When the ICC Cricket World Cup concluded on the 14th of July earlier this year, there was a sense of completeness about the whole affair– it felt like the drama, the action, and the competitiveness that the world had witnessed in that once-in-a-lifetime final was cricket’s climax. As such, it felt like all the cricket to coke for a while would be played in the shadow of that soon-to-be-legendary final.
But the fans, of course, knew better.
Though the World Cup Final won’t come again, last week saw India begin their tour of the Caribbean with a resounding 3-0 victory in the T20I series against the West Indies– but more importantly for many fans around the world, it saw the conclusion of the first 2019 Ashes Test between England and Australia, with the men from Down Under defying expectations and crushing the hosts and recently crowned World Champions.
England and Australia have an intense, nearly 150-year history as rivals in cricket, and as such, the 5-match Test series that they play (called the “Ashes”) garners attention and hype comparable to that of an India-Pakistan match, if not greater. This year, with England playing hosts, it was expected that they would win, especially with the returning Aussie trio of David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, and former captain and no.1 Test batsman Steve Smith having not played any Test cricket since their last match in Cape Town in March last year, where the disgraceful ball-tampering debacle threw their careers into limbo.
The match began along expected lines– on the first day at Birmingham, England’s bowlers ran riot in home conditions and reduced Australia to 122/8, and defeat for the visitors already looked certain. Smith was still not out at that point, but the comeback man had his work cut out for him.
What followed was an exhibition of class from the world’s best, as Smith took on England’s bowling attack to score a century on return, and then went into overdrive. When he was finally bowled for 144, Australia had a decent score of 284.
England batted the whole of the next day, and buoyed by a ton by opener Rory Burns and half-centuries by Joe Root and Ben Stokes, managed to get 374. The 90-run lead looked like it would hurt Australia, as by the time they overcame the lead on Day 3, they were 3 wickets down– but it ended up having no effect. Steve Smith proved to all that, despite having been away from Test cricket for 16 months, he remains the world’s best, and scored a belligerent 142, while his teammate Matthew Wade scored an aggressive 110– his first test century in over 6 years. Australia’s remaining batsmen contributed as well, and when captain Tim Paine declared the innings on 487/7 late on Day 4, leaving England needing 398 to win, an English victory looked nearly impossible. All England could hope to do was bat out day 5 and tie the match– but that hope was destroyed as Nathan Lyon, Australia’s veteran spinner, made use of the worn-out track and ripped through England’s batting to hand the opposition a resounding 251-run loss. In the face of twin tons by Smith, aggressive batting by Wade, and venomous bowling by Lyon, England had no answers.
While the action unfolded over 5 days of captivating action in Birmingham, India took on the current T20 World Champions, the West Indies. Though the matches weren’t expected to be nearly as intense as the much-hyped Ashes, they still made for a great spectacle. India first took on the West Indies in Florida, where the men from the Caribbean often host matches. On a track ill-suited for batting, the West Indies limped to a paltry 95/9 in 20 overs, with veteran Kieron Pollard making more than half of his team’s runs with his 49. India had debutant Navdeep Saini to thank for this, as he blew away the West Indian batsmen with 3 crucial wickets. In spite of the easy target, however, India found the chase difficult, and lost 6 wickets on their way to victory.
The next day, both teams returned to the same stadium to play the second T20I. This time around, India batted first, and on the back of Rohit Sharma’s 67 and small contributions from the rest of the lineup, India posted 167/5. No one really expected West Indies to chase it down, given their current form, but Rovman Powell did try his level best, smashing a quickfire 54 before getting out. Despite his best efforts, however West Indies simply couldn’t score quickly enough. Their innings was ended early when the heavens opened up, but at that time they were deemed too far behind and India were awarded the match, and consequently, the series, having won the first 2 matches out of 3 overall.
Looking for a consolation win, the hosts played India two days later at Guyana– and this time, they finally came up with a decent batting performance, as Kieron Pollard annihilated India’s spinners en route a six-filled 58, while Rovman Powell carried on from Florida, scoring a quick 32. The team ended on 146/6, which looked like it could potentially trouble the Indians. At first, it looked like West Indies would indeed earn some consolation, as they prised out India’s openers early… but that was all they could manage. Captain Virat Kohli and young wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant proceeded to torment the bowling attack with a calculated assault, and soon after they reached their half-centuries, they closed off what ended up being less of a chase and more of a leisurely stroll!
Of course, there’s much more to come. With four tests left in the series, England will seek revenge for their humiliation in the first Ashes Test, while India will look to dominate their Caribbean counterparts in the upcoming ODI and Test series too.
There may be no World Cup for a while, but the great thing about cricket is that the action is never truly over– there’s always plenty more to come!