Chase-masters a thing of the past
With the pitches getting flatter and One-Day International regulations virtually taking the bowlers out of the game, the dominant teams had preferred chasing ever since the last World Cup. Cometh the big stage, however, a combination of conditions and pressure seems to have reversed the trend. In fact, the 2019 edition witnessed chasing teams faltering on the most number of occasions than in the past.
Moreover, as the tournament progressed, batting first emerged as the key to success for most teams. In the first 21 completed matches of the league stage, 11 saw teams batting first winning. In the last 20 league encounters, however, a whopping 16 teams that batted first ended up winning.
The top order rules
A strong opening combination has been a success mantra across formats. But at the 2019 edition, the top order — the openers followed by the No. 3 batsman — saw the most consistent performances from virtually all the participating teams. So dominant were they that they accounted for the top 11 run-getters. Ben Stokes, the best all-rounder of the tournament, was the first exception to the rule.
It was also interesting to see that hardly any of the successful openers adopted a swashbuckling route. With flatbeds not a regular feature, barring England’s Jason Roy and to an extent Australia captain Aaron Finch, almost all the other successful openers saw the new ball off and then upped the ante in the middle overs.
It worked so well that the openers scored hundreds literally at will, with India’s Rohit Sharma creating a record of five centuries in a single edition of the tournament. The number of century opening partnerships — 14 — saw a 75 percent increase from the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand that had produced eight.
The ploy paid rich dividends not just for the openers, but, more importantly, for their teams. Three of the four semifinalists — India, England and Australia — owed a majority of their successful run in the league stage to their lethal opening combos. Even though New Zealand was the only one of the top-four teams that struggled with its starting pair, captain Kane Williamson’s willow-wielding at No. 3 made up for its success.
Wristies rule? Not really
If Twenty20 cricket was anticipated to be the death knell for spinners, leg-spinners ended up proving the theory wrong with their wicket-taking abilities. And with the amended ODI regulations in the recent past lending an advantage to teams that pick wickets in the middle overs, the wrist-spinners were expected to play a pivotal role in the World Cup as well.
However, barring the odd spell of brilliance — Adil Rashid applying the brakes on the Aussies in the semis or Imran Tahir’s four-wicket haul against Afghanistan — the wristies didn’t really have a memorable tournament. Shorter boundaries and seam-friendly conditions did limit their role at times, but the wristies failed to have the kind of impact they have had in the build-up to the tournament, which had made the presence of a leggie a must in virtually every team.
Yes, Yuzvendra Chahal, the diminutive Indian, was the most successful spinner with 12 wickets. But the fact that India’s main leggie was reeling at No. 19 in the list of highest wicket-takers of the tournament indicates the kind of the impact, or lack of it, his clan had in the tournament. While Shadab Khan sizzled for Pakistan at times, the less said about the likes of India’s Kuldeep Yadav and Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan the better. Rashid’s want of striking with the ball was one of the major factors in Afghanistan returning home without opening their account.
Just like the wristies, perhaps for the first time did a World Cup witness so many left-arm pacers. Unlike leggies, however, the left-armers came out with flying colours. So stark was their ability to strike that four of the eight left-arm pacers who featured in the tournament — Mitchell Starc (Australia), Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh), Mohammad Amir (Pakistan) and Sheldon Cottrell (West Indies) — emerged as the top wicket-taker for their sides.
Starc obviously took the cake as his astonishing tally of 27 wickets surpassed Glenn McGrath’s all-time highest tally in a single World Cup, while Shaheen Shah Afridi registered the best figures of the tournament. The likes of Mustafizur and Afridi ensured that the left-arm pacers’ legacy is to be carried forward till the next few editions as well. Cottrell, meanwhile, left his mark not just with his effective bowling and acrobatic fielding, but also with his trademark salute celebrations.