The opening two days of the 2015 World Cup had everything. There was a brilliant century by Aaron Finch, a farcical run-out at the end of the Australia-England match that the world governing body admitted should not have been adjudged so by the third umpire and a high-octane clash between India and Pakistan that saw the men in blue keep a clean sheet against their rivals for the sixth occasion.
The first four matches of the tournament all saw scores of 300 or more, which means one can expect bowlers to be at the receiving end for much of the tournament. When Steven Finn can take five wickets, including a hat-trick, and yet go for 71 runs from his 10 overs you know it’s going to be a batsman’s event.
Hosts Australia and defending champions India have a win under their belt while Sri Lanka lost the opener to New Zealand badly. The three title hopefuls will already have a fair amount of knowledge as to what they need to do to go all the way. However, the one aspect that can derail their efforts is a weak-link within their ranks. Let’s take a look at three players who could play a debilitating role in their team’s title charge.
Lasith Malinga is regarded as one of the greatest bowlers in one-day cricket, with his toe crushing yorkers the stuff of legends. However, the Malinga of 2015 is not even close to the one we saw five years back. Gone is the precision, bite and late swing in his deliveries. What we have is a decent bowler with dodgy fitness.
Malinga has long-standing knee and ankle issues. He remained out of action for a considerable time before the World Cup to get surgery on his left ankle. For a 31-year-old pace bowler, that’s never a good situation to be in.
That he is far from being 100 per cent is clear from two performances in Australia. In the warm-up match against Zimbabwe, Malinga was carted around for 46 runs from seven overs in a losing cause and things got out of hand against the Kiwis, where he was taken for 84runs from his 10 overs. If he continues on this path, Sri Lanka will be packing their bags in no time.
India seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been feeling his way back into international cricket much the same way. He developed ankle issues of his own before the Test series against Australia and when he did play the fourth Test against the Aussies, his speed came down to a shocking 110kmh and even tail-end batsman Ryan Harris had to wait for his deliveries to arrive before smashing them over the in-field. It was truly excruciating to watch.
In his last two limited overs matches in Australia (a tri-series game and a warm-up), Kumar didn’t even bowl more than five overs. Far from being an attacking option, the 25-year-old is being shielded at every possible juncture with captain MS Dhoni praying his overs go away without too much damage. Such a player can never win you the World Cup.
And we all know what a farce Michael Clarke’s fitness saga has turned into, with Cricket Australia testing the star player to the fullest before deciding to not play him against England. He is supposed to play against Bangladesh but if a player has remained unfit for such a long time, and has a history of breaking down, there is every chance things might fall apart for Clarke at a crucial moment in the World Cup.
Various factors played their role in ensuring the three players were part of the tournament. Clarke had been anointed as the man to lead the team long before his fitness woes and meteoric rise of Steven Smith. The Aussies couldn’t simply dump a performer like Clarke, despite his fitness issues.
India, for some reason, still believe Bhuvneshwar can deliver on the unforgiving grounds of Australia and New Zealand. Even a fully fit Kumar wouldn’t have given batsmen sleepless nights. A half fit one will only give Dhoni headaches.
Malinga is a crucial member of the Sri Lankan side but as Australia demonstrated in the absence of Clarke, it’s better to play with 11 fully fit players and omit a misfiring big gun.
The three names mentioned here are all trying to reach top fitness after the World Cup has started. It’s a case of the selectors being too hopeful (Malinga), the team not having many options (Kumar) or the management finding itself in a tight spot (Clarke). Whatever the reasons, the end result is that they are part of the team’s plans even though they should not have been.
A World Cup is not a place for players to gain and prove their fitness. Their presence only means a fully fit player has been sidelined and even if they get back in top shape, they would be replacing a player who might have already done well (George Bailey scored a fifty and is set to make way for Clarke).
The subplot of these players’ health and match-fitness can spoil their team’s World Cup script and the respective managements must take a call on them right now before things blow up in their face during the knockouts.
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