“The aim is to make the major events as competitive as possible. Every match should be very competitive.”
These were the words of ICC Chief Executive Dave Richardson in the run up to this World Cup. They were his attempt to justify the shrinking of the 2019 World Cup from fourteen to ten teams. They seemed misguided at the time. Now, and especially in light of the four quarter finals, they simply seem bizarre.
Nine wickets (with 192 balls remaining), 109 runs, six wickets (with 97 balls remaining), 143 runs. They are the margins of victory in the four games. Not a single element of them offers any level of competitiveness. The four favourites all won, and won big.
That is not to say there wasn’t some sensational cricket. Martin Guptill became only the fifth man to score an ODI double hundred, although he is the second in this tournament alone, JP Duminy earned himself a World Cup hat-trick and most impressively, Wahab Riaz bowled one of the great spells of fast bowling in limited overs. It has been appropriate that, in a tournament so dominated by incredible individual feats and personal records, this trend has been continued in the quarter finals. This is the way in modern ODI cricket, it has become little more than a platform for the best cricketers of our generation to do the extraordinary, to show off.
The best four sides of the tournament are in the semi-finals. All four games were won by the bookies’ pre-game favourites. Had England not messed up their end of the bargain then it would have been the expected last eight. ODIs have proved themselves a format that don’t create many upsets.
We have the semi-finals most would want. The prospect of New Zealand’s pace attack going against Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers et al is certainly mouthwatering, while India’s clash with Australia at the SCG will be typically passionate and enthralling. At this point, it is almost impossible to pick a winner. The antipodean hosts have been hugely impressive, both finding the combination of sustained brutality with the bat and irrepressible incision with the ball that is the perfect blueprint to be good at cricket. But India and South Africa have both scored over 400 in ODIs. And if you can do that, you are quite tough to beat.
India are perhaps the most interesting proposition. They have spent the previous three months on tour in Australia, being outgunned by the hosts and also by England, permanently looking disinterested and unworried. This apathy is now fully understandable, they genuinely didn’t care about losing pre-tournament matches as they had they knew that when the crown they so thrillingly won in 2011 was on the line, they could bring their best form.
Nowhere is this turnaround more noticeable than in their seam attack. Shorn of supposed strike bowler Ishant Sharma and their most successful quick of recent years Bhuvneshwar Kumar, they have hit on a combination of genuine wicket takers. Mohammed Shami has taken seventeen wickets at an average of just 13.29 and Australia proved themselves vulnerable to seam bowling in their clashes with New Zealand and India’s great rivals Pakistan. It is not inconceivable that Shami, along with Mohit Sharma and the scintillating Umesh Yadav, will find similar success to that enjoyed by Trent Boult and the aforementioned Riaz.
Australia, however, will always be able to fight fire with fire and provide penetrative pace of their own. Mitchell Starc has arguably been the tournament’s stand out bowler, which is saying something, and his Johnson namesake has been ominously subdued. The test series between these two sides over Christmas and New Year was enthralling, heated and of an exceptionally high standard. We can only hope that this semi-final clash lives up to that.
If it does, then finally Dave Richardson might get the kind of competitive World Cup he so clearly yearns for.