Five takeaways as a topsy-turvy 2023 World Cup group stage draws to a close
The 2023 World Cup group stage may have been filled with one-sided games but they all led to a rather unexpected combination of results.
The World Cup group stage drew to a close on Sunday with India thrashing the Netherlands by 160 runs and maintaining their perfect record. It had looked like there could be a long series of dead rubbers just before we reached the halfway mark of the group stage when there was a four-point gap between fourth place and fifth but in the end, the only constant that remained to the end was India being well above the rest of the field. There have been a number of other standout points as well in this tournament and so, let's take a look at five of them.
5. India - a dominant force
This has been obvious for a while and it might be forgotten as well if India lose either the semi-final or the final. There have been a lot of talk of the depth of talent available to India and that creating a selection headache but in this tournament, it has become quite clear that India had clear plans about their core group and what to do in case of injuries. It looked like Hardik Pandya's exit had somewhat derailed the machine during the middle overs of New Zealand's innings against them in Dharamsala but even then, India won by four wickets. Both components of India's batting, the top and the middle order, have fired on all cylinders and even then, it is the bowling attack that has proven to be far more potent. They have to pretty much start from scratch in the knockouts now that the group stage is in the past but beating this Indian side will be no mean task.
4. The 'Spirit of Cricket' debate will never die
Just when we seem to have got some kind of consensus on why a bowler running a batter out at the non-striker's end before delivering the ball is well within the realm of sportsmanship, Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan gave the cricket world another topic to split itself in half about. Angelo Mathews becoming the first player in the history of the international game to be timed out overshadowed almost everything else that happened in that match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. A number of commentators on the game were for it, but there were also many former cricketers who said that was not on. Mathews claimed that he did nothing wrong, even though the rules do clearly state that the player has to be ready with all equipment in place within two minutes and not just reach the crease and taken guard. Who is right and who is wrong is up for debate but when the situation is stripped down to the bare bones it reads somewhat like this - a player saw an opportunity to get a wicket, appealed, and was given the wicket.
3. The Netherlands deserve more
The Netherlands are not an unfamiliar sight in World Cups. This was their fifth campaign in the tournament and they came in after seeing off three Test playing nations in Zimbabwe, Ireland and two-time champions West Indies in a cut-throat qualifying tournament. One can say whatever they want about the quality of teams in the qualifiers but the fact remains that, aside from those sides that played in the Asia Cup, no other team had their competitive juices pumping in an intense tournament setting before the World Cup the way the Netherlands did, considering the fact that they emerged out of it as the only associate nation to qualify. They then gave South Africa an existential crisis by beating them soundly and went on to show that the victory was no fluke by beating Bangladesh and before that, they ran Sri Lanka close despite being 91/6 at one point. There were a few leatherings for them to endure as well but the Netherlands have shown in this tournament that, at least competitively, they deserve a shot at being a Test-playing nation.
2. Afghanistan have come of age
The result in their first match made it look like it would be yet another World Cup of largely big defeats for Afghanistan. Their batting failed to impress as they lost by six wickets to Bangladesh. But that department showed far more promise in their second match against India where they scored 272. And then it all came together when they beat defending champions England, a result that was seen as the upset of the tournament for a short while before the Netherlands did one over South Africa. But Afghanistan are an experienced lot in the highest level of cricket and they showed that their lack of ODI cricket experience doesn't mean they can be taken lightly. They then beat Pakistan in a bit of an earth-shattering result that led to all kinds of scandals and accusations breaking out in the latter nation, then thrashed Sri Lanka and then followed that up by beating the Netherlands. Four wins in a row and all of a sudden, they were in the race for the semi-finals. They would have been in pole position to that as well had it not been for Glenn Maxwell unleashing the freak's bazar of finishing acts on them in Mumbai but they did qualify for the 2025 Champions Trophy thanks to that run. While the Netherlands showed they deserve a seat among the big guns, Afghanistan showed that they deserve to play more than just bilateral T20I series with other teams.
1. Rule out Australia at your own peril
Australia didn't come into this tournament in the best of forms. That and two absolute thrashings in the first two games at the hands of India and Australia led to many obituaries being written about the team and how there used to be times when they were unconquerable in the World Cup. Well, Australia just went and won everything else they had to play regardless of what position they found themselves in. That run reached an extraordinary crescendo with Maxwell's innings to end all innings at the Wankhede against Afghanistan. It doesn't really matter how they play before a tournament, Australia will always be Australia.
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