The carnival is underway.
England may not have come anywhere close to their Promised Land of 500, but the party has started for the hosts — and anyone siding with Captain Morgan’s unit would have blindly taken the result that eventually transpired in the tournament opener if it were offered this way beforehand.
Such have been the celestial standards set by this ‘New England’ in the years since the debacle that was the 2015 World Cup that their total of 311/8 was their second-lowest batting first at home since the end of the 2017 Champions Trophy. It proved to be 104 runs too good for South Africa — a side they had only beaten by a margin greater than 100 runs once in 59 prior ODI meetings.
It also gave England their biggest win (in terms of runs) against a Full-Member nation at the World Cup since 2003, to set the ball rolling, quite perfectly, for a summer where they’re hoping 'cricket comes home'.
Here’s a look at the most defining — and lasting — moments from the opening game of the ICC World Cup 2019 at The Oval in London.
Tahir turns party pooper
The beginning of the day was straight out of every English soul’s worst nightmare.
In a World Cup where they’re trying to script an eons-awaited first, it was their opponents who threw up a ‘first’ in the opening act of the contest.
Faf du Plessis decided that Imran Tahir will deliver the opening over of the 2019 World Cup — something neither done by the 40-year-old through his career, nor witnessed at the World Cup through its 44-year existence.
It was probably targeted at a possible Jason Roy weakness, because Jonny Bairstow averaged 88 against leg spin coming into the clash. Roy managed to get to the other end off the very first ball, but his partner’s maiden World Cup appearance would last all of one delivery.
The oldest participant at this World Cup got his second ball to grip and turn, and that was that as far as Bairstow’s day was concerned.
That familiar sight of Tahir haring across the field, arms wide open and not a care in the world — one we witnessed all of 26 times in his recent Purple Cap-winning exploits at IPL 2019 — was out there again.
Nerveless Root soothes nerves
What that meant was that with the flick of a switch, the air of confidence surrounding the hosts had turned into one of concern; the uncharacteristic optimism leading into the summer had instantly given way to the typically English trepidation.
Tahir’s opening over never seemed to end, and with three of the first four balls from Lungi Ngidi rising and rearing about dangerously, The Oval was hushed for the first five minutes of the opener.
Then, off the 11th ball of the 12th edition of the World Cup, the tension was finally lifted.
Joe Root creamed a silken drive through cover with his quintessential effortlessness. It wore a languid ease that had appeared far from him through the six deliveries he had faced earlier; but England’s World Cup, 10 balls belatedly or not, had kicked off.
Providing as it did the first boundary of the 2019 World Cup, Root’s caress will probably make it to several highlights reels, but if England are to go the distance and find the Holy Grail, all present at The Oval — those occupying the home dressing room, in particular — will find a special enormity to the moment it all began.
A Stokes Special: Part 1
Ben Stokes enjoyed the kind of day kids dream of while swinging it in the backyard, the kind of which, statistically speaking, had only been witnessed once in 405 previous World Cup matches.
Aravinda de Silva’s herculean act from the 1996 final (3/42, 107 not out) was the only prior instance of a player scoring at least 80 runs and taking at least two wickets and holding on to at least two catches in a World Cup game.
On his World Cup debut, Stokes joined de Silva in that exclusive club — and his all-round heroics came with a couple of stellar moments too.
The soon-to-be 28-year-old had combined with Morgan to steady the English ship after the fall of Roy and Root, and having just seen his captain bring up his fifty, Stokes reached his own milestone – becoming the fourth English half-centurion on the day – with a preposterously-imagined stroke.
Dwaine Pretorius may not be the definition of a ‘fast’ bowler, but the Proteas all-rounder was still clocking more than 80 miles per hour as Stokes hit him around the park for two fours in three balls in the 36th over. In a bid to prevent the batsman from heaving down the crease, Quinton de Kock was called up to the stumps, and Pretorius delivered a slightly slower but fairly straight ball.
The response, for wont of a better description, was a reverse dab.
It ended up being only Stokes’ second-most stunning contribution of the day, but go check it out. Seriously.
South Africa’s death chokehold
South Africa may have been among the better death-bowling teams in recent years (or historically, even), but their first act of a fresh World Cup campaign was going to provide the stiffest of all challenges.
England’s break-all-barriers mode of batting in recent times has, quite obviously, entailed some crazy hitting at the back-end of the innings. Their ‘average’ returns from overs 41-50 when batting first at home in the last two years had been 112.
So when they entered the death stretch on Thursday at a rock-solid 235/4, with Ben Stokes well-set and Jos Buttler settling in (and Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes waiting in the pavilion), the Proteas wouldn’t have been blamed if they felt a wee-bit edgy.
Those dreaded final 10 overs, however, brought with them all of 76 runs for England – this despite Kagiso Rabada’s three death overs costing South Africa 31 runs for the wicket of Woakes.
That’s because Lungi Ngidi, and Andile Phehlukwayo to a slightly lesser degree, applied a stranglehold to the mighty English power-hitters with a determined – and more vitally for all future comers, disciplined – spell to finish.
Their combination of well-directed slow-and-wide balls and even-better-directed slow-and-short balls had England struggling for timing (when did you last hear of that in a game on English shores!). Ngidi’s three overs went for just 13 runs, bringing with them three wickets; while Phehlukwayo, despite not getting a wicket, only conceded 14 from his two overs at the death.
All that effort may not have proved to be telling on the day, but the Proteas may have laid down a marker of sorts – both in terms of what they could possibly do, and how the threat that is England could possibly be countered.
The Mighty Hash gets grilled
Almost instantly after the end of England’s innings, a gem presented itself on Twitter: the last time Hashim Amla had batted at The Oval during Ramadan, he had amassed a South Africa record 311 not out – the same score that England ended up with in the World Cup opener.
Now, the fact worth remembering was that Amla’s record-breaking epic had come seven English summers ago, and that in the last 18 months, the stalwart’s ODI batting average read 33.87 – significantly lesser than his near-50 career mark in the format.
Still, two half-centuries in the two warm-up games, replete with that trademark silken Amla touch, had raised hopes of a potentially golden sign-off, and for the Proteas to get anywhere close to their target on Thursday, the opening combine of Amla and Quinton de Kock was going to hold the key.
The duo began slowly but solidly; the English pacers were keeping a lid on the scoring, and one boundary apiece was all that the South African openers had to show for themselves from the first 22 balls of the chase.
The 23rd was a 144.8 km/hr steamer from Jofra Archer, rearing straight up and onto Amla’s grille before he had completed an attempted pull shot.
The physio was on the field immediately, and a selection of helmets came out for Amla to replace his dented armour, but after a few minutes of procedural check-ups and deliberations, the 36-year-old had to trudge off the field while he rubbed his forehead.
It may have altered the future proceedings, or it may not have; either which way, the World Cup got its first real case of ‘what could have been’.
All Hail King Jofra: Archer Arrives
So after months of dividing opinion and dominating news headlines, England’s Barbadian import finally got his moment in the sun. And, unsurprisingly to many who placed their faith in him, he owned it too.
Sure, Jofra Archer had played three ODIs in the build-up to the World Cup, but that series against Pakistan was just an extended dress-rehearsal for the stage that had been cleared up for him with a change in ruling at the eleventh hour.
If there were any nerves behind that quite steely demeanour, the 24-year-old did a commendable job of not showing it.
The snorter that forced Amla off was the first ‘highlight’ moment of the Archer reel; the show was only just beginning.
In his fourth over, just one ball after having been crisply stroked through cover, Archer got one to bounce more than expected and nip more than anticipated, and that was enough for Aiden Markram.
That brought Faf du Plessis out in the middle, and the South Africa skipper delightfully creamed one through cover first ball. The next two deliveries Archer bowled to du Plessis were tight, in the channel and on the body; the third went from mildly troubling to hugely discomforting – du Plessis found a ball ‘climbing’ on him rapidly, not too different from the one that felled Amla, and although he did get a bat on it, it was only an emergency alarm that settled in the hands of deep fine leg.
Archer would return more than 20 overs later to find South African newcomer Rassie van der Dussen well-settled and having just crossed 50. Four discomforting deliveries did the setup, and the fifth consumed van der Dussen – the ‘Bajan bomber’ had a third, and England were on their way, replete with the knowledge that their gamble looks set to pay off.
A Stokes Special: Part 2
Do you really need a description for this? Were you not watching? Were you not entertained? And shell-shocked? And gobsmacked?
If you were under a rock on the opening day of the World Cup, just do yourself a favour and begin typing ‘B-E-N S-T-O-K-ES’ on Google. By the time you reach ‘S-T-O’, the auto dropdown will suggest ‘Ben Stokes catch’.
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) May 30, 2019
Go on. Select it. Land on the video. Watch it. Re-watch it. Watch it a few hundred times maybe.
Because you’re probably almost certainly not going to see a better catch all World Cup. And when you get to say that on Day 1, you know you’ve seen something special.
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India were retained as hosts for the ICC T20 World Cup 2021, while Australia will host the 2022 edition of the same event.
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