Monday, February 28, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Pakistan vs Sri Lanka Verdict

The trumpets blared, the horns bellowed and the whistles rang all night in a packed out Premadasa stadium. It was a cauldron like atmosphere in which an energetic and determined Pakistan out-gunned the Sri Lankans, a mighty effort.

If they turn up with this much enthusiasm every time, they can take down any opponent. The match see-sawed constantly but you always felt that Sri Lanka were one step behind, the Pakistanis batted with purpose and bowled with menace.

Except for one guy.

Kamran Akmal, take a bow. © Getty Images

How this man manages to become a first choice keeper-batsman is mystifying. His record on paper is passable, but papers do not show the moments of sheer lunacy he can produce. This match was a great example of it, sample on these excerpts from the equally frustrated Cricinfo commentator:

Herath to Kamran Akmal, OUT, Well, Pakistan have lost three wickets. Kamran has taken more than any of the Sri Lankan bowlers - two. After sending Hafeez back with his wily running, he's now accounted for himself with an inexplicable unremarkable charge down the track. He seemed to have decided long back that, no matter what, this had to go over long on. And so he proceeded - to run down the track like a bull that had seen a red rag. Herath just stuck to his guns, landed it on middle and got it to turn away, past Kamran's mad, mad swipe. Miss. He doesn't have much time to turn back. Sanga does the rest. He didn't even turn back. Just kept walking. Good idea too. Vintage Kamran.
Kamran Akmal st †Sangakkara b Herath 39 (68m 48b 5x4 0x6) SR: 81.25

Abdur Rehman to Sangakkara, 5 wides, Kamran fluffs a stumping, all is well with the world, Rehman beat Sanga with some flight, and angling it down the leg side, he got some extra bounce again, which beat Kamran totally, Sanga was in no position to get back

Abdur Rehman to Sangakkara, 1 wide, Kamran, oh Kamran. Another fluffed stumping. Same as before, Sanga jumps out a mile looking to flick. Rehman sees him and fires it wide, Sanga misses and is halfway down the track. Kamran whips the bails off. Find the missing link - yes, Kamran did not collect. I now know the only weak link in Pakistan's side. It is behind the stumps.

What if Sangakkara went on to win the match?
This man can cost you a world cup. Be warned Pakistan.

Ah the memories of Sydney. © Getty Images

Sunday, February 27, 2011

World Cup 2011 - New Zealand vs Australia Verdict

It has become a familiar story really, an utterly dismal batting performance from the Black Caps against their trans-tasman rivals. While Australia bowled well, they weren't a menace, the chief destroyer for the kiwis was simply the usual, totally inept batting.

Lets recap the top orders efforts shall we:

McCullum (16 runs off 19 balls)
Determined to top edge his way to victory over third man, he eventually and inevitably holed out in the deep.
Dumb Factor = 8/10

Guptill (10 off 25)
Scratched around for 19 deliveries before getting off the mark. Fell to a Watson delivery that kept strangely low, probably the only one who could claim to be unlucky.
Dumb Factor = 5/10

Ryder (25 off 31)
Singles are overrated for Ryder, 24 of those runs were boundaries. He faced a ridiculous 19 consecutive deliveries off Johnson before finally edging to the slips.
Dumb Factor = 8/10

Franklin (0 off 3)
For a man who I rated for having technique and temperament, he showed neither. A lazy waft outside the off stump that was totally uncalled for.
Dumb Factor = 8/10

Styris (0 off 4)
Following the trend, Mr Experience then decided to try to cream a wide delivery through the covers in a blaze of glory. Ugly and untimely.
Dumb Factor = 8/10

Taylor (7 off 22)
After looking totally out of sorts, decided he would try to Viv Richards a full ball by whipping it through the leg side.
Dumb Factor = 9/10

Dear Mr Taylor, Viv Richards you are not. © Getty Images

How (22 off 47)
Batting at number 7 (?) How only managed to stick around before completely missing a dead straight Smith delivery. Just to be sure of his impact on the match, he also wasted a referral. On what basis was he selected again?
Dumb Factor = 7/10

And so after the carnage they stood at 7-121, before the typically feisty Nathan McCullum battled away, coupled with the standard Vettori Innings In Vain. The eventual total of 206 of course nowhere near enough.

Should we be surprised? There is something about New Zealand and Australia in the last decade or so, in the big events, where we just tend to capitulate. It often happens after talking ourselves up too. So as an added bonus, lets take a small trip down memory lane and see what I am talking about here:

The Hall of Shame
ICC Champions Trophy 2002 - 4th match, Pool 1
Chasing 296, New Zealand barely even got going as McGrath and friends ran havoc through the entire order. All out for 132 with no lower order rearguard to save face either.
ICC World Cup 2003 - 47th match, Super Sixes
After Bond set up the match perfectly by reducing Australia to 7-84, his useless bowling support ensured that Australia managed a still chase-able 208. Too bad that only Fleming showed the stomach for it, with the rest of his buddies contributing 55, that's ten batsmen. They ended up all out for 112.
ICC Champions Trophy 2004 - 9th match, Pool A
Nathan Astle actually started things off brightly by picking off a few boundaries. Nothing bright about what followed however as the middle order fell apart to leave them at 7-89, including a ridiculous run out where Harris sold McMillan down the river without a paddle or a canoe. Some lower order spunk took them to a losing score of 198.
ICC Champions Trophy 2006 - 1st semi final
On the back of some strong batting by Stephen Fleming, the kiwi's made the semi's of this edition of the champions trophy looking a good chance. Chasing a lowly 240, the top-middle order had the usual game plan, reducing us to 6-35. I still remember that awful heave McCullum hit straight to mid-on. A determined, almost tragic 79 from Vettori got them to a face saving 206.
ICC World Cup 2007 - 47th match, Super Eights
To be fair, chasing 348 is a big ask. But at least make something resembling an effort. All out for 133 in under 26 overs is not on for a team that boasted a 3-0 victory over the same opponents before the world cup. 

So in 2011, we continue in our determination to follow the trend set by our black caps gone by over the years. Long may it continue.

© Reuters

Saturday, February 26, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Week 2 Preview

In a week mostly containing matches with minnows facing the top nations, the cynics have come out right away, blasting the lack of competition and how boring this all is. What has happened to everyone's patience? The same thing happened in 1996 and nobody really cared too much, I rather enjoyed some of the lower nations trying to punch above their weight. This is almost the only chance to see some of these guys in action.

But I digress, lets have a look at what week 2 has in store:

The Form Book
India, South Africa and Sri Lanka look strong, no changes there. New Zealand and the West Indies had their flaws exposed, special mention to Darren Bravo however. Its almost blasphemous to suggest that there is another Lara, but just watch him bat and you too will get excited. Australia were contained by Zimbabwe, not a good sign for them. From the minnows, its obvious that the Netherlands and Zimbabwe are capable of causing trouble, my prediction of the England upset so nearly came true.

Did you say Lara? BLASPHEMY!  © 

Key Matches
Sri Lanka vs Pakistan
Potentially a real cracker. Two teams full of flair and loaded with big names looking to stamp their mark on this world cup. We have been waiting for a close match between two good sides, here's hoping this is the one. I pick Sri Lanka to come out on top in the end.

India vs England
Funny I should say this given that I don't think much of England. I expect India to get home with ease, but will England finally turn up to play? We know they can, and if they do they can be a challenge. Remember India's bowling is their weakness, so if England chases, who knows.

Potential Upsets

Bangladesh vs West Indies
We saw just how flaky the West Indies are against spin (6 of the top 7 against South Africa, with the other a run out), and with Bangladesh chock full of them in their home turf, this is a major advantage. Should be a close one.

You heard that right, South African spin. © AFP

England vs Ireland
England are stronger on paper compared to the old enemy, but again on the day you just never really know. This Irish outfit are surprisingly experienced at this level, and showed against New Zealand in the warm up match that they are not to be taken lightly by anyone.

Monday, February 21, 2011

World Cup 2011 - India vs Bangladesh Verdict

And so Sehwag proves me wrong on two accounts in a frantic opening match. 
  1. He actually did manage to bat through most of the innings.
  2. He did mean business when he said this was the 'revenge match'.
I've eaten my words.

Bangladesh missed Mortaza, their only real fast bowling weapon. The rest are a worry. In terms of spinners, Sehwag can make even Murali look silly, so they need not take the onslaught to heart. It was one of those batting efforts so typical of what India are capable of at home. All the sides had better beware because if the Indian batting clicks, they could take the world cup at a canter. 


1. Bangladesh Got To 283
And that too with relative ease. Tamim and Shakib in particular looked pretty comfortable with this Indian bowling attack. They are steady and economical at best, with Sreesanth spraying it around like Navjot Sidhu commentary. When the Indian batting does eventually fail, which it will at least once, the lack of wicket taking ability could be their undoing.

2. The Fielding Is Poor
Watching them in the outfield, they still strike me as a lazy and unfit bunch. I saw plenty of mis-fields and poor efforts, as if they were in cruise mode when Bangladesh were chasing. That is a terrible attitude, and India need to take a leaf out of the Australian book here. If on top, stay on top. In contrast Bangladesh at least were fielding with skill and energy.

The Bottom Line
India have sprinted off the mark in great style and have set the batting benchmark very high. Bangladesh have shown a big hole in their game with their pace attack, but not every team has a Sehwag to dismantle spin like its a joke. I still think they can take something away from the opener.

Final Digression...
Brendon McCullum, why the frantic, trigger-happy bat swinging, as if confused between the India and Kenya run chase.

I'll bet the Australians are scared stiff now. © Getty Images

Saturday, February 19, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Week 1 Preview

And finally after the bizarre warm up matches, we are ready for the real deal. The easiest way to follow the events of the world cup was to divide into weeks (Saturday to Friday intervals) and look at each one in turn. So here we go, week 1:

The Form Book
The warm up matches definitely told a story or two. India, Sri Lanka and South Africa look in good nick while Australia looks particularly vulnerable. Don't buy into that  though, they do not start world cups well but seem to pull it together when it really matters, sort of like a reverse South Africa. England look iffy as always. Pakistan and West Indies look a bit flat but could turn it around. Bangladesh are pumped, and New Zealand are simply woeful. Of course these were just warm up games with nothing at stake, the form guide could go out the window very quickly.

Key Matches
Bangladesh vs India
This is a massive game. Bangladesh at home are good enough to upset the Indians, particularly if they are overconfident from an easy win over the Black Craps. Don't forget their batting was inept against Australia. Bangladesh will be up for a fight, Sehwag calls this the 'revenge match' for the 2007 dumping in their hands (I hope Sehwag gets a duck). India should edge out a close match.

#1 on my world cup wish list. © AFP

South Africa vs West Indies
This should be good provided the West Indies turn up. They certainly have the batting resources, particularly with Sarwan picking up a century. South Africa have the edge in everything else. If Chris Gayle fires, the odds change dramatically, but the match could just as easily turn into a pasting.

Potential Upsets
Netherlands vs England 
I've said it before, I don't rate England as a one-day unit. They have a few strong batsmen, but their bowling especially looks ragged and inexperienced. If Holland are to pull off a miracle, it would require Ryan ten Doeschate to do it almost by himself.

But it's happened before. © Getty Images

Kenya vs New Zealand
Don't laugh. The Black Caps are in such a horrible state right now that, that you just never know. Kenya showed against the West Indies that they are ready to give slackers a real scare. New Zealand have to be very careful that they don't walk into this with the 'easy win' cap on. For them, nothing is easy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Seven Little Guys To Look Out For

Its probably tough being a minnow. Walking into a world cup event, nobody knows you, nobody notices you when you lose, and nobody misses you when you leave. This is for you guys, the little guys who I expect to make an impression in this world cup.

1. Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh)
The Vettori of Bangladesh. He has a fantastic record with his canny left arm spin and genuine ability with the bat. Being a successful captain also at such a young age, he will develop into a very fine cricketer.

2. Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh)
One of my favourites. After he famously demolished India in the 2007 World Cup, he has maintained that promise and talent with great consistency and has a fluid and attractive attacking style. He has a test match average of 40, and three ODI centuries, with more to come.
Unlike Ashraful who was just a kidder. © Getty Images
3. Ryan ten Doeschate (Holland)
He is a big name in the county cricket circuit, and is good enough to make any international side he chooses.  Many quietly rate him, but this is the arena for him to show the world just how good he is.

4. William Porterfield (Ireland)
Arguably the most prolific of the associate level batsmen, he was there in the 2007 world cup, so he has experience to match his talent. He made a breezy 72 off 74 balls against New Zealand in a warm up match just recently, a good sign.

5. Rizwan Cheema (Canada)
This guy doesn't have the greatest record, but he can give the ball a serious thump when he gets going. Just watch him go bananas in this clip:

6. Ed Joyce (Ireland)
Forgotten by the English, he has an SCG century to his name against a strong Australian outfit. He did a reverse Eoin Morgan and I'd love to see him give England something back.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. © Getty Images
7. Steve Tikolo (Kenya)
A real tortoise,  he is one of the few survivors of the 1996 world cup. He has been the big name of Kenyan cricket for over 15 years and this world cup will probably be his last. I am looking forward to him going out with a real bang. Be careful New Zealand.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Why I Don't Like Warm Up Matches

The 2011 World Cup, like others before it, features a series of warm-up matches over almost two weeks. In these games, participating teams play each other with unlimited access to their squad of fifteen in the particular match (i.e. the team can be chopped and changed as the match progresses to give everyone a go). For a number of reasons, this approach is bizarre to me.

1. Good Game Guys... But It Doesn't Count
Australia were edged out by the Indians in a thrilling warm-up match. I got excited before realizing that the match means nothing at all. I am sure I am not the only spectator in a state of confusion as to what to do with these matches. What if Canada managed to pull off victory over England (which they nearly did). It will cease to exist in the cricketing records. Dhoni's century the other night would have been the second fastest by an Indian, if the match was officially recognized. It's a real shame to the individuals.

It Never Happened © Getty Images

2. Lets Give The Opposition A Free Look
If a team has a new ace up its sleeve that not many have seen before (e.g. R. Ashwin), why give the competition rivals a free dummy run against him? They will get to watch him carefully and prepare for him in the pool matches.. If you lose your off stump, the batsman can just say "meh, won't happen again". An unfair advantage.

Note To Self. Remember That Inswinger. © Getty Images

3. But If Not The Top Teams, Then Who?
In a regulation tour, a team usually plays state or regional teams for the warm ups, which makes sense as the opponents are of a reasonable but not overly challenging standard. Why not do the same in World Cups? India and Sri Lanka have a number of domestic teams and huge pool of talented players. These players get good exposure and the big boys get the practice run they want. A win-win.

4. Lets Waste More Time
Already we have enough people bemoaning the length of the event (Stuart Broad quoting "it goes on for years"). The World Cup right now seems to be in an awkward 'has it started?' phase. Why not cram the warm ups into one week instead, while still giving every team two warm up games. Pile the games on, have five in a day. They are just warm up matches after all.

I'm just glad the limbo is nearing a close.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

World Cup 2011 - The Awful Television Ads

We Indians are a flamboyant bunch, it often shows with our exuberance, over-indulgence and color. Bollywood cinema is a prime example of this, unapologetically mindless, but great fun. It does not stop there, the passion is in full flow in our advertising, some of the best commercials I have seen come from India. Some of the most abysmal too.  I thought it would be amusing to look up some of the ads for the world cup. Presented from best to worst:

Pakistani Cricket Team in Airport - Pepsi
Sanity Score - 8/10
This is quite a good one. Nice and simple without laying on the cheese.

Sachin Tendulkar
Sanity Score - 7/10
Cute. Taking hero worship a little far though.

Harbhajan Singh - Pepsi
Sanity Score - 6/10
Amusing idea, taking particular cricketing skills, in this case the doosra (aka googly, wrong'un) and giving it a bit of a twist (no pun intended). Silly but I like it.

Keven Pietersen - Pepsi
Sanity Score - 4/10
The concept is not just exclusive to the Indian players either, Pietersen showing off his 'switch hit'. Notice how both the previous and this ad featured confused New Zealanders? I'm not a fan of overseas players and dodgy hindi though.

Billy Bowden - Pepsi
Sanity Score - 2/10
Ok, this is getting stupid now.

Dhoni and Friends - Pepsi
Sanity Score - 0/10
Oh. Dear. GOD.

If thats the first time you saw that, I apologize for ruining your life.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shane Watson - An Admission

The Emergence
I still remember when this guy first came about. A tall, blonde, bits and pieces all-rounder, making his name against a useless England outfit many years ago. He revealed his signature hyena screams, as if every wicket he claimed was Tendulkar, batting brilliantly, in a World Cup final. I expected him to disappear quickly a la Shane Lee or Andy Bichel.
 Tenduuuulkaaaaaar. © Indian Premier League
The Return
A horror run of injuries kept him on the fringe, but not forgotten. Finally, constant stupidity from Andrew Symonds and a clutch of Aussies calling it a day meant that the stocks were low. From all the demolished sky scrapers came a reasonably tall apartment.

How I laughed though. Shane Watson a senior of Australian cricket? I put the boot into him, chuckling away when Roach cleaned him up first ball, how he profited from plenty of dropped catches, when Chris Gayle put him in his place.

I even joined subtly titled Facebook group The 'I Hate Shane Watson' Society.

The Rise
However in 2011, as Watson walked up to claim his second consecutive Allan Border's medal, my laughs stopped, the realization dawned. He is actually a decent cricketer.

Batting and fielding averages

Bowling averages

Those are very good numbers. Better than Flintoff and all of New Zealand. Looking past the cracks, he has a good attitude as an opening batsman. He sheds the temptation to be another Matthew Hayden, and is willing to play the long haul and focus on tight defence and restraining his shots. If he kept his frequently good starts going, he'd be more prolific than most test openers. In a team that is floundering, at least he gives them starts. 

Heck, even the monkey shrieks have eased up a bit.

The Admission
So here it is. I concede. Shane Watson has my respect.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Interpreting The Big Talk

And so less than a week away from the opening of the world cup, we have the inevitable bravado and tough talk coming from the various camps. Some of it is justified, some just laughable. Lets take a look at what some of the big boys of world cricket had to say, and how far up in the clouds they are.

Shahid Afridi
"Realistically, with the kind of team we have, we should really make the semi-final and of course we want to play the final and win it - everyone does - but we should make the semi."

Rarely is there a weak Pakistan team on paper. In every World Cup it is the case where they *should* get there, so that point is just media talk according to me.
Cloud Score: 6/10

Virender Sehwag
"This time I'll try to bat 50 overs if I can. I have been trying for 10 years, I'm still trying."

Sehwag is aiming to break the individual 250 barrier. Maybe against the Dutch.
Cloud Score: 8/10

I declare this world cup free of useless cameos. © AFP

AB De Villiers
"We are not focusing on what happened in the past. We have a different look now. In recent times we have been the opposite of chokers."

Oh dear. Look at This was a pretty decent sized choke if you ask me. Don't say these things before a world cup. De Villiers could do with a bit of media training.
Cloud Score: 9/10

Daniel Vettori
"There is not much you can do about what's happened in the past but hopefully we can reflect back on the last game, which was a win against Pakistan, and bring that confidence over to the World Cup."

Poor Vettori, only he could scrape up a positive from a streak that reads 14 losses from 16. The man handles the media well, managing to massage the journalists sound optimistic in a team resembling fish in a barrel
Cloud Score: 6/10
Hey we won the toss didn't we? © Getty Imanges

Yuvraj Singh
 "It was a tough phase, I've gone through it, definitely my body is feeling better and I'm feeling 100% fit at the right time, which is the World Cup."

Fitness doesn't include being overweight and hopelessly out of form apparently.
Cloud Score: 8/10

Ricky Ponting
"Our lead-up couldn't really be much better, having just beaten a pretty good English side 6-1 at home"

Actually, this is a bad omen for the Aussies. They usually go into world cups with issues and a string of losses. (Last year it was a 3-0 loss to New Zealand). 
Cloud Score: 6/10

Chris Gayle
"The West Indies have a legacy of winning and I want to give my best to win matches for us" 
"I'm going to give it my all, give it my best shot. I am looking to try and dominate the World Cup"

That "winning legacy" ended in the 80's Chris. He may dominate the world cup, the real problem is getting his boys to follow suit.
Cloud Score: 7/10

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive

'Confident of corruption-free World Cup'

In the land of the IPL? Seriously?
Cloud Score: 10/10