Cricket World Cup 2019: 10 talking points at the halfway stage

Simon Burnton
Composite: TSG Photo/Rex, Action Plus via Getty, Visionhaus, IDI via Getty

1) Kohli is a good sport

India’s game against Pakistan was the most anticipated of the group stage, the infrequency of their meetings – Pakistan have played as many ODIs against England in 2019 as they have against India in the past five years – giving them added piquancy. If the match turned out to be a bit one-sided it did throw up one memorable moment as Virat Kohli walked rather than waiting for the umpire’s decision after failing to make proper contact with Mohammad Amir’s bouncer. This was a misjudgment in more ways than one as in fact he did not make any contact with it at all, but coupled with Kohli’s earlier intervention to stop supporters booing Australia’s Steve Smith, the India captain has become the tournament’s fair play champion.

Related: A century of sixes and Eoin Morgan for prime minister – The Spin podcast

2) Bail fails

It is now more than a week since David Warner became the fifth batsman at the World Cup to avoid dismissal despite ball hitting stumps, the issue being the bails’ stubborn refusal to leave their grooves. David Ligertwood, a director of the company that produces the flashing bails, declared himself “stumped” and promised the company was “monitoring the situation” and “reviewing all aspects”. “This is not something you expect at international level,” sniffed Kohli. “You literally have to smash the stumps really hard.” The issue might be overly solid stumps rather than stubborn bails, but happily the bails’ behaviour appears to have improved.

3) Shahzad’s mystery injury

After two games and two underwhelming knocks Mohammad Shahzad, Afghanistan’s all-time highest ODI run-scorer, was sent home because of a knee injury and replaced by Ikram Alikhil. The player, however, insisted his long-term knee problems are “fine with a little bit of icing”, that he was perfectly able to play and the first he knew of the decision was when he read the news on the team bus. “That was the moment when I found out that I was unfit,” he said. “If they don’t want me to play, I will quit cricket. My heart isn’t in it anymore.” The Afghanistan Cricket Board has denied claims of conspiracy, while Alikhil has played three games and scored 12 runs.

Mohammad Shahzad said his ‘heart isn’t in it anymore’ after being dropped by Afghanistan. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

4) Holding strikes for sense over censorship

There can be no doubt the umpires’ decision-making in West Indies’ game against Australia was subpar, the nadir coming when Chris Gayle was given out by Chris Gaffaney twice in a single over, with both decisions overturned on review. On commentary the former West Indies bowler Michael Holding was most displeased, describing the officiating as “atrocious” and the umpires as “weak”. The ICC promptly asked all commentators to desist from being mean to officials, a form of censorship that Holding furiously declared he was “not going to be a part of”. The ICC refused his offer to go home and the hatchet has since been buried, at least for now.

5) Rain gets in the way of play

In 2018 England had the fourth-driest June on record, with an average of 35.4mm of rain falling. A year later the picture is rather different: last Monday 34mm fell on Heathrow in 24 hours, while the village of Stenigot in Lincolnshire received 122.8mm in only two days. Four matches were lost amid the deluge, leading to complaints about the lack of reserve days. “Factoring in a reserve day for every match practically would be extremely complex to deliver,” said the ICC chief executive, Dave Richardson, who added that the rainfall amounted to “extremely unseasonable weather”. Latest forecasts suggest there are more abandonments to come.

Umbrellas at the World Cup have been a common sight. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP

6) England’s batting lineup lives up to the hype

The strength and depth of England’s batting was one of the reasons they started as favourites, and it is making good on its promise. As it stands five of the 10 highest-scoring batsmen at this tournament are English while of 12 World Cup centuries so far, England have been responsible for five. Eoin Morgan’s 148 against Afghanistan was the most brutal innings of the tournament so far, featuring almost as many sixes (17) as the entire England squad managed in 2015 (18) and coming at the rate of more than two runs a ball, only the second such century in World Cup history. England may have slipped up against Pakistan, but with the bat they are living up to the hype.

7) South Africa’s underperformance

While the three pre-tournament favourites – England, India and Australia – are well-placed to reach the semi-finals, the fourth team on that list, South Africa, have wildly underwhelmed. Being drawn to face England and India in their first three fixtures was unfortunate – though both matches were lost emphatically – but being outplayed by Bangladesh in their second game, in which their fielding efforts were particularly feeble, was disastrous. Since buoyed by a win over Afghanistan, Wednesday’s game against New Zealand at Edgbaston could still reignite – or definitively destroy – their hopes.

8) Australia bring out the flash in fielders

Australia seem to bring the best out of opposition fielders. Nobody else has had more than two run-outs, yet somehow the Australians have twice had two in a single innings: Isuru Udana’s single-over double run-out for Sri Lanka, brilliantly dismissing Alex Carey and Pat Cummins in the space of three balls with Glenn Maxwell nearly following seconds later, might not in the end have helped his team to win the game, but it made for thrilling cricket. By general consensus West Indies’ Sheldon Cottrell holds the catch-of-the-tournament trophy so far, narrowly ahead of Ben Stokes, for his ball-juggling effort to dismiss Steve Smith at Trent Bridge.

Isuru Udana of Sri Lanka reacts brilliantly to run out Alex Carey of Australia. Photograph: Graham Hunt/ProSports/REX/Shutterstock

9) Shakib an unlikely world-beater

Coming into the tournament Bangladesh’s Shakib al Hasan had scored two centuries in his previous 101 ODIs over nearly nine years. Now he has two on the spin, has not failed to score a half-century in his four innings, is the tournament’s top scorer and has been named player of the match on both occasions his side has won. “I have been working on batting for the last one and a half months, and it has paid off,” he says. And how. By way of bonus, Shakib has also bowled 38 overs and taken five wickets.

10) Still waiting for a thriller

There can be little quibbling with the level of entertainment so far, but the tournament has yet to deliver a genuinely classic match. A couple – Australia against West Indies in particular – have flirted with greatness before falling short. As it stands no team has won a match in the final over or really had a real opportunity to – England against Pakistan were the closest to doing so, and they needed an unlikely 25 off the final set, eventually scoring 10. Meanwhile every team to have won a game batting second has done so with more than two overs to spare. The wait for a bona fide thriller continues.