Emerging trends from ICC World Cup 2015
The 11th edition of world cricket's biggest show got underway with a spectacular dual act opening ceremony in Christchurch and Melbourne on February 13. Chieftains of warring nations, donning bespoke blazers, exuded good humor and bonhomie for one final time before they got down to serious business.
Players on the field and fans off it, have since switched into 'battle mode' that will stay triggered until March 29. After over a week of cricketing action, every team has made a certain impression at the tournament. Here, we look at some of the emerging trends and patterns at the World Cup that could sustain until the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
1. Spinners have not been overshadowed by speedsters
Speedsters were tipped to shine at the World Cup purely because the pitches in Australia and New Zealand are known to assists them. Though big guns like Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Mitchell Johnson haven't impressed yet, others like Tim Southee, Mitchell Marsh and Sohail Khan have done exceptionally well.
However, the nature of wickets hasn't meant that slower and spin bowlers have failed to have any impact as initially expected. Veteran spinner Daniel Vettori has been pick of the bowlers using home conditions to his advantage, even against the Sri Lankans who are traditionally good players of spin.
Others spinners that have fared well are Ravichandran Ashwin, Imran Tahir and Mahmadullah and Sakib-al-Hasan. Even though masters Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine aren't playing, spinners with lesser pedigree and ability have done their job well. Though a fast bowler is likely to end up as the tournament's leading wicket taker, few spinners are likely to find place in the top 10 list.
2. Associate cricket nations growing in stature
Ireland's win over the West Indies once again highlighted the progress made by Irish cricket over the years. Describing that win as an upset would be unfair to the Ireland cricketers and the administrators of the cricket in the country.
The Irish have now not only beaten Pakistan, England and West Indies at World Cups, but have also scripted three 300-plus run chases at the showpiece event. Despite poor infrastructure, UAE and Afghanistan have made giant strides in world cricket too. ICC now needs to take cognizance of the fact that emerging cricket nations need more exposure on the cricket calendar.
If 'minnows' continue playing 'minnows' throughout the year, they will fail to do more than cause the occasional 'upset' once in four years. In the wake of Ireland's giant-killing act, former England skipper Michael Vaughan even recommended adding more teams to world cricket under a three division system with promotion and relegation.
3. New Zealand are no longer dark horses
On the back of their recent form, Kiwis were given the tag of dark horses to win ICC's pinnacle event this year. Considering their clinical performances against Sri Lanka and England in their first two matches of the tournament, this tag now deserves an upgrade – to that of thoroughbreds.
Brendon McCullum's troops have blown opposition off the park so far, thereby sending out a strong signal of their intent to other teams. Apart from benefiting from home advantage, it is hard to figure out a chink in New Zealand's armour. They are the only team at the tournament with every base covered, spin bowling not excepting. The same can't be said of the two other top contenders - Australia and South Africa.
Be it swing bowling, explosive batting or acrobatic fielding, the Kiwis have suddenly found an additional gear to their game. On the evidence of their exceptional display so far, there is no reason why New Zealand can't go all the way at this year's World Cup and lift their maiden title.
4. Pakistan and England's struggles set to continue
Pakistan and England were two teams in serious turmoil ahead of the World Cup. England elevated Eoin Morgan to the captain's role dropping Alastair Cook, giving him just three weeks to prepare for the tournament. Ignoring maverick batsman Kevin Pietersen, ODI specialists Jason Roy and Ben Stokes has come back to haunt the England camp. Players like Alex Hales and James Taylor, drafted hurriedly into the squad, clearly needed more time to settle in their respective roles.
The Pakistani camp is never too far away from controversy. Leading to the World Cup, there were reports of infighting in the team with Shahid Afridi and Misbah-ul-Haq at the heart of it. After their defeat to India, there were reports of some Pakistani players misbehaving with the team's fielding coach. Another crushing defeat at the hands of the West Indies has further demoralized the squad that was already missing spinner Saeed Ajmal and allrounder Mohammad Hafeez.
ICC's tournament structure means, qualification for big teams from their respective Pools is virtually guaranteed. However, for a sport that has such little global participation and interest, two key teams underperforming does not bode well for its flagship event. To make it an extraordinary World Cup, with plenty of and high quality cricket, it is imperative for every major cricket nation including England and Pakistan to fire. However, it does not appear to be happening.