Wednesday, June 30, 2010

TWO CHAMPIONS... SIMILAR STORIES...

Australia have managed a decent 290 - 5 in their 50 overs in the dead rubber (oh sorry, what was it... "playing for pride") 4th ODI at The Kennington Oval, London. Just a little less than 6 miles to the south west, Roger Federer has just been handed his 2nd straight Quarter Final exit from a Tennis Grand Slam event at the Wimbledon by Czech Tomas Berdych 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.


It just rings a bell in my head. Two champions... both losing their aura... both signalling the end of an era! Australia dominated cricket through the 1990s and the 2000s. The decade to come looks like a different story! England have been consistently performing well in the longer version of the game and have shown good form over the last 2 years in the shorter versions as well. India have been consistent, ranked No. 1 and 2 in Tests and ODIs respectively. And then there is South Africa, who play well throughout the year except for the business end of ICC tournaments.


In case of Roger Federer... he reached the semi-finals of 23 straight Grand Slam events. With the highest number of Men's Singles Grand Slam titles ever and numerous other records in his bag, he is widely acknowledged as the best Men's Tennis player ever. Through the later part of his career, his one biggest challenge was Spaniard Rafael Nadal. However, now he has been challenged by others as well... Serbian Novak Djokovic (Australian Open 2008), Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro (US Open 2009), Swede Robin Soderling (French Open 2010) and now Czech Tomas Berdych (Wimbledon 2010).


This does mean that the two sports should now become more interesting as the teams / players are more evenly matched and no particular team / player radiates an aura of invincibility. Waiting to see how my prediction pans out...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

EOIN MORGAN: MAN ENOUGH?

Eoin Morgan, you beauty! Another brilliant finish... and Morgan's now scored an ODI century against the mighty Australians at Rose Bowl. No mean feat that! And to top it all, it was a match-winning century... guiding his team to the finish!


Eoin Morgan is some talent! A lot of people talk about his switch from Ireland to England. I am of the opinion that allowing such switches might harm cricket in the long run. It will hinder the development of smaller cricketing nations... and will stagnate the game... not allowing it to grow!


But then I also wonder... had Morgan continued playing for Ireland, would we have seen him play such delightful knocks? Certainly, he would not have had a shot at Test cricket. He might have just been awarded the Best Associate Player by ICC... and it would have ended there. The switch to England was in his best interests... for his development as a cricketer.


However, it does not end here. To really justify this switch, he must do a lot more for English cricket! He must play well consistently over a longer period of time. He has had a tremendous last few months... but the purple patch will not last forever. He is bound to be pulled back. There will come the troughs! Then, he could become the next Ed Joyce and disappear from the English setup... thinking of a return to Irish cricket. Or he can overcome those moments and emerge bigger and better.


A lot of talent in every field is wasted because talent in itself is not enough. The ability to rise from your darkest hours is what marks you as different from the rest of the field. That is what separates the man from the boys. Does Eoin Morgan have it in him? Only time will tell if this boy can mature into a man...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

TIME FOR CRICKET TO CASH IN...

Shahid Afridi has won the toss and decided to that Pakistan will bat first against India at Dambulla in the 4th match of the Asia Cup 2010.

There's hardly been a build - up to this match... the FIFA World Cup is grabbing all the media bytes. Rooney's words into the camera are being shown more often than Dhoni practicing in the nets on news channels. It's weird.

It's extremely weird to see a cricket crazy nation get so engrossed in a Footbal World Cup (in which the only participants from India are performers in the Opening Ceremony and one of the sponsorers) that they seem the least interested in a India - Pakistan cricket match. In fact, I have even come across a few who did not know that India was to play Pakistan today till they saw the newspapers do a preview today.

And there were another kind: those who didn't know that India is currently playing in a cricket tournament! What on earth is wrong! India's performance in recent times has not been too inspiring... but when Indians do not know or are uninterested in following an Ind - Pak cricket match, something is definitely wrong!

A win here for India will get a few more fans to support the team... and a few more eyeballs into cricket. Considering that there have been a few upsets at FIFA World Cup and some of the favourite teams like England, Spain and France are struggling to qualify for the Pre - Quarterfinals, this might be the best chance for cricket to cash in!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

INDIA - PAKISTAN... FINALLY!

India completed an easy victory over Bangladesh in the Asia Cup 2010 at Dambulla. The 6-wicket win would have, to a certain extent, restored the fans' faith in the side... which had plummeted to an unprecedented low after the Zimbabwe tri - series.


The regular India XI (minus Sachin Tendulkar) looked good... sure and composed. The break should have done them... though their thorough test will come in the next match... against arch - rivals Pakistan.


Pakistan were impressive in their 16-run loss to Sri Lanka in the opener. Afridi's century (though I did not see it) sounded a captain's knock... albeit in a losing cause. India will need the big men to fire in the big match against Pakistan. Sehwag is currently India's best batsman in this format (I don't care what ICC Rankings say about MS Dhoni!) and he will need to fire along with Zaheer Khan, who is India's bowling spearhead. Dhoni will not be able to depend on Sehwag again for his golden arm figures of 4 - 6 in 2.5 overs.


Though I am not overly interested in the ongoing Asia Cup, I will be interested in watching India take on Pakistan... simply because I don't know when will I next see this rivalry unfold again! There will be spice in the contest... there always is, especially when the relationship between the two nations is not at its best.


Here's hoping that the match lives up to my high expectations!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

GROUP OF DEATH IN ACTION TODAY

The 'Group of Death' will be in action today at the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa. An intriguing battle between Portugal and Ivory Coast will be followed by the 5-time champions Brazil taking on North Korea.


PORTUGAL V. IVORY COAST


Will Didier Drogba play? That is the biggest question on most people's minds. I really hope that he is fit enough to participate... at least as a substitute. It'll just add a lot more spice to the match.


After gaining a huge fan following and stardom over the last 4 years, Christiano Ronaldo has his chance to cement his name amongst the legends of the game. Most people have written off Portugal's chances in the tournament, but you never know! Ronaldo might just kick it into a different story this time. They are, after all, the No. 3 team in the world. Nani's loss to injury is big... and Deco isn't all too threatening these days... but Portugal will still be a team to watch and this opening encounter of theirs is one of the matches that I have been looking forward to during the group stages of this tournament.


If Drogba manages to play, Ivory Coast will have a strong chance. They do not have too many big names... apart from Drogba and Toure. Their path is also likely to be very difficult in this tournament... Brazil and Portugal in the group stage, and Spain lurking ahead if they qualify. But then, they are arguably the best African side to participate here in this World Cup.



BRAZIL V. NORTH KOREA

Five time champions and World No. 1 Brazil open their campaign against the unheralded World No. 85 North Korea. A classic case of David v. Goliath, it is the match between the highest ranked and the lowest ranked teams of the tournament.

Few expect the result to be anything other than a Brazil win... and with good reason. Dunga is regarded as a fine manager and many feel that this World Cup is the time for Kaka to shine at the big stage. The 2002-champions are also in hot form... having won 8 of their last 10 matches.

As the World Cup enters its 5th day, I am waiting for the matches of Group G to begin. I may not watch the Brazil - North Korea match... but I'll certainly be keeping a close eye on this group.

IS THIS ALL ASIA'S GOT?

As Kumar Sangakkara wins the toss and decides that Sri Lanka will bat first against Pakistan at Dambulla, the Asia Cup 2010 commences.


A tournament that is held to fill up the extremely thin gaps in the international itineraries of the Asian teams... it used to feature the smaller teams like UAE and Hong Kong also in the past. Their absence this year really raises the question that is this really 'Asia' cup?


True, these four are the strongest teams in cricket in Asia. True, there are only three genuine contendors in an Asia Cup... no matter how many nations participate. However, the objective of the Asian Cricket Council is to promote the game in the region... or so I presume. If such opportunities to make the smaller teams take on the bigger ones are going to be ignored, then how is the game going to prosper?


We have seen some encouraging performances by countries like Afghanistan in the recent future. We also saw that their weakness was against fast and pacy bowling... whereas their bowlers are good enough to hold the best of sides on their day. These problems can be sorted out by allowing these sides more exposure at the highest level. With all the teams sending out their strongest or near-to-strongest squads for the tournament, this would have been the ideal opportunity to groom the smaller sides of the Asian continent.


I am disappointed with the ACC... and since I expect this series also to be decided by the outcome of the toss, I am hardly interested. It is a different matter altogether that the FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon provide pleasant distractions!

WHAT WILL THE SCRIPT BE LIKE?

Cricinfo is carrying this news article containing excerpts from Sachin Tendulkar's interview in London to mark 30 years of NatWest involvement in English cricket. In the comments section to that article, I saw this one very interesting comment from Satish.V: "If we look at the past few world cups, there is a pattern which stands out.Since the 1987 WC, India have always done well at alternate WCs. 1987- SF, 1992-First Round,1996-SF,1999-Super Six,2003-Final,2007-First Round, 2010-?? ."


I had never thought of this before. And it got my mind racing... If you have a look at the 'successful' World Cups, you will see semifinals in 1996 and a step better in 2003 - the finals. So, in 2011, it should be Champions! But then you could also look at it this way:
1987 - Semis
1996 - Semis
2003 - Finals
2011 - ?? (maybe finals again followed by a win in 2019 and 2027... that is, if ODIs survive till then)!


How I, like millions of others, would love to see Sachin retire from cricket after having won the World Cup for India. After the 2008 Chennai Test that Sachin helped win for India against England, which was played just after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Kevin Pietersen, the then England captain, had wondered who writes SRT's scripts.


If he does win the World Cup, it will be certain that God writes his scripts!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

DRAVID CONQUERS ADELAIDE


With a perfect square-cut, an epic is sealed
Adelaide, 16 December 2003
When Rahul Dravid walked out to bat less than half an hour into the final morning at the Adelaide Oval, he knew that India were on the threshold of something special. Ajit Agarkar's unexpected six-wicket haul the previous afternoon had set up a target of 230 runs, and by the time Dravid emerged to rapturous applause from the Indian support, Aakash Chopra and Virender Sehwag had already whittled off 48.
Dravid had scripted an epic 233 in the first innings, adding 303 with VVS Laxman, but he needed a kiss from Dame Fortune to get going on the final day. Brad Williams had injured his left shoulder, but he toiled heroically, and when Dravid had made just 9, a perfectly pitched delivery on off stump flew off the edge. Adam Gilchrist grassed the chance, and though Williams continued to trouble him with reverse-swing, Dravid wasn't to be denied. He added 70 with Sachin Tendulkar, and as nails were being bitten to the quick, Laxman came out and caressed a lovely 32-run cameo. Simon Katich's left-arm spin induced a couple more flutters, but fittingly the last act was to feature the two men who had done so much to ease the path to victory.
As Agarkar watched from the non-striker's end, Dravid cut a Stuart MacGill delivery through point. There was a yell of delight and a clenched fist, and Steve Waugh made it a point to pick the ball out of the gutter and hand it over to a man who embodied the warrior spirit that he himself personified.
Dileep Premachandran
Link to the Original Article - Ranked at No. 41 by Cricinfo.

KUMBLE BOWLS WITH A BROKEN JAW


Lionheart grits his teeth and shoulders the load
St John's, 12 May 2002
The sight of Anil Kumble emerging from the pavilion, ready to bowl, his face bandaged, in the Antigua Test of 2002, is one of cricket's most inspiring.
Kumble sent down 14 consecutive overs and became the first bowler to dismiss Brian Lara while bowling with a broken jaw. He was due to fly back to Bangalore the following day for surgery, and as he said, "At least I can now go home with the thought that I tried my best.
"It was one of the bravest things I've seen on the field of play," said Viv Richards later.
Batting at No. 7 (Ajay Ratra at No. 8 made a century), Kumble was hit by Merv Dillon. He spat out blood but batted on for another 20 minutes. The series was poised 1-1 and this was the fourth Test. India declared at 513 for 9.
Lesser acts have become legends in the game. Colin Cowdrey's coming out with a broken hand against West Indies in 1963, for example. He didn't have to face a ball, as his partner saved the Test. But it is cited for bravery even ahead of Australian Rick McCosker's batting at No. 10 with a broken jaw, which contributed to his team's victory in the Centenary Test.
Kumble's Test was drawn, West Indies declaring at 629 for 9. His reason for returning to bowl: "I didn't want to sit around" is as fine an example of the self-effacing statement as you will find in cricket.
- Suresh Menon
Link to the Original Article - Ranked at No. 36 by Cricinfo.

GANGULY TAKES HIS SHIRT OFF


A brattish upstart brings the tone of Lord's down a notch or two
London, 13 July 2002
I remember it vividly. Mum was woken from her sleep, dad was going ballistic in his rocking chair, and I was prancing between hall, kitchen and mid-air. All of a sudden, one glance at the television and there was Sourav Ganguly baring his torso, swinging his India shirt, hurling invective, making quite a spectacle of himself.
The camera moved to Freddie Flintoff, a destroyed bowler, squatting on the pitch after conceding the winning run. The same Flintoff who'd charged topless around the Wankhede Stadium a few months earlier. Ganguly, standing on the Lord's balcony, was delivering the mother of all tit-for-tats, and it took some time before we could grasp the enormity of the defiance. Headquarters of cricket, the MCC's sanctum sanctorum, egg-and-bacon ties… and here was a scene out of Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium after a local derby.
An extraordinary match got its perfect climax - hero extracting revenge and indulging in a war dance. The Wankhede and Lord's would be treated equally. We needed no further vindication that this Indian team was playing an inspired brand of cricket, not only with bat and ball but also with the head, and that it would wear its heart on its sleeve.
Dad, who grew up on tales of Ken Barrington, was a little shocked when he witnessed the scenes, and we ended up having a silly argument over the "spirit of the game". I simply loved it, mostly because it was the one moment where the essence of Ganguly was plain to see, the one moment we related perfectly to. Dada taught us several things on the cricket field; that day, he taught us how to celebrate.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
Link to the Original Article - Ranked at No. 37 by Cricinfo.

TENDULKAR GOES AFTER WARNE


Two titans at the height of their power come against each other
Sharjah, 22 April 1998
Cricket is perhaps the most individual of all team sports. What would it be, shorn of the drama of one-against-one contests?
In this particular case, both actors had etched themselves into cricketing folklore. Both were legends who had little but their egos at stake. And when skill, will, determination and effort all pad up to defend ego, it makes for fascinating viewing.
Shane Warne, injured shoulder ignored, round the wicket to Sachin Tendulkar on a Sharjah track offering some assistance was one such intriguing contest. Before the ball could come down and do its trick, Tendulkar had got to the pitch of it. And once the ball had been reached and the spin smothered, up came the heavy bat with lightning-quick speed to send it straight into the billboards at long-on. Warne had been conquered, Warne had been decimated. And he had been left with a vision that continued to haunt him.
Warne, wiping the sweat off his face in frustration, desperation, or bewilderment and appreciation, perhaps. The great Shane Warne, for once in his life, had thrown in the towel. Tendulkar had well and truly won the contest of the titans. And soon, India the Coca-Cola Cup.
- Boria Majumdar
Link to Original Article - Ranked at No. 31 by Cricinfo.

A SALUTE TO THE INDIA'S MODERN CRICKET HEROES

Over the year 2009, Cricinfo had compiled a list of 50 Magic Moments in the history of cricket. Amongst those moments are some of the gems of those Indian cricketers whom I have grown up watching, idolising and praying for.


These men - Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid, had been the four pillars of Indian cricket for a long time. During the 2000s, these men scripted some of the most fabulous wins for India, home and away, especially in Test cricket.


My next four posts are those Magic Moments chosen by Cricinfo that features these men as the protagonists...


1. TENDULKAR GOES AFTER WARNE (Ranked at No. 31 by Cricinfo)
2. GANGULY TAKES HIS SHIRT OFF (Ranked at No. 37 by Cricinfo)
3. KUMBLE BOWLS WITH A BROKEN JAW (Ranked at No. 36 by Cricinfo)
4. DRAVID CONQUERS ADELAIDE (Ranked at No. 41 by Cricinfo)


Just two of these men are still actively playing international cricket... but their contribution to Indian cricket decided the way that Indian cricket will be played now and for years to come ahead!

BUILDING UP TO IND V PAK

India finally managed to beat Zimbabwe on this tour. And it's Twenty20. Looks like Zimbabwe is more comfortable playing the longer game rather than 20-over cricket. The only match they lost during the round robin stage in the tri-series against Sri Lanka was also reduced to 20-odd overs due to rain. Weird, I used to think that shorter the format, greater is the chance for the underdogs... the weaker team.


And then I thought... maybe, Team India is the weaker team. Zimbabwe has been far more impressive than India over the past couple of weeks. Their departments have played as proper units... the army of spinners choking the opposition and the batsmen remaining cool during the crunch moments. Neither of the two has been the case with India.


As India ends the Zimbabwe tour today with the second and final Twenty20 and then regroup with the seniors to fly to Sri Lanka for the Asia Cup, they will need to deeply think about really how good is the team. The team was World No. 2 on ICC Rankings before the tournament... I do not know if there is a fall after the two defeats to Zimbabwe... but are we really playing as a No. 2 / 3 team?


A clearer picture will emerge when an almost full-strength squad plays at the Asia Cup. Matches against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh might test the Indians... but the match against Pakistan has the ability of separating boys from men. India play Pakistan on 19th June... it's been quite some time since their last meeting at the Champions Trophy in South Africa last year. In that match, Shoaib Malik hit a match-winning hundred to take Pakistan to victory. Who will be the man this time?


The build up is not quite the same... but it should be a cracker nonetheless!
The build up to this match has hardly been what it was like for the meeting on 1st March 2003 during the World Cup at South Africa. But that should not mean the match will be anything less than a cracker! Luckily, the FIFA World Cup fixtures that day include just one team that I am interested in... the Netherlands, which will feature against Japan in the first match on that day. After that, I can use that Saturday to pay complete attention to an Indian cricket fan's delight... an India v Pakistan match!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

SUGGESTIONS TO CRICKET AUSTRALIA

Cricket Australia's news that it will be staging a new format of List 'A' cricket by splitting one 50-over innings into two 20-25 over innings has attracted a lot of comments and blogs on the blogosphere. Well, I have a few suggestions...


I have had these suggestions ever since Sachin Tendulkar made the comment that ODIs should be split into 2 innings of 25 overs each. If an official from Cricket Australia ever stumbles upon this blog, you may want to try out some of these suggestions, mate!


Suggestion No. 1: Allow new balls for 2nd innings -


In ODI cricket, the balls are changed after 34 overs and newer 'old' balls are brought in to replace the used ones. Instead, I would like to see 'new' balls used at the start of 2nd innings. This will allow pace bowlers a chance to get more purchase from lifeless pitches, and for batsmen, it will mean better pace on the ball on slower pitches. But this suggestion makes more sense when you read my Suggestion No. 2...


Suggestion No. 2: Allow different batsmen to resume the 2nd innings -


There are talks that the 2nd batting innings will be resumed exactly where the 1st one ended. I have a different opinion. Let the score remain as it was. If Team A was 140-2 in 25 overs, they will resume at that score. But if the team does not want to resume with the batsmen who were unbeaten at the end of the 1st innings, it should be allowed to change. The unbeaten batsmen can be qualified as retired and can come in some other time later during the 2nd innings.


Coupled with the earlier suggestion, it brings a whole new set of strategies in place. Should you go in with 2 sets of openers? Should the middle order be shortened? Where to play your slog over specialists? In fact, the concept of slog overs itself may see a change. To those who think that the idea of two sets of openers is insane, read on the next suggestion...


Suggestion No. 3: Allow all bowlers a maximum of 12 overs -


I heard suggestions somewhere that 2 bowlers should be allowed to bowl a maximum if 12 overs in an ODI. My question is: why stop at 2 bowlers? Why are we so miserly when we want to create rules that favour bowlers? Allowing 4 bowlers a quota of 12 overs (assuming a 50-over game) means that only 2 overs have to be managed out of your part timers. And if your regular bowlers are taking a beating, it will pay to have a genuine all-rounder.


Now, how does this compliment my Suggestion No. 2? If both the suggestions are implemented, then teams can go in with 3 genuine bowlers, 2 decent all rounders, 1 wicketkeeper, 4 openers and 1 solid middle order batsmen / another all rounder / bits-n-pieces player. There will be a lot more scope for flexibility if teams do not opt for 4 openers. They may even want to go for 3 openers and open the 2nd innings with the 3rd opener and one of the unbeaten well set batsmen.


There is a lot of scope for new strategies and there will be a need to change the laws relating to Powerplays as well as Duckworth - Lewis Method. A lot will need to be done. My suggestions might not go down well with everyone and I'd be delighted to read my readers' views on the same. I, for one, definitely feel, that it might just help One Day cricket survive.

TIME FOR RED DEVILS TO SHINE...

South Korea have just become the first team to register a victory at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. A goal in each half... first by Lee Jung-Soo and then by captain Park Ji-Sung sealed the deal for the South Koreans against the Greek side that looked a little shocked at the fast game played by the Koreans.


Now that one Manchester United fellow (Park Ji-Sung) has made his by scoring in his team's victory, I am waiting for the other fellow... that one called Wayne Rooney! Not that I am an avid fan of the English football team, but I am certainly a Wayne Rooney fan! And I really want him to make an impact! I am also a Manchester United fan... thus not too happy about the fact that Rio Ferdinand (England) and Nani (Portugal) have been ruled out due to injuries.


Not having a definite country to follow at such a big event is such a relief... you can just look forward to the game. Some quality football! South Koreans certainly put up a good show today... and looking forward to some more from Argentina and England later through the day!

DIFFICULT TIMES FOR IVORY COAST

Didier Drogba is racing against time to be fit for the opening game of Ivory Coast against the World No. 3 Portugal side, which includes a certain Christiano Ronaldo... who would want to show some of the flair that he oft showed in the Manchester United red, now in the Portuguese red.


But more on Portugal later... spare a thought for Ivory Coast. They have their main striker unfit and unsure whether he will play their opening fixture against the World No. 3. As if this was not enough, they play their next match against none other than the World No. 1 Brazil. They are the best hope amongst the African nations to make an impact in the tournament... but then they had the ill fate of being a part of the Group of Death.


And the story does not end here. After an easier fixture against the North Koreans, if Ivory Coast does manage to qualify for the next round, there is a very strong chance that they will meet the World No. 2 side Spain in the Pre - Quarterfinals.


So one thing is certain: if Ivory Coast does manage to reach the Quarterfinals, they would have either been extremely lucky or they would have played the best football of their life!

A LIFELINE FOR BOUCHER

Sulieman Benn grabbed his second 5-for in Test cricket... a few days after being ordered off the field by his captain in an ODI. But after what could be described as a slow and grinding day of Test cricket, the balance is slightly in favour of the visitors.


South Africa's eventual score of 352 came courtesy a gutsy innings from Mark Boucher... a half - century and a partnership will Dale Steyn that took the score to respectability after South Africa looked in trouble at 230-odd for 7.


This innings from Boucher came just a few days after it had been announced that he will not be a part of South Africa's limited overs team and the gloves would be handed over to AB De Villiers. The fact that he play as a non - wicketkeeper is a different story altogether.


When the announcement to exclude Boucher was made, I was wondering whether we'll get to see such innings again from him. But like a true fighter that he has been all his career, he raised his game when it mattered. However, he will do well to remember that this innings might have saved him for some time to come. But in case more such innings do not come out of his bat, he will face the selectors' ax sooner rather than later.

Friday, June 11, 2010

FIFA WORLD CUP 2010 BEGINS...

In a little less than 8 hours from now, the Opening Ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2010 will begin. And another couple of hours after that... the grand month - long spectacle will be kicked off with a match between the hosts South Africa and Mexico at the Soccer City, Johannesburg.


The entire world is geared up, ready... waiting and excited to witness the second biggest sporting event in the world... after the Olympics! 32 teams will fight for the ultimate glory in the life of a footballer... one that has eluded many of the greats in the past!


The common favourites are the World No. 1 and 2... Brazil and Spain! Brazilian manager Dunga has cut off from the squad the likes of Ronaldinho and Adriano... I really don't know what to make of it, given that even Kaka is not in the best of his forms at the moment. Spain, on the other hand, have played unbelievable football over the past 2 years. Their squad is filled with talent... and their stars just love the big moments to show their skills. I still remember how Torres, who had had a pretty ordinary Euro 2008, stepped it up right in the finals by scoring the winner and leading Spain to glory.


Argentina is another team that will be closely followed... and one man even more so... Lionel Messi. Comparisons to his manager Maradona have been drawn forever... now is the time for this young lad to prove it right. Messi has not been his best while playing for his country... but everyone knows what he has got to offer. And this is the big stage... champions just love the big stage!


Then there are the eternal under-performers in the form of England and the Netherlands. They have some big, quality names in their lineup... but will the team put up a good show? That is the question that remains to be answered.


The world will also be waiting for some individual skills from the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto and others, even though their teams are not expected to make it very far in the tournament. I know that Ronaldo's Portugal is currently 3rd in FIFA Rankings... but I really do not expect them to go far. In any case, at least one of the top 3 teams on the rankings is bound to be ousted before the tournament moves into the Quarter Final stage.


So, get ready for the big one! After 4 years... it's Waka Waka time in South Africa!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

THE FUTURE OF MENDIS

I must say I was impressed with the way Aravinda De Silva handled his first assignment as the Chairman of Selectors of the Sri Lankan cricket team. Makes for a good viewing... especially for those who are sick and tired of the antics of a certain Mr. Krishnamachari Srikkanth.


De Silva gave some very sound explanations for all the major decisions taken during the selection of the team for the Asia Cup to be held at Dambulla, Sri Lanka. The axe for Jaisuriya was coming... the entire world could see it. But I was most impressed with the decision to send the young wicket keeper Dinesh Chandimal on a tour to Australia with the Sri Lankan 'A' team.




"Chandimal and Jeevan have got great potential. It was very heartening to see them perform the way they did. We are playing three games initially in the Asia Cup and when you look at the team for the first two games they might not get the opportunity to play. If that happens we are depriving them of the opportunity to go and get some exposure in Australia. We thought the best idea would be to allow them to go to Australia with the Sri Lanka A team and play there. That's one tour I will follow very closely which I think will be competitive. It will really separate the men from the boys, a tour of Australia."


Now that is one really intelligent bit of selection... something that should also have been done with Yusuf Pathan. But sadly, our Chief of Selectors does not have enough logic to think so deeply.


However, I am disappointed in Aravinda De Silva with the dropping of Ajantha Mendis. Of late, Sri Lanka have been employing this strategy of dropping Mendis in matches against Asian opponents, who have pretty much figured out his 'mystery'. They play him against non - Asian opponents, who apart from being not too good against quality spin, also find this unconventional spinner far too difficult to read.


Mendis rose to fame with a spectacular Asia Cup in Pakistan a couple of years ago. His 6 - 13 against India followed by a phenomenal Test debut series against the same opponents at home made him the new mystery star of cricket. However, since then, India and Pakistan have played him quite comfortably. But does that mean he should be dropped in matches against these teams?


What will happen when the English, Australians and South Africans also figure him out? Will he be dropped forever then? Or selected for matches against the Associate and Affiliate teams only? I really do not get this logic. How will this help his development as a cricketer? Playing more against the Asian teams will keep him on his toes... and that will automatically help his performance against the non - Asian teams.


I may be completely wrong... and the tactical reasons of Aravinda De Silva may be completely different. But this is what meets the eye! And what meets the eye is what I blog on!

THE BENEFITS OF RAIN

South Africa have won a delayed loss... and as the captains walk back to their respective dressing rooms, the rain has returned and no one knows when the First Test of their away series against West Indies will commence.




Cricinfo commentary says that the weather forecast for the next 3 days is not too good either... so I was just wondering, do they have televisions with all the sports channels in the dressing rooms? If they do, the teams wouldn't mind the rain one bit... they will get the chance to watch the FIFA World Cup 2010 that commences tomorrow at Johannesburg, South Africa.


As far as the West Indies side is concerned, the persistent rain might just help them gain a draw in this bilateral series that has been nothing but embarrassing. They just don't seem to have the power to budge a strong South African side... a side that can run you over in any series / tournament that is not an ICC event.


Whatever! Lets just hope that even if this match ends up as a stalemate, we get to see some quality cricket!

THREE KIERON POLLARDS NEEDED

The new KP (Kieron Pollard) blasted another match - winning Twenty20 innings for a team that is not called West Indies. He bowled a more than handy 3 for 26 in his 4 overs before coming out to bat and blast away 89* (48 balls, 7 fours, 7 sixes) to help his team Somerset blow away the challenge from Middlesex.


Thank God the English teams are not participating in the Champions League Twenty20 2010 to be held in South Africa. I have nothing against the English teams... but if Somerset qualified for the tournament, and if Trinidad and Tobago repeated their last year's feat to qualify once again for the tournament... that would mean Kieron Pollard could play for 4 teams in the tournament.


He is already qualified to play in the Champions League as a part of either Mumbai Indians or South Australian Redbacks. If it remains just these two, Mumbai Indians is more likely to use his services in South Africa (cash, man!) over the Redbacks. Somerset will not feature. Now, it remains to be seen if Trinidad and Tobago qualify. If they do, Pollard will have a choice to make. To play for his country or for a cash - rich club.


Playing for Trinidad and Tobago last year shot him into fame and resulted in him becoming the globally sought after cricketer in this version of the game. And considering the enthusiasm that the island nation team showed last year in their cricket, there is a good chance that KiPo may choose country over club. He may not be performing well for West Indies... but that is not his country! His country... his team... that is Trinidad and Tobago.


It remains to be seen now who will win the battle to acquire his services... cash or country (i.e. if the country does qualify)?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

WAITING FOR THEIR RETURN TO TESTS

Things are slowly getting back to normal. Bangladesh were comprehensively beaten (to put it mildly) by England in 7 sessions are Old Trafford. Zimbabwe lost (finally!) to Sri Lanka comprehensively (to put it mildly, again!) at Harare in the tri-series final. This chain of events imply that India should have 2 easy wins in the 2 Twenty20 Internationals that they are scheduled to play against Zimbabwe to end their African tour.

And there is a good chance that we may see a couple of one - sided matches as India, smarting from twin defeats to the hosts, may well come out all guns blazing to completely streamroll the opposition. Or... Or we may witness an upset or two more. That is a smaller possibility but there is a chance that India, wary of Zimbabwe after the ODI defeats, may look to play cautious cricket and allow the hosts to seize the initiative.


Whatever happens in the 2 Twenty20s... kudos to Zimbabwe (and Bangladesh of course) for the fight and the improvement they have shown in their cricket. These two teams do not have too many threatening names in their lineup... names for  whom the opposition teams sit for hours in a meeting formulating plans and strategies... but they are good as a unit. They have learnt how to fight... and these skills are helping them as they take on the bigger teams with bigger names.

It's good that the teams have become competitive... it will help the game grow. I am just waiting now for Zimbabwe to be allotted the Test status once again... I know Andy Flower no longer plays for them, but I do hope someone else comes along who impresses me just as much as Andy Flower did!

JUST 4 MORE RUNS...

Crooked decision, Billy!
Bangladesh put up a very good fight against England. They took the First Test till tea on Day 5, albeit with the help of weather. It was an extremely impressive performance. The Second Test was not as good for them. The batting collapse in Session 3, Day 2 and then on Session 1, Day 3 finished off the match for them.

However, I was wondering what might have happened had Bangladesh gotten just 4 more runs in their 1st innings. With 4 more runs, they would have avoided the follow on... and they would have gotten a chance to bowl under the overcast conditions on 3rd morning.

Now, I never really expected the likes of Shahadat Hossain or Shafiul Islam to cause the kind of damage that James Anderson, Steven Finn and Ajmal Shahzad caused on that day... But Bangladesh would have been in with a shot to atleast get the match extended to the 4th day... maybe even the 5th if the weather helped.

And had Tamim clicked in the 2nd innings, they would have also fancied chances of going for a win. So many ifs... all because Billy Bowden's crooked finger gave a crooked LBW decision in favour of Swann. Billy, your decision robbed us of a fight!

SOMEONE HAS HIDDEN YUVI'S GIFT: PART 2

(contd...)

2. Each member in the team is chosen for a specific purpose... everyone's got a job profile. Yuvraj's numbers may be better than those of Ravindra Jadeja's for this period... but his role is different than that of Jadeja. His numbers are expected to be comparable with the likes of SRT or Viru... not Jadeja!

... and The Grumbler!
He is expected to be a middle order match winner, a handy left arm spinner and an athletic fielder. Since some of those skills are on decline, he needed a break to find a solution away from the pressure of an international match for India... away from the constant media glare!

3. Yuvi's attitude needs a bit of mending. I don't care as to what he gets on with off the field... but its his attitude on it that worries me! We have started witnessing uncharacteristic misfields because he was too slow to bend down. We have started witnessing fumbles because the eyes were not on the ball. The dives have disappeared... and when they do come out, they are ugly and ineffective. There is no desire to chase down a ball. The grumbling on the field has increased. He has been demoted from point to mid off... and despite the relatively simpler profile, the work was still not satisfactory.

All these, to me, are signs of a person who is not being able to enjoy the game... especially the grumbling and frowning. There may be a lack of motivation. And if that is the case, it needs to be rediscovered... and soon! Motivation will not be helped if he is forced to play more and more matches in a packed schedule. Maybe a break from cricket will help him rediscover the enthusiasm...

Yuvraj needs to quickly rediscover his past form... because if he does do that, and if Sachin and Viru keep fit and firing, India can be an unstoppable force on home pitches for the World Cup in 2011. Hope this break will help Yuvraj realise once again that it is a privelege to wear the India cap!

SOMEONE HAS HIDDEN YUVI'S GIFT: PART 1

Yuvraj Singh has been dropped. Most people, including the likes of former captain Sourav Ganguly, feel that he had it coming. The decision by the selectors to drop Yuvraj has widely been supported... something that our current crop of selectors have seen very little of!

The Match Winner...
So what was the need to drop Yuvraj? True, his performance has dropped... but his performances are still better than those of Ravindra Jadeja, who is still a part of the squad. Some fans just dislike Yuvraj for his clubbing and partying ways... and feel that he deserved to be dropped for that.

What rubbish! Had Ricky Ponting been dropped like this when he received a black eye at such a club more than 10 years ago, he may never have become the great batsman that he is today. Cricketers should be picked or dropped for their on field performances... not for their off field habits (unless they hamper the team spirit).

In fact, Straight Points got me thinking of the reasons why Yuvraj was dropped... or rather, deserved to be dropped. And in line to what I wrote as a comment on SP's blog, I have listed my reasons here as to why Yuvraj needed to be dropped.

1. All team selections are now being done keeping in view the upcoming 2011 World Cup. Everyone (including SP, I am sure) will agree that Yuvraj is an integral part of the 'scheme of things' for the World Cup. So who do we want to see at the World Cup? A completely-fit-rejuvenated, match-winner-like-in-the-old-times Yuvraj Singh or the averaging-24-in-2010, unfit-and-almost-fat Yuvraj Singh?

The answer is simple. We want the Yuvraj who could win matches on his own... and do it with ease. At the moment, Yuvraj is not even scoring runs with ease... forget about winning matches! He is gifted, no doubt... but someone seems to have hidden his gift in the recent past (since the Champions Trophy last year, to be precise)!

Dropping Yuvraj offers him a chance to work on his fitness, heal his injuries, get rid of that flab and come back stronger.

(contd...)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

SELECTION REVIEW: PART 2

(contd...)

YUSUF PATHAN DROPPED:

Like Yuvraj, Yusuf too had it coming. Bowlers world over have the knowledge of shortcomings against the short ball. So much so that Yusuf Pathan could not even touch the two short balls bowled to him by Zimbabwean Christopher Mpofu in India's first ODI of the tri-series in Zimbabwe.

I have aleady mentioned and I reiterate it here that Yusuf needs to tour with India's A teams to places like England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He is not going to improve much even if he smashes 10 more match-winning double hundreds in finals of domestic tournaments.

In fact, now that Saurabh Tiwary has been called for the Asia Cup... there is a vacancy in India A's squad that is currently in England. That should be Yusuf Pathan now... if the selectors are wise enough!

SAURABH TIWARY GETS A CHANCE:

Saurabh Tiwary is unlikely to get a game in Sri Lanka... but the fact that he has been selected as a part of the Indian team should do his confidence a world of good.

He has been selected on the basis of his IPL performances... and that is why I feel that this selection is flawed. Selection on the basis of IPL performances is not a very wise strategy. We have already seen it backfire on Murali Vijay, Umesh Yadav, and even Yusuf Pathan for that matter. I just hope that this young lad does not meet the same fate.

I followed Tiwary's season this IPL in detail since I am a Mumbai Indians supporter. He is not technically great... but has a lot of power. However, he does need a few overs to settle in. He is not a Kieron-Pollard-style-smash-it-on-arrival fellow... he needs time to get in before taking the aerial route. And that is why, my impression of him was that he could have a good future in India's ODI team. There are some players who are Test specialists and some who are Twenty20 specialists. Saurabh Tiwary, for me, comes under a different category called ODI specialists.

OTHER DECISIONS:

Ravindra Jadeja was retained in the squad. Not too wise in my opinion. I certainly do see a future for him as an Indian player. But the Shane Watson attack on him at Barbados seems to have robbed him of his confidence completely. He needs time to regain it before stepping back into the international scene.

Ashok Dinda has also been retained. Well, it would be unfair on the lad to drop him without giving a decent exposure. But did he deserve that India cap in the first place? I doubt it. The selectors have been playing musical chairs with India's seam bowling resources... and I don't blame them completely. They are not getting the results... but that does not mean that they can shove anyone and everyone (like Dinda and Yadav) into the international scenario.

SELECTION REVIEW: PART 1

Another meeting of the Selection Committee for the Asia Cup 2010 to be held in Sri Lanka from 15th June to 24th June. How is the team? Not ideal, but do we have a choice?

Here are some of the big decisions:

YUVRAJ SINGH DROPPED:

Well, he had it coming... Yuvraj's major problem was not that he was not getting the runs. He was bound to get them if he continued batting... he is too talented to be in a run drought for a long time.

The problem was his attitude. I am not even going to have a look at the off-the-field incidents that might have / might not have had an impact on this decision. Just the onfield incidents are enough.

First of all, his fitness is a huge issue. His waistline has grown... and the fact that it has shown no improvement in over two months now begs this question that does he really have the motivation and desire to work hard and earn a place in the Indian team?

Secondly, his fielding has gone bad... there is no other word for it. With the emergence of newer and fitter fielders, Yuvraj was bound to be moved away from his usual point position. But, wherever he fields, Yuvraj is expected to be agile and alert. Misfields because he failed to go down in time to pick up the ball, gross attempts at diving and unwillingness to chase a ball down does not seem to suit the requirements of Team India.

Thirdly, all this has taken a toll on his batting as well. His average has dropped... and he is not the dangerous batsman anymore who could once upon a time, change the game like no one else (apart from Sehwag, perhaps!)

SACHIN TENDULKAR RESTED:

This was not the decision of the selectors, in any case! The minute Sachin Tendulkar makes a decision... everyone in Indian cricket listens... right from the Board President to the groundsman working on the pitch. Who are the Selectors then?

But I have to add here that I am not happy with SRT's decision (for a change). Sure, he has earned enough respect and done enough for India to have the right to decide which tournaments does he want to play in and which ones does he not want to. But skipping the Asia Cup is not too wise a decision, in my opinion.

I know that India has a tight schedule ahead now. But skipping the season opener will not make the future schedule lighter. A wiser decision would have been participating in the Asia Cup now... and then skip maybe the ODI home series against New Zealand. Or some other additional tournament that the BCCI is bound to insert for more moolah...

Whatever the case, we have to live with this decision now. Though with the comebacks of Sehwag and Gambhir, I am not too worried.

(contd...)

Monday, June 7, 2010

WASHED WHITE AFTER A FIGHT

After an impressive showing in the First Test, Bangladesh were back to their old self during the Second Test at Old Trafford, Manchester.

To be fair to them, they did put up a fighting opening partnership in the first innings... courtesy their new talisman Tamim Iqbal, but once that first wicket fell... it was a procession... a total collapse! Eventually, 20 wickets fell in 2 sessions... with all the English bowlers chipping in. England's 419 all out in the 1st innings eventually turned out to be sufficient for an innings and 80 runs win.

The Bangladesh team management must have been pleased with the fight shown... but also upset that the team went back into their old habit of collapsing without a fight all of a sudden... their 20 wickets fell for just 213 runs after a first wicket stand of 126. It's Tamim or nothing for Bangladesh, at the moment.

England will be quietly happy with their performance... though Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss will know that a lot of improvement is necessary if they are to have a chance of retaining the Ashes in Australia later this year.

With the Test series having ended, I am hoping for a good performance from Bangladesh even in the 3 match ODI series to be played later in July... maybe, even sneak in a victory.

KINGDOM OF CLAY... RECONQUERED!

The King of Clay has recaptured his Kingdom! Spaniard Rafael Nadal beat Swede Robin Soderling 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 on the Phillipe Chatrier Court at Roland Garros, Paris to reclaim the French Open Title (his 5th) and overall his 7th Grand Slam title.

In the process, Rafael Nadal has once again dethroned Roger Federer from the No. 1 spot in the ATP Tour Singles Rankings... leaving Federer 1 week short of equalling Pete Sampras' record of the highest number of weeks at the top of ATP Rankings. Federer may eventually get there, especially with the grass court season beginning, but it will take some time. Right now, it's Rafa time!

The clinical efficiency with which Rafa broke Sod down in the finals left everyone convinced that Rafa was back at his best... atleast on clay! He retrieved everything thrown at him by the Swede... some of his passes were simply unbelievable! There was one particular forehand down the line that he hit on the run coming into the service line that left me speechless. He was not supposed to reach that ball... let alone grab a winner out of it!

The Swede started positively... but Rafa weathered that storm and fought out a break. The first set was decided then. He did face two break points after that... but he saved them. In the second set, when he got the second break on Sod's serve, the match was decided. Soderling just looked like he was going through the formalities. He had realised that he was meeting Rafa on a you-cannot-beat-me-today day.

The only concern that I have with Rafa after his unbeaten season on clay is that his game did not look good enough for when the grass court and the hard court season begins. When Rafa had won against Federer at the Roland Garros final in 2008, he looked good to usurp Federer's Wimbledon crown as well... which he did. Today, however, his game does not look as if it will survive the latter stages of Wimbledon and the US Open.

His retrieving was at its best... no doubt about that! But somehow, I feel that it will not be enough on grass and hard courts. He will have to start coming to the nets a lot more... something he had done extremely well in 2008. We know that he has the ability to change his game when the need arises... but he has less than 3 weeks before the Wimbledon begins on 21st June 2010.

For now, its just congratulations to Rafa... and keep up the winning habit!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

TAMIM'S CHOCOLATE FACTORY

What an anti-climax! England captain Andrew Strauss asks Bangladesh to follow on in the 2nd Test at Old Trafford... and just as everyone gears up for another Tamim Iqbal show, he falls for 2 on the 2nd ball of the day from James Anderson.


But irrespective if this failure, I just found this quote by Tamim from The Corridor (a cricket blog)... "If you start a company, a chocolate company, you can’t compete with Cadbury in the first 10 years. It will take time. I can’t compete with Sachin Tendulkar after getting one century. I need to work very hard."


Now that is one seriously good quip!

THE NEED TO DROP THEM

Here's a Cricinfo bulletin to reassert the need to drop the likes of Yusuf Pathan, Dinesh Karthik and Murali Vijay from the team...


India A top order in opening day run-fest


It was a run-fest on the opening day at Headingley as the India A top order made a perfect start to their tour of England, amassing 473 runs and losing just three wickets. Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane went past three figures, Abhinav Mukund fell nine short of his century and Cheteshwar Pujara remained unbeaten on 55 after 95 overs of toil for the Yorkshire bowlers.



The Indians were the fresher lot in the field compared to their opponents, who were away at Worcester the previous day and as a result, play started an hour later. Abhinav and Dhawan scored at a brisk rate in the opening session, adding 132. Dhawan hit 14 fours before reaching his century, off 133 balls, but Abhinav fell just short of his century. The Tamil Nadu opener was dismissed by Moin Ashraf for 91, hitting 12 fours and a six in his knock.


It took 43 overs for Yorkshire to break the stand, but there was more toil for the bowlers as Rahane joined Dhawan in a stand of 141. Rahane dealt mainly in boundaries, smashing nine boundaries en route to his fifty, and he went on to reach his century off 132 balls. Dhawan looked set to record a double-century, but the Delhi opener fell to Lee Hodgson for 179.


Pujara joined Rahane and added a further 107 in nearly 22 overs to take the score past 400. Tino Best, the West Indian fast bowler, had some success when he had Rahane caught for 118.

SAVE OUR TIGER!