With the World Cup now a full five days old, and 13 of the 14 teams now having opened their tournaments, I thought I’d take a little look at a few things we learnt from these opening matches and what, if anything, they can tell us about the course this World Cup is going to take.
England left trailing in Australia’s wake
As an England supporter, and a usually optimistic one at that, it was particularly crushing to witness the manner in which England were annihilated by Australia on the opening day. I had managed to kid myself into believing that England were actually the dark horses, and that their younger, more exuberant squad would go further than their world weary predecessors. But quite simply England came up woefully short at the MCG. They were outplayed in all departments, and this was even after a promising start that left the Aussies wobbling at 70/3. Chris Woakes’ opening over drop was a depressing portent for the rest of the match, and England will now be under no illusions as to how far behind Australia they have fallen. We have certainly learnt that England are some way short of challenging the favourites for a chance to lift the trophy. But who knows, maybe there are aiming to peak at the opportune moment. Actually, probably not. But I can live in hope.
New Zealand are deadly serious about winning
It says something about New Zealand’s approach to this World Cup, that we learn more about their mentality from a 3-wicket victory over Scotland than we can from their 98 run battering of Sri Lanka. The Kiwi’s dispatching of Sri Lanka was to be expected; they recently beat them 4-2 in an ODI series. Their victory over Scotland was equally expected, but the manner of their triumph was perhaps more unexpected. Not content with bowling the Scottish out for just 142, the Kiwi batsmen then proceeded to bat like they had a bus to catch. There was no let up in their pace, even as wickets began to tumble. In the end New Zealand overhauled the target in just 25 overs. The reason for their targeted assault was net run rate. The formula by which pool finishing positions will be decided if sides are tied on points. The quicker they chased their target, the better their net run rate would become – NRR does not take ‘wickets lost’ into account. By not just being content with two victories from two matches, New Zealand showed their intent to win this World Cup by thinking about their NRR even at this early juncture.
Ireland should not be taken lightly
Most cricket observers, even the casual watchers, would by now have realised that Ireland are not the no-hopers that many have written them off as. Coming to Australia as the most fancied of the associate sides, the Irish suffered an early setback as they were roundly thrashed by Scotland in a warm-up match. They were knocked even further back after an assault from Darren Sammy and Lendl Simmons, left them chasing the small matter of 304 in their opening match. However, no problem. Ireland sauntered home with a full 4 overs remaining and just 6 wickets down. It was not only another full member scalp for the World Cup’s favourite giant-killers, it was comprehensive victory that set them up nicely for an assault on the knockout stages.
The World Cup is a better place for Afghanistan’s inclusion
There are some out there, the ICC among them, who believe that the World Cup should be a closed shop. Just the main 8 test playing nations and a couple of token whipping boys; ideally Bangladesh and the Zimbabwe. However, those people should be pointed in the direction of last night’s game between Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Despite the World Cup newbies failing to defeat Bangladesh, they gave a more than creditable debut and some moments of real skill. However, it is off the pitch that the Afghan’s bring so much colour and atmosphere to the tournament. Their fans never stopped cheering for their heroes, despite the scoreboard not being in their favour. Often the Cricket World Cup can appear like one long slog for players, officials, journalists and even fans. The Afghan team and their band of merry supporters are the absolute antithesis of this attitude. And the World Cup is a richer place for their inclusion.
One of the earliest trends that we can identify in this edition of the World Cup, is the regularity of 300+ scores when batting first. In 7 matches thus far, the side batting first has racked up in excess of 300 on 5 of those occasions. It looks set to be a pattern over the next few weeks that sides will need to be targeting 300+ to give themselves an even chance in the match. Especially after seeing Ireland waltz through their chase of 304. While this has undoubtedly led to some exhilarating innings, it has also left us with a dearth of competitive fixtures. Hopefully the run scoring will be followed up by some strong chases throughout this tournament and give us some of the close games that we will remember for years to come.