ICC World Cup 2019: India apart, few highs for Asian teams
Pakistan are probably unluckiest this time, missing out on a semi-final spot due to net run rate, but Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have nothing much to show apart from a few upsets.Updated: Jul 08, 2019 08:18 IST
India’s ascent remains unhindered in the World Cup but Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka haven’t made it to the last four for two editions in a row now. It doesn’t make for a good report card for Asia that has the most representatives in ICC and a separate body with its own tournament. No one will fault Afghanistan, who gave it their all and probably deserved to win against Pakistan and India. Pakistan are probably unluckiest this time, missing out on a semi-final spot due to net run rate, but Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have nothing much to show apart from a few upsets.
That Bangladesh find themselves below Sri Lanka in the points table despite a rollicking start beating South Africa, is underwhelming because this was supposed to be a ‘people’s team’—according to coach Steve Rhodes—that was finally ready to rewrite history. Sri Lanka, maybe seen more as party poopers because of their role in keeping English fans on the edge, will feel hard done by due to the washouts against Pakistan and Bangladesh.
West Indies’ deception is somewhat to blame too. Their campaign ultimately fizzled out after losing to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka but beating Pakistan provided them a temporary aura in an otherwise dull campaign. In hindsight, Pakistan were not themselves in just one match among the nine and West Indies took full advantage of that, leaving Sarfaraz Ahmed and his boys ruing what could have been had they not given in to tournament jitters. Beating England, South Africa, and especially New Zealand, will be counted as the highs of Pakistan though India maintained their partisan World Cup record against them. Shaheen Shah Afridi was unearthed, so was a new avatar of Babar Azam, the hero against New Zealand. Mohammad Amir was back to his best while Wahab Riaz was all heart as usual in a bowling performance that will give Pakistan plenty of hope.
Despite the praise, Bangladesh could only win three matches this time, the same as in 2007, 2011 and 2015. No one will remember they had fought well against New Zealand and India and that they almost chased down Australia’s 381. Captain Mashrafe Mortaza’s admission that they are a better side in Asia further strengthens the feeling this Bangladesh team may have been wrongly projected as their best ever. Call it pressure from the media or public, Bangladesh were always playing catch-up despite lofty ambitions. Winning against South Africa no doubt was the biggest highlight of their campaign, but other frailties were exposed very soon. If the grounds are big, Bangladesh still lack the idea of how to build partnerships.
They looked blunt upfront, be it in bowling or batting. Tamim Iqbal had a forgettable campaign, figuring in just two fifty opening partnerships when Bangladesh often needed him to go berserk in the first 10 overs. Led by Mortaza, the bowling also faced challenging moments. Against England, Australia and India, they couldn’t break the opening partnership till the 20th, 21st and 30th over respectively. Each time, Bangladesh conceded over 300. They were also probably the worst fielding side along with Pakistan, dropping eight catches. Shakib Al Hasan’s brilliance is not enough to mask these problems. “Bowling has not been up to the mark, starting from me and the others, especially the first 10 or 20 overs,” Mortaza said after the loss to Pakistan. “We needed to pick wickets. In some matches, the fielding really cost us, ground fielding especially. It helps the bowlers when fielders back you up. Catches were dropped. It happens. But when it keeps happening, questions will of course be asked.”
Like Pakistan, Sri Lanka too started poorly, suffering a 10-wicket loss to New Zealand. Then came the 11-day lull due to two washed out matches and Sri Lankan hopes were thrown out of gear when Australia captain Aaron Finch scored a daddy hundred to set them a stiff chase at the Oval. Things went south after that loss. England happened more by default than design as Sri Lanka continued to underperform with bat and ball. Only two centuries were scored by Sri Lanka, both in defeats. Not once did a Sri Lanka bowler return a five-wicket haul, Lasith Malinga coming closest with 4/43 against England. Theirs is a clear case of not finding replacements big enough to fill the gaps left by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Now that Malinga too won’t be around, Sri Lanka better find some long-term solutions.
But only after they set their house in order; only last year was Sri Lanka cricket labelled the most corrupt by ICC, even worse than Zimbabwe. The present administration, mired in an imbroglio over elections and court interventions, needs to come clear and address the players’ needs quickly. Comparison with the administrative mess in Indian cricket crops up, but India have such a robust domestic and IPL structure in place that the show will go on irrespective of the politics. Little has been done to improve Sri Lankan domestic cricket as well.
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne was quite clear about following India’s example. “They have good domestic teams and a good season,” he said after the loss to India. “Those are the things they will keep building, keep producing good players. We expect the same from our administration.”