India's Mohammed Shami (C) celebrates with teammates
India's Mohammed Shami (C) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on November 2, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Mumbai: As India became the first team to book their semi-final spot for the 2023 Men’s ODI World Cup after thrashing Sri Lanka by 302 runs, former England captain Michael Atherton believes the hosts’ are the best team in the competition by a country mile and that their in-form bowling attack has stood out.

"They've looked the best team by a country mile. They've got the best bowling attack. That's really the thing that has stood out for me. They're a very good all-round side, obviously, but to watch them tonight against Sri Lanka here in Mumbai, and then the way they bowled against England in Lucknow, those seamers are making early in-roads and then making life much easier for the spinners,” said Atherton on the latest episode of The ICC Review podcast.

At the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday, Bumrah, Shami and Siraj made the new ball talk in such a great manner that Sri Lanka were bowled out for just 55 in 19.4 overs. Bumrah set the tone for a sensational fast-bowling performance to be remembered for ages by trapping Pathum Nissanka lbw on the very first ball of the second innings and had figures of 1-8 in five overs.

Siraj made up for an indifferent time in the tournament by bamboozling the batters with swing and seam to take 3-16 in seven overs. But it was Shami who shined the brightest by taking 5-18 in five overs, making him India's highest wicket-taker in ODI World Cups.

The victory in Mumbai is also India’s seventh successive win on the trot in the competition and also the third time of India dismissing Sri Lanka for a score less than 100 in ODIs this year.

"It's a fantastic attack. I think the quality and depth of the Indian pace bowling is the thing that's changed dramatically, really, since I played here. I'm not sure I've seen a better pace attack than the one India are putting out right now.”

"(Javagal) Srinath and (Venkatesh) Prasad, when I played, were very good, Zaheer Khan obviously. They've had very, very good bowlers but this three, backed up by the two spinners, it's a really top quality all-round attack right now,” added Atherton.

Now on top of the points table with 14 points, India’s next match in the Men’s ODI World Cup will be against a power-packed in-form South Africa at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Sunday, a clash which Atherton is looking forward to.

"It's going to be a taster of what may be to come in the knockout stages. Whether the players can hold their nerve, whether South Africa can still bat as aggressively and as well against India's pace attack, that remains to be seen. It'll be a good pointer to what's to come.”

Talking of England, who have been at the bottom of the points table, Atherton feels the defending champions have been disastrous in the competition. "It has been a disastrous defence of the title. I think most people could accept a team that played pretty decent cricket and just came up short. That happens in sport.”

"There is no divine right to win every game, no divine right to win these competitions, and England have been very good for a long time. "But it's the way England have just been hammered. If you look at the defeats, five of them have been by unbelievable margins. I don't think anybody saw that coming, and it is very difficult to understand.”

England’s biggest-ever defeat in the competition came against South Africa in Mumbai, where they fell short by a whopping 229 runs, where Atherton pointed out what went wrong for Jos Buttler & Co.

"The end result is England have not done very well, and therefore you'll find reasons to fit the performance. So whether it's the toss, whether it's the selection, whether it's the central contracts that were announced, who knows? You could probably say it's a combination of all those things, little things that have added up and eventually have meant that this team is a long way short of where it should be.”

"The obvious mistakes, the biggest I thought was the toss at Mumbai when Jos (Buttler) put South Africa in to bat on a roasting hot day, a must-win game. But I thought that was, in terms of the captain's role, that was the biggest mistake. You can then look at other things like selection, but I had sympathy for making one or two changes because they were going so poorly before that.”

Atherton signed off by saying the players themselves haven’t hit their peak form for England in the competition. "The bottom line is that many of their best players have just not hit form. Root, (Jonny) Bairstow, Stokes, Butler himself, they are all over 30 but they're not over the hill. What happens in sport is that confidence just drains away rather more quickly than it builds up.”

"It takes a long time for a team to become dominant as England were in one-day cricket, a long time to build that kind of really strong core of confidence there. But it doesn't take much for it to whittle away. One or two players not hitting form, one or two defeats, and suddenly you're in crisis mode and that can be very difficult to change.”