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ICC World Cup 2019: Captain marvel - leading the way

If a captain is in good form, the team’s confidence soars. It’s not only about performing on the field but also representing the team in the best way possible.

cricket Updated: Jun 21, 2019 21:39 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, Birmingham
ICC World Cup 2019,World Cup 2019,Virat Kohli
India's captain Virat Kohli, right, talks to Australia's captain Aaron Finch.(AP)

As we just cross the halfway mark on this long World Cup road, four teams have led the way—Australia, New Zealand, England and India have been dominant with bat and ball, and have outplayed others with both brain and brawn.

Their consistency is proof of a settled team composed of players who know their roles and a thinktank that has different strategies against different opponents. They have also all been led from the front. Virat Kohli, Eoin Morgan, Aaron Finch and Kane Williamson are all consistently among the runs, and each of them has played at least one innings of crucial importance towards the winning cause.

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India’s openers have made explosive starts, but Kohli has helped build fighting totals on that foundation. After opening stands of 127 and 136 against Australia and Pakistan respectively, India’s second wicket partnerships involving Kohli were 93 and 98. It has become a cliché to say that Kohli is in the form of his life—he has been there for years now—but so assured is his batting that he can dictate the pace of his innings without even having to clear the ropes. Among the 25 batsmen to have scored at least 150 runs at this World Cup, Kohli has hit the second lowest number of boundaries 12. Still, he maintains a strike rate of over 100, something only eight of those 25 batsmen have managed. Kohli is boosting India’s scoring rate in the middle overs in the form of big, steady partnerships, and doing it his way.

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson is cut from the same cloth—his game awareness against South Africa, where he batted for 138 deliveries to fashion a thrilling four-wicket victory, will perhaps be counted as one of the finest World Cup innings ever. He scored a century alright, but it was done with Williamson chipping away patiently at a South African bowling attack that threw everything at him, and removed two of his partners with consecutive balls. Yet, in the end, it was Williamson who wore the bowling attack down, and took his team to the finish line.

“Kane batted through for the hundred and that was the game changer. We did everything we could,” said South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis, who has stood at the wrong end four times now, against New Zealand, India, Bangladesh and England.

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Which brings us to the other side of the coin—the teams who have not done well, also have captains who have failed on the field. Du Plessis, for example, has scored just 128 runs in five innings so far. In absence of big scores from senior batsmen like Hashim Amla, David Miller and JP Duminy, South Africa’s dreams have tumbled. Du Plessis has stood up and taken ownership.

“When I speak about putting your hand up and putting performances in, I point my finger at us as a unit,” he has said. “Certainly, I need to be the leading run scorer in our batting unit with Quinton de Kock probably.”

Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed is in plenty of trouble as well, singled out for sharp criticism by fans and former Pakistani cricketers for his and Pakistan’s dismal run at the tournament.

Ahmed has scored just 115 runs in four innings, with one fifty (55) in Pakistan’s win against England. Ahmed had the chance to be a hero in the Australia match as well, but failed to inspire the lower order to bat with him during a chase of 307 that could easily have gone Pakistan’s way.

West Indies captain Jason Holder’s form with the bat has been even worse. Yet to cross 100 runs, Holder got out in the most unwanted fashion against England when he had a chance to resurrect the innings. A simple caught and bowled to part-time bowler Joe Root sparked a slide that couldn’t be arrested and West Indies couldn’t even bat through their entire quota of overs. That defeat hurt West Indies, before Bangladesh brought their World Cup dreams crashing.

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If a captain is in good form, the team’s confidence soars. It’s not only about performing on the field but also representing the team in the best way possible. Take Eoin Morgan’s example. A back strain had rendered Morgan almost immobile in the Southampton game against West Indies, but he still attended the post-match press conference, even if it meant he had to stand all the while. One of the most aggressive batsmen in the tournament, Morgan has successfully worked on his Twenty20 game to become a dependable bat in the 50-over format. Till before the Sri Lanka match, he had scored 249 runs in four innings, the 71-ball 148 being the highlight so far for the incredulous 17 sixes hit by the England captain. He failed in England’s defeat against Pakistan but has been consistent in other matches, starting with a 57 against South Africa. Along with Ben Stokes, Morgan stitched a fourth-wicket partnership of 106 runs in as many balls to put England back on track for a 300-plus score.

Never has a stronger England team played a World Cup at home. Aware of the expectations, Morgan wants to set an example by scoring heavily. “The Champions Trophy two years ago, I had a couple of scores; I would have like to have gotten more. But this is where it matters. All the work over the last four years, over the course of my career, it’s, yeah, it all sort of comes to a front now,” Morgan has said.

The biggest revelation has been Aaron Finch. His consistency on the placid pitches of the UAE before the World Cup was along expected lines, but English conditions demanded more caution and skill. Finch has navigated that with aplomb. Australia’s victories have been stitched together by Finch and David Warner’s opening partnerships. In Australia’s five victories so far, Finch has had scores of 53, 153, 82, 6 and 66. The corresponding partnerships were 121, 80, 146, 61, 15 and 96. The batsman who once had problems facing the incoming delivery, has now looked more confident in his drives. “I was hitting some nice drives early, which is a good sign for my batting. I’m working on trying to ensure my head doesn’t fall over,” Finch said after scoring 153 against Sri Lanka, the highest score by an Australia captain in the World Cup.

First Published: Jun 21, 2019 21:39 IST

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