Coming up to the fourth week of the Cricket World Cup, we are about halfway through the group stages. The pre-tournament favourites (New Zealand, India, South Africa and Australia) have all started well, while the qualification dynamics in both groups remain interesting. Although there have been three matches where teams have scored over 400 runs, the best match so far has been the low scoring Trans-Tasman affair, where Kane Williamson hit a six to lead New Zealand to victory over the Aussies.
In each group, there have been three players who have stood out with their exceptional performances so far this World Cup.
Brendon McCullum – New Zealand
McCullum’s swashbuckling innings at the top of the order have played a significant part in allowing the Kiwis to secure a quarterfinal birth with a perfect record so far. He set the tone with an aggressive 65 in the very first match of the World Cup vs. Sri Lanka; while this approach let him down vs. Scotland, he came roaring back with a historic innings against England. Chasing a paltry total of 123, McCullum scored at almost three runs a ball in his innings of 77 (25), knocking the wind out of the sails of the English team. He did the same to the Australians as well, hitting Mitchell Johnson out of the attack. McCullum’s captaincy has also been good, with his man-management of his bowlers and reading of the game with fielders reaping rewards.
Kumar Sangakkara – Sri Lanka
Sangakkara is playing in his last World Cup, and he is on a mission to make it count. Failures in his first two matches against New Zealand and Afghanistan will have made him even more determined to score runs – which he did with aplomb against Bangladesh and England. In both those matches he had a good platform set by the openers to work with, and in both matches he scored centuries. Against Bangladesh he was scratchy (getting dropped twice), but his class came through in the end. However, against England it was a different story – a clinical century at a rate quicker than a run a ball (117 from 86) allowed Sri Lanka to chase down 310 for the loss of only one wicket. With matches against Scotland and Australia to come, Sangakkara will be hoping to fill his boots for one last World Cup.
Afsar Zazai – Afghanistan
Aghanistan’s wicketkeeper until last year was the iconic Mohammed Shahzad- the portly wicketkeeper-batsman who modelled his game on another MS (Dhoni). Shahzad was a fan’s favourite due to the way he wore his heart on his sleeve in the field, as well as his unorthodoxy at the top of the order. However due to fitness concerns, he was not considered for the Afghani World Cup squad. This gave Zazai his opportunity behind the stumps – one he has grabbed with both hands (no pun intended). His batting has not been as entertaining as Mohammed Shahzad’s, but his glovework has been outstanding to both pace and spin bowlers. Six catches in four games (two blinders) has led many to consider him to be the best pure wicketkeeper at the tournament so far. At the age of 21, Zazai is also very much the future of Afghanistan cricket.
Shikhar Dhawan – India
Shikhar Dhawan had been in the midst of a horror run leading up to the World Cup, with media hysteria calling for him to be dropped. However, the team management stuck with him, and Dhawan has repaid their faith handsomely. It is no secret that Dhawan is a prime-time player who loves the big stage, and he has proved himself on the biggest of occasions. Against Pakistan he scored 73 before getting run-out, and in the next game he went further to score 137 against South Africa. Dhawan’s innings have resulted in two key victories for India in a tough group, and Indian fans will be hoping his form can continue.
Chris Gayle – West Indies
The three innings that Chris Gayle has played so far could not have been more different to each other. In the first match against Ireland, Gayle was very circumspect and he holed out after getting frustrated. Next, against Pakistan, he overcompensated, and top-edged one cheaply. This caused the West Indies Cricket Board President (Dave Cameron) to retweet a fan’s opinion stating that Gayle should be offered a ‘retirement package.’ With an obvious chip on his shoulder, Gayle responded the best way possible – smashing the hapless Zimbabwe bowlers for 215. The first batsman from outside India to score a 200 in an ODI, Gayle carried his bat through the 50 overs to score 215 on his own. Not content with his batting, Gayle also chipped in with two wickets and a tumbling catch at cover. If the Gayle-storm continues, the West Indies have a chance to go far in this tournament.
Shaiman Anwar – UAE
Anwar was born and brought up in Pakistan, and even played first class cricket for Sialkot. He moved to UAE eight years ago for employment reasons, but continues to play cricket at international level. He is a big hitter in the local domestic scene, but what is encouraging to see is that he has combined his hitting prowess with exceptional temperament so far at the World Cup. An innings of 67 against Zimbabwe was followed by the first UAE century at a World Cup against Ireland – which so nearly led to a first UAE World Cup win as well. He was the only batsman to show some resistance against India, and scored yet another 50 against Pakistan in what would have been an emotional match opposite the land of his birth. Following this, Shaiman is currently the highest run scorer at the World Cup – a fantastic achievement.
Though there have been other standout performances at the World Cup so far, these are the players who have really caught the eye so and will be hoping to continue their excellent form throughout the duration of the tournament