The Cricket World Cup has been an interesting proposition thus far. Fluctuating wildly between painfully formulaic results (with the likes of Kenya and Canada being comprehensively steamrollered by all their opposition) and some fantastically nail biting finishes (almost all of which have involved England), the competition has certainly provided a solid two weeks of entertainment. It is due to this entertainment that I, like many others, have fallen back in love with 50-over cricket.
Just a few of the highlights to date have included Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien thumping his way impressively to the faster ever World Cup hundred, Australian captain Ricky Ponting having a ‘rockstar’ moment in the dressing room and destroying a television, and Sky Sports commentator Nasser Hussain remarking that Graeme Smith had “timed the pants off” a shot which brought him a boundary against England last Sunday.
Providing a perpetual source of entertainment have been woefully subpar competitors Kenya, who have deftly combined some indifferent bowling with ludicrously hopeless batting.
Despite employing a wide array of highly unorthodox shots, the east African side have been unable to avoid a series of crushing defeats in their opening four games, including their most recent collapse against fellow Associate Nation Canada.
The Canadians, for their part, have similarly produced some of the less inspired performances of the tournament, although admittedly against tough opposition.
Their spirited resistance in the face of superior teams has certainly been commendable but somewhat wearying at times. Their bowling attack of gentle medium pacers and even gentler spinners has struggled to restrict sides to manageable totals and despite determined batting displays that would have been laborious even for Test cricket, they have failed to pick up points against the more established teams.
Bangladesh, one of three host nations at this year’s World Cup, have begun the competition in ambivalent fashion, posting a spirited reply against India in the opening match before struggling to victory against Ireland and capitulating shamefully in what was a potentially winnable game with the West Indies.
After being bowled out for a miserable 58 in front of a packed home ground in Mirpur, the Bangladeshi side became the focus of the fans’ aggressive discontent.
Unfortunately for Darren Sammy and his team, the West Indian tour bus was mistaken for that of Bangladesh and the players received an unwelcome barrage of stones as they drove out of the stadium on Friday.
An irate Chris Gayle was quick to vent his frustration in a typically 21st century manner: by posting some strongly worded and slightly misspelt comments on his twitter account. Unfortunately this ugly side to the fiercely competitive subcontinent supporters has led to the ICC considering moving fixtures away from Bangladesh should the violence continue.
England have provided perhaps the greatest advert for the World Cup so far, having played in four unbearably close fixtures which have had supporters and neutrals alike on the edge of their seats.
Following a narrow victory against a part-time Netherlands outfit, a sensational draw with India, a humiliating defeat to the Irish, and most recently a highly unexpected but wonderfully entertaining triumph over a heavily favoured South Africa side, the press back home has been keen to criticise and praise in equal measure, slating the side’s performances against Associate Nations Holland and Ireland whilst applauding fantastic comebacks against heavily favoured Indian and South African contingents.
Unlikely heroes have emerged in the form of hefty Yorkshireman Tim Bresnan and the frustratingly inconsistent Ravi Bopara, as well as everyone’s favourite off-spinner Graeme Swann, who has provided his customary mix of control and variation to produce some high quality pieces of bowling.
Swann’s contributions with the bat have also been valuable down the order for England, as the Nottinghamshire man wryly quipped after the win over South Africa: “I know I made it look easy, but batting was pretty tough out there today…”
Members of the press, along with former England batsman and immovable fixture of the commentary box Geoffrey Boycott, were quick to dredge up the old accusation against the South Africans, branding them ‘chokers’; a reputation they strongly deny but which gains added credence following their dramatic collapse in Chennai on Sunday.
For those sceptics who were declaring 50-over cricket ‘dead and buried’ prior to the start of the World Cup, the tournament has thus far been a splendid rebuttal.
Right from the off there have been some tremendous displays from the world’s top sides as well as a few welcome surprises from the Associate Nations, some of whom have certainly staked a claim for reselection in the next truncated World Cup in four years time, which is likely to feature just 10 teams as opposed to this year’s 14.
Ross Taylor’s dazzling display for New Zealand, striking a majestic 131 from just 124 balls, in a game in which Pakistan had looked to be cruising towards victory is a superb reminder of how quickly the 50-over game can change, and hopefully this absorbing format of the sport will remain intact for many long years to come.
For now though, we look forward to the rest of the competition, which is still set to provide an enrapturing three weeks of entertainment.