February 21, 2015

Afghanistan stir emotions; four NZ fielders back up a throw

ESPNcricinfo's writers covering the World Cup pick out their favourite moment from the first week's matches

It was an incredibly special moment for Afghanistan fans when their national anthem played for the first time in a World Cup © Getty Images

Jarrod Kimber - Afghanistan v Bangladesh, Canberra, February 18
Being in the crowd as the Afghanistan national anthem was sung is something I'll never forget. Despite all the cricket politics involved, here is a country that has been through so much, that was standing and singing their anthem because their country had produced a team good enough to compete on the world stage. There were a few teary fans, but mostly, they were just happy. Their team was in a World Cup. Their flag was on show. And their players were about to get a chance. Right in front of me was a small boy with an Afghanistan shirt on. He couldn't have been more than six. He was just a young boy, wearing his team shirt, at a sporting match. But because of the match, and because of the team, it just seemed all the more special.

Andrew Fidel Fernando - Afghanistan training, Dunedin, February 20
Dawlat Zadran didn't play Afghanistan's opening World Cup match. Maybe he felt he had something to prove, because two days later, at his team's first training in Dunedin, he was tearing in from almost the edge of the practice area, sending down some vicious stuff. Almost every batsman who came into Dawlat's net had his edge beaten. Some had theirs taken - ball zooting off towards would-be slips. Still, Dawlat kept pounding in until coach Andy Moles stepped in and told him to ease up. Dawlat could injure himself, was perhaps the logic, or just as bad, he could hurt a batsman. Even off a shortened run up, he continued to trouble the men at the other end. Dawlat's was not an act that transformed a match, nor did it bring much joy to anyone. But these are the deeds, strung together, that make a career. Two years from now, even Dawlat might not remember the time he tried so hard at training, his coach had to tell him to stop. But if because of his effort, he gets a game on Sunday, delicious possibilities hang for him off an earnest day in the nets.

George Binoy - England v New Zealand, Wellington, February 20
New Zealand were so incredible in the field against England in Wellington that it is hard to single out one of their many spectacular efforts. Brendon McCullum's ground fielding and Adam Milne's catch to dismiss Eoin Morgan were the highlights. But New Zealand are able to perform such exceptional feats because they are constantly switched on, even while doing mundane housekeeping - like backing up a throw to the wicketkeeper. The ball had gone to the leg side and the England batsmen were hurrying through for a run as the throw came in to Luke Ronchi. I can't remember whether Ronchi collected cleanly or not because the sight of fielders from the slip cordon, gully and point, and short cover, rushing to get in line to prevent overthrows was astonishing. During the recent Tests against Sri Lanka, New Zealand frequently had four fielders chasing after the ball as it sped towards the boundary, and at the Cake Tin they had four players ready and willing to get behind their wicketkeeper for the ordinary act of backing up a throw.

Firdose Moonda - South Africa v Zimbabwe, Hamilton, February 15
Australia-England, India-Pakistan, South Africa-Zimbabwe. The last one doesn't quite fit in the list of cricket's great rivalries, does it? The African continent's iconic contests are more about football or political rivalries but in Hamilton, cricket created its own memorable moment. An ad hoc Zimbabwean band began proceedings in Garden Place, a public square, before the Soweto Gospel Choir filled the air with the sounds of Africa. The music kept going through the match, drumming from the Zimbabwean fans accompanied every ball, even when David Miller punished their bowling, especially when Hamilton Masakadza made his name in the city of the same name, and when their challenge fizzled out. Cricket might not be the quintessential African game but for one day in middle earth, it was.

Zimbabwe's fans created a vibrant atmosphere for the African derby in Hamilton © Getty Images

Brydon Coverdale - UAE v Zimbabwe, Nelson, February 19
Know your role, cricketers often say. Execute. UAE may be the least-fancied team in this World Cup, but they too know their roles. To see Amjad Javed and Mohammad Naveed plunder 20 off the penultimate over against Zimbabwe in Nelson was pleasing; if tailenders in an Associate team can do that against a Full Member nation, the competition is alive and strong. It was hard not to smile when Amjad casually lofted Tinashe Panyangara over long-off for six. "Some coaches think I am good in the end if they need 20 or 30 runs," Amjad told me the day before the game. "Scoring 20 or 30 runs can be a match-winning innings." His 25 off 19 balls nearly was; Zimbabwe made hard work of their chase of 286. UAE at least ensured the closest match of the World Cup to that point.

Andy Zaltzman - Australia v England, Melbourne, February 14
England had been waiting for a hat-trick at the home of Australian cricket since January 1883. Few of the current Barmy Army were alive to see Billy Bates scuttle the mighty Australian middle order of McDonnell, Giffen and Bonnor, presaging a thumping innings victory, although of course even today English schoolchildren talk of little else. So when Steve Finn blasted through the modern Australian tail in England's opening-day game to add his name to that list of one English MCG hat-trick, even Her Majesty The Queen must have been trampolining in celebration on her royal bed.

In an ideal world, the hat-trick would not have comprised three aerial hoicks to the final three balls of the innings in a spell of completely playable fast bowling, making absolutely no difference to a clearly-already-match-winning score of 342, but history is history. And, on current form, after England proceeded to their expected drubbing at the MCG and then lost by an innings against New Zealand, Finn's moment of not-much-glory may well be seen to have been the high point of England's World Cup campaign.

George Dobell - Australia v England, Melbourne, February 14
If England had any chance against Australia, they had to strike with the new ball. Instead, in the first over, Aaron Finch flicked the ball towards Chris Woakes at square leg but Woakes, legs a little heavy, arms a little stiff, was slow to move to the ball and spilt the chance. Finch went on to score a century and England went on to a thrashing. It might all have been different.

Abhishek Purohit - Afghanistan v Bangladesh, Canberra, February 18
Bangladesh do not win much. They are rarely favourites. They were expected to win their tournament opener against Afghanistan in Canberra, but the fact they had lost their only previous ODI against them piled more pressure. No wonder Mushfiqur Rahim, who was captain when Bangladesh had gone down to Afghanistan at home last March, removed the bails forcefully to run out the last Afghanistan batsman and seal the win. The team then set out on a victory lap of Manuka Oval, acknowledging the thousands of Bangladesh fans who had turned up, many of them from Sydney. There was no extravagance in the lap; Bangladesh knew it was only their first game of the tournament. But there was no mistaking how much the victory meant to them.

Andrew McGlashan - New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Christchurch, February 14
The rebuilding of Christchurch and the revival of the New Zealand cricket team came together on the opening day of the World Cup. Anticipation and nervousness abounded, from players, supporters and administrators. Never before had the cricketers faced such expectations, but any nerves were immediately settled by Brendon McCullum who drove his first ball of the tournament for four and proceeded to slam 65 off 49 balls in front of an increasingly excited crowd on a chilly, grey but joyful morning at Hagley Park. Even the most sceptical person could not have failed to enjoy into the moment.