Cricket World Cup: Andy Zaltzman on David Miller, Mohammad Amir and Mark Wood

Mohammad Amir, David Miller and Mark Wood stock pictures

With the World Cup at the slightly-past-halfway point, it seems an appropriate time to dish out some awards.

The tournament has been a mixed bag, as all tournaments in all sports tend to be.

Although it appears the authorities failed to make the required sacrifices to Drizzlig, the ancient Saxon god of rain, the cricket we have had has been more varied and balanced than the monochrome - albeit radioactively luminous monochrome - play we have become accustomed to in England's recent ODI summers.

It is still on course to be the fastest-scoring (5.82 per over to date) and highest-averaging (33.8 runs per wicket) World Cup of the 12 played.

Wrist-spin, the dominant bowling force in recent ODI cricket, has been largely ineffective, but high pace has flourished; the only weapon that has been able to overcome the bowler-unfriendly, micro-seamed parody of a cricket ball that has been inflicted on the one-day game.

Early wickets have been rare - in the opening 10 overs of innings, teams are averaging 48 runs per wicket (up from 31 in 2015, counting only matches involving teams who have played in both tournaments).

Surprise package

South Africa

Faf du Plessis with his hands on his hips
South Africa are all but eliminated after Wednesday's defeat by New Zealand

In a tournament that has largely proceeded according to form, rankings and expectations, South Africa are the one team who have significantly diverged from predictions.

They have bowled adequately, but not in the manner of a team that, coming into the tournament, possessed two of the top five in the ODI rankings (Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir).

As a team, they have batted with the fluency of a rhinoceros trying to play a Beethoven piano sonata during a rough ocean crossing on a slightly leaky 17th-century warship.

Their batsmen collectively have the third lowest strike-rate (81 per 100 balls), ahead only of Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. No team has scored a lower percentage of its runs off the bat in boundaries (42%).

Only Sri Lanka have scored boundaries less frequently - South Africa have reached or cleared the rope once every 12.6 balls; England's figure is 7.8; six other teams are between nine and 10.

Over the course of a 50-over innings, South Africa are averaging more than 70 boundary runs fewer than England, 35-45 fewer than most other teams in the tournament, and around 30 fewer than they themselves were averaging in ODIs played in between the last World Cup and this one.

It has been a strange decline that even the absence of the wizardry of AB de Villiers cannot fully explain.

Symptomatic player of the tournament

David Miller (South Africa)

David Miller looking fed up
That face you make when you finally manage to reel off a few boundaries... then get out

Miller has a strong record in international and domestic white-ball cricket.

He was unaccountably dropped for South Africa's opening match (he had averaged 50 with a strike-rate of 101 over his previous 30 ODI innings), then recalled, since when he has been reduced to uncertain, tentative accumulation.

Miller hit only three boundaries in the first 100 balls he faced in the tournament, having averaged a boundary every 9.6 balls in his ODI career before the World Cup.

A brilliant fielder, he dropped one of the easiest chances in the history of cricket at the tail-end of South Africa's defeat to India, a catch that a baby would have taken comfortably (assuming it was in a Victorian-style pram, with the canopy pulled back).

The drop had no bearing on the result, but managed to encapsulate the Proteas' malaise like few malaises have ever been encapsulated.

When he finally found some form and hit three boundaries in four balls against New Zealand, he got out.

Six of the tournament

Soumya Sarkar's off stump (Bangladesh v England)

Jofra Archer and Jonny Bairstow fool around in training
Even in training sessions, Jofra Archer likes to keep batsmen on a short leash

With all due respect to Eoin Morgan's glorious, record-breaking innings against Afghanistan, the most memorable six of the tournament occurred in Cardiff.

Soumya Sarkar is, on his day, a beguilingly elegant practitioner of modern one-day batting brutality.

It was no surprise to see him plant a 90mph sizzler from Jofra Archer straight down the ground over the ropes.

Unfortunately for the Bangladesh opener, it went straight down the ground the wrong way, over the wicketkeeper's head, via a perfectly executed ramp shot played by the top of his off stump.

Cardiff has short straight boundaries, but seeing a ball fly over the boundary after a perfect delivery snicked the perfect bit of the stumps, was the most glorious sight of the World Cup so far.

Artistic batsman of the tournament

Steve Smith (Australia)

Pablo Picasso painting
A Pablo Picasso or a Steve Smith innings?

Babar Azam plays shots that makes commentators curl up into a ball in the corner of the TMS box and purr gently for half an hour.

Rohit Sharma hits sixes as if he is trying to gently massage the ball to sleep.

But Smith looks like he learned to bat in a room full of peak-cubism Picasso paintings.

Had old Pablo Paintbrush devoted himself to cricket coaching instead of redefining the boundaries of art, he would no doubt have created an army of Smithian batsmen, with angles that don't make sense but somehow work, playing with a style that just about looks like what you thought batting was if you (a) lay all your preconceptions to one side and (b) squint.

Bolts from the statistical blue

Mohammad Amir (Pakistan) and Mark Wood (England)

Mark Wood and Jos Buttler share a joke
"Remember the morning of 27 February, Woody, when we could have made a case for you to be dropped?"

Amir, it is fair to say, has had his share of cricketing ups and downs, on and very-much-off the field.

He bowled one of the great white-ball opening spells in the 2017 Champions Trophy final, dismissing one of ODI cricket's greatest top three line-ups - Rohit Sharma, Dhawan and Kohli (whom he also had dropped at slip) - for 16 runs in six glorious overs.

Since then, up to the start of this tournament, he had taken five more ODI wickets in 14 innings, averaging 92, with a strike-rate of a wicket every 20.1 overs.

In a nine-match sequence from July 2018 to January 2019, he took one wicket (Zimbabwean tail-ender Tendai Chatara) in 63 overs. In Pakistan's first four matches of the World Cup, he has taken 13 in 36 overs, average 13.0.

Against Australia and India he took a combined 8-77 off 20 overs (3.85 per over), while his team-mates collectively returned the less-than-helpful figures of 7-554 off 79 overs (7.01 per over).

In Taunton against the Aussies, his figures of 5-30 were deeply unflattering - he provoked 11 plays and misses.

On the morning of 27 February, you could have made a very strong statistical case for leaving Mark Wood out of England's World Cup squad.

Cricket's finest imaginary-horseman had taken just 14 wickets, average 62, in his previous 19 ODI innings. His overall career average stood at a fraction under 50.

In 37 innings, he had taken two or more wickets just six times, and never in consecutive innings.

That day, he took 4-60, and he has taken at least two in each of his six innings since, 17 wickets at 20.5 in all, including nine at an average of 18.1 in the World Cup.

Statistical achievement of the tournament

Sri Lanka's numbers 4-7 being dismissed for a total of five runs or fewer in consecutive matches

Angelo Mathews after getting out against Australia
Angelo Mathews, a man of 37 ODI half-centuries and two hundreds, is yet to reach double figures in this World Cup

As Oscar Wilde famously wrote, "to lose your numbers four to seven batsmen for a total of five runs or fewer in an ODI innings once may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose them for five or fewer in successive matches looks like your entire cricketing nation is subsiding into a pit of nothingness".

In the 4,000-match history of ODI cricket, there had only been five such middle-order subsidences.

Sri Lanka pulled off this rare, almost incomprehensibly unimpressive feat twice in four days.

Of all the records set in this tournament, this may be the toughest one to beat.

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