As the tournament takes a breather after 23 matches, we analyse five things it has revealed so far.
The 2015 Cricket World Cup has been amazing – runs have come thick and strong, fielding has been top class (apart from Pakistan) and there has been plenty of sweet swing bowling.
But more than anything else, the tournament has been surprising so far.
In the face of lucrative global T20 leagues, ODIs have taken quite a beating in recent years. The 2007 World Cup in the West Indies was boring to watch. Some declared the format to have reached its end.
But come 2015, it seems things have changed. The tournament has been a delight. But no one thought waking up for cricket in the middle of the night could be so gripping.
Here are five things we didn’t expect from this event:
The big teams need to watch their backs
We don’t want to talk about minnows playing the big boys because these are the top 14 teams after all. But there is a huge gulf between some of full member teams and those hanging out on the periphery.
Afghanistan, Ireland, Bangladesh and even Zimbabwe have played terrific cricket so far. The UAE were thrashed by defending champions India but that was expected.
Teams like West Indies, England and even Pakistan are no longer the secure brands they were. They are certainly drifting towards the periphery, judging by the show. The days of bigger teams looking to improve their stats against the inexperienced part-timers are long gone. The game has changed and ODI cricket is fun again.
This Afridi chap has aged
Since he burst on the scene as a 16-year-old, Shahid Afridi has always been 19 or thereabouts. The hairstyle, the stubble-turned-beard and the irresponsible batting, he’s played like a teenager throughout his career and amused us along the way. While he’s easily the most unreliable batsman in the team, he’s always been the most exciting to watch.
The energy is infectious and he plays cricket like a philanderer plays the field. But he looks more tired than ever before. He looks old. His bowling lacks bite. His batting seems indecisive. He has also dropped catches. Perhaps he has realised this too and that’s why he will be retiring from ODI cricket after the World Cup.
Imran Tahir can actually bowl
In a bowling line-up boasting Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, few would have expected Imran Tahir to be the South Africa’s leading wicket-taker at this point in the tournament. But not only has he taken wickets, he has taken them at crucial junctures. He’s now become AB de Villiers’ go-to man. Tahir has bowled with flair, drift, flight and confidence. He’s in the form of his life at the biggest stage.
His wicket celebrations are a bit over-the-top but he does have nine wickets compared to Steyn’s three. Before the match against India, there was uncertainty whether Tahir would be in the playing-XI. Now, this team would be incomplete without him.
McCullum and New Zealand’s turnaround
New Zealand want to win the World Cup. Judging by their and their captain’s form in the last year, they might just do that. Brendon McCullum’s brand of captaincy – leading from the front and the attack mode has been extraordinary. He backs his bowlers and they’ve backed him up with sterling performances. His seamers have delivered and Daniel Vettori has proved the perfect foil to strangle the batsmen in the middle overs.
McCullum has brought the precise values of his batting into his captaincy: attack like a man possessed. In so doing, he has managed to dictate terms. He may have just changed the way captains approach a game that has become so batsmen friendly.
England want the minnows tag
England are still playing ODI cricket like they did in the 90s, from way before Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana revolutionised ODI batting at the top of the order. And we all know that the game has changed massively since. Their approach is so old-school that they may as well ask Graham Gooch to open the batting.
These days, England get nervous playing Scotland. To be fair, captain Eoin Morgan is class but without the right players, it would be like David Miller leading a Proteas side without AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla or Dale Steyn. I’d be pretty depressed if I was Morgan too. As it stands, English cricket is in the midst of a crisis and this time there is no Kevin Peterson to blame.