The competitive World Cup continues to confound. A format ‘designed’ to reduce the gulf between teams has, so far, well, flattered to deceive.
Four matches played, eight innings played, and only once has a batting side seen the 40th over.
Fine, the chasing teams from the last three of those clashes can’t be blamed, but you get the drift.
New Zealand and Australia – Trans-Tasman rivals and the finalists from the previous edition – kicked off their World Cup campaigns without having to break into much of a sweat on Saturday, with the Kiwis walloping Sri Lanka and the Aussies working out Afghanistan quite comfortably.
Here’s a look back at some of the better moments from the first double-header day at the ICC World Cup 2019.
Henry’s Kusal-Double Rattles Sri LankaThe word ‘Kushal’ traces its origins to Sanskrit and translates to skilled.
Without discrediting Matt Henry one bit, the reputedly-skilled exponent of his trade of fast bowling was the man running in from the opposite end to his during the opening exchanges at Cardiff.
But Henry, who plausibly only got a starting berth due to the fitness doubts over Tim Southee, was making the new ball talk a bit more than Trent Boult.
Having responded to a first-ball four with one that straightened Lahiru Thirimanne out the very next ball, the 27-year-old kept a firmer lid on the scoring than his more exalted partner for the first eight overs.
At that stage, the Lankans, in fact, appeared to have made up for the early dent, with the scoreboard reading 46/1.
Off the next two balls, Henry scalped Sri Lanka’s two Kusals.
Perera was first to go, trying his luck on one occasion too many and lifting one straight up without any sense of timing; Mendis, who walked out to replace him, got just the kind of delivery you don’t want first up – in the channel, right where the length is truly ‘good’, nipping away, leaving you all squared. There was only going to be one outcome.
Props, also, to Kane Williamson, for it could have been an easy option to bring in your third – and fastest – pacer with the two new-ball bowlers going at around six per over. But he persisted, and Henry paid off.
Fiery Ferguson Locks the Lankans Down
As a result, that third and fastest fast bowler in the Kiwi camp, Lockie Ferguson, got to enter the act with Sri Lanka forced into a shell – quite the opportune moment for a bowler with the fastest average speed in 2019 (145 km/hr, almost six clicks clear of next-best Jofra Archer).
The effect of that pace, and what it does even to international batsmen, took all of five deliveries to be told.
Dhananjaya de Silva had started his innings with a picture-perfect off-drive to avert Henry’s hat-trick in the ninth over, but the 13th ball he faced was clearly too quick for him.
De Silva’s bat had only just begun coming down in defense by the time a 147 km/hr nut had caught his back leg, and not for the first time in the opening stretches of the World Cup, the sheer pace had dislodged a batsman.
Ferguson would pocket two more wickets later in the innings, but that burst which burst through de Silva – and the ability to do the same fairly regularly – is why New Zealand have locked him down in their XI, despite a career economy rate above 5.50.
Captain Karunaratne’s Painstaking Vigil
Or was it more painful than painstaking? Either way, the Sri Lankan skipper earned himself a rare piece of World Cup trivia at the Sophia Gardens – but one he may only rarely recount with any amount of fondness.
In the 407-match history of the World Cup, only once had an opener batted through an innings that saw all 10 wickets falling: Ridley Jacobs, who played out a 142-ball 49 as his fellow West Indians were shot out for 110 by Australia at Old Trafford in 1999.
Karunaratne stayed unbeaten for a stoic 52 off 84 deliveries, but he never really looked ‘in’, despite managing to not get out at all.
Without meaning to belittle to efforts of a man who was only called up to the national squad for the first time since the previous World Cup for this edition, Karunaratne’s wasn’t an undefeated rearguard that will provide an instant recall in the future. As far as vigils go, this was more Sunil Gavaskar at Lord’s in 1975 than what his own teammates from Saturday, Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis, did against the same opponents to save a Test match at Wellington in December.
I wonder whether calling Dimuth's innings a silver lining in a dark cloud is appropriate! Actually it was too dark to distinguish the silver from it. Disappointing.
— Roshan Abeysinghe (@RoshanCricket) June 1, 2019
The Sound of Timber: Starc Returns
Mitchell Starc has made such limited appearances in ODI cricket since his Player-of-the-Tournament display at the previous World Cup that the last real memory of his in the Australian 50-over yellow was of him knocking down Brendon McCullum’s stumps in the first over of the 2015 final, and setting the stage for Australia’s fifth world title.
If you’re looking for the exact number, Starc had only featured in 34 ODIs since that evening at the MCG.
The in-swinging yorker to castle McCullum was the third ball the Kiwi skipper had faced on that fateful day; the third ball at Bristol on Saturday tore through the shaky defenses of the berserk basher from the Afghan camp.
Mohammad Shahzad isn’t one to bat for aesthetics, and a rapid in-swinger – while not quite close to being the yorker length from four years ago – made him, and his stumps, cut an ugly figure.
Starc was back.
Gulbadin-Najib: A Saviour Act Thrown Away
When Afghanistan slumped to 77/5 just past the 20th-over mark, it looked as though an Asian side was set for an abject capitulation for the third game running at the 2019 World Cup.
That the Afghans finished with 207 – well clear of the sorry endings for their supposed ‘big brothers’ Pakistan and Sri Lanka – was down in large part to the sixth-wicket stand between captain Gulbadin Naib and all-rounder Najibullah Zadran.
Refusing to buckle down, and sticking with their natural approach of biffing it towards the end of the innings, Afghanistan’s number six and seven took the attack to the Australians with a potentially game-changing 83-run association.
Their partnership was all of 76 balls old, which meant that at 160/5 with 17 overs to play, the underdogs were all of a sudden within grasp of a total that could have been quite nerving for the defending champions.
But staying true to their game proved costly for the duo; Gulbadin threw it away to a quite needless attempt at a pull off Marcus Stoinis, and the fifth ball of the same over saw Najibullah commit similar hara-kiri, trying to smash an off-cutter over extra cover.
What could have been so much more ended up being all too little? The good work of 12.4 overs had been undone in the space of five balls.
The World Cup Meets Rashid Khan
Yes, his sorcery with the ball is what the world was waiting to see at the biggest stage, and that didn’t happen at Bristol. But Rashid Khan is a superstar, and there’s no way his opening act at the World Cup was going to fall short of the highlights reel.
With bat in hand, there’s only one modus operandi for the 20-year-old (yeah, he’s still 20!), and while that’s usually more suited to when he comes in for the death overs, Rashid was not playing his cards any other way with only the tail to support him.
Having seen his side slip to 166/8, Rashid took Stoinis – he of that double breakthrough from just his previous over – to the cleaners.
Dot, flat-batted six over long-on, dot, sweetly-timed flick past midwicket for four, clubbed slog over mid-off for another four, and then the tour de force to cap it all: a swatted hook off a steep climber, well into the stands behind deep square leg.
World cricket’s shining light may yet illuminate the World Cup with results more akin to his burgeoning legend, but we can’t be complaining about chapter one.
Warner-Smith Drown Out the Chorus of Boos
Everyone knew it. Everyone had seen it coming. Justin Langer may have tried off-setting it with his plea, but in all elite honesty, he knew what was coming.
That David Warner and Steven Smith’s return to the international stage after their time in the sand came at a World Cup could be considered poetic (at least to those with an Australian bent of mind). That it came, out of all lands imaginable, in England, made the poem a tragi-comedy worthy of classic status.
As expected, the ‘neutral’ Bristol crowd found its vocal cords in a vociferous form any and every time the redemption-seeking duo were involved in the game; Smith, it could be argued, ‘won’ the battle of the boos, in case the former Aussie captain and vice-captain were keeping score.
Both, however, tuned themselves out of the cacophony, and eventually drowned out the chorus in unexpected manners.
In the first half of the evening, Smith, who has been nursing a troubled elbow for a while, flung himself around the ground as though there was nothing wrong with his arm. The dive-turn-pick up-throw routine to run Mohammad Nabi out would have been a task even for an entirely fit player, and that came only minutes after a sharp, nano-second-reaction pluck to see the back of the well-set Rahmat Shah.
Warner, meanwhile, played out one of his most uncharacteristic innings in all memory. Of all his 32 scores of 50 or more in ODIs, the marauder hit one at a strike rate under 80 for just the third time – the other two had come over seven years ago.
It’s like he saw the quite regulation target and told himself he’s going to bat through the innings, and he did just that. He even played out two maiden overs off the same bowler (Hamid Hassan) for the first time in decade-long ODI career.
But he stayed put, finishing unbeaten on 89 off 114 balls, and walking home with the Player of the Match title on his return to the fold. You can bet the warning bells have gone off everywhere in the World Cup, if they hadn’t already during his recent IPL exploits.