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Cricket World Cup: Kohli, Shakib and Rihanna – best of the group stage

Australia's David Warner and Steve Smith
Australia’s David Warner and Steve Smith have been booed throughout the World Cup – but neither is the tournament’s biggest villain

When the World Cup began, Liverpool had not yet been crowned champions of Europe, Rory Stewart still had a chance of being the next prime minister and the Love Island villa was not yet full of potential couples.

Now, after 45 games over 38 days, the 10 teams have been whittled down to four semi-finalists.

While England have been riding their own rollercoaster, the rest of the World Cup has seen immovable bails, a skirmish in a curry house, plenty of rain and a pop princess.

But who have been the winners and losers?

Best match

In a World Cup not blessed with tight finishes, New Zealand and West Indies served up a barely believable thriller on 22 June – one that was still undecided when Carlos Brathwaite sent the ball into the Old Trafford night.

Chasing 292, the Windies were all but beaten at 245-9, only for Brathwaite to begin a furious assault in the company of last man Oshane Thomas.

A century to his name and with six needed to win, Brathwaite bet the house. Launching the bowling of Jimmy Neesham towards long-on, the ball, and the match, hung up in the air. Six or out? Win or lose?

Trent Boult, tip-toeing round the boundary, clung on. Brathwaite sunk to his knees. New Zealand had won an incredible game.

Best player

Nods must go to Mitchell Starc, leading wicket-taker four years ago and on course for the same again, and Rohit Sharma, with his five centuries.

But for all-round excellence, Starc is pipped by Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan, who almost single-handedly kept an unlikely semi-final bid alive to their penultimate game.

Shakib’s total of 606 runs is bettered only by India’s Rohit and Australia’s David Warner, and he has also added 11 wickets with his left-arm spin.

A megastar in Bangladesh, but far from a household name elsewhere, he would stroll into any other team.

Best innings

Do you prefer a classical concerto or heavy metal? There is no right or wrong answer; they both have their place.

If it’s the former, then stylish, composed centuries made by Babar Azam and Kane Williamson at Edgbaston are for you. Babar kept Pakistan’s World Cup alive with victory over New Zealand on 26 June, seven days after Black Caps skipper Williamson got his team home in a nipper against South Africa.

At the opposite end of the batting scale, Eoin Morgan’s 17 sixes on a riotous afternoon at Old Trafford was part of an England total of 25 maximums against Afghanistan on 18 June. Both are one-day international records.

In a World Cup where batting has been more difficult than anticipated, Morgan’s superb ball-striking had fielders straining their necks and spectators ducking for cover.

Best shot

Players such as Williamson prove that one-day cricket does not always have to be crash, bang or wallop. There is room for piano players alongside the piano movers.

In his aforementioned hundred against South Africa, Williamson’s New Zealand needed 12 to win from seven balls.

At that point, the temptation would have been to swing for the fences. Not for Williamson, who showed the touch of a surgeon to play the most delicate open-faced run to third man for four. It was breathtaking not only for its brilliance, but for having the thought and nerve to play it in the first place.

Sure, the swept six in the next over made the match safe, but plenty can swipe the balls into the stands. Williamson is an artist.

Best catch

There are plenty of contenders for this one.

Steve Smith and Martin Guptill have taken fine reaction grabs, Chris Woakes has been having a contest all of his own with an array of diving efforts on the boundary, while West Indies’ Sheldon Cottrell’s throw-up-and-catch, over-the-boundary-and-back show against England was probably the most difficult of the lot.

But it is not all about difficulty. It’s about the moment, and Ben Stokes provided one of the moments of this or any World Cup.

In the very first game on 30 May, with the hosts wanting to start with a bang, Stokes’ spectacular backwards tumble to hold South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo on the leg-side boundary was absolutely wonderful and bettered only by the celebrations of the disbelieving fans behind him.

Best delivery

Starc is a death-bowling phenomenon, a loose-limbed force of nature with the ability to crush toes through heat-seeking yorkers.

To make tailenders dance is one thing, but the yorker he produced to demolish the stumps of Stokes at Lord’s on 25 June was as close to unplayable as it gets.

And here’s the rub. Stokes was well set on 89 and batting beautifully.

Even he was powerless to resist Starc, who will stalk English batsman throughout the coming Ashes series.

Biggest disappointment

Mentions for South Africa, who were as good as out in the first week, and West Indies, who promised much but delivered little.

However, the real let-down has been the performance of Afghanistan, who were tipped to trouble the big boys, but have instead been scuppered by their own chaos.

Pre-tournament wrangling led to a baffling change of captain, coach Phil Simmons tweeted his displeasure and there was the curious incident of a scuffle with a member of the public in a Manchester curry house.

In a 10-team World Cup, they did well to be here at all. Yes, they showed spirit in some games, but to go away winless is a huge disappointment.

Biggest villain

Smith and David Warner have been booed in all corners of the country, while back-to-back hundreds have earned Jonny Bairstow forgiveness after his “people were waiting for us to fail” comments.

However, the biggest baddie in this World Cup has been the British weather, which caused four abandonments in the space of a week.

That more rained-off games than at any previous tournament – and Pakistan can rightly feel that the loss of the chance to play Sri Lanka cost them a shot at the semi-finals.

Spare a thought too for Bristol, the ground where two of the games were completely wiped out.

Biggest mystery

Empty seats have been a recurring theme and have certainly been a puzzle, especially when we were told that so many games were sold out.

However, they are out-flummoxed by the gravity defying case of the immovable zing bails, which at one point seemed to be staging a sit-in protest and refusing to fall from their grooves.

On at least six occasions, the ball thwacked into the stumps only for the bails to remain unmoved.

So common was the problem that the International Cricket Council was forced to defend the troublesome bails which, latterly, have been much better behaved.

Biggest surprise

The World Cup has been devoid of genuine shocks, with England’s freeze against Sri Lanka certainly the most unexpected result.

The biggest surprise, though, came off the field, when pop royalty Rihanna turned up in Durham on 1 July to watch West Indies play Sri Lanka.

From Barbados, Rihanna went to a school that produced plenty of cricketers and was even taught by Windies assistant coach Roddy Estwick.

The connection was there, but was anyone genuinely expecting one of the most famous people on the planet to turn up in Chester-le-Street?

Best moment

It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be Virat Kohli. The weight of a billion people on your shoulders, rarely able to go out in public without attracting attention.

And most things that Kohli does are a moment. Giving himself out against Pakistan, complaining about the boundary against England, fielding like a malfunctioning jack-in-the-box.

There was, though, one moment that was just lovely.

In the maelstrom of a World Cup, Kohli was able to take time out to meet 87-year-old India fan Charulata Patel after the game against Bangladesh at Edgbaston on 2 July.

The resulting images were nothing less than heart-warming.



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