Today Cricinfo threw out a number: 3.
That’s the maximum amount of losses a team could suffer in the group stage and still qualify for the semi-finals — which are still a month away. Currently, there are three teams with zero losses: New Zealand, Australia and India (though they have only played one match so far, more on that in a second) — that puts them in a prime position now 11 days into the tournament. Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the West Indies, England and Bangladesh each only have one loss a piece. Not great, but if you beat the teams you should beat, then you will probably be okay. Afghanistan have two losses and will probably have three after their match with the quietly strong New Zealand today. While South Africa of course have already maxed out their losses at three, so they might not be out of it completely, but winning the rest of their matches is surely a bridge too far.
But, even with that caveat, every single team in the tournament is still alive for the knockouts. It’s early days, of course, but the more I say that the less and less true it is. I think we can stop saying it after each team has played five games, then we will have a crystal clear idea of who’s in, who’s out, and who’s on the cusp.
Speaking of: Bangladesh, England, New Zealand and Afghanistan are playing their third matches of the tournament right now. Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa have already played three. Australia and the West Indies have each played two.
India have still only played one. And don’t play their second until tomorrow, when they play Australia, which will be the Aussie’s third match. I don’t get it. Yes, they played their last match of the warm-ups on the last day possible, but so did Bangladesh and New Zealand, who are playing their third matches as we speak. I guess you have to take the IPL into account, but I don’t think that delayed their travel to England by that much, as they played their first warm-up on May 25, the first day New Zealand and Australia did, so you really can’t talk acclimation.
There is no conspiracy theory here that I am about to impart on you. But India does have a lot of pull with the ICC, whose tournament this is. India basically run the show, simply because that’s where all the money for the game is. And so if they wanted to have a lighter schedule earlier in the tournament — to give their players more time to acclimate, to rest after the IPL, to train on the English pitches — then they probably could have pulled that off. And if they wanted one of the other tournament favorites — South Africa, which is odd because India blew them out of the water in their last ODI series — if they wanted them to play three matches in seven days before their players even had a chance to shake the jet lag, they could probably do that too. Or, even if they didn’t see South Africa as a rival, but simply wanted their first game of the tournament to be against a team that had already played two matches so they would have film to watch beforehand and be playing a team that might be a little tired, then they could have done that. Winning those early games is vitally important.
Honestly, though, I don’t believe anything untoward is going on here. It’s a scheduling fluke, or maybe the ICC giving them extra days off because of the IPL. But even if it is innocent, it’s still not great optics. Cricket is corrupt, we all know that. And the big three — Australia, England and India — run the whole damn show, and tend to get whatever they want. And anything that even smells of favoritism for one of those sides — like, for example, the shoddy officiating in the West Indies vs Australia match that reeked of a pro-Australia bent — is going to get a light shone on it, and is going to color with corruption what has otherwise been a brilliant couple weeks of cricket.
Until next time.