Thursday, March 31, 2011

World Cup 2011 - India vs Pakistan, The Battle Of The Two Losers

What. Was. That.

I have just witnessed, without doubt, the most bizzare semi-final match for as long as I have been watching the game. Compelling and interesting? Absolutely. But never have I seen two semi final teams so unskilled, so inept, so utterly determined to lose the match. Everything from ball one to ball six hundred was shrouded with nothing but chaos, with only a handful of bowlers deserving to compete at this level. Here are the many reasons why:

The Gul Trash
I can blame the opening exchanges on nerves, and Sehwag has taken apart his fair share of good bowlers. However his comeback spell was equally abysmal. Full tosses, wides, no-balls, what was going on? Pakistan's leading bowler became its leading liability.

The "Fielding"
Both teams are a disgrace on the park, India only marginally better on the night. The commentators will naturally refuse to highlight it, but Pakistan, aside from dropping Tendulkar four times (!) leaked 20-30 runs with a combination of leisurely and amateurish efforts. A startling drop given the fantastic benchmark set by all the other world cup sides.

This isn't the Hot Potato world cup. © AFP

The Ugly Tendulkar
I like Sachin Tendulkar, but if his innings went on to result in this hundredth international century, it would be an insult to the man. I have never seen him play such an ungainly innings. As one rash shot followed another, he would have realized that the freebies would have been snapped up by any other fielding unit in this world cup. That includes Kenya. He was completely clueless against Saeed Ajmal in particular, and I have no idea how that LBW shout was shown to be missing leg stump. Hand over your Man of the Match award to Wahab Riaz thanks.

The Suicidal Indian Batting
The so-called best batting unit in the world, were anything but. The trio of Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni were prodding, poking, and needlessly charging the impressive but not impossible bowling attack. Add to that, Bhajji getting the same doosra treatment he endorses and comical swinging for glory by Zaheer Khan to leave Raina, the real batsman stranded. IPL batting at its worst, 260 could have easily been 160.

The Run Chase From Hell
There were no demons in the pitch, and the Indian bowlers were tight at best. Apart from peaches that removed Razzaq and Umar Akmal, the other batsman have no excuses. Hafeez's paddle sweep attempt, to a Munaf Patel ball that was a meter outside off stump was inexcusable. Younis and Misbah ensured that the required run rate soared above eight and beyond when it should never have reached six. Batting powerplays too are overrated it seems, Afridi preferring to hoick a Harbhajan full toss to nowhere and seal the loss.

But Above All...
Where was the aggression! What happened to the rivalry, the competition, the history! All the players out there were lumbering around, smiling and grinning like it was a Sunday morning tea party. They might as well have held hands and had a sing-along. My thoughts turned to wishing that it was all a bad dream, one big joke before the real match started. Alas no.

"How are the wife and kids?" © AFP 

We were treated to a fantastic contest in the first semi final between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, the true meaning of a playoff match. Two teams desperate to win, playing to their peaks and not giving the opposition an inch. This contest should have trumped that, but instead we got the sloppiest match of the cup, two teams playing under a false pretense that they are champion sides.

Anything but a Sri Lankan world cup victory will be an insult to cricket, regardless of who won today. There were no winners today, India lost, Pakistan lost, cricket lost.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

World Cup 2011 - The Dream Semi-Final Preview

With the quarter finals dusted, for a fleeting moment, all other things in cricket will be insignificant. History won't matter, the other teams won't matter, the looming grand finale won't matter. Nothing matters but this moment, the two biggest rivals in international cricket, the biggest of all grudge matches, the one that promises to be the greatest semi final clash of all time. That moment, bearing down upon us, is India vs Pakistan.

Who will be left standing? © AFP 

The Last Meeting
They last met nearly a year ago in Sri Lanka in an Asia Cup match, with Harbhajan smashing a six off the penultimate delivery to clinch a tight thriller. The second last encounter was half a year before that, with Pakistan throwing India out of the Champions Trophy thanks to a Shoaib Malik century. Curiously neither Malik or India's best batsman on the day, Rahul Dravid, are in this world cup. These two have not been playing frequently, and like caged panthers are eager to get at each other.

The Last World Cup Meeting
Believe it or it, it was eight years ago when Sachin Tendulkar tore apart an attack that read Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib, Razzaq and Afridi. That game too was after a massive gap between the teams, and it was one of the most memorable world cup thrashings anyone can remember. India went on to race to the final while a strong Pakistan outfit were sent crashing home.

The Last World Cup Meeting In India
Track back to 1996, in another spectacular match in Bangalore. India for once played as a team (did somebody say corruption?), and set Pakistan a decent total. Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar began carving the Indian bowling in such a brutal manner that the Chinnaswamy was rendered laughingly mute. Until this happened.

The mother of all brain explosions, and the rest as they say is history (of course, until this happened not long after).

Where Does India Stand?
India continue to deceive. Sachin Tendulkar has been saving their batting from blushes, with the likes of Sehwag and Gambhir relying on the slog-out-of-trouble, and the lower order in pure unadulterated IPL mode, barring the steady Yuvraj Singh. Zaheer meanwhile is rescuing their bowling, disguising how woefully inept Munaf, Harbhajan and most of their fielding is. Don't let the Indian commentators fool you, this is a team running on three players. Much of India's success came down to opposition failures.

Where Does Pakistan Stand?
I never thought I would call this side balanced, but they are bowling beautifully, with a varied and classy bowling attack. Notice how they actually turn the ball (take note Sanjay Manjrekar, and stop kidding yourself with Bhajji). They field adequately, but only an inch ahead of India, and the batting has been just enough, albeit nothing impressive. One must never forget though that this is a team containing Afridi, Razzaq and Umar Akmal, if even one of them has a good day, India do not have the bowlers to do anything about it. Afridi to open maybe?

The Clashes
Forget Sam Worthington, in the battlefield of cricket we have the following titanic match ups to savour:

Gul vs Tendulkar/Sehwag
How will India's big guns at the top respond to controlled and quality pace bowling? If Shoaib gets a crack at them too, it will be a great opening gambit.

Afridi vs Yuvraj, and Yuvraj vs Afridi
A unique contest, the bowler who pretends to bat versus the batsman who pretends to bowl. Who is the bigger pretender? We also have the Bollywood Superstar (BS) Award, with Afridi the hot favorite.

Kamran Akmal vs His Hands
What a crucial battle this is! Will Kamran's hands be made of cast iron? Will he rattle up the local heroes with his sharp tongue? Will we see 'The Face'?

© Getty Images

Razzaq vs Everyone
And in the background, quietly minding his own business, the Silent Assassin looms. The stage is certainly ripe for the ninja to strike.

Who Will Win?
Forget the form books. Given that this is an India-Pakistan match, each of the players will find an extra 10% from somewhere. It will be unpredictable, it will be intense, it will be turbo charged. The Pakistani PM will be there, along with the token slew of Bollywood actors, some on the field. I don't know who will win, and to be honest, does it even matter?

Forgetting Something?
Fine fine, Sri Lanka to beat New Zealand in a 2007 semi final rematch.

Monday, March 28, 2011

World Cup 2011 - One Empire Falls, Others Stay Down

We said our goodbyes to the minnows, now it is time to watch the big names in cricket to depart from world cup 2011, to face their media at home and heal the scars over the next four years. The teams that left us however were no small fries, these were four of the biggest nations of the game.

West Indies
What can anyone say about these guys. They did a Bangladesh on us for a little while, flattering to deceive, convincing us that after throwing away winning positions against England and India, that they at least had the mettle for a fight.

Lies, all lies.

We have seen it for ten years. The fun, futile Gayle bash, the classic Chanderpaul grind, and the others blown away like the first two little pigs. Dumping players does not replace lack of mental strength, I see no answer. This once proud cricketing nation will continue fumbling about in its own ruins.

This is the end of the Aussies, the final nail in the coffin. Having already lost the prized ashes both home and away, they never looked like retaining crickets holy grail for a fourth time. Savour this moment:

© Associated Press

It is symbolic in many ways, the wounded Australian, fighting tooth and nail to only come up short. We hadn't seen this in the Australian empire that lasted nearly fifteen years, Australian sides almost never came up short. Ponting played his ugliest, most determined hundred of his career, the others around him simply lacked the skill to cope. One might even feel sympathetic, if they were not so brash and abrasive when on top.

Rather than the grinning, leaping Australians, we have crunched eyebrows and chin scratching amidst Salman Khan impersonations behind them. The powers have shifted from the arrogant empire to the Bollywood empire.

South Africa
I did warn South Africa, but even I was surprised at the clockwork. The key ingredients were a freak Amla dismissal (sheer dumb luck), some outstanding fielding and a de Villiers run out worthy of mention among the Klusener of 99. From that point on it was just a matter of bowling tight, holding catches, and watching South Africa machine disintegrate in its own madness.

 A pinch of salt for your wound? © Associated Press

Sledging is fun to watch, but I don't agree one bit about this war of words from New Zealand. For a team renowned for its sportmanship, often only that, this is just getting a bit silly. There is no need to slide back into the Adam Parore days, in which the Black Caps were essentially Australia in disguise, minus the wins. These two teams have a history of getting on each others nerves, probably starting out when Fleming really getting under the skin of a young Graeme Smith. Maybe that had something to do with it?

But that's hardly the point here. The point is that South Africa have never won a world cup playoff match. Ever. Since their return to cricket in the early 90's, there has been no such thing as a weak South African team. They are rightfully gobsmacked, as we all are, how can they simply fail to win, every single time? This is the empire which has done nothing but underachieved.

Will make like the English football team and bemoan their injury list as their token excuse for 2011, but there are no excuses. They never had the strength, mentally or skillfully, to win this world cup. The way Strauss in particular heaved and ho'd like the drunken master really illustrated where they are at right now.

Heading in this direction.

Losing by ten wickets, especially with a 200+ score, is inexcusable really. This is the nation that gave birth to this game, their ODI status has remained constant for many a year. They will always remain a collection of top county cricketers and overseas players rather than anything resembling a team.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

World Cup 2011 - The Playoffs Preview

The pool play has descended to a close. The business end of the world cup has begun.

In terms of the top eight, there are few surprises here, with only Ireland posing a true challenge (Bangladesh posing a fake one). South Africa and Pakistan, despite one choke each, look the most well rounded and consistent of the lot. Of the rest, only Sri Lanka look composed, the others are a complete lottery. This is quite easily the most open playoffs in any of the previous world cups. Even though the matches could well turn out one sided, predicting four winners is a very tough ask. Lets try it anyway.

Pakistan vs West Indies
The Paper Says..
Pakistan will no doubt be hungry for a semi final showdown against India, and showed against Australia that most of the cogs are operating smoothly, with batting and K.Akmal being the only real questions. The West Indies have the players to win the whole thing, but fail to win the mental battle and easily throwing away good starts.

Key Player
Umar Gul is definitely wide awake in this tournament, and has troubled just about every team he has come up against. He is the sort of guy that can rip apart a flaky middle order, and the West Indies are pretty flaky at best.

Dark Horse
Kieron Pollard. One just gets the feeling that this could be his day. He only really got going with the bat against Ireland, and a Pollard special could end up separating the two teams. Special mention also to Darren Bravo, a volcano waiting to erupt.

Predicted Winner: Pakistan

India vs Australia
The Paper Says..
This could be the match of the tournament. Both teams are potential winners, at least in their own minds. Both have glaring flaws which should prevent them from winning it all. Both are arrogant, hungry, and determined not to lose at any cost. Is your mouth watering yet? Lets just hope there is no watering from the rain gods.

Key Player
Brett Lee. He was the only one really troubling the Pakistanis, and his solid run of form should give the Indians plenty to think about. Especially given that he can extract bounce, one of the key weaknesses among the Indian batsmen. (Remember the last T20 world cup?).

Dark Horse
R. Ashwin. He looked good against the West Indies, gave Australia problems in the warm up game, and they have a history of struggling with new spinners.

Like when this guy used to actually take wickets. © AFP

Predicted Winner: Australia to lose, rather than India to win

South Africa vs New Zealand
The Paper Says..
Everyone is predicting an absolute walkover here. In theory there is no reason at all why New Zealand should challenge this outfit, which is superior from #1 to #11. That is exactly why South Africa should beware. Complacency, and dare I say choking, certainly looms here. New Zealand have nothing to lose, have a team full of pocket rockets, and could very easily pull a surprise. They could also very easily crumble into a heap. This is the hardest game to call.

Key Player
Dale Steyn. He could turn this match into a farce very quickly. New Zealand's best ploy would be to counter attack him a la Sehwag, otherwise its goodnight.

Dark Horse
Brendon McCullum. Can he do what Stephen Fleming did in 2003? He is due for a good score against a good opponent, it is just a matter of time before his mad swinging finally clicks. If it really is his day, then New Zealand could quite easily chalk up the 300.

Predicted Winner: South Africa

Sri Lanka vs England
The Paper Says..
This bunch reminds me of the English football team. Lots of hype and promise and so little deliverance. They have been a poor show in this tournament, only turning up for half a game or not at all. They simply don't deserve to beat the well rounded and disciplined Sri Lankan team. 

Key Player
Kumar Sangakkara. He is in prime form and all eyes will be on him to lead from the front. Psychologically he is the wicket that England should be targeting, if there is a chink in the armour, it is in the middle/lower batting order.

Dark Horse
Eoin Morgan. He is the annoying type of player that can suddenly turn a match and steal it from under your nose. It is a mystery why he was not selected in the first place, but now that he is back in the team and due for a big score, he could be the one to cause an upset.

Predicted Winner: Sri Lanka

The Bottom Line
I don't think I have been this excited over a cricketing contest in many many years, possibly ever. The big teams have been locked in, every match is a do or die, and everybody has a chance to win. There is only one more thing left to say really.

Let the games begin.

Images courtesy of Getty Images, AFP and Associated Press, via

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Goodbye Minnow Nations... And Thanks

With the pool play all wrapped up, its time to say goodbye to the younger associate nations. As usual the ICC, the so called experts, and the other bandwagon boys ensured plenty of negative vibe was force fed to us, particularly ironic coming from New Zealand media who have a team that took 26 years to win its first test match.

Yes there were mismatches, probably a few too many, but when the little teams did get it together, we saw a lot of flair, color and team spirit, which is what world cups should be all about. The fielding standards in particular were excellent and outdid the Indians easily. Lets be positive, look at the glass as being half full, and give thanks:

The Irish
Their energy and enthusiasm, in all aspects of the game, is what really stood out. Yes it took a Kevin O'Brien miracle and some shoddy bowling to aid them, but they troubled most of the big nations with composed batting, tight bowling (if not penetrative) and always excellent fielding. They only need that 10% extra out of the team to put away the bigger nations more consistently, but you feel that is just around the corner. They desperately deserve to get more exposure to the top level.
Pride Factor: 5/5

Look out world, here they come. ©ESPNCrcinfo Ltd 

Ryan ten Doeschate (and the other Dutchmen)
Got us all excited with that blistering century to scare England. That was a great match, and a couple more players like him and the ODI upsets will not be far away. It all turns pretty ugly when he doesn't fire though, especially lacking a lot in the bowling department. There is a strong case to move him up the order, as he was wasted a couple of times when stranded with the tail. Definitely a stronger side than previous world cup showings.
Pride Factor: 2/5

Ray Price and The Spin Gang (Zimbabwe)
It was great to see them chatting up the opposition batsman and tying them up with quality nagging spin. Not many attacks can say they kept the Aussies quiet, so well done there. Again the fielding was top notch with the freakish Mpofu run-out of Ponting being the stand out. Too bad the batting didn't measure up, with the likes of Taibu underachieving, Taylor getting no support, and Sean Ervine not turning up, literally.
Pride Factor: 3/5

Bagai And Other Bits (Canada)
They seem like a team of misfits from all over the world, but it works. Ashish Bagai strikes me as a leader with genuine ability and a professional attitude. His classy and fluid innings against New Zealand really showcased what he can do when he is set. The portly Balaji Rao impressed me with his wicket taking ability and enthusiasm, and who can forget that onslaught from Hiral Patel, against Tait, Lee and Johnson no less. Still they are missing any threat with their bowling, and it was disappointing to see Rizwan Cheema not live up to his reputation.
Pride Factor: 2/5

Poor Kenya
It was unfortunate that they only got it all together in one match, but at least the Kenyans can take heart that it was against Australia. Leg spinner turned #3 Collins Obuya was the only guy to walk away with his reputation intact, and it was especially sad not to see Steve Tikolo get that swan-song that he deserves. This was a world cup to forget, you know there is a problem when Hamish Bennett is ripping through the order Ambrose style.
Pride Factor: 1.5/5

.... Last and Least
Bangladesh should hold their heads in shame. Yes they nearly qualified, but 58 all out and 78 all out is just inexcusable. Beating a woeful-on-the-day English team is not enough. Maybe they were just fooling us before and haven't learnt from the same old mistakes? Either way, the wait continues for the much needed ninth top tier cricketing nation. Right now they might as well field eleven Ashrafuls.
Pride Factor: 1/5

The Bottom Line
These nations showed us that they have enough talent and ability to develop and grow. But it is imperative that the ICC does not undo all this work and ignore them again for four years (and even then they want to cut up the number of teams in the next world cup event). I'm not saying send the Dutch to Australia, i'm saying hold more matches between these six teams, and perhaps involve the lower top eight teams such as the West Indies and New Zealand.

Give us a chance! ©AFP

Of course this is wishful thinking, I have learned to not expect intelligence from the ICC.

Monday, March 21, 2011

World Cup 2011 - On Losers, Walkers and Pussycats

A few days ago I previewed the series of big matches that would conclude the pool play and decide the final eight. All of them to some degree ended up one sided, however they certainly were not dull, not at all. This still remains one of the most open world cup tournaments in its history. Lets look at a few highlights:

The Mongrel Returns
When under extreme pressure, the true character of a man comes out. This was evident when the Australians finally lost a world cup game after 1999 (!), obviously a very frustrating ordeal for them. Brett Lee may croon love duets with Asha Bhosle, but on the field came the true form. A leaping, screaming,  heel-tapping, red-faced menace, giving Mohammad Hafeez the finger and a dirty verbal send off (yes it did happen, watch the replays carefully). Haddin unsurprisingly got into a scuffle, Ponting was annoyed, dismissed tamely again, and the whole team just look so desperate.

Don't believe the lies.

But the most hilarious moment came from that man Ian Chappell again, this time from the com box. He had the sheer nerve to suggest that Afridi's Charlie's Angels pose is bad for the team morale and that Afridi has no right to celebrate like that because the batsman contributed to his own dismissal. Uh... come again? An Australian berating over exuberant celebrations? Thats like the lion telling the tiger that he hates cats.

He wasn't finished there either, he bemoaned that Pakistan were not attacking enough, when Australia were tumbling faster than a wall street crash, and even more unbelievably suggested that the Pakistani team huddle was 'ridiculous' and they had to 'get off the field' and worry about getting the runs. What a loser. Send him home, or to Ian Botham, and rid us of his nonsense.

A Beacon Of Light
Sachin Tendulkar may not be god, but he is the epitome of what it means to be a sportsman and a gentleman. How refreshing it was to see the man tucking his bat under the wing and calmly making his way off the ground after edging one to the keeper, despite the umpire wrongly saying not out. In a situation where the DRS system is always questioned and we have idiots unable to use the system, he has shown us all how it is done. This is a small tribute to the little man, he never argues, never throws baby tantrums, and is always free of controversy. Too bad then that, much like with Gandhi, the masses worship the man but seem to forget his ideals.

The light in the darkness of stupidity. ©AFP

Tigers Or Pussycats?
I'm sorry Bangladesh, but you have let everyone down. Playing at home and developing a reputation as the team on the rise, you had no injury worries barring Mortaza, was fresh off giving New Zealand a pasting, and looked ready to show the world that the old school team was no more, much like the Lankans of 96. I forgave the Sehwag assault, and that horrid display against the West Indies (mistakes happen right?), and was anticipating at least a strong showing against South Africa to prove to everybody that the Tigers a ready to roar.

Instead we got a tame, whimpering meow.

A false alarm that had us all fooled.©Associated Press

Lick your wounds, learn the lessons, and come back a stronger team.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

World Cup 2011 - New Zealand Defeated By Murali and Stupidity

It was business as usual really. New Zealand fielded hard and restricted Sri Lanka to a gettable 265, only to be thwarted by Murali and friends and falling well short. Looking at the scorecard alone it all looked pretty innocuous and predictable, but for one incident.

The Moment
Jayawardene was bogged down for a number of overs, and the run rate was really going nowhere. Nathan McCullum finally drew the mistake, gobbling up a miscue with the catch of the tournament.

Gotcha. ©Getty Images

But Did He!?
Jayawardene stood his ground, and the umpires went upstairs. The replay was reasonably conclusive and everyone, myself and commentators included, was expecting the finger. But alas it was given not out! McCullum and Taylor (surprisingly animated) gave the umpire and Jayawardene a good spray. Simon Doull had a good rant on air while Russell Arnold amusingly wanted nothing to do with it. Where did it go wrong? Who is to blame for this blunder? Lets play judge.

1. Nathan McCullum
Took the catch and rightfully claimed it, before venting his frustrations when the decision was overturned. He did nothing wrong and has every reason to be annoyed. Remember that the person who best knows if the catch was clean is McCullum.
Verdict: Not Guilty

Isn't this a face you can trust? © Getty Images

2. Mahela Jayawardene
Did the right thing by standing his ground if he was unsure, but looking at the big screen should have been enough for him to realize that he was a goner. At the very least he should have gone up and asked the bowler what happened and walked based on his word.
Verdict: Accomplice To Crime

3. Asad Rauf
Was the umpire standing at the time. He did the right thing by going upstairs, but again lacked the backbone to make the rightful stand and send MJ on his way. Shrugging your shoulders was not the answer.
Verdict: Accomplice To Crime

4. Amiesh Saheba
The third umpire at the time, he had the luxury of getting all the replays and angles from upstairs, but you can only take the thirsty horse to the well...
Verdict: Accomplice To Crime

5. Common Sense
Or lack of it. It really goes to show once again that it doesn't matter how brilliant the technology is, having muppets using it will always lead to farces like this. What happened to cricket being a gentleman's game?
Verdict: The Real Culprit

Friday, March 18, 2011

World Cup 2011 - The Angry Punter

What on earth has happened to you Ricky Ponting!

A few years ago you were an unlikeable but admittedly top quality #3 who grinned away as your merry men cleaned up all the opponents and silverware. You marched on confident, cocksure, and usually cool headed barring the time you gave Duncan Fletcher an earful for abusing the substitute fielders rule (to be fair you had a point, and England still do it).

But how thats all changed. Losing pretty much your entire winning team exposed Michael Clarke, the 'future of Australian cricket' for what he really is, and it meant that you only had the irreplaceable Mike Hussey to help you out. The Ashes are gone, the Indians claim to be number one, the South Africans are no longer scared of you, it all went horribly wrong didn't it?

Come the 2011 World Cup, you returned from injury looking grizzled, beaten and demoralized. And above all, angry, with a real bee in your bonnet. Not that classic Steve Waugh kind which translates into runs, oh no, this is the frustrated, throwing-toys-out-of-your-pram anger. Your innings so far have been listless, often getting dismissed to poor shots, even when the match is in the bag. But lets see what really stood out:

The Mpofu Run-Out
Smashing up an LCD TV because you were run-out is probably not that new or surprising, given the Australian history of smashing stuff up in the name of 'venting'. Ian Chappell made me laugh hysterically when he asked people to get off your back, as if vandalizing public property is as right as rain. What truly amazed me was the fact that it was a brilliant throw that caused it. There was no mix up, no hesitation, you ran hard and went for a second, and you lost out.

What on earth are you venting for Mr. Ponting? Cursing a brilliant piece of cricket? Well gee, running with that  attitude would leave a fair few bashed up dressing rooms at the hands of your boys over the years wouldn't it now? For every McGrath edge? Every Warne LBW? Every one of your direct hits? Both you and Mr. Chappell need to grow up.

Stop playing QUALITY CRICKET! ©

The Steven Smith Spat
This was even more strange. It was a near collision with a team mate for a catch, happens a lot really. Usually players collide, dust themselves off and have a bit of a yarn about it. I've never seen somebody hurl the ball into the ground in blind fury and blast their own team mate! Again, justify the anger. You're angry because your fielder was hungry for the ball and looking for the catch? You're angry at a little extra commitment? He is a young man in your team, a fine role model you are.

How dare you attempt my catch. ©

Keep throwing the fits Punter, give me a few free laughs before you and your boys head back home without a World Cup.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

World Cup 2011 - The Final Scramble

So here we are with seven games left of pool play. If we discount two of the smaller games, that leaves five very important matches, important for some because it could mean advancing or heading home in misery, important for others because it will define the final pool standings (and who will get the 'easy games', if you could call them that). Lets take a look at whats at stake in the big five matches:

England vs West Indies
Importance: Very High
England lose, they go home. Do they deserve to go? I would say yes, you cannot turn up to a World Cup and only get up for the big matches. Losing to both Ireland and Bangladesh should mean that you are on your bike. The West Indies on the other hand have points to prove. They have brushed off the minnows, and now need to show the world they are not pretenders against the bigger boys.

Lets not forget the Gayle factor either. © Associated Press

New Zealand vs Sri Lanka
Importance: Medium
I mentioned earlier, Sri Lanka is not Pakistan. New Zealand, for incredibly odd reasons, have chosen to rest a mostly healthy Vettori and Mills. I can understand bubble wrapping some players, but surely for a team desperate to hold on to momentum you would want your fittest XI possible? Sri Lanka should get home here with Malinga being the difference.

Bangladesh vs South Africa
Importance: High
Bangladesh's date with destiny. If they win here, they will qualify, which is huge. Their best approach would be to apply a spin based choke, and then hopefully having a target small enough to chase down. Tamim has yet to really fire up, this could be his big game. South Africa on the other hand will be looking to top the table with a win here.

Australia vs Pakistan
Importance: High
Believe it or not, this could be Australia's only real big game before the playoffs, given that rain and inept batting played spoilsport earlier. This is a mouth watering contest between yin and yang, the well drilled and consistent Aussies versus the sublime-or-ridiculous Pakistanis. Impossible to call, but the winner will win huge psychological ground.

India vs West Indies
Importance: Medium
Both teams have more or less qualified, with the West Indies an outside chance of going home early. The real question is, who is the bigger pretender? India's are beginning to creak under their glaring weaknesses, while the West Indies have had flattering results and big players lying dormant. Roach will be key.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chalk and Cheese - Indian Intent 1975 vs 2011

While the World Cup hits a another relatively 'slow patch', lets take a trip down memory lane.

1975. The year of the inaugural cricket world cup, a lot of pressure was on the tournament as this was the opportunity to truly realize the potential of the game.

2011. Present year world cup, facing a time where the ODI game faces a crisis (or does it?). Only time will tell if the game will be resurrected.

The similarity between the two world cups is that the opening match featured India on both occasions. Both matches were highlighted by the performance of their opening batsmen, but for entirely different reasons.

The Chalk
Virender Sehwag. The opening match was against the fancied underdog Bangladesh, expected to present a decent challenge. As gung-ho as ever, he made some smug claims before this world cup. The result, in an electric atmosphere rained with staunch Bangladeshi support, was an aggressive and calculated destruction of the opposition bowling attack. The intent was absolutely clear, to bludgeon runs, and bludgeon with style.

When the dust settled, the gauntlet had been thrown, and the world took notice. Sehwag had 175 and India had 370. They meant business in a big way, and the world cup was lit up at the hands of one mans exuberance.

The Cheese
Sunil Gavaskar. The inaugural match was against a strong English side, who were up for the occasion with an attacking 334 set as the target (from 60 overs). What followed was the most bizarre ODI innings of all time. Gavaskar gave up the chase before a ball was bowled, but rather than sacrifice himself in pursuit of quick runs, he chose to bat through the innings, turtle style. In an absolute farcical effort, he held the bat, managing 36 from 174 deliveries. Mark Richardson in Sydney was Gayle-esque in comparison.

Gavaskar had hell to pay for, and to this day has not come up with a logical reason. Angry fans ensured their disapproval was heard, and some even invaded the pitch to directly question what the heck was going on.  

India went nowhere in that tournament, and the world cup copped an harsh blow at the hands of one mans madness.

The lesson is simple, half of cricket is mental. Positive intent and a strong mindset can add up to so much more.

Strength in simplicity. © Associated Press

Sunday, March 13, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Indian Cricket Steyned

It was a boisterous and packed out Vidarbha Stadium, Nagpur. The Sehwag and Tendulkar train had taken off and the bollywood star-studded crowd created a cyclonic storm of noise and support. The obviously thrilled Indian commentators spoke of a 400 plus score, and things looked as bleak as ever for South Africa, in theory anyway.

Ah but then...
I can recall explicitly saying this game plan can fall apart with good bowling. I'm not always right, but I love it when I am. The axe finally came crashing down, at 267-1 in the 40th over, the most spectacularly mindless batting performance unfolded. They lost nine wickets for 29 runs. The first team in the world cup to truly meet the wrath of Dale Steyn.

2-267 (Tendulkar, 39.4 ov)3-268 (Gambhir, 40.1 ov)4-268 (Pathan, 40.3 ov),5-283 (Yuvraj Singh, 42.6 ov)
6-286 (Kohli, 43.6 ov)7-293 (Harbhajan Singh, 46.5 ov)8-294 (Khan, 47.4 ov),
9-296 (Nehra, 48.3 ov)10-296 (Patel, 48.4 ov)

And these numbers don't even tell the full story. Six of those were poor slogs straight to fielders, four came in the atrocity known as the batting powerplay, and during that period there was only solitary six, no other boundaries. The crowd was reduced to making Akmal faces in funeral silence.

Pictured: One seriously sick worm ©

Now I am not a cynic, I don't want the Indians to crash and burn just for the heck of it, and I do feel sympathetic for Tendulkar. If they learn from their mistakes and become a better team for it, then I will rightfully praise them. Here is my advice to the team.

1. Ones And Twos
Especially at the death, you cannot 'Ross Taylor' every innings. When things are not going right, don't try and smash your way out of it, find the gaps and look for twos, they really do add up. India jogs the first run, therefore never capitalize on misfields. Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke are two prime examples of how it should be done, the odd boundary plus excellent running fetches eight an over without that same risk.

2. Stop Acting
Enough with the dancing in the dressing rooms, the exaggerated dives when taking simple catches, the noses-up walking with style. And don't even get me started on the body painting. Why not get the results first, and act 'cool' later. Unlike Bollywood, the lines are not rehearsed and there are no out-takes. If you mess up, you look like a clown, plain and simple.

Bollywood Brokeback? © Getty Images

3. Stop Trying To Be Australia
Especially with the tough guy stares, the sledges and the big talk. Australia back up their tenacity with the utmost skill, a culture developed over years of hard work. Last night especially I saw a few profanities being mouthed off. Its very easy to lose respect. At least New Zealand, when at times lacking anything else, get credit for playing with humility. The Australian attitude is not the aspiration, try the 70's West Indies instead.

4. Enough Worship And Bias
This is one is aimed at the spectators and the commentators.
  • Sachin is not god.
  • Munaf Patel is not McGrath (!).
  • How many times can you say "outstanding shot" or "incredible batting" to a hoick over the infield?
  • Seems every member of the top seven is "dangerous", "a class player" and a "big wicket".
  • Rather than say "holed out to mid on", maybe give credit to the excellent Steyn slower ball bowled at Gambhir's body.
  • You conveniently ignore the bad Indian fielding, full tosses or glory slogs, and sound depressed when it does happen.
Did I just say biased commentary, sounds very Australian! (The exception is Ravi Shastri). Without doubt the best commentators in world cricket are the English, bring on Bumble, not these bumblers. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Week 4 Preview

An even more bizarre week of cricket, now its impossible to predict anything. I'm not sure thats a good thing, I like to see a clear front runner that other teams aspire towards. Right now every team seems to be climbing over each other, scrambling for the prize, but nobody looks like getting there. It will be a photo finish.

Who wants it?

Power Rankings
  1. India - For all their shortcomings and slackness, they have been getting the results. Given the lack of a clear front runner, they take the top spot for now, but I am waiting for the axe to fall.
  2. Australia - We all missed out on what would have been a defining match against Sri Lanka. Too bad.
  3. Sri Lanka - Looked good when dismantling Zimbabwe, but again Australia would have told much more.
  4. South Africa - Came crashing off their perch after a super solid opening couple of weeks. The famous choke came earlier than usual though, a sign that they will get it right later? 
  5. England - They have shown the stomach for a fight, but cannot keep only playing half the game. Poor loss to the Bangladeshi's. 
  6. Pakistan - Delivered a rubbish performance to prove once again that there are no certainties with this team. Throw all logic out the window, you can't predict a thing with these guys.
  7. West Indies - Were unconvincing but got home against the Irish, forming a good winning streak.
  8. New Zealand - Well now where did that come from? Exploded into life in dramatic fashion and now there is another kid in the block. If they lose Vettori now though, that would be absolutely tragic.
  9. Ireland - Again were impressive, but need to start converting these strong efforts into actual wins.
  10. Bangladesh - Stormed back into life with an important victory over England. Pool A is very interesting all of a sudden.
  11. Holland - Showed spirit against India, and I would really like to see the Dutch get more opportunities against the bigger nations.
  12. Zimbabwe - The Australia performance early on is looking more like a flash in the pan, with no shows against Sri Lanka or New Zealand.
  13. Canada - They're not a bad lot when they play collectively, and showed they belong in this cup, to some extent.
  14. Kenya - The less said the better.
Key Matches
India vs South Africa
India's first truly big challenge. South Africa have the bowling resources to challenge India, and thats where the real battle will take place. This will be a charged up contest with both teams looking to top the table.

New Zealand vs Sri Lanka
The Blacks Caps volcano exploded into life, with Ross Taylor the catalyst. If they get on top of Sri Lanka they could (amazingly) finish top of the table. Sri Lanka are not Pakistan though, and the New Zealanders will not get K.Akmal gifts this time.

Potential Upsets
Pakistan vs Zimbabwe
I would never have said this a week ago, but given that Pakistan Hyde has reared its ugly head to accompany Pakistan Jekyll, you can expect anything. Even Canada gave them a good scare keeping them to 184, but lacked the batting to get them home. Zimbabwe is stronger in all departments. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Pakistan vs New Zealand (+ Kamran Akmal)

There is one word that accurately describes this match. 

Lets take a quick internet field trip, absurdity is:
  • inconsistent with reason or logic or common sense
  • a ludicrous folly
  • a word meaning ridiculous, commonly used by the character Snape

What am I talking about?
Lets recap.

The Absurd Taylor
Scratching and poking around like an absent minded gardener, Ross Taylor batted as if he wanted to be put out of his misery. Playing and missing, miscuing, and taking dodgy singles. Somehow (explained later) he had survived until the 46h over and was on an uncomfortable 76 off 111 balls with a freshly out-of-form Jacob Oram for company. 210 was all New Zealand had to show for their efforts so far.

Will the real Ross Taylor please stand up © Associated Press

But then came a burst that would make Jayasuriya proud. This was one of the most remarkable turn-arounds I have seen in any ODI innings, Taylor and Oram smashed a partnership of 85 runs off 22 balls, the last four overs producing a scarcely believable 92 runs. It included 6 fours and 10 sixes, throwing in five wides for good measure. Remember I am talking 4 overs here, and not against rubbish either, this was Shoaib, Razzaq and Rehman. Suddenly New Zealand had 302, and I am still shaking my head in disbelief. 

Of course this was helped by...

The Absurd Kamran
The word 'failure' in the dictionary should be replaced with a picture of Kamran Akmal. It must have taken some serious restraint for Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi to resist knocking his block off, after fluffing two regulation Ross Taylor catches. Thats centurion Ross Taylor... in the same over... when he was on 0 and 8. I said before that this man can cost Pakistan the world cup, today was proof.

And stay down. © Getty Images

He is an enigma. It is mind boggling beyond belief how a cricketer, who is hands down the worst wicketkeeper I've ever seen, can escape being dropped or banned (or worse). This guy seems to get away with destroying games and Danish Kaneria's test averages with only that same sheepish, idiotic expression to show for it. Its insulting for him to encourage his bowlers and fielders in the following overs, who is he to chirp up his teammates? If the man cared an ounce for Pakistani cricket, he would retire effective immediately and disappear to a dark corner of the planet and never be seen again.

I don't believe that Kamran's failures are down to pure lack of skill.
Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

World Cup 2011 - On Pebbles, Chickens And More

This past week has been a real oddball one. Chokes aside, here are some memos to certain individuals.

To Mr. Haroon Lorgat
Ah Haroon Lorgat, you must be living on a cloud. After the West Indies and Bangladesh team buses got stoned, you quoted "security was not an issue" and "It was a few individuals who threw pebbles at the bus, and they were pebbles". 

I'd hate to see what your idea of boulders are. ©

A good leader would calm the situation down with the usual clich├ęd, "we recognize the problem" and "we will take the appropriate measures". To be in complete denial is ludicrous. I am in agreement with the rightfully annoyed WI coach Otis Gibson, as our ICC chief executive, you are a bit of a goose.

To Mr. Harbhajan Singh
What are you doing in this team when Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan can get more purchase off the pitch than you can? Where is Murali Karthik, a real spinner who had the Aussies clueless a few years back?

To Mr. Trent Johnson
You are an inspiration. What you  may lack in raw talent you make up for with presence and sheer guts. It was you who took a glorious catch and biffed the winning six in 2007. It was you who got rid of Sehwag this time. Keep the Irish spirit pumping and do your thing.

Even if it is The Chicken. © Getty Images

To Mr. Michael Yardy
Take a lesson from Angelo Matthews or Steve Smith about what it means to be a true utility cricketer, or maybe watch some old Chris Harris footage. Just to give you a quick heads up, it involves being able to tie down a batsman when bowling, maybe consider actually turning the ball. It means being able to play a rearguard innings or contribute a few slogs depending on the situation. At the very least, it's being dynamite in the field and having an energetic presence. Right now you are a ghost.

To The Rain Gods
Why oh why did you pull a premature end to the Sri Lanka vs Australia game? There are only 12 'top team' games in the 42 pool matches, at least let us savor those. Wash out Kenya vs Canada instead.

To Batting Powerplays
You are causing more batting harm than good. Go away.

Monday, March 7, 2011

World Cup 2011 - England vs South Africa (And The C Word)

This changes everything. Instead of coasting at the top of the table, South Africa have slumped to fourth. Instead of flirting with elimination, England sit comfortably at second place. Lets review the match as it happened, rather than as the end product.

England 15/3 (5 overs)
The match is over already. The trio of Strauss, Pietersen and Bell playing inexplicably lazy shots to send England in a very quick spiral to nowhere. The first-over-spinner trick working wonders again.
Advantage - South Africa

Learn from Chris Gayle. © AFP

England 112/3 (29 overs)
Bopara and Trott doing the dirty work and getting England to a position where they can launch. Best part of twenty overs left, and an opportunity to reach a respectable 240. Good recovery and good sensible batting.
Advantage - None

England 171/10 (45.4 overs)
So much for that. South Africa to get home in a canter, England proving they are pretenders.
Advantage - South Africa

South Africa 57/0 (13 overs)
Why the hell is Michael Yardy opening the bowling? He strikes me as a nothing cricketer. If you are going to have a bits and pieces player, at least get one that contributes bits and pieces. Smith looking a bit dodgy but Amla cruising along. Game over. Time to flick over to the India vs Ireland game.
Advantage - South Africa

South Africa 84/3 (20 overs)
Smith gone, well he was looking a bit iffy anyway. Amla gone, he'll be annoyed his average may dip below 60. Kallis gone, hmm...
Advantage - None

South Africa 127/7 (37 overs)
Is the bowling this good? Or is the batting this dumb? Bit of both. South Africa appear to be stuck in a complete limbo,  inexplicable given the size of this chase. Do I dare use the C word now? No! This is the new South Africa.
Advantage - England

South Africa 159/7 (46 overs)
There, told you. Finally some sensible batting and they are only 13 runs short now and looking at ease. England giving them free runs by bowling Pietersen. Forget the C word, South Africa are continuing to be the trend setters, and this scare will do them good. Bring on India.
Advantage - South Africa

South Africa 165/10 (47.4 overs)

© Getty Images