By STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sports Writer: After 39 days and 45 matches, the long group stage of the Cricket World Cup is over and four teams remain in the running for the title.
It’s India vs. New Zealand and South Africa vs. Australia in the semifinals this week.
Before that, it’s time to have a look at the big storylines to emerge from the tournament:
Playing at home has never been so important in 50-over World Cups. The nation that was host or co-host has won the last three tournaments — India in 2011, Australia in 2015 and England in 2019 — and the Indians have swept through the group stage of this edition with nine straight wins in front of their own fans. They knew the conditions the best, they are most aware of the benefits of batting first or chasing in all venues, and are most comfortable in the environment. Before 2011, only once had a host nation won the event — Sri Lanka in the 1996 tournament it co-hosted with Pakistan and India, and the Sri Lankans only staged two games in total amid security concerns.
ENGLAND NEED REVAMP
The English arrived as the premier team in white-ball cricket, given their status as the World Cup holders in the Twenty20 and 50-over formats. The team that helped to revolutionize the ODI game with an ultra-aggressive approach has grown old, though, and English cricket authorities have taken their eye off the 50-over game in favor of focusing on a red-ball reset of the test team and introducing The Hundred, a contentious new domestic tournament. Together with the players maybe believing their own hype, as well as an unlikely downturn in form, England has put in one of the worst title defenses imaginable, winning three games and finishing in seventh place. England moved out of last spot by winning its last two games. So it’s back to the drawing board for the English, who’ll need to develop a fresh young team for the 2027 World Cup.
Looking at the big picture, the story of this World Cup has to be the coming-of-age displays of Afghanistan, for so long an easy-beat in international cricket and now a team widely admired because of its journey to the elite. Beating England in week two shook the tournament but wins over Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Netherlands have proved that it was no fluke, and a sensational victory over Australia appeared to be on the cards before Glenn Maxwell’s astonishing exploits. This, remember, is a team that has come a long way quickly in the face of many challenges such as security threats, ruined infrastructure and persistent poverty. It’s an inspirational story in a sport that can often cut off access for low-ranking teams to the top events and a sixth-place finish will be celebrated by many.
No cricketer plays with more pressure on his shoulders than former India captain Virat Kohli. You wouldn’t know it from his performances at this World Cup. This might ultimately go down as Kohli’s World Cup, with “The King” — as he is sometimes referred — hitting two unbeaten hundreds and five half-centuries, including a 95 against New Zealand that saw him fall going for a match-clinching six. He averaged 99 and led the scoring list with 594 runs in the group stage and that takes in a duck against England. He even took a wicket — his first in ODIs since 2014 — in the last league game against Netherlands. At 35, approaching 300 ODIs and freed from the captaincy, Kohli might never have been so good and that’s saying something for a player selected by the ICC as the best men’s cricketer of the 2010s. Watch out Sachin Tendulkar — your record for most runs in ODIs (18,426) is not safe.
Aside from Kohli, there have been a number of star performers. South Africa opener Quinton de Kock has been the most devastating batter with 591 runs, 23-year-old New Zealand allrounder Rachin Ravindra has been a revelation as the first batter to score three centuries and 565 runs on his World Cup debut and Maxwell’s tournament-high 201 not out to lead Australia to victory over Afghanistan last week might be the greatest innings in any World Cup. Of the bowlers, Adam Zampa’s spin has been a comfort blanket for the Australians after a slow start, especially in his 3-21 against England, and he led the wicket tally with 22. For India, paceman Jasprit Bumrah has taken 17 wickets and Mohammed Shami has snared two five-wicket hauls and comfortably the best average among specialist bowlers in the tournament.