• Why Thursday matters so much

    Whoever loses the Cricket World Cup opening match are going to have to make history if they are going to go on and win the tournament, writes GARY LEMKE.

    Here’s a stat that might pour cold water on all those who think that the first match in a 10-team round-robin World Cup is not overly significant in the big picture of the tournament. No country that has lost the opening game of the tournament has gone on to recover and win the trophy. Indeed, no losing team has even gone on to reach the final.

    In 1992 there were only nine teams, but the same round-robin league format is again in play for the first time in the 2019 version.

    The first match saw joint hosts Australia take on New Zealand. The Kiwis won by 37 runs in the first match, then the Aussies came up against South Africa four days later and were humbled by nine wickets. The Aussies were effectively already out of the tournament.

    South Africa went on to reach the semi-finals, where they came up on the wrong side of that ridiculous rain-adjusted, ’22 runs off 1 ball’ target.

    The format of the tournament then changed, but the overall picture from the opening day has not.

    In 1996, New Zealand beat England in the opening match. The losers (England) were knocked out in the quarter-finals.

    In 1999, Sri Lanka were beaten by hosts England in the opener. The 1996 champions (Sri Lanka) failed to reach the Super Six stages.

    In 2003, the Proteas played in the first match – and went down to West Indies by three runs at Newlands. We all know how that tournament ended, in the rain in Durban, for the hosts.

    In 2007, hosts West Indies played Pakistan in the opening game, but neither reached the Super Eight knockout stage.

    In 2011, hosts India beat Bangladesh in the opener. The losers failed to reach the knockout stages.

    In 2015, joint hosts New Zealand and Australia played Sri Lanka and England respectively on the opening day. The losers (Sri Lanka and England) didn’t progress past the quarter-finals.

    Before South Africa’s inclusion in 1992, Sri Lanka lost in the opening game of the 1987 World Cup. They failed to reach the knockout stages. There were three World Cups before then, but on all three occasions (1975, 1979 and 1983) four matches were played on the opening day.

    So, history is stacked firmly against the losers of Thursday’s mouth-watering opening encounter between hosts and tournament favourites England, and South Africa. Interestingly too, when juxtaposed against this historical trend, England and South Africa are two of the five teams in the 10-country competition to never have won the World Cup – the others being New Zealand, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. And of those in the 2019 tournament, only SA, Bangladesh and Afghanistan haven’t contested a final.

    Clearly, the opening match sets the tone of the competition, and the losers, while having the opportunity to recover from the setback, are immediately on the back foot. That scenario doesn’t extend to cricket alone.

    In the Rugby World Cup, no loser of the opening match (Italy in 1987, England in 1991, Australia in 1995, Argentina in 1999 and 2003, France in 2007, Tonga in 2011 and Fiji in 2015) have ever gone on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. Only one (England) have lost and gone on to reach the final. And in 2015 the Springboks lost their opening game, to Japan, as well.

    You can expect either England’s Eion Morgan or South Africa’s Faf du Plessis to downplay the importance of losing on Thursday, whoever that might be, and talk about having the chance to ‘learn’ and ‘bounce back’ and it’s ‘a long tournament’.

    All of which is true, but then again, they will have to create history by rebounding from first-day blues to go on and win the World Cup.

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    Gary Lemke