While the World Cup proper is still a week away, it has already started for some, with the official World Cup warm-ups underway. Australia and West Indies even had a bonus match, an unofficial one which Australia won handily, and there have been a lot of other matches held in different parts of the world, which have acted as warm-ups, but let’s look at the official ones.
Match 1: Pakistan vs Afghanistan
Anyone who thought that Afghanistan, who only regained test status last year, would be easy beats, was sadly mistaken, as they showed as they beat Pakistan, who some are genuinely claiming will win the World Cup, and it wasn’t due to some random spot of good luck with key wickets falling to bad shots while not taking them seriously either. Pakistan batted out 47.5 out of their 50 overs in managing 262, and this with 15 players to choose from out of the 11, so their number 11 was really their number 7, and then it went right down to the wire, with Afghanistan passing the total with 7 wickets down and just 2 deliveries remaining. There wasn’t even any big cameo that single-handedly won it for them either, no Kevin O’Brien scoring a century off 50 balls to win it from nowhere for Ireland. This was a team effort, with everyone contributing. No bowler took more than Mohammad Nabi’s 3 wickets, and their top scorer, Hashmatullah Shahidi, which sounds a lot like Shahid Afridi to me, scored 74 off 102. It was professional and deliberate, not riding their luck, but simply playing to their potential. It’s not what you expect from minnows.
Match 2: South Africa vs Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka have won a World Cup and finished runner up twice, while South Africa have never made it past the semi-finals, yet South Africa are, right now, head and shoulders above the hapless Sri Lankans, as South Africa, sans A B de Villiers, had no problems piling on a massive 338, and doing so with contributions down the line, with Faf du Plessis’s 88 off 69 the standout, but only just. Sri Lanka in return crumbled to just 251 all out, barely making it past 42 overs. While they were close enough to the run rate, it was just too many runs for them against an attack that may well be the best in the entire world. Andile Phehlukwayo, who few outside of South Africa know anything about, was the main wicket taker with 4 for 36. Karunaratne managed 87 for Sri Lanka, but it was comparatively slow, taking 92 balls. The main issue for Sri Lanka’s scoring rate was the inability to hit 6s, with Angelo Mathews the only one to hit one, and he only hit one. South Africa, in comparison, hit 7, for of them by Faf.
Five things we learned:
(1) Don’t pay too much attention to Warm-Up matches:
They are there to warm players up, not to show who is better than who. Don’t be surprised if Pakistan beat Afghanistan easily in the competition proper. Whether Sri Lanka can beat South Africa is another thing entirely, but if they can’t it won’t be because they lost the warm-up match.
(2) South Africa are not a weak team
They are 4th favourites in the betting and most people have them making the semi-finals at least. The main reason so few are picking them to win is because they have never won before, nor even made the final, and the expectation is that they will make it to the semi-finals then lose, but that might not happen. Remember when Richmond won their first grand final after 35 years of choking? Or Western Bulldogs after 54 years in the wilderness? Or Port Adelaide after finishing top of the ladder 3 times in a row? Or even New Zealand in the last World Cup, when they made it to the final for the first time? Or in the same World Cup, when South Africa won their first ever World Cup knockout? They could well go all the way this time. They have probably the best bowling attack in the world, and their batting was good enough to get 338, so they shouldn’t be underestimated.
(2) Afghanistan are pretty good
While it is a long shot to think that they will make it to the semi-finals, let alone to win, they are every chance to win a match, or even two, or even three, and if they do it will not be due to some mercurial innings or an incredible bowling effort. They are a professional unit, who are going to be close in most matches, and will win a few as well. While this was just a warm-up match, the fact that they beat Pakistan, and the way that they beat them, will remove a lot of doubters.
(3) 500? Are you serious?
There has been a lot of talk about a team scoring 500 for the first time in this World Cup, but here we saw teams manage 262 and 338, with the 262 just being chased down and the reply to the 338 being just 251, and that with 4 extra batsmen in each team to choose from. Those are more likely to be the kinds of scores we will see, not 500. We might not even see 400. As Virat Kohli said mid-week, scores of 250-300 are more likely to be fair scores, and he was wary of teams aiming for 500.
(4) Oh Pakistan
Okay, so it’s only a warm-up match, and Afghanistan are pretty good, but they aren’t expected to make the semi-finals, or to get close, and Pakistan should have won, but they didn’t. It was close enough, and well done to them on that, but if they are to be any chance to make the semi-finals then they will need to do a whole lot better than that.
(5) Is Sri Lanka tanking or going for draft picks?
If this was football instead of cricket, some would be wondering if Sri Lanka were tanking, with how badly they’ve been going in the past year or so. Sure, so South Africa are pretty good, but that was a bad performance, a big loss, and there was really no need for them to fail to bat out their overs. This is a team in disarray who some say will finish last. It’ll probably be out of them, Bangladesh and Afghanistan for the bottom spot, and Sri Lanka are probably favourites right now (though I boldly picked Bangladesh).
One thing to note in all of this is that the warm-up matches have a lot more meaning than in recent editions. In previous tournaments, warm-up matches would usually be between teams who were not in the same group, and hence would not play against each other until at least the knockout stages. That is not the case this time, as all of these teams will play each other at least once in the tournament proper, as a guarantee.