Monday, 30 April 2007

Grander The Stage, Bigger The Performance

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Rain was the last thing the organizers of the World Cup would have wanted. But the sparkle that the big broad blade of Adam Gilchrist provided took away the gloom of the gun-metal skies that descended as a pale of gloom over the Kensington Oval.

The demolition act from Gilly was the best ever seen on the big stage, even eclipsing the likes of Clive Lloyd (1975), Viv Richards (1979),and Aravinda de Silva 1996). It was a brutal onslaught with a touch of science. The Lankans, I thought, missed out on devising a plan for Gilchrist, who had a quiet World Cup until the summit clash.

The Islanders did well against Hayden, Ponting and Clarke, but missed out on Gilchrist who just had an extra special day in the office. It was clean hitting, and that most of the runs came straight down the ground was testimony to the batsmen's supreme skill sets. The catch Fernando dropped proved too costly in the final analysis. If 30 runs had been chopped of the final tally, things could have been scripted differently.

The chase was always going to look tough for Sri Lanka who had a mountain to climb from ball one. Add the rain, bad light, interruptions and some sustained bowling made it almost impossible for them to get near the target.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara kept their side alive with some imaginative batting but the enormity of the task was always going to get to them at some time, and it’s a pity it happened against some fairly innocuous bowling.

The West Indies bowling in the 80's was so tight that Larry Gomes and Viv always got a few when batsmen went after them thinking a few easy runs were on the anvil. Same with Hogg and Clarke here. The mind set of the batsmen was such they wanted to make up for lost time against them and fell.

The last two finals have been something of a damp squib. They were both dull one-sided affairs. But it was heartening to note the third block of the Asian front throwing up a spunky fight that made the final worthwhile to watch, after all.

Gilchrist richly deserved to leave the World Cup stage with a knock that will be remembered for long. He was in the 'zone' that happens to batsmen once in a few seasons. It happened on the World Cup final, sorrily for Sri Lanka: Gilly had to find that 'zone' on Saturday.

It was a match to remember for Glenn McGrath, who quit the stage with this famous win. He might have not been at his miserly best but finished things in style and deserved every encomium showered on him.

The Cup has gone to the team that had covered every aspect of the game well. No one must grudge the fact they have made the World Cup their own.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Toss could prove vital

After an elongated rehearsal, the stage for the summit is set. It was not beyond cricket wisdom to predict a Sri Lanka versus Australia final. The former had their game tailor-made for conditions in the Caribbean while the latter, irrespective of the conditions, had the ammunition and wherewithal to steamroll everything that stood in front.

Let all doubts be put to rest, the two best sides from this World Cup have made it to the final and let us hope that the final on Saturday provides the sparks the last two finals sorely failed to provide.

One need not tear one’s hair in picking a choice for the match. World champions Australia start as hands-on favourites, but there are a few things to be considered. The Aussies have this strange habit of going after the bowling even if a few wickets have fallen, this ploy looks great when it comes off but when it fails it can look outrageously shabby.

Sri Lanka must bat first to improve their chances, with Vaas and Murali in their ranks and a slowing wicket on offer, a target in the region of 245-265 will be very competitive and anything above 270 and the odds would certainly shorten on the Lankans. If Ponting has the luck with the coin, the matter could well be over as the combined strength of the Aussies could become too much for Jayawardene's men.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga would do their team a great service if they are able to see off the first ten overs without getting separated. If the Lankans have enough wickets in hand the middle overs can become really productive. The bowling of Hogg and Symonds is no great shakes but the problem is the new ball that does the damage and sets it up nicely for bowler No. 4 & 5 to push the overs through quickly.

The mantra for Lanka would be to keep the wickets intact and launch the attack after the first ten overs where the ball loses its sting and shine.

In Vaas and Murali Lanka has the experience with the ball but the others too must be wary of the advantage the likes of Gilchrist and Hayden take when offered the width. The more the bowlers bowl into the body the lesser the chances of boundaries during power play. Tuck the Aussies for space outside the off stump and there are chances of them doing something silly.

All said and done, Australia look the better bet and it would take a special effort from the Islanders and a relatively off-day in the office for the Aussies to stop their hat-trick bid. Remember the toss is very vital, if Lanka win and bat they stay with a chance otherwise the whole of Australia could well start their celebrations a little early.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Stuff Of Dreams

A phone call with an old mate was just about to end, right alongside Australia's annihilation of South Africa. Just before hanging up my friend quipped: Is this Australian side the greatest ever? To which, I said it could be the best Australian team in terms of success rate but by a far stretch the West Indies side of the late 70's and 80's was the best. Remember, I was having only one-day cricket in mind, bring Test cricket also into the picture and all arguments would be a waste of time. Lloyd's men were the greatest to set foot on turf.

Man to man, the Windies then would have probably won 8-3 against this Aussie side. Let us start with batting. The pair of Hayden and Gilchrist are good but the Barbadian pair of Greenidge and Haynes were far superior. Ponting versus Viv Richards, do I need to say who wins that round? The middle order is one area where this Aussie side might compare well with the Windies.

The fielding standards of all world-beating sides has always been special. But where the West Indians scored was they had specialists for each position. Viv and Clive were omnipresent at the slips and nothing would pass through them, while Gordon and Harper were stunning in the gully region - add the strong arm of the pacemen from the deep; easy runs were only in opponents’ dreams.

The Aussies are an athletic lot, and are also blessed with a fine wicket keeper. Although Dujon to me was technically more compact than Gilchrist behind the stumps, he was not so by much. So, after we have seen the batting and fielding strengths, the West Indians only have a slight edge. The one department that takes them past any side of any era was their bowling prowess. They could simply blow away any opposition, and more importantly, in any conditions.

The pace attack instilled fear in the bravest of hearts. Sometimes, statistics may not provide a true reflector, but having played the pacemen at their peak, I know first hand they were one very tough lot to negate and get away with, leave alone scoring against.

So every connoisseur's fantasy would be a match up between the present Australian side and the West Indies side of the 80's. A dream date it would be, but only in fantasy. If it ever did happen, though, my money would be squarely on the marauding Windies

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Some Interesting Views From Amongst You

As some of you might already know, I'm judging Google's Cricket blogging competition. Here are some interesting entries we have recieved so far:

From The Match Referee:

What are fast and lively wickets going to achieve? They will result in fast bowlers who get results handed to them on a platter, batsman might get slightly better and the breed of twirlers will be fast driven to extinction. Spinners have been our traditional strength and now is not the time to ditch them.

From Dharmagraha:

Successful teams can be classified into two types. One, that win on technical perfection; examples are South Africa under Hansie Cronje and Clive Lloyd’s invincible team. Two, that win on an emotional high supported by excellent individual skills; examples are Dada’s Indian team supported by excellent individual performances by Sachin and you, Imran’s Pakistani team supported by geniuses of Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram, Ranatunga’s Sri Lankan team with Sanath Jayasuriya and Arvinda De Silva. There is also a third variety which has a dangerous combination of both at the highest. That is Australia, both under Steve Waugh and under Ricky Ponting. Logically, a coach should have sat down to classify what is the temperament of the team, find its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and approached you accordingly. I don’t say that Greg Chappell has not done that, but I say, it just doesn’t show.

From Best Of World Cup:

If a game starts taking lives, there is something sickeningly wrong with it. But this is not really about Woolmer. We didn't need someone to die to awaken us to a problem. The signs have always been there, it's just that most of us have found it expedient to ignore them. Commodification has been chipping away at the soul of cricket for years, and now the game is the danger of losing its head.

From Srikchin:

We started preparing the team for World cup 24 months ago, and by the time it kicks of none of the team probables could make it. Those who managed to crawl are down with injuries. Round the clock cricket & rudimentary domestic circuit. Slow pitches, weak opponents and back to back series crowns. Too much of money, too many strategies, too many expectations, too loud applauds and hence too embarrassing desolation.

Bigger The Stage, Bigger The Game

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The line that divides aggression and desperation is a fine one, and it was in full view when South Africa batted their first ten overs. Going into a needle clash without a proper plan cost the Proteas dear. Winning the toss on this wicket was a godsend and South Africa have only themselves to blame for not utilizing the opportunity to bat the World champions out of the game.

Bowlers like McGrath always have a scheme for different batsmen. Kallis and Prince were the two batsmen who should have played the anchor role. Smith left early - falling to adventurism against someone who has seen it all and is a master at varying the length subtlety to set a batsman to a false shot.

Shaun Tait might have ended with more wickets in his kitty, but to McGrath should go the greater credit for strangulating the batsmen and instilling the early pressure from which the South Africans never recovered. The fall of wickets at regular intervals never allowed the South Africans to get to a run rate of any meaning. And having posted only 149 on the board, even the die-hard South African supporters would not have envisaged a win.

With a mere three runs per over to chase, Australia were in no discomfort and the thumping win will have carried them to the final in the right frame of mind. Sri Lanka have also entered the final with a clinical display but the way the Aussies won on Wednesday it would have certainly put the fear of god among the Islanders.

It was pleasure to see the Aussie dressing room, a bunch of confident players who thoroughly know what their job is, much like the West Indian dressing room of the 80’s. South Africa resembled a team wrecked by a storm and resembled a bunch of jokers, moreso even than chokers, on the big stage.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Toss proved vital

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Once Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bat, the result was a foregone conclusion. What made it a miserable semifinal was the inability of the Kiwis to challenge the Lankans and the resigned look on Stephen Fleming’s face after the spin of the coin.

New Zealand almost accepted defeat once Lanka made first use of the wicket. The last 15 overs were gift wrapped for the Islanders to run amok with. The body language of the Kiwis left a lot to be desired. The medium pacers lacked the fire-and-air speed on a slow wicket. The Shane Bond phenomenon was brutally exposed. A bowler is expected to have his off days at the office but that Bond failed to fire on D-day put Fleming's plan in disarray. A team cannot afford to go into a crunch game with one strike bowler.

Mahela Jayawardene's knock was an education, and proved yet again that one need not resort to the power game to be successful in the shorter version. He took his time in building his innings and nearly took 40 balls to reach double figures but thereafter paced his innings brilliantly to make up for lost time. He led from the front and the team took pace along with him. What stood out in the innings was his placement and timing. Sanath Jayasuriya's failure was made up by Upul Tharanga who was due for a big one against a strong side. Once the duo of Tharanga and Mahela helped the total go past the 250-run mark the result was hardly in doubt.

With nearly a run to be taken of every ball, the Kiwis needed a strong start but they were hardly given the luxury to free their arms against some tight and imaginative bowling by Malinga and Vaas.

With a steeply increasing asking rate to contend with, the top-order had its task cut out, but Muralitharan coming in after the initial overs had plugged the run flow. It was always going to be a tough ask and the questions he posed was too much for the middle order. The win will give a lot of confidence to the Lankans going in to the final where if they have the luck with the coin, who knows there could be title No. 2 waiting for them.

For many followers, the real final might be today, where the top two sides in the world lock horns. Australia will definitely start as favourites. South Africa, on the other hand, would love to shed off the 'choker' tag. If the Proteas can restrict the Australians to a sub-300 total, we have a great match on our hands.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Sri Lanka Look The Better Side

Two finely balanced sides lock horns in what is widely expected to be a closely fought encounter. New Zealand and Sri Lanka are two sides that play the percentages well and, more importantly, know their strength and stick their guns to it.

It would need the nerve of a gambler to predict a winner straight out. There is nothing much to choose from between the two sides, but personally I would give the Islanders a few inches more than the Kiwis, and I have my reasons for it.

Both sides were drubbed by Australia, but to their solace, they rested their two key bowlers who could have made a difference, hence the defeat might not have really dented their confidence. But the Lankans go into the match with a better all-round attack, that has more options to throw.

The Sabina Park track has slowed down a fair bit in the last few years and will play lower as the game progresses. And if Sri Lanka were to set a target they would enjoy a definite advantage. The Kiwis will have to display nerves of steel if they are to go through a tough chase.

The Sri Lankan spinners have the knack of pushing the middle overs through very quickly and that is the time in the game where bad habits might creep in for the batsmen, as things might not go their way. It has happened many a time in the past when Murali and Sanath, with their plethora of experience, have stifled the run rate and plotted the downfall of strong batting lineups.

The New Zealand batting has also blown hot and cold through the World Cup; none barring Scott Styris have shown the kind of consistency one would normally associate with a World Cup aspirant. On the contrary the Kiwis strength is their medium pace and would like to exploit whatever early life the wicket would provide and try and keep the target to manageable proportions.

Both sides would be strengthened immensely by the return of their strike bowlers (Bond and Oram for NZ, Murali and Vaas for SL) and would hope the rest would have done more good than harm. The contest at least on paper promises a seat edge thriller but Sri Lanka go in with a small advantage because of their balance. The Lankans have also batted the end overs slightly better.

Stephen Fleming and his boys would have to restrict their opponents to a sub-250 score otherwise it could well turn out to be another so near yet so far story for the Kiwis.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Players Should Be Given A Free Hand

Reading the morning paper, I stumbled across a few stories that were eye openers of sorts. In India there has always been a curb on cricketers talking to the press. Hence, when the players divulge information on sensitive topics, it becomes hot news. Whereas in most of the other Test playing nations there is no hold on players in expressing their opinions to the media.

Ricky Ponting, Mathew Hayden, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis have all used the last few days to play mind games with their opponents in the build up to the semi-finals. To me what is more important is what the players do while on the field of play, and everything else is immaterial. As long as there are no degrading statements, or hitting below the belt, things should be fine.

I have not really been able to see the logic in players being directed to talk or write in the media. Is it really going to help? For example, if Harbhajan wants to talk freely about an impending encounter he can’t, while a player in the opposing rank can. And as some one who has played the game at the highest level, I can assure you it can play on the mind of the players and give the others a mental edge before a crucial game.

Kallis has said the Australian all-win record does not count for anything, while Hayden has stated the Proteas fear the sight of the Aussies. I can also assure you that it helps to build an aggressive attitude. I have heard many Australian players comment freely on their colleagues, and the best part is the player commented also takes it in the right spirit. This can help strengthen the value of unity.

During the Test series in India in 2001, Glenn McGrath said the best captain he has ever played under was Mark Taylor. Remember, Steve Waugh was at the helm and was not offended by the statement. He tried, instead, to find out what he was lacking that Taylor possessed.

Players expressing their views to the press should be allowed everything in regard to the game can be discussed freely and let me assure you the team performance or mental frame is not going to go down because of that. The results in the middle are more important than a few sound bytes passed on to television crews or newspapers. Barking at the wrong tree is not going to give us the desired results, in stead let us try and locate the real problem areas.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Lara's exit has left the game poorer

Well, did the greatest modern-day entertainer need to ask that question at the end of it all?

A glittering career that spanned nearly 18 years and provided a reason for many fans to pay at the gates with glee. One of the few batsmen who put the prime requirement of the general follower in front of him rather than play the boring numbers game. The legend of Brian Charles Lara will live forever even though the pocket sized Trinidadian was part of the weakest West Indian side.

The final match for Lara was certainly not scripted by the gods. How else would one explain the heartbreak for the legend who had to endure another so close yet too far theory? The run out was always on the cards and that was fitting as no bowler deserved to break the defence of Lara. The dismissal took me back to Sydney in the early 90's when Lara scripted his first hundred. A dazzling knock of 277 (Lara's first hundred) had to terminate when he was run out and the legendary Sir Gary Sobers remarked 'that was fitting' as no bowler deserved his wicket.

The sojourn that started then continued to marvel across the globe. And to have accumulated such huge quantum of runs without for once leaving his natural style behind spoke vastly of the West Indian way of life.

Coming to the match, it was a pity that such a good contest had to be an inconsequential affair. The match provided the sparks from two sides who never came close to playing to their potential. The difference was made by the openers.

Chris Gayle came to form at last and too bad it did not happen slightly earlier. It could have made a significant difference to the host's chances. Michael Vaughan also did best and ensured he would keep the captaincy for some time to come.

All said and done both England and West Indies should have no complaints. The four sides that deserved to be in the last four have taken their rightful places and it is time for us to sit back and enjoy some of the most stirring action after two days of break

Saturday, 21 April 2007

This Selection Is Not The Way Forward

The selection committee has wasted another golden opportunity. The talk of infusing fresh blood into the team after the World Cup has not materialized into something concrete, and Indian cricket continues to tread a dangerous path. The selection of the senior team, as with so many times in the past, has been fuelled by confusion and, more, by 'compromise'.

After all the big talk on youngsters replacing the tried and tested, only Bengal lad Manoj Tiwary finds a place. What happens to other youngsters who have proved themselves in the Ranji Trophy and A tours? What more should a bowler like R. Bose of Bengal do to claim a stake?

Two batsmen who will feel extremely disappointed are S. Badrinath of Tamil Nadu and Mumbai's Rohit Sharma. Remember the chairman of the selection committee stating that the 80 made by Badri in the Zal Irani Cup was one of the best domestic knock played on a difficult wicket? And add the runs he made against the likes of Shaun Tait and Clarke on the faster and bouncier wickets in Australia. Rohit, with his recent exploits, gave enough proof that he was a decent limited overs prospect. The signals that are sent to such players are not very healthy.

When performances in the Ranji Trophy and A tours are not going to be looked at with interest, one can lose faith in the system and unless the selectors start giving preference to players who toil and perform in the domestic scene, things can go haywire.

Some of the so-called recalls are only going hamper the progress route. Dinesh Mongia and R.P. Singh have been given enough chances to cement their place in the side but they have not done that, and no one else can be faulted for that. And Ramesh Powar making it only to the Test squad was highly amusing as he had looked the best bowler in the ODI's whenever he had been given a chance.

A tour to Bangladesh was the ideal platform to groom some of the youngsters. The kids would have got a fair idea of international cricket and readied them for the tougher assignments ahead. The upcoming season is one of the toughest Team India would have in a long time and with the majority of the side ageing and on the wane, this would have been the ideal time for a shake up and for the rebuilding process to start but sadly and as always another chance to put things in the right perspective and turn a new leaf has gone a-begging. Save your prayers for Indian cricket.

With the news of the Indian selection dominating the headlines, a small matter called the World Cup was conveniently forgotten. Australia's annihilation of their Trans Tasman rivals would have filled fear in all sides. If this is what the Aussies can do to a side that was widely expected to run them close…!

The Australian batting looks too good at the moment, and the bowlers seem to be hitting the straps well and getting into a good rhythm at the right time. It would take a Herculean effort from the remaining sides to stop the Aussies from claiming their hat-trick. It would take an extremely brave heart to put the money against the reigning champions.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Lara's Magic Will Be Missed

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West Indies redeemed some of their lost pride. It was not the most clinical performance, yet effective enough to dispose of a side that has proved to be very tricky at times. With nothing in stake in terms of progress in the tournament I personally expected the hosts to be a lot more positive with their batting.

Chris Gayle's failure at the top continues to be the biggest undoing for the West Indians. Now, Brian Lara having hung up his boots for good, the onus will be on the trio of Sarwan, Chanderpaul and Gayle to take their side to the next level. If there was a singular contributor to the West Indies’ dismal performance in this World Cup it was the lack of runs from Gayle's blade.

The news obviously did not hinge around the 99-run win for Lara and his men, but the legend's decision to quit all forms of the game. It is not going to take a great cricketing brain to say the Trinidadian had at least two more seasons as a Test batsman. But this is not the time to talk about what would have happened if Lara had continued. The great batsman has left followers some rich footage to feast on.

His contributions have been great, but to me three things stand out. The first thing that comes to my memory is the unbeaten 153 against Australia at home, where he carried the team home in the company of Ambrose, and later Walsh, in what was later described as one of the greatest Test innings ever played.

The 700-odd runs he scored in Sri Lanka against Muralitharan who was at the peak of his prowess, then; other batsmen found his magic as tough as nuclear physics. That, to me, was one of the best exhibitions of stroke play against quality spin. They way Lara used his feet to counter flight was an education.

The last, but not least, was his endurance and his engrossment with tall scores. For a man who was small-built, the time he spent at the crease was simply amazing and here is one cricketer who fully deserves all the records he holds. Engaged in constant comparison with Sachin Tendulkar throughout his career, I feel Lara stood an inch tall over the Mumbaikar because of his ability to dominate attacks.

The call to quit is probably an emotional one after former greats of West Indies cricket and the media did not take the host’s ouster from the World Cup lightly. But let us all understand he has achieved enough to call it quits on his own terms. However grainy the tapes get, Brian Charles Lara will always remain green in the mind’s eye of both the connoisseur as well as the casual follower.

Moving over to the World Cup: Australia face another challenge in the form of New Zealand today. The world champs have peaked well and playing Sri Lanka and the Kiwis at the fag end of the super eight will actually work to their advantage as they would exactly know what to do against them if they have to meet them in the summit clash.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

World Cup Becomes A Drab Affair

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Another fracas that had little or no meaning. Sri Lanka had brownie points at stake. That they won the game in an emphatic fashion underlined the seriousness with which they approached the battle, but what they gained, in the end, apart from a bloated net run rate, is anybody's guess.

Full marks to Ireland and Bangladesh for making the super eights. But they were clearly exposed when it came to sustaining their momentum. It clearly rendered many games extraneous. Take Bangladesh's win over South Africa and Ireland’s own fifteen minutes of fame against Bangladesh out of it, and the games hardly provided the thrills a mega event should throw. The World Cup has become a bit of a drag.

This particular match, which was completed in record time, had its moments to offer. Kumar Sangakkara's acrobatic one-hander after he had moved the wrong side was a rare gem, while Maharoof, who seemed incapable of putting a fingernail wrong yesterday, effected one of the most athletic run-outs in recent history. These two efforts will form the most enduring images of the ninth World Cup.

Sri Lanka were simply unbeatable. Ireland, on the last bend of their dream run, were blown away like a sapling uprooted by a tycoon. The difference was stark and it was not good advertisement for the game.

Another match today, one of but academic interest to the remainder of the tournament - Brian Lara's match No. 298 and 299 gives him opportunities to leave on a high. With the hosts out of the tourney, much interest will revolve around the impending retirement of their captain who will at least expect his team to get their act together. Well, there is nothing wrong in leaving the stage with pride.

Far away from the Caribbean islands, there is news to be noted. The Indian selectors will sit down for one of their most intriguing meetings yet to pick the squad to tour Bangladesh. I can only hope the five-member committee does not overdo the 'youth' factor. There is nothing wrong in blooding youth but there must be a right mix of youth and experience.

There will be a lot more to talk on that subject once the team is announced. Anyway, is there much more to say about the World Cup? A tournament that has no meaning till the semi-finals begin.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

England Dig Their Own Grave

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Anyone backing the English to win was going to be doing it at their own peril. Yours truly had predicted a tough run chase for either side in a high pressure game, but a target of 155 is not going to bother even the minnows, leave alone the might of the South African batting line up. More than a month after the event started we have on our hands four teams that have qualified for the knockouts and, to be honest, there should be no complaints. The teams that have progressed fully deserve their final four places.

England wasted a golden opportunity. The wicket on offer was true, and anything less than 250 was going to be a sacrilege. The copy book approach just won't work in one-day cricket; it is a waste of time in the modern era. There is nothing wrong in sticking to the basics but timely innovations are the need of the hour to survive in the shorter version. The lack of aggression was appalling and England’s over-dependence on a few batsmen only added to their misery.

Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff hold the key with the bat and Freddie's failure with the bat has upset the balance of the side hard. KP has been the bulwark of the side, and it was not his fault he failed in a crunch game. The law of averages had to catch up with him and to England's misfortune, it had to happen when they were in within striking distance of a semifinal slot. The failure of the openers and Michael Vaughan in particular spelt doom. The side lacked direction and looked wearied.

The body language of the England side left a lot to be desired. There was no aggression and coupled with it was a sense of resignation, right from the start. Unless they do something quickly about the way they approach over-specific cricket, nothing much would change. It is time they start giving importance to the shorter version too to become a force to reckon with otherwise the gulf would be for everyone to see.

Sri Lanka gets another chance to boost their NRR and the top-order will be looking at some useful batting practice when they take on Ireland today. But the manner in which the Irish have competed indicates that they should not be taken lightly. With even the semifinal pairings more or less decided, fans can watch the remaining four games in the super eights without damage to their fingernails.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Resting Key Bowlers An Ill-Advised Move

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One cannot call it complacency. But resting two of your main bowlers for a match that represents a lot more than an increase in the points table shows a lack of vision from the Sri Lankan team management. Lasith Malinga, one of their new-found hopes, was injured. His non-inclusion was mandatory. With their strike prowess already down, Lanka should have played their best bowlers in order to put some doubts in the Aussie camp.

Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas are no greenhorns. The Australian batsmen have encountered the duo in possibly every cricketing condition and themselves are no mystery to them. Why rest them? What did Sri Lanka gain by doing this? Consider this carefully - a target of 227 could have been tricky had Jayawardene been given the experienced duo.

There was a tremendous psychological advantage to be gained, had the Lankans pulled the rug from under the Aussie feet. Imagine the Indian team of 1983 upstaging the then mighty West Indies. We approached the match fully aware of the fact that if we could do it once (Manchester, in the opening game) we could repeat the act. Sri Lanka had such an opportunity (if they are to meet Australia again in the tournament) but muffed it by not playing the right men.

The tale itself did not alter much from the original script. What really stood out was the positive Aussie attitude. No, I am never going to grow tired of repeating this. They are the only side who look at the power play as a period for grabbing wickets. With some very good fielding as backup to create pressure, the wickets go down in clusters and partnerships are never allowed to prosper.

Frankly speaking, there are no great shakes about this Australian bowling. But the discipline and never say die spirit gives it a bloated look. Ponting deserves all the credit for making the team believe that there is a wicket around the corner every time. The target was never going to challenge the strong batting lineup especially with the main strike bowlers cooling their heels.

South Africa have only themselves to blame for finding themselves in this quandary. They should not have let this opportunity go to such an extent and if England are to have one good day today, it is almost certain to be pack up time for the Proteas who somehow manage to play their worst cricket during the World Cup.

Both sides are beset with similar problems. The openers have failed to get going and the skippers are not among the runs. Sides generally lift themselves when the men at the helm strike and sadly that has not been the case with Graeme Smith and Michael Vaughan. Australia run away from the rest of the sides because nine times out of ten their openers give the innings the impetus and sadly England and South Africa have been found wanting in this regard.

The team that bats first will have a definite advantage. It is a high pressure game, and the side chasing will have a lot to contend with. My instinct says the team that musters more during the power play will emerge victorious.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Bangladesh Pays The Price For Complacency

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The division between approaching a match with confidence and a slight dose of overconfidence is a thin line, and Bangladesh paid a heavy price for setting foot on the field armoured with the latter. If there is one area that Dav Whatmore has to work on with his boys, it is their ability to handle the new ball when conditions are in favour of the bowlers.

To begin with, Bangladesh found the newly attached 'favourites' tag too hot to handle. One could sense the new found Asian hope putting pressure on themselves. The last 10 overs of the Irish innings were the part of the match where Bangladesh lost the plot. If they had restricted the target to less than 225, the pressure of a climbing asking rate would have never been felt.

There was a touch of complacency in the way Bangladesh played the match and it reflected in the fielding. They wasted far too many opportunities and let the Irish get away. The knock by Porterfield was worth its weight in gold. The opener saw off the difficult phase with a gutsy display when the conditions had a lot on offer to the fast men. Runs flowed after the 150-run mark was reached and the 93 runs that came in the final 11.3 overs proved to be the decisive factor in the final analysis.

The chase was never on. Less than five runs per over does not require slam bang cricket but batsmen like Ashraful of whom a lot was expected continued to be reckless with their selection of shots. The intent was clearly missing, The rule book does not say all the runs have to be acquired in boundaries. The singles and twos were conveniently forgotten. Ireland fully deserve their place in the ICC ODI table. Beating two test-playing nations is not an easy task for a country that has not met opposition of this quality before.

The match today looks to be the dress rehearsal for the final. The Aussies must be wary of the fact the Grenada wicket is slightly on the slower side and anything above 250 to chase on a strip that is slowing down, the world champs will have their hands full.

This match may not have much consequence in relation to the semifinal line up. But if the Lankans are to emerge victorious today they would carry an enormous amount of psychological advantage in to the knock outs. The islanders also have a decent track record against the Australians in crunch games and there has been enough indications lately to believe they would give Ponting and his men a run for their money.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Toss gives Kiwis unfair advantage

It was not a good advertisement for one-day cricket. Never has the toss proved more decisive. It was unfair to an extent that one team enjoyed the best of conditions while the other played 'catch up'. Even in this context of the match, though, South Africa had only themselves to blame as at least 25 runs were up for grabs and that could have tilted the balance in their favour.

The slow wicket hardly was a platform that would help stroke play but what went wrong in the power play for South Africa was their inability to rotate the strike and look busy. Gunmetal skies and Shane Bond were the ingredients that undid the Proteas, and it was a pity such a high profile game had to be decided by the spin of the coin.

With the momentum shift heavily with the Kiwis and so much catching up to do for the South Africans even part time trundlers like McMillan were able to stifle up the run rate and instill pressure on the batsmen in the slog overs.

The New Zealand fielding was also top notch. That added to the allure. Stephen Fleming did have the variety in the attack to pose problems for the batsmen and did not allow them to get settled to one type. Off-spinner Patel showed a lot of heart, and rose brilliantly to the occasion and to me he will hold the key along with Vettori if New Zealand goes on to do well in the tournament from here.

When targets are less than 200, it gives a huge psychological advantage for the side chasing and all the Kiwis had to do was bat put the quota to get to the target and they did with their customary efficiency. South Africa did not display their usually athletic fielding and paid the price.

Graeme Smith was found short on the spin department, for example if there was a high pedigree spinner like Murali in their ranks the script could have been altered। The lack of variety is going to hit the South Africans hard whenever the wickets get slow and low.

The evening today will be a major irritation for fans across the sub-continent. Who would have thought an impending India-Pakistan clash would have been substituted by a Ireland-Bangladesh tie? The giants have only their own selves to blame. The two minnows earned the right by playing good cricket in the first round. And even though the clash has been ridiculed by many, I will have to admit the match will throw some good cricket as every level of the game has its own charms to offer.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Kudos To The Aussie Attitude

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It was not a mere nine-wicket victory; it was a statement, and a very powerful one at that. The Aussie attitude was at its glowing best. Ricky Ponting could have well decided to bat on winning the toss and it would have helped his top-order to bloat their career averages and in turn set some new records, but they wanted to prove something else: The distance in class between the two sides. They did that with ruthless precision and took another huge step towards a hat-trick of titles.

The Australian fielding stood out in a clash that was expected to be one-way traffic right from the start. The intensity was high and they never took the pedal off the gas. The manner in which Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds ran their singles and twos was testimony to their positive approach.

The half-day cricket that was available was another example on why Australia has gone ahead of the other sides in world cricket. They are playing a brand of cricket that others can only hope to catch up with. Unless they are caught chasing on a slow wicket I don't see them being beaten in this World Cup.

The match today between New Zealand and South Africa presents a contest of a different nature and much closer game is on the cards. The semifinal pairing might get altered with the result of this game. South Africa will start as favourites as they bat deeper and better.

Both sides play with a similar style and much depends on their razo- sharp fielding to keep the opposing batsmen from breaking free. New Zealand were found wanting on a few areas when they came across a tougher opponent in Sri Lanka. They have some areas to cover and the sooner they do that, the better for them.

It is another opportunity for Graeme Smith and his men to put off the Bangladesh debacle as a bad dream. These two sides to me come close to match Australia in athleticism and fitness and both sides must be there in the semis along with Lanka to provide the toughest possible fight for the world Champions. Anything less, and the defending champs look like running away with it.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Kiwis Pay The Price For Defensive Cricket

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Cricket is a game that is a battle with your own self. The opponent is a mere convenience. New Zealand, hardly tested in this tournament until they met Sri Lanka found it out the hard way that things can go awry if a team is taken out of its comfort zone. With runs hard to come by in the initial stages, the Kiwis just could not come to terms on a wicket that played better as the day wore.

Scott Styris seems to enjoy the Lankan attack, especially in the World Cup, a second successive ton against the islanders in the premier event could only delay the inevitable. No fault to him as he was caught in a catch-22 situation. Wickets fell around him and he had to resort to picking singles even after he was well set.

The damage for the Kiwis was done by the rest of the top-order. The shot selection left a lot to be desired and their over defensive tactic after a couple of early wickets helped Sri Lanka claim the upper hand. Hats of to Chaminda Vaas to have bowled line first up to set the initial trap. With the keeper standing up, things were made really difficult for the batsmen.

Murali is a master in keeping the pressure and once he did his job in the middle overs, the opponents were never going to post a total that was going to challenge Lanka who would have taken lunch fully aware that the entire target needed was 47-48 overs of staying in the middle. Nothing summed up the innings better than the maiden over bowled by Dilshan in the 46 th over.

Sanath has had a great World Cup thus far, and his form continues. He showed his class by going after the inexperienced bowlers. The Lankan batting looks different when he gets going. Kumara Sangakkara played himself to some form and that is a very good sign for Lanka in the coming matches.

Stephen Fleming's captaincy was too defensive at times, and bringing Mark Gillespie against the wind was a huge tactical blunder that proved very costly. Both sides are sure to be a part of the semifinal line up and this win would have served the Lankans a huge psychological advantage.

The match up today will be another mismatch. Another opportunity for the World Champions to look at new records – not that they are not eyeing them even when they are up against stronger opponents.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Interesting Duel On The Cards

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A match that had little consequence literally might have allowed England to harbour some false hopes. They did everything conceivable to hand over the match to Bangladesh who would have thoroughly rued the fact of not adding another 30 runs to their tally.

Bangladesh defended the small target with the heart of an oak tree, but having got caught in seaming conditions earlier, they were not be blamed. Their opponents had the better of the conditions after their luck with the toss.

The Bangladesh spin attack seems to have understood the nuances of over-specific cricket better than most. They bowl the right trajectory to keep the scoring to the bare minimum. They would have been better served if their top order had held on to their nerves and played out the new ball rather than go for runs.

The English continue to play drab cricket and are just not cut out for one-dayers. The over-dependence on Kevin Pietersen is growing with each passing day and the Flintoff's patchy form with the bat has hit their balance hard. With South Africa to contend with in the next game, they have their task cut out and if they are to put it past the Proteas, it would only ridicule the system.

The New Zealand-Sri Lanka game presents these two sides an ideal opportunity for both think-tanks to check where they actually stand. With semi-final spots almost assured, both the sides can afford to play some aggressive cricket. Lasith Malinga's absence will help the Kiwis no end, as he has a good track record against them.

It will be a question of who bats better. Given the strength of their attacks, the side batting first will run up a definite advantage and the spinners are certain to play a major part on a wicket that is expected to play slow and low as the game progresses.

And in Mahela Jayawardene and Stephen Fleming, the sides are led by two astute captains who have had a great part to play in their team's progress. One more encounter that would enliven a World Cup that is dragging itself along at the moment.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Lara’s Call To Field Baffling

Strange, the most astute of cricket minds stop working at the most critical moments. Brian Lara's captaincy continues to be adamant. He has been hell bent on proving his own theory rather than think on what will help his side to win.

With the batting form the top-order has been before this match, the decision to chase against a strong fielding side was fool hardy. Bowling is not the host's strong point either so to insert the Proteas was a long way off from logic.

Lara had his best chance to rattle a score in excess of 270 and put the pressure on the visitors as the match held as much significance for them after the loss to Bangladesh, hence the chase would have not been that comfy.

There were too many glaring mistakes on the field. The timing of the third power play allowed the opponents too many free hits that took the game away from the West Indians. Stretching the power play to the 44 th over was not the solution. If wickets had been taken at regular intervals it could have been a different tale. But when there was nothing much the bowling could do, the power play should have been utilized before the batsmen had shifted to top gear.

The rampage from the 39th over onwards showed West Indies in poor light. The body language had a sign of resignation throughout that period and there was a stage when the hosts just wanted to finish the quota and get back to the hut, there was no intensity or purpose.

Having put 350 plus on the board and gotten rid of three batsmen before the 15th over the script was clear. Even though there was an attempt to make a match of it the task was well beyond them. Chris Gayle and Lara had to fire and sadly that did not happen and West Indies had to exit another World Cup without making the knockouts.

The match today is crucial to England and if the reports of a slow wicket are true Bangladesh would certainly fancy their chances. The advantage the Asian team has is they can approach the match with no holds barred. They have already exceeded expectations in this tournament and anything from now would only be an added bonus.

England should be wary of a spin attack that is proving to be adept at controlling the run rate well. If England are to chase a score in excess of 240, they would have their hands full. The two totally different styles is bound to throw a interesting duel.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Litmus Test For West Indies

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The batting depth in the Kiwi ranks continues to wriggle them out of tight corners. A team with lesser might down the order might have suffered an Irish embarrassment. Three teams are clearly breaking free from the rest, and no laptops or plasma television sets for guessing which they are.

Stephen Fleming has under his command a bunch of cricketers who know their role to a fault. No frills, just plain tight cricket that cover the percentages well. The bowling is coming across well, and the form of Shane Bond augurs well for their chances and gives them the cutting edge.

Not depending too much on individual brilliance has always been New Zealand’s strength, if there has been any, and it could well help them turn the corner this time around. Peter Fulton played a matured innings and the few irritating rain breaks notwithstanding, the Kiwis ran up a total that I thought was a concrete proof of their batting might. The body language and ground fielding complimented the bowling well. These guys firmly deserve the top spot they enjoy at the moment.

The match to be played today bears more significance than any other in the tournament thus far. West Indies will back themselves if the wicket is to be on the slower side. South Africa have always struggled chasing on wickets where the ball does not allow them to hit through the line. Playing with hard hands is not the solution on these tracks; there were too many soft dismissals against Bangladesh that will rankle them for a long time.

The Proteas, though, are a tough bunch and should put the reversal behind them quickly and look ahead. The hosts on the other hand are fully aware that they are on a tight rope and things can’t get worse from here. Chris Gayle has to fire to give his side the impetus. Brian Lara would not like his ODI swansong to be a whimper. If Lara bats at three it would solve a lot of problems for the hosts who need the steadying hand of their skipper.

The hosts stand a bright chance if they are to bat first and post a competitive total. If they are to bat second the chances diminish slightly if one has to go by recent records. It would be sad to see the hosts fade early. Let Lara and his men come out smiling at the end of the day, and believe me, the World Cup will have enlightened further.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Aussie Domination Continues

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The World Champions displayed champions’ stuff, but should not forget the help meted out to them by the men in the middle. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden were gone for all money by the second over. The latter was plumb in front to Anderson, while the former was struck in front by Mahmood.

Billy Bowden should never forget he has a job on hand, his innovative signals and humour are all well appreciated but unless they are laden with the right decisions the original plot is lost. A player's stature should never come in the way of an umpire’s call. A classic example is Shane Warne bagging a sizeable number of wickets by putting pressure on the umpires.

I have always held Abdul Qadir a better exponent of leg-spin than Warne. In the 80's the straighter one from the spinners never met with the approval for a LBW shout. Umpires started changing their view only from the mid-90's on this subject. Without taking a iota away from Warne, let us be honest in admitting that his standing as a player put that extra pressure on the umpires and their changed perception helped him add a lot more to his kitty.

Coming back to the match: Australia cannot be blamed for the umpire’s mistakes. It is only to their credit they made it count. England, for their part, displayed better resolve but sadly it was not enough. No team in the world can expect to be consistent if the openers continue to be consistently inconsistent. The biggest bugbear for the English has been the appalling show by Ed Joyce and Michael Vaughan.

The top-order takes time to rebuild the innings, and valuable time is lost. Promoting Andrew Flintoff as opener might have been a far shot. Then again, it might have worked. His form with the bat has been his biggest problem. With the field restrictions in place and the ball coming on to the bat, Flintoff could have turned a corner and it would have solved two problems for England in one shot. Another batsman would have also added to the depth.

The Aussie juggernaut continues to roll. It seems to have answers to every question posed. It is going to take something extraordinary from either New Zealand or Sri Lanka to stop the men from Down Under from clinching their third successive World Cup। At the moment, no other side apart from the above mentioned two seem to have the wherewithal, or the ammunition, or the game plan, to come anywhere near upsetting the Aussie applecart.


In other matters of note, the Google cricket blogging contest is still wide open, moreso than this tournament if comparisons are to be drawn. Remember to send in your entries soon. I will be thrilled to keep pace with your posts!

Sunday, 8 April 2007

World Cup Gets An Open Look

It is nice to be proved wrong a few times, especially when your prediction
leaves you mug-faced, yet lights up a world Cup. Bangladesh continued their
giant killing run thanks some much disciplined cricket at the outset. The
key to the minnows’ (can we continue with that term?) success was continuing to
be positive with the bat in spite of wickets falling around them.

Mohd. Ashraful played an innings that was innovative and also laced with
risks but that is the advantage one carries when you are not expected to come
first. His shot selection was exemplary. It looks great when it comes,
and draws some serious flak when it fails, but it was his day, and it turned
out well. The square drive he played was reminiscent of a GRV in his pomp
and majesty.

The slow nature of the wicket helped the cause for Bangladesh. The wicket
was anyway on the slower side and Graeme Smith should have batted first to
make the best of the conditions. Bowling in the slog has been the Proteas’
problem area and the sameness in the attack is not helping them either.
Batsmen get used to it, and if a team can preserve wickets, the last 10 can be a
good hunt.

The Bangla bowlers must be given credit for bowling stump to stump and
holding a tight leash that set the trap. The fielding standards helped a
disciplined attack look better and the two run-outs were special. It was a
win for self-belief and covering the percentages well. The bottom half has
opened up well and the final spot could be anybody's and it is good for the
event that looked going one-way till yesterday.

Team India would have been ideal in the present conditions. The wickets are
slowing down and spinners would have had a large part to play. In the
present scenario Sri Lanka have their brightest chance and look the likeliest
team to upset the Aussie applecart.

The match today has more stakes to it after the upset yesterday. If the
Aussies are to encounter a run chase on slow wicket, Monty Panesar and Paul
could be a handful. The English batting is also showing signs of
improvement -- and I am not going to make predictions here! If England can pull
it off it would give the tournament the much needed fillip.

A total in excess of 250, if England were to bat first, would make interesting
viewing. I wouldn't mind getting up weary-eyed on Monday morning. Take my word, it’ll be worth it.