Let one begin by saying that this is not about the four teams that won their respective quarter-final matches in the 2011 World Cup and now are the hallowed semi-finalists. Between them they still have three more matches to play and time to pass judgment on them shall come soon enough. This, then, is about the ones who crossed the long-haul initial stage and found the knock-outs too hot to handle. West Indies were always expected not to surprise, perhaps maybe even Australia. England were too mercurial for their own good. But who would have thought we would be discussing South Africa here as well.
When Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Jean Paul Duminy got out against New Zealand in quick, suicidal fashion, it reminded one of their match against England at Chennai. At Mirpur, the conditions were pretty much if not entirely similar, in the sense that the ball wasn’t coming onto the bat easily. Having said that, 180-odd wasn’t a tough target then as 220-odd wasn’t later on. And on both occasions they should have gotten across the victory line with something to spare, yet the scripts read different in the end.
That England game though was different only in the thinking that perhaps this was the one time when the Proteas have faltered and will now not lose their nerves marching on. Their course would have been for the title in all probability, having beaten even India at Nagpur. We were all wrong!
People would like to believe that de Villiers’ dismissal was the turning point against the Kiwis. Some would even say that Kallis played an uncharacteristic shot to get out and he was even more unlucky because Jacob Oram made an improbable catch stick. One though thinks that signs of something untoward happening had already been forthcoming. Just how did Jesse Ryder manage to crawl out of the tight clutches of Dale Steyn and company to post 200-plus on the board? He is not the sort of batsman who plays such innings of stability. Yes he may have said prior to the match that he wanted to be patient in the future.
But more so, he isn’t the sort of batsman who develops that virtue overnight. The biggest hint of things not progressing their way however lay in Hashim Amla’s dismissal. Cricket history is not rife with instances where the ball balloons off a fielder’s boots and goes to another’s hands. These are rare dismissals and that it happened when it happened, beckoned a swift downturn for the Africans.
And so, the choke was on them once again. Considering their history in the World Cup, it would rank as one of the more inexplicable ones, akin to what happened in 2003 with D/L confusion. What happened with rain in 1992, Brian Lara’s ton in 1996, and against Australia at Edgbaston in 1999 or again in 2007, they were all matters not in their hands. This was tomfoolery at its best, not from the point of view of poor shots being played, but in the manner a team went down from 108 for two to 172 all out.
Talking about the Aussies though, it wasn’t tough to see why they choked, if at all it can be said so. A downward curve that has been spiralling out of control is a much used phrase for their cricket today. Was it a continuation of the same? Perhaps, for imagining Ricky Ponting lifting the World Cup a third time was a tad difficult thought to swallow. If he had won the Ashes or even individually shown some semblance of form, maybe then it wouldn’t have been so. One says this because it is a firm belief that much of the captain’s traits rub off on his team.
And Ponting has been in turmoil for the past couple of seasons, ever since Kemar Roach got through his defenses. Australia were already descending by then but it became bad thereon and kept on getting worse. So, the obvious question – is it time for him to go? The answer is yes, both as captain and batsman at least in the shorter formats. There is nothing left for him to achieve in ODI cricket and this team needs to move on badly. Cut off from its rich legacy, so as to build a healthy future and Ponting is their one cord to that past.
Coming to England now, the one question they would want to ask themselves is if they are indeed the fifth or sixth best ODI side in the world? On evidence the answer seems to be yes, and one isn’t talking about their World Cup here. Remember they lost to Australia 6-1 and the Aussies themselves would be labeled as fifth best. You can say that the English were weary after a long season and perhaps a fresh, rested eleven can batter their arch rivals just like in the Test series.
That may be so, let us give them the benefit of the doubt here, but it is not enough. Simply because they are jousting today, with India and South Africa to be the number one Test side in the world. While both those teams are waging equal fights in both arenas, England cannot be excused to fight a lone war in just the five-day arena. Great teams don’t do that and with the nucleus at the disposal of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, they ought to go up.
There isn’t much to talk about the West Indies to be honest. They didn’t play enough cricket and one isn’t saying so because their match against Bangladesh did not last a full three hours. For they did display a spirit reminiscent of their glory days, you have to credit Darren Sammy’s leadership for that. But they were beset with problems of the multitude of talent. It is time to look beyond Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and the lethargy of Chris Gayle and Suleimann Benn is only holding them back.
There is hope yet for them when you see a talent like Andre Russell come to the fore. They need more of them and until they find enough such players, the once fearsome Windies will soon be fighting the associate nations for a spot in this tournament’s future editions.
© Cricket World 2011