March 31, 2020
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Fresh Dew On Good Length

Done, not dusted. The astral light from the World Cup exploits of these cricketers will play on.

Fresh Dew On Good Length
Photograph by Getty Images, AP
Fresh Dew On Good Length

Riding on luck that comes but rarely, England broke a 44-year World Cup jinx. Yet their triumph in the final against New Zealand cannot be quantified in runs or wickets. Consider the languid, ambivalent plea­sure of seeing a match peter out to a draw in the gloaming, then appraise England’s victory—won on the basis of having hit more boundaries (26 to 17). And the two ties that preceded it: sco­res equal at 241 after 100 overs; a super over being resorted to; that too tied at 15 runs each. Even a photo finish couldn’t separate the two. Then there was the umpires’ ‘error’ of awarding Eng­land six runs, including four freak overthrows, as Ben Stokes led the chase.

“It’s a clear mistake…. They should have been awarded five runs, not six,” opined Aussie umpire Simon Taufel, quoting Law 19.8, pertaining to ‘overthrow or wilful act of fielder’. The scorecard shows Stokes as the star of the final—a 98-ball 84 not out and eight in the super over. Most notably, England’s glory was ‘borrowed’. While Morgan is from, and played for, Ireland, Stokes’s roots are in New Zealand. Jason Roy was born in South Africa, Jofra Archer is from Bar­b­ados, and Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid have Pakistani roots. While England rejoiced, New Zealand’s phlegmatic captain Kane Wiliamson and his teammates presented remarkable composure despite being done in by an illogical rule. Thou­ghts of revenge, if harboured, will have to be postponed till 2023, when New Zealand are scheduled to play England next. That’s when India will host the World Cup.

Rohit Sharma, 32, India

Right-handed bat

World Cup show

Matches 9 | Runs 648 | Avg 81.00 | 100s/50s 5/1

India’s vice-captain headed to the World Cup on the back of two half-centuries against Australia at home and finished as the top run aggregator of the tournament. Although he failed to score when it mattered most, in the semi-final against New Zealand, he had struck five centuries earlier, three of those on the trot, and came within touching distance of breaking the record of most runs in a single World Cup. It meant that his fellow Mumbaikar Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 673, scored in the 2003 World Cup, still stands. Though luck favoured him with dropped chances early in his innings, Rohit capitalised spectacularly. The nearly unbearable lightness of touch with which he glided towards those knocks left an indelible impress. Some, including Wasim Jaffer, now want the ‘hitman’ to replace Kohli as ODI captain.

Ravindra Jadeja, 30, India

Left-handed bat, left-arm spin

World Cup show

Matches 2 | Runs 77 | Avg 77 | 50s 1 | Wkts 2

In the limited opportunity he got, Jad­eja proved two things: that he is one of India’s best spinning all-rounders, and that the team management erred in not picking him earlier than just the two matches. As a substitute fielder, his fielding was touched by unearthly precision and energy. His finest hour came in the semis against New Zealand: that 59-ball 77, which took India to the brink of bliss from a six-wicket-down edge of a precipice, was a masterclass of spirit, guts and calculated bloodymindedness. It was a revelation. Earlier, with the ball, he throttled NZ in the mid-overs with an economy rate of 3.40. Open-mouthed at the exalted level of his performa­nce,  fans and experts wonder why he wasn’t a permanent fixture in the XI.

Nicholas Pooran, 23, West Indies

Left-handed bat

World Cup show

Matches 9 | Runs 367 | Avg 52.42 | 100s/50s 1/2

Talent is often forged in adversity. His ankle was fractured and a tendon ruptured in a car accident four years ago. After two surgeries, he was able to resume playing. He made his T20 international debut in September 2016 and ODI debut this Feb­r­uary. Pooran, the fluent stroke-maker from Trinidad and Tobago, caressed and cre­amed to a 103-ball 118 that nearly took the Win­dies past Sri Lanka’s 338. Helped by two other half-centuries, batting flexibly from No. 3 to No. 5, he ended up as the Wind­ies’s top run-getter. Tagged as a T20 specialist, Kings XI Punjab coach Mike Hes­son named him the ‘young Chris Gayle’. The wide arc of his unhurried, carpet-hugging strokes suggests a richer vein of possibility.

Shaheen Shah Afridi, 19, Pakistan

Left-arm fast, left-handed bat

World Cup show

Matches 5 | Wkts 16 | Avg: 14.62 |  Economy 4.96 | Best 6/35

Yet another product of the seemingly unending Pakistani assembly line of fast bowlers, the six-foot-six left an unforgettable impression with his left-arm pace, swing, and toe-bruising yorkers. Wayward at first, the teenager from the Khyber Agency ended up as the ninth top wicket-taker of the tournament, though he played only five matches. His career-best performance (6/35 against Bangladesh at Lord’s) was also the best of this World Cup as well as the best for Pakistan in ODIs. At 19, he also became the youngest to take a five-wicket haul in a World Cup. This younger brother of ex-Pakistan pacer Riaz will sweep batters, literally, off their feet if nurtured properly.

Mitchell Starc, 29, Australia

Left-arm fast, left-handed bat

World Cup show

Matches 10 | Wkts 27 | Avg 18.59 | Economy 5.43 | Best 5/26

Starc seems to have simply, amazingly, extended his form of the 2015 World Cup, where he captured a ‘Man of the Tour­na­ment’-worthy 22 wickets at a disturbingly destructive 10.18. In a WC where speedsters used knuckle-balls and cross-seamed slowers as their stock-in-trade on slowing, unresponsive pitches, Starc made a feint of slowing down—mostly, his searing in-swingers rattled the best. As strike bowler, he returned two five-wicket hauls and two four-wicket bursts and was instrumental, along with Warner (647 runs), Finch (507) and Cummins (14 wickets), in taking Australia into the semi-finals. Starc has been the Aussie stalker-in-chief over eight years; his inexplicable loss of form against England we judge as an aberration.

Jofra Archer, 24, England

Right-arm fast, right-handed bat

World Cup show

Matches 11 | Wkts 20 | Avg 23.05 | Economy 4.57 | Best 3/27

The smooth, gently loping approach to the wic­ket belies a fierce burst of pace that harries the soundest of opening def­ences. Respect for Jofra Archer is accorded as ine­vitably as his follow-­­on. The esteem in which England hold this Bar­badian import became evident from the fact that English residency rules were amended to pick him for the WC. He had played three ODIs and one T20 till then. But the gangly, loose-limbed speedster (a new ‘Whispering Death’? Ah, give us time) didn’t disappoint—he finished as the third-highest wicket-taker with 20 scalps. Morgan chose him for the needle-on-the-edge super over. Archer didn’t let England down. Play­ing in the West Indies under-19 team in 2013, Archer was laid low with a back injury. His assault on the summit of his trade happened thousands of kilometres away in England.

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