There are three weeks until the opening match of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 on Oct. 5 in Ahmedabad.
Teams are preparing with matches in four countries, involving nine of the 10 participants.
The Asia Cup involves five of the World Cup contestants. Two series involve four countries, England having hosted New Zealand and Australia visited South Africa. The Netherlands, the only associate member playing in the World Cup, last played a competitive ODI match on July 9. Its next one will be a formal World Cup warm-up match on Sept. 30 against Australia in India. Hardly ideal preparation.
Prior to the formal ICC warm-ups, between Sept. 29 and Oct. 3, each country must submit a final 15-man squad by Sept. 28. In the preparation phase it is usual for team managers to trial different formations and players.
England and New Zealand are doing this in their four-match bilateral series. In the first match, England were thrashed by eight wickets, a result greeted with doom and gloom by media and supporters alike.
They had more ammunition after 12.1 overs in the second match when England were 55 for five, having been eight for three after 4.2 overs. Then, Liam Livingstone, a player whose potential has been hampered by injuries in the last 18 months, was the chief architect of a recovery to 226 for seven, scoring an unbeaten 95. An improved bowling display by England saw New Zealand bowled out for 147.
It is unwise to read too much into performances in preparation matches but England will have been pleased to display the depth of both its batting and bowling units. Australia also displayed similar depths in the first two matches of a five-match series in South Africa.
A near hopeless position in the first match was rescued by an eighth wicket partnership of 112 to reach the 223 required for victory. This was even more remarkable given that Marnus Labuschagne, who scored 80, joined play as a concussion substitute. In the second match, Australia amassed 392 for eight, Labuschagne scoring 124. He was not included in Australia’s preliminary World Cup squad. The selectors may need to rethink. South Africa was bowled out for 269. However, they recovered in the third match to win by 111 runs, Labuschagne scoring only 15.
Matches in the Asia Cup carry rather more edge than players simply reacquainting themselves with the ODI format. It is being played mainly in Sri Lanka because of India’s refusal to play in Pakistan, the event’s official host nation. Two weeks ago, the monsoon arrived earlier than expected, causing regular but unpredictable rain. In the round-robin group stage only one match was affected, that between India and Pakistan, leading to shared points. The Super 4 stage commenced on Wednesday Sept. 6, when Pakistan beat Bangladesh. Three days later Sri Lanka beat Bangladesh, to diminish the latter’s chances of further progress.
Another India versus Pakistan clash was scheduled for the following day. Anyone who had not followed the tournament closely, but who was checking the score on the day of play, would have been surprised to note an entry of India 147 for two after 24.1 overs — stumps. This means close of play. A natural reaction would be, this is a one-day match, so why was it not shown as rained off, with points shared?
Fearful of a second India versus Pakistan match being rained off, given adverse forecasts, the Asian Cricket Council announced on Sept. 8 that a reserve day would be added for that match only — the final already has one allocated. It is understood that there had been discussions about relocating to Hambantota in the south of Sri Lanka.
The proposal was rejected in favor of a reserve day in Colombo. No doubt a guiding factor was that of financial implications for broadcasters, advertisers and sponsors. If any further proof of the entanglement between them and those who administrator cricket was required, the decision lays it bare.
Reaction to the decision was mixed. One former Indian fast bowler branded it as “absolutely shameless,” “a mockery” and “unethical.”
The coaches of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka expressed their surprise but were diplomatic, saying that they would have loved to have an extra day. As it is, India gained a point and Pakistan lost one. The decision can be viewed as pragmatic and opportunistic, perhaps a little cynical. Changing a tournament’s rules part way through is both extraordinary and exceptional. It is difficult to see that a similar decision would be taken at an ICC World Cup
There is also, or should be, an issue of equity. Why was provision for a reserve day not afforded to the other Super 4 matches? One explanation may be that the schedule could not be altered to accommodate them. Sri Lanka’s match against Bangladesh on Sept. 9 was followed by India versus Pakistan on Sept. 10, so an overlap would have occurred.
As it was, utilization of the Sept. 11 reserve day meant that India had to play its scheduled match against Sri Lanka on Sept. 12.
Normally, teams are keen to have rest days between matches but, presumably, India was prepared to sacrifice this in the pursuit of beating Pakistan and moving closer to qualifying for the final. There would have been space for a reserve day for the Sri Lanka versus India match.
It would not have been needed as India won by 41 runs in a low scoring and tense encounter, rain interrupting play only briefly.
India was bowled out for 213, with 20-year-old Dunith Wellalage claiming five wickets and scoring an unbeaten 42 in Sri Lanka’s reply of 172.
The result meant that India, with four points, progressed to the final.
The match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both on two points, will determine who will play India. Once the final is over, they and the other eight teams will travel to India to refamiliarize themselves with local conditions in the warm-up matches.