A wonderful sunny day at the magnificent Oval was a perfect opening to the inaugural match of the much awaited Cricket World Cup 2019. The hosts England won handsomely against South Africa to commence their journey towards winning the cup. The inclusion of yet another young player groomed by Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Jofra Archer, into the English team infused just the pace bowling venom to stun their opponents. England needed a genuine pace bowler and fortunately for them, Archers citizenship came through in the nick of time.
This World Cup will have some magical batting performances, especially if the weather in England is blessed with sunshine. Scores of 300 runs and more will be a common feature. As the tournament progresses, the fatigue angle will play a major part in the performance of the bowlers rather than that of the batsmen. Furthermore, bowlers will be scrutinized, analyzed and studied to the nth degree, for batsmen to make their adjustments and plans to counter them. It is much easier for a batsman to make these alterations rather than a bowler, as any change for a bowler will require many hours of practice. This, therefore, will need each one of the top-ranked bowlers to not only play their part during the matches, but also, in the nets on the days of rest and recreation.
Captaincy is another area that will play a major part in the progress of a side. Understanding the topography of the ground, placement of the fielders accordingly and even understanding the wind movement will be important in their decision making. Bowling against the wind for a bowler or trying to clear the boundary for a batsman are some of the things that could affect performance in such conditions. A batting order can be changed in the pavilion, but decisions on the field in a fast moving limited overs game, is always a challenge for the captain. In England one has to be tactful in understanding the heaven above, as is said. The movements of the cloud, wind and possible rain can be gauged if one is smart and perceptive. This is where tactful bowling changes and field placements are important. For the captain, the conditions in England makes their task very much like a chess game, where each piece is important in the final check mate.
The South African captain, Faf du Plessis, showed the first innovative move by asking his leg spinner Imran Tahir to bowl the 1st over. It had a productive outcome, but on account of some smart batting by Joe Root and Jason Roy, England managed to diffuse what could have been a master move.
The area of cricket that will play the most important factor, however, will be the teams' fielding. Although, the ball travels a bit slower in the air in England because of the heavy weather conditions, it can swerve at the very last second. Watching the ball till the very end is important as a high catch could move appreciably in the air and change the angle of its fall on the way down. Direct throws to the wicket are also a practiced art, as a ball could swing depending on the way one releases it and the action of the throw. This, therefore, will make catching and fielding an important differentiator in a team's performance. India's victory in the final of the 1983 World Cup was also because of their fielding. Kapil Dev's catch of Vivian Richards was one such brilliant performance, but, the slip catching of Sunil Gavaskar was just as outstanding. Kapil Dev very rightly said: "We won in 1983 because we did not drop a catch during the tournament," and our first Test series win in England in 1971, had exactly the same words by the then Indian captain, Ajit Wadekar.
England showed how catches can win matches and the super catch by Ben Stokes was the start of many more. One was glad to read how the Indian fielding coach is putting the side through new innovative methods of fielding practice. A good sign for the Indian team, as they have realized the importance of it, after all practice is the only way to make one perfect.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)