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21 February 201516:00 By V Ramnarayan

Why the World Cup continues to Inspire

The daring Irish, the heroic Afghans and the combative Emiratis have spiced the tournament up and won fans over.

Why the World Cup continues to Inspire - Cricket News

We have witnessed acts of derring-do by the likes of the O’Briens – Niall and Kevin, Ed Joyce, William Porterfield and Paul Stirling in the tournament so far.

One-sided matches on the first two days of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 warned of a possibly boring tournament. The clinical Australians provided a study in contrast to the Englishmen in the opener. On the next day, it was nice to see a semblance of form in Shikhar Dhawan's sensible, nuanced batting, the assurance in Virat Kohli's somewhat lucky innings, an impressive show of character by Suresh Raina, discipline in India's bowling, but there were also the butterfingers of Pakistan's fielders and the meek capitulation of its batsmen.

All of it made for another unequal battle, strengthening widespread speculation that the 50-over game was facing the threat of extinction. The two new balls and the amended field restrictions were bound to make the game even more batsman friendly, while fast reducing the bowler to a caricature. I was convinced wild horses couldn’t drag me to the television set over the next few weeks.

What happens next, but a hat-trick by Ireland, the team that beat Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup, England in the next edition, and now the once-mighty West Indies. Here’s a team many of us have, from afar, been willing to win from the moment it started to take on the Test-playing nations. To me, the Irish have always been a romantic lot – wild, brave and defiant – thanks to my admiration for their heroes in several fields – George Bernard Shaw, Robert Sheridan, Sean O’Casey, Samuel Beckett, WB Yeats, James Joyce, Frank McCourt, Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Farrell, never mind if some of them are not Irish to the core – each one ‘different’, each one an original.

When Ireland first entered the elite portals of the World Cup, I naturally transferred my irrational adoration of its countrymen to the cricket team. And what acts of derring-do by the likes of the O’Briens – Niall and Kevin, Ed Joyce, William Porterfield and Paul Stirling we have witnessed so far.

Will the team topple a couple more Full Members from their perches before the end of the league stage?

And how nobly the Afghanistan team fought against Bangladesh, with its energetic seam bowling and enthusiastic fielding.

From the days of Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwallah, as portrayed by Balraj Sahni in the eponymous Hemen Gupta-directed Indian film (1961), we have found the simple Afghan a tragic figure of history tossed around by forces beyond his control, an empathy strengthened by contemporary films like Siddiq Barmak’s Osama.

"The Afghanistan cricket story is a truly gallant one, exemplified by the sheer heroism in its qualification for the ICC Cricket World Cup amidst the perils of war and constant gunfire."

By its very presence, Afghanistan has brought meaning to the championship. It may as yet lack the skills to upset a major rival, but all true sport lovers who admire its spirit would want the team to continue to compete with the best in the game.

What of the African teams in the competition? The united colours of Zimbabwe gave a mild scare to its formidable neighbour, reducing South Africa to 83 for 4 before the delightful JP Duminy and the violent David Miller staged a spectacular recovery. The Chibhabhas and Masakadzas outnumber the Ervines and Taylors in the Zimbabwe squad, and did they give South Africa a run for its money in an impossible chase of 339.

UAE. What a fantastic match it played against Zimbabwe, nearly achieving the improbable. It is no surprise that the ubiquitous Malayalee émigré to the Gulf has made it to the Emirates team, but still, when the scorecard says Krishna Chandran caught Chigumbura bowled Mire, it reads like a page out of a schoolboy fantasy. That Zimbabwe looked like losing the match at one stage and had to draw from its greater reserves of experience to win with two overs to spare has been the perfect advertisement for this World Cup.

The most attractive team in the tournament so far has been co-host New Zealand. Its batting is a combination of raw power and graceful style, with an abundance of talent ranging from Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson to Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill. In Adam Milne, it has one of the fastest bowlers in the world, and in Trent Boult and Tim Southee, incisive pacers of the highest order. Southee’s swing bowling against England that fetched him 7 for 33 was some of the finest seen in a long while in any form of cricket.

Looking fitter and sharper than he did on his debut quite a few years ago, he moved the ball just enough to beat the bat and find the edge or clip a bail. He bowled a beautifully full length seldom seen nowadays, and his yorkers were yorkers, not full tosses. In Daniel Vettori, there is a mature, clever spinner who keeps the batsman guessing all the time. New Zealand is playing very smart cricket, and it could very well be seventh time lucky past the semifinal this time.

And, finally, let us not forget Australia and South Africa, the two powerhouses. A proper clash between them should be a sight for the gods.

Who says one-day cricket is boring? The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 could well restore the game to its former glory.

This column first appeared in Wisden India.

At present advisor to The Sanmar Group, and editor-in-chief of Sruti — a leading magazine on the performing arts — Ramnarayan bowled offspin for Hyderabad, South Zone and the Rest of India in the 1970s. He is a columnist, translator, and author/editor of books on cricket and music as well as biographies.