And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that!
If you are still unsure which team is going to top the round robin stage and then go on to win the 2019 World Cup, you must have missed today’s game between India and Pakistan.
Indians turned up in their numbers in the stands at Old Trafford but the Pakistanis were conspicuous by their absence—even on the field. The rain also turned up but not enough of it to prevent Virat Kohli’s team, led by Rohit Sharma, from pummelling the Pakistani bowlers to the tune of 337 runs. Without the injured Shikar Dhawan.
In reply, Safaraz Ahmed’s dispirited side produced a fighting second-wicket partnership between Fakhar Zaman and the silky-smooth Babar Azam, who is simply too good not to one day make his mark on the cricketing world. But today was not that day. His side could get no further than 212 for 6 and fell to a crushing (adjusted for DLS) 89-run defeat.
Kohli did not get a century; he got 77. It was enough to take him past 11,000 ODI runs. In 222 matches. The great Sachin Tendulkar needed 276.
Go ahead and delude yourself if you like that the difference in eras and the recent rule changes adequately explain the 50-odd-match gap. But don’t expect to persuade any objective listener with that intentionally misleading stuff.
In a command performance that raised very serious questions about his inability to impress on the Test stage, Sharma struck 14 good-looking fours and three sixes—including a vicious cut over the point boundary—in his 113-ball 140, his 24th ODI century. He was on song right from the start and the Pakistan fieldsmen looked a lot more likely to dismiss him via the run-out route than their bowlers.
He eventually gave his hand away 60 short of what would have been his fourth double-century in this format.
That’s completely unheard of!
Also worthy of note is the fact that, after losing Bhuvneshwar Kumar, half of his much-vaunted striking pair, to hamstring trouble in only the fifth over of the Pakistan innings, Kohli still had enough in the bank to tie the rest of the Pakistan batting in knots. And make it seven out of seven in World Cups in the age-old rivalry.
Pakistan are now making reservations for an early return home so they can see the semis on TV. And, after today, the Indian fans are feverishly buying up every ticket they can get for the July 14 final.
They feel in their bones, they can see, they know that now, as things stand, only a major miracle can stop the Indian juggernaut, what one ESPNcricinfo writer called “Kohli’s scary Indian machine.”
Let’s start with the bottom five, where we find, in ascending order, Afghanistan (0), Pakistan (3), Bangladesh (3) and South Africa (3), and, after tomorrow, Insha’Allah, Sri Lanka (4).
The pointless minnows are discovering that, in the World Cup, the learning curve is steep indeed. They would be well-advised to get a few sherpas in their ranks before they return in four years’ time—or whatever the time-frame the ICC in its immense wisdom eventually decides upon.
On current form, Pakistan would be lucky if they can get past Afghanistan—with or without sherpas!
If Murphy were to strike again and they lost any of their main bowlers now, in their games against the ruthless Australians and New Zealanders, South Africa may become the first team to face the ignominy of a declaration in an ODI game.
Against Australia, Sri Lanka showed a little fight while skipper Dimuth Karunaratne was at the wicket. That fight seems likely to be knocked out of them in their next assignment, England (4th on 6 pts) on Thursday. They are looking at a maximum of two more points—if they find enough cojones and backbone to stand up to South Africa on Friday 28.
So far, the race at the top reminds me of a middle-distance event in which there is a hare paid to make the pace. But the World Cup is not the highly commercialised Diamond League but the Olympics, the real deal. Had meteorology not intervened in the game against India (3rd on 7 pts), that loud, clear message would have been conveyed to Kane Williamson’s New Zealand (2nd on 7 pts).
If the weather does not intervene again on Saturday 29 June when they are scheduled to take on Australia (1st on 8 pts) or in their Wednesday 3 July face-off against England, they are more than likely to get the message.
But buoyed by a victory over Bangladesh tomorrow, Jason Taylor’s WI could also begin to reel them back into the pack on Friday.
So it is in the middle of the table that the real battle is on. We shall know tomorrow which of the WI and Bangladesh will be left standing to challenge the pace-making Kiwis for the fourth spot. Masrafe Mortaza’s men currently enjoy a significant psychological advantage, having come out on top every time in the last three encounters in British conditions.
But that was against a far different West Indies team.
In closing, far be it from me to wish to puncture anyone’s balloon. But it might be merely a pyrrhic victory. In my view, winning that battle is akin to running very fast to stay in the very same place.
The semi-finals pit number two against number three and number four against number one.
And anyone who does not have access to a cricketing nuclear weapon can forget about putting Kohli’s mean machine out of commission.