It is not every day that the breaking of two cricket records is witnessed in person.
One such day was last Saturday at Delhi’s Arun Jaitley stadium. South Africa savaged Sri Lanka’s bowling attack to the tune of 428 for the loss of five wickets, beating the previous record of 417.
Three players scored a century, with Aiden Markram scoring the fastest one in ODI World Cup history off 49 deliveries. This surpassed Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien’s 50-ball hundred in 2011. Last Tuesday, Pakistan chased a target of 345 against Sri Lanka, the highest successful run-chase in ODI World Cup history. In a quirk of fate, this beat the sensational defeat of England by Ireland in 2011 in India, when O’Brien made history.
If this opening round of matches is anything to go by, it will be a World Cup of broken records. Despite two low-scoring matches, the average first innings score has been 288, with three totals in excess of 300. The low score in Chennai took place on a wicket helpful to spinners, India selecting three top class purveyors of the art. They were largely instrumental in shackling Australia, whose middle order batters seemed reluctant to take risks.
A target of 200 appeared straightforward for India, but they were reduced to two for three wickets and would have been in deeper, possibly irreparable, trouble when Virat Kohli offered a catch which was dropped. This would have rendered India 12 for four. Instead Kohli steadied the ship and, along with KL Rahul, was responsible for his team reaching the target in 41.2 overs.
India followed up this victory with an eight-wicket win against Afghanistan on Wednesday. Your columnist has detected an expectant atmosphere in India. The locals have little doubt that India will win. Everything seems to be geared to achieving this. As reported last week, my experience gaining access to the stadium at Ahmedabad was a challenge.
In Delhi, it was less so. Nevertheless, finding the box office in central Delhi from which my ticket had to be collected proved to be almost beyond my tuk-tuk driver, who was greeted with indifference by fellow drivers when he sought to find out the box office’s location. Eventually, he succeeded.
Collecting the ticket was easy, no queue in existence. What did amaze me was that no form of identity was requested. Apart from submitting the email confirmation of my ticket purchase, from which the QR code was scanned, no other questions were asked. After the heavy security at Ahmedabad, it was a remarkably light-touch experience.
This was not repeated when seeking to enter the ground. Security checks were strictly enforced and, once again, suncream was banned. It had to be taken out of the ground and deposited in a luggage store, at cost, in competition with a disorderly queue of others in the same situation. Fortunately, I was accompanied by an Indian friend who dealt with the situation with more facility than I could have mustered.
Once inside, the ground appeared sparsely populated. The stadium also appeared to be a little tired, in need of some upgrading. As the day progressed, more people arrived and the same pattern emerged as at Ahmedabad. There was a rush to the front of the stand in the late afternoon and a flock of people were enticed by cameras to perform between overs when the loud music blared from the stage halfway up the opposite stand. Retreat to the upper stand deadened some of the noise and afforded a better view of Sri Lanka’s reply. It was led in pulverizing fashion by Kusal Menis, who struck eight sixes and four fours in a 42-ball rampage, after surviving a review.
His attack caused consternation amongst the South Africans. After his tame dismissal, caught behind trying to guide the ball down to third man, the innings lost momentum. Eventually, it petered out to 326 for all out in 44.5 overs, the captain, Dasun Shanaka, scoring 68 much-needed personal runs.
Transfer to Dharamsala brought a rarer air, a slower pace of life and an improved welcome. Apart from a long walk between the drop-off point for the stadium and the box office, collection of my ticket was smooth, no evidence of identity required. This was followed by a long walk back to the entrance gate, passing pockets of Bangladesh supporters on the way. This gave me the impression of the possibility of a sizeable crowd. Access to the gate was through the grounds of a girls’ school and a building under construction which advertised Master of Business Administration degrees.
In my academic years, I had become familiar with high demand by young Indians for this qualification, but this seemed an unlikely setting. Security was as unrelenting as in Ahmedabad and Delhi, suncream ordered to be deposited into a black plastic bag. No one in authority seems to be able to provide a reason.
My hopes for a sizeable crowd were not realized, although numbers were swelled by schoolchildren of various ages and both genders in uniform. They joined in enthusiastically with the now familiar songs played between overs. Interestingly, they became most engaged when a decision review was invoked, a sure sign of cricket’s direction of travel.
On the field, after a cautious start, England made the most of being asked to bat, racing to 296 for three in 39 overs. England’s captain, Jos Buttler, is a well-known and popular figure in India via his exploits in the Indian Premier League. Prior to the match, he had been critical of the state of the outfield. He promoted himself to number four to continue the momentum of the innings, but played a skittish innings full of attempts at brutal shots before perishing with 20 runs.
Thereafter, England’s middle order did not fire and the innings stumbled along to 364 for nine. Their bowlers, Reece Topley, in particular, made light work of Bangladesh’s top order, reducing them to 49 for four after nine overs, and eventually dismissing them for 227. England’s victory was straightforward, no records broken.