The World Cup got some wind behind the sails after a a slow start, We had some good action over the weekend with a couple of good matches. The number of minnows in the tournament however means that there will be a splattering of uneven clashes. Also Bangladesh, New Zealand and West Indies are test paying nations whose current teams do not inspire any more confidence than the minnows.
Sehwag bossed the Bangladeshis with a brilliant ton but the Bangladeshis gave a spirited reply and exposed the Indian fast? bowling attack. It was only that India had 370 runs in the bank that saved them from embarrassment again. Bangladesh seem better than New Zealand and West Indies and the only upsets in this tournament could be expected through them and possibly Ireland.
Netherlands ran the English close, but without ever threatening to win. England like India have their problems in the bowling department and their fielding performance was one to be forgotten. For the Dutchmen, the all round performance of Ryan Doeschate needs to be applauded as he took the game to Strauss and co. Kenya have gone worse as side and got a hiding from New Zealand and Pakistan.
New Zealand got thrashed in a match up with their neighbours Australia and it is difficult to see where their wins against big nations is going to come from. Australia seem quite good despite a slow start against Zimbabwe. No performances of great note in these matches.
Pakistan came up with a Batting and Bowling performance against Sri Lanka that sets great expectations from this “Blow Hot , Blow Cold” team. Of course, the third department – fielding – was an absolute disaster. But Afridi’s boys have the kind of explosiveness that can take them a long way in this tournament. Afridi is leading from the front with 9 wickets in 2 matches apart from a useful cameo against SL. Misbah is the brain trust of this group and with a cool head can control the game. Younis Khan has struck some form and so has Kamran Akmal. The openers look very talented too. Shoaib Akthar is bowling some unplayable deliveries – ask Jayawardene who got castled – and the left arm spinner looks very good under pressure. Despite the horrible dropped catches and misfields , they are watchable for their raw energy.Sri Lanka have some thinking to do. They should have chased down 277 to justify their favourites tag. They were without Malinga, who subsequently has taken a hat trick against Kenya. But it was not a good performance by the Sri Lankan batsmen who were always behind despite ending up only 11 short.
The match of the initial part of the tournament is no doubt the “tie” between India and England. It was a strange match because for most periods the batting team seemed to have it easy , until a flurry of wickets at the end. Sachin scored a brilliant 120 after a cautious start. The wicket seemed to be slow and the ball was not coming on when India were batting making it slightly difficult for fluent strokeplay. However Sachin brought out his heavy bat for the spinners and smashed five sixes on the way to his ton. Gambhir made a fluent 50 while Yuvraj made a scratchy one, Sehwag and Dhoni made quickfire 30s but the rest of the batting collapsed when India seemed set for a score of 350+. The impressive Bresnan ended with 5 wickets giving England a sniff.
When England came out, the ball was coming nicely onto the bat and the Indian medium pacers were gifting away a boundary or more every over. Starauss was in brilliant form and looked unstoppable in his epic 154 which put Sachin’s effort to shade. Pietersen gave a brisk start and Ian Bell looked all class with his half century. Strauss controlled the innings playing brilliant strokes with surgical precision. He even bludgeoned a massive six contrary to his normal orthodox strokeplay. It looked at one stage England would run away with the game in 45 overs. However England took the powerplay about 3 overs too early and India sneaked back into the game. Zaheer took 3 with reverse swing including an unplayable toe crusher to Strauss to actually make India the favourites to win in a remarkable turnaround. The new batsmen struggled to score and after the 48th over, England required 29 runs to win with no specialist batsmen left. However 3 sixes , 2 off Chawla and one off Patel ensured that the Poms salvaged a point. Their lower order Swann, Bresnan and Shahzad each hit a six and ensured a point. In the last ball requiring 2 to win, Swann could only get it away for a single. A great game that could bring this tournament alive.
With good games being few and far between, the decision to have fewer teams in the next world cup seems a good one. Ultimately for the World Cup the quality of cricket has to be good to maintain its sanctity as the greatest cricketing event on earth. The Minnow thrashing that is taking place serves no purpose. Still I am hopeful of an exciting time ahead- the weekends promise some great matches and the knock outs will really be something.