Cardiff: For all the ballyhoo about this being a batter's World Cup, about hitherto unseen ODI totals and a barrage of batting superstars who walk on a plane of untouched reverence, this English summer has been about the little guys of modern cricket - the bowlers.
A day after West Indies served up a crash course in bowling short on their way to bundling out Pakistan for 105, New Zealand made short work of a struggling Sri Lanka. Black Caps pacers Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson shared the spoils as Sri Lankan batters collapsed to 136 in 29.2 overs.
New Zealand dominated with the bat as well, reaching the target in 16.1 overs - without breaking a sweat or losing a wicket. Openers Martin Guptill and Colin Munro, with smart and quick fifties to their names, breezed through the Sri Lankan bowling attack. It was the perfect start to the World Cup for New Zealand; for Sri Lanka, it is back to the drawing board.
Here are the talking points from the game:
THE COIN IS CRUCIAL
From the small sample size available till now, the toss seems to have assumed additional importance this World Cup. There are only a few good tosses to lose and they haven't yet been seen in England (and Wales). On Day 2, West Indies captain Jason Holder accounted for the overcast skies and invited Pakistan to bat. On Day 3, Kane Williamson saw a strip of green and threw the ball to Henry and Trent Boult. Both Holder and Williamson were rewarded beyond expectations. The seamers stuck to their plan, bowled tight lines, utilised favourable conditions and picked up wickets at regular intervals.
The value of a toss win is directly proportional to the state of the pitch and weather conditions. So far, the conditions have been a considerable factor, thus making the coin flip that much more important.
A MIXED BAG
This World Cup was supposed to have flat tracks to facilitate big hitting. Just last month, the 340-run mark was routinely crossed in the ODI series during Pakistan's tour of England. But the wickets have been a mixed bag in the World Cup so far. Depending on your cricket palette, it is either a dour development or a delightful one. If it's the former, you need to check your palette. Instead of bombastic batting efforts with sky high scores, we have got a fairly balanced contest between batters and bowlers.
In the tournament opener between hosts England and South Africa at the Oval, the pitch had a tint of green and was also a little soft due to moisture. South Africa correctly asked England to bat. It's just that England bat really well these days. At Trent Bridge, Holder saw moisture in the soil and clouds in the sky and unleashed his pacers against Pakistan. Pakistan floundered in the face of bouncers; the West Indians, on the other hand, eased past a few hiccups with the bat to comfortably reach the target. At Cardiff, on a green wicket, the New Zealand pace attack took apart Sri Lanka. But Guptill and Munro put up a disciplined effort with the bat and engineered a comfortable win.
After the game, Williamson said the variety (in pitch conditions) was important. "We are expecting different wickets. Some high-scoring, some like today. In warm-up games we had different pitches too," he said. They key lies in how to adapt to the conditions and use them to your advantage. It's all up for grabs if you work for it.
A DOMINANT DARK HORSE
Everything went well for New Zealand on Saturday. The pitch was green, they won the toss, their pace attack delivered with enviable consistency and their openers scored the requisite runs scratch-free. The Black Caps have announced their arrival at the World Cup and the last edition's finalists look in mood. They even dismantled India in their first warm-up.
The side is also terribly well-balanced. Boult is obviously the pick among seamers, but it was Henry and Lockie Ferguson who dealt the damage on Saturday. These are encouraging signs for the Black Caps. On the batting end, Guptill seemed to have picked up where he left off at the last World Cup when he was the tournament top scorer. Munro worked in tandem with him and the two racked up the runs in little time.
New Zealand have often attracted the dark horse label at ICC tournaments, but their low key presence and affable demeanor deceptively aides that moniker.
KARUNARATANE THE SOLE SPARK
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratane was lonely man out there on Saturday. He became only the second batter in World Cup history to carry his bat. He opened alongside Lahiru Thirumanne, stood as his teammates fell at regular intervals and watched on helplessly with his team finishing at 136. His hard-fought half century was in vain.
Sri Lanka have been in the wilderness since their great generation passed on the baton, slumping to an ODI ranking of 9. Their way back will be a long one, but they also need some short term fixes to have a chance at this World Cup. "We need to work on our concentration and focus on early overs. When you get set, you can easily score runs," Karunaratane said after the match. His team now needs to figure out how to do that.