The ICC Men's World Cup in 2019 - review

At the 12th attempt, England did something many thought would never happen - they won the World Cup

Hugh Chevallier
England partied long and hard at Lord's, England v New Zealand, World Cup 2019, Lord's, July 14, 2019

England partied long and hard at Lord's  •  Getty Images

1 England; 2 New Zealand; 3= Australia, India
At 7.30 on the evening of July 14, there came a strange sight. As the golden midsummer sun suffused Lord's with a glow fit for fables, a man, dressed all in blue, pummelled his fists into the emerald grass. He was in delirium, his flailing of limbs the only outlet for his ecstasy. Another crazy moment on the craziest of days. Jofra Archer had just coped with more pressure than most will experience in a lifetime, and tension was finding release. After England made 15 from their super over, he limited New Zealand to 15 from theirs. Tied after 100 overs, tied after two more. But the next separator was clear-cut: New Zealand hit 17 boundaries, England 27. Lord's was on its feet. At the 12th attempt, England had done something many thought would never happen. They had won the World Cup.
Wind back a few minutes, and other heroes peopled the stage. Set 242, England were 227 for eight, and up against it. Four years' graft had boiled down to six balls and 15 runs. Fortunately for them, Ben Stokes was on strike. But he could not trust a new partner to belt the boundaries that were the only path to glory and, with Trent Boult summoning off-side yorkers, he declined two singles: 15 from four. On this stage, on this pitch, against this bowler, the task was gargantuan. But Boult shortened his length, and Stokes connected. The task, still gargantuan, was six smaller.
Then came the luckiest - cruellest - moment. Martin Guptill hurled the ball from deep midwicket as Stokes, aiming to complete ahairy but essential second, dived headlong for safety. The ball pinged off his bat and to the third-man boundary for what The Times called "The Miracle of the Deflected Overthrow". After consulting, the umpires awarded six runs. This, it transpired, was more mistake than miracle: by the letter of Law 19.8, it should have been five; Adil Rashid should have been on strike, with four needed from two. But that happened in a parallel universe. In ours, in something that had to be reality though seemed anything but, they needed only three: Stokes snatched two singles, twice losing a partner as he attempted a second, to set up the uberdrama of the super over - and Archer raining blows on wormholes.
If the climax of the final justified every superlative, the earlier exchanges had been a little flatter. The last day of the tournament, then, was the 2019 World Cup in microcosm. In terms of combatants, this was the smallest since 1992, when there were nine. Now there were ten, four down on 2014-15, to allow an all-play-all format. So Full Members Ireland and Zimbabwe dropped out, as did Scotland and the United Arab Emirates. It showed the ICC's true colours: keener on monetising big beasts such as India than evangelising the 50-over game. This structure guaranteed everyone, regardless of performance, at least nine fixtures.
The first was in late May, and it confirmed why England were favourites. They cast aside South Africa with a familiar swagger that included a catch by Stokes so absurdly athletic it grabbed front-page headlines. The match also set a couple of hares running. One came from the second ball of the tournament, when Jonny Bairstow fell to Imran Tahir's leg-spin; the other when England passed 300 for the fifth ODI in a row. It was easy to read too much into both. Spin played a subdued role over the next six weeks. And when the ICC announced their Team of the Tournament, the only slow bowler was Shakib Al Hasan, batting at No. 5 and selected as much for 606 runs at 86 as his 11 wickets. Of the 29 bowlers to take at least ten, only five were spinners. The most was 12, by India's leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal; 17 seamers seized 13 or more. Though many pitches took a little turn, it rarely defined the game. The other hare was what constituted a decent total, a subject that could run and run - if not as far as some predicted.
Before the tournament, Virat Kohli, India's talkative captain, joined in a conversation about England targeting 500, a notion more rooted in mindgames than reality. More perceptively, he forecast that, as pressure rose, scores would fall. And then there were the pitches. The 2015 competition had been criticised for first-innings totals of 300-plus and one-sided games. Though the 11 venues used in 2019 all behaved differently, the surfaces, prepared under the ICC's supervision, tended to be slow. England, and the crowds, had to get used to lower totals. Pitches often lost pace even in the course of a game. For the first three weeks, a captain calling correctly would usually field; in only four of the first 21 completed games did he buck the trend. Bowling at 10.30 on a grey morning, and batsmen knowing the size of the chase - these were tempting options. Not that winning the toss conferred much advantage: in 11 of the 21, it led to defeat.
Those first three weeks did bring a discernible pattern, however. With one exception - Pakistan's defeat of England - whenever India, Australia, England or New Zealand met any of the other six, they prevailed, often by a comfortable margin. The tournament was acquiring a humdrum feel, alleviated more by individual acts of brilliance than memorable matches. Sheldon Cottrell's boundary dash to dismiss Steve Smith, as Australia dug deep against West Indies, was the equal of Stokes's wondercatch. The weather wasn't helping, either. There were no reserve days until the knockouts - when New Zealand took advantage of their semi-final against India spilling on to a second day - and rain filched four group matches, making it the wettest World Cup. Another talking-point was the Zing bails, which became the batsman's friend. Five times in the first 13 games they lit up, only to stay put. The ICC said they would not be changed, yet oddly the phantom illuminations stopped. But the biggest worry was that the group stage would descend into a series of dead rubbers.
And then, on the summer solstice, England met Sri Lanka at Leeds. Even on a comatose strip, a target of 233 would have been within the hosts' ambit 99 times out of 100. But this was the World Cup, Lasith Malinga opened old scars, and confidence evaporated. It was just what the tournament, if not England, needed: one of the breakaway group was wounded, and the pack picked up the scent. Now there was a sense of jeopardy and, though the Fab Four did ultimately progress, getting there turned out to be fun after all. The Headingley hiccup reinforced a change in strategy. As stakes grew higher, and pitches stodgier, so the value of runs in the bank rose. From the Australia v Bangladesh match at Nottingham on June 20 until the final, captains opted to bat 18 times out of 23, including the last nine. Results bore out the hunch: in those 23 games, the team batting first won 17 times, with one tied. That whiff of vulnerability became stronger when England crumbled again, to Australia at Lord's. They had beaten three of the weaker teams batting first, but chasing - so long their modus operandi - was turning out to be a different prospect. Victory over a flimsy West Indies aside, they had lost to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and now Australia. Still to come were India and New Zealand, the last two unbeaten teams. It looked horribly like a crisis: a slip in either game could - indeed would - have proved terminal. Having begun the tournament No. 1, England had briefly lost top spot to India after their third defeat. Integral to their wellbeing were the opening pair of Jason Roy and Bairstow. But Roy had pulled a hamstring against West Indies, and the wheels worked loose. Against India, England risked him, though not fully fit. He transformed the team, and they inflicted on India their only defeat of the league stage. They had to do it all over again against New Zealand - and did. First-wicket stands of 160 and 123 stamped authority on the matches after Morgan had twice won the toss. In three games with stand-in opener James Vince, Bairstow had twice cracked; reunited with Roy, he twice cracked hundreds. It may have helped that he worked himself into a lather after perceived slights from Michael Vaughan: "People were waiting for us to fail," said Bairstow. "They are not willing us on to win… they are waiting for you to get that loss so they can jump on your throat. It's a typical English thing to do, in every sport."
The fielding and bowling clicked too. Chris Woakes woke from a decent tournament to be the epitome of control in the opening overs. Against India, he did not concede a run until his 19th ball. Another important cog was Liam Plunkett, blessed with the knack of breaking through in the middle overs. His seven matches ended in victory (or at least not in defeat), and only against Afghanistan did England win without him. To a man, his 11 victims were from the top six. With the pace of Archer and Mark Wood, the leg-spin of Rashid and Stokes's back-up seam, England boasted the competition's most balanced attack. None averaged more than 5.71 an over; no other side could claim such consistency. England's late surge whooshed them to third, and a semi at Edgbaston. Aaron Finch chose to bat, and faint hearts sagged. Moments later, Australia were 14 for three, never to make a full recovery. England, who had not beaten them at the World Cup since 1992, walloped them into Worcestershire. Just as they did four years earlier, Australia had the leading wicket-taker. On both occasions it was Mitchell Starc, who in 2015 was joint top with fellow left-armer Boult. This time Starc took 27 wickets at 18, and his total from twoWorld Cups to 49. His dismissal of Stokes in the group game at Lord's, a vicious, whistling yorker homing in on the stumps, was the ball of the competition. The right-arm pace of Pat Cummins was a useful foil, more parsimonious if less penetrative. Finch used them in short bursts, and the ploy usually brought heads on a plate.
Australia were first to book a place in the knockouts. Their strength, pace apart, lay at the top of the order. In Finch and David Warner, they had an opening pair who could challenge England's. Finch smashed 507, but there was a post-sandpaper caution to Warner, who hit more runs than four years before, at a lower strike-rate: 647 at 89 rather than 345 at 120. While Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja were steady, Glenn Maxwell - the vaunted engineroom - was not, totalling 177 from ten innings. Instead,wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey burnished his reputation. The Australians lost twice in the league stage. Unexpected defeat by a demoralised South Africa in the last game meant their semi would be at Edgbaston, where they were yet to play. The less surprising defeat was at the hands of India, who in the group stages looked the most complete team. Their first match was delayed because the Lodha Commission had requested a window of at least 15 days between the IPL final and India's next international. Perhaps the rest did them good. Though they lost Shikhar Dhawan after Cummins broke his thumb, fellow opener Rohit Sharma proved nigh unstoppable. Drop him in haste, repent at leisure: South Africa, Australia, England and Bangladesh gave him a life in single figures, and all but Australia (when he made 57) watched him sail past 100. He hit an unprecedented five centuries, ending as the tournament's highest run-maker, with 648.
Kohli had hit 19 ODI centuries since the previous World Cup, so his was an odd string of scores, five times reaching 66, never passing 82. His captaincy was little tested while India kept winning, which suggested he wasn't doing a bad job. But he waxed prickly after the England defeat, carping about a short boundary, as if it affected one team more than the other. And selection issues dogged him and coach Ravi Shastri. They struggled to find a settled combination at Nos 4 and 5, positions that did not contribute a half-century. And the repeated exclusion of Ravindra Jadeja - peerless in the field, handy with bat or ball - remained one of life's unsolved mysteries, as impenetrable as the Bermuda Triangle or Voynich Manuscript. The captain, the coach and the nation appeared to retain faith in M.S. Dhoni, but at 38 he was a waning force. In both defeats, he was culpable. Against England, his 31-ball 42 sounded brisk, though he never took the game by the scruff; against New Zealand in the semi, his 72-ball 50 was shown up by Jadeja, in his second game, who powered 77 off 59. Dhoni's strike-rate of 87 was 15 lower than in 2015; his 2019 strike-rate of 45 against slow bowling was the lowest of any player to face at least 50 balls of spin. Jasprit Bumrah spearheaded the attack, with Kohli deploying him as Finch did Starc, in bursts. In a tournament marked by variation as much as pace, disguise as much as movement, Bumrah was masterful: slower-ball bouncers, fast-ball bouncers, knuckle balls, scrambled seams, full balls outside off, inswinging yorkers, off-cutters, leg-cutters… Underlying them all was finesse. He clogged up the start, middle and end of an innings and, while he fetched 18 wickets, an economy rate of just 4.41 also bought them for others. Mohammed Shami could thank Bumrah for many of his 14.
If the shock of the shebang was New Zealand shoving India aside in the first semi-final, perhaps it shouldn't have been. They are perennial World Cup overachievers, and in the phlegmatic Kane Williamson had the Player of the Tournament, the holist-in-chief who extracted more from his team than seemed possible. But in the group stage they peaked early, flirted with elimination after losing their last three, and progressed, intriguingly, courtesy of a tie-breaker that favoured net run-rate over head-to-head results. It was to Williamson's credit that, with a little help from a sticky Old Trafford pitch, he roused his side against India. Few sportsmen could have faced the horror of going undefeated in the final - and missing out on the trophy - with such equanimity. But Williamson was more than just dignity and grace. With a nod to greatness and yet another dab to third man, he hit 578 from No. 3, almost 27% of New Zealand's runs. On six occasions, he was batting before the total was 13. Against South Africa,he masterminded the overhaul of 241 (a score that came back to bite them) with the calm of a Zen master. Against West Indies, he built a monumental 148 from the first-over ruins of seven for two. No colleague made a century, no one approached his average of 82 (Ross Taylor's 38 was next). The biggest disappointment was Guptill: leading run-scorer in 2015 with 547, a lowly 45th in 2019 with 186. By the end, New Zealand had totted up 2,154 - over 1,000 behind England. Their only player in the top 18 run-makers was Williamson, but there were four in the top 14 wicket-takers. Their prowess lay in bowling first and limiting opponents to low scores (though they defended their own modest total in the semi-final, and came within an ace of repeating the trick in the final). The zippy Lockie Ferguson claimed 21 wickets, while Boult, another of the leftarm army, and Matt Henry found early breakthroughs; Jimmy Neesham epitomised New Zealand's can-do attitude, allying 15 wickets with 232 runs. Boult had another string to his bow, his catch at long-on bringing a breathless victory over West Indies when a pace backwards would, it turned out, have brought an early exit. It was tough, then, that almost his only error came at an even more crucial juncture, when he trod on the boundary late in the Lord's final, reprieving Stokes and handing England six.
It was as if Pakistan had set out to tick every box marked stereotype. Mercurial batting, inconsistent bowling, unpredictable fielding: all the old favourites, all valid. They had lost ten of their previous 11 ODIs - the other was a no-result - so expectations were modest. Their opening fixture was against West Indies, who seemed to offer a short cut to winning ways.Instead, Pakistan came the almightiest of croppers. Bounced out for 105 in 22 overs, they were flattened inside 14 more. If their pride was punctured, the lasting damage was to their net run-rate: after one game, it read -5.80. The full grimness of that figure would not become clear for another five weeks. Given that they had lost to West Indies, how would they fare against England, who had just brushed them aside 4-0? Daft question, really. Pakistan won. If that apparently confirmed there was no pattern to their performances, the next three fixtures - a washout against Sri Lanka, defeats by Australia and India - persuaded some that, far from random, the sequence was preordained. At the 1992 World Cup, Imran Khan's Pakistan had endured anidenticalstart: heavy defeat (by West Indies), victory, no-result, defeat, defeat. Even though Sarfraz Ahmed's 2019 team lost to India, incurable optimists took heart from the fact that an unbroken string of victories had sped Imran to cricketing immortality. The correlation was extraordinary, and Pakistan did indeed win all their remaining games. But there the parallel ended. Theybegan their last match knowing that, though they could (and did) tie with the fourthplace side, New Zealand, on points and wins, their net run-rate was beyond rescue. Their coach, Mickey Arthur, suggested the head-to-head result might be a fairer means of separation, especially since they had won that clash. There were no complaints from New Zealand. Not about this tie-breaker - nor, to be fair, the one in the final. Babar Azam defied stereotype and made at least 45 in six of his eight innings, while Imam-ul-Haq was almost as dependable. As so often, the stars werethe left-armquicks.Despiteonlyfivewicketsfromhisprevious15ODIs, Mohammad Amir was a wild-card choice for the squad, provoking the jilted Junaid Khan into posting a photograph of himself with tape over his mouth. Amir and the 19-year-old Shaheen Shah Afridi, who against Bangladesh became the youngest to take a World Cup five-for, shared 33.
Also unhappy about tie-breaks were Sri Lanka. Having resuscitated the tournament from looming lifelessness at Leeds, they started their penultimate game theoretically able to match England on points. But, victims of two washouts, they could not swell their number of wins beyond England's, and so were eliminated, come what may. Their preparations had been shambolic, epitomised by the choice of captain: Dimuth Karunaratne had not played an ODI between March 2015 and May 2019. Routed by New Zealand, they almost lost to Afghanistan and, after Headingley, the good news went no further than victory over West Indies.
South Africa endured their worst World Cup, which was saying something. It was pretty much downhill from that second ball dismissal of Bairstow, when the 40-year-old Tahir tore off on a celebratory circuit of The Oval. But England won at a canter, and Faf du Plessis's side lost their first three games. So much for the captain's relaxed regime, aimed to guard against choking… Successes against Afghanistan and Sri Lanka were scant cause for junketing, and some likened the defeat of Australia to a dead-cat bounce. They were not helped by the risky selection of Dale Steyn, whose shoulder injury prevented him taking the field, or by fellow fast bowler Lungi Ngidi being sidelined for five matches after pulling a hamstring. Then there was Hashim Amla, whose strike-rate of 64 was the lowest by anyone to make 200 runs (which he did by just three). And in an extraordinary intervention, former captain A. B. de Villiers had suggested an 11th-hour return, despite retiring from international cricket in March 2018. South Africa rejected what they saw as a destabilising move.
The Bangladesh story was essentially Shakib - consistency incarnate at No.3. Eight innings produced a forty and seven fifties, two of which blossomed into hundreds, while his left-arm spin was typically tidy. He was the only player outside the semi-finalists to make the ICC Team of the Tournament. Bangladesh began by beating South Africa, which engendered more hope than it probably merited, though in Mushfiqur Rahim and Mustafizur Rahman they had batting experience and, at the death, fizzing seam. Victory over West Indies came thanks to the second-highest successful run-chase in World Cup history. But for Mashrafe bin Mortaza - stalwart, captain and member of parliament - figures of one for 361 told a salutary tale. And then there were the sides who had come through the qualifiers.
At around midday on June 6, West Indies looked like champions: after crushing Pakistan, they had Australia 79 for five. But they couldn't convert it into victory, and thereafter enjoyed only flashes of brilliance. By a matter of inches, Carlos Brathwaite failed to hit the six that would have given them a famous win over New Zealand, and kept their hopes alive. They also had to contend with the distraction of the Chris Gayle sideshow, which produced many slow starts and only two fifties.
Afghanistan lost all nine matches, but won a few friends. Not that relations within the camp were cordial. Like Sri Lanka, they appointed a new captain, Gulbadeen Naib, in the run-up to the World Cup, while coach Phil Simmons threatened to detail the fraught goings-on after wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad was sent home with a damaged knee, only to claim the injury was a fiction. Not short on self-assurance, Gulbadeen opened the batting (and bowled at the death) with more swash than buckle. They gave genuine frights to India and Pakistan, but suffered their own against England, when Morgan eviscerated Rashid Khan. It took immense character to come back from conceding 110 (and 11 sixes), but stick at it he did.
So, was the 46-day jamboree a roaring success? There were roars, all right, whenever a subcontinental team were involved. Even the smattering of Afghan supporters ensured a crackling atmosphere, though during the Pakistan match at Leeds they were involved in scuffles. Indian fans outnumbered all others, England's included. With India v Pakistan in mind, Old Trafford erected a mammoth temporary stand comprising 47km of scaffolding, and seating 8,500. It made little impression on the 800,000 who had apparently applied for tickets. Without the vibrancy and volume that accompanied the Asian teams, some clashes felt bloodless. Despite the winners, the impact of the final was hard to gauge. The only World Cup behind a TV paywall in the host country, it was scandalously invisible in the UK. Though the organisers staged it after the domestic football season, they underestimated the profile of the women's World Cup, with which it clashed, and which hogged attention. So there were 25 times more British eyes on Lyon (France) for the semi-final between England and the USA than on Lyon (Nathan) for the semi-final between England and Australia. The sobering figures were 11.7m v 465,000.
Redemption, though, was on hand in the unexpected form of Sky TV, and the improved form of the England team. Sky promised that if Morgan's side reached the final, they would share the rights with a free-to-air broadcaster. So Channel 4 cleared the airtime decks. Out went A Place in the Sun; in came a place at the crease. Few swaps in life are as delicious. The tournament locomotive pootling down the branch line to Bognor now had clearance for the tracks used by the Bullet Train. The figures were good - all told, 8.7m watched the Lord's denouement - but not that good. The concurrent Wimbledon men's final attracted 9.6m. More encouraging was the performance of the BBC website, which saw 39.7m page views, the largest for a live event of any sort. The BBC ran with it the next day, too, and cricket took over Radio 4, especially the flagship Today programme. ESPNcricinfo appeared on a review of the papers and websites, while the lead item on the news and sports bulletins, the theme of Thought for the Day and the subject of the exalted 8.10 slot were all England's triumph. One of the presenters, Justin Webb, said: "The next hour of this programme will be one elongated super over."
There were gripes. Why on earth did the ICC need to introduce away strips when, for centuries, 22 players dressed in white have avoided mistaking an opponent for a colleague? Could the "cricketarists", strumming riffs at the fall of each wicket, have had a wider repertoire? Did it really need a team of 21 to hold up three flags before each game? And - no question mark here - there is a limit to the number of times any human being can listen to yet another snatch of Loryn & Rudimental singing "Stand By", the ubiquitous World Cup anthem. And yet, and yet, and yet. In the end, it was truly, madly, utterly brilliant.