Kiwis brace up for Indians, as Pak face double defeat

Pakistan captain Babar Azam departs as Australian team members gather around at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru, during the match held on Friday

Pakistan captain Babar Azam departs as Australian team members gather around at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru, during the match held on Friday


After a stunning upset of England by Afghanistan to end the first extended week of the World Cup, another one followed suit in the form of the Netherlands and South Africa

After a stunning upset of England by Afghanistan to end the first extended week of the World Cup, another one followed suit in the form of the Netherlands and South Africa. Just as I was wondering if this would be the year for SA to go all the way after their masterful first couple of matches, reality struck the team and their fans when they went down against the Netherlands in pursuit of a stiff target in a rain-curtailed match. With that, this is their second defeat against the Dutch force in as many World Cup campaigns with their previous loss coming in the T20 World Cup last year which saw SA getting ousted.

The Netherlands were tottering at 82/5 and that was South Africa’s opportunity to kill the game. Champion teams do just that. They go for the jugular and don’t hand any gateways to the opposition. However, the Dutch captain, Scott Edwards, and former Protea, Van Der Merwe got together to stitch a match-defining comeback. SA’s death bowling was all over the place and from the looks of it they crumbled under the pressure created by these two batters. Surprisingly, even their strong batting unit could not hold its own. Presumably, they would want to brush this off as an aberration.

The loss aside, they have the strongest batting ammunition that could stamp its swagger all the way to number six in my opinion. Not many teams can boast this mix and a leader who, if not by performance, manages to get the team together with his sheer character and tenacity.

The Aussie aggression

After Bengaluru, Australia finally have started to look like themselves with twin victories coming against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They were precariously placed with losses against India and SA earlier. Their batting looked out of sorts and ideas, their decision-making looked torn between attacking and defending and their bowling was off-colour with Zampa’s underperformance impacting the result hugely. But they found their mojo back to scrap to a win against Sri Lanka led by the incredible Zampa with a four-wicket haul. He always held the key for Australia in these conditions especially after they decided to go with the lone specialist spinner. He along with Starc, who is a World Cup monster, managed to restrict them to 209. With Mitchell March and Josh Inglis’s half-centuries, they chased the target comfortably.

When Mitchell Marsh gets going, Australia look like a different side. They rely on his stroke-making and sheer stamping of authority in the power-play to make a statement early along with Warner and then let Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne take over to keep the score ticking for Maxwell and Stoinis to crack the fireworks at the death. This template did not quite click earlier but boy did it against Pakistan. Warner ran amok after being dropped twice to muscle his way to 163 and Mitchell Marsh, on the other side, powered himself to 121. At one point during their 259-run stand, the chance of a 400-plus score seemed a definite possibility. Warner would have even dreamed of a 200-plus score but Pakistan came back well to restrict them to 367 with Shaheen picking up his 5-fer.

Sides don’t get frightened by a 350-plus score these days and definitely not when you are playing at the Chinnaswamy in Bengaluru. Pakistan started off really well but lost steam along the way with the wrecker-in-chief once again proving to be Zampa. On a day when 650 plus runs were scored, his figures read 10 – 0 – 53 – 4 to back a match-winning performance earlier against Sri Lanka.

For Pakistan though, their captain really needs to come to the fore if they need to have a realistic chance for a knockout qualification. For all his potential and class, he has been found wanting on the bigger stage. Shaheen’s form is their only takeaway from this game. Australia on the other hand, will want to maintain this momentum. They are a team that holds on to their momentum dearly, so we have a new reentry in the fight for the crown.

The Dharamshala duel

Almost as if there is an existence of a parallel, happy-go-lucky universe, two teams – New Zealand and India – have gone about their business seamlessly with each spoke of their wheel working in tandem with the other. Of course, when they are winning, every bit of their confidence will only seem further propelled so they would not want to lose grip of this streak.

Afghanistan was supposed to challenge New Zealand after their win against England especially on a track that was going to favour them. But they half lost the game at the toss after choosing to chase. I still don’t understand why teams would opt to chase when their only strength is in batting the opposition out and strangling them with spin to create any sort of pressure. The result was an inevitability after the Kiwis posted a strong 288. On the New Zealand side, you would hardly find one single hero throughout. Their strength is in their unity and this match was a classic example of that as everyone chipped in equally. And it’s time to start giving more credit to Santner who has been simply outstanding so far.

Bangladesh bungles

India finished their formalities against Bangladesh in another one-sided affair. Two things stood out. Hardik Pandya left the field early with an ankle injury. Rohit did confirm the injury was not serious so their fingers would be crossed for his quick recovery as his presence in the side is paramount to the balance of the team. There is no replacement for him, period.

Virat, on the other hand, provided the only entertainment in the match with a thrill-a-minute ride to his century. His chase was spotless as usual. On what was a belter of a pitch when the rest of the Indian batters were left wanting for concentration and got out in pursuit of glory shots, Virat went about knocking around, running like crazy, and respecting the pitch and opposition like any other. Batting at 80, he needed 20 runs to take his team to victory and to yet another milestone. He denied a few singles egged on by KL Rahul at the other end but upped the ante eventually to romp home and to his 48th ODI century. Only two more left now to surpass the little master. Will he get there in this tournament? Let’s wait and watch the action unfold.

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