Twenty20 World Cup: Shock Upsets, Rain Add Drama
The battle goes down to the wire for the semi finals, as rain adds to the challenge
A shock defeat at South Africa's hands set India up for an unlikely showdown against Bangladesh. But even the tight win over their neighbours could not assure India a confirmed spot in the semi finals. The battle goes down to the wire for the semi finals as rain continues to make one more intriguing interruption at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2022 in Australia.
What a fascinating World Cup this is turning out to be! Not a lot of teams would see it that way, given that they are having to fight tooth-and-nail for every point and even then, their fortunes and their cards have been dealt by the rain Gods.
India might not have expected such a tough fight from Bangladesh who made light of the run chase until the dreaded rain arrived eleven overs into Bangladesh's innings. But this time India will not be complaining about the rain. It not only put brakes on Bangladesh's charge but also, in the end, India pulled off a narrow five run win after the Duckworth Lewis system came into play but not before making them sweat, even in the relative cold in Adelaide.
Though the win sees India climb the ladder, it does not guarantee them a semi final spot. They will have to come prepared against the somewhat blunted Zimbabwe who suffered a heavy defeat at the Netherlands' hands earlier in the day. Seems easy enough, but the World Cup has been anything but easy on every team.
As a matter of fact, at this stage, no team has managed to confirm their place at the business end of the tournament, which works well for the tournament because it keeps fans engaged and the points table in the running practically to the final match of the Super 12's.
At the end of Wednesday's play, three teams from Group 1 are tied on 5 points each after playing four matches each with one to go. England turned the tables on the table toppers, New Zealand, to get themselves with a foot in the door.
New Zealand lost their footing after losing to England, while Australia find themselves on the wrong side of the run rate but not out of the reckoning. More importantly, New Zealand might wonder if they squandered a golden opportunity because they could have sealed a semi final spot, the first team to do so.
But they did not and while the margin might look small at 20 runs, it was clear that England were in the driver's seat all the way through, which should worry the thus far unbeaten New Zealand squad, the only team that looked on a mission until the slack against England.
England needed the reprieve after questions were asked about their legitimacy in the tournament and the under par performances, particularly after they became Ireland's fancied opponents at the World Cup again, an upset that was not expected but anticipated nonetheless by those who have followed the upset chart and the wild card entries.
India's match against Bangladesh became equally important after the duo were tied on four points each after three matches, South Africa edging them to the top of the table with five points and a healthy run rate to boot. With Zimbabwe just one point behind after losing to Bangladesh in another last ball drama, and Pakistan only getting on board with their solo win against the Netherlands to get two points themselves, the door remained ajar in group two as well, if only slightly. For India, like other teams, winning was their best chance of qualifying for the final four.
If teams were expecting a smooth ride to the trophy, over the weekend like the way Max Verstappen ran an unrivalled and unparalleled pole to chequered flag drive at the Mexico City grand prix, the cricket world is taking no less than a topsy-turvy, drama packed World Cup. And that spilled over into the middle of the week, which made the next few days filled with knockouts and possibly more drama.
In the larger context and grander schemes of things, particularly post pandemic, it is not the worst thing to have happened to the sport. Rain has never walked away with a reputation so unscathed as it has down under, only because it has made the competition edgy for fans and teams alike.
Sunday-to-Sunday, Indian fans have had their heart in their mouth. From a nail biter against Pakistan to a shock tumble against the punching-above-their-weight South Africans, India, like every other team, have kept their fans on their toes.
Pakistan would not have imagined in their wildest dreams that they would be the recipients of two heart stopping final over disasters. First it was India pulling the rabbit out of the hat.
But if that euphoria was hard to live down, Zimbabwe, fighting to regain relevance, received their shot in the arm and won cricket hearts around the world, by the way they kept themselves toe-to-toe with Pakistan, pulling off a humdinger of a match which will be just one of the many memories of this World Cup.
Few teams have been able to pull off consistent performances match after match and the story was no different for India. After having to really dig deep and rally around Virat Kohli who faced a barrage of speculation that was beyond comprehensible about his selection before the World Cup, India's feeble defeat at the hands of South Africa made light of their win against the Netherlands.
Although they were expected to triumph over the minnows, their defeat to South Africa cast a shadow, particularly after South Africa were forced to play in India while the first eleven left Indian shores to prepare in earnest for the World Cup in Australia.
India needed another resounding win against Bangladesh to establish themselves front and center of this competition. However, despite India rattling the scoreboard, Bangladesh seemed every bit ready for a match on their hands. But for a rain interruption, and luck not going their way, they might have well pulled off another shock upset, which at this point, would have been par for the course at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2022.
That Rohit Sharma was breathing a sigh of relief at the end of it, and fuming before, as Bangladesh needed just seven runs in the final over, said it all. This World Cup has not been an easy ticket even for any of the top league teams, be it tournament favourites, front runners of defending champions.
The final battles tell their own story. Teams like New Zealand and Australia will fancy their chances to make it through against relatively weaker teams like Ireland and Afghanistan respectively. So will South Africa against the Netherlands.
There are a few interesting matches in store including England against Sri Lanka and Pakistan against Bangladesh. India certainly don't want to take it down to the wire again although Zimbabwe should be easy pickings on paper. But so would many of the match ups on paper, which at this point, might as well be curled up into a crumbled ball and thrown out of the window.
Any other place and any other time, and it is possible that questions might have been asked about the legitimacy of holding a tournament of this stature. But given that the pandemic turned the cricket world on its head, with not a few teams scrapping for relevance, leave alone competition, celebration in any form would have been a welcome sight.
Additionally with the rise of more inventive (read: commercial) short form leagues mushrooming to make the end of 2022 and early 2023 busy poaching season, the ICC Twenty20 World Cup is fighting for the right for the identity of nationalities competing for a world cup worthy prize.
The record number of shock upsets have managed to put rain in perspective. Often it has been quoted that the weather is one of the glorious uncertainties of the game, although largely in the context of the five day game that is Test cricket.
In this case, where in the early days there was the idea of a 'jinx' trailing South Africa, too many teams have lost the opportunity to fight for points in the course of days when rain, particularly at Melbourne, have completely washed out games. But criticism has been blunted by the fact that it has made the competition too close to call.
What it has done is leave too many teams in peril, at the precipice of losing the opportunity to make it to the semi finals, should they stumble at the next hurdle which might be their last or the last one of the tournament which is how it has been thus far. One match is all it takes. Jos Butler, the England captain, talked about remembering how South Africa won four out of five matches in the last edition and still bowed out.
This, after England pulled off an emphatic win over the one team that has looked largely invincible thus far. New Zealand have run high on Trent Boult's incisive bowling and Glen Phillips' boisterous batting that yielded a half century in addition to the century in the last game.
England needed this win to keep themselves in the reckoning after first sharing points with Australia over an abandoned match and then losing to Ireland in a shock upset that shouldn't have been so shocking since Ireland beating England in another World Cup was a memory flashing bright even before the match.
Virat Kohli was not mincing words when he said that chasing down Pakistan's target felt impossible at a time when wickets were falling in a heap. But even he would not have had an inkling of what was in store against South Africa who made the most of the bounce and pace at Perth to give India a brutal reality check.
Suryakumar Yadav talked before the match about how the Indian team had come down early and had a conditioning camp in Perth which should have made the venue familiar. Unfortunately, it seemed he was the only one with a semblance of learning how to cope as Lungi Ngidi ran through the rank and file of India's prowess, leaving the timber disturbed, South Africa's catching hands busy and the Indian team in disarray.
India will feel some sense of relief and also, pride in going to the top of the table after that rattling defeat with the win against Bangladesh. But the fact is that it does not guarantee a semi final spot with one match to go. That incidentally is the last match of the Super 12's, it makes the days ahead of the final trophy battle, something will keep the fans and teams on the edge of their seats.
Tournament organisers and governing officials are licking their lips as are advertisers and sponsors at the prospect. A more intriguing script could not have been plotted with so many twists and turns and so many teams still in play this late in the day for a post pandemic back-to-back World Cup edition.