Match Days 2 & 3

Yesterday threw up a not unexpected curve ball: rain. New Zealand looked dominant and Australia probably felt lucky to get away with their shared point. It’s too bad for the Kiwis as they looked like the better side yesterday and a win would have booked their ticket to the knockouts, but now they have to negotiate a tricky match against the hosts, England, and get past the Bangladesh banana peel. Meanwhile Australia are still in the group’s driver’s seat, based solely on their formidable ODI form as of late. I mean, they are the defending World Champions.

The shared point might have affectively closed the door on England, however. Their hopes surely would have sat with one side leaving the match on zero points. But with both walking away with a point England’s match against New Zealand is now probably a must-win affair, and even a win in that match guarantees them nothing. But then again even before the tournament started the match was a must-win game for England. And that’s the thing about this tournament–as Mark Nichols pointed out on Cricinfo a few days back–there’s no margin for error in this tournament. In the World Cup, the field is so wide and the differences in quality so vast–which is a GOOD thing, don’t get me wrong–that a side can suffer through two or even three slip-ups and still move forward. This tournament? Not so much. Lose a toss on a batting friendly pitch and you might be going home. It feels like every ball matters, ever run in, every wide, every fielding change.

Speaking of which–and also on Cricinfo–Andrew Miller extols the virtues of this tournament. And it’s nice to see the punditry finally coming around on it. It’s a great tournament, and I know it’s future is in doubt, but I hope it sticks around. Here’s Miller:

Or perhaps there was just something inherently satisfying about a tournament designed to produce a hectic sprint for the title. The eight best teams in the world, engaged crowds, a maximum of five matches each … one false move and you’re as good as out. It’s the exact same formula, in fact, that the ATP uses for its hugely successful end-of-season World Tour Finals, and in an era when the World Cup – for all the money it generates – has found itself locked into a cumbersome six-week schedule that drains the goodwill of even its most ardent supporters, such a simple nod to top-notch entertainment is a valuable PR exercise, apart from anything else.

The “PR exercise” is a bit of a backhanded compliment, but he has a point there too. And it’s why I am pulling for England to do well. A home team storming their way to the final and winning it all at the Oval would be something truly grand for not just the ECB, but for the game as whole.

Furthermore, this tournament is giving us something very ODIs do, even those in the World Cup: full stadiums. They are predicting the grounds to be at least 90% full over the next two weeks of play. Big, diverse crowds spread out across three cities and a home team storming to a trophy: that sounds like a recipe for a great tournament.

England vs New Zealand is Tuesday in Cardiff. Mark your calendars, it should be a good one.

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Today it’s South Africa v Sri Lanka at the Oval in London. Sri Lanka won the toss and chose to field, and South Africa put up a hefty but achievable score of 299. I don’t see Sri Lanka beating India in their second match, making this one yet another must-win affair in a tournament full of them. We’ll see how it goes, but my money is on South Africa successfully defending their total. But I’ve been wrong before. Heck I am wrong most of the time.

Tomorrow brings us India vs Pakistan in Birmingham. Another match to savor. It’s interesting to note as well that–based on 2011 counts–nearly 20% of that city’s population identifies as either Indian or Pakistani. This should make a full crowd and a rollicking ground. I can’t wait. Until tomorrow then.

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