ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 started on a dull note, with one-sided matches opening the act followed by a few washed out matches, which really threatened to take away the sheen of an already struggling sport. There was a lack of buzz about cricket's biggest tournament in England, the country which invented the game, and the majority preferred watching the dazzlers of FIFA Women's World Cup than the hookers, runners, spinners and pacers showcasing their art over a period of eight hours in a day.
But things changed. The FIFA Women's World Cup ended, and despite a stiff competition from a high-profile tennis competition called Wimbledon, cricket took centre stage. A lot happened in the final stages of the tournament. Favourites India, under the ever charming/aggressive/legend Virat Kohli, collapsed in the semi-final against New Zealand, led by nice-guy/super-intelligent/legend Kane Williamson. Australia, the team that usually wins World Cups, also succumbed against the mighty English.
And then we had *that* final. England won their first title without actually winning it and the game of cricket has been revived in the country (maybe), with the Brexit narratives taking a break for a day. Maybe.
The World Cup saw plenty of players punching above their weight, making sure they leave a mark in a ten-team World Cup. In an ode to democracy, Firstpost sports desk took a vote from their in-house journalists for their World Cup best XI and the results are in. Players with maximum votes make our XI. In case you're interested, this is the official ICC XI for the World Cup.
As usual, the XI has a few obvious names and not-so-obvious ones. A batsman who scored 600 plus runs in the tournament misses out along with the best cricketer in the current generation. One wrist-spinner made it to the list while the pace attack can cause mayhem anywhere in the ever-expanding universe.
Here's our Playing XI:
One of the two players who got the maximum votes. There's no case against his inclusion. Nine matches, 648 runs. Batting average of 81. Five hundreds. One half-century. As Kohli said, Rohit is one of the best batsmen in limited-overs cricket. He was desperate to win his first World Cup title, but not all dreams come true.
Rohit's opening partner in our XI is England's explosive Jason Roy. The fight was between him and Australia's David Warner, who scored 647 runs in the tournament, but Roy clinched the poll, mostly because of his impact at the top of the order. 443 runs from seven innings with four half-centuries. England's two crucial defeats in the league stage came when Roy was missing from the playing XI due to injury. Warner might think the selection is cruel, but he won't take it personally. He's no more a Raging Bull, he goes by The Reverend nowadays.
Shakib Al Hasan
The best players come at No 3. Kohli for India. Williamson for New Zealand. Joe Root for England. But the best No 3 at this World Cup was Bangladesh maestro Shakib Al Hasan. Such was his form that he ended up scoring five fifties along with two centuries in just eight matches. That's not it. His left-arm off spin fetched 11 wickets in the tournament. Incredible. Superlative. Sterling. And more such adjectives.
Kane Williamson (captain)
Not his preferred position, but pretty sure Williamson can bat at No 4. Hell, he can bat anywhere he wants! The New Zealand captain is also our pick for the captain. Keeping the stats aside, Williamson showed his tactical acumen with some sound decisions during crunch situations. The field placements, the bowling changes, he got a lot of small details right. He always leads his team with example and it's a pity he didn't end up lifting the trophy at Lord's on Sunday. Cricket, you bloody cruel game!
Again, not the position Babar wants to play, but he had to be there in the team. His fight for the spot was against likes of Eoin Morgan, but Azam got the votes and why not! His solidity in middle-overs is as useful as safety belts on a roller-coaster ride. He has been Mr Consistent for Pakistan, scoring 474 runs from eight knocks in this World Cup.
The Man of the Match in the final of the World Cup. 465 runs at an average of 66.42. A gun fielder. Very useful with the ball. Stokes is one of the best all-rounders in the game at the moment and he is always there for his team, fighting till the end. Remember the knock against Sri Lanka in the group game? Remember the knock against New Zealand in the final? Just remember the name. He might end up bigger than Andrew Flintoff. Even bigger than Ian Botham.
Alex Carey (wicket-keeper)
Not many would've predicted Carey's inclusion in the post-tournament XI, but the southpaw displayed nerves of steel in crucial stages to pull out his team out of danger. His 45 helped Australia to post a decent total after early setback against the West Indies. He made 71 against New Zealand to take his team to safety in the first innings. He almost pulled off a win with a spectacular 85-run knock against South Africa. Took the beating on his jaw against England in the semi-finals, but continued playing and made a decent score. Carey is a living example of grit and determination. The Australian way of cricket?
Starc and Cricket World Cups go like Tom Brady and Super Bowls. In the last edition, he was the player of the tournament, picking up 22 wickets in eight matches. This time, he improved on the highs, taking as many as 27 wickets from 10 matches at an average of 18.59. He had two five-wicket hauls and two four-wicket hauls. That ball to dismiss Stokes in a group match can certainly take the honours of the 'ball of the tournament'. Failed to deliver in the semi-final and Australia lost against England.
What a bowler! A lot has been said about Archer's inclusion in the squad. That's not even the point. He made his debut just before the World Cup. New to international cricket, and the pressure of playing for the hosts in a big tournament, but Archer didn't look like a fish out of water. He was more like Micheal Phelps in a pool. He became the strike bowler for his team, picking 20 wickets in the tournament. Bowled the Super Over in the final, and restricted New Zealand from chasing down the winning total. He deserves a Sheldon Cottrell salute.
Really unfortunate that New Zealand pace machine Lockie Ferguson has missed out to Imran Tahir. This was a tournament for pacers, and Ferguson was top-class in his spells for the Kiwis. Nevertheless, Tahir's wrist spin is an asset on any day. His team didn't perform to the expectations, but Tahir was outstanding for South Africa. At 40, his performances showed he didn't have to retire, but his ODI days seem to be done now.
The No 1 bowler in ODIs, a lot was expected out of Jasprit Bumrah and the pacer ensured he didn't disappoint his team and his countrymen. Bumrah is at his peak right now, and it showed in the World Cup. Whenever Kohli needed a wicket, he gave the ball to Bumrah, and almost always, he came up with a wicket. The best death bowler in the world. The best bowler in Indian squad. A lot of bests in his profile.
Firstpost Cricket World Cup XI: Rohit Sharma, Jaosn Roy, Shakib Al Hasan, Kane Williamson (C), Babar Azam, Ben Stokes, Alex Carey (WK), Mitchell Starc, Jofra Archer, Imran Tahir, Jasprit Bumrah.