ICC World Cup: A runaway train called India, Afghan jalebi, and a few toxic fans
As the 50-over showpiece reaches the halfway mark, National Herald takes a look at five top takeaways
It’s the halfway mark at the 2023 ICC World Cup. Having begun on a somewhat insipid note with the England-New Zealand match in front of a near-empty stadium in Ahmedabad three weeks ago, the 50-over showpiece has been slow to capture the imagination of the public, though India’s stellar performance thus far has been a redeeming feature.
One major area of concern has been the sheer predictability of who could be at the knockout stage by the second week of November. Just ponder this — there are a good 20-odd matches still to be played, but table toppers India, South Africa and New Zealand are virtually assured of a place in the semi-finals.
The battle for the fourth spot could be an engaging one between Australia, Pakistan and surprise package Afghanistan — all with four points but occupying fourth to sixth positions respectively based on net run rate (NRR). Can defending champions England make a comeback? A tough ask given their current morale and form, but they are too good to fade out like this.
We take a look at the five takeaways of the tournament so far:
A ‘runaway train’ called India
When India made it five out-of-five with a relatively close win against New Zealand on Sunday, a comment from the legendary Wasim Akram on Pakistan’s A-TV went viral. ‘’India are like that runaway train whose brakes have failed. They are going that way. They have the weapons, have the merit, the skills and most importantly, they know how to execute their plans,’’ he said.
The analogy may be questionable but then, the men in blue have not put a foot wrong since that critical juncture when they slumped to 2/3 in their opener against Australia more than two weeks ago. The closest any team has come to challenging their domination was New Zealand in Dharamsala, though one feels a tight match or two may just keep them ready for the knockout stages, their bugbear for the last decade. Could it be England in Lucknow or the in-form South Africa in Kolkata who can rattle them?
Is South Africa the new England?
The Proteas, in a marked departure from their 2019 campaign, have looked like the side to beat apart from India and New Zealand. During their four wins in five matches so far, the South African top order has notched up three 350-plus scores, including the colossal 428 for five against Sri Lanka — the highest total in the history of the event. On the fourth occasion, they still managed 311 against a potent Australian attack.
The strike rates of Quinton de Kock, R. Hendricks, Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, and Heinrich Klaasen in particular have made one wonder if they are the new England. What they should be mindful about is their chokers’ tag and who knows, they may play their first final with a little bit of luck.
The bravehearts of Afghanistan have always enjoyed a special place in the hearts of cricket lovers for their ability to beat all odds but this time, Hasmatullah Sahidi’s team are matching their big hearts with big performances. The two upsets against England and Pakistan, brought about in contrasting styles, show that the team has finally learned to keep calm and close out matches.
They are now sixth in the table with four points from two wins out of five, which keeps them in the running for the semi-finals. Looks like a long shot, but the cricketing world has seen that Afghanistan are not all about the spin attack of Rashid Khan, Mohammed Nabi or Noor Ahmed, and can hold their own during a demanding chase. Ask Babar Azam and his men.
A tasteless ad and toxic fans
It often becomes an unrealistic task to exercise control over sports fans’ mob mentality. The jingoistic behaviour of a section of the crowd in Ahmedabad, from booing Pakistan skipper Babar Azam as he was speaking after the toss against India, or chants of Jai Shri Ram when Mohammed Rizwan walked back after his dismissal, fall in this category and need to be criticised in the harshest terms.
However, what do you make of the horrible ads, such as the ones that Make My Trip splashed across the front pages of all editions of a national daily? In a completely thoughtless gesture, it announced offers of ‘discounts’ to Pakistan fans on possible margins of losses – e.g, ‘’If Pakistan loses by 10 wickets or 200 runs, get 50% off. Use code: BoysPlayedWell.’’ The fact that the ad was severely trolled on social media shows that there is some sanity still left in us, happily.
Future tense for the format?
There are no prizes for guessing that a lot is riding on the ongoing edition of the World Cup to decide on the future of the 50-over format. In a country like India, where cricket they say is a religion, it’s unusual to see swathes of empty spaces in the galleries even for exciting match-ups — barring the India games or the odd ones like England vs Afghanistan in Delhi.
While there is no immediate threat to the marquee event with the ICC having already sewed up long term TV and media rights deals for the 2027 and 2031 editions, the ICC needs to put its heads together at the next board meeting on how the format can do with some tweaking.
The boredom between the 11th and 40th overs, with the batters taking full advantage of only four fielders outside the 30-yard circle, and the use of two balls negating the possibility of reverse swing, are but some of the issues which need to be addressed immediately.
At the end of the day, there has to be something in it for both batters and bowlers!