Many moons ago, when the Cricket World Cup was just about to start, one of our resident cricket fanatics made a series of predictions. Have any of them come to pass?
It took five weeks, more than 40 completed matches, and what seems like a thousand takes about who should open the batting for the Black Caps.
But we’re finally here, at the business end of the tournament, and so it is time for a reckoning. In an extreme state of hubris, I made a series of rash predictions about where each of the ten teams would finish on the table. Some were made in a state of sage insight and wisdom. Others were driven by the vanity of a pundit who would see no consequences for failure. But now my credibility must go on the line.
So who had the tournament of their lives, and who failed to live up to the hype? Which players have written themselves into the annals of cricket history? And is there any reason for anyone to ever take my word for it on what will happen in a cricket game ever again?
India: 1st place, 7 wins (prediction: 2nd)
It’s quite poetic that India will play a semi-final against New Zealand, and much of the rest of the world would have the right to cheer if they sent the Black Caps packing. A rained out no-result between the two teams proved to be a crucial point that almost totally closed off 4th place to the rest of the world.
India themselves have been magnificent, particularly the contributions from opener Rohit Sharma with five centuries. Virat Kohli, who many consider the best one day batsman in the world, hasn’t actually been needed quite as much as he might have been. With the ball, their seam bowlers Bumrah and Shami have been highly effective, meaning the team hasn’t had to rely as much on spin as they might have in different conditions. The only point of weakness is MS Dhoni, who with the gloves has let through the most byes out of any keeper at the tournament, and played a strange go-slow innings in the loss against England.
Australia: 2nd place, 7 wins (prediction: 3rd)
The formula for Australia has been incredibly simple. Get big centuries from David Warner and Aaron Finch at the top, get the rest of the batting lineup to take wild heaves at whatever comes their way, and then have Mitchell Starc demolish the opposition with the ball. Their best game was probably the absolute demolition of England, in which both innings were effectively won right at the start. Their form coming into the tournament was incredibly poor, which lulled the world into a false sense of security. But even though Steve Smith hasn’t had to do much, his and Warner’s presence has dramatically increased the strength of the team, and allowed the bowlers to play with scoreboard pressure.
England: 3rd place, 6 wins (prediction: 1st)
They came so very close to throwing it all away in their own tournament. England’s fortunes have reflected the fact that the actual gameplay of this tournament hasn’t matched the predictions – it had been expected that every match would be a batting dominated shootout, but actually bowlers have been much more influential. Unexpected losses to Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan left them reeling, particularly the Sri Lanka one in which they failed to chase a meagre 232. They’re going into the knockout stages with wins against India and New Zealand under their belts, so shouldn’t be counted out.
Jonny Bairstow has been the avatar through which the team’s fortunes have been measured. During the dramatic losing spiral, he hit out at the media, saying it felt like they wanted the team to lose. That was widely panned, and he responded by scoring two centuries full of character in a row. Joe Root has been a constant producer of runs, and the rearguard fights of Ben Stokes should be a warning to other teams that England won’t be put away easily. Jofra Archer has proven he was worth rushing into the team with 17 wickets, but the spin bowlers have been poor, which makes the bowling attack a bit one-dimensional.
New Zealand: 4th place, 5 wins (prediction: 6th)
Hear me out here – despite the prediction being completely wrong in fact, it feels right in spirit. New Zealand haven’t beaten any of the other teams in the top 5 at the tournament, and qualify thanks to net run rate and a point against India. As well as that, the chasing win against Bangladesh came close to being botched, the South African win went to the last over, and the West Indian win wouldn’t have happened had Carlos Braithwaite just hit the ball a tiny bit further.
Put simply, New Zealand are there because Kane Williamson has batted them into the finals. In two of those three wins, he scored centuries. Ross Taylor has chipped in, but hasn’t actually scored an awful lot of runs as the senior statesman of the batting order. Jimmy Neesham’s contributions have been pretty handy, more than justifying his place. And in Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson, there is enough form and potential for destructive wicket taking – with Boult a potential candidate to nail Rohit Sharma early. But with absolutely no joy coming from the openers and a misfiring middle order, it’s really hard to see how the Black Caps will beat India on Tuesday night.
Pakistan: 5th place, 5 wins (prediction: 5th)
Nailed it. Absolutely nailed it. Unfortunately for Pakistan, they did not in fact nail it, despite finishing the group stage as one of the form teams of the tournament. For them, it all came down to an atrocious performance against the West Indies right near the start, in which they were bowled out for 105. They lost the opportunity to kick Sri Lanka while they were down to an untimely spot of rain, and failed to plunder Afghanistan to get the net run rate back up. Keep an eye out for Shaheen Shah Afridi, who at 19 years of age took 16 wickets, and may well be the second coming of the great Wasim Akram. On the other hand, it’s probably best to forget about elder statesman Shoaib Malik, who was just garbage with the bat and probably shouldn’t play for Pakistan ever again (but knowing Pakistan, he’ll probably retire and come back at least three times.)
Sri Lanka: 6th place, 3 wins (prediction: 10th)
Seldom have teams been quite so saved by the rain. The two points Sri Lanka picked up in washouts against Pakistan and Bangladesh proved to be crucial in that they meant the team still had a chance at qualification quite late in the piece. At the time they were playing dreadfully, losing heavily to the Black Caps and coming close to throwing it away against Afghanistan. But a win against England threatened to upend the tournament completely, and a late win over the West Indies was deserved for a team that got much better over the course of it. Both wins relied heavily on the ageing Lasith Malinga, who is unlikely to be around for the next one. They provided what might well be the strangest moment of the tournament, when Angelo Mathews took an effectively match-winning wicket in what was quite literally the first ball he had bowled in eight months, against the West Indies.
South Africa: 7th place, 3 wins (prediction: 7th)
It may well be that I will never feel this smug about being right ever again, despite most of the other predictions being way off the mark. Coming into the tournament, many saw South Africa as potential semifinalists, despite the incredible structural weakness of the team. So it proved, with ageing stars failing to roll back the years, young guns failing to fire, and quite a lot of shabby laziness in the field. That’s not even to mention the bizarre intervention of T20 freelancer AB de Villiers, who mentioned that he offered to come out of retirement when the team were already a few losses deep. Pity their poor captain Faf du Plessis, who has now been part of three World Cups in which South Africa’s chances have been extinguished in close games against New Zealand. With a weak currency in the Rand (seriously) and plenty of opportunities for players overseas, expect South Africa to slide further.
Bangladesh: 8th place, 3 wins (prediction: 9th)
Strangely considering where they finished, it felt like something of a breakout tournament for Bangladesh, who proved they belong in the competition with their win over South Africa and a monster chase against the West Indies. Of course, without the immense contributions of Shakib al-Hasan, it’s hard to know if either would have come off. Either way, with impressive performances from Mustafizur Rahman and Liton Das, 23 and 24 years old respectively, there must be a lot of hope that the future holds more promise. And the next World Cup will be in the subcontinent, so provided their trajectory continues to improve, expect Bangladesh to be considered among the contenders for that one.
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West Indies: 9th place, 2 wins (prediction: 4th)
This one was just flat out wrong, with the West Indies falling away alarmingly the tournament went on. But consider this: had Braithwaite’s blow cleared the ropes, the West Indies would have moved into reasonable consideration for a semi-final spot. As it was, they were all but eliminated by Boult’s catch, and just fell apart. Losing Andre Russell to injury midway through was an unexpectedly large blow, as they lost both a cog in their fast bowling machine, and one of the world’s best lower order sloggers. The universe boss Chris Gayle will soon be gone, but with talismanic captain Jason Holder, and batsmen like Shai Hope, Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer coming through, that isn’t really too much of a problem. You’d still have to say West Indies will be among the favourites for next year’s T20 World Cup.
Afghanistan: 10th place, 0 wins (prediction: 8th)
Admittedly, the initial prediction was basically vanity – trying to call a few wins for the underdogs early. Afghanistan showed that actually, cricket is quite a difficult game. Their basic sloppiness in the field was a major reason why they struggled so much, and the way their heads dropped in game after game was telling. It’s not that they didn’t deserve to be there – their qualification process for such a small tournament proved they did. It was just that they never managed to capitalise on good positions. The case in point was their 11 run loss to India – an exceptional bowling performance was followed up with an enthusiastic but inept performance with the bat. Captain Gulbadin Naib, who only got the job in April, was completely out of his depth.