Although T20 franchise cricket, and in particular the IPL, was well under way at the time of the previous World Cup, in 2011, it was in the2015 version that spectators really saw the influence of the shortest format.
This was particularly the case in relation to batting. High scores, fast scoring and plenty of sixes became commonplace. There were three scores of over 400. Two batsmen, Martin Guptill of New Zealand, and Chris Gayle, of West Indies, made double centuries. There were 38 centuries scored, a record for a World Cup, beating the 24 scored in 2011. There were 463 sixes. The New Zealand captain, Brendon McCullum, had a strike rate of 188.50; he made 388 runs and hit 17 sixes. Against the West Indies in Sydney A B de Villiers, the South African captain, scored an incredible 164 off 66 deliveries, with seventeen fours and eight sixes. Jason Holder’s ten overs cost 104 runs.
One consequence of this was that there were not many close games: South Africa won that Sydney game by 257 runs.
Of the top ten wicket takers in the tournament, only two, Daniel Vettori of New Zealand, and Imran Tahir of South Africa, were spinners. Intriguingly the two leading wicket takers, Man of the Tournament Mitchell Starc of Australia, and Trent Boult of New Zealand, were left arm fast. Pakistan had three bowlers of this type, led by the fiery Wahab Riaz.
The 2015 World Cup, the second to be held in Australia and New Zealand, lasted from 14 February to 29 March. There were 14 participating teams, divided into two pools. The top four in each pool qualified for the quarterfinals. This process took 42 games. It was fairly predictable that the Associate teams, Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland and the UAE, together with Zimbabwe, would fail to qualify. In fairness, the Associates proved to be competitive and entertaining; almost every right-thinking cricket person is against the ICC’s decision to reduce the number of participants in the 2019 edition to ten. Ireland beat the West Indies by four wickets at Nelson. Brendan Taylor of Zimbabwe was the fourth highest run scorer, making hundreds against India and Ireland.
The hosts, who were both in Pool A, were outstanding from the start. New Zealand won all their pool games and Australia lost all except one. That game, at Eden Gardens, Auckland, was undoubtedly the best game of the tournament. New Zealand needed six to win with one wicket left; Kane Williamson hit Pat Cummins over long-on for the winning runs. This had been a gripping game from the start. Boult took five wickets for no runs in 17 balls as Australia lost eight wickets for 26. Australia finished with151. McCullum blasted his way to a 21-ball fifty and New Zealand had got to 78 in eight overs when he was dismissed by Cummins. Then it was Starc’s turn. His masterly six for 28 reduced New Zealand ton146 for nine. Williamson had been there since almost the start; his coolness under pressure won the day. And his six was genuinely memorable, not just yet another “maximum”.
England were also in Pool A, but their role seemed to be to show the other sides how good they were. New Zealand bowled them out for 123 in Wellington, Tim Southee taking seven for 33. After six overs from a combination of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn, New Zealand had scored 96; McCullum made the fastest fifty in World Cup history, off 18 balls. They won by eight wickets in 12.2 overs.
When England played Sri Lanka, also in Wellington, they managed 309 for six, Joe Root making a century. Ah, we thought, a competitive score! Well, sort of…. Sri lanka won by nine wickets, with almost three overs to spare. Kumar Sangakkara – who made four successive hundreds in the tournament – and Lahiru Thirimanne made centuries.
The final humiliation came at the Adelaide Oval where England lost to Bangladesh by 15 runs.
In Pool B, for New Zealand and Australia read India and South Africa. India, the holders, won all their games. South Africa beat everyone except India losing the game at the MCG by 130 runs thanks to an innings of 137 from Shikhar Dhawan.
Pakistan and the West Indies were both fallible, but did enough to qualify.
There were no surprises in the quarter-finals. South Africa beat Sri Lanka, who had reached the last two finals, by nine wickets in Sydney, bowling them out for 133 in 37.2 overs (Tahir four for 26) and reaching the target in just 18. India beat Bangladesh by 109 runs at the MCG (137 for Rohit Sharma). Australia beat Pakistan by six wickets in Adelaide. This was a game brought to dramatic life by a ferocious spell of fast bowling from Wahab directed at Shane Watson, who, with Glenn Maxwell, ultimately took his side to victory with 64 not out. And New Zealand clobbered the West indies by 143 runs, thanks to Guptill’s double century.
At Eden Park New Zealand beat South Africa by four wickets.
That simple statement does scant justice to the drama of the final denouement, nor the emotional trauma involved.
The starting point must of course be that both teams had been World Cup semi-finalists several times; neither had reached the final.
South Africa made 281 for five in 43 overs (Faf du Plessis 82, de Villiers 65 not out, David Miller 49 not out off 18 balls at the end). This had been a rain-interrupted innings and New Zealand were set an adjusted target of 298 in 43 overs. McCullum got them off to a rollicking start but the vital stand was between the fifth wicket pair of Grant Elliott and Corey Andersom. They came together with the score on 149 for four. They put on 103 (Anderson 58). With just 14 needed Elliott skied a shot to midwicket but two fielders collided and he was reprieved.
Twelve were needed from the last over, bowled by Dale Steyn. With two balls to go, four would have given New Zealand a tie, which would have been enough. Elliott smashed that fifth ball for six over long-on. Steyn was prostrate on the pitch; Elliott, born in Johannesburg, offered him a few consoling words. He made 84 not out off 73 balls.
The other semi-final, in Sydney, was not as exciting, Australia beating India by 95 runs. A stand of 182 for the second wicket between Steve Smith (105) and Aaron Finch (81) put Australia in a commanding position. Dhawan got India off to a good start but Starc and James Faulkner, the latter with clever changes of pace, strangled the middle order.
Over 93,000 people were at the MCG to watch what was expected to be an absolute cracker of a match between the tournament’s two best teams.
A fair number of people must have felt that expectation ebb away in the first over of the match, delivered by Starc. His third ball to McCullum bowled the talismanic New Zealand captain for nought. Guptill and Williamson also fell early and Ross Taylor and Elliott had to rebuild from 39 for three. They had put on 111 when Taylor was out for 40. Elliott made 83 but nobody else did much and they finished with 183 (Faulkner three for 36).
Finch fell early to Boult for a duck but David Warner was in confident mood and Smith made a determined if rather sluggish half century. The biggest contribution came from Australia’s captain, Michael Clarke, who, in his final one-day international, made 74 not out. Australia won by seven wickets in the 34th over.
Australia were deserving victors. They had struggled more than New Zealand in the pool section but they were a side with no obvious weaknesses; aggressive opening batsmen, a solid middle order with the two powerful all-rounders in Watson and Maxwell, and a varied attack, led by the highly effective Starc.
But it is difficult not to feel that the tournament belonged equally to New Zealand, and in particular to McCullum. His extraordinary batting and aggressive leadership forced his team almost to play above themselves. Elliott has said that the task of the middle order was hugely helped by McCullum’s breakneck batting.
And it wasn’t only his own players who watched and learned. There was also Eoin Morgan, the England captain. We have seen what a pathetic campaign England had; they were playing a different type of cricket altogether.
But what’s happened since. Morgan watched and thought. The results were almost instantaneous, starting with New Zealand’s tour of England in 2015.
And now he is captain of the best one-day side in the world, and the favourites to win the World Cup in 2019.
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