Talking points so far at the Cricket World Cup
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — After five weeks, 45 games and a large dollop of rain, the Cricket World Cup has finally reached the semifinal stage with India, Australia, England and New Zealand still in with a chance of lifting the trophy at Lord's on July 14.
Here's what we have learned so far:
FLIP OF A COIN
It's a simple equation: Win toss, bat first, win match.
OK, that might be pushing it too far but the advantage of winning the toss at this World Cup has been mighty, leading some frustrated onlookers to claim the title might be decided by who wins the flip of a coin 30 minutes before the semifinals and final.
Maybe it's tournament pressure. Maybe it's the weather, and the slower pitches that get tougher to play on as games progress. But few teams have liked to chase this World Cup, especially in the second half of the group stage when even England — a team that has preferred to bat second during its rise to the top of the rankings in recent years — has chosen to bat first.
The English needed to win their last two group games, against India and New Zealand, to secure a semifinal spot. They won the toss both times, batted first both times, and won both times. Expect them to do the same against Australia on Thursday if they get the chance.
You had to feel for Pakistan.
The net run-rate tiebreaker proved the team's undoing, largely because of that heavy seven-wicket beating by West Indies in their first match — Pakistan was skittled out for 105 in 21.2 overs.
Pakistan finished tied for 11 points with fourth-place New Zealand but was behind on run rate, 0.175 vs. -0.43.
Using net run-rate as the tiebreaker has often led to teams playing negatively in the final overs of matches, even at the expense of going for victory. All to preserve those tiny NRR fractions at the end of the column in the group standings.
It is hardly conducive to exciting, attacking cricket that fans want to see. The ICC might want to look at it and change the tiebreaker to something like head-to-head between teams level on points if they have the same number of wins.
SCORING AND RECORDS
We were promised record-breaking scores — remember those predictions that 500 would be passed for the first time this World Cup? — but they haven't materialized.
Indeed, no team has even made 400. England came closest with 397-6 against Afghanistan at Old Trafford when Eoin Morgan smashed a world-record 17 sixes.
In general, though, the scoring has been higher than previous World Cups and records are being, or will be, broken.
Rohit Sharma has struck an unprecedented five centuries and is on 647 runs for this World Cup, 26 off the record for a single edition held by fellow Indian Sachin Tendulkar. Two other players have passed 600 runs this tournament: Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan (606), who matched Tendulkar's record of seven half-centuries in a single World Cup, and Australia's David Warner (638).
Mitchell Starc tied fellow Australia paceman Glenn McGrath's record of 26 wickets at a single World Cup.
Starc, Sharma and Warner have at least one match to get their records, maybe two.
South Africa came in with a solid all-round team. West Indies was the dangerous outsider. Rashid Khan was the Afghanistan allrounder set to announce himself on a global stage.
The Afghans were always likely to struggle in this particular format, as the only real so-called "minnows" at the tournament, and they lost all nine games. Rashid's spin took just six wickets at an average of 69 and an economy of 5.79, and he scored just 105 runs in nine innings.
South Africa was arguably the big disappointment, its title ambitions over after seven games by which time the team had lost five times, had one washout and only beaten Afghanistan. That Hashim Amla missed the Proteas' last group game, a win over Australia, because of an injury sustained in a pre-practice football kickabout just about summed up their campaign.
It was also a matter of what might have been for West Indies. They started the tournament by skittling Pakistan out for 105 runs and knocking them over in 13.4 overs, and only picked up a second win in their last game — against Afghanistan.
WHO'S THE FAVORITE?
The leadings four teams in the ODI rankings have made it to the semifinals. That was expected, given the format of the group stage — everyone plays everyone — that should see the best eventually rise to the top.
And it's pretty much the ideal lineup for organizers because of the money-spinning markets of India, England and Australia.
New Zealand is being largely written off after tripping into the semifinals on the back of three straight losses to end the group stage. India, which has won seven of its eight completed games this World Cup, looks to have too much for the Black Caps in both the batting and bowling departments. New Zealand needs to win the toss in Manchester on Tuesday.
England-Australia, a "blockbuster" according to Australia captain Aaron Finch, looks set to be a closer game. England has more momentum; Australia the pedigree and the knowledge it has already beaten the host this tournament.
Whatever happens in Edgbaston on Thursday, India looks the title favorite and the team to beat.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80