The ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 began with an unprecedented incident. Opting to bowl first at the Oval, South African skipper Faf du Plessis tossed the new ball to leg-spinner Imran Tahir. In the 11 editions of the World Cup prior to this, not once had a spinner bowled the opening over of a World Cup. Tahir did better. He grabbed a wicket off the second ball of the over, dismissing Jonny Bairstow for a duck. It was only the second time in World Cup history that a wicket had fallen in the very first over of the tournament.
What was an unexpected beginning to the World Cup took mysterious twists and turns throughout the course of the league stage. The four semi-finalists – India, Australia, England and New Zealand – were probably the only prediction that majority of the people got right. The trends in the World Cup were far from predictable and deviated massively from what was expected.
The batting first advantage
At the onset of the World Cup, the 500-run barrier was expected to be breached by at least one team. The printed scorecards handed out had a column to mark 500-run totals but after the league stages, not a single team managed to make even 400 runs. Even more surprising was the fact that the teams batting first had better success than the teams chasing.
In the period between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, teams preferred chasing totals in ODIs and had considerable success doing so, winning more than losing. Even 300-plus totals were gunned down without breaking much sweat. 19.73% of 300-plus run chases were won by the chasing side in this time frame.
Perhaps, this played in the minds of skippers too. In 18 of the first 25 matches of this World Cup, captains won the toss and chose to field first. The trend reversed in the latter half. In the final 20 matches of the league phase, captains opted to field first only five times and lost four of those matches.
27 out of the 41 completed matches in this World Cup were won by the team batting first. Only one 300-plus total has been chased down in the entire World Cup so far – Bangladesh usurping the Windies in an outrageous run-chase at Taunton. In fact, the team batting second made 300-plus scores only eight times in the entire league phase.
This brings us to our next unexpected trend.
Competitiveness of scores in 200-range
With quite a few one-sided matches in the initial week of the tournament and rain playing damp squib in the following week, the World Cup had a rather drab start. With the pitches getting drier, the scores went down but the matches became more competitive than it ever was until that point.
New Zealand chasing down 242 against South Africa at Edgbaston with four wickets in hand and three balls to spare perhaps presented the first signs of the trend changing in the World Cup. Two days later, Sri Lanka defended 232 against the tournament favourites and hosts, England.
The next day, Afghanistan gave India a mighty scare in another game where the totals were in the low 200s. Before one could soak in the thriller, the New Zealand–West Indies match later that night turned into a magnificent ODI straight from the 1990s as Carlos Brathwaite hit a belligerent century to take West Indies single-handedly to the cusp of a win before faltering on the final step.
England against Australia and Pakistan's win over New Zealand and Afghanistan presented three other fantastic matches in the 200-299 range. This was a throwback to the '90s and early 200os where scores of 200-299 were defended by teams. Half of the matches in this 200-299 range at the World Cup were won by the team batting first, an incredible stat in this day and age.
Fast bowlers dominating wicket chart
Mitchell Starc with 26 scalps tops the wicket charts after the league phase of the World Cup. He topped the list in the 2015 World Cup too, so no surprises there. But none of the top 17 wicket takers in the World Cup so far are spinners. Imran Tahir, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mohammad Nabi are the only spinners in this World Cup to take 10 or more wickets at the end of the league phase.
This is particularly surprising because five of the top 10 wicket takers in the period after the 2017 Champions Trophy and before the World Cup were spinners. In fact, the Indian spin twins, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, were the top wicket-takers in this time frame.
But in the World Cup so far, spinners have contributed to just 129 wickets while fast bowlers gave 464. Even in the 129 wickets, there is a queer trend. Wrist spinners have grabbed eyeballs in recent times for their wicket-taking capabilities but they have contributed to less than 50% of the wickets spinners have taken in this World Cup.
The bowlers have had a reasonable World Cup so far but most of the fun and frolic have come in the latter half of the innings with the old ball on used pitches. The openers have been the go-to men for most teams with big opening stands a regular feature in this World Cup.
Three sets of opening pairs – Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, David Warner and Aaron Finch and Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy – have made three hundred partnerships apiece from the top of the order. There have been 13 century stands in all by opening pairs in this World Cup in 84 innings.
That comes down to one century partnership every sixth innings on an average. On the contrary, in the period between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, a century partnership from the opening pair came only once in every 11th innings.
Impact of the 'bits and pieces' all-rounders
While Sanjay Manjrekar's jibe at Ravindra Jadeja – an arguably snide remark at his bits and pieces all-round quality – made all the headlines, some of the lesser acknowledged all-rounders made profound impact performances in the tournament.
From Carlos Brathwaite's mind-blowing ton against the Kiwis to James Neesham's valiant 97* against Pakistan and five-wicket haul against Afghanistan, there was no shortage of big performances from the 'bits and pieces' category.
Angelo Mathews with a first ODI wicket in two years – the massive wicket of centurion Nicholas Pooran against West Indies in a close game – and Vijay Shankar stepping up for an injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar to take a wicket off the first ball against Pakistan enchanted viewers.
Imad Wasim holding his nerve against Afghanistan and Colin de Grandhomme's whirlwind half-century against South Africa presented few other memorable performances from these set of players.
Part-timers have a ball
The sluggish wickets in the second half of the World Cup in northern England took most teams by surprise and they often came up a spinner short with the pitches slowing down. This resulted in part-timers chipping in with crucial overs in this World Cup.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson led this movement with two miserly spells against Pakistan and Australia. He dismissed mainstream batsmen in both outings – Mohammad Hafeez and Alex Carey with the latter batting on 71 at the time of dismissal.
Joe Root chipped in with a 2/27 against West Indies dismissing Shimron Hetmyer and Jason Holder and Aaron Finch dismissed Mohammad Hafeez in the match against Pakistan. Even Steven Smith – who had last bowled before this World Cup in 2016 – picked up the wicket of big fish Colin de Grandhomme in his two-over spell against New Zealand.
Chris Gayle's part-time off-spin accounted for Ross Taylor in a close game against New Zealand and even the Afghanistan part-time leg-spinner, Rahmat Shah, picked up a wicket against India. Soumya Sarkar, an irregular part-time seamer, had also grabbed a three-fer against Australia.
In all, the part-timers made more than a fair share of contribution, particularly in the latter half of the league stage.