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World Cup 2023: Foretold narratives exposed too soon

Last updated on 22 Oct 2023 | 01:17 PM
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World Cup 2023: Foretold narratives exposed too soon

There are a few things predicted in advance and they are playing a relevant factor in shaping up this World Cup

“We told you so”

We don’t mean to be rude about our assessments but there are things saw before the start of the World Cup. A few of them are turning out to be true as the tournament is closing in on the halfway stage. Let’s start with the most recent event.

*Stats till match 20

No steam in England’s pace

Prior to the World Cup, England had played only six ODIs in India since 2017. Between 2022 and the start of the World Cup, only Sam Curran and David Willey had played ODI cricket regularly for England. 

The lack of experience among the seamers was always going to be a threat but England have been exposed sooner than expected. Not that they have the worst bowling numbers, but you remove the Bangladesh game, England seamers have averaged 69.6 at an economy of 8.2. 

The first 10 overs have set the tone for their failure. Afghanistan, for instance, were 79/0 after 10 overs that paved the way to their win. 

The lack of swing in this tournament has left them searching for Plan B. The good length has been the best option for the seamers in the powerplay (average 29.5, economy 3.9). However, the England pacers have not made the adjustments required, bowling the second lowest proportion of deliveries in that region. 

Mark Wood’s pace has also not been able to ‘enforce’ the case in the middle-overs. England pacers’ average of 67 in the 11-40 phase is the worst so far. On the one occasion they were tested at the death, South Africa smashed 143 runs in the final 10 overs. 

England dropped Chris Woakes and Curran for their fourth game. But the beating against the Proteas will make them alter their plans again. The defending champions now need to win all their five games and they are still unsure about their bowling combination. Reece Topley's finger injury stirs the pot further. 

South Africa’s long tail and mercurial pace attack

South Africa were double Dutched on Tuesday night (October 17) in Dharamsala. It was probably a bigger upset than Afghanistan defeating England two days earlier. South Africa, third ranked ODI side, had won both their matches. The Netherlands, not even in top 10 of ODI rankings, were still looking for their first win. 

The Dutch team, however, hit a red-hot Protea side on their two most vulnerable spots. 

In this piece, we talked about South Africa losing the sharpness in their pace attack heading into the World Cup. They had poor numbers in all departments. In ODIs this year, they had an economy of 8 runs per over in the last 10 overs, the second most among all World Cup sides. In the absence of Anrich Nortje, their problems grew further. Lungi Ngidi had an economy of 14.4 in the death overs this year before this World Cup. 

The Dutch made a mockery out of South Africa’s death overs woes. In a shortened game, they hammered 104 runs in the last nine overs - a run-rate of 11.6. Roelof van der Merwe and Scott Edwards added 64 runs from 37 deliveries for the eighth wicket. Later, Aryan Dutt smashed 23 from nine balls. The Proteas appeared to be waiting for the batters to make a mistake. Not exaggerating, not a single yorker was attempted during this carnage. Netherlands recovered from 140/7 to post 245/8 in their 43 overs. 

In their first win against Sri Lanka, South Africa conceded 82 runs in the last 10 overs before bowling out the opposition in 44.5 overs. 

In both matches, the lower order relished South Africa waiting for things to happen. The defeat against Netherlands is a bubble busted too soon after bowling out Australia for 177 in Lucknow. 

Dutt’s cameo with the bat highlighted another difference between the two sides - the batting depth. Netherlands eight, nine and ten scored 62 runs between them from 55 deliveries. While Dutt put up his highest score in professional cricket in this game, van Beek and van der Merwe possess the ability to contribute.

Not that South Africa’s lower order was expected to chase the target. By the time they were in action, they had too much to do. But the Proteas are light on batting resources. 

There was a time when South Africa had multiple fast-bowling all-rounders in the XI. Now Marco Jansen is the only player in that role. He is a fine talent but drawn into international cricket at a young age, he is still learning both traits while being on the job. Only 14 ODIs old before the World Cup, he is the bridge between the batters and the bowlers. Jansen showed his power-hitting against England in Mumbai but on trickier pitches, the Proteas will be vulnerable. 

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While none of Ngidi, Gerald Coetzee, Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada are number 11s, the batting expertise drop too soon for South Africa. On days when their top order is struck down early, as the Dutch did, South Africa are prone to falter on their stronger suit. 

Australia’s brittle middle-order

From the outside, Australia seem to be covering all the bases. However, their middle-order is brittle. Heading into the World Cup, Australia’s middle-order (number four to seven) only averaged better than Afghanistan this year (24.8). 

Australia carry multiple out of form and inexperienced batters. Marcus Stoinis last scored an ODI fifty in 2019. Alex Carey (already dropped), Josh Inglis and Cameron Green average under 26. Marnus Labuschagne, a late entry to Australia’s squad, averages 42.7 but is a batter in similar mode with Steve Smith. Glenn Maxwell is the only batter in that middle-order to have played over 100 ODIs. 

The way Australia’s batting line-up is framed, it becomes imperative for one of their top three batters to bat deep. 

On a challenging pitch against India, they slumped from 110/2 to 140/7. Against South Africa, the top order crippled and the rest of the batters threw in the towel. Even against Pakistan, after hundreds from both openers, the innings fell apart once David Warner was out for 163. Post Warner’s dismissal, Australia scored only 42/5 in 43 balls. 

Australia’s middle-order has faltered in three of the four matches thus far. Either of the top order or the middle order need to pull their socks up for the five-time champions to add another silverware to their trophy cabinet. Travis Head's return is much awaited in the Australian camp. 

Pakistan struggling to bowl spin

As discussed here, Pakistan’s spin bowling returns are in the doldrums. They are one of the few sides in this tournament that can fit in a leg-spinner, slow left-arm orthodox spinners, and an off-break bowler without changing their balance. Ideally, they should be targeting teams with their spinners. 

But the reality is far away from expectations. Among the World Cup teams this year, their average of 45.3 is the worst. This World Cup, it is 67.9. 

Shadab Khan, their premier spinner, averaged 28.4 last year with the ball. This year, it has snowballed to 42.6. The economy rate has shot from 4.8 to 5.7. This World Cup, he has averaged 65.5 at an economy of 6.6. Mohammad Nawaz, the left-arm spinner has managed only two wickets for 132 runs. 

Strangely, the part-time off-spinner, Iftikhar Ahmed has the best economy rate in their spin attack - 5 runs per over. 

Pakistan play their next two games in Chennai. On a pitch that has aided spinners, they play sides on either spectrum of run-scoring against slower bowlers. Afghanistan have the lowest run-rate (4.7) and South Africa have the highest (6.2). The two games will decide the fortunes of Pakistan spinners as well as their campaign this tournament. 

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