup semi-final.
That’s the two finalists from four years ago, the winners from eight years ago (and the wealthiest team in the world) and the host nation, which has poured millions of pounds of resources into building a powerful ODI squad.
If anything, the tournament was let down by South Africa’s dire displays, which robbed the event of drama towards the latter stages of the round-robin phase, turning a potentially high-octane contest against Australia yesterday into an empty, hollow affair.
Friday’s match between Pakistan and Bangladesh also lost much of its lustre as a result.
For those asking: “What about the West Indies or Sri Lanka?” Well, neither were expected to make much of an impression, although the Sri Lankans did in beating England and briefly opened up the tournament.
The West Indies look about four years away from being serious challengers. If they can keep Nicholas Pooran, Shemron Hetmeyer, Oshane Thomas and Shai Hope together, they have the makings of a sturdy spine around which their challenge in 2023 can be built.
Despite pre-event forecasts that a 10-team round robin format would make for an exciting competition, the opposite has happened, and the ICC and the “Big Three” - India, England and Australia - are seeing the result of the greedy money grab a few years ago: A one-sided World Cup, where only the rich thrive.
This tournament desperately needed more participants and an extended knockout stage to give it some energy in the final week. Instead, the major talk has been about whether the final will be shown on free-to-air TV in the UK, which apparently it will, should England reach that stage.
So to that obvious top four; the final positions were only going to be confirmed once yesterday’s matches were completed, but whichever way they go, two interesting semi-finals await. The tournament desperately needs them to be tight affairs to create something memorable from this interminable schedule.
New Zealand look the weakest of the four. Their batting is overly reliant on the classical brilliance of Kane Williamson and the power of Ross Taylor, although the latter hasn’t batted with the freedom of years past, probably because he recognises how important his wicket is to his side’s chances.
The Kiwis desperately need Martin Guptill to find some form, while Tom Latham owes them a score after a poor tournament.
Australia have been irritatingly efficient at this tournament, riding their luck against the West Indies and Pakistan and gradually improving over the weeks, before producing arguably the most proficient display of any side when they thumped England at Lord’s.
Their fielding in that match was the best of any team in the competition, and in Mitchell Starc they have a bowler who will be among the first names on any one of those “All time best World Cup XI” team sheets.
Cricket Australia copped a lot of criticism in the months following the Sandpaper debacle at Newlands, but that organisation deserves credit for how it has managed the process of simultaneously punishing David Warner and Steve Smith, and assimilating them back into the national side.
Both have been outstanding for the Australians, Smith’s innings against the West Indies deserving of credit for the manner in which he toughed it out - a characteristic too often overlooked given his quirky mannerisms.
Meanwhile, Warner has been careful at the top of the order, buying into the plan that he and skipper Aaron Finch bat through the first 10 overs, providing a proper foundation for what is a somewhat thin looking batting line-up.
Where Australia have shone is with Starc, who’s been brilliant and will probably finish as top wicket-taker again in this tournament.
Should Australia successfully defend their title, there’s a strong argument he should be player of the tournament, as was the case in 2015.
India - thanks to Rohit Sharma with the bat and Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Yuzvendra Chahal with the ball - have gone through the tournament with little fuss.
It being India, a fuss has been made about the No 4 batting spot and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s batting, but none of that has impacted on India’s overall performance.
Of the final four, they actually look the best, and that’s with their captain Virat Kohli having not yet produced a defining display either.
Given the efficiency of their play in the last four years, England have stumbled into the last four, their alarming inconsistency, especially when chasing, meaning they’ll be praying Eoin Morgan wins the toss in their semi-final so they can bat first.
Their semi is likely to be played at Edgbaston - a ground where the English have tended to play better, probably owing to the boisterous home support (aided by plenty of amber liquid) in the Hollies Stand.
Regardless of the make-up of those semi-finals and which two teams reach next Sunday’s Lord’s final, the ICC will be desperate for drama and tension.
This tournament needs it.@shockerhess
Independent on Saturday