4 Jul 2019

Cricket World Cup: Looking forward after the Black Caps thrashing

4:42 pm on 4 July 2019

After 35 days of cricket at this World Cup we are still days away from having a settled result, though it is now almost certain the Black Caps have made the semifinals.

The 2019 edition of the Cricket World Cup has featured a record long pool play with all ten teams playing each other for the chance of a semi-final.

So what do we know after game 41 of the 45 pool games, otherwise known as the thrashing of the Black Caps by England in the lovely northern town of Durham.

The big three of world cricket, India, Australia and England are all definitely through to the semifinals. Whatever happens, they will be playing again next week. And probably, almost certainly, cricket gods willing, the Black Caps have made the semifinal by coming fourth and edging out Pakistan.

Top of the Table first...

Australia and India are currently at one and two on the standings, as so often happens in modern cricket. They have very good balanced sides; fast scoring openers to get a good start, two of the best batsmen in the world in Steven Smith and Virat Kohli at number four to dictate the middle of the innings, two of the best bowlers in world cricket in Mitchell Starc and Jasprit Bumrah. India are also blessed with wonderfully loud and proud fans in England making every game like a home match. And Australia? They have the self-confidence born of being so long the best in the world at cricket and, of course, being Australian.

The pair have finished top of the table with a game to spare. India have yet to play Sri Lanka and Australia play South Africa. Given that Sri Lanka, but especially South Africa, have been among the most abject teams at this tournament, it is hard to see anything other than another win to the heavyweights. But it does mean that at this stage we still cannot say who will finish first or second.

The Cricket World Cup standings as of 4 July 2019.

The 2019 Cricket World Cup standings as of 4 July. Photo: Cricket World Cup

This matters because the semifinals will pit the top finisher against the fourth, and the second against third. But if all goes according to plan (and don't forget this is cricket we are talking about, a highly unpredictable game) Australia will finish number one and head to Manchester for the 1v4 semifinal on Tuesday and India will come second and go to the 2v3 in Birmingham next Thursday.

What about England?

Well, England are the only team right now who have some kind of certainty. They finished third. Whatever happens they can't catch India or Australia, and no-one below them can catch them. It all came about thanks to a caning they delivered the Black Caps overnight. You're welcome, England.

The hosts started the tournament as close favourites. They had a team of hugely talented hitters, some genuine pace, a home advantage and a string of great results over three years. They then proceeded to invoke the spirit of years of English cricket and stuff it up, losing to much less talented sides, looking like the tag of favourites was weighing too heavily and getting into snippy battles with the English press. In fact, they have only really looked good when in true Dunkirk style they have had their backs against the wall and faced the ignominy of following every other English side since 1992 and failing to make the semifinals. They turned up against India and the Black Caps and finally played themselves into contention.

So they are definitely third. That means they will be playing next Thursday in Birmingham, probably against India. The good thing for England is they have already beaten India so why not do it again? Perhaps the bad is that India's fans, both the travelling contingent and those from England's Indian community, are among the best in the world - passionate, colourful and knowledgeable - so it's likely to feel like a home game for India.

Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow.

Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow. Photo: AFP

What about the Black Caps?

Ah the Black Caps. They were always going to have that old rugby cliche, a tournament of two halves. And they have. They had a wonderful draw; the first games were easy, if any games at a World Cup can be easy. We saw off Afghanistan, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. But it was always going to get sticky at the end, playing Australia and England in our last two matches. And sticky, it got. We lost both.

There are two things going for the Black Caps. The first is the English weather. This tournament which started amidst squally showers and now ends in a European heatwave, saw a number of games rained off. In that case, both sides were awarded a point each (rather than two for the winner, none for the loser). Our rain moment came against India and while everyone in the Black Caps made the obligatory noises about what a shame it was rained off, really wanted to play, fancied our chances etc, they were probably doing fist pumps in the dressing room. Emerging with a point - effectively a draw against India - kept our nose in front of challengers even as we began our slow steady descent from top of the table at the start to nearby number fours.

That was the good news. The bad news was Pakistan. They are to New Zealand cricket what France are to the All Blacks. On their day, they can lose to the worst in the world. Equally they can be sublime against the best. They opted for the latter against us. Our last week of pool play was always meant to be tough; the problem was we started it early by also being outplayed by Pakistan ahead of our losses to Australia and England. 0 from 3, loss of momentum, bad run; call it what you will, it has been a long ten days for the Black Caps.

Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma.

Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma. Photo: AFP

However, we are still fourth - just. Pakistan have one more game to play. If they beat Bangladesh on Friday, we will be equal on points. Now that is easier said than done for Pakistan; the Bangas, as they are known, have been one of the scrappers of this tournament. They will go home with heads held high. They are led by the astonishing all rounder Shakib al Hassan, who is arguably having the greatest World Cup ever produced by a single player. He could end up top of the runs scoring charts and top of the bowling; an historic record for an all rounder. Compared to him, the rest of the team are journeymen but they are tough fighters who never give up. So a fighting century by al Hassan or four wickets cheaply and Pakistan could find themselves in a real battle.

But let's say Pakistan win, what then? If New Zealand and Pakistan finish in equal points then the fourth slot will be decided by something known as the run rate. It's like the penalty shootout in football. Whichever side has scored its runs quicker will go through. And that is almost certainly New Zealand. Remember that purple patch at the start of the tournament when the Black Caps notched up victory after victory? Thanks to that we have a superior run rate. Mercurial Pakistan, as always, we're all over the show and they'll need nothing short of a miracle to catch us on run rate.

This is how the Indian Express did the mathematical calculations.

"If Pakistan bat first against Bangladesh, they need to win by at least 308 runs to overtake New Zealand on net run rate. If they score 308 runs and dismiss Bangladesh for 0, they qualify for the semis. If they score 350 and win by 312 runs, they qualify. If they score 400 and win by 316 runs, they qualify. If they score less than 308, they cannot qualify.

"No ODI has been won by more than 300 runs in history.

"Pakistan cannot qualify if they bat second as they would need to overhaul the target in less than zero balls, a mathematical impossibility."

Much of the mathematical calculation is coming out ESPN's Cricinfo. Since cricket is a stats game, Cricinfo has revelled in the arcane data that a long game like cricket produces. One of its stats gurus Bharath Seervi has been tweeting about the numbers Pakistan needs. His calculations are here.

What do the bookies say?

Well the bookies say that it is very very very hard for Pakistan to win the Cricket World Cup. Sportsbet, for example has the Australians at 1.36 to win but it has Pakistan at very long odds of 51. Interestingly, the bookies have England marginally ahead of India as a bet to win the Cup - 1.72 to 1.80 to win. The TAB has gone for Australia and England at 2.90 with India at 3.20 and New Zealand 8.00.

So hazarding a guess what will happen next?

We will tempt the cricket gods and go out on a limb, remembering that cricket is cricket etc.

  • India and Australia will win their last games.
  • Australia will finish first, India second.
  • Pakistan will beat Bangladesh - just.
  • New Zealand and Pakistan will finish equal on points but, in a cold dose of revenge on Pakistan for tipping us out of our 1992 World Cup, we will advance on points.
  • That means the semifinals will be:
  • Australia v New Zealand at Manchester on Tuesday
  • India b England at Birmingham on Thursday.

Hasn't this all taken a long long time to get here?

Yes it absolutely has.

The opening match was way back on 30 May, when England gave us a first taste of just how beatable South Africa were going to be.

That was 35 days ago. As a comparison, if this was the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks and all other teams would have played their pool matches, played their quarter-finals and be one day away from playing (New Zealanders hope) the semi-final.

Yet, this Cricket World Cup still has another TWO days of pool play to go and, as at 4 July, still has FOUR pool games yet to play.

There is an extra nine days of pool play this time compared to the last Cricket World Cup.

Admittedly, this is an unusual tournament. There is a long, long pool section where all the top 10 teams play each other once. But then the semifinal (next week) and final on Sunday 14 July come in a heated rush.

It wasn't always this way. The first three Cricket World Cups starting in 1975 were all relatively short affairs. There were two groups of four teams, then a semi-final and a final. In 1975, it was all over in a fortnight, with the West Indies winning. Four years later, it was almost identical; the great West Indies side cleaning up again in a fortnight, and in 1983 it was still just a 14 day tournament, this time with India winning.

Things started to expand from 1987. That year the Cup in India was still eight teams in two pools, followed by a semi-final and then final but the tournament spread out to be a month long, to allow for travel and rest.

Mitchell Stark, David Warner and Steve Smith.

Mitchell Stark, David Warner and Steve Smith. Photo: AFP

Things really started to blow out in the famous 1992 Cup in New Zealand and Australia, well-known for the Black Caps' superb play followed by being knocked out by Pakistan. The idea of group play in the pool stages was abandoned; as now every team played each other once, followed by a semifinal and a final. The whole thing took just over a month.

Last time, the World Cup was played in New Zealand and Australia in 2011 it had crept out to 43 days (the 2019 Cup is 45). There were two pools of seven teams, then a quarter-final, semis and a final.

But the key difference between 2015 and 2019 is that quarterfinal. It's there in 2015, and disappeared in 2019. So the pool play is much longer today. Back in 2015, the pool matches were played out over 28 days in Australia and New Zealand. The knockout stage lasted 15 days (from the final pool decider to the final). In 2019, the pool play lasts a whopping 37 days - nine days longer than last time. The knockout stage lasts eight, about half the time in 2015.

Who will win?

Australia. Don't they always?