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Ian Chappell

Sri Lanka's win over England shows that ODIs don't need huge totals to be exciting

Their victory breathed life into an otherwise predictable World Cup

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Lasith Malinga celebrates the wicket of James Vince with his teammates, England v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2019, Headingley, June 21, 2019

Could Sri Lanka's win inspire Pakistan, South Africa and West Indies to step up as well?  •  Getty Images

A World Cup that started out showing promise of being the most open suddenly appeared to be a closed shop when Bangladesh were submerged by Australia's batting avalanche.
However a Sri Lankan side, beset by a batting unit that featured a spluttering engine and by splattering rain drops that favoured their venues, has breathed life back into a tournament whose preliminary stages were on life support. The England team, carrying a reputation for batting feasts (albeit with the occasional famine) were upset when they were starved of runs by an inspired Sri Lankan attack.
Until this Sri Lankan resurgence, the prestigious 50-over tournament had appeared to be a battle between just four teams - India, England, Australia and New Zealand - to decide who is the best.
The disappointing form of West Indies and Pakistan, plus the complete implosion of South Africa, had seemingly robbed the tournament of its competitive edge. Sri Lanka changed all that in a low-scoring thriller.
It's long been my contention that it's not beneficial for the 50-over game to have huge first-innings scores in the same way that Test cricket doesn't profit when the team batting first scores excessively. In both cases, this drastically reduces the chance of an enticing contest. Sri Lanka's defeat of England was further proof that the 50-over game can be exciting and entertaining without the ball constantly being deposited into the stands by batsmen faced with only a moderate challenge.
Administrators need to give serious thought to how ODIs can return to a more even contest between bat and ball. It's natural that the longer the game the more likely it is that any difference in the ability of the respective teams will be exposed. Hence the popularity of T20s where the lesser teams have more chance of staying competitive in a match for longer. The admirably feisty Afghanistan have provided the perfect example of this fact as they have struggled mightily at the World Cup.
It was no surprise the "Big Three" - India, Australia and England - as they were dubbed a few years ago when they attempted a financial coup, are in the thick of the fight for the title. Those three teams are the strongest financially and have the best infrastructure. New Zealand are a classic case of a side perennially making the most of what they have, and Sri Lanka, with their strong cricketing tradition, proved once again they are capable of producing a big upset.
Of the top four, India appear to be the best balanced. England are prone to inconsistency and perhaps suffer from the pressure of playing at home. Against the better sides, Australia are heavily dependent against on David Warner, Aaron Finch and Steven Smith's batting and Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins' bowling. New Zealand lack big names but they do have Kane Williamson and Trent Boult and a mountain of determination.
India would love to find a way to squeeze Mohammed Shami into their best line-up but to do so lengthens the tail and this is risky in an era of large totals. India are also the best placed to cover for injuries to important players. While Shikhar Dhawan's absence is a blow to them, his opening replacement, KL Rahul, is very capable and Vijay Shankar's presence adds variety to the bowling.
Australia will be in big trouble if they were to lose one of Starc or Cummins to injury.
Despite Sri Lanka's defeat of England, the current top four are still likely to contest the semi-finals. India are favourite to finish on top as they have a reasonably easy remaining draw. Australia and England have some tough matches ahead and the loser of their clash could well occupy fourth spot.
For the tournament's sake, it's to be hoped that Sri Lanka's uprising will inspire West Indies, Pakistan and South Africa to do better. That would whet the appetite for what should be a highly competitive and entertaining knockout stage.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a a columnist