Random musings from the World Cup Group Stage

Now that the dust has settled on the Group Stage of the 2019 World Cup, I thought it would be fun to dust off the blog  and share some of my thoughts on the tournament from a fans perspective following from overseas. Not stats-related, not a review as such, just a few of my random musings about the six weeks that have passed! Here goes

Format and Schedule – okay but for the wrong reasons!

When the format and schedule was announced I assumed that around three weeks into the mega-group stage, the first signs of boredom would have crept in and I would be losing interest. After four weeks, I suspected I may have all but given up. The group had the potential to be tedious, endless and full of dead rubbers.

However, this never transpired, albeit largely thanks to Sri Lanka’s shock win over England. As evidence for my continued engagement, I live in Bermuda and most of the games started in my time zone at 6.30am. I am absolutely not a morning person but throughout I have been dutifully getting up at that ungodly hour to start watching the day’s game – a very very rare occurrence that I am seen alive before 8am believe me! ! have been thoroughly entertained, and frankly I am as surprised by this as you are.

However, my enjoyment of the tournament has been despite, not because, of the format. Let me be 100% clear, this format sucks. It is exclusionary to the point of Machiavellian and was clearly designed by the ICC to maximise profit and to ensure as best they could (without actually match-fixing!) that the Big 3got through to the semis. We couldn’t have India exposed to the risks of a shock defeat in a small group meaning they didn’t qualify for the semis now could we (ahem, 2007!), and by making all teams play nine times, the risk of this is minimised, in fact all but eliminated.

Not to mention the shutting out of any Associates. This has been decried, discussed and despised by so many people that it is hardly worthwhile me repeating it here, but a World Cup in any sport should be inclusive and seek to grow the popularity of the sport beyond its usual reach. Cricket does itself a huge disservice by being so closed-minded and driven by profit.

Because of this, half of me really wanted this format to fail to deliver an exciting World Cup, as that might…just might…have led the ICC to reconsider for 2023, but sadly I can’t see that happening now.

You hardly needed to be Nostradamus

As if to prove the above point, half the cricketing world correctly predicted the top four six weeks ago. Three of the four were an almost certainty to make the semis, with the fourth being strong favourites to join them. Two or three others were given dark horse status pre-tournament, but no-one really believed that! So, in many ways, the last few weeks have been a massive waste of everyone’s time!

The wonderful Shakib Al Hasan

The rest of the world now knows what many of us having been saying for a long time – that Shakib Al Hasan is a superstar and the best all-rounder in world cricket (save possibly for Ellyse Perry!).

We are not worthy!

There have been many other stand-out performances in this World Cup – Rohit, Bumrah, Warner, Starc, Archer, Root, Williamson, Ferguson, Shaheen to name a few – but no-one has come close to the all round impact on his team than Bangladesh’s talisman has, and he must be a strong favourite for the Player of the Tournament award despite not making the semis.

Net Run Rate is suddenly bad eh Mickey?

Some of those – I’m looking at you Mickey Arthur – whingeing about the unfairness of Net Run Rate (NRR) as a tie-breaker were strangely quiet on the subject before the tournament began weren’t they? It’s almost as if their criticism is based solely on the effect to specifically had on their team at the end. I don’t know, but maybe one way of ensuring NRR doesn’t come back to bite you is not getting blasted out for 103 in your first game putting you on the back foot from the start?

Better late than never I guess!

For the next World Cup, someone at Cricket South Africa headquarters should set an Outlook alarm or something, so that their team turns up on time, not five weeks late. Had they started the tournament as they finished it, who knows what might have happened?

Retirements

World cricket will greatly miss a few players for which this tournament is their swansong, in ODIs at least. Despite everything that comes with his talent, I will miss Universe Boss Chris Gayle and seeing him bowling with sunglasses and cap on was an absolute highlight. Imran Tahir’s sheer love of taking wickets and his sprinting ability has been a joy to watch, and Shoaib Malik has been a fine servant to Pakistan for many years. A few more retirements of modern-day legends may well be announced in due course (Amla, Malinga?) and they will equally be missed.

Salute!

Sheldon Cottrell and his salute have been a breath of fresh air. His engagement with the fans, especially children as evidenced by the videos circulating of him taking the time out to perform his signature celebration with youngsters, have been wonderful to see. This is exactly the kind of thing cricket needs to engage a future audience. We should be the ones saluting you Sheldon!

We salute you Sheldon!

Cricket bat guitar guy deserves harsh treatment

Whoever came up with the concept of that bloody awful Gray Nicholls cricket-bat guitar screeching at every break deserves to be loaded into a very large cannon and fired directly into the centre of the Sun. This may seem a little harsh, but it isn’t – if anything it is too good for them!

Commendable Commentators

That loveable teddy bear-like Kiwi, Ian Smith, is still comfortably my favourite commentator -I especially enjoyed him giving Michael “Slats” Slater a hard time when they were on together. Although I must be mellowing in my old age, as I have actually warmed to Slats in this tournament. He used to make my ears bleed in his Channel Nine days when I lived in Oz, but maybe all he needed was to be separated from the rest of that nauseating old boys club?

Smithy!

Of the commentators I don’t get to hear very often, I also quite liked Pommie Mbangwe and Shaun Pollock, and Kumar Sangakkarra is as good at commentating as he is at everything else – i.e. very very good.

On the flip side, it would be good if Sourav Ganguly could at least try to pronounce players names correctly, and as for Michael Clarke, whatever he might be saying is lost as my head struggles to cope with him saying “nooooooice” all the time like something out of Kath and Kim! Please, for the love of God, make it stop!

Noooooiiiice Clarkey!

This Could Be The Best Year Of Your Life!

Watching the tournament online through Hotstar, I have gained over the last six weeks an intimate knowledge of at least five methods in which to remit funds to India should I ever need to, although of the five I definitely won’t be choosing that “bad compromise” guy – he makes my skin crawl! Also, Virat Kohli is a much better commercials actor than Joe Root ever will be – wooden is an understatement Joe!

Oh and I did buy the annual pack, so this is indeed going to be the best year of my life!

Onwards to an ideal final?

So onwards to the semi-finals and finals. I don’t have any predictions for you, but being an Englishman married to a Kiwi, I am firmly hoping for an England v New Zealand final. My two favourite teams and will ensure that the World Cup has a new winner. Surely no-one wants to see Australia win for a sixth time – that would just be boring 😊

If you’ve enjoyed this, head over to my Twitter account for real time comments, musings and stats updates!

2018 ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier

The Road to Lord’s in 2019 swings through southern Africa this week, when the 2018 ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier tournament gets underway in Zimbabwe on Sunday morning. Ten countries, four Test nations and six Associates, will do battle for the right to participate in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales.

For many cricket fans, the tournament is a bittersweet one.  A festival of cricket such as this should fill the heart with joy, being that a bounty of 50-over cricket is coming our way over the next three weeks. Yet, it is tainted by controversy, and not a little sadness, from the outset due to the machinations of the sport’s “governing” body, the ICC.

Whilst every other sport in the world is looking to expand and develop interest in more markets, the ICC have infamously decided to head in the opposite direction, driven by greed and TV ratings rather than any genuine love of the sport. Instead of expanding the game’s showcase global event to include more Associate nations, the ICC has decided to all but deny them entry to it at all.

The 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup has been slashed to feature just ten teams, down from 14 in the 2011 & 2015 tournaments, and 16 in the 2007 edition. Eight teams have already been guaranteed a place in England next year, leaving the four lowest ranked Full Members and the Associates to scrap for just two remaining qualifying berths. So, for the first time at least two Full Members will not be participating in the World Cup, and it is entirely feasible that no Associate nation will make it all.

That is a crying shame, for the Associates have long been starved of quality opposition against the stronger nations, and the CWC has for many years been the one event where they were afforded that opportunity. That it is taken from them at a time when Associate level cricket is going from strength to strength makes the decision all the more baffling and shameful.

The ICC has granted the two leading Associates of recent years, Ireland and Afghanistan, Full Member status this year, the game is hugely popular in Nepal, whilst Scotland and the Netherlands to name just two have been putting some solid results together on the field and making significant strides to develop infrastructure off it. The time was ripe to really drive growth in these countries, yet all of them could well be looking on from the outside come next year while the bigger teams play a ludicrous 48 games between them over six weeks!

The ICC has also baffling decided not to grant ODI status to two of the teams participating in this month’s tournament, Nepal and the Netherlands, so games featuring those two nations will carry less weight statistically for the teams and their players. Why not simply grant the same ODI status to all games in the tournament, what harm would have ensued? Couple with the again strange decision to not televise or even stream the vast majority of the games, and you start to get the distinct impression that the ICC would prefer that the whole thing wasn’t happening at all!

Ignoring all of that (and I’ll leave my ranting there!) the tournament promises to be an exciting one, with every game counting, some big names of the sport appearing, and the small matter of the ultimate prizes of ICC Cricket World Cup qualification and ODI status at the end.

The format of the tournament is short and sweet compared to the main event it precedes, taking place over just three weeks with as many as four games taking place simultaneously on some days.

The ten teams are divided into two groups of five, each playing the other teams in their group once. The top three sides from each group qualify for the second stage, known as the Super Six. Here, teams’ results against their fellow qualifiers from their group are carried forward from the first round, and the teams play the qualifiers from the other group once each. At the end of this second group, the top two sides qualify for the final and, more importantly, for the 2019 World Cup.

The bottom two sides from each of the two initial groups face play-offs against each other to determine who finishes in seventh to tenth places – these games being of vital importance as the ICC is due to grant ODI status to the top three finishing Associates (plus the Netherlands) for the next four years after the tournament finishes.

So each nation is guaranteed a minimum of six games each, rising to seven for those that qualify for the Super Six, and eight for the finalists.

I preview each group below, as well as marking your cards for some upcoming personal milestones that may be reached as the tournament progresses!

Group A

Group A matches are to be played in the capital Harare, at the Harare Sports Club and the Old Hararians club.

 

West Indies

The Windies arrive at the tournament as one of the joint favourites, being as they are a Full member and with the best pedigree of all ten participating nations. That a twice-World Cup winning side (and current T20 world champion) finds itself needing to qualify at all is a result of some terrible ODI form in the last few years and an impasse with key players that has seen some of the Caribbean’s best cricketers overlooked or self-exiled from selection. They failed to qualify for last year’s Champions Trophy in England, and will be desperate not to miss out in the same country again next year.

They are buoyed for this tournament by the return of several big names to the fold, including self-styled “Universe Boss” Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels and quick bowler Kemar Roach.

Some personal milestones to look out for the Windies:

Kemar Roach – Fast bowler Roach needs just one wicket to bring up 100 in ODIs

Jason Holder – the skipper needs nine more wickets to bring up his century in the format.

Marlon Samuels – if the West indies progress all the way to the final, and Samuels plays all eight games along the way, he will move on to 200 ODI appearances.

Ireland

As a then Associate nation, Ireland qualified for the last three World Cups going back to 2007, famously inflicting some of the biggest upsets the tournament has ever seen in the process – beating Pakistan in 2007 and England in 2011. Now a newly-installed Full Member, and with a first Test match taking place in May, the men in green will be highly driven to keep their fine record going and qualify for the big show in neighbouring England.

Recent results have not been as strong, and with an ageing (although highly experienced) squad, one senses qualification may be a battle, but they certainly will not give up on that coveted spot without a fight.

A few key personal marks to watch out for:

Kevin O’Brien – the hero of that famous win against England in 2011 needs just 88 runs to bring up 3,000 in ODIS for Ireland

Niall O’Brien – Kevin’s brother Niall will notch up 100 appearances in ODIs if Ireland qualify for the Super Six, he plays in all games, and Nepal don’t qualify for the Super Six from Group B (because Netherlands and Nepal don’t have ODI status.)

The Netherlands

By virtue of winning the World Cricket League Championship in 2017, the Netherlands have been granted ODI status, commencing after this tournament, and will also participate in the inaugural ICC ODI league alongside the 12 Full members when it kicks off in 2020, guaranteeing them regular games against higher ranked sides.

So exciting times lie ahead for the Dutch, regardless of what happens in Zimbabwe, but nonetheless they will be keen to qualify for the World Cup for the fifth time and first since 2011.

Their squad has been bolstered by the return of several plays playing top-class cricket overseas such as captain Peter Borren, Essex’s County Championship winning captain Ryan ten Doeschate and Roloef van der Merwe.

Papua New Guinea

The Barramundis will be looking to qualify for their first major tournament. A more realistic target might be to hold on to their ODI status by finishing as one of the top 3 associate nations. Form against fellow associates has not been strong of late finishing fourth in the WCL in 2017, being on the wrong side of a bilateral series defeat to Scotland, as well as losing both warm ups in Zimbabwe over the last week, so they will look to improve in the next three weeks.

United Arab Emirates

The UAE secured their spot in the Qualifier by winning the recent WCL Division 2 tournament in Namibia, beating fellow qualifier Nepal in the final. Their main aim in this tournament will be to keep hold of their current ODI status for another four years.

One personal milestone that may be realised comes in the form of Shaiman Anwar, who needs 182 runs to become the first UAE player to notch up 1,000 ODI runs.

Group B

Group B matches take place at in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo at the Queens Sports Club and the Bulawayo Athletic Club.

Zimbabwe

Being a Full member and with the benefit of home advantage, the Zimbabweans will be one of the teams favoured by some to take a coveted qualifying spot for England. Graeme Cremer’s men have had a mixed time of late – winning a bilateral series in Sri Lanka in 2017 but losing against Afghanistan and failing to make it to the final of the Bangladesh tri-series also featuring Sri Lanka.

Their ranks have been bolstered this year by the return from Kolpak stints in England of star keeper-batsman Brendan Taylor and quick bowler Kyle Jarvis, and they will hope that experience and the improved form of Hamilton Masakadza and Sikandar Raza will be enough to get them to the final.

A few personal marks that are in play in the tournament:

Sean Williams – recalled to the squad for the tournament, batting all rounder Williams needs just 53 runs to bring up 3,000 in ODIs

Craig Ervine – batsman Ervine needs just nine runs to notch up 2,000.

Hamilton Masakadza – the big opener needs just three ODI appearances to move from sixth place in his country’s appearance list to fourth, passing Alistair Campbell and coach Heath Streak in the process

Afghanistan

It is a sign of their remarkable progress over recent years that Afghanistan are likely favourites for the tournament, having also attained Full Member status in 2017 and looking forward to a maiden Test against India in June.

They have had mixed form in fairness, winning an ODI series against Zimbabwe and drawing in the West Indies in the last 12 months, alongside a series defeat to Ireland in the UAE in late 2017. But they are buoyed by the presence of a phalanx of young and hugely impressive spin bowlers that are more than a match for anyone on their day, especially in Zimbabwe’s likely spin-friendly conditions.

Keep a special eye on the mercurial Rashid Khan

Afghanistan’s vice-captain will, at just 19 years of age, likely become the youngest captain in international cricket history when he deputises for usual skipper Ashgar Stanizkai (out with appendicitis) in the opener against Scotland. Nothing should surprise anyone from Khan, who sits proudly atop the ICC’s ODI and T20I bowler rankings and is courted by franchises the world over, such has been his meteoric rise over the last two years.

Khan also needs just 14 wickets to bring up 100 in ODIs – few would bet against him getting them.

Mohammad Nabi and Dawlat Zadran – fellow bowlers Nabi and Dawlat need 5 and 10 wickets respectively to bring up their 100s too.

Scotland

In the last 12 months, Scotland notched up a bilateral ODI victory over a Full member for the first time, beating Group B rival Zimbabwe in Edinburgh in June 2017. That result and coming second in the WCL to the Netherlands will fill them with confidence that they can at least qualify for the Super Six stage of this tournament – but having appeared in three of the last five ICC world cups, they will be hoping for more.

Kyle Coetzer – already his country’s highest ever ODI-scoring batsman, skipper Coetzer will be looking to add the 277 runs he needs to bring up 2000 for Scotland in ODIs.

Hong Kong

Deprived of top players not available for this tournament, such as JJ Atkinson and Mark Chapman, the latter having opted to now play for New Zealand, Hong Kong’s chief aim will be to emerge with their ODI status intact so they can continue to progress at the highest associate level.

Nepal

One of the fastest upcoming nations in Associate cricket, Nepal secured their berth at this qualifier by finishing second in the WCL Division 2 tournament in Namibia earlier this year.  With huge support at home in the Himalayan nation, obtaining ODI status will be their main goal from this tournament, and with superstar Sandeep Lamichhane, recently awarded an IPL contract, in their ranks few would bet against them causing an upset or two.

2017 ICC Women’s World Cup – Preview

For the second time this month, England plays host to a major ICC tournament – with the 11th staging of the Women’s World Cup roaring into life on Saturday, bringing together the top eight teams to do battle for the most important trophy in Women’s ODI cricket.

The month-long tournament of 31 matches will be played out at five county grounds around England, with Bristol, Taunton, Derby and Leicester staging the group stages and semi finals before the final is held at the home of cricket, Lord’s, on Sunday 23rd July. The eight teams will all play each other once in the round-robin group stage. The top four teams then progress to the semi-finals, with the winners of those two games meeting in the final on Sunday 23rd July.

Over the ten previous stagings of the Women’s World Cup, only three teams have won the tournament in its history – Australia claiming six titles, England three and the New Zealanders one, on home soil, in 2000.

Those three teams are the strong favourites again, alongside India, although if the other ICC tournament held in the UK this month has taught us anything it is that favourites can often falter and an outsider can land the prize against all odds!

From an individual player perspective, the following players will be looking to reach personal milestones throughout the tournament:

Ellyse Perry (Australia)

A dual football and cricket international, allrounder and superstar of the women’s game, Perry needs just 101 runs in the tournament to bring up 2000 ODI runs for Australia.

Alex Blackwell (Australia)

The Australian vice-captain has made 133 ODI appearances for her country. If Australia make it all the way to the final as expected, and Blackwell appears in all nine games, she will move ahead of former captain Karen Rolton as Australia’a all-time leading appearance-maker in ODIs.

Tammy Beaumont (England)

England batter Beaumont needs 182 runs to bring up 1000 in the 50-over format for her country.

Natalia Sciver (England)

Another England player looking to notch up 1000 runs for her country is Japan-born all-rounder Sciver, who currently has 837 career ODI runs and will be looking for 163 to make the mark.

Katherine Brunt (England)

The spearhead of England’s attack sits just three wickets behind her teammate Jenny Gunn as the host nation’s all-time leading ODI wicket taker, with 120 wickets to Gunn’s 123. They’ll be spurring each other on to do battle at the top of that tree.

Mithali Raj (India)

The tournament could see history made in the Women’s game, with India’s captain sitting on 5781 ODI runs, 211 behind the current world record run scorer in the 50 over format, England’s former captain Charlotte Edwards. With potentially nine games in which to overhaul Edwards, the chase is very much on.

Another 8 further runs will see Raj become the first woman to pass 6000 One-Day International runs.

Jhulan Goswana (India)

Seam bowler Goswana needs 15 wickets with the ball, and 73 runs with the bat to reach 200 wickets and 1000 runs respectively.

Suzie Bates (New Zealand)

The White Ferns’ captain needs just two more games to notch up 100 for her country.

Amy Satterthwaite (New Zealand)

New Zealand’s vice-captain will have her eye on two personal milestones as the group stage of the Women’s World Cup unfolds.

She currently has 2970 runs in the record books, needing just 30 more to reach 3000. Those runs have come in 95 appearances, so she’ll be celebrating her hundred during her fifth game of the tournament.

Javeira Khan (Pakistan)

Batsman Khan needs just 41 more runs to bring up 2000 in ODIS for Pakistan.

Sana Mir (Pakistan)

Spin bowler and Pakistani captain Sana Mir will reach 100 appearances for her country if she appears in five further games.

Mignon du Preez (South Africa)

The stakes are high for South Africa’s all-time leading run scorer and appearance maker, as she needs just one more game to bring up 100 for the Proteas.

Trisha Chetty (South Africa)

The Proteas’ wicketkeeper-batsman is the world=record holder for catches in women’s ODIs, with 91 grabs to her name. She’ll be looking for nine more to bring up a century.

Coincidentally, Chetty also needs nine appearances to bring up that hundred too – but South Africa will have to make it all the way to the final if she is to achieve that milestone in this tournament.

Shashikala Siriwardene (Sri Lanka)

if all-rounder Siriwardene appears in all seven of Sri Lanka’s round robin stage games, she will notch up 100 appearances for the Islanders.

Chamari Polgampola (Sri Lanka)

Chamari will be looking to hit 31 more runs to move from her current tally of 969 to 1000 for her country.

Stafanie Taylor (West Indies)

One of the likely stars of the Women’s World Cup, the West Indies’ Jamaican captain needs just two games to bring up 100 appearances in ODIs for the Caribbean federation.

She also needs 268 runs to bring up 4000 – which with an average of over 44 is not beyond the realms of possibility by any means.

Deandra Dottin (West Indies)

The Windies’ quick bowler also needs just two more appearance to bring up 100.