Interesting threads are developing with the cricket World Cup in full swing after a week of competitive action. Bangladesh operationalised the first big upset by defeating the South Africans in a clinical manner after putting on a hefty 330/6 in the first innings with their bowlers doing just about enough to restrict them to 309/8. The second occurred the following day. Fighting the odds, which were heavily stacked against them after a crushing demolition by the West Indies in the opener, Pakistan managed to defeat cup-favorites England through a tenacious batting display and focused death-over bowling. The win boosted the confidence of Pakistani supporters as Pakistan had not won in their last 11 ODIs, and had lost a warm-up game against Afghanistan in the process. The manner of the loss against West Indies was devastating: Pakistan succumbed to 105 all out and the opposition chased the target with 36 overs to play. Pakistan’s net run rate took a severe dive as a consequence, something which could become a deciding factor as the race for the semi-finals heats up.

Fears about the team’s lack of capacity in batting technique whilst facing the short-ball were legitimised at a time when pundits are making educated guesses that this is going to be the World Cup of the short-ball. While losing and winning are part and parcel of the game, it was extremely unfortunate to see fan-made videos of Pakistani supporters abusing team players on their way to the pavilion, using expletives in Punjabi. Fanbases do tend to become reactionary when teams hit bad patches of form, but this sort of vile behaviour and lack of sportsmanship on part of the fans does nobody any favours. National image gets hurt, players lose confidence, and you collectively become a laughing stock till the next news cycle, which thankfully is very small in the age of the digital media revolution. You may call me it unnecessary political correctness, but maybe I’m old-fashioned like that, and this sort of sick behaviour needs to be discouraged. It dampens the mood and violates the spirit of the game. Incidentally, under the ICC code of conduct, “using language or a gesture that is obscene, offensive or of a seriously insulting nature to another player, umpire, referee, team official or spectator” is a Level 2 offence for the players. Passions ought to be regularised by good reason and there is a tendency to forget that it is just a game, at the end of the day. Let’s hope for no more unsavoury incidents such as these. The World Cup round-robin stage dictates that every team plays every one once, which amounts to nine matches so this is going to be a long journey, and in Pakistan’s case, more often than not, a roller coaster ride.

Against England, an “irresistible” Pakistan turned up, according to The Guardian. Whilst Eoin Morgan, the English captain lamented the team’s attitude in the field, Pakistanis had a lot to celebrate. Wahab Riaz’s late inclusion after being snubbed originally from the squad was vindicated to a certain extent after a good display with the ball. “He had a hand in five of the nine England wickets to fall, and it would have been more had he been given a first slip. He was emotional with the new ball and clinical with the old, holding his nerve to take two match-winning wickets in the 48th over,” listed The Guardian, generously, in their match report. Wahab went for 82 runs in his ten overs, grabbing three wickets, and these are generally deemed to good figures in contemporary ODI settings. We have come to a different stage in cricketing history, as these figures would be declared highly unsatisfactory a decade earlier. Mohammad Hafeez deservedly won the man of the match award with a brisk 82 off 62 balls, and taking the England captain’s key-wicket while going at 6.14 in his seven overs. The batting was back to its standards from the previous bilateral One Day series against England, and the bowling also turned up to make the difference, something Pakistan dearly missed before. Chasing 300 plus is going to be difficult in this World Cup if the first week’s matches are anything to go by. South Africa have failed twice to achieve a 300 plus target, while England, who are masters at chasing big totals based on their record in the last four years, once. Whether this is an anomaly will become clear over the course of the round-robin stage. In other clashes, New Zealand beat Sri Lanka in convincing fashion, Australia beat Afghanistan, whilst Sri Lanka were lucky to win against Afghanistan as rains played their part. The rain factor, is seems, will be crucial in the future, too, and the validity of the Duckworth–Lewis–Stern method in predicting scores in rain-affected matches, could be called into question. While the method has evolved over time, it seems unfair to Afghanistan that they had to chase at a run rate which was quicker than what they had limited Sri Lanka to, and with the reduced overs, it became an uphill task for the minnows.

At this point in time, it seems like five victories out of nine matches should be enough to take a team into the semi-finals. The ICC took a bold stance by reintroducing the round-robin format, which was last used in 1992, since it allows for a fairer possibility for the best teams to qualify to the later stages. Although it would surely not make sense from the point of view of TV broadcasting and the consequent weight of material conditions, the semi-final and final could be scrapped off as well in future series. I guess popular opinion would hold that the World Cup final should remain a one-off match, but winning the round-robin format is a great achievement in itself. Often the case has been that teams which peaked in the beginning of the tournament were not able to sustain the push in the knockout matches, and surely, this adds an interesting dimension to the game. In that context, squads need to produce consistent results throughout and keep winning small battles in the field, during Powerplays, as well as the middle overs. While Pakistani supporters are used to the topsy turvy fortunes of the Pakistani team, a complete domination from the beginning till the end of the cup, such as the feats of the Australian team in the 2000s, or the West Indies in the 1970s editions, is surely an end worth pursuing. At any rate, the win against England has infused a new spirit into the Pakistani ranks and there will be a desire to keep the momentum going. A note of caution, however, as Pakistan were fined for a slow over rate against England. If this happens again, Captain Sarfraz Ahmed could be suspended, and the situation could reach disastrous proportions, because Pakistan do not have a backup keeper in the squad. More care will need to be taken since cricket these days is primarily for broadcasting purposes, and time becomes of the essence for advertisers and other stakeholders.