We’re just about there. It’s right round the corner.

Quite literally four more matches and the round robin stage of the Cricket World Cup will reach its culmination. It’s the time when slowly, turn by turn, the lethargic stragglers at the bottom of the points table are handed confirmation of what was so far just likely – you ain’t making the semis.

The smooth sailers cruise to conclusive qualifications for the World Cup semifinals. And the ones in the middle begin to be sifted and siphoned off into one of these two categories – they either pick up their stumbling selves and let resolution carry them to a top four berth, or join the growing list of sides who’ll be heading home ere the knockouts roll in.

Here’s a look at Week 5 of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 and the events that gradually cleared up the semifinal race.

The journey so far

To put it dryly, there are three kinds of teams at this stage of affairs – those who’ve qualified for the semis, those who can’t, and those in the process of being slotted into one of the former two categories.

An all round show against England on June 25 saw Australia become the first team to earn a final four qualification. India, after narrowing missing out versus England, thumped Bangladesh two days thence to join Australia as qualifiers. And in the last game of the week, England resoundingly trounced New Zealand to revert to being their fearless selves and ossifying the third semifinal spot.

Half the collegium at this Cup is already out of knockout contention. Some of these were recent and close matters, such as Bangladesh – a team that’s matured meticulously the past few years, have pushed almost every strong team to the brink, have boasted the best all rounder in the world and as a souvenir of sorts, written against their name arguably the greatest World Cup chase ever executed in their thumping of the West Indians. They ain’t minnows no more – you can commit that to memory.

Others were … well, far less ambiguous. Afghanistan have yet to register a win in the Cup, a stat which cloaks how close to the precipice they pushed both India and Pakistan. South Africa, for their part, appear to have been stung by AB de Villiers’s retirement more than they’d have us imagine. The only two wins of their campaign have come against Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Razor-sharp fielding, formerly synonymous with South Africa, was conspicuous by its absence in each of their string of defeats.

The only uncertainties, at least officially, are New Zealand and Pakistan. One of the two will end up claiming the fourth and final knockouts ticket, and bar the most ridiculous cricketing miracle, that team looks set to be New Zealand.

Game of the Week

Pakistan vs Afghanistan, Match 36, Leeds, June 29

228 from 50 overs is what Afghanistan asked of Pakistan on the 29th of June to take the chase for themselves and keep their semifinal prospects alive. 228 is also what South Africa asked of India in the eighth fixture of the Cup.

Unlike the latter, though, which was comfortably seen through with six wickets in the reserves and fifteen balls to spare, the one here was riddled with chaos and randomness. A match that swung way too much, too often and too bizarrely even for a Pakistan fixture.

And hence, not expressly for eye-catching quality of gameplay, but rather for how dynamic, how unpredictable and as a result how entertaining this matchup was, the Pakistan vs Afghanistan round robin match is our Game of the Week.

Afghanistan won the match toss and elected to bat first. An opening stand that was looking steady was broken open by Shaheen Shah Afridi. Afridi struck again and Imad Wasim scalped Rahmat Shah at the end of the 12th over to push Afghanistan to 57-3.

Economical and disciplined bowling from Pakistan ensured that no big partnership had the opportunity to spawn. Numerous scattered partnerships, and middle order efforts from Asghar Afghan and Najibullah Zadran, hoisted Afghanistan to 227, giving them something to defend.

The Pakistan chase, ostensibly a fairly easy one, stumbled early in a strikingly similar fashion to the Afghanistan innings. Fakhar Zaman was caught LBW off only the second ball of the innings and spent Pakistan’s only review in an effort to salvage his wicket. Mohammad Nabi then put to use some fine spin bowling to clean up both Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam, thus exposing the Pakistan middle order.

The remarkably efficient four-pronged spin attack of Afghanistan then sought to tighten their grip on the match, with all four curtailing the flow of runs, if not contributing to the wickets. And they pulled things back for Afghanistan quite well, right up until the 46th over.

Pakistan required 46 runs from 30 balls, a stiff equation made possible by prolific spin bowling. All four mainstream spinners had enough overs left to bowl out the remaining deliveries among themselves and finally register a win for Afghanistan.

Their captain had vastly different plans, though. In a bewildering move, he chose to bring himself on, despite being comfortably the most expensive Afghani bowler thus far and despite his spinners doing their job so well. 18 runs came to be expended in this over owing to the move, giving Pakistan such momentum that even the spinners couldn’t save the day now.

Matters thence weren’t devoid of drama, with Shadab Khan getting run out in the 47th over and Afghanistan being just three wickets shy of stealing the game. Imad Wasim and Wahab Riaz held the team afloat, however, and a four from Wasim sealed the deal in a photo finish.

Who blazed the scene?

Jasprit Bumrah

“If Reliable had a face”, it would be that of Jasprit Bumrah, opined Virender Sehwag in an adulatory tweet, after India triumphed against Bangladesh at Birmingham, a win that confirmed our participation in the Cup’s knockouts. To say that Sehwag is on the money is but to reiterate the boundless admiration every Indian supporter holds for our premier fast bowler.

Ranked the number 1 ODI bowler in the world, he has the wiliest cricketing brain cloaked in a bizarre bowling action. His array of effective cutters, pinpoint yorkers, stifling bouncers and sly slower balls make him a potent force at any stage of the innings and lead to him being entrusted with the toughest overs to bowl in.

Against England, whilst his compatriots were incessantly bludgeoned for boundaries, he held back the English freight train with an economy of no more than 4.4. Half his deliveries were dot balls and half his quota was expended in the death overs.

Versus Bangladesh, his four-for was absolutely vital in curtailing their chase. He broke the menacing lower order partnership between Sabbir Rahman and Mohammad Saifuddin and whittled away at the tail thereafter before Saifuddin had a chance to salvage the match for his team.

To sum it all up, if even Sachin Tendulkar believes you can coast into any side in the world, there’s not much you’re doing wrong.

Hardik Pandya

He’s that solitary all rounder who has unwaveringly featured in every Indian Playing XI this World Cup. His powerful batting is a well documented phenomenon, having drawn comparisons to Lance Klusener because of how effortlessly he accelerates early and the wanton ease with which he clears the ropes.

But put that aside, and you have a genuine all rounder with phenomenal bowling talent. His well-kept physique enables his fast bowling to fetch speeds in excess of 140 kph whenever he feels the need to crank up the pace. And his array of bouncers and slower balls give him enough variations to become an increasingly trustworthy bowling option.

Such is Kohli’s faith in his abilities that he had no qualms about going into their encounter against Bangladesh with just five bowling options. Such a move demanded that Pandya spend his entire quota of 10 overs, a task he was more than up to. He finished off three of Bangladesh’s top five and rounded off a solid Indian bowling performance in a comeback victory.

Ben Stokes

Stoking the fire of this lad is no mean job. A genuine ‘three dimensional player’, he has brawny batting, crafty bowling and stupendous fielding, each of which can scorch the opposition on its day.

He has already etched himself into the memorabilia of this tournament with one of the best catches of all time in the Cup opener against South Africa. Even then, his gameplay continues to ensure England hold tight and don’t unexpectedly slip out of the World Cup.

After Eoin Morgan fell for just 1 against India, it was Stokes who steadied the ship and didn’t allow India to gain a decisive foothold in the innings. His blistering 79 at the end of the innings was the main reason England surmounted a match winning total of 337 and made sure their title hunt stayed alive.

Nicholas Pooran

To an Indian viewer, his impressive innings with the bat during the IPL is likely when Pooran gathered mainstream attention. He’s turned out to be just as valuable to the West Indies as to Kings XI Punjab, and his presence in the West Indian middle order ensures the game isn’t over as long as he’s batting.

The Sri Lanka vs West Indies fixture was all but inconsequential, with neither team having any possibility of progressing to the knockouts. This backdrop could so easily have elicited a lackluster match played without intent or enthuse.

Sri Lanka, though, had other plans. On the back of a brilliant century by Avishka Fernando, they rode to 338, by galaxies their best batting show this tournament. In response, the West Indian top order had collapsed to 4-84 when Pooran walked in. He set about to construct, along with Fabian Allen, the only meaningful retaliation from his team.

And despite that partnership tragically vaporizing after an unfortunate runout, Pooran held fort with Sheldon Cottrell. Backed by a boisterous crowd, he looked set to take the Windies home right up until he was undone by an inexplicable piece of magic from Angelo Mathews.

And who got incinerated?

 Glenn Maxwell

The talent’s all there. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. The entire world can vouch for it. Glenn Maxwell can, and has, turned games on a dime with inventive stroke play we can’t begin to understand. Behind all his unorthodoxy there is a method and a sense of when to execute which shot.

All such brilliance is conspicuously absent in this World Cup, however. Although formally an all rounder, he’s rarely called upon for his bowling prowesses and has bowled no more than four overs in Australia’s last three fixtures. Not taking a wicket in any of those instances and more often than not going for plenty.

And when your contributions are this inadequate with the ball, your batting has to step up. And he’s simply failed to make a mark or give oppositions any trouble. He’s failed to face more than 10 balls in any of his last three innings, his most recent scores being 32, 12 and 1 respectively. And as part of an Australian unit that’s in such red-hot form, that is just not enough.

Kedar Jadhav

Australia’s woes with Maxwell isn’t something Indians can’t relate to. If you’re in the squad as an all rounder and ain’t delivering the goods with the ball, your bat has to do the talking. And on the back of Jadhav’s inability to do either, his presence in the playing eleven has not infrequently been questioned.

Given how dependable Hardik is becoming as a bowler, Jadhav is turning increasingly less useful for his bowling offerings. He bowled a grand total of one over in India’s three games this week. And whenever he has been trusted with extended spells in the past, he’s been alacritously targeted by batsmen, as happened against Australia.

Neither has he shown any menace with the bat that could concern an opposition. If you’re number 5 in the team, you need to have capability as a finisher because of how late you come in, something Jadhav has shown no promise in. He didn’t even begin to appear like a threat when he came on against England, and is just too slow and too inconsistent to be a snug fit for the team.

Gulbadin Naib

Naib is Afghanistan’s captain, and fits into the side as an all rounder. He’s batted as opener for Afghanistan this tournament and also bowls benign medium pace when the occasion demands. His underperformer designation for this week, however, isn’t expressly about his batting or bowling.

It’s about his captaincy, in particular an absolutely bewildering decision that took the match away from Afghanistan after they looked so comfortably on course. The opposition was Pakistan and an ostensibly easy chase of 228 was being tanked in the most Pakistan fashion ever.

48 runs were needed off 30 balls. The pressure had been bottling up for Pakistan and the Afghani spin quartet had been keeping it tight. And right at this critical juncture, Gulbadin brought himself on to bowl. All the four frontline spinners could have exhausted the remaining five overs among themselves without a part timer having to chip in.

Yet Gulbadin chose otherwise. His ill-directed, gentle medium pace was exactly what Imad Wasim needed. The batsman eagerly struck 18 runs off the over to make the run chase celestially easier. Using this impetus, Pakistan did go on to claim victory and the faux pas from the Afghani skipper let slip another potential win from his country’s grasp.

Shai Hope

A regular West Indian top order feature, Hope is currently being used as a number 3 batsman with the inclusion of Sunil Ambris in the squad. He’s an aesthetic player to watch and played some commendable innings in the tournament, but is also guilty of initiating the many unprovoked batting collapses that have undone the Windies so often this tournament.

After his remarkable knock of 96 against Bangladesh way back on June 17, Hope has been visibly underwhelming. His batting scores after his innings against Bangladesh read 1, 5 and 5. The longest he’s stuck to the crease is 11 balls. And for a genuine top order batsman, that’s just not enough.

Memorable highlights

Mathews need no practice

Sri Lanka and West Indies, two teams firmly out of semifinals contention, were engaging in a pleasantly thrilling match. Sri Lanka had exceeded expectations, and then some, and posted a gargantuan target of 334 for the West Indies to chase.

A characteristic West Indian batting collapse in the chase was contained by a determined Nicholas Pooran, who, along with Fabian Allen, put up a valiant fight. Even after Allen’s unfortunate dismissal, Pooran kept striking and looked set to take the Windies home.

And then it happened. There were three overs to go in the West Indian innings. The experienced Lasith Malinga had just one left. All other mainstream bowlers like Isuru Udana and Dhananjaya de Silva had been bowled out. And in an unprecedented move, Dimuth Karunaratne actually called upon Angelo Mathews to bowl the next over.

To quote Kumar Sangakkara, “The last time Angelo Mathews bowled was in December 2017. So to say that he would be rusty is an understatement.” Nobody could have foreseen what came next. Mathews charged in and sprayed the ball wide outside off. Pooran slashed hard at it and edged straight to the keeper.

This inexplicable moment of magic all but sealed the match for the Lankans as a marauding Malinga dismantled the remaining vestiges of the lower order. Turns out that practice is overrated, at least if you’re Mathews.

Pakistan complete a 1992 encore

It began as a meme. And will probably die one. There is no phenomenon as a ‘destiny’ written in the stars that shall dictate thy future. Right?

Pakistan believe, nonetheless. When every single one of their group stage results from the 1992 edition of the World Cup, which they won, came to be mirrored in their 2019 campaign, right down to the washed out games, it started raising the bemused question – “Is it meant to happen?”

Well, Pakistan are eight games through now, and the entire set of 1992 results matches their 2019 results, so far. They would play nine round robin matches this time as opposed to eight in 1992, but they’ve successfully completed a copy-paste of whatever was available.

All that remains now is to go ahead and win the Cup. And, yeah, maybe find a way to qualify for the semis while they’re at it. But when you’ve got destiny on your side, such things can be expected to work themselves out. No biggie.

Boult from the blue

Mohammed Shami bagged the inaugural hattrick of this World Cup with an effort that finished off a nervous Indian victory over Afghanistan. This week against Australia, a lightning Boult replicated the feat (and almost got four from four in the process).

Called upon in the last over against Australia to curtail Usman Khawaja and restrict any last-over hitting, Boult did both. He removed Khawaja, Starc and Behrendorff in successive full, swinging deliveries and almost got four in four against a nervy Nathan Lyon. He finished with a four-for to round off another display of bowling might in this World Cup.

Third umpires in the firing line

On-field umpires don’t have it easy. Adjudicating LBW appeals off blistering 145 kph deliveries, checking run outs that happen in the blink of an eye and discerning whether a catch fell into a fielder’s hands and not a millimeter ahead on the ground, need extensive training and acute awareness.

If you’re a TV umpire, though, you have none of the above excuses by your side. Given slow motion footage and dependable technology, you have all the resources you need to make the correct call. At least four instances in the Cup, however, had third umpires brazenly ignoring the footage they had in front of them and bizarrely hastening to laughable decisions.

Exhibit A, Michael Gough, umpiring in the India vs West Indies matchup. Rohit Sharma was batting steadily when a Kemar Roach delivery whistled between his bat and pad through to the keeper. Roach appealed for caught behind, a plea turned down by the on-field umpire but referred by the West Indies.

The TV replays showing the ball grazing Rohit’s pad and appreciably away from his bat. Yet Gough, for reasons unfathomable, chose to overturn the on-field ruling and designate Rohit out. This drew understandable ire from across the spectrum, including Rohit himself, who later tweeted a photo of the moment to reiterate his point.

Exhibit B, Aleem Dar, who faced flak for no less than three decisions. Bangladesh opener Liton Das was given caught out against Afghanistan when the ball had clearly hit the ground. Soumya Sarkar was judged out LBW versus Afghanistan without even using Ultra Edge to check whether the bat had edged the ball. Dar later gave Sarkar an inexplicable reprieve versus India officiating on an LBW review that there was an edge when the ball had clearly hit the pad first.

Umpires on the ground making gaffes is not unprecedented and, let’s be real, not surprising. But third umpires, with all their equipment, making such glaring errors, so often, at such a stage, is simply reprehensible.

Coming up …

India vs Australia – the race for the top of the table

There mayn’t be a lot of variables concerning who qualifies for the semifinals, but the field is open to influence when it comes to who plays whom. India and Australia, with just one loss each thus far, will irrevocably end up as the top two teams when the knockouts roll round.

Who takes which spot, however, is contingent on their remaining matches. The balance is marginally in Australia’s favor. The only way India can ascend to top spot is if they win their upcoming match versus Sri Lanka and Australia lose theirs against South Africa.

In every other eventuality, Australia shall top the table. The table toppers get to face a stumbling New Zealand (or Pakistan, should a wild miracle occur) and not a revitalized England in their semifinal, so the stakes are not insignificant.

Can Afghanistan get their wins column to budge?

A perpetually war-torn state where cricket is the only broker of peace and celebration – that’s how much the game means to Afghanistan. What we don’t visibly see as spectators is the backdrop of personal tragedy these players perform in and how the sport is a stabilizing force to help them pull their lives together and relish in a relaxing pleasure.

Given that, Afghanistan’s presence in the World Cup is in and of itself a phenomenon to celebrate. It’s only 2017 that they were granted Test status by the ICC. Now that they’re here, though, they’d definitely like to leave a mark in terms of performance as a signal that they wholly deserve the opportunity they have.

That has been a stumbling block so far, however. They’re the only winless team in the tournament, and despite how close they pushed India and Pakistan, they’ve by and large fallen short in strategy and temperament.

Can they rectify that with a win against a similarly inconsistent West Indies? Tune in to the next week of World Cup action to find out.

Will Pakistan make it?

Let’s put aside 1992 just for the moment. Yes, the fates all point towards it, but does pragmatism say we should accept that? Let’s dissect.

Three teams have already qualified for the knockouts, and two contenders remain for the fourth spot – New Zealand and Pakistan. These sit on 11 and 9 points respectively, with Pakistan yet to play their last game.

A simple victory won’t suffice for Pakistan, however. They currently have a net run rate deficit of 0.967 when compared to New Zealand and victory against Bangladesh, if it happens, must come with absolutely quixotic margins. To quote statistician Mazher Arshad,

“If Pakistan score 350, they will need to win by 311 runs. If they score 400, they will need to win by 316 runs. If Pakistan bowl first, they will be knocked out straight away.

There is no realistic possibility for Pakistan to qualify for the semis. Their WC dream is over.”

But then again, if there’s anybody who can defy expectations, it’s Pakistan. Making the semis might just be a bit too much to bet for, though.

DoJMA Predicts

Afghanistan vs West Indies

Neither team has shown much consistency, while both have shown occasional menace that has come close to winning the match for them. DoJMA predicts an Afghanistan victory in a close game.

Bangladesh vs Pakistan

Yes, I know how futile an exercise it is to ‘predict’ a Pakistan match. But if we must, given how solidly Bangladesh have raised their game in the tournament with both bat and ball, DoJMA predicts a moderately easy Bangladesh win.

India vs Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s batting has been by and large inconsistent at posting sizable totals and their bowling, sans Malinga, lacks the teeth you’d need to trouble teams like India. DoJMA predicts a comfortable Indian victory.

Australia vs South Africa

South Africa have sorely missed AB de Villiers’s mojo this World Cup and have very uncharacteristically been sloppy in their fielding too. That doesn’t presage well against an incisive and in-form Australian unit. DoJMA predicts Australia to win with some effort, but reassuringly in the end.

That’s all from us for Week 5 of World Cup Coverage. We hope we’ve contributed to your experience of this fascinating tournament and will be back soon to keep you updated on the news that matters. Stay tuned!