The World Cup springs back to life with successive nail-biters
From the perspective of a neutral cricket fan, it is of lesser importance which side wins, but all you want is to experience a tight game, in which both sides give it their all and the batsmen have to work hard for every run.
At around the halfway stage of the 2019 ICC World Cup, it seemed as if this edition was getting more and more predictable. Australia, New Zealand, India and England had comfortably settled themselves as the top four teams. It looked as if that the valley between the top four and bottom four will keep increasing and there will be no further plot twist.
However, a tournament such as the World Cup is never without upsets and all of us were waiting with bated breath to witness the first unanticipated result. That came interestingly enough against England, who are considered the firm favourites for the title, by the team that you would have least expected and lead to a number of thrilling matches.
New Zealand v South Africa
While New Zealand were comfortably placed in the top rung, it was a do-or-die match for South Africa, for losing this one would have left them with little chances of qualifying. This knockout feel around the match made it more interesting.
The Proteas did not bat well and could only put up 241 on the board, after the match was reduced to 49 overs per side due to the wet outfield, credit to some good strikes from Rassie van der Dussen in the slog overs.
After losing a couple of wickets, Kane Williamson first had a small partnership with Jimmy Neesham and then combined with Colin de Grandhomme to help New Zealand win with nine balls remaining. His six over mid wicket to bring up his century was iconic and only highlighted the measured manner in which he approached his innings. South Africa were all but out of the semi-final race after this match.
England v Sri Lanka
Going into this match, no one expected Sri Lanka to even give England a fight, let alone causing an upset. Sri Lankan cricket is going through one of the lowest, if not the lowest, time in the last couple of years and against an England batting line-up which had struck 397 in their last game, they were expected to surrender meekly.
But cricket has a strange habit of bringing you back to reality, the moment you start taking it for granted.
Defending a paltry total of 233, Sri Lanka showed positive body language from the first ball and stopped a couple of certain boundaries in the powerplay. The Lions kept chipping away at the English batsmen, led by old warhorse Lasith Malinga, who in the process also became the highest wicket-taker for Sri Lanka in World Cups.
It was down to Ben Stokes at the end who remained unbeaten on 82, but ultimately ran out of partners. Sri Lankan players were chuffed to bits and the celebration was one to be witnessed after they a registered 20-run win.
India v Afghanistan
Next up was quite a similar encounter. Even if you gave only 10 per cent chance to Sri Lanka against England, Afghanistan did not even have that, going into this match against India. Not that they were not a good side, but the way in which they had performed in their preceding matches, losing five out of five matches, an inspired performance from them was hardly expected.
To their credit, the team came with all guns blazing, led by their spinners, as they maintained a stranglehold over India, restricting them to a 224-run total.
The Afghans then had a couple of threatening partnerships and needed 16 in the last over with half-centurion Mohammad Nabi on the crease, but a hat-trick from Mohammed Shami under tough circumstances took India to a 11-run victory.
West Indies v New Zealand
By the time the India versus Afghanistan match finished, West Indies while chasing a target of 292, looked down and out against the Black Caps. After being 24-2, the partnership between half-centurions Chris Gayle and Shimron Hetmyer had taken them to 142-2, but they suffered another middle order collapse and were down to 164-7.
Thinking that this match would not take any unexpected turns, you switched off the TV, but when you returned after an hour or so, you were startled to see Carlos Brathwaite and Kemar Roach still at it.
What a game it turned out to be in the end, with just six needed in the last over and Carlos Brathwaite on the crease. However, the all-rounder had a taste of his own medicine as he was holed out by Trent Boult just inches of boundary.
Taking nothing away from Brathwaite's brilliant century, what could have been a match-winning knock and one to be remembered for ages, ended in a heartbreak as New Zealand won the match by five runs.
From the perspective of a neutral cricket fan, it is of lesser importance which side wins, but all you want is to experience a tight game, in which both sides give it their all and the batsmen have to work hard for every run. This was not quite the case in the first half of the World Cup, but as the tournament is moving towards its business end, things have started to heat up. What more can a viewer ask for!
©Cricket World 2019