KARACHI: South Africa’s victory over Australia this Saturday brought to a close the group stage of the ICC World Cup 2019, with India finishing at the top of the table and Australia, England and New Zealand joining them in the semifinals. After over a month of surprising pitches, incessant rain, last minute net run rate (NRR) calculations and lots of drama, it is time to reflect on each team’s performance at the sport’s marquee event. (Teams ordered according to their final rank in the points table.)
India: The most consistent team in the tournament, India came in with a very strong and balanced squad, and then showed their adaptability as the rains prevented the batting heaven the tournament had promised to be. It has also helped that Skipper Virat Kohli arguably has the best Indian bowling attack ever at a World Cup, and the team’s major weakness has been its middle order, which the top three have generally covered with their success. A bunch of injuries to key players might have derailed other sides, but India boasts so much depth they could plug in replacements without too much trouble.
Australia: Sports journalist Hassan Cheema recently tweeted that you could take “all the football cliches about Germany [and] multiply that by 10 and you get Australia in cricket.” Since 1987, Australia have won the World Cup trophy six times in eight attempts and repeatedly been the team to beat. Coming into this tournament, though, they seemed to be woefully out of form, and at several times during the earlier matches against Afghanistan, West Indies and Pakistan, they looked certain to lose. In the end, they only lost to India and the final game to South Africa, and during that while went from being outsiders to tournament favorites. Their batting has been resolute and defiant, Mitchell Starc’s bowling looks set to win him a second consecutive player of the tournament award, and the team in yellow look set to win it all again.
England: The hosts came into this World Cup not just as favorites but as an exemplar of how cricket would be played in the future, with a phalanx of power-hitting behemoths setting mathematically improbable scores. But that old nemesis of English cricket, rain, reared its head and suddenly England found themselves losing to Pakistan right after the men in green had been decimated by West Indies, and then even more embarrassed as Lasith Malinga roared the otherwise hapless Sri Lankans to a win. Two nerveless victories in must-win matches against India and New Zealand underlined the team’s quality, but as they face arch-rivals Australia in the semifinals, they are a team that seems to have the softest of underbellies.
New Zealand: Making it to the semifinals is what the Kiwis do. They’ve made it to at least this stage in four of the last six tournaments, and it’s been over 30 years since they failed to go past the group stages. But unlike last edition’s swashbuckling team that made it into the final, this feels like an oddly weak and deflated side. The feeling was exacerbated as they finished with three consecutive losses, adding Pakistan to defeats by all three other semifinalists during the tournament. Captain Kane Williamson’s rocklike batting has been a godsend, but the poor form of the others has meant no team relies on one batter as much as the Kiwis. They do have a proper pace attack, but they need runs on the board to make their presence felt.
Pakistan: The most entertaining story of the World Cup, Pakistan turned heads whether they were winning, losing or recreating spooky coincidences from the 1992 World Cup. Ending their tournament with four wins on the trot led many to suggest that they deserved a place ahead of New Zealand, but the opening match mauling at the hands of West Indies that had ruined Pakistan’s NRR was also emblematic of this team’s capacity to mix the sublime with the pathetic. With sunnier days slowing and flattening the pitches in England, it could be argued that Pakistan’s rain-assisted competitive advantage would have been lost in the knockouts, as the team continued its tradition of letting its bowling make the difference in matches.
Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s standing in the table is highly flattering and kind of inaccurate. Two washed out matches provided them with two points as well as fewer defeats than the teams ranked below them, which put them at sixth. In reality, Sri Lanka had a woeful tournament, consistently outmatched due to a collapse-prone batting and a subpar bowling attack where veteran Lasith Malinga was still the biggest weapon. The team’s attempts at moving on from the retirement of their greatest ever players continue to sputter along unevenly, and the shock win against England prevented this tournament from being an absolutely horrible one for the team.
South Africa: Usually, South African teams spend the years between World Cups being one of the best sides in the world, and then come the tournament and find themselves failing (or rather, choking) when the pressure comes on. But this time around, they avoided any choking accusations by absolutely blowing up their tournament right from the start, and never really finding any form or class afterwards. To make it worse, once they were eliminated and the pressure was off, the old South Africa seemed to return as it overcame the erstwhile rampaging Australians. South Africa’s rotten luck at World Cups hit its lowest point yet in 2019.
Bangladesh: If you’d missed the entire tournament, a glance at Bangladesh’s final position might elicit a retort about the team continuing its tradition of being one of the weaker sides. But such an insight wouldn’t be fair, especially not to Shakib ul Hasan who turned in one of the all-time greatest performances at any World Cup. Unfortunately for Shakib, his teammates couldn’t match his quality, and Bangladesh fell short as a result. Both the games against New Zealand and India could have gone their ways had the little things gone Bangladesh’s way, and in the end the three wins they chalked up didn’t do justice to their competitive menace throughout the tournament.
West Indies: You would think that after handing Pakistan one of the most comprehensive defeats in World Cup history, the Windies would have built on that performance. Instead, they failed to win any more matches until meeting Afghanistan in their final game. In between, there was a close call against Australia and absolute heartbreak against New Zealand, where Carlos Braithwaite played an unforgettable knock only to end just short. But overall, the Windies displayed consistently poor cricket, throwing away wickets and lacking discipline with the ball, and their final standing was one few would have quibbled with.
Afghanistan: Welcome to adulthood, Afghanistan cricket. After years of being the sport’s favorite feel-good story, Afghanistan were meant to graduate to the next level in this World Cup. Instead, a combination of bizarre moves by the board and the mark of inexperience meant that the team found itself pummelled. They did give India and especially Pakistan almighty scares, but their lack of experience showed as they fell apart at the end. To make matters worse, the board was in the thick of controversies, most notably sending back home their all-time top scorer Mohammad Shehzad despite the player’s protestations that he wasn’t unfit like the board claimed. With the goodwill and the beginner’s luck all used up, Afghanistan will now need to answer some tough questions.