World Cup Week 1: What we’ve learned

Well that’s been fun. One week in and the Cricket World Cup has not disappointed for entertainment value. The next month and a half promises to distract us almost daily with subplots and intrigue.

Unless you went into this backing the Proteas, of course. In which case you probably wish everyone would just carry on with their normal lives. The first thing we learned is something we already knew: this team is not good.

In the Bangladesh and India losses, the lack of a back-up plan, or any plan at all really, was painfully apparent.

Against India, once it was revealed that the Rose Bowl wasn’t as soft a wicket as was promised, the team just kept on swinging anyway. It was only when the lower order got their turn that a semi-respectable scoreline became achievable. Until Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis similarly deliver clutch performances, the Proteas are going nowhere, at an annoying slow pace.

India, meanwhile, took the opportunity to prove just how prudent they’re capable of being. Virat Kohli seemed to know exactly when to slash and when to grind his opponents down. Their entire run chase seemed to keep pace with the required run rate — never allowing unnecessary risks to creep in.

Fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah also got the chance to justify his pre-tournament hype. The South African openers couldn’t have looked more vulnerable every time he unleashed his right arm — his stingy economy of 3.50 emphasises that point. Spin partner Yuzvendra Chahal took four wickets and proved they are spoilt for choice. It might have been weak opposition, but it’s hard not to view India as strong contenders for the title of favourites.

Apart from South Africa, Afghanistan is the only team yet to win a game. Unlike the Proteas, however, they’ve earned some plaudits along the way. Their opening effort against Australia was on the tame side, but they recovered to produce one of the most entertaining games so far, when they took Sri Lanka to the edge.

Thanks to his antics in the Indian Premier League, all eyes have been on Rashid Khan, but it was Mohammad Nabi who stole the show. The all-rounder ploughed into the upper order, taking three wickets off five balls. By the time rain interrupted play, the Sri Lankans were scrambling for their lives, flummoxed by the audacity they had come across in Cardiff. That break ultimately served them well and they were able to recover, but they certainly did not win any backers.

Sri Lanka will have the opportunity to prove themselves when they take on Pakistan today in what is beginning to look like a vital clash for both sides. Capricious Pakistan have delivered a couple of head-scratching performances so far, for very different reasons. On day two, the West Indies gleefully dismantled the order in green. By the 14th over a Chris Gayle half-century had helped chase the measly target of 105.

On the back of such a debacle they stood no chance against England. At least that’s what the British must have figured — to their detriment. Three half-centuries later and an unassailable total of 348 was set —the highest we’ve seen so far.

It was a sobering knock-back for the tournament favourites who had brushed aside the Proteas so easily. In just one game, Jofra Archer lost his invulnerable aura. England will no doubt still fancy their chances, but they now have no illusions that this tournament will be a scrappy affair.

That’s doubly true for the Australasians. The Aussies have been too predictable, and will now question whether they’re ready to challenge for cricket’s grandest prize. New Zealand meanwhile have handled their business professionally and without too much fuss. Neither has been tested by a fellow top five team.

That changes on the weekend, when India greet Australia at the Oval. A clear result in that one will help guide us mere mortals as we struggle to figure out the hierarchy of this World Cup.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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