March 2011

Just Another Knock-Out Cup

by tom 24. March 2011 09:22

 

by Guest Blogger SB Tang


I'm struggling to contain my apathy towards this World Cup and nothing which has happened in Group A has changed that. By the time Australia played an opposition side with a reasonable chance of beating us in a non-rain affected match, Australia, along with every other regular Test-playing nation (that excludes the Zimbots) in Group A had pretty much qualified for the quarters, thus highlighting the success of the ICC's newly restored guaranteed-not-to-eliminate India format. And, despite England's valiant efforts to thwart the intended objective of that format in Group B (and single-handedly revive 50 over cricket in England in the process), the four established Test-playing nations from Group B also qualified for the quarters.

 

Indeed, such is my enthusiasm for the ICC's never-ending, commercially exploitative tournament format, I'm writing this update in a biergarten in Vienna as I pass the time waiting for the train to the beer-soaked heaven of Prague. Anyway, back to the point, which I believe is Australia's performance so far and our prospects in the knock-out rounds. It's difficult to draw any substantive conclusions from the group stage because the unfortunate wash out meant that we weren't tested until our final group game against Pakistan. And, yes, we lost and it wasn't a great performance from our batting line-up but one bad performance in a meaningless one-day game hardly says anything about a team's prospects of winning three consecutive must win matches -- which is what this World Cup comes down to. It doesn't even particularly matter in what order you face the opposition. The bottom line is that in order to win a World Cup on the sub-continent in this format, you're inevitably going to have to beat one or more of the sub-continental powers at some point -- so I'm not overly fussed that we drew India in the quarters.

 

What will be of concern to the Australian team hierarchy is the lack of wickets from our spinners and the continued poor batting form of Punter and Cam White, our Unofficial Deputy Vice-Captain and arguably our best one-day batsman since his coming of age on the one-day segment of the 2009 Ashes tour. White's batting form has been mysteriously mediocre ever since he was elevated to the Australian T20I captaincy a few months ago -- another sad example of Australia today somehow managing to slowly morph into England in the 90s. Punter's one-day international and, in particular, World Cup record provide substantial comfort that he will come good when it matters in the knock-out matches. But, as much as I hate to say it as a Victorian, White's position has to be under scrutiny.  Given Tait's excellent wicket-taking form (yeah, his economy rate's been a tad high but that's always been the case with Tait and it's surely a risk one has to accept in picking him) and the potential weakness of certain members of the Indian batting line-up against brute pace and short-pitched bowling, I was surprised to hear rumours that Tait may be the one who'll have to make way if the selectors choose to bring in bowling all-rounder John Hastings. Surely, White should be the one in line for the chop in light of his non-contribution with both bat and ball and Hasting's proven ability to smash it with the bat.

 

I'm still not convinced by Haddin partnering Watto at the top. If it's a slightly dodgy batting wicket then surely Tim Paine is better equipped technically to play the anchor role next to Watto at the top of the order. The spinners would also appreciate Paine's superior keeping on a turning deck. If it's a flat track and the plan is all-out attack at the top of the order then Paine, with his outstanding domestic T20 record, also appears to be the better option to partner Watto. Haddin's dismissal in the 40s against Pakistan, was another example of his frustrating habit of getting out when well-set in difficult batting conditions and the team needs him to kick on and make a big score.

 

Our three-ponged pace attack has done its wicket-taking job and Brett Lee, as willing and lion-hearted as ever, has been absolutely immense. Such a shame that his body no longer allows him to play Test cricket. As for our spinners, the combination of a lack of wickets and not exactly frugal economy rates is a concern, but there's not much the selectors can do at this point. In terms of wickets, Krejza and Smith are the most aggressive limited overs spinners Australia has and they're already in the XI. In terms of economy rate, the selectors could bring in David Hussey, who'd also bolster the batting, but that hardly solves the primary problem of taking wickets and, in any event, both Smith and Krejza can bat (even if the latter hasn't shown it up to this point in the tournament). Hauritz would be useful right now (wow, two years ago, I never thought I'd type those words) but he's injured.

 

It's sad that Punter's chance to win three consecutive World Cups as captain without dropping a single match has now gone but a third consecutive World Cup, particularly one including a win over a hugely-hyped India side on their home turf, would at least go some way to repairing his legacy as captain after a third Ashes series defeat.

 

We still have every chance of beating India and winning this World Cup -- but then, so does every other side which made the quarters (yup, I'm including New Zealand). If our batting line-up fires (and everything in Punter's World Cup record indicates that he will deliver now that it counts) and we post a good total on the board, then you'd back our bowlers to finish the job. But, if our batting line-up has another one of their by now disturbingly familiar collapses, then our bowlers and, in particular, our still internationally inexperienced spinners will face a grim day at the office.

 

Finally, a few words about England. First off, well-done to the England players for having the class to go and celebrate with, and congratulate, the Irish lads after their win. Not a great day for the England bowlers who weren't at their best but even if they were, there's not much any bowler can do on a pitch that flat against a batsman in a state of grace like Kevin O'Brien was. You just have to doff your cap to him and shake his hand. As the man himself admitted after the match, he'll never bat that well again, and his international record to date indicates that he'd never batted that well before! Also, let's not forget that the England bowlers have been on tour since November. They got three days at home between the end of the Ashes tour and the start of the World Cup. Strauss has rightly refused to use that as an excuse but there's no doubt that exhaustion would be affecting bowlers like Anderson who bowled their hearts out to retain the Ashes on Australia soil for the first time in 23 years. And for all the boundary balls Jimmy's served up in this tournament, don't forget that he single-handedly dragged England back into their match against South Africa with a lethal mid-innings spell and, in hindsight, that victory was the key to England's eventual qualification for the quarters. It'd be a foolish man who'd bet against Jimmy being decisive for England in the knock-out rounds. 

 

Second, congratulations to the England selectors whose balls of steel have again paid off. They dropped the Ashes series leading wicket-taker Steve Finn for Tim Bresnan for the Boxing Day Test and were rewarded with a match-winning performance from the Yorkie and a series-clinching win. Heading into England's must-win group game against the Windies, the selectors dropped the leader of their pace attack and their all-time leading international one-day scorer. Their replacements -- the unheralded James Tredwell and the much-maligned jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none Luke Wright -- made match winning contributions as England got the win they needed in their trade mark nerve-shredding fashion. More disturbing examples of England slowly morphing into Australia circa 1995 to 2007. 

 

All the quarter-finalists have a decent shot at winning this World Cup. But, if I have to back someone, I'll back England. They have the hunger, the right mix of bowlers, a strong batting line-up, an excellent fielding unit and most importantly of all in a knock-out cup ... Lady Luck and a sense of destiny on their side as they complete their ascension as the best all-round cricket side in the world. A few years ago, in the wake of England's 5-0 Ashes humiliation, when some England and Wales Cricket Board suit announced their goal of winning back and retaining the Ashes and winning both limited overs World Cups, I laughed out loud (in my defence, I was hardly alone). I'm not laughing any more. 

You can read more of SB's work here: astraightbat.wordpress.com

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It's The Business End But Who Will Do The Business?

by tom 22. March 2011 20:54

By guest blogger Tom Huelin

So after 42 group matches filled with intrigue, suspense and drama if you followed England, tedium, boredom and monotony if you watched anyone else, we now know what we pretty much knew way back on 19th February; the teams that will contest the Cricket World Cup quarter finals.

That may sound patronising to sides such as Bangladesh and Ireland who gave so much to this World Cup In truth however, the way the competition is structured, it was always going to end up with India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa, England, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies contesting the Quarter Finals, and so it has proved.

So who’s in with the best chance of winning the World Cup on 2nd April 2011? Are England genuine contenders, or are they just a tired beast, waiting to be put out of their misery and put to bed by their mummy after a marathon winter of cricket?

Well let’s have a look shall we?

Pakistan vs West Indies, Wesnesday 23rd March 2011, Mirpur

It’s usually Pakistan struggling to qualify, flattering to deceive and putting their fans through every emotion known to man, the role assumed by England this time around. On this occasion though they have topped their group and have just beaten Australia. As build-ups go, you don’t get better than that.

They have Shahid Afridi, the leading wicket taker of the tournament so far, who has 17 wickets for only 11.47. Their batting hasn’t been as reliable, in fact they were bowled out by Canada for just 184, although they did go on to win that game. They also have Kamran Akmal, their wicket keeper, who dropped 2 of the simplest catches of the whole World Cup, off Ross Taylor when he was on 4 and 8 respectively. Taylor went on to make a century in a match Pakistan lost. In the knockout stages, mistakes like that could cost them.

West Indies are almost as ragged as England on the other hand. They have the potential to be a top side, with big-hitters like Gayle, Sammy and the humungous Keiron Pollard, and in Kemar Roach they have a genuinely exciting fast bowler who has 13 wickets at 12.00 so far in the tournament. They also have the chirpiest wicket keeper in the game in Devon Thomas, who is hilarious. A personal favourite of mine in this World Cup!

This should be a straightforward win for Pakistan on the face of it. However, if Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy et al are in the mood, they may just bludgeon the West Indies to victory, but I can’t see it. I think it will be Pakistan who progress.

India vs Australia, Thursday 24th March 2011, Ahmedabad

India play Australia in front of their home crowd with the locals convinced this is their year to lift the Cup. There are signs however that the players are beginning to feel the pressure a tad lately. They have been bowled out in their last 2 games, against South Africa in a game they lost, and West Indies, who they went on to beat, and although they have good batters down to Pathan at seven, and even Harbhajan can score a few at 8, India do have a tendency to crumble quickly when wickets start falling.

Their fielding also is lousy, and if they bat first and Australia have half a chance in a run chase, you wonder whether India will be able to halt the flow of runs.

Australia though are not feared in the way they once were. In the bowling department, Brett Lee is starting to show his age and Tait is temperamental at best. Mitchell Johnson I think we covered sufficiently in the Ashes (“He bowls to the left….” Etc!), and Ponting and Clarke have barely scored any runs between them this tournament, so on the face of it, you wouldn’t give the Aussies a chance in India would you?

Well Australia are one team that you never bet against. Their fielding will be sharp and that will save them runs. They will also keep the pressure on India as long as there’s a chance of victory; India will know they’ve been in a game whether they win or lose. For me, I think India will sneak it, but it should be a cracker.

South Africa vs New Zealand, Friday 25th March 2011, Mirpur

South Africa had a mini-choke against England but otherwise have looked pretty impressive thus far….but that’s half the problem with them usually isn’t it; flattering to deceive early on, only to crash out in the latter stages. This may be a little too early for them to bow out though. I think they will have too much for New Zealand in this match.

New Zealand just don’t have enough to trouble South Africa; the Saffas have an impressive batting line up with particularly De Villiers and Amla shining in the group stages, and their bowlers, particularly Peterson, have produced the goods consistently too.

New Zealand have a few top performances such as Ross Taylor, Brendan McCullum and obviously Daniel Vettori. They also impressively beat Pakistan during the group stages, but I just feel South Africa will have too much for the Kiwis.

England vs Sri Lanka, Saturday 26th March 2011, Colombo

In Sri Lanka. England are going to be destroyed aren’t they?

This game has the highest run scorer in the tournament so far in Kumar Sangakkara, against the 2nd and 3rd highest run scorers in Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss. It has one of the greatest spinners of all time, Muttiah Muralitharan, against the best off-spinner in the world right now, Graeme Swann. This promises to be an enthralling encounter.

Although it started well, England’s batting has gone a little down hill since the first few games, coinciding with Kevin Pietersen returning home injured. That said, in their last group game against the West Indies they had a few good knocks, with JT again scoring well in particular. I personally would like Trott to open with Strauss and drop Prior down to no.6, but I fear it’s too late for England to change anything that drastically now, so injury permitting I think it’ll be more or less the same team that played against the Windies, a line-up that looked so much better for a second spinner, James Tredwell, being in it.

Sri Lanka have many match winners with both bat and ball; Malinga, Murali, Jayawardene and Dilshan, and with a home crowd behind them, you would be mad to bet against them, but this England side is made of tough stuff. To hold their nerve and tie against India in probably the game of the group stages, to beat South Africa, to rescue a victory against the West Indies when they’d seemingly given the game away showed cricket with balls, and if anyone could cause an upset against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in this World Cup, it might just be England. 

It’s been a slow burner this World Cup, that’s for sure, but we’re at the business end now, and there are some exciting games to look forward to in the Quarter finals now, so let battle commence.

You can follow Tom on twitter @tomhue1 and read his blog at www.huetom1.blogspot.com

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I Only Have Eyes For Sehwag And 9 Other Magic "Moments" From The World Cup So Far

by daniel 21. March 2011 16:36

Well thank heavens for that. The Sado-Masochists in the ICC World Cup Planning Committee devised a format to guarantee the top eight teams would contest the quarter finals and, despite a few scary moments almost entirely generated by England’s exhausted, frequently inept and fractious squad, they have been rewarded.

Whether it was strictly necessary to spend 29 days confirming what we already knew would happen is another matter. And indeed next time the ICC are dispensing with the tiresome lesser nations altogether, but in spite of the ridiculously attenuated format and regular diet of one sided matches, this World Cup has been by far the most enjoyable since 1996.

Paradoxically the fascination has been caused by a succession of unpredictable games between the top sides. Of the eight quarter finalists only England remain undefeated in matches between the survivors. Australia’s irksome unbeaten record has now been consigned to history leading Ian Chappell to fume about Shahid Afridi’s wicket taking celebration. I suppose raising one’s hands aloft in triumph must constitute some awfully disrespectful faux pas in Australia, just as Brett Lee’s fist pumps and mock Irish heel clicking is regarded as the very essence of naffness everywhere else in the world. But we forgive Brett because he’s universally acknowledged to be a likeable Australian and thus falls under the protective custody of the Endangered Species Act 1973 along with Germaine Greer, Guy Pearce, and Rolf Harris. Ian Chappell, sadly, does not.

It is with some difficulty, therefore, that I have identified my top ten favourite moments so far in a World Cup that has yielded shocks, hat tricks, collapses and controversies but here goes:

• Virender Sehwag. Is he strictly speaking a moment? Well, every moment spent watching him merges into an extended moment of almost illegal pleasure. Perhaps he deserves a top ten to himself starting with the first ball of each of his five innings to date, all of which have been dispatched for four. That in itself is ludicrous, as if he is toying with us, suggesting he could in fact hit every ball for four but decides against it for the good of cricket. As the tournament has progressed he has become steadily slower between the wickets (on the rare occasions when he doesn’t rely on a runner), and when he deigns to field it is either at slip or short mid wicket where he can safely watch the ball sail past him to the boundary where lesser mortals such as Kohli or Tendulkar can engage in the tiresome business of retrieving it and throwing it in. He began with a genius century against Bangladesh including a new shot unplayable by anyone else, the back foot aerial straight drive. Thereafter he has simply flayed the bowling until he thinks even his ridiculously flaky middle order team mates can’t fail to reach 300 and contrives his own downfall. I used only to have eyes for Victor Trumper but have filed the divorce papers in expectation of an early autumn wedding to Viru.


• Kevin O’Brien’s hundred against England. This qualifies as a moment by dint of being completed in the time in takes to prepare a decent sized omelette. He was in some ways assisted by England’s bowlers, but still managed to record the biggest six of the World Cup and take his side from certain defeat to certain victory. Furthermore, when he lay awake at night imagining his day in the sun I bet he didn’t see himself finally attaining unsurpassable glory while sporting pink hair. The removal of the lesser nations from the next tournament will deprive us of singular and extraordinary moments such as these and will render the WC that much the poorer.


• New Zealand’s demolition of the Pakistan attack to the tune of 114 runs off their last six overs. Again the bowling was beyond diabolical (or “not the greatest” as Iain O’Brien so understatedly said on Test Match Sofa) but you try hitting thigh high 90 mph balls 100 metres. It isn’t easy. Taylor’s partnership with Oram put on 85 in 21 balls at just over 4 runs per ball. No one will see its like again in an international match now that Shoaib Akhtar has retired.

England’s run chase against India. 338 is way too much to get in any match but against the hosts in Bangalore it was simply unattainable. Then, with 10 overs to go, 60 odd to get and 8 wickets in hand it was impossible to lose. Zaheer Khan came on to bowl and the match was lost to England within an over, but last ditch sixes just in time by Bresnan, Swann and most extraordinarily of all Shahzad in the last over brought a tie that neither side was happy with. Who says ODI cricket was designed to ensure a result? Beautiful.


• Ricky Ponting’s protracted mental breakdown. No one should take pleasure in that, and in fact I don’t, but it is undeniably curious. Witness his infuriation with Steve Smith for not getting out of his way when taking that catch. Recall Brad Haddin weighing in on his behalf after he smacked the cover off the ball and didn’t walk against Pakistan. Observe the continuing lack of runs, shrinking eyes, and bizarre schoolboy haircut. Something is happening. For what it’s worth my theory is that his body has been taken over by the brain of a 12 year old who has devised the best possible way to avoid a tricky Maths exam in the morning by escaping into the form of an international cricketer and is now regretting it.


• India’s collapse against South Africa. We are constantly being told India has the best batting line up in the world. They probably do, but losing 9 wickets for 29 runs is not great evidence for that hypothesis. Watching Dhoni grow increasingly but silently furious whilst his team mates disappeared in a hail of idiocy was an object listen in how to communicate profound displeasure without raising your voice. By the way, since I’m on the subject of Indian batting can I make a very obvious point? If your side contains the best batsmen but your bowlers, with the exception of Zaheer Khan, are by some way the wrong side of mediocre, it makes little sense to prepare good batting wickets. Trust your superior batsmen to score the runs whatever the surface and give the useless bowlers a helping hand by producing a raging turner on which even Bhaji and Pathan could be effective.


• Jonathan Trott’s “catch” against the West Indies that went for six. This was a true moment and had all the makings of being an English classic, albeit provided by a South African. With England desperate for a breakthrough and facing a humiliating early exit, Trott caught a ball on the boundary from the hitherto unfancied Andre Russell. He fell. He avoided the boundary rope. He claimed the catch. But TV replays couldn’t be sure that his sleeve hadn’t brushed the raised advertising sponge that sits on top of the rope owing to a shadow caused by the floodlights. It seemed that at last the English had a moment of injustice and desperately poor luck that they could use as a soothing comfort blanket of despair to explain yet another failure at a World Cup. Unfortunately for them the West Indies imploded immediately, losing 4 wickets for 3 runs thus prolonging their agony into the quarter finals (where a stray dog will undoubtedly prevent the ball from going for a winning boundary resulting in last ball heartache).


• Balaji Rao doing anything. Yes. Balaji Rao. What’s not to love about Balaji Rao?


• Billy Bowden refusing to give Ian Bell out against India when the ball was clearly shown to be hitting middle stump by Hawkeye. So determined was Bowden not to be undermined by the DRS having turned down an appeal which was subsequently and immediately reviewed that despite incontrovertible evidence that a slow, low non turning delivery was going to hit middle and off stumps, he invoked a little known sub clause in the DRS that states “if a batsman is over 2.5 metres down the track the ball must be shown to be hitting a very specific spot in the middle of the middle stump in order to be given out”. A man who puts his own DRS stats above common sense is a man we should cherish. See also Asoka da Silva.


• Hiral Patel’s back foot cut over extra cover for six off Shaun Tait for Canada against Australia. It is quite simply the greatest shot I have ever seen.

And I haven’t even started on Imran Tahir…..

 

 

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I Only Have Eyes For Sehwag And 9 Other Magic "Moments" From The World Cup So Far

by daniel 21. March 2011 16:36

Well thank heavens for that. The Sado-Masochists in the ICC World Cup Planning Committee devised a format to guarantee the top eight teams would contest the quarter finals and, despite a few scary moments almost entirely generated by England’s exhausted, frequently inept and fractious squad, they have been rewarded.

Whether it was strictly necessary to spend 29 days confirming what we already knew would happen is another matter. And indeed next time the ICC are dispensing with the tiresome lesser nations altogether, but in spite of the ridiculously attenuated format and regular diet of one sided matches, this World Cup has been by far the most enjoyable since 1996.

Paradoxically the fascination has been caused by a succession of unpredictable games between the top sides. Of the eight quarter finalists only England remain undefeated in matches between the survivors. Australia’s irksome unbeaten record has now been consigned to history leading Ian Chappell to fume about Shahid Afridi’s wicket taking celebration. I suppose raising one’s hands aloft in triumph must constitute some awfully disrespectful faux pas in Australia, just as Brett Lee’s fist pumps and mock Irish heel clicking is regarded as the very essence of naffness everywhere else in the world. But we forgive Brett because he’s universally acknowledged to be a likeable Australian and thus falls under the protective custody of the Endangered Species Act 1973 along with Germaine Greer, Guy Pearce, and Rolf Harris. Ian Chappell, sadly, does not.

It is with some difficulty, therefore, that I have identified my top ten favourite moments so far in a World Cup that has yielded shocks, hat tricks, collapses and controversies but here goes:

• Virender Sehwag. Is he strictly speaking a moment? Well, every moment spent watching him merges into an extended moment of almost illegal pleasure. Perhaps he deserves a top ten to himself starting with the first ball of each of his five innings to date, all of which have been dispatched for four. That in itself is ludicrous, as if he is toying with us, suggesting he could in fact hit every ball for four but decides against it for the good of cricket. As the tournament has progressed he has become steadily slower between the wickets (on the rare occasions when he doesn’t rely on a runner), and when he deigns to field it is either at slip or short mid wicket where he can safely watch the ball sail past him to the boundary where lesser mortals such as Kohli or Tendulkar can engage in the tiresome business of retrieving it and throwing it in. He began with a genius century against Bangladesh including a new shot unplayable by anyone else, the back foot aerial straight drive. Thereafter he has simply flayed the bowling until he thinks even his ridiculously flaky middle order team mates can’t fail to reach 300 and contrives his own downfall. I used only to have eyes for Victor Trumper but have filed the divorce papers in expectation of an early autumn wedding to Viru.


• Kevin O’Brien’s hundred against England. This qualifies as a moment by dint of being completed in the time in takes to prepare a decent sized omelette. He was in some ways assisted by England’s bowlers, but still managed to record the biggest six of the World Cup and take his side from certain defeat to certain victory. Furthermore, when he lay awake at night imagining his day in the sun I bet he didn’t see himself finally attaining unsurpassable glory while sporting pink hair. The removal of the lesser nations from the next tournament will deprive us of singular and extraordinary moments such as these and will render the WC that much the poorer.


• New Zealand’s demolition of the Pakistan attack to the tune of 114 runs off their last six overs. Again the bowling was beyond diabolical (or “not the greatest” as Iain O’Brien so understatedly said on Test Match Sofa) but you try hitting thigh high 90 mph balls 100 metres. It isn’t easy. Taylor’s partnership with Oram put on 85 in 21 balls at just over 4 runs per ball. No one will see its like again in an international match now that Shoaib Akhtar has retired.

England’s run chase against India. 338 is way too much to get in any match but against the hosts in Bangalore it was simply unattainable. Then, with 10 overs to go, 60 odd to get and 8 wickets in hand it was impossible to lose. Zaheer Khan came on to bowl and the match was lost to England within an over, but last ditch sixes just in time by Bresnan, Swann and most extraordinarily of all Shahzad in the last over brought a tie that neither side was happy with. Who says ODI cricket was designed to ensure a result? Beautiful.


• Ricky Ponting’s protracted mental breakdown. No one should take pleasure in that, and in fact I don’t, but it is undeniably curious. Witness his infuriation with Steve Smith for not getting out of his way when taking that catch. Recall Brad Haddin weighing in on his behalf after he smacked the cover off the ball and didn’t walk against Pakistan. Observe the continuing lack of runs, shrinking eyes, and bizarre schoolboy haircut. Something is happening. For what it’s worth my theory is that his body has been taken over by the brain of a 12 year old who has devised the best possible way to avoid a tricky Maths exam in the morning by escaping into the form of an international cricketer and is now regretting it.


• India’s collapse against South Africa. We are constantly being told India has the best batting line up in the world. They probably do, but losing 9 wickets for 29 runs is not great evidence for that hypothesis. Watching Dhoni grow increasingly but silently furious whilst his team mates disappeared in a hail of idiocy was an object listen in how to communicate profound displeasure without raising your voice. By the way, since I’m on the subject of Indian batting can I make a very obvious point? If your side contains the best batsmen but your bowlers, with the exception of Zaheer Khan, are by some way the wrong side of mediocre, it makes little sense to prepare good batting wickets. Trust your superior batsmen to score the runs whatever the surface and give the useless bowlers a helping hand by producing a raging turner on which even Bhaji and Pathan could be effective.


• Jonathan Trott’s “catch” against the West Indies that went for six. This was a true moment and had all the makings of being an English classic, albeit provided by a South African. With England desperate for a breakthrough and facing a humiliating early exit, Trott caught a ball on the boundary from the hitherto unfancied Andre Russell. He fell. He avoided the boundary rope. He claimed the catch. But TV replays couldn’t be sure that his sleeve hadn’t brushed the raised advertising sponge that sits on top of the rope owing to a shadow caused by the floodlights. It seemed that at last the English had a moment of injustice and desperately poor luck that they could use as a soothing comfort blanket of despair to explain yet another failure at a World Cup. Unfortunately for them the West Indies imploded immediately, losing 4 wickets for 3 runs thus prolonging their agony into the quarter finals (where a stray dog will undoubtedly prevent the ball from going for a winning boundary resulting in last ball heartache).


• Balaji Rao doing anything. Yes. Balaji Rao. What’s not to love about Balaji Rao?


• Billy Bowden refusing to give Ian Bell out against India when the ball was clearly shown to be hitting middle stump by Hawkeye. So determined was Bowden not to be undermined by the DRS having turned down an appeal which was subsequently and immediately reviewed that despite incontrovertible evidence that a slow, low non turning delivery was going to hit middle and off stumps, he invoked a little known sub clause in the DRS that states “if a batsman is over 2.5 metres down the track the ball must be shown to be hitting a very specific spot in the middle of the middle stump in order to be given out”. A man who puts his own DRS stats above common sense is a man we should cherish. See also Asoka da Silva.


• Hiral Patel’s back foot cut over extra cover for six off Shaun Tait for Canada against Australia. It is quite simply the greatest shot I have ever seen.

And I haven’t even started on Imran Tahir…..

 

 

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South African bowlers have edge over India's batsmen

by daniel 12. March 2011 15:13

Today this up and down World Cup, with its even spread of predictable thrashings and unpredictable melodrama, serves up the most eagerly anticipated match of the tournament.

It’s a game that could well be a dress rehearsal for the final on 2nd April as hosts and favourites India take on the best balanced side in the world, South Africa. And while it’s true that neither country will be knocked out by losing, a potentially unfavourable draw in the quarter finals could await the defeated party.

India have performed curiously thus far. Flashes of brain melting genius from the batsmen, especially Virender Sehwag who’s new back foot straight drive, or “strive” as it will soon be known, defies the most basic laws of what is possible on a cricket field, have been accompanied by prosaic mediocrity from the back up bowlers. Confidence throughout the batting line up is high as witnessed by their cavalier, entertaining and nearly brilliant demolition of the Dutch on Wednesday. The promotion of Yousuf Pathan was a clear indicator of a deservedly arrogant swagger, and had Gambhir and Kohli not limply got themselves out we would be comparing India’s dismissive strut favourably beside England’s tortuous and attritional approach to the minnows.

But so far no one has tested them with the ball. Bangladesh, England, Ireland and the Netherlands have all flung down easy pickings. It will not be so easy today, despite the cruel absence of Imran Tahir, for in Steyn and Morkel the Saffas possess reliable and seriously rapid seam bowlers. In addition the bounce Morkel can extract will “discomfort” Sehwag who may call for a runner even earlier than usual. So watch out for his favoured tactic of running out His Most Divine Majesty and Lord of All He Surveys (aka Sachin Tendulkar) within the first five overs, thus freeing up a surrogate for the tiresome business of boringly plodding up and down between those two horizontal white lines 22 yards apart

In addition to the quicks, Robin Peterson and the presumably restored Johan Botha give variety in the spin department whilst Kallis’ golden arm can strike at any moment. But whilst I’m doing my best to talk up the South Africans, I can’t help but think the absence of Tahir has brought them back into the chasing pack. He was the final piece of the jigsaw and supplied an unpredictability to their approach that hasn’t been seen since Hansie Cronje was inexplicably drawn to that leather jacket.

So how about the teams’ respective weaknesses? South Africa have a fabulous top four in Smith, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers. All are top batters and each can play the innings around which the others can build a formidable total. But from 5 down there are serious problems. England, despite being hamstrung by Strauss’s determination to bowl Yardy and Pietersen for 17 overs still ripped out the Saffas’ last 7 wickets for 41 runs. Duminy is yet to fire and without the big-hitting Albie Morkel they have no one who can regularly clear the boundary. Look at Pakistan with Afridi and Razzaq. New Zealand have Franklin, McCullum and Oram. And with sides eyeing up 280-300 as a good score there is more pressure than ever on the lower middle order.

But against that is India’s frankly pitiful bowling attack once you take the matchless genius of Zaheer Khan out of the equation. Currently Dhoni is basing his entire strategy on when and how much he can use Zaheer who is for me the bowler of the tournament.

Indians debate this matter endlessly; Ashwin over Chawla, Sreesanth over Nehra/Patel. But there are no easy answers. Harbhajan is performing solidly without looking like taking a wicket while the variably flighted nonsense of Yuvraj is proving to be India’s most potent secondary threat, and that is a big problem because one day the batting may fail. It nearly did against the Dutch, and to win the cup it can’t afford to slip up once we get to the knock out stages.

World Cups are usually won by bowlers; Holding and Roberts, Waqar and Wasim, Mcgrath and Warne, Mcgrath and Warne again, and again. Steyn and Morkel fit the bill, as do Murali and Malinga, but maybe just for once it will be the batsmen. Sehwag and Tendulkar? For India’s sake I hope so.

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