Friday, February 25, 2011

What would cricket be without this :-

This world is full of ifs and buts.

I want honest opinion on this:-

What would've been the state of cricket if the umpire, Brian Alridge, had given the batsman out lbw on this play?

My answer - The phrase "electric fielder" may never have entered cricket's diction.

Friday, February 18, 2011

This May Be My Favourite World Cup, This May Be Cricket's Last World Cup

Having been a fan of the game since childhood, turning into a fanatic later on, this World Cup has been growing in volumes in how much it means to me, cricket-wise, and emotionally.

My oldest cricket memories hail from my days spent in Nagpur some 15 years ago. Now, I'm in the same city after moving to places up North and down South of India's centre-most point. It is not ironic that I find myself here at this juncture. It is like as if it was ought to happen. Those sweet memories of celebrations are clear as if it happened yesterday, when India beat Pakistan in the knock out stages and I received sweets from my neighbours...not via the doors, but from the balcony. Festive mood it was.

Since then, I've grown into being a big fan of both those teams, both schools of cricket with just different definitions for aggression, style, beauty and charm.

For every world cup, I have been in a different city. Nagpur becomes the first city to have me stationed at to witness two world cups. Congratulations, Nagpur!

Coming to cricketing senses, this is the first world cup, where the "minnows" have seemed to be a little stronger than their usual weak self. But, sadly, this will be the last time the can do so. From the next world cup, the pattern for the world cup is going to be shortened and the associate members are to be stripped of the dignity of being able to feature in the game's most prestigious event. Not even flipping 3 t20 world cups in 2 years is going to replace the excitement that each of those member nations await for 4 years! A very sad move... thanks to the invisible "slowness" of the version, the money involved in the smaller formats and the apparent impatience of viewers who would rather watch stripping cheerleaders over the charisma of the game.

On the flip side, test championships are looking to get a thumbs up. Not like the member nations get a say in them, but just that the ICC seems to care about the classic format of the game. thank God, they do.

This world cup, we will see the teams fear the resurgence of the co-hosts Bangladesh and their squad of spinners, with the guest appearance of a couple of pacers per game. The ironical never-say-die attitude of the Irish has been superb. In both their warm up games, they've been excellent against their opponents. The Dutch will try to show some solidity, some name, some fame. The Zimbabweans will once again try to place themselves back on the cricketing map, after sinking to their lowest point and never being able to climb out of it, howsoever great the efforts have been put in by them. It saddens to see how many talented cricketers they have, but they are just a few gaping holes to complete the side. Somewhere, the glue has come weak. Kenya return to play their first recognized set of ODIs against the top tier teams since last world cup. Their tears have not been seen by anybody. Most of the Canadian players are on a free trip to their motherland. nothing less, not much more.

Almost all these teams, sans B'desh, will be hoping for one victory, that one victory that will glorify all the players in their home-land. They will be pronounced as heroes, who gunned down the big-names of the tournament. I can remember how elated the B'deshi captain, Aminul Islam, went to the presentation ceremony on the last day of May twelve years ago, to end their world cup campaign with a magical victory over Pakistan, and said (with a big grin) "We are all very happy. We know that our Prime Minister will be waiting for us back home with gifts". Last time, it was the Irish team that rode the tide of glorious victories. That is how much the one victory meant to them. And this is the last time the present day minnows can feel that, all the more reason for them to do so.

A few months ago, when India went to Zimbabwe to test its bench, they played as horribly as possible and the team looked bleak, dark, blinded. Since then, India have beaten top notch teams, given rise to new crop of players, set up a fiery batting line up and now host the world cup, with the cheer of millions echoing their hopes. Australia ave been derailed in the recent past, England have broken their spine, New Zealand became as flightless as their Kiwis. Pakistan have been ON and OFF, but still feared, WI always looking to explode but end up losing the fuse, Bangladesh promising.

But most of the world still has its eyes on three most dangerous looking sides - India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Sri Lanka were the last hosts to win the crown, South Africa are the most talented side to have never made it to the finals for the fault, sometimes of their own, sometimes of the (erratic) rules. The world awaits the debut of one of the most experienced spinners, who now lands himself in South Africa. Lankan fans will be louder with their bands playing in the typical sea-and-fun environment. Indian fans world over will be glued to their TV sets, roaring, cheering, praying.

Never before has the world received a world cup with so much anticipation, never before has the game been so widespread. When the six weeks go by, I, as a fan of the game, will not be disappointed. I will surely miss the classic format for the tournament, which may not feature again in the future. It is one last goodbye for the proper world cup, for the "big guns" now fear the minnows.

Stadiums were slow in coming up, stadiums have failed last-minute tests, players have gotten injured, venues ave been switched... But, it will not deter any ounce of fun this edition has got to offer.

It is time to start the cricket, and the gala! Let the best team win!

And, as usual, I will be cheering for India, Pakistan and the West Indies.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Team Bangladesh, World Cup 2011

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

ODI Rank - 8
ODI Rating - 66

Last World Cup - Super-8
Finals Appearances - none
Best in a World Cup - Super-8 ('07)

Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Junaid Siddique, Shahriar Nafees, Raqibul Hasan, Mohammad Ashraful, Mushfiqur Rahim, Naeem Islam, Mahmudullah, Abdur Razzak, Rubel Hossain, Shafiul Islam, Nazmul Hossain, Suhrawadi Shuvo.

Strength - Home conditions, spinners
Weakness - Inconsistent performers


Bangladesh will enter this world cup as the dark horses and will try to ride their abilities and luck to cause one or many upsets in the group stages. After losing just one of their last 8 home games, B'desh will count as a strong contender for making it through to the knockout phase (if you ignore the fact that they only beat Zimbabwe and a hapless NZ in the recent past) given that they will play all their games at home.

The Bangladeshi squad is built around 3 major qualities - strong opening, handy all rounders and a huge academy of spin bowlers!

Tamim Iqbal will mostly open along with Imrul Kayes, followed by Junai Siddique. Tamim Iqbal, the young southpaw has grown in form and confidence over the last 4 years and has added a range of aggressive strokes through the off side in the duration to his armoury. He was the one who washed out any hopes of India's comeback the previous time B'desh met India in a World Cup, causing one of the biggest shocks of the league phase. Imrul Kayes will want to make the most of the opportunity given to him now, and play the supporter's role. Junaid Siddique is the more assuring, technically better off batsmen one would have to look out for. The three left-handers would also cause the bowling side to adjust their bowling a bit, I don't think there is any other team with 3 top order left handers. SL and WI used to have such a left-handed line up, and not many teams were up to the task of dismissing their line up that easily!

The middle order would consist of Raqibul Hasan or Ashraful. Raqibul has been more dependable than Ashraful in the recent times. Ashraful, once thought of the next-big-thing from Bangladesh, has only two or three memorable innings in the past few years, and one of them came in T20, so, doesn't count. Both have the talent, but Ashraful is more likely to gift his wicket than Raqibul. Mushfiqur Rahim will be the wicketkeeper, handy with the bat, and can up the ante in the final overs (if B'desh can play till then).

The mainstay of the Bangladeshi team is their league of spinners. Captain Shakib al Hasan, Mahmudullah, Abdur Razzak and Suhrawadi Shuvo are all capable of finding a spot in the XI. Shakib, Razzaka and Shuvo are all left-arm orthodox bowlers. Bot, Razzak and Shuvo flight the ball more than Shakib, who has more of a slinging action. It is tough to opponents to play with a healthy run rate against these spinners, who have their own variations despite almost all being left handed bowlers. Muhmudullah provides a bit of variation, being right handed. If Naeem Islam is given the opportunity as an all-rounder, he too would come on to bowl. So would Md Ashraful. Spin is Bangladesh's weapon. Maybe, the only weapon.

B'desh will play two fast bowlers, Shafiul Islam and Nazmul Hossain. Their main job would be to get the ball old and hand it over to the spinners. As simple as that. In isolation, both are capable wicket takers, but only Shafiul has the pace to cause any trouble to the batsmen. he has a fast, singing action and puts in a lot of effort to try and extract bounce on unhelping surfaces. Rubel Hossain is the other seamer in the squad, having dropped the crown-favourite Moshrafe Mortaza keeping in mind his current health conditions, the history of his health conditions and probability of him injuring himself again. In the last few series before the world cup, either he hasn't played them at all, or got injured in the first game of the series. And when he does the latter, B'desh win the series. So, B'desh selectors are taking the chance of winning after eliminating that lucky charm.

Bangladesh will commence the World Cup with the opening game vs India, followed by games vs Ireland, WI, England, Nederlands and South Africa. For a team of Bangladesh's stature, almost all games are as important as it can be for them to move on to the next round. The game against West Indies will be the world cup's most important game. The winner of the game is more likely to move on to knock out stage over the other.

Bangladesh couldn't have had a better preparation and build up to the world cup, than 2 series hosted at home and winning both of them. But, they should not forget that they lost most series before that - in Sri Lanka, England. This time, they are a serious contender for the open QF spot, and it will not be surprising if they can make it. How loudly will the Bangla Tigers roar this time around? Will they reach a stage where they might have to play outside their home? Will they throw more surprises than what one can expect? They are capable, but will they show it?

The biggest event in Bangla's cricketing history will like them to shine in it too. Comet Feb 19, and we would all know how that unfolds!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Team New Zealand, World Cup 2011

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

Team - New Zealand
ODI Rank - 7
ODI Rating - 91

Last World Cup - Semi-finals
Finals Appearances - 7
Best in a World Cup- Semi Finals '75, '79, '92, '99, '07


Daniel Vettori (c), Hamish Bennett, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Jamie How, Brendon McCullum (wk), Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Luke Woodcock.

Strength - long batting line up
Weakness - form


The Kiwis come into this world cup on the back of a dismal performance for the past few months, which will surely be the among worst in their cricketing history. They didn't manage an entry into the Tri-Nation finals in Sri Lanka, were blanked 4-0 in B'desh, blanked 5-0 in India and lost 3-2 to Pakistan at home. If you notice, They have lost in all the three host nations and lost to the other subcontinental nation too. Not looking good at all for the semi-finalists from the previous edition.

Their squad is as best as it can look, bolstered by the presence of returning "Big Jake" Jacob Oram and Scott Styris. NZ have had multiple problems all year long and have not yet addressed them. First of it - the misfiring captaincy. Vettori is a good leader, but somehow it is not paying dividends. Vettori, as an individual is performing great, and the team is showing good spirit in the game...but so are Afghanistan, who have qualified to play ODIs and against top-tier teams by winning Associate Nations trophy last year.

The second problem, that has led to many more minor ones - opening. In the past 2 or 3 years, the Kiwis have had more opening pair changes than rest of the world put together. They now have Guptill, Ryder and Brendon McCullum (Baz) who can open, but even after playing 5 whole games, NZ are not sure who would open and who would drop down to the middle order. All three of them are destructive in their own ways, Guptill being the most traditional of them, making sure that he would be one of the two openers for sure. Ryder comes back into the squad after having many issues, health and otherwise. Ryder is strong and more athletic than he looks to be. He whiplashes into the leg side and cover drives are a treat to watch. Baz is a natural striker of the ball, just that he hasn't been in touch with his habitat for a while. Another option for the opening slot - Jamie How....until they find out How exactly...

At one-drop, NZ would have Ross Taylor, who is a class apart. He can whip you square through the off side, or step across and heave you over the cow corner and square leg. Bowling two deliveries at the same spot to Taylor might not be wise. If he is given the time to settle, it would be more difficult to dislodge him than pronounce his complete name (Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor) without assistance 20 times in a minute. Taylor will be joined by the young Kane Williamson who finally got going after a poor start to this ODI career. He is aggressive and has shown quite some promise in Indian and B'deshi conditions. Then comes in Scott Styris, who has quietly become more aggressive since the last world cup. He was the player who would exactly fit into the boots of Chris Harris... Just that, Styris is even better. He seems to score with ease with the bat, be it nudge around to keep the scoreboard tickin', or shoot the moon with some lusty blows. At 6 would be the opener who didn't get the opening slot.

At 7 would be James Franklin, who returned to international cricket as an all-rounder, having left as a bowler who couldn't perform at the highest levels. Since his return, it took the opponents 6 games at the cost of more than 240 runs to get him out for the first time. He remained not out in the three games in India, and Pakistan were not very quick in learning how to dismiss him either. Franklin's return has helped NZ fill a spot that was usually held by Oram. Franklin very handy batsmen, who is under-rated, will make you pay for your negligence, and can send down 7-10 overs of controlled medium pace. Big Jake Oram would mostly follow him at no.8 position. A big hitter and (now) a medium pacer difficult to put away with, he could be handy to extract bounce in Indian conditions. But, at his pace, it must not be as much a concern to the batsmen as his precise line-and-length.

Leaving 3 slots for bowlers (or, bowling all-rounders), since there are many all-rounders already would most probably be occupied by Vettori, Mills and either of Bennett and Southee. Vettori is one of the finest spinners to be now playing. Impeccable line and length, and creative strategies, mixed with patience, more like playing on the patience of the batsmen and waiting for them to step into a trap. He is more than a handy batsman, and is probably the most dependable of them all! Kyle Mills has been the mainstay of the NZ bowling line up. He can swing the ball at good pace and is very menacing with his line, since the ball gathers more bounce than most others can extract off the sub-continent pitches. Mills' tall frame helps. Bennett, the new comer bowls hard and heavy balls, and has a reputation to bowl well directed slow balls (bouncers, especially). But, he is also known to be inaccurate and sprays the ball around, the last thing you would want your only other pure paceman to do. Southee, on the other hand came in as a wonderful prospect from the 2008 u-19 WC team, and since then has dropped pace and lost venom. But, he still remains a possible threat, mostly because of the ability to put in the extra effort on pace and bounce, and provide a little seam-movement with the new-ball.

Nathan McCullum will be looking to take the spot that Jacob Oram is presently trying so hard to gain. The subcontinental conditions would suit Nathan too. He is an explosive batsman, and right now, he is the better batsman from his family. Luke Woodcock is another slow-bowling all-rounder in the NZ reserves. Not much is known of him in the international stage, but the veteran has had a good few seasons at domestic level to get the big promotion...timely one indeed.

NZ play Kenya, Australia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Canada and Sri Lanka in that order... Giving them a breather before every big game.

So, will the perennial semi-finalists finally take it a couple of steps further? Can the Kiwis fly? Will they play against two of their worst enemies - injuries and betrayal of hope? NZ have had all the talent they can want. They also have the guidance of the finest (hard hitting) batsman in Greatbatch and one the most feared bowlers to have treaded the world, Alan Donald. But, in the end, it will be the job of those XI on the field to complete the work.

They will play the QF, but then on, it will be anyone's guess. They will have to play upto their capabilities to really pull off any upset at all.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Team Australia, World Cup 2011

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

ODI Rank - 1
ODI Rating - 131

Last World Cup - Winner
Finals Appearances - 6
Best in a World Cup- Winner '87, '99, '03, '07


Ricky Ponting (capt), Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey (replaced by Callum Ferguson), David Hussey, Cameron White, Tim Paine (wk), Steven Smith, John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz (replaced by Jason Krejza), Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger.

Strength - batting, bowling, fielding. Aus are good at their cricket!
Weakness - Subcontinental goose-bumps


World Cup champions 3 times on the bounce, 4 times in history, 6 times appeared in the finals, the most consistent performer in limited over cricket since inception, before and after Kerry Packer changed its face (and colour). Once again, they return to defend their title against the contenders.

Australia have selected a squad that looked skinny and weak when it was selected and England have done their best in allowing Australia to climb back to a formidable form that the world might fear ahead of the world cup. It took Australia just 1 week to forget 2010 (that included a streak of 3 test losses, 3 ODI losses and a T20 loss in a row. Before that, they had one test win and two other T20 losses) and start a new campaign in 2011, like a snake shedding its old skin and unraveling the new, shiny skin. Just the little surprise of Hasting featuring in the side that James Hopes had been bailing out for years.

At the top of order, Watson will open with Haddin. Watson is in the form of his life. He has been the core of the rod Australian cricket this summer down under. While all players around him have rusted, he has stood firm and rigid. While he had some trouble crossing the 50s earlier on, one can always bank on him to give you a start. And Haddin has been in good attacking touch, barring a couple of games. And one-drop, one will find the familiar face, Ricky Ponting, who will try to redeem some fame for himself after a horrid 2010, capped by the shame of another Ashes loss. His record at world cups is nothing short of great, and will look to build on it, when he returns from injury and lead the Kangaroos to a possible 4th title in a row.

When Ponting returns, Clarke, who led them to a 6-1 thrashing of the semi-English side will join White, and the Hussey...The David Hussey. I'm not sure if Michael Hussey can recover from his injury. In his absence, it will be Clarke-David-White-Smith. The middle order is packed with fire-works. Atleast one of them is bound to fire. The last time White was in India, he helped Aus score excess of 80 runs in the last 5 or 6 overs. He hasn't fired in the last series, but will be waiting to swing his arms on the Indian pitches. Victorian David Hussey has been the steady, finisher kind of guy in the team, now that his Warrior brother Mike is out of the team for a while. First, settles, then breaks the shackles and eats into the nerves of the opponents. And yes, there is Smith. How shall I describe him? He is not pleasing to the eye, but he gets the job done. He has a bat, and he hits the ball in some possible way, which I once described as "Captain caveman wielding his willow", to score runs at good pace. I'm sure the likes of Lee, Mitch and even Dougie can bat a bit to hold one end as the other batsman pushes the total.

Leaving space for 4 bowling spots, I would go with Dougie-Lee-Mitch for sure, and a toss between the three of Hauritz, Tait and Hastings. Dougie Bollinger, when he entered international cricket, was very tough to score against, and was an instant hit in the shortest format of the game. He hasn't changed much, and has been helping himself with some good batting too! His pace and line, the heavy balls bouncing off the tracks, will always pose a trouble to the top order batsmen. Then, of course, there is Lee, who couldn't have found a better time to hit the peak of his health for the 435th time in his career. He has, and that is good for the Aussies. he has been in terrific form in the series vs England. His pace drops only if he wants to bowl a slower ball. Short balls do not miss the batsman's nose, out-swing, in-swing, reverse swing. And has been chirpy too. Reminded of the old Lee? Brett Lee? Yeah! Mitchell Johnson... He is suffering from a rare case of split personality. he can either be destructive, or self-destructive. On his day, one would rather be watching on TV than playing his skidding pacy missiles.

Hastings, the surprise inclusion did well to convince the people that he is not a random pick, and a good all-rounder who bowls at a healthy pace in the middle and slog overs, and handy batsman who can up the ante if needed! Tait is fast -period-. If he can do what he did last world cup -full and straight, the team will be happy. Anything silly, and he would be dispatched to the rafters. Especially against left handed batsmen like Gayle or Sangakkara, who can flick the ball onto the leg side and play straight with ease. And I then come to the one name, who has been sitting around like that cousin who nobody likes but is welcome in the house - (the already injured) Hauritz. Hilditch, the chief selector, promises that he will deliver in India, and is the first choice spinner for the world cup because of his exceptional record in India (read as 7 games 4 wickets, average over 70, strike rate over 90 balls/wkt). Stranger things have been said, not many. Not like Doherty, Beer or Krejza are any better, but I still think Hauritz is an excess in the squad. The leg spin from Smith and off-breaks from David Hussey and some orthodox tweaks from Clarke (who rarely bowls nowadays) should suffice. Spin isn't Aus' go-to since the departure of Shane Warne. But of course, Australia's lucky charm - Shane Watson, who can just steam-roll any side against the run of play to turn the match on its feet. I would fear Watson's bowling more than Lee's or Mitch's. Watson is more consistent.

In the event of Hussey replaced by Shaun Marsh in the squad, AND Australia opting to play him in the XI, Marsh might open and Haddin might drop to no.7 and nudge either White or Hastings out of the team.

Australia play Zimbabwe, NZ, SL, Kenya, Canada and Pakistan. If Australia don't make a mess of the first 4 games, they would be happy with the going. SA is a good match for them, as would be SL in their home. Pakistan-Australia game could be fun, if the situation needs either of them to win to claim a particular position.

Ponting has quoted that even a World Cup win will not make up for the shame suffered in the Ashes loss. But, the Kangaroos will surely be venting their anger at the world cup, trying to remind the world that they are still the top-ranked ODI team, and not for nothing. They have the fuel, and someone has already ignited it to a hot flame. The Aussies would hope that the flame doesn't get extinguished for another couple of months, while 13 other teams will try to take away from the Aussies what has now almost become their property.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Team Sri Lanka, World Cup 2011

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

ODI Rank - 3
ODI Rating - 118

Last World Cup - Runner-up
Finals Appearances - 2
Best in a World Cup- Winner 1996


Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath.

Strength - Excellent batting, home advantage, variety in bowling
Weakness - Not many "probing" bowlers


Thought to be one of the most favourites to claim the jewel, Sri Lanka will back themselves to clinch it, like they did it the last time it came to the sub-continent - with authority. If there is one team apart from India that knows the Indian conditions (apart from their own home conditions), it must be Sri Lanka, who have been in India for almost as much time as Indian team has been in India. Sri Lankan team has mixed bag of luck as far as its performance goes. They lost to India, won against India and then lost to them and won and lost and won and blah blah blah in the past yr or 2 in India or at home or at Asia cup, apart from a charred tour of Pakistan, and a happy tour of Australia.

Well, 11 of the 15 members in the squad have been picked from the squad that defeated Australia in a 3-match pointless ODI series played out in Australia. SL couldn't play an ODI game vs the WI in 2010, after Lord Rain bailed them out in a couple of tests from an embarrassing home loss to WI. WI are now in SL to play 3 games in non-WC host grounds, Rain bailed the Lankans out in the first game, but SL FINALLY managed to win one on their own amidst rain threats. They did field their full strength WC squad for the series. So, it is virtually, match practice.

SL top order is strong, to say the least. The conventionally attacking Tharanga will be partnered by the unconventionally attacking Dilshan. Both can, in isolation, take the scoring rate beyond 8 an over before the 1st powerplay is done with. Tharanga is strong on the off-side. Dilshan is strong in-front and behind the wickets, well, literally. When someone scoops a pace bowler with such ease as throwing a pea in the ocean, the captain and bowlers got to have some serious strategy. But, one little weakness is, Dilshan doesn't move his feet much AND is not that stable in his stance, which sometimes costs him too many play-and-misses, and he succumbs if he finds his strike rate drops below 80, and then on its a domino effect. So, one has to have good line and length vs the opening pair.

Par opening, come the duo or Sangakkara and Jayawardene. Sangakkara, the captain, is aggressive on loose balls, good against pace and spin and likely to relish home conditions. Ex-captain Jayawardene is the right handed batsman with similar description as Sangakkara. Jayawardene has amassed a huge load of runs at home, and not much away from home. Well, that fact actually helps him now. Sangakkara's technique, of trigger movement before delivery stride has an unsettling effect on bowlers, and has helped him score on his leg side with ease. If bowler over-pitches on the off, it's played through covers. J'wardene is great in-front of the wicket and square on both sides.

Middle order will also feature Kapugedera, Samaraweera and Matthews. Kapugedera and Samaraweera, both have the capability of consolidating the innings in the middle and accelerating towards the end. The fact that Samaraweera has been able to change gears from his test form to the ODIs has helped SL do away with the worry of filling a middle order void. One big find for SL in the recent times, has been Angelo Matthews. This young lad can handle pressure situations like it was his day job, bat through the overs, accelerate, milk the bowling, and bowl 8-10 overs of medium-fast pace with good accuracy. For those who are looking for an efficient youngster, this fellow is surely going to be on the podium of that race! Back-up middle order batsman would be Chamara Silva, who is capable of holding the innings together, in the event of top order failing to do so. Neat and handy, but I doubt if he would be required with all the major names in the top order back in the side. Nevertheless.

As for the bowling - SL have good ammunition for both pace and spin.

Spin department will be headed by the Magician, Muttiah Muralitharan, and will have the services of Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis to assist him. Murali... we know what Murali is and what he can do on his day. This is going to be his last world cup (last ODI tournament too, I think). Having finished test career on a high, he would want to repeat that in the ODI format too. The home conditions will favour him a lot, for sure. Mendis, known for his bag of tricks, somehow gives me the feeling that the bag has now become transparent. He has been "decoded" since his first year in international cricket. People are able to play him with ease (bat in front of pad technique). But, a little flaw by the batsman is all that is needed to dislodge him, which is why the canny Mendis is still a lethal weapon in subcontinental conditions. Rangana Herath, the surprise inclusion to the squad, found himself ahead of Suraj Randiv. Herath is not a big turner of the ball, but maintains a very tight line outside the off of a right hander. When Pakistan and Sri Lanka played test series in mid-'09, Herath brought home victories from impossible situations, bowling Pak out cheaply while having just a meagre total to defend in both cases.

Pace department will be shared by the Slinga Malinga and the accurate Kulasekara. Malinga has 2 sets of operation - york/full, and short. A surprise thrid would be slow and full/good-length. If one can spot which one is coming at him at what moment, surely, he is a genius! In the recent ODIs vs the WI, he proved why he is such a terror to batsmen. He reverses the ball very easily, thanks to is round arm (flat-arm?) action, it is naturally easy to reverse. Kulasekara, to me has been one of the most under-rated bowlers. He ranked at the top for a long time, but was never given the respect he deserved. Opponents took him lightly, and THAT was a grave grave mistake. His natural line is to swing the ball into the right hander. So, batsmen will find it difficult to drive him with ease, since he keeps the balls full and straight. Many are out lbw, or bowled through the gates. One might see a silly mid-on in place too. He is not pacy, but he doesn't need pace. Thisara Perera is their back-up paceman. He would feature in the XI if SL opt for an extra pacer over spinner in a 4 pacer (including Matthews)- 1 spinner strategy. I would still, have preferred Thilan Thusara over Perera. Thusara, to me, is more attacking than Perera.

SL play Canada, Pakistan, Kenya, Australia, Zimbabwe and NZ in that order. All except the NZ game on home soil. They have enough time to prepare for big games, and have the freedom to try out bench strength during the alternative lighter games.

Sri Lanka would remember the dark times from the finals of 2007 world cup. They really were dark, finished in pitch black evening sky, the glimmering flash-lights from cameras sizzling the ground like a party night, and Australia celebrated their victory of the worst ever organized world cup. It is now time for them to brush the memories aside and brighten the field up with the pool of talent that has considered Jayasurya and Vaas as excess, and look to give Murali the ultimate gift he deserves. They have what it takes to be the champion, they will be playing most games in their own back-yard, and they will be looking to host their own QF and SF.

I say, they can be one of the two finalists. Can they win it? Yes. Will they win it? You will see...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Team England, World Cup 2011

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

ODI Rank - 5
ODI Rating - 109

Last World Cup - Super-8
Finals Appearances - thrice
Best in a World Cup - Runner-up ('79, '87, '92)

Andrew Strauss (C), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan (replaced by Ravi Bopara), Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior(wk), Ajmal Shahzad, Graeme Swann, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy

Strength - (if fit) Fast bowlers
Weakness - FITNESS, inability to play consistently on slow tracks


If one calls South Africa "chokers", one might have to think again. England is the team that went to three world cup finals and lost each of them! And I will not hold anything back in saying, this is the best squad ever sent to a world cup. Well, it seemed so a couple of weeks ago. Most players in the squad have been in good touch in their respective department in ODIs or in test cricket (Ashes). Collingwood, who just retired from test cricket (before he could be droppped) will be playing his last world cup, and maybe his last international cricket tournament. The only surprise came in when Prior was selected ahead of Davies, who had been the keeper for England in the last 2 or more series.

Andrew Strauss has been becoming more of a respected captain, and the two of Strauss and Andy Flower (the coach) have been getting together the English side for more than an year in the build up for the WC. The batting issues seems to have been solved. Bell has been pushed lower down the order, instead of making him open. Bell will prefer middle order to opening, his natural game surely would. So, England now has Strauss accompanied by Matt Prior at the opening slots. Prior was called into the squad after his performance in the Ashes, and it took him a couple of ODIs to finally start firing. The left-right combo like to attack the seamers up front, with Prior being more aggressive. Prior loves going straight, Strauss is better square of the wicket. So, bowling will have to be smart... But, like the Australians have been showing in the 7-match series, it's no big deal to break them apart early!

Middle order is great on the paper - Trott, KP, Bell, Collingwood, Morgan. On paper, yes. Trott has managed to extend his batting form from the Ashes to the ODI series. He was slow in a couple of games, but managed to score at a faster pace in the 6th game in a losing cause. He is one of the coolest batsman at the crease, who relies more on placement and timing than on power. Well, he has cemented the sheet-anchor role, atleast. KP comes in as a fearesome big man with the bat, who I feel is not yet consistent with the bat either side of the event of him being dropped from the side. Once in a while he as exploded - once in test series, once in ODIs... But, he has had a good run in series played in India. Bell is in very good touch with the bat, and is likely to be the strokemaker in the middle of the innings. Collingwood's place in the middle order is questionable in isolation, but he adds to the side the calmness and experience, and the English team is expecting him to deliver his due at the world cup, after failing expectations for almost the whole of Ashes and the ODI tour. Morgan, the "acquisition" from Ireland, has been the unconventional batting star for the English middle order, bailing them out of difficult situations, which also includes game(s) against B'desh. He has his own school of cricket and defines beauty in his own way, and scores runs at a good pace in his own way! Well, he does contribute more often than not, and is England's "finisher" for the world cup.

Bowling (on paper), a month ago, would have had one of the most destructive line up of pacemen. Just that, in the past month or so, most of them have been injured or completely lost touch in foreign environment. Broad was injured early in the Ashes, and is expected to recover just in time for the world cup. Bresnan and Shahzad injured themselves during the ODI series. Broad has been one of the most improved cricketers in the world over the past 2 years or so. He has got his height to help in extract bounce from the Indian tracks. He bowls stump-to-stump when needed to bottle the flow of runs, and that is when he is very tough to get away with. Bresnan is an "effort bowler". He charges in and bowls heavy deliveries, the ball may just lift a tad faster than others can. He has had a good run down under, but got injured during the course of a game. Ajmal Shahzad, the new comer has been the one who has impressed me the most. He is good on pace, and can reverse the ball quite well.A very good find in the recent past for the English team, and it is probable that he might play games ahead of Bresnan, or any other injured players. The counter argument - Bresnan can bat better than Shahzad.

The only fit pace bowler who finds himself on the world cup squad - Jimmy Andersen. He missed the first 3 games of the ODI series vs Aus, returned to get England the much needed win to stop the trot, bowled well in that game and in the next (5th ODI) and completely lost his rhythm in the 6th game. He leaked a massive 91 runs in his 10 overs, in a game where England failed to defend 333! So, his consistency is a concern. Indian conditions won't be allowing much swing to him, so, he might have to be impeccably accurate with his line and length to be a trouble-maker with the ball.

Spin - Swann is England's mainstay spinner, but again, he is injured! If fit, he will be England's main weapon in the middle and slog overs. Swann can drift, spin big and vary the pace without giving the batsmen much clue. He has spun wonders on English soil, surely he will be a menace on Indian soil? I guess so. The back-up spinner is Michael Yardy, who has been pretty effective with his left arm tweakers. he strangles the batsmen for runs, to get under their skin. A product of modern day cricket. There is Tredwell in the squad too, but I'm not sure how much he will be used in the games that matter. In basketball lingo, he will "play the garbage minutes". Any opening for an all-rounder spot will be rather filled by Luke Wright, who has a reputation of being a hard hitter. He can also bowl at > 135kph, but for some reason I've not seen him bowl that often. Body problems? Or lack of requirement (with 3 or 4 pacers already)? For sure, Collingwood is going to be preferred ahead of any other part-timers, him being effective and experienced. His off-cutters with occasional true medium pace will be quite an irritation to deal with for the batsmen during the middle overs.

Batting and bowling apart, England's best skill is their fielding. Their oldest player, Collingwood, is their best fielder. They save atleast 20-30 runs a game with their skills on the field. This will be a major advantage, given that in the subcontinent the fielders will have to help out their bowlers to put a lid on the scoring rate, which is likely to be high in most games.

England will have to be pretty effective with their bowling in the world cup. Their bowlers are not yet in the grove to perform with match-winning efforts. The only ones who looked like they can play well, figuratively and cricket-wise, are either not in the squad (Finn, Woakes) or also injured (Tremlett).

England play Pakistan, Nederlands, India, Ireland, South Africa, Bangladesh and West Indies. Interesting trend out there, right? But, England might have to face a situation where they have lost 3 of their first 5 league games before traveling to Bangladesh and facing WI in their last league game, both of which can be tricky. B'desh have been building a fortress at their home, and WI might want to make a push to claim a QF berth. They know their friendly neighbours Nederlands and Ireland well, and will have their easiest games against them, while the host, India, will be their toughest opponent, having lost to them 5-0 in their last bilateral ODI series in India not so long ago.

England have won the Ashes, a trophy which means a great deal to their history. But, if at all they want to etch their names in the history of ODI cricket, there is a lot of home work to do in very little time. Personally, I don't see England deserving to go beyond the QF stage in this pitiable form. They will either have to be lucky in their QF match-up, or, be re-born into a new star force to prove me wrong and make me eat my words for breakfast! They have the squad, many of whom are not ready as of yet.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Team West Indies, World Cup 2011

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

ODI Rank - 9
ODI Rating - 66

Last World Cup - Super 8
Finals Appearances - 3
Best in a World Cup- Winner 1975, '79

Darren Sammy (Captain), Adrian Barath, Carlton Baugh Jr (wk), Sulieman Benn, Darren Bravo, Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Christopher Gayle, Nikita Miller, Kieron Pollard, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Devon Smith

Strength - Strong (sometimes unproven) batting
Weakness - Bowling


Once the kings of the game, now the puppets, the West Indian side comes into the tournament as a dark horse, with hopes of winning it being sparkled time and again. West Indian cricket has suffered very bad patches over the past 4 years, since they hosted what was reputed as the worst world cup till date. Players and board had disputes, there were contract issues, and then, some players turned down board contracts, and some even showed more interest in franchise tourneys instead of international fixture. And, not to forget "Sir Allen" Stanford's cameo of bringing in a revolution and leaving the scenes in shame.

West Indies have been trying hard to find the balance in the team, between experience and youth. The WI top order has been depending on Sarwan, and the middle order on Shiv. The captain-for-long, Gayle was always on or off, but one expects him to give you a start more often than not. Also, Brian Lara retired since the 07 WC, and WI have since been looking for a perfect fit to his spot. Can they find anyone more perfect than Darren Bravo? I've been fooled time and again into thinking I was watching Brian Charles Lara while watching the prodigy Darren Bravo bat. And i'm sure his mother is waiting to thrash me for saying so (sorry, lady, just can't help it! He is Lara, and he is worth it!)

So, WI's batting! Right on top, we have a whole new opening pair - Gayle is now to be partnered by Adrian Barath, after other try-outs in the past few years failed (Fletcher? Chattergoon? etc!). Not like Barath has played a lot, but he showed character while playing in Australia. He jsutified his selection to the WC with a century vs SL recently. He can play big, and play hard! Gayle, like we all know is the danger man on top of that order. He is in good "touch" after playing some hurricane knocks for the Warriors in the Big Bash. I would say, he will have atleast 3 or 4 good starts in the league phase itself, and that means rampage!

No.3 and No.4 would be two of Sarwan, Darren Bravo and Shiv. Sarwan made a good comeback statement after missing cricket since his injury more than an year ago while diving to get back into the crease in an epic match vs SA. Darren Bravo has shown enough character to find a berth in the WI team for the past few months. And tere is always the Mr. Dependable, Shiv Chanderpaul. People have been criticising his pace at the pitch, but he has the ability to play long innings and accelerate towards the end. In subcontinental conditions, if you can stay, you have the bowlers at your mercy! Assuming that is what the plan is for spots 3 and 4, Dwayne Bravo will come in at 5, followed by the new captain Darren Sammy and Keiron Pollard - the 3 all-rounders who will be under the radar of all Caribbean fans, expecting atleast two of the three to sparkle in the games. Pollard, though, has been off colour in recent times, but Sammy has taken his spot! Bravo is more of a responsible fellow amongst the three. But, in the slog overs, the only responsibility is - to score!

Carlton Baugh is the keeper for the WI, who won the race against Ramdin, who seems to have disappeared from the international stage.

The bowling, will comprise of the nippy and effective pace bowler Kemar Roach and the left arm orthodox Sulieman Benn for sure. And I would have Ravi Rampaul over Andre Russel for the third spot. Bravo, Sammy, Pollard and Gayle will send down the other overs. WI will surely miss the experience of Jerome Taylor, who is very pacy, as well as good at swinging the ball, and of course, fooling batsmen with his slow ball! The back up spin option is Nikita Miller, whose experience is pretty much restricted to domestic exploits, and nothing much to show at the international level. But he is one of the better spinners in there, ahead of others, Dave Mohammed, for example. Devon Smith is the back-up opening option. One might as well like Shiv to open and accommodate both Sarwan and Darren Bravo in the XI in case one of the regular openers (knock on wood) isn't in a position to open the innings.

WI have not been great in the ODIs for a long time. They have been cleaned up by SA, beaten by Eng and India (all at home) and lost at the hands of the Kiwis and Australia on the road. Now, they are in SL to play with the already decided squad and try to get the players into good touch (weather permitting).

WI, if at all they want to put aside all their troubles off the field of play, they would have to show some character. This is a 50 over tournament, and performing for just 20 overs an innings won't get them anywhere near the 2nd round. They will have to face off against Bangladesh to claim a quarterfinals spot.

One advantage the team will enjoy is, that, they don't have much traveling to do. they play SA and Nederlands at Delhi, play B'desh at Dhaka, Ireland at Mohali (pretty close to Delhi) and move South to play England and India at Madras. Ireland will be their easiest game. And while games against Eng, Ind and SA will be tough, I feel that the only BIG game of the whole first round amongst both groups will be the WI vs B'desh game on the 4th of March at Dhaka. That game can potentially decide who is going through to the knock out stage and who is not!

They have the history behind their backs, but they have a very unknown future ahead of them! They still flow over the brim with class, and have the power to break the knuckles of any attack. They must try their best in prevent run-leaks with their bowling "attack". Fingers crossed, I wish they can go into the 2nd stage, but it all depends on their execution. One-man plays can save them in a game or two, but in the long run, the whole team must chip in!