Australia versus Bangladesh was likely to be a one-sided affair, but the latter's performances this World Cup had injected belief in the side. That belief was not misplaced. Bangladesh fought, they came close, but 382 was always going to tough hill to climb.
Riding yet another ton from David Warner, Australia put up 381 at Nottingham on Thursday. In reply, Bangladesh went as far as 333. Mushfiqur Rahim's unbeaten 102 was not enough, but it made sure that Bangladesh lost with their head held high. And who knows, maybe if Shakib-Al-Hasan had not departed on 41, Bangladesh could have gone closer.
The problem isn't the last 50 runs Bangladesh couldn't chase; it's the last 50 runs they conceded. Australia didn't win as comfortable as they would have liked, but they won nonetheless and moved to the top of the World Cup table, all but confirming their semi-final berth. Here are the talking points from the game:
Australia and the World Cup
Australia are not the best team this World Cup. They didn't go in as hot favourites. This is also probably the weakest Australian squad at a World Cup in decades. They don't bat deep enough and the middle order is shaky ground; they have a fifth bowler problem and the options beyond Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins don't really deliver. It's a team that learnt to play without Steve Smith and David Warner for a year and both Warner and Smith are now back.
And yet, Australia are now top of the table. Warner is the top run-getter this World Cup. Starc has the most wickets. It just goes back to Australia being an undeniable force at World Cups. This tournament brings out the best in them. They have lost just one game in the tournament so far, against India. But they came close to chasing 352, lost by just 36 runs because they threw away a couple wickets at the wrong time.
You can bank on the Aussies to be their usual ruthless self when it will comes to the knockout games.
David Warner's hunger
The David Warner we know is one of the most dangerous batsmen in the world. He goes after the opposition and decimates their bowling attack. He is brutal. But we have seen a more subdued Warner since his return from the one-year ban following the ball-tampering saga. His first two innings this World Cup were his two slowest fifties in ODIs. He was making runs, but taking his time. But he is finding himself game by game. He is growing in confidence. He celebrated his 107 of 111 balls against Pakistan jumping and swinging his bat and pumping his fists. It was an innings with glimpses of old self.
Against Bangladesh he fell further back into his mold. His 166 of 147 powered Australia to a mammoth total of 381/5. He said after the game that the year spent outside cricket has made him hungry. "For me it's about going out there and putting my best foot forward for the team and try and score as many runs as I can to make up for all the runs I have missed out on," he said.
Australia's batting still has a few problems to address. They need to tinker around the batting order as well. In fact, they did that against Bangladesh Usman Khawaja came in at number 3 instead of Smith on Thursday and he made 89 off 72 balls. But Warner opening the batting for Australia in this form and this mentality, takes off the pressure from everyone that follows.
Bangladesh's out of pace bowling
Bangladesh has had an incredible World Cup, especially with the bat. Led admirably by a Shakib-Al-Hasan in the purple patch of his life, they put up 330 against South Africa and chased down 322 against West Indies with ease. Against Australia, too, Bangladesh got to 333 in 382-run chase.
It's that extra 40 runs conceded that eventually proved to be too much. Bangladesh lack a strike pace bowler who can take wickets up top. Mashrafe Mortaza is a fine captain, but as a bowler he is done. He does not have the pace and variety to trouble batters. Mustafizur Rahman and Rubel Hossain are more often than not off the mark with their lines and lengths.
Bangladesh are also missing a legspinner in a team full to the brim with finger-spinners. Their lack of effective bowling options was clear as day against Australia when their opening batsmen was handed the ball. Soumya Sarkar, who had only ever taken one wicket in his ODI career, took three against Australia, posting his best figures of 3/58. For Sarkar, it might be a cause for mild surprise and celebration. But for Bangladesh, this should be a concern. They need to back their batters and fortify their bowling unit. Twice this World Cup Bangladesh have conceded 380-plus scores. They have the ability to chase down 330, but 380 is a different game altogether.
Questions on World Cup format
Australia's win also more or less sealed the top four spot for semi-finals. As expected, Australia, New Zealand, England, India are all but guaranteed to go through. Sure, there is still a mathematical chance for other teams, but that looks highly unlikely.
There are still 19 games to go before the semi-finals. This exposes the format of this World Cup has a failure. What cricket watchers could be left with now is a series of dead rubbers in a World Cup. In a round robin format, upsets and anomalies are bound to flatten out over the course of games. The best teams are likely to accumulate to the top, despite a few losses on the way. This gives the smaller teams lesser opportunity to excel. Just look at Bangladesh. They are fifth on the table and have produced excellent cricket this World Cup. In a pool format, they might have had a chance to progress to the knockout stages. But in a round robin format, no matter how hard they fight, they are likely to finish below teams that are bigger and better.
And this makes for a less exciting World Cup too. In a few games, when the semi-final slots would be confirmed, teams would have little to play for and fans would be left with a bunch of matches that have no consequence and no stakes.