This year’s Cricket World Cup, the game’s greatest celebration, is well and truly underway and the first week of the marquee event has been marked by the world’s best crossing swords in breathtaking contests, jam-packed houses, heroic individual performances and a couple of anomalous outcomes. The mega-event commenced with the hosts’ trampling of the Proteas at the Oval before Pakistan were routed by a belligerent-looking Windies pace battery at Trent Bridge: the supposed graveyard for bowlers. There were a couple of low-scoring, one-sided affairs and the tournament only sprung to life some nights ago when Bangladesh stunned a feeble and languid South African side. Some hours later, Pakistan did justice to their mercurial tag and squeezed past England in a historic triumph at the same ground where they were drubbed by the Windies. Drawing inspiration, Afghanistan put an inspirited show against Sri Lanka and had Malinga’s mastery not stunted their progress, Afghanistan would have cruised through to victory. Over the course of these nine matches, the cricketing fraternity has witnessed performances lidded with individual brilliance, some of which we dawn upon in this article.
Ben Stokes produced a stellar piece of all-round performance in the tournament opener against the Proteas. He came into bat at a crucial stage of the match when the hosts were in a bit of a bother and composed the innings with a well-structured 89 off 79 deliveries. During South Africa’s innings, Stokes scalped two vital wickets and was electric in the field, affecting a run-out and pouching two catches. One of them, however, was an absolutely spectacular take.
Off Adil Rashid’s regular leg-spin, Andile Phelukwayo swatted a sweep shot and got it sweetly out of the middle of his blade too. Stokes, who was patrolling on the cow-corner region, had no time to react. He ran back, leapt and reverse-cupping, grabbed a one-handed blinder out of thin air. The crowd behind him was left awe-struck and even Stokes, for a moment, looked baffled. “I was actually in the wrong position,” said Stokes in an interview after the match. “It would have been a regular catch if I was in the right place, but it’s one of those that either sticks or doesn’t.” It may just turn out to be the most iconic moment of the World Cup and was definitely one of the greatest catches taken in the tournament’s history.
Oshane Thomas played the role of the chief destructor in the second fixture of the World Cup in which Pakistan were rattled for a disgracing 105, courtesy to some good old chin music by the Windies pace attack. The 22-year old, who was featuring in his debut World Cup game, commenced his spell with some hostile pace. Pakistan’s progress had been dented via a fall of a couple of quick wickets and with Babar Azam still on the crease, they were looking to rebuild. Thomas dealt the Greenshirts his first blow when he had Azam reaching a delivery that was nipping away and he ended up edging it to Shai Hope behind the stumps.
This opened the gateways for Thomas as he incremented the hostility and Pakistani batsmen succumbed to his nasty short-pitched stuff. Every once in a while, he speared in the in-swinging bunger to surprise the batsmen and disturb the timber work. The youngster claimed four wickets in a spell that reminisced the heydays of West Indian fast-bowling and helped the Calypso Kings to start off their World Cup campaign with a crushing triumph.
After serving a one year ban from international cricket for his involvement in Newlands’ Sandpapergate scandal, David Warner returned to Australia’s goldens in fine style. He struck a match-winning 89* to help the Aussies complete a rather comfortable win against the rookies, Afghanistan and get off the mark in the World Cup. When the dashing Southpaw came out to bat in Bristol, he was booed by the crowd. Warner just managed to squeeze past a fiery opening spell from Afghanistan’s Hamid Hassan. He was hurried by the extra zip and couldn’t get his feet moving properly, initially.
Once he settled, Warner began to construct his innings in a gentle manner: pushes and punches here, clips and bunts there with no sign of aggressive intent. He brought up his half-century in 74 balls, very uncharacteristic of him and his slowest fifty in ODIs. He got better and better as the innings progressed and looked totally unfazed once he had found his groove. Warner remained unbeaten as Australia waltzed to a seven-wicket victory over the Afghans. Keeping hold of one end and getting some runs under his belt would have done Warner and the team management’s confidence a world of good and the left bat now looks in nice shape to go big in the more high-voltage games.
With 61 required off 34 balls, half of the batting left in the tank and Jos Buttler looking in his most ominous touch having reached yet another scintillating ODI ton, Pakistan were gradually sliding out of their game against the home side. Buttler had just smoked Mohammad Amir over the covers to bring up an incredible century given the context of the match. Pakistan were under the pump and despite plucking out Joe Root’s massive wicket, Buttler had waltzed along on his merry way to bring the game right to the wire.
But that’s where Amir’s experience and cool-headedness came in handy. Cometh the moment cometh the man. He didn’t lose his cool a wee bit despite Buttler looking to accelerate even more after tonning up. Amir served up a slower off-cutter outside off the very next bowl. Buttler, seeing the thirdman up, slashed it hard and carved it straight to Wahab Riaz there. And that was the match right there for Pakistan. Amir struck gold at a crucial moment and unarguably sealed the most treasured wicket of the match. Amir being the heartbeat of Pakistan cricket fans, received boisterous support from the green stringent in the crowds throughout the match and it kept him fired up all the way to the very last delivery.
Here’s a bizarre stat to begin this section: Sri Lanka’s triumph against Afghanistan was their first since mid-July of 2017 in which Lasith Malinga was in the playing eleven. Before this, the senior Sri Lankan statesman has appeared for Sri Lanka in 22 games during this timespan and seen them slip to defeat in 21 of them with the exception being a no-result. The Islanders were awful with the bat in what proved to be an inspirited performance with the ball by Afghanistan. Defending a below-par 187 from 41 overs (D/L adjusted), Sri Lanka needed something special from their experienced, three-stringed pace attack. Nuwan Pradeep jolted Afghanistan’s batting line up with some exceptional seam bowling but it was the old-time slinger who provided the finishing touches to a close Sri Lankan victory. Earlier in the innings when Malinga was making the ball jag around, he had a sitter drop off his bowling. Malinga then returned in the latter half of the innings to get a breakthrough and he ended up rattling the stumps twice to shove off the upset scare. And boy, did he do it in a Malinga-esque fashion.
Full, dipping in and darted on to the toes and there went the stumps. Shattered. Malinga, who is usually an amicable, composed figure, did not let his emotions back and celebrated his first win in Sri Lankan colours for nearly two years, passionately. The seasoned cricketer was critical of Sri Lanka’s attitude after their lifeless performances against the Blackcaps where they were rolled over by 10 wickets. "All the players must realise their own mistakes first. We can't repeat the same mistakes over and over," Malinga had said after the defeat. "… I hope everyone will have that fear of not doing their duty and feel the shame of losing.”
Rohit Sharma, India’s second-best batsman in ODI cricket without a feather’s doubt, delivered in their tournament-opener against South Africa to see India cruise through with a winning start. Sharma survived a sizzling spell from a red-hot Kagiso Rabada where the ball whooshed past his outside edge and whizzed into his inside edge and Sharma, somehow, managed to sway away alive.
Once the ball stopped talking through the air and doing untoward stuff off the deck, Sharma got into his groove. He pulled Rabada majestically into the stands behind deep midwicket before caressing him through cover-point a ball later. Sharma wasn’t bothered at all by South Africa’s two leggies as he delicately worked them around to bring up a well-deserved century, his 23rd in the format. With that, he moved past the legendary Sourav Ganguly on the list of most ODI centuries made by Indian batsmen and he now holds the third spot. Sharma remained unbeaten and saw India through a convincing six-wicket battering of the Proteas.