This edition of the T20 World Cup has seen it all, including a dash of controversy, and it’s not over yet, so cricket lovers can brace for more
India’s Virat Kohli takes a fine catch to dismiss Zimbabwe’s Wesley Madhevere during the T20 World Cup game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on November 6. Pic/AFP
It’s probably the perfect T20 World Cup semi-final line-up from a marketing perspective. Well, almost, considering any tournament driver would want the hosts and defending champions in the semi-finals. Unfortunately for the Australian cricket-loving public, their team had a pile of problems and exited earlier than expected. Some of those cricket lovers—considering New Zealand make up a part of the Trans-Tasman rivalry—wouldn’t have wanted the Kiwis in the Last 4.
This has been a fascinating World Cup in which cricket enthusiasts are drawing an array of similarities—different formats notwithstanding —on social media. Like how India lost only one game (to South Africa) in the group stages in the 2011 World Cup and now too. Hence, they will win just like Mahendra Singh Dhoni & Co did way back then. Another similarity brought up is Ireland beating England.
Amidst all those dollops of fantasy is the fact that this has been one of the most interesting T20 World Cups for many reasons. It’s had upsets starting with Namibia beating Sri Lanka and culminating with the Dutch beating the Proteas; ironically with some starring performances by South African expats.
What will please the ICC is that all this shows that the gap between first-tier nations and Associates has narrowed. Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that T20 cricket lends itself to more upsets. “The longer the game, the more likely it is that the skill gap widens,” a seasoned follower of the game underlined to me when all these unexpected results were unfolding recently. And of course, the best way to popularise the game among lesser cricket-inclined countries is through T20 cricket.
In this very newspaper, mid-day’s perceptive Brisbane-based columnist Michael Jeh warned against expecting pitches to be similar to the Big Bash. He also predicted a huge return to form for Virat Kohli. How come he was proved right? Firstly, he has played A Grade cricket Down Under and knows the local conditions well. Secondly, he reasoned that the World Cup is being played in October-November, almost two months before the Big Bash kicks in. Indeed, it’s been an extraordinarily wet spring. The summer actually opens in December and the pitches are always spicier and less batting-friendly in October than they are in December and January when the sun has baked them dry. Played at this time of year on Australian pitches, it was always going to be a case of holding wickets in hand and trying to double your score in the second part of the innings. Quality fast bowlers and technically correct batsmen like Kohli were always likely to be more successful than sloggers, especially early in the innings. To that extent, it is a surprise that Rohit Sharma hasn’t fired yet.
For any conspiracy theorists that see the scores increase now and wonder if it is because Australia are now out of the tournament, those silly thoughts can be flung out. Scores are likely to increase because it is now almost a month since the tournament began, the rains are easing and the pitches will naturally become easier to bat on. It has nothing to do with the pitches being deliberately spiced up to suit Australia.
Another reason why we might see better batting pitches is because curators can now focus on preparing a pitch that is perfect for batting for that specific game. They no longer have multiple games coming up on the same strip over consecutive days, so they don’t need to leave any grass or moisture in the deck to ensure it is still good to bat on by the end of the week.
The World Cup will go down in history as the one in which Kohli proved why you write him off at your own peril—there’s that element of magic in his craft. But it’s also been a World Cup where bowlers have held sway and that’s not an unpleasant sight.
On the other side of the book, there have been plenty of catching lapses. Routine catches have been shelled by almost every team, often by fielders who are usually as safe as houses. Asia Cup champs Sri Lanka dropped loads and although Kohli took a fine diving catch at short cover to send back Zimbabwe opener Wesley Madhevere for a duck last Sunday, the one he dropped to give South Africa’s Aiden Markram a reprieve will also be remembered. Nowadays, any player dropping a catch in even a half-crucial World Cup game evokes a spontaneous, at times light-hearted ‘you’ve-just-dropped-the-World Cup’ comment. On a more serious note, you drop players Babar, Rohit, Buttler or Phillips, and you might have actually dropped the World Cup. Surely, floodlights are not a new phenomenon that players are not accustomed to. This has to be remedied.
Also, it’s amazing how teams are losing players through all sorts of injuries. The rate is alarming despite numerous medical staff, warm-up routines and sports science.
This World Cup might still come down to who is still fit enough to deliver that magic moment when it matters the most. The ICC’s money men must be salivating at the prospect of an India vs Pakistan final at a packed MCG, a game which could well be defined by the stars. Not many bigger ones than run-hungry Rohit and Babar.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
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