Monday, May 31, 2010

ROHIT SHARMA, DO YOU HAVE IT IN YOU?

A square cut for 4 and Rohit Sharma got to his second ODI century in 3 days... this time against a more reputable opposition and in a winning cause as well.

I had read of Rohit Sharma first time in early 2007. He was just a name in the newspaper then. When he got selected for and played in India's victorious World Twenty20 campaign in South Africa that year, he looked good. He was then selected for the ODI tri - series Down Under in early 2008.

The famous match-winning partnership he shared with Sachin Tendulkar in the first final of that Commonwealth Bank Series won him many fans and admirers... including the likes of Ian Chappell. He made 60-odd in what was an extremely mature knock coming from a very young player in a high-pressure situation. It did help that he had the guidance of a certain Sachin Tendulkar at the other end.

After that, the inaugural edition of IPL was held. Rohit Sharma was the only bright spot in a very disappointing campaign for the Deccan Chargers. After that, things started going wrong. Since then, whenever Rohit has had an opportunity to play for India, he has looked good... till a bad shot at the wrong time does him in (much like I mentioned about Mohammed Ashraful in my previous blog).

His inconsistency and a change in selection panel meant that he was no longer a regular in the Indian team. Every good performance for Deccan Chargers since then has caused a lot more heartburn for Team India fans, who keep wondering why he cannot perform just as well for the country as he does for his club. Every outing in the Indian colours, which is usually another frustrating failure, makes the fan in me wonder that is this just another extremely and obviously talented youngster that will be wasted like many before him?

His twin centuries here may have redeemed him somewhat... but I am still not satisfied, like many others. He needs to perform on a big occasion... when the chips are down. Rohit Sharma needs to do full justice to the enormous skills that he possesses alongwith that cool head. He needs to play and perform for the country more consistently against stronger oppositions. Sri Lanka is a good team... but in Zimbabwe, they are a second-string unit.

Rohit Sharma has a lot of fans... but most of them are angry fans! They are waiting to see if he can truly become what he is capable of. For that to happen, he will need to stay grounded. There were a few moments during IPL 2010 that made me feel that he will need a few keep-your-feet-on-the-ground lessons... and here is where Gary Kirsten could help.

He might have a bright future ahead of him... but the journey will have to be undertaken manfully. RG Sharma, do you have it in you?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

NOT THE BEST EVER... BUT STILL VERY GOOD

The commentators were calling it one of the best they had ever seen at Lord's... I wouldn't go quite that far. But Tamim Iqbal's 100-ball 104 in Bangladesh's second innings (after following on) against England was certainly amongst the better hundreds there have been!

Tamim Iqbal is one of the two reasons why Bangladesh have been looking more and more promising lately... the other being Shakib Al Hasan.

At the moment, Bangladesh 309 - 3 in 76.3 overs... with each of their top 4 crossing 50. I think it's a first for Bangladesh... and it's come away from home at Lord's. Their No. 5, the ultimate underachiever Mohammed Ashraful is 19* (11)... and he looks good to make it 5 out of 5 to cross 50 for Bangladesh. But then, he always looks good... till he plays the shot to which he gets out! That is, usually, extremely ugly.

Even at this stage, Strauss would not have given up. He knows that England is still in with a decent shot, given how Bangladesh has a history of collapsing just when things look good for them. They might capsize any moment... England will then just have to capitalise. But Bangladesh should be proud of this performance!

Whatever may be the result tomorrow, Bangladesh have played good solid Test cricket at Lord's... something that cannot be said very often about this team. I hope this trip to the home of cricket marks a point of transition in the history of Bangladesh cricket. If they become a more competitive side like the one on show in this match, it will mean that Test cricket is in very good health!

TEAM INDIA FOR WORLD CUP 2011: PART 2

(contd...)

I have a feeling that Dhoni will prefer Yusuf over Jadeja... though I would prefer otherwise. Despite his torrid performances lately, I still find Jadeja as a much safer slow bowling option... particularly in 50-over cricket. Plus, he will turn the ball away from the right-hander, which should complement well with Harbhajan's off-spin. There are arguements for including Yusuf for his batting abilities. But then, all those abilities come to nought the moment he faces up to a pacer. And batting at No. 7, he is bound to face pacers at all times. Even if he is promoted up the order, the opposition captains will bring their pacers in immediately. His tryst with the short deliveries has been well noted and documented. Yusuf could not even get his bat to touch the ball on the last 2 balls of India's innings against Zimbabwe because they were bowled short by a certain medium pacer by the name of Mpofu. Imagine the damage that can be caused by a Dale Steyn or a Mitchell Johnson.

Coming to the bowling department now. The team is likely to go in with 3 pacers and a lone spinner in the form of Harbhajan Singh. The pacers are likely to be Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar. There is a small question mark over Zaheer's form and a larger one over Praveen Kumar's place in the side. Though I am not particularly worried about Zaheer Khan, the third pacer's spot is certainly a cause of worry for MS Dhoni. He does not want his first change bowler to become a target for the opposition's top order... a bowler that will release the pressure after the new ball spell. There are several boys who will be eyeing Praveen Kumar's place: Vinay Kumar, S Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma... and many others. But I am not sure about any of them. It is quite possibly the weakest link of the squad.

As you might have noted... there is hardly anything similar between the ideal Team India for the World Cup and the team that lost to Zimbabwe. Suresh Raina... that's just about it. But the guys like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik and Vinay Kumar are likely to be the other members of the 15-men squad... the replacements in case of injuries, losses of form or commitment issues. And that is where the greater problem lies.

Are they good enough? Bobilli Vijay Kumar, in his article in Times of India titled 'Second String or Second Class?' ponders upon this issue. Maybe a Rohit Sharma will manage a 100 against a Zimbabwe and a Virat Kohli may do slightly better by hitting a 100 against Sri Lanka, but when they are under pressure... a knockout stage of a World Cup... a team as strong as Australia... backs to the wall situation... will they be able to deliver? They have done nothing so far to show that they can.

TEAM INDIA FOR WORLD CUP 2011: PART 1

TEAM INDIA HAS BEEN SELECTED: CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT THE TEAM


What's the immediate goal for the Indian team? Obviously, it is identifying and preparing a squad for the World Cup 2011? To that effect, how much does the loss to Zimbabwe affect the plans?

What is the batting order expected to be like when the World Cup begins in February next year? The top order is expected to be Virendra Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir. The middle order would comprise of Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh. This would be the ideal top-6 if all the men are in form... fit and firing.

Currently however, there are question marks over form, fitness, commitment... just about everything. Most of those question marks, I believe, would be cleared by the turn of the year. One question that threatens to remain is that of Yuvraj Singh's attitude and commitment to Team India's cause. His waistline is causing a lot of problems for Team India and a lot of angst for fans because they can see a potential exceptionally-gifted match winner being wasted away.

There are limited all-round options... just Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja. There is no pace all-round option... but in the short term, we do not need it. Pace-bowling all rounder is not going to be of much help in the sub-continent, unless he is of a Jacques Kallis pedigree. So, for now, we just have to be content with these two. In the first 11, only 1 of the 2 is likely to get the chance. After the top-6, Dhoni is likely to play an all-rounder at 7 followed by 4 bowlers... 3 of whom are likely to be seamers.

(contd...)

INDIA NEEDED THE LOSS

If I were Ravi Shastri, I would have said that the loss to Zimbabwe was 'exactly what the doctor ordered' for the young Indian team.

The youngsters in the Indian team have been on high pedestals for quite some time now. And the problem is... they have done nothing to deserve to be there. A bit of moderate success and lots of bucks from the cash-rich IPL has corrupted the minds of our prospective future generation of cricketers... and recent performances are bearing testimony.

I have already expressed that I was disappointed with the Indian team's losses in this World Twenty20 because it was very similar to the exit from the previous World Twenty20. When the youngsters in the team are unwilling / unable to learn from their past mistakes, it is a very sorry scenario.

What can pull them down from their high pedestal? Does a defeat in the Indian deep blue mean anything to them? Atleast an embarassing defeat like the one they were meted out a couple of days ago should mean something. They were convincingly defeated by a team who were provided proper cricketing kits by another senior rested member of their own team.

If this does cause embarassent and a desire for redemption... then the doctor would call it a 'lost case'.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

UNINTERESTING CLASHES

I haven't blogged for more than a week. Since then, Bangladesh have begun the international part of their English summer, West Indies have lost once again to South Africa in an ODI and an ODI series, and India has been humbled by Zimbabwe in their first meeting in years.

The West Indies - South Africa ODI didn't produce much to write about... as has been the case with that entire series so far. And despite Zimbabwe's shocking win over India at Bulawayo, that match also did not have too many critical game-changing moments. In fact, the most surprising aspect of that match was the clinical and efficient way in which Zimbabwe chased a stiff target of 286. India may have fielded a completely new triple-pace attack... but that is no excuse for allowing a chase of 286 with 10 balls to spare.

Bangladesh had a horrible Day 1 at Lord's with Johnathon Trott (another South African!?) registering his personal best score. They came back with their performance on Day 2... dismissing Trott for 226 and England for 505. But what would have pleased them the most was their batting performance where they reached the end of day's play with just 2 wickets down.

Though Bangladesh are 237 for 7 currently with bad light having suspended play and look close to being bundled out for a sub-300 score yet again, one has to take note of the progress that they have made in their cricket over the past few years... certainly since their last visit to Lord's.

Yesterday was a good day for the minnows... Zimbabwe and Bangladesh (with West Indies as a noted exception). Tomorrow, as India takes on a new-look Sri Lanka in another uninteresting clash, I'd rather place my attention once again on the England - Bangladesh Test... if not the Turkish Grand Prix or French Open Grand Slam Tennis!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A GEM

I was getting a little bored, so I dived into the Cricinfo archives... something that I like to do often. I came across this article... this piece of beauty that was written a year back by Suresh Menon about a certain event that occured a couple of decades ago. The link to the original page is here (if you really want it)... and the article is quoted below:

Tendulkar serves notice

The crowd was huge, and some of them even had tickets. Many took advantage of the general spirit of friendliness and sat anywhere they could. It is easy to see why the forefathers of the security men at Peshawar could not control the Khyber Pass. Amid the confusion, a legend was born there 20 years ago.

He was 16, had almost curly hair, curiosity in his eyes, and steel in his wrists. His treatment of Abdul Qadir is part of folklore now. Sachin Tendulkar played only because it was not an official one-day match, and Kapil Dev was nursing a stiff neck. At that stage there was no plan to play Tendulkar in the one-day tournament at all. But after that he couldn't be denied.

Eighteen deliveries changed everything. In that time he made 53 (unbeaten), hitting Mushtaq Ahmed for two huge sixes, and then Abdul Qadir for 27 runs in a single over, with three sixes in a row. There was no wild slogging. When Qadir dropped one short as Tendulkar stepped out, the batsman had the arrogance to go through with his shot anyway. The bat made a lovely arc, and for all we know the ball is still travelling - no one could find it.

At the other end was the captain, Kris Srikkanth, no slouch himself. Later that evening he said, referring to the one-day series, "The little bugger must play now." The little bugger has been playing ever since.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

THREE CAPTAINS TO MAKE THEIR DEBUTS

The tri - series in Zimbabwe that will begin from May 28 between the hosts, India and Sri Lanka may not have a large following... but it has something unique. It will mark the captaincy debuts of all the three participating captains... or rather, the ODI captaincy debut.

The three captains named (Suresh Raina - India, Tillakaratne Dilshan - Sri Lanka, Elton Chigumbura - Zimbabwe) have a combined international captaincy experience of 2 Twenty20 matches... both captained by Dilshan for Sri Lanka against Pakistan and India. He certainly wouldn't want to bank of this experience... Sri Lanka lost both those matches in close finishes (3 wickets with 1 ball to spare against Pakistan and 3 wickets with 4 balls to spare against India).

Interestingly, one of these captains has not yet played Test cricket for his country... and he's not Chigumbura! It's Suresh Raina who is yet to make his Test debut for India (it's not far away, lad)... Chigumbura has 6 Test caps for Zimbabwe.

All these men have had some sort of experience in their younger days as captains. Dilshan has already captained Sri Lanka, Suresh Raina has been captain of his franchise team in IPL and of his state team (Uttar Pradesh) in Ranji Trophy, and Elton Chigumbura has also captained Mashonaland Eagles franchise (according to his Cricinfo profile) in Zimbabwe's domestic structure.

I have no idea when was the last time three players made their ODI captaincy debuts in a tri - series... lets see if Zimbabwe turns out to be the right venue to blood them into the job!

UMPIRING HORRORS IN ANTIGUA

South Africa began the second leg (it's a many-legged tour, this one) of their Carribbean tour yesterday, playing the first one of the two Twenty20 matches scheduled against the home side, the West Indies.

The match marked a return of international cricket to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua... the ground that was in news for all the wrong reasons about a year back. But this time, there were no problems in the bowlers' run-up area or the pitch or anywhere on the ground... there was a problem only with the kind of cricket played.

West Indies team has been ordinary for quite a long time now... but I had no idea that their umpires even worse. After watching the performance of their umpires yesterday, I have almost started respecting Billy Doctrove ten times more. He is an international Elite panel umpire who has grown out of that system... with the likes of Clyde Duncan and Norman Malcolm for company and competition. Thank God that ICC follows a neutral umpire strategy in Test cricket... else, following Test cricket in West Indies would have been a nightmare! I was embarassed by their standard yesterday. If I were to explain to a non-follower why cricket is a good game to follow, yesterday's match would certainly not be the one I would choose for an example!

In 2008, the BCCI had a tie-up with Cricket Australia for training the umpires and prepare them for a spot on the Elite Panel. India, after all, has not had a representative on the Elite Panel ever since Srinivas Venkatraghavan retired in 2004. I think WICB needs a bit of the same to prevent dramas like the ones that happened yesterday.

(I know I haven't reported any of the embarassing umpiring decisions, but you can read many other accounts of the same floating over the internet for that purpose. I would recommend Luke Tagg's match report at The Boundary Rider.)

THIS DAY... FOUR YEARS AGO

All good things come to an end... this one also did! India had created a world record of having won 18 consecutive ODI matches chasing... that very skill in which it was once considered that India was shabby.

But on this day (20th May) four years ago (in 2006) at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, it came to an end... it came to an end with a slower yorker from Dwayne Bravo that beat Yuvraj Singh all ends up to rattle into his stumps... and sent India to an excruciatingly painful 1-run defeat.

Four years is a timespan between two World Cups... but for India, this four-year gap represents a different era altogether. This was a time when Rahul Dravid led the team. India had not played a Twenty20 till then. Irfan Pathan was considered a match-winner then... and regularly sent to bat at No. 3. Yuvraj Singh was lean and fit (can you believe it?)! Some guy called Mohammed Kaif also played cricket for India. Modi meant Narendra Modi (a politician always in news)... and not Lalit Modi! Preity Zinta, Shilpa Shetty and Juhi Chawla might not have owned a cricket jersey then... let alone a cricket team! And yes, the legendary Trinidadian Brian Charles Lara also played cricket and captained the West Indies side.

India had won the previous match (while chasing again) by 5 wickets with 1 ball to spare at the same Sabina Park ground. There was a feeling that Rahul Dravid will choose to bowl every time he wins the toss, no matter what the conditions. He did win the toss... he did choose to bowl. India did well in restricting West Indies to 198 for 9 in 50 overs... leaving Sarwan stranded on 98* at the end of their innings. Again, it was that Irfan Pathan fellow who impressed with his bowling... grabbing 3 - 45 in 9 overs (including the prized scalp of BC Lara).

India lost regular wickets till 60 for 4 in 17 overs. Then Raina and Yuvraj forged a 64-run stand when I typed an SMS on my cell alerting everyone that India had won 19th in a row batting second. When Raina went and soon the score became 134 for 7, I saved that SMS to drafts... determined to open it only when India sealed the deal.

As the game got closer to its climax, I became more alert (despite the fact that it was about 2 in the night in India). When No. 11 Munaf Patel was to face Bravo on the first ball of the final over with India needing 11 and Yuvraj on the other end... I was on my wit's end. I still recall that over clearly. That scrappy single by Munaf to the keeper, that outside edged four to third man by Yuvraj attempting a wild slog followed by a beautiful cover drive for a four that would have been called beautiful no matter what continent were you in... and then that ball! Needing 2 runs of 3 balls and Yuvraj on strike... I had opened my drafts folder on my mobile phone. What happened next meant that I had to edit that message before sending it to people who followed cricket through me.

West Indies had to get Yuvraj out to win... there was no other option (save a run out)! Yuvraj looked sublime on 93... it took a special delivery from Bravo to deceive him! Yuvraj was distraught... on his knees at the crease long after the match was over. Bravo was over the moon... but that is where he is every time he does something special. Not only was India's streak broken, even India was broken! They went on to lose their next 3 matches... and losing an ODI series 4-1 to West Indies was embarassing even then!

It was a fabulous match that did not end on a happy note for me. But looking back at it, I am glad that I had decided to stay up till 3 at night to watch it... it was worth the sleep deprivation that I put myself through.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

RAHUL DRAVID PART 2... AB DE VILLIERS

Mark Boucher will not be keeping wickets for South Africa in the 2 Twenty20 matches and 5 ODIs on their ongoing tour of West Indies. AB De Villiers will be handed the gloves behind the wickets.

"AB will be starting with the gloves in the limited-overs matches," Smith said ahead of the first Twenty20 international in Antigua. "There is a new selection committee and a few new ideas. We only have something like 15 ODIs before we get to India for the World Cup, so we have to make every one of them count."

Recall something? About 8 years back, a certain Rahul Dravid had donned a similar role to create a better balance in the Indian side prior to the World Cup 2003 held in South Africa. India eventually ended up as the runners up of the tournament.

There are some extremely similar stats here. Before Dravid became a regular keeper for India from 29th May 2002, he had kept wickets in 9 matches for India. AB De Villiers has kept in 8 matches till now... the last one being the Perth ODI against Australia on 30th January 2009.

De Villiers has a brilliant batting record in his short wicketkeeping career in ODIs thus far... an average of 105.25 at a strike rate of 86.98. Dravid kept in 27 out of the 28 ODIs that India played from 29th May 2002 till the start of the World Cup 2003 campaign for India on 12th February 2003 against the Netherlands. De Villiers might get fewer chances than Dravid... but the athlete that he is... De Villiers should be able to hone his skills well.

This move by the South African team management is not a long-term move... but the World Cup 2011 is not too far away. Any short term measure that can be justified in the basis that it will help the team during the World Cup is a good one.

As much as I have liked Mark Boucher over the years, it is true that he is not getting any younger and his recent performances have forced this decision. It is time he takes a good look at his game. If he feels that he can come out of his current slump, he should continue... but if he has any doubts, he should hang up his boots respectfully. There is not a lot of time for the World Cup that is to start on 19th February 2011. He does deserve a respectful exit... that's for sure!

DEAR MR. PONTING

Twenty20 tournaments should have best-of-three finals: Ricky Ponting

That was the headline of a news item on the Times of India website today. Typical, isn't it? Sour grapes, I call it. Khatte Angoor.

Ponting said that he felt sad for the boys after they lost the finals because they had won every other match in the tournament. Just one loss after six wins should not rob them of the title is what he felt. So here's a letter to Ricky Ponting expressing my views:

Dear Mr. Ponting,

Of all the people on earth, you are the last one I would have expected to make such a remark. You have won 3 World Cups and 2 Champions Trophy and numerous other ODI tournament finals... you pride yourself in the fact that cometh the hour, your team comes out strong and wins. The Aussies pride themselves in their ability to win the 'big matches'. So why are you whining now, Mr. Ponting?

Had Michael Hussey not managed those 18 runs in the last over from Saeed Ajmal, would you have said that the semi-finals should also have been best-of-three affair? After all, Australia had won 5 straight matches till then and were clearly a better team than Pakistan.

In the end, both England and Australia had just one loss each over the duration of the World Twenty20 Championship. So is it not correct that England should be called the 'Champions' because they won the 'big match'.

I know you hates losing, Mr. Ponting (who doesn't?)... and your boys hate losing too! But there is a term that you often talk about... its called the 'spirit of the game'. Taking defeat in your stride graciously is a part of upholding that very 'spirit'. Please take a note, Mr. Ponting.

Cheers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

MY SCHEDULE AHEAD

22nd May - Champions League Final: Inter Milan v Bayern Munich at Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

23rd May to 6th June - French Open 2010: Roland Garros, Paris

11th June to 11th July - FIFA World Cup 2010: South Africa

21st June to 4th July - Wimbledon Championships, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), Wimbledon, London

So my schedule is pretty straightforward till 20th July. Four days to Champions League finals... will have to stay up late to watch it live. French Open to commence on the next day. Five days after that - the 2nd biggest sporting event in the world after the Olympics... it will be the FIFA World Cup 2010.

That's when the problem will arise. The Wimbledon starts and ends during the World Cup in South Africa. Luckily, there will not be any FIFA World Cup match on 4th July... the day of Wimbledon finals. I wouldn't have missed the Wimbledon finals for anything... given by what's unfolded over the past two years... Rafael Nadal unseating the King of Grass Roger Federer in 2008 in a rain-interrupted classic before another epic five-setter between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer, where the latter reclaimed his crown after breaking his opponent's serve just once in the whole match... in the very last game of the match!

But I wonder what will happen if Andy Murray plays a semi-final on 2nd July and England's football team plays their Quarter - final match on the same day! The Queen's empire will be divided then... I am sure the Scots will follow the tennis, but Rooney and Co. will certainly not be short of support either.

To all those who are interested: I'll be supporting Inter Milan on 22nd (I quite like Jose Mourinho despite the fact that he has a Chelsea history), then Rafael Nadal over the two tennis Grand Slams (Justine Henin amongst the women), and over the World Cup, it will be Rooney and Torres... I mean, England and Spain who will have my support.

HOW TWENTY20 FAVOURS THE UNDERDOGS

When Twenty20 was invented... and particularly when international T20 matches began... a lot of people said that this format of the game will really bring the minnows into the game and that it will give a chance for them to cause upsets.

In 2007, Zimbabwe beat Australia and Bangladesh beat West Indies. In 2009, Netherlands beat England and Ireland beat Bangladesh. The theory was vindicated. In 2010, no minnow managed to beat a top-8 team. So, was it a tournament without any upsets? I don't think so. It had one of the biggest upsets of them all. England winning a World Cup tournament... it has to be an upset.

England were never the favourites... they were just 'strong contendors'! How many strong contendors have we seen fall by the wayside in many a World Cup tournaments... India in 2010, Australia in 2009, West Indies in 2007, Pakistan and India in 2007 ODI World Cup, South Africa in 2003 ODI World Cup... the list will never end.

But in my books, the English team was not even a strong contendor. South Africa and England could never be strong contendors for me... atleast till now. England have managed to change that.

All through these years, England had not managed a single ODI World Cup dsepite having reached the finals in 1979, 1987 and 1992. There is no specific reason why they could not win it... especially in 1992... they had a strong team then. So it should not be surprising that their first big win in a World Cup has come in the Twenty20 format... the format that is meant to suit the 'underdogs'!

So what say? Is someone placing their money on South Africa for the next Twenty20 World Cup? Someone said they were 'underdogs'...

Monday, May 17, 2010

CRICKET - DILUTED SEASON BEGINS

With the World Twenty20 Championship coming to an end, a hectic schedule of cricket for Indian cricket fans has come to an end. In 2010, after a non-interesting and futile ODI tri-series in Bangladesh with the hosts and Sri Lanka, India played a 2-Test and 3-ODI series back home against South Africa. That was followed by a month and a half long Indian Premier League 2010, and five days later, it was the World Twenty20.

Now, about a couple of weeks of rest will be by a tri-series in Zimbabwe with the hosts and Sri Lanka and a couple of Twenty20s with the hosts from May 28. In June, the team travels to Sri Lanka for the Asia Cup. Not a very interesting schedule, I'd say.

Even on the world cricket front, we have:
1. South Africa's tour of West Indies for 2 T20s, 5 ODIs and 3 Tests
2. New Zealand v Sri Lanka in USA for 2 T20s
3. Bangladesh's tour of England for 2 Tests and 3 ODIs (and 2 ODIs v Ireland, 1 v Scotland and 1 v Netherlands)

I can hardly imagine following each of those tournaments / tours religiously. So I consider myself lucky that I take genuine interest in other sports too. The European club football season has almost ended (just waiting for the Champions League final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich on May 22 in Madrid), but there is the FIFA World Cup in South Africa from June 11 to look forward to.

There is always the Formula One season to follow. Three Grand Prix scheduled over the next month and a half (Turkish 29-30 May, Canadian 12-13 June, European 26-27 June) will provide some action for sport - starved people like me. And then, there will also be the French Open (beginning May 23) and the Wimbledon (beginning June 21) to look forward to.

So for me, a cricket-diluted season has begun with the end of World Twenty20 at Barbados. My support will be extended to the likes of Wayne Rooney, Sebastian Vettel, Adrian Sutil, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and Justine Henin more than Suresh Raina and his Team India.

CAPTAINCY CONTRASTS

When Paul Collingwood announced that England would field after winning the toss, many minds (atleast in India) went back to that crucial day in March 2003 when Sourav Ganguly had made a similar decision against the same opponents at the Wanderers, Johannesburg. It was arguably the worst decision that Ganguly took in his stint as a captain.

My mind went back to another big final on the same ground at Johannesburg not so long back ago. In the finals of Indian Premier League 2009 held in South Africa, Anil Kumble took the same decision as Paul Collingwood (and Ganguly before him) against another Australian captain. And well, the result was not good for him either.

But the two Aussie captains then were strong players... they led from the front. Unlike the younger Michael Clarke, who, simply put, lacks the ability to play good Twenty20 cricket. So despite his leadership abilities, he will always be a liability to any batting lineup. Ponting scored a World Cup winning century after lossing the toss and batting first. Adam Gilchrist may have gone for a duck... but he had played an IPL semi-final winning knock just one match ago... when his whirlwind knock toppled the table-toppers and the favourites Delhi Daredevils. Clarke scored a laboured innings, ran out David Warner, and his eventual 27-ball 27 turned out to be his highest of the tournament. See the difference?

And now I'll come to another point that few have highlighted. Clarke's captaincy. I have read a lot of bloggers, media reports and articles that have found his captaincy impressive. In this tournament as well, many have lauded him for his rotation of bowlers and field settings. It was bound to happen considering that Australia was unbeaten till the finals. But for me, Clarke's captaincy was rubbish.

Firstly, in my books, a captain's position in the team should be without doubt. Pup's case is a whole lot different. He himself doubts his place in Australia's Twenty20 squad going by what he had to say to the press after the loss.

Secondly, a captain should be able to come up with a strong Plan B when his Plan A is not working. All through the tournament, Australia's game plan has been to unleash its fearsome bowling attack on batting lineups... and watch them disintegrate. When for the first time in the tournament, a team found a solution to this strategy as Pakistan did in the semi-finals, he looked clueless and allowed Pakistan to score a massive 190+ score. Had it not been for the brilliance of the freak Mr. Cricket Michael Hussey, Clarke would have boarded an earlier flight back home (there is no volcanic ash on the way)!

Thirdly, any player should be able to learn from his mistakes... more so a captain. I had the same complaint of some of the Indian players in this World Twenty20... I have the same complaint of Clarke. He had chance to formulate a string Plan B after scraping through against Pakistan. But he did not. Was it overconfidence? We may never know. But England exploited his lack of Plan B to attack his backup bowlers like Watson and finished the match as undisputed champs. Doesn't look so good when he is under fire, does he, Watson! It's very good to bank on the pressure created by your extremely good fast bowlers and take wickets. But it takes greater ability and a bigger heart to create the pressure yourself and take wickets.

Paul Collingwood, on the other hand, did a far better job. He entrusted with Luke Wright with the 16th over... when Australia had started gaining momentum with the help of their future captain, Cameron White. Wright, who had not bowled a single ball in the entire tournament, bowled a tight 5-run over that also included the wicket of White. Many would pin it down to luck. But what Collingwood did next was not luck... it was I believe the best move he made! Many captains would have been tempted to give Luke Wright another go in the 18th over and maybe, even the 20th over.

We will never know if that would have been a good move or not. But very often, we have seen the backup bowlers smashed at the death on being given that one additional over. Collingwood avoided that fate. The 18th and 20th over went for 21 runs in total, with a wicket of David Hussey... but we never know what Wright would have conceded. It's always better to trust the performers who have brought you to that stage, rather than do something different and mess it up.

Sachin Tendulkar promoted Harbhajan Singh up the batting order in the finals of IPL 3... in a move that backfired horribly. Questions were raised about why you'd want a Harbhajan batting before Pollard. Collingwood ensured that such questions would not need to be answered.


Little less than a week ago, I had predicted an Australian win over Sri Lanka at Kensington Oval in the finals. My prediction went horribly wrong. But I am still happy... because the better team won! Australian supporters may say that they were better than England through the tournament... and that England were almost knocked out of the tournament by Ireland. But had they gotten two full matches at Guyana, you never know what would have unfolded. In my opinion, England was better than Australia through the tournament because better teams may lose sometimes... but never with 3 overs to spare!

Friday, May 14, 2010

URGENTLY

In my previous posts, I have stressed on the need to move forward for Team India. I posted a 4-part 'Roadmap for the Future' series yesterday. One of the essential things while moving forward is taking stock of your past actions... and trying to find out what went wrong.

India went into the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007 having played only 1 international T20 match in its history. They went in not only without expectations... they also went in without much experience. And in one of the best adverts for Twenty20 cricket, India played and beat Pakistan in the final. When about 25 to 30 percent of the earth's population is following one particular cricket match, it is bound to have a domino effect.

So after the win over the arch rivals, the young Indian men who were trying to make the cut into the senior team were suddenly the toast of the nation. They were heaped with rewards, honours, glory and above all, the most corruptible thing of them all - money. With these youngsters getting fat paychecks at the IPL held soon after, they assumed that they had successfully overgrown the popularity of their seniors... the stars who had proved themselves everywhere... in every condition... in every situation... for years and years and years. All this due to one win!

The teams that played Twenty20 cricket for India since the World Cup win remained essentially same in character... but just could not manage the desired results. In the 17 international T20 matches that India has played since the World Cup final at the Wanderers, India has managed just 7 wins. And if you were to exclude the matches against Ireland, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, it would be down to 4 wins from 14 matches against the top-8 opponents in international cricket.

4 wins in 14 games! That is a winning percentage of less than 30%, despite having a stable team and captain. Do you realise that even Kings XI Punjab fared better than that this season in the IPL? And they were pathetic. So what's the word to be used for India? I am lost completely.

The members if this team need to be made to face reality. They need to be brought down from their high pedestals. Gary Kirsten has already lashed out hard... and if a man like him is lashing out hard, then the problem is extremely severe. Something needs to be done. Urgently.

PREDICTION GOES WRONG... ONCE AGAIN

All right... that's one prediction gone wrong. Or should I say... that's another prediction gone wrong! I have been bad with my predictions about cricket matches for as long as I can remember... today was just another one.

I knew I was taking a risk in forecasting a Sri Lankan win in this semi final, considering the form of the English team coming into this match. But I went by my gut feeling which told me that England would once again be a case of 'so near yet so far'. That was not to be!

England have put in yet another convincing and highly impressive performance to storm into the finals of the World Twenty20 Championship 2010 and in doing so, they have sounded a strong warning signal to both Australia and Pakistan, more to the former. They have announced to the world that they might indeed be out to write history.

Despite my failure to correctly predict the result of the first semi final, I am still going to stick by my prediction for the second one. Australia looks way too strong for Pakistan. The men from Down Under, as I have already mentioned in one of my previous blogs, have dismissed every opposition they have met on their way to the semis. Pakistan would do well to even survive the 20 overs, let alone win.

On current form, the only batting lineup that looks good enough to be of a string challenge to the Aussie bowling attack is that of England's. So its apt that they have reached the finals... overcoming their past follies. If Australia do qualify for the finals, we will undoubtedly have the best two teams of the tournament contesting the finals.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

THE HISTORY OF THE SEMI - FINALISTS

The finals of the World Twenty20 Championship 2010 will be held at Kensington Oval, Barbados on 16th May - just 3 days away. With the semi finalists confirmed, there are four possible combinations for the final:

1. Australia v England
2. Sri Lanka v Australia
3. Pakistan v Sri Lanka
4. England v Pakistan

All these above combinations have a history attached... all these matches have been played atleast once in the finals of a major tournament in the past. It may not be a rare occasion when all the four combinations have such a history attached... but it isn't too common either. The reason for it not being common is the fact that South Africa often reaches the semi finals, but never the finals!

AUS v ENG

Apart from the glorious history of Ashes, these two teams have met once in the finals of the Reliance World Cup 1987 held in India and Pakistan. Australia emerged on top in that tournament... Allan Border lifting the trophy in front of the packed Eden Gardens, Kolkata. It has been the most closely contested finals in the history of ODI World Cups till date... a match which will often be remembered as England losing it rather than Australia winning it. English captain Mike Gatting's reverse sweep to his counterpart Allan Border cost them the game... and the trophy!

SL v AUS

These teams have faced each other twice in the finals of a major tournament - the Arjuna Ranatunga - led Sri Lanka side came out on top in the Wills World Cup 1996 at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore before Ricky Ponting's men conquered a hat trick of World Cup wins in 2007 at the very same Kensington Oval, Barbados where the finals of this tournament are to be held.

The Sri Lankan side of 1996 was a treat to watch because they revolutionalised the way One Day cricket was to be played in future. Ranatunga was a true visionary... and he had the results to show for it.

In 2007, the formidable Australian side gave a fitting farewell to the illustrious career of Glenn McGrath by winning the tournament. As a result, they now hold a formidable record of not having lost a single ODI World Cup match in this century.

PAK v SL

These two Asian giants met in the finals of the last World Twenty20 Championship in 2009 in England. Sri Lanka were the form team of the tournament with TM Dilshan playing the best cricket of his life. Pakistan, on the other hand, had upset the other form team, South Africa, in the semis to reach the finals. Eventually, riding on the brilliance of Shahid Afridi, the most charasmatic character of their team, it was to be Pakistan to reach the finishing line at the home of cricket - Lord's, London.

Unexpectedly, the winning captain (Younis Khan) retired from Twenty20 cricket immediately after... as he wanted to leave this form of cricket on a high. Very few in Pakistan have had such fortune.

ENG v PAK

England were arguably the second best team of the 1992 Benson and Hedges World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand till the finals (New Zealand were arguably the best). Pakistan had just sneaked through into the semi finals, but refused to look back after that. Riding on the impressive captaincy of the old warhorse Imran Khan, Pakistan beat England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to lift the coveted trophy for the first time in their history. Wasim Akram showed on the biggest stage in his career what he was capable of... and he went about his job in a similar manner for the rest of his career. It also brought to an end anothrer glorious career of one of the greatest allrounders of the game, the Pakistan captain Imran Khan.

Which story will be created this time round? Who will be smiling the most on their flight back home?

FOUR SEMI - FINALS: PREVIEW PART 2

World Twenty20 Championship:
1st Semi - Final on 13th May at St. Lucia: England v Sri Lanka
2nd Semi - Final on 14th May at St. Lucia: Australia v Pakistan

World Women's Twenty20 Championship:

1st Semi - Final on 13th May at St. Lucia: Australia Women v India Women
2nd Semi - Final on 14th May at St. Lucia: West Indies Women v New Zealand Women

Preview of AUS v PAK:

Australia has been the best side in this tournament so far. Their loss to Zimbabwe in the warm-up matches seems ages ago. They haven't looked extremely comfortable at all times... but like all the successful Aussie teams of the past, they have managed to overcome all the difficult situations and ride their way into the semis. Like they say, a man for every occasion!

On the batting front, if openers Watson and Warner fire together against Pakistan (which I believe is a distinct possibility), then the tickets to Barbados can be confirmed straightaway. Their middle order looks a little suspect though. Michael Clarke's batting, as well as his abstentions, have now become a bit of a pathetic joke. Cameron White came to the party against Sri Lanka... or else it was a lost game. I am not sure Brad Haddin at No. 4 is a good ploy.

But any deficiency anywhere in the batting order is hidden by the bowling attack at hand. Tait has been bowling more and spraying less, Nannes has been his usual self and Johnson has been the perfect follow up as the No. 3 pacer. Add to it Watson's capabilities with the ball and Smith's successful spin, Australia have it in them to restrict... even bowl out any opponent on earth. And the results show it. Australia have managed to pick up a mind - boggling 50 opposition wickets in 5 matches. Except for their very first match against Pakistan, they were never even needed to bowl the entire quota of 20 overs.

Pakistan are the most undeserving semi-finalists of the four... having won only 2 of their 5 games. They looked good against Bangladesh in their first match... but that is not saying much. Then came the three defeats - Australia, England and New Zealand. Their inability to chase 134 against New Zealand should worry them. Their defeat against South Africa should not count for much... it was more to do with South Africa's inability to rise to the occasion than it was Pakistan's effort.

For the 1st semi-final, I said that we might have an interesting contest on hand. I cannot say the same here. I expect a one-sided battle with the Australian attack once again picking up 10 wickets. Australia could not have asked for better opponents for the semis. For Pakistan, it is a chance to gain some measure of revenge for the thrashing they received during the Australian summer. But will they be up to it? I really doubt it. The defending champions deserve to be shown the door.

Preview of WI Women v NZ Women:

The hosts began in a very aggressive manner with Deandra Dottin scoring the fastest international century ever in Twenty20 format - 38 balls. Their score of 175 / 5 against South Africa has remained the highest score so far in the tournament. They held their nerves in a close finish against the defending champions England... knocking them out of the tournament with a 2-run win.

New Zealand, like Australia, has been unbeaten, and never looked better. Their wins have been convincing... and their bowling has been good. They have picked up the wickets at regular intervals and never let the opposition scoring get out of hand. They might already be dreaming of a Trans Tasman final.

In the semi-finals, unless West Indies manage to create another hurricane performance like in their first match, I think New Zealand should be able to win it comfortably. They lost the finals last year at Lord's to the home team. So maybe, they need to face the home team to be eliminated. But on a more serious note, I think that they might well have their name on the title this time... doing one better than last year.

FOUR SEMI - FINALS: PREVIEW PART 1

World Twenty20 Championship:

1st Semi - Final on 13th May at St. Lucia: England v Sri Lanka
2nd Semi - Final on 14th May at St. Lucia: Australia v Pakistan

World Women's Twenty20 Championship:

1st Semi - Final on 13th May at St. Lucia: Australia Women v India Women
2nd Semi - Final on 14th May at St. Lucia: West Indies Women v New Zealand Women

Preview of ENG v SL:

England are one of the two form teams of the tournament. Before their match against New Zealand, I had a feeling that they were over reliant on their star player Kevin Pietersen. But the way they went about dashing the Kiwi hopes of a semi-final was an eye opener. Rarely has the world seen an English cricket team so clinical and methodic in execution of its plans!

Apart from the limp to a mediocre 120 / 8 against Ireland, the English batting line up has never failed to cross 150, their best being 191 / 5 against West Indies in a match which they lost due to the anamolies of Duckworth Lewis method. Their bowling was untested during the initial group stages as the persistent rains at Guyana meant that their bowlers managed only 8.4 overs in the first 2 matches. However, the most striking feature of their bowling in the Super Eight stage has been the fact that they have managed to pick 25 wickets out of a possible 30. Its hard to imagine that at one stage of the tournament, they were in danger of being knocked out due to one bad batting performance and the numbers of Duckworth Lewis!

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have had an up and down journey to the semis. They lost their first match - a low scoring thriller against New Zealand lost in the last over. Then they rode on the brilliance of Jayawardene to defeat Zimbabwe and West Indies, the latter in the Super Eight. But then came a very embarassing loss to the Aussies - a loss of 81 runs after being bundled out for 87. Fighting for survival, Sri Lanka then pulled off a last ball win with a six against India just after having knocked them out of the tournament. It was exactly the kind of win they needed to boost their confidence. Such close finishes intill in teams a new belief and a greater momentum. Sri Lanka will try to make the most of it.

The match promises to be an exciting affair. England will have the services of Kevin Pietersen once again... but there will also be a lot of expectations from them, a situation that they are not used to. Most observers believe that England deserve to be in the final... I feel the same - they deserve to be there, but I doubt that they will win the semis. Sri Lanka have a better track record at handling the kind of pressure that a semi-final carries. Mendis, dropped from the game against India, might make a return. Can KP be the talisman that many English sides of the past have longed for?

Preview of AUS Women v IND Women:

I have not followed the Women's version of this tournament as closely as the men's... but I have kept an eye on all the results. Australia has been unbeaten so far. They were lucky to take the 2 points in their opening match against the defending champions England after a tie even in the Super Over (they won on the rule of Sixes Countback). However, they were exemplary in their next match, beating the South Africans by 24 runs - the only blemish being that they couldn't bat out the 20 overs (bowled out with 3 balls to spare). They then went on to defeat the hosts West Indies by 9 runs to determine the group toppers and the chance to play in the 1st semi-finals.

India started disappointingly, losing to the Kiwis by 10 runs. However, they followed it up with demolition jobs over the neighbours - Pakistan and Sri Lanka. For the second time in as many years, this team has outperformed their more fancied male counterparts. In the semi-finals, the key will be to target the fragile, yet combustible, batting line up of the Australians. The Australians have been dismissed twice and have lost 27 wickets out of a possible 30 on their way to the semis.

India, on the other hand, have lost only 12 wickets in the tournament so far and the top order has clicked well. The flip side is that the middle order has had only one below par outing against the Kiwis. Their batters, revolving around Mithali Raj, will have to be wary of the fact that Australians are capable of scoring at a very fast clip. They will be hoping that their bowling partnership of captain Jhulan Goswami and Amita Sharma will take care of that problem.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

ROADMAP FOR THE FUTURE PART 4

(contd...)

TWENTY20 CRICKET -

I think that organising more India A tours to England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand should help our squad of future 'Twenty20 specialists'. The recent experience has shown that non-batsman-friendly conditions upset our current lot immediately and they can do no more than look fools. This needs to be eliminated... and BCCI would do well by arranging for wet-tennis-ball-on-concrete-pitches practice sessions for young batsmen.

Also, spinners need to be coached in such a way that they can be attacking options even on unhelpful pitches. As I have already said, restricting the runs is a strategy that may work against a few... not all. Good batsmen will always work their way out. As far as the pacers are concerned, they need to learn bowling their yorkers more consistently... I don't know how are you supposed to train them for that.

The cricket administation in India needs to take some urgent steps. I know that the tour of South Africa at the end of the year is very important considering our Test Rankings, the history and the newly-built rivalry. But considering that the World Cup will begin in about a month's time from the end of that tour, the selectors must ensure that they withdraw any key player who shows even a slight niggle during that tour. Even if they lose in South Africa as a result of this, all will be forgiven if Dhoni lifts a glittering trophy at Wankhede!

ROADMAP FOR THE FUTURE PART 3

(contd...)

ODI CRICKET -

The World Cup is in India. So from a short term point of view, it is good that the crux of the Indian ODI team's middle order today loves to play on the sub-continental pitches. With Sehwag, Tendulkar and Gambhir, I do not find the need to tinker with the top 3 positions. India has found success in their formula of 4 specialist bowlers + 1 part time all rounder type spinner. The 4 bowlers are likely to be Zaheer, Nehra, Harbhajan and Praveen Kumar. The part time spinnig allrounder is likely to be Yusuf Pathan. The 4 middle order positions are likely to be filled by Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli / Rohit Sharma.

I know that the ball will not bounce a lot in the sub-continent... but I still feel that Yusuf Pathan should have been dropped from India's team to Zimbabwe and instead, included in India A's team to England. That would have been beneficial for him in a big way! Selectors need to give enough opportunities to the other fringe players as well... so that they can be ready as replacements in the event of an injury. Considering the amount of cricket we are playing, injuries are very likely to happen.

(contd...)

ROADMAP FOR THE FUTURE PART 2

(contd...)

TEST CRICKET -

The Test side is unlikely to see many changes in the next 12 months or so. We have 3 Tests away to SL, 2 Tests home to NZ, 2 proposed Tests home to Australia and 3 Tests away to SA in the schedule right now. After this though (or during this depending on the form), the seniors in the side might decide to hang up their boots. Their places will have to be taken. Also up for grabs is the place of Yuvraj Singh in this side. If Gambhir's struggles continue, he might also face the axe (it would be a wrong move if it does happen).

The candidates to fill up India's middle order are Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Manish Pandey, Cheteshwar Pujara, Yusuf Pathan, Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane, etc. I think that in the coming months, selectors should ask Yuvraj to work on his fitness and give his place to a potential replacement. I think that keeping a keen eye on the upcoming India A tour to England will give us a good idea of the abilities and temperament of the likes of Pujara, Pandey and Rahane.

In the pace bowling department, it is time to bring Ashish Nehra back into the side to accompany Zaheer Khan, who needs to be treated with care now, because he has shown that he is prone to injuries these days. The third pacer, if needed, is a question mark. There are names like Praveen Kumar, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, S Sreesanth, Vinay Kumar and others... but one of them needs to step up. I like Sreesanth's bowling (only when he is in rhythm) better than the rest (when they are in their rhythm)... but Sreesanth is... well, Sreesanth. I think Praveen Kumar should be given a go in Test cricket now, especially on the Sri Lanka tour. Spin department looks good because we never need more than two spinners to play in a Test. With Harbhajan around, there is a healthy competition between Mishra and Ojha. I feel that if Bhajji continues to bowl flat in Tests, he should be dropped once to let him know that he can be dispensed with.

(contd...)

ROADMAP FOR THE FUTURE PART 1

I am still extremely angry at Dhoni and his team for their performances in the World Twenty20 Championship, mainly because they knew what they were going to get... some nice chin music... but they did nothing about it. Those who know Hindi will understand when I say that Team India played with an "आ बैल मुझे मार" attitude.

But what's done is done... there is no 'Undo' button in life. What happens now? The ideal thing to do now is that while the boys go to Zimbabwe for another tour, the main men in Indian cricket - the captain, coach, selectors, senior players and the team management should come together to devise a roadmap for the future.

What are the fixtures scheduled in the near future? After the Zimbabwe tour for ODIs and T20s, there will be the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka. There is another Sri Lanka tour for three Tests, some ODIs... and there may be a home Test series against Australia. Then, there will be the big and extremely important tour to South Africa. And after that, the biggest prize of them all - the ODI World Cup 2011 to be played in the sub-continent.

Lets try and build a roadmap for the future on our own. What are the key facts to be kept in mind?

A. The trio of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman cannot play Test Cricket for India forever. The youngsters will need to step up and take their place.

B. Sachin Tendulkar is likely to quit One Day Cricket after World Cup 2011.

C. IPL is likely to continue the way it has been planned (with 10 teams next year), irrespective of any number of controversies and scandals that may arise.

D. It would be foolish to let go of Dhoni as a captain... I think a break now should do him some good.

(contd...)

CRTICISM GALORE FOR DHONI

All right, the semi-finalists have been confirmed... there were no surprises in store yesterday. India lost a last-ball thriller to Sri Lanka. And West Indies, needing a 24-run win to advance, were bundled out early and lost comprehensively to the mighty Aussies.

Semi Final Fixtures:

England v Sri Lanka
Australia v Pakistan

As I have predicted a couple of times already in my previous blogs, the finals will be played between Australia and Sri Lanka at Kensington Oval, Barbados.

Back again to India's poor performances on the tour. Lets take it step by step. The team was humiliated in the last edition of World Twenty20 in England by fast, pacy and bouncy bowling. They drew a lot of flak for their performances then.

But it was soon forgotten because the team soon became the World No. 1 Test Team. But that was a different team. That Team India had Virendra Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman at No. 2, 3, 4 and 5. This team had Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma / Yuvraj Singh / MS Dhoni / Yusuf Pathan at those positions. A difference in class altogether.

Then came a few meaningless ODI tournaments against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh before another Test series where India retained the No. 1 ranking. A win in the 3-ODI series followed, which was again masterminded by Sachin Tendulkar's 200*, who is a part of that team and not this team.

And then came along the IPL. A lot of blame of India's performances has been placed on the rich shoulders of IPL. There were some good performances, some sorry ones and lots of controversies. But in general, it was clear by the end of the tournament that the players are tired of all the cricket and travel. But they did not have any rest to look forward to.

Instead, the World Twenty20 Championship came along... and the players made their way to the Carribbean islands. They opted not to play any warm up matches... and they can be forgiven for that in my opinion for two reasons. One, is was a tight schedule... you also have to get rid of the jet lag. Two, their first fixture was a warm up game in itself (no disrespect meant for Afghanistan... I, for one, am delighted at their progress in cricket).

Their first match went on expected lines: an easy win over the Afghan side. Murali Vijay impressed in his first appearance in the India blues. Then the matches went on unexpected lines.

India beat South Africa comprehensively riding on Suresh Raina's 101. This team again made merry when on a slow pitch. They entered the Super Eights looking falsely formidable. And then, the same old story replayed again. Three more defeats in Super Eight matches means India has lost six consecutive Super Eight matches in World Twenty20s. And almost all of them to the same script - bounce them out.

I have been extremely disappointed by Dhoni's strategies in the Super Eight matches. The Kensington Oval pitch was not meant for a part time spin based attack. One can understand him misreading the pitch during the first match against Australia... but when you repeat the same mistake on the very same pitch, you need to be pulled up.

About yesterday's match now... the game went along fine for India till 11 overs when India was well placed at 96 for 1. Then Gambhir went. That was also fine. Wickets are bound to fall. But then I saw my fears come true. The captain had promoted himself to No. 4. My friends were of the opinion that it Dhoni might promote Yusuf Pathan up the order. But I had a feeling at the back of my mind that this is what Dhoni likes... dead flat pitch, not a fast bowling attack, India well-placed... basically, a batsman's wish when he knows that he is not a good enough batsman!

Dhoni came... and the momentum went out of the window. By the end of the innings, he had managed a 19-ball 23 not out with 1 six... at the end of an innings with wickets in hand, this is unacceptable. When you have the ability to hit a clean straight ball, why would you want to pre-meditate paddle sweeps and make yourself look like a complete fool (this applies to AB De Villiers also)?

India managed only 73 in the last 10... and Dhoni has to take the flak for it. When you are entering in the 12th over, you are responsible for the slog over acceleration... more so if you are a captain. Dhoni's performances, with the bat as well as in the field as a leader, were extremely disappointing. Indeed, most of the players put in sad performances.

Harbhajan, effective in all the earlier matches, finally came across a man ready to take the attack to him in the form of TM Dilshan... and the result? Bhajji withered under the attack and helped Sri Lankans to a few more easy runs with flatter bowling. When you do not bowl to pick up wickets, it may work against South Africa or England, but it will not work everytime. You need to be aware of this fact.

I have already expressed my views of India's batsmen and their ability to play the short ones in here. A last word now on the IPL. I don't think it will be fair to blame IPL for this debacle. Even if the players would have been fresh, it wouldn't have improved their technique against short balls.

IPL is, like everything else in life, a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly (that's Lalit Modi)! It has helped India unearth a pool of talent that even the administrators did not know existed. They got a chance to rub shoulders with their heroes... learn from them.

The only problem with the IPL is that it is scheduled just before the World Twenty20 leaving the players tired and exhausted. In my mind, it is clear that an ICC tournament is a lot more important than an IPL. So the IPL administrators should have been a little more sensible in their scheduling. I know they didn't have a big window... but had Lalit Modi been a little more cooperative with everyone else, then even ICC would have cooperated with him in creating a decent window for his brainchild.

Once the IPL fatigue wears off, and players of that team (SRT, RSD, Viru and VVS) return, the team will look a lot better... on paper as well as in results. I just hope that this time, true learning takes place. If this experience is also swept away under the carpet, as it happenned the last time round, then God help the future of Indian cricket!

WI NEED A 24-RUN WIN

West Indies have won the toss in the last Super Eight match of the ICC World Twenty20 Championship against Australia and elected to bat first at St. Lucia.

The last-ball win by Sri Lanka over India a few minutes ago has made the situation a lot tougher for the hosts. Had India managed to hold Sri Lanka away from victory, West Indies would have needed a win to go through. Now, with Sri Lanka having won with a six, West Indies will need to defeat Australia by 24 runs to edge Sri Lanka out on NRR.

Harsha Bhogle has just said on air that West Indies will need a 23-run win, but my calculations suggest that would leave them just a fraction short of Sri Lanka's run rate. On the other hand, they will need to win by 82 runs if they want to top the group and face Pakistan in the semis. Or further, they will have to beat them by 151 runs to eliminate them from the Championship altogether. What say!

On a more serious note, if Chris Gayle fires like he did against India... or like he did against Australia (Brett Lee in particular) in the previous World Twenty20, there would be a distinct chance for West Indies. Their best chance to qualify would be to get Michael Clarke in to bat early... and then not get him out. The longer he stays on the crease, the lower the scoring rate will tend to be.

Sri Lanka's middle order has fired well in the last two games... which is good for them if they get into the semis. They (or West Indies) will be facing England in the semis (unless there is an 82-run win)... which should give them a positive feeling. Even if Kevin Pietersen does return, facing England in the semis is a lot less threatening than facing any other team, maybe except South Africa.

There is no doubt that Gayle is the single most important player in this match. He is walking out to bat with Chanderpaul now. And I am about to sleep now. Let the match begin...

HIGHS AND LOWS AS KAPUGEDARA DOES A MIANDAD

A few hours back, I was on a high! I was delighted on hearing the news of Vishwanathan Anand's win over Veselin Topalov in the World Chess Championship. I wasn't expecting him to win with the black. In fact, I was hoping for a draw so that the Tie Breakers could come in... where Vishy would have had an advantage as he is one of the best players in the world at rapid chess. Considering that I have been a big Vishy fan since my school days, I was truly elated.

I was helped by the fact that when I heard this news, India was batting beautifully... with Gambhir and Raina looking good. Then, Gambhir fell. Dhoni walked in. I was expecting him to promote himself, even though I didn't want him to do so. It felt ominous...

Soon, my high started wearing off. Dhoni wasted the opportunity of batting on a flat track by struggling to an unbeaten 19-ball 23. India limped on to a disappointing 163 in their 20 overs. I was low by then. Soon, Jayawardene, the form batsman of the tournament, clipped the first ball he faced beautifully for a four. The mood went from low to lower.

Then Nehra got Mahela to edge one and Yusuf held on. Next over, the debutant Vinay Kumar got the veteran Sanath Jaisuriya to play one into the hands of Dinesh Karthik at square leg. Sri Lanka two down in 2 overs. The high had returned. The fact that Dilshan was out of nick helped that feeling.

Soon Dilshan found the middle of the bat as well as the boundaries consistently. No wickets fell. Harbhajan, India's most economical bowler, was thrashed in his opening over. Low again.

Dilshan got out. A flicker of hope. Then Sangakkara went on a rampage. Hit a few quick sixes. Hope diminished. Sangakkara bowled by the young debutant. Another flicker of hope. Angelo Mathews takes over. Piyush Chawla thrashed in the 18th over. Hopes gone!

I was confident that Sri Lanka will not be winning the game... but they will certainly knock India out. When, Suresh Raina's leap in the air still ended a couple of inches short of the ball which sailed over for a six, it was confirmed. INDIA ELIMINATED FROM WORLD TWENTY20 2010 was the message that flashed! What a shame!

And then Sri Lanka did something that I was confident they wouldn't manage to do. They pulled off a win... Kapugedara pulled off a Javed Miandad. He hit a last ball six when 3 were required to win. An exciting finish... especially for the Sri Lankan fans. The West Indians looked crestfallen after the six. Their task has become near impossible now.

I will be back tomorrow after some sleep to continue with my Dhoni-bashing. Till then, congratulations to Sri Lanka! And of course, Vishy Anand!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

HATS OFF TO YOU, VISHY ANAND!

This is a cricket blog... but I am a sports lover. All sports. I have already placed a countdown to the FIFA World Cup 2010 and even the Theme Song for the World Cup - Wavin' Flag (Celebration Mix) by K'Naan. And now, this blog will be about Chess.

I have just heard the news (on the Cricinfo commentary, no less) that Vishwanathan Anand has won the 12-game World Championship battle against Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria at Sofia. He was playing black (which is always a disadvantage) in the last game of the 12-game match... a game in which Topalov was expected to go aggressively for a the kill.

I haven't read the entire details of the game, but a win with a black against an opponent as tough as Topalov is always commendable... more so in a World Championship battle... all the more if it is the final game with the scores tied at 5.5 - 5.5.

Topalov had played a lot of mental games (or 'sledging' as we would have called it in cricket) before the Championship began. He had said that he will not be accepting draws and will play according to the 'Sofian' rules. He has been well answered by Vishy Anand. Even by the Sofian rules of point-scoring, Anand would have won the World Championship... by a bigger point margin at that.

When Anand lost the first match of the World Championship, I was worried... because it was reported that Anand shouldn't have lost that game. It was his mistake rather than Topalov's tactical briliance. I was worried that Topalov might have been successful in 'mentally disintegrating' Anand with his word play before the board play began.

But there you go... Anand has won it! He let his game do the talking and once again, I can proudly say: "Jai Ho"!

D/L EQUATION TO AFFECT NRR?

I was on the Cricinfo home page when my friend asked me to check what is the weather expected to play like at St. Lucia when India takes on Sri Lanka in the penultimate Super Eight fixture today.

I went to the 'Live Scorecard' page of the match and checked the weather. It read 'Mostly Cloudy' at 29 degrees Celcius. Is that supposed to indicate that there are fair chances of rain during the day when two matches are to be played?

St. Lucia has been one of the 'wetter' Carribbean islands... and if any of the two matches today were to be rained out, it would be the end of the road for India's campaign. Even if the matches are not rained out, but affected by rain, then the lovely couple called Duckworth - Lewis comes into the picture.

Now, I have not idea whatsoever as to what happens at the time of Net Run Rate calculations if the results are based on D/L calculations. I welcome anyone who knows about this to enlighten me.

I just hope that the D/L angle, if it does come into play, does not jeopardise India's slim chances of qualifying for the semi-finals. There is certain optimism in Indian fans about today's match. The reasons are manifold.

First, a 20-run win does not sound too much of a task to achieve. It is not something that requires extraordinary effort. Secondly, most Indian fans do not consider Sri Lanka as a tough opponent (I don't know why!) and the fact that Sri Lanka themselves are struggling a bit helps the optimism in India. Lastly, the fact that Pakistan got through from a seemingly impossible situation yesterday has created some more flutters of hope.

In about 4 and a half hours from now, the situation will be clear. Or atleast as clear as it can be! We will still have to wait for the result of WI - Aus match. Keeping the fingers crossed!

AUS BEATS SL / WI / IND TO WIN WORLD TWENTY20

Two of the semi finalists of the ICC World Twenty20 Championship have been confirmed. England and Pakistan. And it would be safe to say that Australia is also confirmed.

So there is a fight on for the last spot between three teams - Sri Lanka, West Indies and India.

This last spot is a very important one - not because it is a semi-final spot, but because the team that will take that spot will play England in the semi-finals. Now, I know that England is playing good cricket, Kevin Pietersen is in roaring form, even Tim Bresnan is coming up with match-winning performances... but I do not expect them to proceed any further in the tournament. Losing semi-finalists is a good enough performance by any English team in an ICC tournament.

While we all wonder about South Africa's choking tendencies, we tend to forget that England team is much the same. Only, their losses are never called 'choking' because no one really expects them to proceed further. With good reason.

This time though, there are expectations. And pretty high ones at that. Will that change anything? I really doubt it. And that is why, the two fixtures today become all the more important.

Sri Lanka and India have a better chance than West Indies of beating England with their spinners on the St. Lucia pitch in the semi-finals. This implies that the team who profits from the day's play will have a very realistic chance of facing Australia in the finals (oh yes, Australia is going to smash Pakistan like they have done all through their summer)!

All this means that Australia is going to win this tournament (no, no, no please!), I see no other alternative. The only chance of them losing is in the semi-finals... and I don't see it happening with Pakistan as their opponents. Once they reach the finals, they are bound to win it. The last time they lost the finals of a major multi-team (more than 3 teams) tournament was way back in 1996 to an Arjuna Ranatunga-led Sri Lanka. The only other time in history where they have lost such a final is in another generation - the 1975 World Cup final loss to Clive Lloyd's West Indies.

So, here's my verdict: Australia beat Sri Lanka / West Indies / India to lift the World Twenty20 Championship.

BRESNAN, MORGAN WIN PAKISTAN A CHANCE TO DEFEND TITLE

Before I talk about the game that has just finished, a hearty congratulations to Kevin Pietersen on becoming a proud father of a baby boy. And some cheer for the Indian supporters as well: the women's team defeated Sri Lanka today by 71 runs to seal a place in the 1st semi-final against Australian women's side at Gros Islet on 13th May.

Now, England have beaten New Zealand by 3 wickets with 5 balls to spare to eliminate them from the World Twenty20 Championship 2010, and allow Pakistan a chance to defend the title that they won last year.

New Zealand, to their credit, put up a very good fight even when England looked like they would get to the target of 150 comfortably. They kept on picking wickets, took the good catches (especially Daniel Vettori), and exerted pressure even when England had the game all but won.

In the end, the onslaught from Tim Bresnan after a calm innings from Eoin Morgan (again) proved too hot for them to handle. The English win will now be celebrated right across from London to Lahore and Manchester to Multan.

For England, the best part of the win will be the fact that they have topped the group and thus, will not need to face Australia in the semi-finals (I guess it is pretty safe to assume that Australia will be topping the other group). Pakistan, despite being glad of a chance to play in the semis, will be wary of facing Australia in the semis. The Australian team has dented Pakistan's confidence in a big way over the summer... and Pakistan will face a big test of their mental strength when they take guard against the men from Down Under.

The interesting aspect of the result is that the team that had not won a single Super Eight game when the day began has now ended up in the semi-finals. India will be hoping for a similar fate tomorrow! Or else, it will be the second straight ICC event where the women's team will have outperformed the men's team from India!

Monday, May 10, 2010

INCOMPLETE WITHOUT STUART BROAD

A Twenty20 World Cup is incomplete without something eventful happening with Stuart Broad.

In South Africa 2007, he got his name etched in history for being at the receiving end of the famous Yuvraj Singh onslaught where he was hit for 6 sixes in an over. In the process, he also became the first pacer in history to hold this dubious record in any form of the game.

Then in England 2009, some may recall that he bowled the last over of the opening match of the tournament against the Netherlands. The Dutch had required 7 to win and Broad went on to bowl an over where he missed 1 catch and 3 pretty straight forward run out chances (4 chances in 1 over, what the hell!) to allow them the 7 runs and a famous win.


He wore a similar look on his face at the end of both those overs... two unforgettable overs for those who watched them live. Unfortunately, I missed both those overs and had to watch them in the highlights package. Maybe, I shouldn't watch an England match for him to entertain us once again.

Or maybe, he is saving it for the final. A grand final against the bitter rivals from Down Under - Australia!

CHOKING ONCE AGAIN

It's happenned once again! South Africa, alias 'Chokers', have missed another chance to win a major ICC Trophy. It does not matter whether it is Hansie Cronje or Shaun Pollock or Greame Smith at the helm. The choking invariably happens.

Their loss has ensured a semi-final berth for England. Who'd have thought that they will be the first one to be assured of a semi-final berth amongst all the Super Eight teams (Reminder: Australia is yet to be assured of a semi-final berth, though they are a safe bet to make it through). But the bigger shock to me was that South Africa have become the first team to be eliminated from the tournament.

They were one of the pre - tournament favourites... except for their 'choking' reputation. There were the usual pre-tournament talks by their players that this time they have a better team, a good spirit... they are the 'real deal'. And the same old story... the end of the road! Considering that the next ICC tournament is to be played in the sub-continent, I think that it would be pretty safe to assume that they will have to wait for atleast a couple of more years to have another decent shot at the ICC silverware. They are increasingly resembling Arsenal FC - loads of talents, lack of results.

Pakistan have given themselves a chance to defend the trophy. It was an impressive win over the Proteas side... but they still need to pray for an English win without Kevin Pietersen for a confirmed semi-final berth. New Zealand, on the other hand, don't need to depend on prayers. They just need to beat the Poms to be through to the semi-finals for the 2nd time in the small history of this tournament.

The next 24 hours will answer a lot of questions. A lot of prayers will be answered and a lot will go unanswered. Amen!

SAVE OUR TIGER!