ICC World Cup 2019: First Day, First Over: Blockbuster start to the tournament
South Africa is a ferocious fast bowling team, even in the injured Dale Steyn’s absence from the opening game of the 2019 World Cup. Kagiso Rabada is possibly the quickest and the best paceman in the world today; Lungi Ngidi is not far behind; and even the medium pacers in Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius consistently bowl at the 85mph mark.
Nothing unexpected then that South Africa captain Faf du Plessis took one look at the green tinge on the pitch and the low lying clouds hanging above the Oval, and put England in to bat. But here’s the thing about the opening over of the opening game of 50-over World Cups: it often tends to throw up surprises.
On Thursday, that surprise was Imran Tahir. When du Plessis tossed the ball in his leg spinner’s direction, a few audible oohs and aahs went off in the stadium’s terraces. Never before, in eleven previous editions of the quadrennial, had a spinner bowled the opening over of the first World Cup match.
What a first over it would turn out to be. At either end of the pitch stood the world’s most dangerous opening pair, England’s Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow. Roy faced the historic spin off to the World Cup, pushing the first Tahir ball – a straighter one – through covers for a single.
Bairstow premeditated a big stride out on the second ball, expecting perhaps one of Tahir’s famous variations. But the ball gripped on the pitch, one that was clearly drier than it looked, and nicked the outside edge of his bat. Even before ‘keeper Quinton de Kock could go up in appeal, Tahir was off on his unfettered celebration—legs kicking, arms spread out and head tilted back at the skies.
This, of course, wasn’t the first time a World Cup began with a striking first over. At another Oval, the one in Hagley Park in Christchurch, the 2015 World Cup started with the same bowler who bowled the ball that ended the previous edition in 2011, Nuwan Kulasekara. Sri Lanka had Lasith Malinga in their ranks at the Hagley, but they were perhaps keen on continuity, like the second season of a web-series that begins exactly where the first season ended.
Speaking of the 2011 World Cup, that edition began with a first-ball boundary from Virender Sehwag. At the Sher-e-Bangla in Dhaka, Shafiul Islam kicked off the tournament amidst much cheer, noise and fanfare, for a proud cricketing nation was playing its first ever World Cup match at home. The ball wasn’t a bad one, on middle and short of a length, but Sehwag lashed at it anyway—a glorious backfoot drive that crashed into the cover fence, and silenced a nation.
It wasn’t the first World Cup that began with a bang off the very first ball. In 1992, in the opener between the co-hosts, Australia’s Craig McDermott cleaned up New Zealand’s John Wright to set the tone for what was a World Cup dominated by the bowlers. But if we are to address how the first ball of a World Cup has the capability to set a precedence, then please consider the first ever ball bowled in any World Cup; in 1975, Amritsar-born Madan Lal bowled to the Byculla-born John Jameson and just a few years later, the game, the format and the tournament would find a new spiritual home in the country of their births.