“It’s been a superb start, with full stadiums, great action and, believe it or not, just one rain delay at a tournament played in England,” so read this very column last week.
Sure, the 2019 Cricket World Cup is still going great guns, the stadiums are still filled and bouncing, but—and as a cricket journalist from the U.K., I should really have seen this one coming—never underestimate the English weather. That’s right: Sri Lanka’s best player has struck and put two points on the board for the Lions, while dampening (pun definitely intended) the week for everyone else.
The second week of cricket’s premier tournament saw some wonderful play, but also a series of washouts, giving the cricketing world time to reflect on how the whole thing has been going. The marathon format is a little bit like a James Bond film: hugely diverting as it is going on, but the minute it stops for two seconds, everyone watching realizes that huge parts of it don’t actually make any sense. Why is it so long? Why didn’t they invite everyone else? Why can basically nobody in England see it? And how hard can it be to make the bails fall off when they get hit?!
Gripes aside, when we have seen some cricket, it has largely been very good. Chairs at the top table have shifted a little, so let’s run the rule once more. Here are the Week 2 Power Rankings for the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
1 – India
Last time, India had blasted out South Africa in short order and we described them as having been as good as they needed to be. Since then, they have stuffed Australia—the 36 run margin could have been far more—and had their clash with New Zealand rained out. The star of that win over Australia, Shikhar Dhawan, will miss the next 10 days minimum with a thumb injury, but it is a testament to India’s strength in depth that they will barely notice his absence. Rishabh Pant has been placed on standby to deputize for Dhawan, which is great news for anyone who has ever seen Pant bat before.
Despite centuries from Dhawan and Rohit Sharma (plus an 82 from Virat Kohli), it has arguably been India’s strength with the ball that has impressed the most. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvi Kumar pile in with the new ball, then Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav twist and turn batsmen in knots. It’s hard to see how they lose to anyone other than England, and even then, that’s a toss-up game. Of course, this is exactly the sort of situation where Pakistan tend to intervene and do something mad—so expect sparks to fly this Sunday in Manchester.
2 – England
England bounced back from a defeat to Pakistan with the sort of performance that made everyone else, traditional pessimism aside, call them as favorites before the tournament. Against Bangladesh, their sheer power with the bat took the game away from their opponents, recording 380 and still giving the impression that they left a few runs out there.
Jason Roy battered a century, Jos Buttler did Jos Buttler things and then, with the ball, Jofra Archer did something that, in two decades of watching cricket, I genuinely had never seen before. His delivery to dismiss Soumya Sarkar took the bail at 90mph, ballooned over the keeper and cleared the boundary on the full. It was a devastating ball that will have put the willies up everyone else in the tournament as much as anything that the hosts have done with the bat.
That said, the batting has certainly come to the party. Of the top order, three now have centuries on the board: Buttler, Roy and Root. It can only be a matter of time before Morgan, Stokes and Bairstow join in. At the moment, it is England, India and two others for the semifinals.
3 – New Zealand
A week ago, New Zealand were flat track bullies. It is possible that they still are, having added a stroll against Afghanistan to their destruction of Sri Lanka and win over Bangladesh. India would have provided a much better chance to assess the Black Caps’ strength, only for the English rain to do what it does. As it stands, they are first on the ladder and unbeaten.
The split of a result with India ensures an extra point that few others will get, and with South Africa next up, New Zealand could realistically still be atop the table come this time next week. Australia have struggled twice and might have been close to their best to beat the West Indies and Pakistan, whereas there is the feeling that New Zealand can still get better and grow into the tournament. Third for now.
Australia’s David Warner hits 4 runs off the bowling of Pakistan’s Shaheen Afridi during the Cricket World Cup match between Australia and Pakistan at the County Ground in Taunton, south west England, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) ASSOCIATED PRESS
4 – Australia
It’s hard to say what Australia have done wrong, but simultaneously, hard to place them any higher than fourth. In fact, they’re only fourth because they have beaten the West Indies in the last week—come the end of the Group Stage, nobody would be surprised to see them miss the semifinals. In beating the Windies and Pakistan, Australia managed to show all the strengths that make them tournament candidates and, indeed, the fatal flaws that make them hard to back.
From 4 for 38, bounced into oblivion by Sheldon Cottrell, Andre Russell, et al, they recovered to win with relative comfort, displaying that famous Aussie grit. Then from 140 for none, they conspired to nearly lose to Pakistan, hamstrung by slow scoring and tame bowling from the later rotation. Against India, they were flattered to only lose by 36 runs.
Marcus Stoinis’ injury exposes a weakness in bowling: one of Maxwell or Finch must bowl crucial overs, and if Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali are able to whack them around, then one shudders to think what a Buttler or Kohli might do. While Warner opens well, his position at the top of the order limits Australia’s hitting capacity lower down Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh simply score too slowly. It is almost the point at which Khawaja must open or not bat at all – if they had anyone else to bring in.
When every other team is able to up the run rate, Australia lack the power hitters to go with them. That will bite them on the backside if chasing 330+ later in the piece. In a semi-final against one of India or England, the Aussies will go in as comfortable second favorites.
5 – West Indies
The West Indies have played just once since last week, losing narrowly to Australia before their game with South Africa was washed out after just seven overs. What more have we learned, then? The truth is probably not much. Their short bowling attack is still fearsome and managed to decimate the Australian top order. The third and fourth bowling options then struggled to complete the job, admittedly in the face of some miraculous batting from Nathan Coulter-Nile.
With the bat, they were on the end of some poor umpiring, but in truth, may have struggled anyway. Pakistan showed how weak elements of Australia’s attack can be, but the West Indies made them look better than they are: Glenn Maxwell, smashed for 58 on a theoretically turning track at Taunton by Pakistan’s tail, went for just 31 at Trent Bridge, the most hitter-friendly ground in the tournament. Better sides than Australia will know that, if they can survive the initial short barrage, not much follows. England on Friday will know it for sure.
6 – Pakistan
This column last week put plenty of Pakistan’s success against the hosts to the awful English fielding, and it seems as if Sarfaraz’s men learned absolutely nothing from the experience. Their catching was shameful, a throwback to the Pakistan of old: once the comedy characters of world cricket, liable to hit a hundred and then run themselves out, to reverse swing the ball around a corner and spill the edge in the slips. That Pakistan. CricViz released a statistic that was revealing: of all the teams in the World Cup, Pakistan are the only one with a negative number in terms of runs allowed by poor fielding.
So are Pakistan inconsistent? Or just not that good? It seems a five-way fight for two spots in the semis, with at least five wins (probably six) required to make it. A no result in an eminently winnable game against Sri Lanka hasn’t helped one bit. If they are going to do anything, they will know that their fielding will have to improve to give them a chance. No better time to start than Sunday, when they face eternal rivals India. Close to a billion people will be watching.
7 – Bangladesh
Bangladesh are one of the great losers of this week’s rain. While they might not have expected to get much from their meeting with England last Saturday, they certainly will have targeted victory against Sri Lanka on Monday to boost their chances of sneaking into the semifinals. With a third of the tournament gone, they sit in 8th on the ladder – which, had they beaten Sri Lanka, would have been at least fourth. It is certainly a point lost for the Tigers.
If we are using five wins as our yardstick for a semi-final place, Bangladesh are close to gone. They have already lost to England and New Zealand, will likely lose to India and have had a game rained off, which means they need to go 4 and 1 from their remaining fixtures minimum. If we’re still talking about them after their upcoming games against the West Indies and Australia, then Bangladesh are certainly in with a chance. The way that they batted out 48.5 of their overs in defeat to England suggests that they back themselves to be in a position where Net Run Rate matters. The Windies and Aussies await.
8 – South Africa
Facing England and India in the first week meant that this was always going to be an uphill struggle. Losing to Bangladesh made it even more so. It would have been possible for the Proteas to have been eliminated on Monday against the West Indies, and at 29/2 after seven overs, few would have backed against it. Then the rains came and saved South African bacon.
As a result of their washout on Monday, South Africa will have had essentially week and a half off by the time they face Afghanistan on Saturday. Time enough for Lungi Ngidi to rest his hamstring and return to the attack. Time for a few of their failing batters to find form. Hashim Amla, that means you. All is not lost. On paper, they should have enough to overcome the Afghans, before facing New Zealand and Pakistan. It’s win or bust, but it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see the Saffers back in contention.
9 – Sri Lanka
Last week we discussed the weird selection policy that Sri Lanka pick a Test opener, no spinners and fast bowlers that aren’t very fast. Little did we know they were about to unleash their secret weapon: a little known local ringer known as EN Summer. More destructive than Murali and Malinga combined, the weather managed to skyrocket Sri Lanka to the giddy heights of fifth in the table.
Sri Lanka have now, as a result of two abandonments, a shortened game and a thrashing, have played just 113 completed overs of cricket in the World Cup—just 1.1 full games. In probably 70 overs of that, they have looked absolutely dross. Once the rain subsides, it is likely that they will look useless again. Still: they beat Afghanistan and haven’t played since, so it’s hard to demote them any lower than 9th.
10 – Afghanistan
Afghanistan escaped the rain on Saturday, losing to New Zealand in a game that hardly anyone saw. In fact, the most noticeable thing about Afghanistan this week is how difficult to notice they have been. The ICC, who already excluded the majority of developing nations from the tournament, has now managed to schedule the lowest ranked team at the World Cup on consecutive Saturdays as the later game—meaning that most people watch the earlier game and then, at best, switch over to Afghanistan at some point in the second innings of their match.
On the field, there isn’t much more to report. It will take a gargantuan effort for them to win a game, but if they do, it will be celebrated for years to come. South Africa on Saturday in Cardiff represents arguably their best chance left to get on the board. Watch it get rained off.