On the eve of the start of the Cricket World Cup still taking place in Australia and New Zealand, I looked ahead at the tournament that was before us. If readers had detected my tone was less than enthusiastic they will have been correct. I remain an enthusiast of Test match cricket rather than its limited over’s counterpart … but I have been partly won over having witnessed at a distance the goings on, and now look forward to Sunday’s final between the two hosts as I predicted at the beginning (smug – aren’t I). Other than the unexpected and ignominious exit of England, progression in the tournament has gone to form, both on paper and in reality. Except for Bangladesh, who surprisingly overcame England, the eight quarter finalists (Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh) were as many predicted, with the best two sides going through to the final.
Other than the two semi-finals, I have not followed the games live and only did so regarding the semis because I was unwell and suffering insomnia (helpful given the time differences). But then it was by virtue of BBC radio. While there were some outstanding performances and exciting close run games in the group stages, the quarter finals were lack lustre one side affairs, but things came to life in the semis. Much of what I picked up was through checking out media reporting, especially Test Match Special (TMS) podcasts, of which I have been a long time fan. I did catch some television highlights but not much. The New Zealand versus South Africa game was particularly enthralling and probably the game of the tournament. Regarding the Australia versus India game, while it had its moments Australia were worthy and comfortable winners, despite my support for India, who had been outstanding in the tournament, as had South Africa with their exciting brand of cricket.
The reason for being warmed to the tournament as it progressed was that the cricket played was often exciting and in a sporting fashion with enthusiastic support and many outstanding performances. It seemed that in this tournament at least the bat dominated over the ball with several outstanding batting performances including double centuries scored at a fast rate and with many sixes. In this tournament for the first time scores over 300 became the norm and even 400’s were posted. Even so, good bowling was often rewarded and in some respects having a well balanced and better than mediocre bowling attack was the difference between sides in many of the games. Even so, I would like to see a better bat/ball balance in future games and already there are ideas how this might happen.
The presence of the “minnows” in the competition remains a controversial topic and is something that I feel should be encouraged. Ireland and Bangladesh is particular shone and that was to their credit. One of the most exciting games was, to their credit, between two of the least likely teams: Scotland and Afghanistan. If these aren’t provided a platform in future competitions, everything that can needs to be done to develop the game in those countries. Perhaps, if I have a criticism, the tournament has gone on a little too long and it would not have hurt too much if there was less time between games and the numbers taking part were reduced by two (I understand four is now being proposed), but then that might be seen as nit-picking. The biggest disappointment is that England under-performed. In fact they never really got going. They lost all their games against the big sides where on paper they might have been expected to win at least one, but the nail in their coffin was losing against Bangladesh. There is clearly work to be done, especially given this summer’s Ashes Test series.
This brings me back to Sunday’s final and what to look forward to. While I hope to listen to some of it, there is the little matter of being in church meaning I will miss out on what I hope will be an exciting climax. What has become evident is the high skill and fitness levels of the best teams in the competition as well as the art of planning strategy and tactical awareness that seems to have come on leaps and bounds since this form of the game first appeared on the scene in my much younger days. While Test cricket will continue to be my preferred form of the game for reasons given previously, and I regret there are too many meaningless one-day internationals due to the commercial pressures, I do recognize that limited overs cricket can be both skilful and exciting and looks like continuing to be the pre-dominant form of the game in the years to come.
While I know only a few of my countrymen who feel the same (more interest I think among my Indian friends), I look forward with relish to this Sunday’s final and hope that the best team will win, knowing full well there will always be a luck element e.g. winning the toss, dropped or great catches, the elements coming into play. I hope the winners will be the underdogs New Zealand, who have been the surprise package of the tournament, but suspect it will be the favourites and my tip at the start, Australia, playing with home advantage, that will be lifting the coveted trophy on Sunday. I hope it will be a great game and advert that will attract others, and the team that plays best on the day will emerge as winners.
Update: We now know – Australia are the world champions of cricket, and deservedly so. They overwhelmed New Zealand in what turned out to be a one sided final, but these things happen sometimes. All this is to the Aussie’s credit. Congratulations Australia and commiserations New Zealand but congratulations too for the way you played and the example you gave. Thank you both for delivering a splendid tournament. Not to forget the losing semi-finalists, India and South Africa – your performances especially lit up the tournament. Comparing with the first World Cup, which I also followed, I can reflect how much the limited over game has come on since that time. Many memories, especially of heroic and outstanding performances, especially with the bat but not to forget those bowlers that bowled with consistent quality and might be seen as given to the edge to the teams that did well. While there is room to improve, this was still a very good tournament.