There was a moment, with the ball on the grass at long-on, Jason Roy’s face looking like he’d rather the earth swallow him than stand there. Chris Woakes, for a second, gestured at him with both hands before turning towards the wicket to wonder whether his teammates could explain how what had happened had happened. They couldn’t. He couldn’t.
At 10 am the day earlier, no one had expected South Africa to turn in a performance so limp and bereft of fight that Bangladesh would basically walk all over them. To those, including me, who thought that, with the spicier-than-usual pitches and South Africa’s pace arsenal, the result would be the other way round, proceedings stopped being shocking once Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim had their partnership. What did shock were the fumbles and the body language of the South African players, as if with every new mistake, the fight was bleeding out of their bodies and into the ground, the match looking truly like the away match that they had worn a jersey for.
For years, South Africa were the dominant force in bilateral ODI series, with the best win-loss record among all major nations. From the end of the 2007 World Cup to the start of the 2015 World Cup, they won 92 out of 147 matches (62.58%) compared to Australia’s 116 out of 189 (61.38%), as per EspnCricinfo’s Statsguru database. That, however, didn’t prepare them for eternal heartbreaks and stumblings in ICC tournaments, whether home or away. The danger for England is similar this time, even though it might be premature to say they’re in a similar crisis to the Proteas. One of the features of tournament cricket is the added pressure it brings. There is a reason why the highest score chased in all ODIs is 434, while that in World Cups is only 327. And for all their depth in batting and variety in bowling arsenal, the lack of previous winning experience could be a stumbling block for England, unlike, say, Australia or India.
After three one-sided matches out of the first four, it was reassuring to watch two proper games of cricket on consecutive days, matches where the lesser-fancied teams upended the odds to register stirring wins. Where Shakib’s batting was another reminder that the best allrounder in the world isn’t from a Big-Three team, making sense of what followed the next day is an exercise in futility. With 105 all out fresh in their minds, Pakistan were supposed to struggle against England. Instead, Hafeez, thirty-seven year old Hafeez (!), top-scored, and they racked up a score that weighed the scales in their favour even before England had started batting. And how to even make sense of what Wahab, Amir, and the 5th bowler duo of Hafeez-Shoaib did. I mean, the first two of them couldn’t take a single wicket for their life these past two years. And Hafeez was supposed to be battered into oblivion, specially because it was Trent Bridge, and it was the 444 and 481 strip. He conceded 44 in 3 overs in that 444 game. Instead, they combined to turn the screws ever so slightly around England’s batting that even the dropped catches and missed runout chances failed to overcome them. In hindsight, it was clear when Morgan fell that this was classic ODI choke territory we were entering into. And despite the silken murder that Jos Buttler’s batting is, we had our first genuine upset of the cup. England couldn’t make sense of it, nor could Pakistan, nor the viewers.
The “World Cup” had well and truly started.
Thanks for reading. I’d be delighted to have your feedback on the post, as well as your views on the World Cup, in the comments section.