The mixed media zone on Wednesday’s World Cup opening party, on the eve of yesterday’s opener between favourites England and South Africa, was a treasure trove for fans of cricket. Milling about in the enclosure at London’s iconic St. James’s Park were cricketing luminaries such as England’s Kevin Pietersen, Australia’s Brett Lee, New Zealand’s James Franklin, the venerable David Boon of Australia, South African champion all-rounder Jacques Kallis and, last but quite the opposite of least, ‘King Viv’ Richards of the West Indies.
With such a wide sample of superstars, whose respective careers date from the recent past to the mid 1970s, it was a valuable opportunity to get their thoughts on how the game of cricket had changed, their views on this World Cup and of course, Bangladesh’s chances.
“Cricket’s changed in probably the last three or four years hugely,” Kallis, speaking to The Daily Star, said when asked how much the game had changed from the time he played his first World Cup in 1996. “The way batters are playing, it is certainly exciting. Perhaps find a balance between bat and ball again; maybe it has gone too far in the favour of the batters.
“I think the skill of batters has just improved, there’s not a lot you can do as bowlers. Boundaries have become smaller, the guys are training hard now, big and strong, so everything just seems in favour of the batters.”
“I think that the brand of cricket that all these guys are playing, I think it’s going to be quite ridiculous in terms of the scores,” Pietersen said when asked about the expected domination of bat over ball. “I think the wickets are going to be good, and the players are good enough to bring up some big numbers.
“Bowling, you have seen in the shortest format of the game, T20s, that you have to target some of the players and bowl in smart places. The smartest bowlers are those who understand their batters and can go with different options. If you think you can stick to the same old thing you are going to come unstuck.”
Lee, one of the fastest bowlers the game had seen, wanted to see something special from the bowlers too.
“I want to see the ball swing, I want to see the ball hoop, to me that’s very important.”
He was not willing to sound the death knell on fast bowling in these bat-dominated times.
“No, if they prepare rubbish wickets it will,” he answered a question about whether fast bowling had died in modern cricket. “We’ve got Mitchell Starc, Kemar Roach, Jasprit Bumrah. We’ve got guys who can bowl fast, fast enough.”
Boon, whose first World Cup was Australia’s first trophy win in 1987, was philosophical about the game’s changes.
“I think cricket is the same as life. Everything has changed enormously. These days 350 is quite regular. As an ex-batsman I love to see the young guys and their skills are amazing, and the game is just becoming more progressively aggressive in many ways.”
Boon also thought the 2019 World Cup would be the most open in recent times.
“I think it’s the most open World Cup in quite some time. The majority of teams are going to have a chance to do well. The top four sides are going to be the ones that play consistently throughout, with a positive attitude to every game they play and execute their skills the best.”
While Boon, as an ICC match referee, was not willing to risk predicting the four semifinalists, Lee and Pietersen were more forthcoming.
Lee picked Australia, England, India and New Zealand. Pietersen took a bit of a punt. “For me it’s going to be England, Australia, India and West Indies. West Indies are very unpredictable.”
What they Said
Everybody’s got to think that they’ve got a chance. There’s a lot of skillful, very talented players in the Bangladesh side. If they perform and execute their skills, they will have a chance to do well.
I think they’ve still got a bit of work to do. If they believe in themselves, they’ve got guys at the top of the order that can bang it. Liton Das is a player who can hit some big sixes. So, they’ve got key players.
Shakib Al Hasan is a key batsman, Iqbal as well. Shakib got a golden duck the other night but it was a pretty good ball.
Why not? It’s all timing. The likes of Tamim and Shakib, if they find some form in the next few weeks. These icons in Bangladesh cricket, if they can find form, they can win games of cricket. We have seen it time and again from Bangladesh that when they get into these big world tournaments they can upset the form guide, so why not this time?
I do believe that Bangladesh are blessed with some enormous talent. Their batsmen are as good as any. It’s an emerging cricketing country. From the passion that I do see, it looks like it can only get better. As you say, if you can beat a Windies team, who won two World Cups -- this means confidence in my opinion. It creates that kind of an environment. Apart from beating West Indies, maybe I can go and beat other teams as well. It’s not only West Indies that you’ll have to beat, you’ll have to beat some of the best teams around the world and if you can accomplish that, then I think that would be a plus. If Bangladesh has come here believing that they can win, that’s the top factor.
They are a dangerous side and you always have to be careful of them. As I said it’s a very open tournament, so they will fancy their chances of having a good World Cup.