The players who lit up the 2019 World Cup

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20th July, 2019 04:12:20 printer

The players who lit up the 2019 World Cup

This is an analysis of the leading performers of this year's World Cup, based on my ODI performance-ratings methodology. The complete details of the methodology can be perused here - click here for the batting methodology, and here for the bowling one.

A significant tweak for the World Cup

Readers might remember that I use the par score values, both batting and bowling, extensively in my performance-ratings work. I determine the par scores based on a comprehensive analysis of the decisive matches, by period. For the last period, i.e. 2014-19, the batting par score was 300 and the bowling par score 233. All my initial work was based on these values. However, as we came up to the knockout stages of the World Cup, it was clear that the scores were nowhere near as high as expected; the tournament had many scores below 300.

I also did a complete analysis for the World Cup itself. Lo and behold, what did I find out? The batting par score was 268 and the bowling par score 222. I could not just ignore these significant variations, especially considering it was such an important event, so I made a tweak, only for the World Cup. Once I applied these tweaked par scores, the batting points moved higher and the bowling points lower. Now that the World Cup is over, I am going to completely overhaul my ODI ratings system, based on ideas offered by readers and my exchanges with them.

One important point: for the purposes of the performance ratings analysis, since the final was a tie, the players get credit for a tied match, which is two-thirds of a that for a result match. What happened afterwards, in the Super Over, is not part of this analysis. More on that later.

The best innings of this World Cup was played early in the tournament. The Indian bowlers kept South Africa to a sub-par 227. It was not going to be an easy chase, considering the quality of South Africa's bowling. Rohit Sharma played a mature, measured and beautifully paced innings of 122 not out to take India to a comfortable win.

For New Zealand against West Indies, Kane Williamson came in at 0 for 1 and saw the score slump to 7 for 2. Few would have realised that the match would hang in balance till the last ball, about seven hours later. Williamson scored a truly magnificent 148 at almost a run a ball and took New Zealand to a match-winning 291. The importance of Williamson's innings, and of this particular match, cannot be over-emphasised.

Bangladesh have a world-class bowling attack. When Australia played them at Trent Bridge, David Warner was in blistering form and scored a quick-fire 166, the highest score in the tournament, and took Australia to 381. All those runs were needed since Bangladesh scored well over 300 in the chase.

Ben Stokes played arguably his greatest ODI innings in the final, against New Zealand. Coming in at 71 for 3, he stayed till the last ball, scoring 84 priceless runs to tie the match. What he did in the Super Over is outside the purview of this analysis. His tour de force ultimately proved to be a World-Cup-winning effort, if not a match-winning one. Since the match was a tie, Stokes only gets tie-related points. Else, this would have been the best innings of the World Cup.

Aaron Finch's 153 against Sri Lanka was almost identical to Warner's effort and gave Australia an easy win.

Readers can see that the top six innings are all within a point's range. Two innings deserve mention. Ravindra Jadeja's 77 in 59 balls, which almost took the semi-final away from New Zealand, and Nathan Coulter-Nile's masterly 92 at a strike rate of 153.33, which lifted Australia from 147 for 6 to a match-winning 288 against West Indies. Jadeja's was in a lost cause, but Coulter-Nile's innings saw Australia narrowly sneak home.

The league match between Australia and England was a curtain-raiser to the semi-final a couple of weeks later. England needed to win to comfortably qualify for the semis and they looked to be on track when they restricted Australia to a good but not imposing total of 285. Then left-armer Jason Behrendorff took centre stage, dismissing both openers and later taking three wickets when Stokes mounted a counterattack. His 5 for 44 takes pride of place.

Four days before the Australia game, England had lost unexpectedly to Sri Lanka, though they kept them to a middling 232 for 9. They had no answers against Lasith Malinga, who took everyone back a decade with a devastating spell of pace bowling, eventually finishing with 4 for 43 in a 20-run win.

In third place is Mitchell Starc, for his 5 for 26 against New Zealand. Australia scored only 243 and New Zealand seemed well on their way when Starc produced a masterclass of left-arm seam bowling. His five-for bowled New Zealand out for 157.

The theoretical chances Pakistan had of qualifying depended on their defeating Bangladesh by over 300 runs - an impossible task. However, they started well and put up 315. Then Shaheen Afridi ran rings around the Bangladesh batsmen, taking six wickets for 35, which included four top-order wickets.

In the final, Lockie Ferguson produced a bowling masterclass of 3 for 50 - two top-order wickets and the timely dismissal of Chris Woakes took this spell into the top five. If New Zealand had won, this might have been the best bowling performance of the World Cup.

The other performance worth a mention is Matt Henry's match-winning burst at the top of the India innings in the semi-final. This spell of 3 for 37 fetched more points than many four- or five-wicket spells. Let us also not forget Liam Plunkett's three top-order wickets in the final.

This table is led by two magnificent performances by Shakib Al Hasan. The first was against West Indies. He took 2 for 54 in the huge West Indian total of 321 and then scored a blinding 124 to take Bangladesh to a comprehensive win, with nearly nine overs to spare. Against Afghanistan he made a half-century in Bangladesh's 262 and then took 5 for 29 to defend the middling total.

Joe Root and Stokes just about did enough bowling to qualify for this table, and their batting-dominant performances take them into the top five. (I recognise either five overs or two wickets as a "valid" spell.)

Mohammad Hafeez's lovely innings of 84 and a controlled bowling performance against England gets him the fifth place.

Jadeja, in addition to his brilliant innings, had an excellent run-restricting spell of 1 for 34 in the semi-final against New Zealand and gets into the top ten.

 

My takeaways from the tournament

My favourite batting performances were Coulter-Nile's attacking match-winning innings against West Indies and the two equally stirring innings by Carlos Brathwaite and Jadeja, both in losing causes. If Brathwaite's shot against New Zealand had travelled a metre further, the story of the World Cup might have been different. In Jadeja's case, India's chances always looked difficult. Coulter-Nile's innings tops it for me, then, since it was in a winning cause.

On May 27, 1999, Australia looked forlorn and listless at Chester-le-Street, staring at the stark reality that they needed to win every one of their remaining matches to win the World Cup. Starting with Bangladesh, they did just that, also sneaking in a tie in the semi. The two players who contributed the most towards this resurrection were Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

On June 30, 2019, England looked similarly forlorn and listless, needing to win every one of their remaining games to win this World Cup. They had a tougher task than Australia did, having to face the mighty Indians at Edgbaston. They duly beat India and all their other opponents, and the batsmen who contributed the most towards this resurrection were Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, who added 160, 123, 124 and 28 for the first wicket. It is no wonder that they form the most formidable pair of the 2019 World Cup.

My favourite bowling performance was Matt Henry's burst at the beginning of the India innings in the semi-final. Looking at what transpired later, if New Zealand had not struck a few times during the first ten overs, the match would have slipped out of their fingers. It was great bowling but also nothing short of a miracle. Henry did something similar against Sri Lanka, but this performance came in a semi-final.

The match of the tournament was, arguably, this semi-final. The tactical awareness of Williamson and Ross Taylor, the situation-inspired batting in the later stages, the opening burst, the brilliant catching and fielding, the quality of India's bowling, and the mercurial, never-say-die batting of Jadeja all made me think back to the Edgbaston semi-final 20 years ago, which was one of the greatest World Cup matches ever. The other semi-final was a romp in the park. I have chosen to ignore the final because the excitement of the match does not hide errors of umpiring and shortcomings in the tournament guidelines relating to the second level tie-break.

The player who changed the course of the tournament has to be Stokes. Just consider the following:

Five scores between 79 and 89. Each of these innings came when the chips were down and the runs were good as gold. The 84 in the final was followed by key strikes in the Super Over. The blistering 79 in the league game against India was the real match-winner. Then there were the magnificent 89 and 82 in losing causes against Australia and Sri Lanka; and his 89 against South Africa, which won the match for England. Add to these the key wickets he took and his superlative fielding efforts, and it is clear no other player had a greater impact on the World Cup.

Trent Boult might be a contender. He had several highlights - the hat-trick against Australia, the catch off Brathwaite, the ball that dismissed Virat Kohli - but unfortunately he went wicketless in the final.

The final: Two teams fight tooth and nail for eight hours and score the same number of runs in 50 overs. Then they get into another contest for an over each and score the same number of runs. What is the need to decide the winner based on the quirky and unfair number-of-boundaries rule? Why could the ICC not have declared the two teams joint winners? That was the option, after all, if the match day and the reserve day had been rained off.

I would have said the same thing if "wickets taken" had been the second-level tie-breaker. How would England and their supporters have taken that loss? This is said while acknowledging that England had the best credentials to be named the winner of the World Cup. They are not responsible for the ICC's rules, decided a few years back. "Neither team deserved to lose" should not just be a phrase in passing; it should be backed up by the rules. What happened was not anticipated but should have been.

The DRS: In the semi-finals and final, there were some tricky DRS situations. Roy's dismissal did not matter but Ross Taylor's was crucial, and New Zealand didn't have a review to appeal the wrong decision. A solution has to be found to avoid umpire howlers. One option is to give a team two DRS referrals per match instead of one per innings. If a team uses both referrals in the first innings, they have no referrals for the second. If they do not use one in the first innings, they have two for the second.

A poignant tale to end this article

I was in touch with Martin Crowe between 2013 and 2015, after he contacted me to express his happiness at seeing the recognition received by iconic New Zealand players in my analyses. After New Zealand lost the 2015 World Cup final, I emailed him, and this is a relevant extract from that mail. "Four years from now, New Zealand would enter the World Cup final and I am sure you would be at Lord's to wish and cheer for them. All my prayers and best wishes to you for this." His reply was immediate and it read: "Many thanks, Ananth, for your wishes and prayers. I do not know how much time I have and whether I have enough days available to see the 2019 World Cup. I hope your wish comes true." Sadly, that was his last mail to me. He passed away a year later.

For the past year, I have been expressing my wish in various fora that I would really like two teams from either of South Africa, New Zealand or England to contest the 2019 final. No disrespect or lack of patriotism, simply a wish to have a new deserving winner, and a part of this was also influenced by the above-referenced correspondence. Martin would have wanted New Zealand to win the World Cup, and for his sake, I hoped they did, although I have no problems about the outstanding England team having won. This is not a heart v mind situation. I like both teams.


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