By: Chinmay Vaidya
We're officially halfway through the 2019 World Cup and a lot has gone as expected. England, India, Australia and New Zealand have started to separate themselves from the rest of the pack and would be the semifinalists as of this writing.
What hasn't gone to plan is South Africa's tournament. The Proteas have been awful in all phases of the game and got their lone win against a demoralized Afghanistan squad. South Africa needs to win out to have a shot at the semifinal, a massive undertaking considering the remaining opponents. It's been a rough go so far for the team and the leaks of AB de Villiers wanting to be part of the squad and being denied by South Africa management couldn't have helped the mood. West Indies and Pakistan have underwhelmed, but there's still time for them to turn things around. Let's dive into the five big takeaways at the halfway point.
1. Bangladesh believed (and the players have backed it up so far)
This was the World Cup Shakib Al Hasan felt his country could win. It was the fourth World Cup for the core group of Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah. If there was any time to make a mark on the world stage, it was with this experienced group leading the way. Sprinkle in the young talent like Soumya Sarkar, Mustafizur Rahman and Liton Das and there was reason to be excited.
Bangladesh got off to a flying start in its first match against South Africa. Al Hasan and Rahim led the way with scores of 75 and 78, respectively. Mahmudullah put together a splendid 46 from 33 to push the team to 330-6. The bowlers did their job in a big win.
In a big win over West Indies, Bangladesh chased down 321 to prove the team can handle pressure. Al Hasan was the star with a century and Das added 90 from 68 to showcase the Tigers' fighting spirit.
With four games left, Bangladesh stands at fifth with 5 points. The Tigers still have to contend with India and Australia, but should be able to handle Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al Hasan leads the tournament with 384 runs and has the confidence to continue his great performance. This is Bangladesh's moment and it has seized the chance.
2. Rohit Sharma has India in contention
The "Hitman" has two centuries and a half-century to carry the Indian top order in Shikhar Dhawan's absence. Sharma has been tempered when he needs to be, but has flipped the switch at the right time. He's putting up a strike rate of 159.5, an unreal rate through three played games.
The opener played his biggest hand in India's rivalry game against Pakistan, scoring 140 to lead the way to a monster total. India is cruising in every game it has played and the rainout against New Zealand might be a blessing in disguise. A potential loss against the upstart Blackcaps could've stopped India's momentum. The schedule eases up now for the Men in Blue. With Sharma leading the way, India is firmly in contention status.
3. The ICC's false narrative has been exposed
The 10-team World Cup was supposed to make games "more competitive" by eliminating teams with less proven talent. The idea was to create great games by eliminating the blowout matches. Little did the ICC realize the result of the game is based on execution, not just talent level.
Halfway through the tournament, we've seen exactly four competitive games. Of course, a week of rained out matches hasn't helped the cause but the matches have been largely predictable at the halfway mark. The real reason the ICC wanted this type of format was nine India games, bolstering the revenue of the Cup. It's all about money at the end of the day.
With the World Cup contracting, it's increasingly hard to see avenues for the game to grow. BCCI doesn't care and it appears the ICC doesn't either, but people have taken notice. It's hardly a "world" tournament with 10 teams. The false narrative of more competitive cricket has been exposed.
4. Mitchell Starc is still the best bowler in the world
Coming into the World Cup, Starc's health was a concern. The left-arm speedster was battling a multitude of injuries and his status was important for Australia's chances. Starc has been healthy, alright.
He's tied for the most wickets in the tournament and his breakthroughs have come at key times. His 5-for performance against the West Indies turned the match in Australia's favor and his demolition of Sri Lanka prevented a potentially embarrassing loss. Starc has been everything we expected and more. There's a reason he was the Player of the Tournament in the 2015 World Cup. He's still, when healthy, the best bowler in the world.
5. England is for real
We knew England was the favorite as the host country, but there's always concerns about whether the squad will live up to expectations or flounder. England doesn't exactly have a great track record in World Cups and the 2015 tournament was particularly disappointing. However, that disappointment has led to the turnaround over the last four years. And it's been on full display so far.
England is averaging 328.2 runs per game, by far the best mark in the tournament. The team nearly chased down 343 against Pakistan despite being seven wickets down. That's the batting power in England's lineup. Joe Root has lived up to his superstar billing, checking in at second right now in the run tally with 367.
Root's exploits aren't the only thing driving England. Captain Eoin Morgan set a record of his own with 17 sixes against Afghanistan in a devastating innings. Morgan had hit 194 sixes in 210 innings prior to his record-setting game. The captain himself is now at 249 runs for the tournament.
England is so balanced as a unit it's hard to find a weak spot. Johnny Bairstow and Jason Roy each have more than 200 runs and Jos Buttler has 187. Even Ben Stokes clicked in the opening game. With this kind of lineup, it's hard to plan for any one batsman. Anybody could do damage.
With 24 games gone, England is 4-1 and at the top of the table. The tough part of schedule comes in now with Australia, New Zealand and India in the fold. Luckily, the hosts have done enough work to this point to likely only need one win from these three games to make the semis.