England all-rounder Ben Stokes showed off his incredible athleticism to take one of the best catches in cricket history in the 2019 ICC World Cup opener.
Pre-tournament favourites England – hosts of the event with Wales – coasted to a 104-run win against South Africa at The Oval on Friday morning (AEST) but it was Stokes who stole the headlines with an unforgettable piece of skill.
The 27-year-old, fielding at deep midwicket, sprinted backwards before diving to take a stunning one-handed catch to dismiss South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo.
“That is one of the greatest catches of all time! You cannot do that!” former England captain Nasser Hussain said on the ICC’s world feed.
CATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT CONTENDER!
Simply marvellous 👏
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) May 30, 2019
“I had a little bit of a panic on. I was a little bit further in than what I should have been,” Stokes said afterwards.
“I’m lucky it stuck. It’s probably a regulation catch if I’m in the right position!”
Stokes also made 89 from 79 deliveries and chipped in with two late wickets in what was a man-of-the-match performance.
England’s 8-311 proved too much for South Africa, bowled out for 207 with more than 10 overs remaining.
The match was the first of 48 at the World Cup, with the event set to run until mid-July.
What are Australia’s chances?
Justin Langer’s side are ranked as the third favourites, behind only England and India.
A dreadful run of form that saw Australia win just four of 26 completed one-day internationals between January 2017 and March 2019 is a forgotten memory after an eight-match winning streak leading into the World Cup.
Key to Australia’s upturn in form has been its decision to eventually embrace playing two spinners, in Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon, and a host of big scores with the bat.
Usman Khawaja and captain Aaron Finch enter the tournament as the highest run-scorers in one-day international cricket in 2019, while the much-anticipated returns of David Warner and Steve Smith will fill column inches and add considerable firepower to Australia’s top order.
Both will come in for crowd criticism after returning to international cricket from ball-tampering bans but Warner was the highest run-scorer in this season’s Indian Premier League while Smith’s list of scores in the lead-up games for Australia read 22, 89 not out, 91 not out, 76 and 116.
Australia has won four of the past five World Cups and five overall, more than any other nation.
That tally includes a 2015 success against New Zealand but just five players who featured in that Melbourne decider are in the squad for the 2019 edition.
Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will lead Australia’s fast bowling attack and all-rounders Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis could also play key roles in the United Kingdom.
How does the tournament work?
Cricket’s World Cup is one of the few major sporting events that has shrunk in size, with just 10 nations competing in 2019, down from 14 just four years ago.
Gone are Ireland, Zimbabwe, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates, the new structure leading to the removal of separate groups.
Instead, each nation will play each other at this year’s World Cup, with the top four teams at the conclusion of the group stage progressing to the semi-finals.
It gives each team a guaranteed nine matches and ensures the tournament will run for more than six weeks.
Australia’s campaign begins against Afghanistan in Bristol at 10.30pm (AEST) on Saturday ahead of a tricky six-day period that will see it battle West Indies, India and Pakistan from June 6 to June 12.
Clashes against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh follow before Australia play key fixtures against England, New Zealand and South Africa.
The semi-finals will be held on Tuesday July 9 and Thursday July 11 before a July 14 final at the iconic Lord’s venue.
The big talking point
Much of the pre-tournament talk in the United Kingdom has centred on whether a nation can pass the ‘500 mark’, a once-mythical tally that now appears within reach.
A combination of factors has made a side scoring 500 runs in just 50 overs seem possible, with bigger bats, small British grounds, predicted docile pitches and the continued rise of Twenty20 cricket all playing their part.
England currently hold the world record, having smashed 6-481 against Australia in June last year, while West Indies hammered 421 in a warm-up fixture against New Zealand.
West Indies batsman Shai Hope said achieving the 500-run mark is “definitely a goal” of his team, while England are “obsessed” on getting there first, according to India captain Virat Kohli.
The battle within the battle should be exciting and, for what it’s worth, Australia legend Adam Gilchrist says a side scoring 500 “will definitely happen”. Watch this space.