In one of my earlier columns at the start of the 2019 Cricket World Cup (CWC) I expressed the wish for seven weeks of unadulterated cricket enjoyment. From Imran Tahir’s first over at the Oval to the Lord’s final’s manic ending, that wish came true (mostly).
What was good about the 2019 CWC?
- The International Cricket Council (ICC) has nailed it with the 10-team format. There were no easy matches and the tournament stayed alive until the last few games of the group stages. The two teams that had to qualify to get to the CWC, the West Indies and Afghanistan, ended 9 & 10. Coincidence or not?
- The contest between bat and ball was far fairer than we’ve come to see in most ODI’s since the 2015 CWC. The high-scoring England-Pakistan series before the World Cup made 350 to 400 seem like the par scores, but scores around 250 became the norm. A combination of brilliant exhibitions of (especially fast) bowling and pitches less conducive to murderous strokeplay ensured parity between bat and ball.
- The fast men! Has there ever been a CWC where the speedsters made such a huge impact? Jofra Archer. Chris Woakes. Mitchell Starc. Trent Boult. Lochie Ferguson. Jasprit Bumrah. Shaheen Afridi. Even Lasith Malinga. They were sensational! Everyone thought it would be a batting World Cup. It wasn’t.
- The crowds were fantastic. After living through a South African domestic season with probably the worst attendances ever, it was refreshing to see full stadiums at every match. I don’t think any other country can host the multi-ethnic crowds we saw at this CWC.
- And then of course a final to end all finals! The chaos at the end only made it more exhilarating, mind-blowing, nerve-jangling and utterly overwhelming than probably any other final in any other sport. As one commentator said the game “will be tattooed on my retinas till I die”.
- Finally, the introduction of Archer, Afridi and Alex Carey on the international stage. We will hear a lot more of them over the next ten years.
From a cricketing point of view, this was the best CWC since 1992. Even so, it wasn’t all hunky-dory, was it? The bad moments for me all stem from the final:
- Definitely top of the list, the finish. It all feels untidy. How can a boundaries count decide the world champions? It smacks of arbitrariness. It doesn’t feel fair to either New Zealand, who were simply unlucky, or England, who deserve praise but may now not receive it because of the manner in which their victory was achieved. Why can’t a World Cup be shared if the teams were this close?
- We’ve written about cricket’s silly laws in these columns before. If ever there was a case to change the game’s laws, the overthrows off Stokes’ bat is it. It should be made a dead ball and the ICC must act now. (And while they’re at it, also make it a dead ball when a throw has hit the stumps.)
And then the terrible: South Africa. We all knew the Proteas weren’t among the favourites, but did anyone foresee the speed with which they imploded? Or as Zorba the Greek would’ve called it: “Have you ever seen such a splendiferous crash?” One commentator called it “mournful”; it was indeed.
South Africa’s losses to Bangladesh and New Zealand epitomized their entire campaign. The Tigers, who were beaten in a very one-sided series in South Africa 18 months ago, completely outplayed the Proteas in every department. The game against the Black Caps is a study in how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
But it was such a wonderful CWC that I don’t want to end this piece on a negative note. Here are some of random moments that will live long with me: Starc’s sensational yorker to dismiss Ben Stokes at Lord’s. Jimmy Neesham’s outrageous one-hand catch to dismiss Dinesh Karthik in the semi-final. Boult stepping on the rope at long-on in the final. Two pieces of brilliance from Martin Guptill – the direct-hit run-out of MS Dhoni in the semi-final and the catch at leg gully off a full-blooded Steve Smith pull. Kane Williamson’s captaincy when he brought on Colin de Grandhomme in the final. (Who would’ve thought De Grandhomme would be the best bowler in the final?) Carlos Brathwaite against New Zealand – simply breathless. The incredible Shakib al Hassan: The third most runs (606) at the tournament’s highest average (86.57) and joint second most wickets among spinners (11). Nobody in the history of the CWC has ever taken more than ten wickets and scored more than 400 runs.
They say football is the beautiful game. After the 2019 CWC I might disagree.