The Winner Takes It All
Australia has raised the limited overs game to a new level
One bad day and all the good work done previously comes to nought. The sporting cliché came back to haunt India in the World Cup final. Winning ten games in a row they
were shaping up like champions and were favourites to regain the trophy they last won at the Wankhede stadium in 2011.
But they were up against an Australian side who are not exactly novices when it comes to winning the mega event. They too had won eight matches in a row after a rather sluggish start to their campaign. They fully lived up to their reputation of fighters who have raised the limited overs game to a new level courtesy their six World Cup titles.
Australia have achieved their pre-eminent position in world cricket though a never-say-die attitude. The phrase ‘no match is lost till it is won’ applies to the Aussies more than any other team. The manner in which they shrugged off the loss in their first two games and came back strongly was commendable.
Nothing epitomised their dogged spirit more admirably than the victory achieved from nowhere against Afghanistan. At 91 for seven requiring another 201 runs for victory it was clearly Mission Impossible. But while this may be true for other teams Australia thanks to Glenn Maxwell’s heroic pyrotechnics pulled off the impossible and from then on it was clear they would be strong contenders for the title.
When it comes to crunch games no team can raise their game to the required level better than the Aussies. Entering the final as underdogs they fulfilled the famous comment of Pat Cummins who had said on the eve of the big game “the crowd is obviously going to be very one sided but there is nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent.’’
Dejected though they may be after the loss in the title clash, the Indian team can take much credit for their impressive showing in the tournament. Their batting and bowling touched great heights symbolised by the fact that they produced the two highest run getters in Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma and the highest wicket taker in the competition in Mohammed Shami.
India notched up two of the six highest totals thanks to their batting firepower while in bowling Shami was the outstanding performer. Not only was he the highest wicket taker (24) he also notched up the best figures in the World Cup (seven for 57 in the semi final against New Zealand). The batting and bowling worked so admirably in unison that India were able to register victories by huge margins. Their wins by 302 runs and 243 runs against Sri Lanka and South Africa symbolised their dominance.
The month-and-a-half long tournament comprising 48 games underlined the fact that the ODIs haven’t been `timed out’ yet. There has been much talk about the format’s relevance in recent years thanks to the immense popularity of T-20 cricket. I have always believed that all three formats can co-exist.
The tournament did get off to a rather inauspicious start with empty stands causing much sarcastic comment. But the big crowds gradually turned up and not just for India matches. Yes, quite a few of the games were one sided but this factor was balanced by the upset results. In particular Afghanistan stunning England and Pakistan and the Netherlands shocking South Africa generated tremendous interest.
Indeed while one must salute Australia and appreciate India there is no doubt that Afghanistan in many ways was the team of the tournament. Absolute no-hopers on the eve of the World Cup their cricketers with an ideal blend of skill and pluck ended with an impressive record of four wins and five losses to finish a highly creditable sixth in the final points tally.
To be in the running for a semifinal spot in such a tight, competitive and heavyweight field till their final match is something that not even the staunchest supporter of Afghan cricket would have envisaged.
On the eve of the competition ninth ranked Afghanistan were expected to perhaps notch a win or two against the lightweights but finish among the also ran. They didn’t have the best of starts losing to Bangladesh and India and at this stage it was reckoned that they would be fighting with Netherlands to avoid the wooden spoon.
But their upset win over England caused eyebrows to be raised and suddenly their matches were followed with utmost interest. The swashbuckling batting and the rich array of spin bowlers who spun webs around the batsmen became a major talking point and with victories over Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands they were suddenly in the hunt for a surprise slot in the last four. But they came a cropper in their last two games against tough opponents in Australia and South Africa but not without a fight.
If Afghanistan constituted the success story of the league stage England’s was the failure story. No defending champion in the World Cup has made such a meek surrender of their title. Theirs was a team bursting with world beaters and with some luck it was reckoned on the eve of the tournament that a semifinal place beckoned at the very least.
History was against them as far as retaining the trophy was concerned as only two teams West Indies and Australia have done so but no one could have bargained for England to finish as low as seventh, below Afghanistan and only just above Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. Indeed for a while England were in the cellar position in the table and only avoided the ultimate embarrassment by winning their last two matches.
The other team with hopes of making the semifinals and not being able to do so were Pakistan. They were the ‘hot’ team on the eve of the competition with all their players in rip roaring form.
They started well winning their first two games but a wretched run of four successive defeats, including a shock loss to Afghanistan, proved to be a major setback and though they won their next two games they never had a realistic chance of making the last four.
There were glimpses of breathtaking brilliance from their players but the team lived up to its reputation as a mercurial lot and in the final analysis that defeat to Afghanistan cost them a place in the last four.
As far as New Zealand and South Africa were concerned, the search for their maiden World Cup title still continues.