The 2019 Cricket World Cup has witnessed two sides of a run chase where 300+ scores have been chased comfortably and sub-230 scores have been defended successfully.
While there were glimpses of this turning into a batsman’s tournament during the early stages, the bowlers have impressed on slow pitches, adding a sense of unpredictability to the games.
As we approach the final games of the group stages, we try to analyse the effectiveness of the top wicket-taker of each country.
Bowling average (runs per wicket) and bowling strike-rate (balls per wicket) provide us with a general insight of how effective and efficient the bowler has been so far.
Mohammad Amir, Mitchell Starc and Lockie Ferguson have emerged as top performers, with nothing separating the trio at the top.
Starc tops the wicket-takers chart with 19 wickets, maintaining a healthy lead over Amir (16), Jofra Archer (16) and Ferguson (15). But among the top bowlers, Amir is the only player who does not play for a team in the top-four.
In a way, the 27-year-old has carried Pakistan’s sub-par bowling attack and given them a second chance after a dismal start to the tournament.
The most impressive aspect of Amir’s game is the incredible consistency at which he has delivered for Pakistan. The strike-rate of 21 shows the Changa Bangial native has claimed wickets at a rate of one in every three and a half overs.
Achieving such numbers on the biggest stage of the game is indeed commendable and it wouldn’t be a stretch to state that Amir has been carrying Pakistan’s bowling attack.
The Punjab-born has been sensationally economical and his bowling average looks great too. With an average wicket every 17.87 runs and an economy rate of just 5.1, Amir has proven to be the most efficient bowler among those who lead the wicket-taking charts for their respective nations.
Only Starc (20.4) has marginally better figures and Ferguson (17.8) has a slightly superior average when compared to the Pakistani pacer.
Ferguson and Starc complete our top three but the quality of opposition faced by Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan underlies the impact Amir has had on the tournament.
The Aussies are yet to play the Kiwis and the struggling Proteas, while New Zealand are yet to be tested against England. Pakistan, on the other hand, face Bangladesh and tournament minnows Afghanistan in their remaining games, hence providing Amir a decent shot at establishing himself as the star bowler of the group stages.
Sri Lankan pacer Lasith Malinga started slow but a match-winning performance over hosts England has provided him with the necessary momentum to join the elite.
South Africa and Afghanistan have been eliminated from the tournament and the graph clearly nods in agreement with their insipid bowling attacks.
With Kagiso Rabada failing to live up to the hype that surrounded him after a solid Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign, Imran Tahir has registered himself as the leading wicket-taker for the Proteas. The spinner has picked up wickets at an underwhelming rate of one every 27.9 runs, 34.2 balls and has still stood out as their best bowler.
India have not relied on one bowler to pick up wickets. While Yuzvendra Chahal (8) has clinched most wickets, he has enjoyed great support from Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami, all of whom have had their moments in the tournament.
Chahal’s par average and strike-rate of 23.23 and 27.7 can hence be attributed to the fact that the Indian bowlers have all done well to claim wickets and have not shown unhealthy reliance on the spinner.
This is quite contrary to the case of Amir and Pakistan’s position in the table – in contrast with that of India’s – which shows that over-reliance on any player is unhealthy for the team.
However, all is not lost for Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men who breathed life into their campaign with convincing wins over South Africa and New Zealand in recent weeks.
They uncovered a jewel in young Shaheen Afridi, who starred in an important victory over the Kiwis on Wednesday. With Amir being provided with some much-needed assistance, do the Men in Green now stand a definitive chance at making the semi-finals?
Numbers from cricinfo, updated until the end of Pakistan v New Zealand
Pakistan hero Babar Azam admitted that not winning a one-day international for his country had been preying on his mind.
Babar masterminded a crucial six-wicket World Cup win over New Zealand at Edgbaston with his 10th ODI hundred, his unbeaten 101 seeing Pakistan home with five balls to spare.
The win moves Pakistan to within one point of fourth-placed England in the race for a semi-final spot and piles the pressure on Eoin Morgan’s men ahead of their Edgbaston clash against India on Sunday.
Pakistan were 110 for three in pursuit of their victory target of 238 but Babar, who has been criticised in the past for failing to get his side across the line, and Haris Sohail shared a decisive fourth-wicket partnership of 126 in 24 overs.
“It was in my mind that I’m not finishing these matches,” said Babar, 24, who during his 68th ODI innings became the second-fastest player to reach 3,000 runs – with only South Africa’s Hashim Amla getting there quicker.
“When me and Haris were batting we had a plan to carry on the innings, and we have done that. It was a difficult pitch to bat on as it was spinning a lot.
“(Mohammad) Hafeez and I had a plan before to see off the spinners’ overs and attack the fast bowlers.”
Pakistan had collected only three points from their opening five games, with the only win in that sequence coming against England.
But back-to-back wins over South Africa and New Zealand have provided Pakistan with momentum ahead of closing games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Curiously, their run of results and record after seven games is identical to the Pakistan side that Imran Khan led to World Cup glory in 1992.
“Everybody contributed a lot and we are very focused on this,” said Babar.
“We are confident of taking it match by match, and hopefully we will qualify.”
New Zealand need to win one of their final two games to make a fourth successive World Cup semi-final appearance.
Jimmy Neesham made a career-best 97 not out in New Zealand’s 237 for six and said confidence would not be dented by a first defeat in the competition.
“I think you’d be pretty naive to expect to go through the whole tournament unbeaten,” Neesham said.
“There’s too many quality teams going around to expect to win every game. We prepared for a tournament where we’d probably lose one or two games.
“But for us, it’s all about making it to the semi-finals, and you’re only two good games away from lifting the trophy.”
New Zealand’s next outing is against great rivals Australia at Lord’s on Saturday before a Durham finale with England.
Neesham added: “For us, nothing changes. The mood in the dressing room is good and we’ll prepare for the next game the same way we’ve prepared for the last six.
“We’re not the type of team that takes losses really hard. We’ll talk about how that game went, and then we’ll pretty much park it and hit our scouting pretty fresh.”
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Joe Root expects emotions to run high against India on Sunday, in a game England will be treating like a World Cup quarter-final.
A heavy defeat by Australia at Lord’s was England’s third setback of the tournament and leaves their hopes of reaching the knockout stage precariously balanced.
Winning their last two group games would do the trick, but seeing off both India and New Zealand would require a sharp improvement from a side who have mislaid the spark which saw them begin the competition as world number ones and red-hot favourites.
The pressure is rising sharply around the group – from pundits deconstructing their defeats, to rival nations eager to edge them in the standings and, surely, from within their own dressing room too.
Moreover, when they walk out at Edgbaston this weekend there is every chance the majority of the crowd, gleaned in large part from Birmingham’s large British Asian community, will be roaring on their opponents.
“I personally think we have to be very calm about how we approach the next couple of games because the games themselves might get quite emotional, especially with the atmosphere at Edgbaston,” said Root.
“I strongly believe we are more than capable of qualifying for the semi-finals – when that happens it doesn’t really matter how you get there, that’s when the tournament really starts to kick in.
“It is almost like we see these two games as quarter-finals, which in a way should serve us really well.
“You still have to win big games at some stage in the tournament if you are going to go on and win it. Ours have just come a bit sooner than expected.
“It would be silly to sit and mope about that and get all caught up in it – we have two opportunities now to go and qualify. If we embrace the challenge that is in front of us and play anywhere near our potential we are more than capable of getting in the semis.”
Root can at least approach the game feeling fully fit for the challenges ahead, a luxury not all of his team-mates can claim.
Jason Roy’s availability is the most clear and present issue and a final decision could go all the way to the wire.
The explosive opener tore a hamstring against the West Indies and has been sorely missed over the past three games, with his stand-in James Vince emphatically failing to impress.
Roy is said to be making “good progress” by the England and Wales cricket Board, but he will take part in both practice days before any verdict is reached.
Jofra Archer, England’s leading wicket-taker with 16, is still struggling with tightness in his left side and is also a concern. He passed a morning fitness test to face Australia but looked short of his best and the ECB said he would “continue to be assessed”.
The final area of concern is Adil Rashid’s right shoulder, a problem he has been managing throughout the tournament.
The leg-spinner attended the opening of a new urban cricket centre at Leyton cricket Hub on Wednesday, as part of the governing body’s South Asian Action Plan, and allayed concerns.
“It is getting better every day. I’m seeing the physio every other day getting a massage done or a strength session,” he said.
“There is no pain bowling because the injections are still in there.”
As for the prospect of a hostile crowd – at the same ground where his close friend Moeen Ali was memorably booed during an India game in 2014 – Rashid was pragmatic.
“People will enjoy themselves, have some fun and banter. We will not be fazed by that,” he said.
“It is disappointing sometimes, but it happened. The crowd get involved but it does not bother us. We played India last summer at Edgbaston and we enjoyed it and did our job.”
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