Tuesday, March 24, 2015

World Cup 2015 - The Perfect Semifinals

Is this the first ever cricket world cup where the actual top four will battle the semi finals?

It couldn't have been scripted any better. Two understated sides who have never gone beyond the semi-finals, two loud and arrogant sides who are utterly desperate to prove they are number one. One of each completely contrasting opponent will make up the grand final.

You cannot split them, you cannot separate them. Each of the four deserve to win the title, and each of them equally badly want it.

Who will blink first?

Why New Zealand Must Win
To shed the under-achievers tag and the notion of "punching above their weight" once and for all. This time New Zealand *is* a heavyweight and world cricket badly needs more attention away from the India and Ashes triumvirate. A nation of four million are rallying behind the undefeated home side, we have waited 13 years for this and a loss here would simply be tragic.

Why South Africa Must Win
To rid themselves of the chokers stigma and finally prove the promise. They have been strong since they re-emerged in the 90s and yet don't have a single grand final next to their name. We have already seen legends in green named Pollock, Donald, Rhodes, Kallis go without a title... must Amla, de Villiers and Steyn suffer the same unfortunate fate?

Why India Must Win
To squash the overseas myth. Winning in India was one thing but winning in New Zealand and Australia? Months of puerile cricket has been instantly forgiven as Team Blue puffed their chests out and exclaimed #WeWontGiveItBack. It has been an extremely impressive 70 wicket campaign with the biggest surprise the overnight transformation into quick accurate bowlers and fantastic fielders. Did someone threaten with an IPL paycut? Whatever it is, it worked.

Why Australia Must Win
To avenge years of pain. Losing the world cup to India, losing the Ashes, losing to Zimbabwe... it has been a torrid few years of which the wounds are only partially healed. This is the big prize, the stage is set perfectly on home soil to reclaim back the mantle they so desperately long for.

What is the perfect grand final?

Australia vs South Africa - A rematch of the epic disasters of 1999 and 2007 where the men in yellow demolished all South Africa hopes. There is no better way for the Rainbow Nation to take sweet revenge, win the cup at the MCG.

New Zealand vs Australia - A clash between neighbourly rivals, fellow co-hosts, and a revisit of the match of the tournament so far. For New Zealand, beating their taller cousins would be the perfect finish to a fairytale tournament.

India vs South Africa - India will have to defeat the only team that beat them in 2011 to claim back to back titles. You can be rest assured South Africa won't turn in the same lazy performance in pool play with so much at stake.

New Zealand vs India - The match up I am hoping for. The two best teams of the tournament, both undefeated, both with roots tied directly to your humble cricket enthusiast. Who does this Kiwi-Indian vouch for here?

Regardless of whatever happens, we can be rest assured the cricket will be nothing short of fantastic.

Game on!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

World Cup 2015 - Aus vs NZ, Match of the Tournament?

Forget the famous India vs Pakistan rivalry for a moment.

Forget the Ashes, England have descended back into the 90s and don't look like coming out.

If we are talking cricketing rivalries, surely Australia vs New Zealand is now the most anticipated match up in world cricket.  This match was no exception.

  • Both teams are co-hosts and equally red hot favorites to win
  • It was 23 years ago at this very venue when Martin Crowe's men stunned Australia
  • The Trans-Tasman rivalry has been shelved in favor of the "big three" playing each other endlessly, we are deprived of Chappell-Hadlee battles.
The entire nation was humming, four million cricket nuts pumped and ready to dream big, boo David Warner and outplay the Aussies back over the ditch. For once we actually had eleven players capable of the feat, but even so it was an incredibly tough game to pick as both sides are extremely similar. Madness at the top, class in the middle, terrific bowling & fielding and a bloody mindedness to win at all costs.

Have we become a warm friendly version of the win hungry-Aussies, is little brother now an identical twin?

The match was arguably the most extraordinary world cup game of all time (top three at least). It was one of those rare surreal experiences in sport where the contest is so much more than just a bunch of guys on TV bashing a ball around with sticks. The history, the context, the emotion were all brewed in a perfect cocktail of cricket.

Like any truly memorable game the match swung like Wasim Akram in-swingers on grass:

1. Southee Nails Finch - Those first few overs were Zaheer Khan 2003 territory, a nervous wreck spraying the ball everywhere and runs leaking like a sieve. Was Australia going to repeat the 359-2?  Southee cleaning out Finch squashed that theory quick fast and got a nation of 4 million sighing with relief.

2. The Old Pro - The bespectacled king finally has the luxury of an actual bowling attack to work his magic around. His spell changed everything as no Aussie managed to make anything of his seemingly innocuous but unplayable balls. They tried to hit him out and that's when the rot began.

3. Thunderboults - Boult brought back the forgotten art of bowling *at the stumps*, hurrying the new batsman with raw pace and subtle movement and cleaning up the woodwork. A massive upgrade from the English and Indian attacks, maybe that's why Australia avoids us?

4. Greatness is Contagious - The first thing I thought of during the build up advertisement was "I can't wait for McCullum to actually face Johnson". I couldn't have asked for more, BMac was on a mission and he clouted fours and sixes with disdain, bulging left arm or not! Johnson tried to target this smashed arm and even then got pulled away to the fence, now that's raw Kiwi guts.

5. Beware The Wounded Aussie - I warned my fellow couch potatoes that there was a time Shane Bond destroyed Australia only to have Brett Lee issue the same treatment on us for a ridiculous comeback win.  You never discount Australia, and this time Haddin played Bevan and Starc played Lee, a demonic spell that had all of New Zealand wincing and covering their faces.

6. The Final Say - Kane Williamson, our only real class batsman. McCullum is great when he comes off but that won't be all the time, the rest of the batting is a scratchy awful mess in their first few overs especially when facing genuine speed. We wouldn't have reached 100 without The Next Crowe guiding us, remember that.

So what have we learnt?

The Cricket World Cup 2015 is alive and well and so far perhaps the best tournament yet. The 50 over game is truly the 'alternative' from to tests and T20 cricket and it's brand of big bats and small boundaries doesn't promote the arts of proper batting technique, hunting 2s and 3s instead of jogging singles, and scrambling in the field to save 20-30 runs per innings. This is how cricket should be played, all three facets with equal importance.

Secondly, genuine fast bowling is nothing without accuracy, Boult and Starc are fine examples of how it's done and gave us a timely reminder of the lost thrill of cricket stumps in genuine danger.

Now one can only hope for a rematch, if it does happen it will be semi-final or better still the grand final.

But a warning to the Black Caps, Australia will not be this sloppy next time.