Major Talking Points from the World Cup Ten Days In

The 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup is already close to a week and a half old, and already a number of fascinating storylines have arisen out of the first 13 matches. Let’s take a look at the biggest talking points so far.

Are the West Indies back?

Few people gave the West Indies much of a chance heading into this World Cup. Once such a formidable unit, they’ve struggled to be competitive on the 50-over stage for a long time, and many expected a similar tale to unfold this year. A total well in excess of 400 in a warm-up game against New Zealand, however, in which Shai Hope highlighted his ability with a brilliant century, tongues began to wag. 

Their first match was against Pakistan, who, granted, are not exactly the best team at the World Cup, but you can only beat who is in front of you and the Windies did just that. Their bowling line-up, perhaps viewed as a weakness prior to the event, rolled Pakistan for just 105, before they clinically chased down the total in just 13.4 overs and with seven wickets to spare. Victories don’t come much more comprehensive than that, and it got them off to an ideal start to the tournament.

They have only played one match since, against much more difficult opposition, and they lost. They did, however, send a major scare through the Australian camp. After restricting the Aussies to 288, the Windies came within 15 runs of a major upset, ultimately finishing their 50 overs at 9/273. Now, they sit at 1-1 after two games, and have games against South Africa and England to come. They’ll probably head into both as underdogs, but if they can pinch one of them they will see themselves as a big chance to storm home and grab a place in the final four.

And speaking of South Africa…

Where have they gone? Entering the World Cup, many people shared a similar opinion - England, India and likely Australia would take up the first three spots in the final four, and the last position would be fought for between New Zealand and South Africa. The South Africans, however, virtually gave that possibility by losing their first three games, and advancing out of the Group Stage now will take an extraordinary turnaround, potentially requiring them to win all of their last six games.

The likelihood of that, however, is particularly slim given the nature of their three losses to date. There’s no doubt they were handed a tough start to the event - matches against the top two sides in the world in India and England within their first three matches was always going to make starting the event on the right foot a difficulty. Most would have expected, however, particularly given the talent level in their squad, that they would at least be competitive in those two games, if not steal one of them. But they were not. 

On the opening day of the tournament they lost by over 100 runs to England, being bowled out for just 207 in pursuit of a total of over 300. And a couple of games later, they made 9/227 before watching India chase that total down with ease, cruising to victory with 2.5 overs and six wickets in hand. And sandwich’d in between those two losses was another against Bangladesh, one which they would have pencilled in as an almost assured victory prior to the event. Instead, Bangladesh - and full credit to them - accumulated 330 runs, a total which South Africa fell 21 runs short of. Now, their World Cup is almost over before it began, and they seem destined for yet another disappointing showing on the biggest stage.

The form of Shakib Al Hasan

The talent of former Bangladesh ODI captain and current vice-captain Shakib Al Hasan has never been doubted, but the past few years of his cricketing career and life in general have been tumultuous. In the first three matches of the 2019 World Cup, however, he has put that behind him to put in perhaps the best patch of form of his career.

Despite the fact that Bangladesh has lost two of their first three games, Shakib has arguably been the form player in the event, putting together three impressive innings to lead the tournament for runs so far, and by some margin. His team has faced three of the top five teams in the world - South Africa, New Zealand and England - to start the tournament, and thanks in no small part to his exploits with the bat they have snatched a victory and been competitive, at least for periods, in the other two.

He started the tournament with a 75 off 84 deliveries as Bangladesh accumulated 330 against South Africa, before putting together 64 off 68 against New Zealand a couple of days later. And just yesterday, as Bangladesh showed perhaps the first sign of the gap in talent between themselves and the best in the world when they lost by 106 runs to England, he scored 121 of his teams 280 off just 119 balls to lead them to what could at least be termed a moderately respectable total. 

He has 260 runs total in three games, averaging 86.66 and going at a strike rate of 95.94. And let’s not forget he’s also a relatively handy bowler, having accumulated 252 ODI wickets in his career. His bowling hasn’t been at it’s best so far, but he has snared three wickets nonetheless, and is at this early point challenging for the player of the tournament.

New Zealand’s pace attack

Expected to be battling to make it into the final four against South Africa, New Zealand was always going to get off to a better start. Matches against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan offered up the opportunity for three straight victories to start the tournament, and that is exactly what they have done. What has been most impressive, however, hasn’t been the fact that they have won, but more how they have done it. 

They weren’t remotely challenged in two of the three games, bowling out Sri Lanka for 136 and Afghanistan for 172 to totals which they chased down in 16 and 32 overs respectively for the loss of just three total wickets. Bangladesh was much more of a challenge, with a late flurry of wickets in the Kiwis chase meaning they only got over the line with two wickets in hand. The talking point of their event so far, however, hasn’t been their batting.

Their bowling attack is far from the most heralded in world cricket, but at this point - and granted they have played three matches when many others have only played two, or in India’s case, one - they boast the top three wicket takers at the event, all. Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry and James Neesham have eight, seven and six wickets respectively, with Ferguson and Neesham both boasting averages under 13 and Henry sitting at 18. More impressive still is the fact that their best bowler in Trent Boult hasn’t yet fired, having picked up just three wickets at an average of over 40 so far.

Of course the opposition against whom these wickets came can’t be ignored, but they are impressive figures nonetheless. No doubt in the next stretch of the tournament - they play India, South Africa and the West Indies in their next three games - these averages will begin to balloon, but the performance of these three seamers - and the fact that Boult will no doubt improve his output at some point - highlights just how capable this team is, and if they can continue to perform at a high level a spot in the semi-finals beckons for the Kiwis.

With still close to a month to go until the Group Stage is finished, there is a whole lot of water still to go under the bridge at this event. In the coming days, however, things will begin to take shape, and many of these early tournament games which might seem insignificant may ultimately have a huge say in who finishes where come finals time. Exciting times are ahead for cricket fans.

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