Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Team South Africa, World Cup 2011

GROUP B (Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, Netherlands, South Africa, West Indies)

ODI Rank - 4
ODI Rating - 118

Last World Cup - Semi-finals
Finals Appearances - none
Best in a World Cup- Semi-finalists (1992, 1999, 2007)

Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Morne van Wyk (wk), Colin Ingram, Johan Botha, Imran Tahir, Robin Peterson, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Strength - Talented top order, fiery fast bowlers
Weakness - inexperienced and imploding lower middle order


One of the most feared, yet, most unlucky cricketing side in the world (especially in the world cups), South Africa. This time, they enter the tournament as one of the most fancied teams to lift the trophy. A very healthy squad has been picked by the management, and will try and do all that it takes to reach that ever-elusive trophy in this battleground!

The squad has mostly been picked based on the form of the player. Kallis alone comes into the squad from his injury. Imran Tahir, with 500+ wickets in his bag will be one of the most awaited talent yet to be seen by most people. The only surprise in the squad, to me, was Wayne Parnell, who didn't seem to impress much in the ODI series vs India recently.

The strength of the SA team lies in 2 different parts - top order, and, pace department (though, I do not want to take everything away from spin).

The SA openers, Smith and Amla have been rock solid for the past few months. Amla is surely the man with the most perfect start to his ODI career, averaging in the high-50s and strike rate over 90. To those who undermined his abilities in the limited format, Amla has silenced them all with his bat. This man, who walks with utmost humility doesn't have to do much to command respect. he gets them, along with love. Captain Smith, who will be leading his side in ODIs for the last time, is in good form with the bat, and has been a spectacular captain over the last 6-7 years. He will look to add one big feather to his cap in this World Cup.

After the openers, in come Kallis and AB de Villiers, who are both destructive and inning-building characters, who can any day take the game away from you with such an ease, that they may not sweat! Kallis has been rested for the ODIs to nurse a niggling injury. And, AB is nursing a little dip in his form against the Indians, in which he was less than the explosive AB we know.

The middle order for the South Africans is going to be tricky, from selector's point of view. They have Ingram, Duminy, Peterson, van Wyk out there, for 3 spots. Duminy is quite certain to retain one place. Ingram has been in and out of form He has been good with the bat in the death overs, and can bowl a couple of overs when required. Robbie-P is quite the opposite - he is good with his orthodox bowling and can step up to play a cameo in the end. van Wyk has shown his capabilities with the bat. He also becomes SA's back-up wicket keeper. If one assumes that their middle order is in good batting touch, then this team can score big and chase big. But, unfortunately for them, the haven't put on very huge totals very frequently in the recent times. Another name to tinker with for a middle-order slot will be the talented Faf du Plessis who didn't get too much of an opportunity to unleash his talents in the debut games vs India.

SA's bowling is looking very very strong at the moment. Morne Morkel is looking more threatening than Dale Steyn. And Tsotsobe has been very good with his line and length. Its a perfect mix of ingredients. One plays you full, one swings it at medium pace, and one bounces the ball chest high from good length. And then, there is Kallis! Any batting side that can manage all of them must be appreciated for their efforts. Not easy. Their spin department, though not as renowned as their pace battery, is nevertheless effective. Botha is most likely to start the game, or, so is the rest of the world hoping. Robin Peterson's place is a maybe-maybe_not. But, beware you me, they have a seasoned campaigner in Imran Tahir. Me telling "he is a very talented spinner" is too short of being able to describe what he is worth. He has played in Pakistan, England and South Africa, and knows almost every tricks of the trade. The last first class game he played, he picked up 12 wickets, on a South African soil. This talent is going to surface for the world to see....finally.

All the good that the SA line up look good on paper, they have had some worries of their own. They have not been able to shut the opponent's innings close for good in some occasions in the recent times. And hard hitters like Sammy, Razzak and Yusuf have proved over the past year, that even the Steyns and Morkels are not the best if one tries to be aggressive at them. Their batting has sometimes, not just lost air, but burst like a balloon, as was the case in their last ODI prior to the World Cup now, when they lost 6 wickets for a mere 20 runs. And in another occasion, failed to chase down a not-so-difficult chase of under 200 after almost looking to get it. How much of a boost will the addition of Kallis be to this side which was stretched by India? The epic all-rounder of my generation will be back in action, and be hoping to deliver the goods at the top of the batting order and with the ball!

SA play WI, Nederlands, England, India, Ireland and Bangladesh in that order with comfortable gaps for the big games. One would expect them to be ready for any challenge thrown at them. Semi finals? Surely! Further than that?

Nearly every team has "choked" at some point or the other in the past few years, but the world associates the name with SA every time they lose a game, whether or not they choke, the viewers construct the image as a choke. This has been on the mindset of the SA team for a long time and have been trying to prove the world wrong. With the talent they are carrying to the campaign, one would reckon they are going to do all it takes to become the world champion. In the past couple of years, they have matched India blood for blood, taken down Australia in their own back-yard, tried and tested England and silenced other teams in more occasions than not. 19 years after being re-instated, they want to wipe their slippery hands and finally lift the trophy with firm grip.

They can do it. Will they?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Team Pakistan, World Cup 2011

(Australia, Canada, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe)

ODI Rank - 6
ODI Rating - 98

Last World Cup - First Round/Round Robin
Finals Appearances - 2
Best in a World Cup- Winner 1992

Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Tanveer, Ahmed Shahzad

Strength - Explosive middle order, bowling attack
Weakness - Imploding and unsure set up, fragile opening attack

If there is one team in the world against whom you can never be sure of, it will be Pakistan. On their day, they can bring down any giant in their own backyard. On other days, they will implode in a very sad manner. That has been the case for Pakistan over the past few years.

This time, the squad for the world cup has been a pick of the best talent "available" for selection to them. While most of them have made their place thanks to their form in the recent past, some have come in because of their reputation and the need of the hour. Afridi, Misbah, Umar, Ajmal, Rehman, Wahab, Razzak, Gul, Younis, Hafeez have been regulars in the ODI side. Akhtar has been available whenever he has been healthy. Asad Shafiq is relatively new, and has been good in the longer format. Ahmed Shahzad is Pakistan's best youth batting star from the u-19 level, and has made it to the bigger stage from that platform. The Pakistan team will hope that this young man will step up if and when required. In need of a bowler, Pakistan brought back Sohail Tanvir who has some experience on Indian tracks. He is also a handy batsman.

While the the team looks attractive, one must also notice that there has been no captain selected thus far. Afidi captains the LOI side, and Misbah leads the test side. Pakistan is now playing the Kiwis in an ODI series (first match won comprehensively by the Kiwis). And might be a bad decision if Misbah is handed over the captaincy after the series, what so ever the result of the series. He will have no time to work with his team, and may lead to some pointless decisions made on the field when it matters the most, in the world cup! Afridi has not been at his personal best, nor has he won any series in the recent past, but he has managed to knit together a unit that has been building the confidence and rising to new levels.

Like I said, they haven't won any ODI series recently, but they have not been blanked or stripped naked in any of them. Two high tempo series were lost in the last game of the series. Not having smelled their home soil for years and years, Pakistan have been playing their "home" games in alien locations. They have played in the middle east and in England. England had hosted a 5 game ODI series, in which they were almost on a roll to a 3-0 lead before Umar Gul destroyed the English batting line up...twice in two games, both played at London (Oval, Lords). The series was leveled 2-2, but Pakistan was rolled over by England in the decider, after what seemed to be a decent start to the chase by Kamran Akmal. The series against SA in the Middle East showed that Abdul Razzak has some more miles left in his tank, and is still one of the most dependable middle order all-rounder in the world. The series also saw the rise of another all-rounder, Wahab Riaz.

The batting for Pakistan looks quite tricky. Their opening is unsure. Pakistan, like NZ have been trying out new opening pairs. With Butt out, they have more problems. It's going to be instinctive, with time running out, and very few games left to decide. Past the opening, there is stability. Younis, Misbah will define stability. Both of them have the touch back, and have the dangerous ability to play long innings on Indian soil. The longer one can stay put, the more difficult he becomes to dislodge. And, both are capable of changing multiple gears. So, coining them "slow" is not correct. The middle order after that is explosive to say the least. It's very probable that Pakistan will go in with Afridi-Umar-Razzak trio. Each of them have their own style, but have pretty much the same treatment for the leather off the wood. Afridi last had an explosive run in the Asia Cup in the subcontinent (Bangladesh). Umar has been contributing here and there, has been in and out, but can be counted on to explode if need be. Razzak has smoted very many bowling attacks in the recent past, msot recently, SA.

Pakistani bowling has been more assuring than its batting. Rehman and Ajmal are both proven and capable spinners. Gul, Wahab, Akhtar and Sohail Tanveer will be incharge of the pace bowling department. Gul will be the spearhead, while Akhtar will like to sneak in with raw pace. Wahab Riaz can bowl at great nippy pace while maintaining a tight line during the middle overs. He has impeccable patience and can bowl at a handkerchief on the pitch for a whole spell if asked to. Either of Rehman or Ajmal will play, and both are equally effective with the ball. It might be a strategical pick on a given match-day, depending on how many left/right handed players feature in the top order. Ajmal to a left hander, Rehman to a right hander. The bowling continues with Afridi and Razzak, both capable of sending down 10 overs each, and the part timers, Hafeez and Younis.

Pakistan will be playing a minnow and a competitive side alternatively starting with Kenya and then vs Sri Lanka, Canada, NZ, Zimbabwe and Australia in that order. All games will be played in Sri Lanka. So, Pakistan will have enough time for a breather and recall their forces to play against the big team. Also, they will be able to assess their playing conditions better. They are one of the two teams who play all their games in the same country.

This squad is without the likes of Yousuf, Malik, Rana Naved, Butt, Aamer and Asif for reasons one too many. A squad, if it had involved these guys, would surely have been right up there, among the probables to win the Cup. But, right now, I would say, Pakistan will have to do a really great job if they have to reach the semis. Once there, like I said, you never know what they can do on their day!

Pakistan's woes have been many since their last world cup. The woes began even before the tournament had ended. And many more of them have crept in and out of the team's stability over the 4 years. Fear of terror has kept some teams away. Lack of interest from other boards has kept even more away. In spite of that, the team is springing up new talents to fill in and have been shocking the world inn many instances. They have had a decent run in test cricket. having lost just 1 in the last 7 of them, winning 3, drawing test series vs Aus, SA, winning in NZ. Some inspiring ODI performances have been pointing to the undying spirit that lies in each one of them. Battling floods, quakes, calamities, terrorism and more, the many lads from the lesser known towns gather for the best Pakistani mix of players their cricket has seen, this time for the big prize.

Expectations are less, hope is more. A hope that they would prove to the ever-ignorant world that the Pakistani team can roar, but the cricketing world has to have it's narrow ears open.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Team India, World Cup 2011

GROUP B (Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, Netherlands, South Africa, West Indies)

Team -INDIA (Also, host nation)
ODI Rank - 2
ODI Rating - 122

Last World Cup - First Round/Round Robin
Finals Appearances - 2
Best in a World Cup- Winner 1983

MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin

Strength - Top order, Nerves, Hosts
Weakness - Bowling (Pace, especially)


India play hosts in the 10th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup, and will start the event vs Bangladesh (co-hosts) at Dhaka.

India has selected the squad, mostly, based on performances over the past one year or so in One-Dayers and recent test series. In a little over the past year, India has been lurking in or around the subcontinent, taking down oppositions of the likes of Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Bangladesh. And, a little further ago, India had beaten WI in WI and hosted and defeated England. The only black dot has been a charred trip to Zimbabwe, in which the Indian bench strength was tested for independent performance, which the young and inexperienced side failed miserably (2 losses to Zim, 1 loss to SL, failed to make to the Tri-Series Finals).

The only surprise to many folks was the inclusion of Piyush Chawla out of thin air. The young leg break bowler last played for India in Pakistan in mid-2008 (Asia Cup league, loss). I haven't heard about him making any serious inroads in the past Ranji season. UP didn't make it to the knock-out phase either. He features in the spot where some expected Sreesanth to fill in, and some awaited Rohit Sharma. Sreesanth has been in good control of the white ball since his return to the side this year, and bowled very well vs NZ on not the friendliest of tracks. Rohit Sharma has been in and out of the squad over the past 2 years, having just the two centuries in Zimbabwe to his CV, in an ignored cause. Selectors opted for a spinner-allrounder to fill in that 15th spot, and in came Chawla.

India's top order looks very good. The likes of Sehwag, Sachin, Gambhir, Raina, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan will send shivers into any bowling attack which has been following the cricket India plays at home. But, there are just two or three snags here.

1. Only 7 of the above 8 can feature in the team. Assuming all are fit, it will be 3 of Raina/Yuvraj/Kohli/Pathan. Yuvraj is trying to cement his place in the side. Raina has been not more than "promising" for the past year, falling every now and then (short ball, BIG weakness). Pathan is taking over the role of pinch hitter, finisher and can help with the role of floater if Gary and MSD opt to go for the technique Greg Chappel introduced. Kohli, India's leading run scorer must play all matches. He adds the stability to the side, like what Dravid contributed in the previous World Cups. Raina has the talent, but just needs a tad more control to elevate himself from good to great. Yuvraj has history and records behind his back, we should just hope that it doesn't weigh too much on him. Yuvi, Pathan can bowl some 5th bowler quota too. Raina can't be trusted with run-contention, and Kohli, for some reason is not bowling his medium pacers all that frequently since he led India to the u-19 victory in '08.

2. Fitness concerns at the top of the order. Sehwag, Sachin and Gambhir are all nursing injuries now and are expected to return just in time for te practice and training, and the warm up games. The fitness of openers is crucial for India's success. Early runs on the board will help the middle order to play its calm game before accelerating towards the end.

3. Adjustment. In the past year, none of Sachin, Sehwag or Gambhir had played at number 3. There weren't very many instances in a long time when all three of them played together. Gambhir will mostly have to come at number 3, after finding his form as opener in the ODI series vs NZ. In the past, Sehwag had to step down to no.3 when Ganguly and Sachin paired up, and wasn't all the very comfortable at one-drop. Let's hope Gambhir can adjust to the spot and move on, having done it in the past, he knows what it is like.

Indian bowling looks quite strong with names like Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan and Munaf Patel bowling wonderfully well at both Indian and foreign pitches. A toss up between Praveen Kumar (now nursing injury) and Ashish Nehra will fill the line-up. Ashwin and Chawla would hope for world cup caps when India plays Nederlands and Ireland.

Bhajji has finally found the need to be persistent even if a wicket is not in the kitty. He is a hungry wily fox after he has his first prey, for sure. Zaheer Khan has cut down on pace, but is going great guns with control of line and length, and lending his experience to other bowlers. Munaf, has silently been doing his job of picking crucial wickets at crucial times with his impeccable accuracy and stump-to-stump bowling at a decent (but not too pacy) pace. Nehra has been disappointing in the SA tour, but has been good in ODIs before the tour since his come-back. He has decent pace and has better control on the Indian tracks, or, so was the case. Ashwin and Chawla are decent choices for a spinner-who-can-bat. But, both will have to fight their way through to the XI.

Captain cool-head Dhoni will look to win some tosses for a change. He has been the rock of the batting spine. Averages nearly 50 in the ODIs, plays with responsibility, and knows to play with the tail. He has to be extremely fit, as he is the only keeper in the squad. His captaincy has been clever and technically good... though, once in a while, the introduction of Raina or Sachin before/over Sehwag baffles me. On a whole, he has been near-perfect. He knows how to handle the youngsters and the seniors alike, and the dressing room loves him. If only lady luck loved him as much at the toss ;-)

India plays Bangladesh, England, Ireland, Nederlands, South Africa and West Indies in that order. Plenty of time between most games (except 2 free days before SA game, and 2 before Nederlands game). So, India can prepare well for each game, mentally and technically.

The two minnows India face, come together, and right in the middle of the itinerary. Thus, India can play the bench strength and see what it has to offer, and then make a decision on whom to play against SA and West Indies. Assuming India wins atleast 3 or its first 4 games, the last two will be important to gather momentum going into the quarter finals. West Indies and Bangladesh will both be trying to clinch the group's 4th QF berth up for grabs, and hence, India will have to be cautious of WI's resurgence in the last ODI.

Toughest league game - vs SA (Nagpur)
Easiest league game - vs Ireland (Chennai)

I would say, India has the ability to go to the Semi-final stage and beyond. But, that will depend upon what unfolds over the one month of league phase (ONE MONTH???). It will be one game at a time.

India has been waiting for this world cup since the day the team lost to Sri Lanka 4 years ago, in, what must surely have been, India's worst show at world cup since winning it in '83. All that, is the past. Team India have done their homework well, and will like to honour the great improvement by gifting Coach Gary Kirsten with the World Cup victory as a parting gift. His contribution to the team has been excellent, and would've been incomplete w/o the services of bowling coach Eric Simmons.

All roads lead to the world cup, and, India will now want to break the host jinx.