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Thursday, March 31, 2011

India Defeat Arch Rivals

India are through their third World Cup finals as they defeated arch-rivals Pakistan by 29 runs at Mohali in a thrilling Semi-final (seemed like a final) clash [SCORECARD].

India having won the toss decided to field on a pitch that was misread by everyone as a batsmen's paradise and would provide assistance to the seamers.  Dhoni took out Ashwin and instead played Nehra who happens not to be in the best of form and confidence.  However Dhoni's gamble payed off and Nehra to his credit looked like a different bowler and bowled some brilliant yokers in the death overs.

India started brilliantly with Sehwag getting into Umar Gul's mind and totally messing it up.  He managed 21 runs of an over with 5 hits to the fence.  The pitch by now looked like a total feather pitch but as soon as Wahab Riaz removed Sehwag and the spinners were introduced, the entire match turned with the ball gripping and turning.  Sachin Tendulkar looked nervy and uncomfortable.  He got an UDRS review to go his way, defying logic as everyone thought that he was a goner and the LBW shout looked plumb as ever.  However it was missing the leg stick (maybe India will now start supporting the UDRS).  Afridi who vowed that his team won't let Sachin hit his 100th International century did everything contrary to that as Sachin was put down not once but four times!  The Akmal brothers contributing to half of that blame and the entire Pakistani team losing the moral battle against their keeper.  However the skipper finally pouched Sachin and thanks to a small cameo by Raina, India got to a par score of 260.  Wahab Riaz bowled the spell of his lifetime and one couldn't help but feel for the youngster in the end.

Pakistan chasing the total started confidently and looked to attack even after Akmal fell.  Hafeez looked in fine touch until a bought of insanity had him play the stupidest of shots and get himself out.  Yunus Khan dug in at one end with 13 of 44 while around him wickets fell.  Umar Akmal looked dangerous as he took Yuvraj to the cleaners, but fell just as was starting to take the game away to a brilliant fast ball from Harbhajan.  Misbah-Ul-Haq seemed to think this was a test match as he started defending and fending every single ball amid a climbing run rate and as Razzaq, Afridi and perished in the quest of quick runs, Misbah finally awoke from his slumber.  With a few lusty blows in the end from the middle order, saw Pakistan come close but never near to victory, and for the fifth time India have beaten Pakistan in the World Cups.

Sachin was declared the man of the match for his scratchy, and lucky but very vital innings and he must be ecstatic playing in his second world cup finals at home and hopefully winning this time.  Pakistan showed great fight but their fielding and Umar Gul's nightmare of an outing probably sealed their fate.  Shoaib Akthar goes from cricket without playing in this epic clash while India go to Mumbai for yet another Sri Lanka - India clash.  Hopefully come Saturday, India will be crowned the World Champions.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Lankan Lions Enter the Finals

Sri Lanka have entered into their second World Cup finals in a row beating New Zealand by 5 wickets [SCORECARD].  Sri Lanka having lost the toss fielded first and kept the Kiwis on a tight lease with some good bowling and also from the New Zealanders part, some very defensive batting.  However Styris, Taylor, and Guptill laid a foundation and New Zealand looked all set to go berserk in the last few overs, and reach a score in excess of 250.  They did go berserk and managed to crumble to 217 all out.

Muralitharan playing his last match in home soil was the toast of the Sri Lankans.  Playing with an injury, he looked out of sorts in the field and even his bowling action looked insipid, however the smiling assassin still managed to pick up two crucial wickets.   Sri Lanka will surely miss this champion and I'm sure I and countless other cricket fans too will miss this great ambassador of cricket.  It was only rightful that he take a wicket in his last departing ball on home soil.

The Lankan chase started well with Tharanga going all out, but was stopped soon as Jesse Ryder pulled an outstanding catch at backward point.  The New Zealanders looked set for a fight and that they did as they bowled well and even when wickets didn't come their way showed great spirit and fought on.  When Dilshan fell after a match winning partnership with Sangakara, the score was 160 for 2.  But things went horribly wrong for the Emerald Isles men as they were soon 185 for 5, and an untested middle order at the crease.  Samaraweera and Matthews showed some nerves of steel and managed to win the game with ease, and get the celebrations started and the management booking tickets for Mumbai.

It must be tough for Vettori and his team knowing that again and for the sixth time at that they have failed to cross the final hurdle.  However they must be pleased at the prospect of the fight they put up and despite being counted out in the tournament thus far have managed some famous wins.  Plus they were the best fielding side of the tournament and for once put the South African fielding unit behind as number two.

So as Sri Lanka celebrate another match awaits us today at Mohali where India take on Pakistan.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The End of Skipper Punter

Ricky Ponting has stepped down as the captain of the Australian ODI and test team amid must speculations and rumors that he would be axed soon.  Ponting who has been having a torrid time as the captain for the past two years has finally decided to call the part of his life known as captaincy to a close and with it an end of an era in Australian cricket.

Ponting is Australia's most successful captain but in the last few years, with his team on the wane, Ponting could not produce the same results he did when he had a star studded team with the likes of Langer, Warne, McGrath, Martyn, Gillespie, and so many others.  Also personally I feel with his career's end fast approaching the end, Ponting nowadays tries hard to be the same influential and magical skipper he once was.  The last couple of years has taken a heavy toll on this proud warrior.  With the public calling for his blood and results not coming his ways, he has often been made as a sacrificial lamb in front of the media.  But now the day has finally come when the beaten and battered warrior whose last stand as skipper was a magnificent century against India, failed to get his team across the quarterfinals stage has finally thrown in the towel and stepped down as the skipper.

I wonder if Ponting would be remembered as a captain who won Australia two World Cups, two Champions Trophy, and an Ashes series or as the last captain of the glorious era of Australian domination who lost three Ashes series, and was knocked out the World Cup in the knockout stages.  Whatever way people remember him, I'm sure it would be that he was a great player.

If you ask me if I think Ponting is a great captain, I'd say no.  He's a pretty decent captain but not great like his predecessor Steve Waugh.  Records might show Ponting as a great skipper as he has 48 wins in 76 tests and 164 wins in 228 ODIs, but I go against it.  Shane Warne once stated that Ganguly wasn't really a good captain as he won many of the matches due to match winners in his side such as Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman, and Sehwag.  However the fact is that though Ganguly was blessed with such match winners he had an average team to start out with and Ganguly along with John Wright molded a match winning team and laid the foundations for the Indian cricket we see now.  Ricky Ponting was blessed with match winners so much that even his reserves were equally strong.  I remember the feeling when India used to take on Australia during Australia's supremacy, and the feeling was that India would be out played even before the match begun.  Such was the aura the Australian team had, and it truly was invincible.  I think any Tom, Dick and Harry could have got results with that team if he was the skipper.  So the records for Ponting really show how good his team is, not how good his captaincy was.

However post 2007, Australia's fortune has turned, and for the first time in his entire career, I feel Ponting really felt the burden of captaincy.  It was now that the quality of his captaincy would be tested and despite fighting on and putting up a brave front, I feel Ponting has just managed to crawl through the period and if not for his previous success would be out of the team long before.  Ponting's captaincy was called uninspired and lacking imaginative.  But what could the poor guy do?  Before he used to set an attacking field and watch Warne rip through the opposition batting orders, now if he does the same, Nathan Hauritz, Steven Smith or Xavier Doherty aren't capable of using such fields and leak precious runs.  I remember the fields he set for Hauritz when Australia toured India for the test series and it was defensive to say the least.  Any time he bought the field in, the Indian batsmen scored a flurry of boundaries and it got to such a point that Hauitz was bowling to a One Day field set.  Shane Warne was furious that day and lashed out at Ponting's tactics, but what could Punter do?  With his premier spinner and also seamers who often got him the vital early breakthroughs missing, Punter had to do with his limited resources and in that he did a pretty decent job.  His batting line-up also started failing him in the last 24 months and the lack of spinners only added to the pressure.  With his batting incapable of scoring the extra runs needed,and bowling incapable of picking up wickets, Ponting found himself boxed from all sides.  

It is indeed interesting to note that Stephen Fleming found himself in the same situation with the Blackcaps from the moment he was at the helm till the day he retired.  Yet Fleming marshaled his limited resources well and showed the world what the mark of a true leader is.  What he did with Nottinghamshire and New Zealand are legendary.  Punter sadly doesn't fit in the same category.

Ponting is a world class player and probably one of the greatest in the modern era, but as a captain he was very average who excelled when the going was easy.  However I do admire the way he has handled the team in the last 24 months and also put himself up with an angry media, a annoyed public and a selectors panel that was slowly losing it's patience.  He has had more than his share of criticisms and finally he feels it's time for someone else to burden the difficult task of captaining Australia.  Maybe the younger shoulders of Micheal Clarke would be the ideal refreshment and change Australian cricket needs in this time of crisis, and with Australia still clinging desperately onto Ponting the batsmen, I see only brighter days for Australia.  New thinking, new leadership, and a new captain can be Australia's medicine.

As Ponting steps down as captain, I can't help but think of him as the last Caesar of the crumbling Roman Empire.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Speed Demon Bids Adieu

Shaun William Tait has announced his retirement from One Day Internationals following Australia's exit.  Tait though not always a result delivering bowler, offered Ponting options.  He may go for runs, but with his searing pace he had the ability to knock world class batsman over.  Someone gifted with raw pace, Tait was an handful even for the best.  He did spray the ball around and more often than not was Australia's most expensive bowler, but with the ability of picking up wickets, he remained as the 'risk' worth taking for a captain.

I first saw Tait play in his ODI debut against England in 2007 and was stunned by his pace.  As soon as I saw him, I knew I had seen a match winner.  In the match he picked up 2 wickets while getting hit for 68 runs -Typical Tait bowling.  He sprayed the ball all over and gifted easy runs but every now and then he got one to zip past the bat leaving a bewildered batsman.  A bowler who provided the x-factor and searing pace, he was a pleasure to watch on his day.  His long run up, his unorthodox slinging action resembling a sledge hammer and bent knees at the time of releasing were all a sight to reckon.  He undoubtedly is the fastest bowler in modern day cricket. He reminded me of the West Indian prospect, Tino Best.  He also had terrifying pace but with out much consistency was soon out of International cricket.  He came and disappeared and I remember hoping that Tait wouldn't belong to same group.  However it is unfortunate that Tait has never become the bowler he could have due to his injuries.  Bidding adieu to test and ODI's before the age of 29 shows the amount of trauma, bowling 150 Km/hr has taken on him.  It is indeed a disappointment that Tait could never become the bowler he could have ad fulfilled all those adjectives used to describe his bowling.

Tait was never the force he was made out to be nor the force he could have been.  He always was one step below on the rung of expectations and has suffered numerous setbacks.  I remember when India was touring Australia in 2008.  Tait was called for the Perth test after a surgery he had.  The media was talking about how Tait would rattle the Indian batsmen with his pace and bounce on a searing Perth track.  However the reality was far from it as Tait was clubbed to all parts of the ground in the first innings.  It got to such a point that in the second innings, Ponting bowled part timers such as Micheal Clarke and Andrew Symonds over Shaun Tait.  If any, that's the biggest insult and confidence burster for any bowler.  Particularly a front line attacking bowler.  Sadly the only test match I witnessed this sensation in whites happened to be his last.  Suffering from attacks from the media and a discouraging public, Tait took himself from the action and spent time away from cricket pondering his future.  Emotional trauma, exhaustion and the burden of a crippled and injured body finally took it's toll.

Since his return, Tait has been a faded figure.  Injuries had taken a huge price, that he couldn't bowl a spell of more than 4 overs and his aura also seemed to have decreased.  However his love for speed hadn't decreased and Tait strived for that extra ounce of speed that would make him breach the sound barrier.  In and out of the Australian team, Tait gave it all in the 50 overs format.  In 2010, he became a force to be reckoned with and featured in the yellow Australian colours consistently.  In England he clocked 161.1 Km/hr making it the second fastest.  Against Sri Lanka in the same year, he conjured up some match winning spells that were truly a sight to reckon. Since then he has constantly been in the selectors radar.  In the 2010 Ashes at home, Ponting hinted that he would like Tait to be part of his depleted bowling unit.  Tait however had no second thoughts as he brushed it aside.

In the 2011 World Cup, he had been selected ahead Siddle and Bolinger, underlining his worth and also just how desperate Australia were for Tait to fire on all cylinders that they were willing to take the risk.  With Australia out of the tournament, one might say their gamble has back fired and Tait has failed.  But that has been Tait's career thus far.  A man shouldering immense expectations who despite all his speed kept falling short of those.  In his last ODI against India, Tait's figures were 52 for 1 at an economy of 7.42 and the prize wicket of Sachin Tendulkar.  He went the same way he came.

Now with only T20 cricket left, one should think Tait and his body should fare better bowling 4 overs a match for South Australia, Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, some county team in England and every now and then for Australia.  The speed demon whose short blistering spells are capable of creating havoc will now be in demand among all T20 teams around the world.  With all the riches in T20 to rake in, I'm not sure Tait's going to be sad.  However cricket enthusiasts who love watching a fast bowler bowl will surely miss this guy, however big a disappointment he may have been.  I'll always remember him as the bowler who never fulfilled his true potential.  Here's to the man who constantly pushed and strived for speed and gave us a glimpse of the punishments such pursuits have in store.   Farewell Tait and may T20 cricket treat you kindly.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lankan Lions Maul England

The English team that has crawled, scraped and half-walked into the quarterfinals has finally been stopped by a very powerful Sri Lanka team [SCORECARD].  The English team, completely exhausted throughout the tournament from a long Australian tour, looked like a shadow of the team they could be and played without much spirit and gave the game up without a fight.  A 10 wicket loss is as worse as it can get.  Sri Lanka now face the resurgent New Zealanders in the semifinals.

Having won the toss, england started slowly losing early wickets.  Trott as usual dug in and along with Eoin Morgan revived and powered England to a decent score of 229.  Sri Lanka's bowling was professional with their spinners completely strangling the English batsmen.  However their fielding was pathetic and as many as four catches went down.  Eoin Morgan must surely be thankful for his Irish background, as he was let off not once but thrice.  However the England team, looking fully exhausted and played aimlessly.  The perfect example of this is promoting Swann up the order in the power play - who tried a switch hit that went horribly wrong and was caught plumb in front off the bowling of Mendis.

The team had a horrid look and one could see clearly the toll of the long Australian tour and the World Cup.  Strauss was unimaginative and like his team looked out of sorts.  Strauss however was honest to admit that they didn't have the quality to win this World Cup and said that his team missed their injured players.  Now surely his head is on the block and the selectors must be trying to find another captain for the ODI side.  England probably now can recuperate, analyze and be better prepared in 4 years time.

Sri Lanka's batting was professional.  Their openers put up a brilliant opening stand, sealing the match.  Dilshan and Tharanga are now the best opening pair in World Cup history and with this second double century partnership in this World Cup have showed that they truly are class players.  Near the end of the match, both the centurions were cramping badly, however the runs they scored would surely relieve that pain.

Sanagakara is hoping for an all subcontinental final.  By the looks of this Sri Lankan team, that looks very possible as I don't see New Zealand beating them on Tuesday.  However, only time will tell.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Choked Again!

This South African team that took on the Kiwis yesterday looked like a new unit.  They were a group of younger men with a sprinkling of a few wise old men, who looked and seemed to show the world that a new Protean order was in store.  This team had energy, belief and in many ways had more talent than any of the previous South African team.  They no more were a team whose batsmen feared spinners and had an arsenal of spin bowling option (a first, I think for a South African team).  The team was a fierce competing unit, and before the match [SCORECARD] against the New Zealanders, it seemed that the 'C' word wouldn't be uttered, and as South Africa bowled the black caps for 221, things looked bright.  But all that changed - or rather history repeated itself and nothing changed.  South Africa couldn't chase down the target and fell again to the monster called pressure and choked themselves.  All the new age philosophy and team psychology did nothing as South Africa for the fifth time now, have crashed in the knockout stages in the World Cup.

Credit must be given to the Kiwis for their fight and spirit, but rather than New Zealand bowling out South Africa, I feel South Africa bowled themselves out.  An injured skipper - Vettori, led from the front and used his limited resources well.  Nathan McCullum and Jacob Oram were the stars with the ball, while big fellow Ryder starred with the bat.  Oram, has been an amazing player for his country and again yesterday, he showed just why he's an outstanding (though underrated) all-rounder.  The Kiwis bowled tight lines.  Their fielding was one of the best in the tournament, taking every half chance that came their way and showed a great fighting spirit.  Must be some of that John Wright magic!  He did miracles with India, and now it seems he's doing it with his own country.

South Africa bowling was on the mark and did well to restrict the Kiwis for 221.  However their batting was a lot be desired.  Hashim Amla must feel hard done by fate as he got out in the most bizarre fashion.  Amla under-edged the ball of Nathan McCullum's bowling that struck the Keeper's boot (Brendon McCullum), and looped up in the air for an easy catch for Vettori at slip.  Maybe chasing a double Nelson (222) was bad luck.  However Smith and Kallis steadied the ship with a fifty run stand, and then Smith fell.  Still in the driver's seat, the Protean wagon kept on moving at a steady pace, with A.B de Villiers and Kallis continuing the good work, but once Kallis holed out with the score at 108, the old, familiar enemy grappled the team.  After AB got run out, there was no turning back and in a flurry wickets fell.  With South Africa 146 for 8, the word 'choke' was in the streets and soon what little resistance F du Plessis offered ended and with it another South African nightmare.

Smith looked shell shocked being haunted by the old ghost and as he bid adieu to ODI, I couldn't help but feel for him and remember other South African heroes who like him have always been haunted.  Allan Donald in a recent interview said that he has gotten over the 1999 semi-final, but still thinks of it.  I'm sure Pollock too often thinks of the Durban loss (or rather tie) against Sri Lanka.

Spare a thought for the South African team and their millions of fans.  Whatever they seem to do, they always seem to fail at the last hurdle.  Call it lack of belief, a curse, or just plain unlucky.  The truth remains that until South Africa shed their 'chokers' tag, they aren't going to be winning a World Cup or any other major tournament.  Hopefully the future generation of South African cricket can do what the South Africa hasn't done thus far, and exorcise the tag 'chokers'.  Even yesterday, it was great to see South African supporters hoping against hope for a miracle when du Plessis was at the crease.  Even when the writing was clear on the wall, they were tweeting for a victory, and not mentioning the c-word.  Must be a heart wrenching experience for them.  So I end this post in the famous words of Andrew Hudson - the commentator during the 2003 match against South Africa and Sri Lanka,
"42 million South Africans are going to bed tonight hoping it was a bad dream".
Hopefully South Africa can forget this and start over fresh.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Taking the mickey out of Ricky!

Ricky Ponting is a great batsman and one of Australia's finest product.  He is/was a great captain (arguable), who brought Australia great honor and won two world cups as skipper.  He also happens to be one of the most hated (or in other words disliked) players in the cricketing fraternity.  Ricky Ponting gets so much of abuse and blame, that it's difficult not to feel bad for the guy.  Yes, I pity the guy!

I woke today to find myself among new, fresh Ricky jokes.  I check my phone and there I find the following message from my friend,
Today Smith will meet Vettori in Mirpur, and Ponting will meet Sammy at the airport.
Short, sweet and sort of funny.  Next I log on to Facebook and find three amazingly edited photos of Ricky!  Just plain hilarious and mean!

Ouch!  Getting whacked out of the WC by Yuvi! 

Paying homage to Tendulkar

 And finally, Punter asking directions.

Now don't you just feel for the guy?  

Yuvraj - India's messiah?

It's an India vs. Paksitan semi-final clash or in other words after 3 world cups in a row, Australia have finally given up the throne.

Yesterday's match [SCORECARD] was everything an ODI match is supposed to be.  It had some brilliant batting, bowling, fielding, aggression, drama, injuries, heartbreaks, and celebrations.  It was a closely contested match and in the end the team with the better spinners and better players of spin bowling won.  The pitch wasn't a flat dead wicket and offered assistance for the spinners which India made the most of.  With Ashwin, Yuvraj and Harbhajan and Sachin (yes, he bowled his leggies) bowling some tight lines, nearly strangled the Australian middle order that has been susceptible thus far against quality spin bowling.  Zaheer was his usual self mixing his lines, lengths, and pace to keep the Australian batsman guessing.  White's dismissal shows that.  Ashwin was impressive and though Harbhajan looked a shade off colour, he still kept the lid on the Aussies.  Yuvraj, once again assumed his role as India's premier spinner picking up two wickets taking his tally to 11.  Is he the all-rounder India has been waiting and praying all this time for?

The Australians somehow managed to set a decent score of 260, thanks largely to their skipper, Ponting - who by the knock should have silenced his critics, had his team won.  The Australian team's bowling revolving around their three main pacers failed to cause any big dents, but they did keep things tight and almost brought the game to their side when Dhoni departed with India needing 70 odd runs at a run a ball.  However, the talented all-rounder from Punjab who I mentioned above, strung a partnership with Raina to see India home to one of the most clinical wins of the tournament.

India take a lot of positives from this match and now have their team composition all in order.  I've always maintained that Raina should play instead of Yusuf Pathan, and just see the difference it made yesterday!  To value a batsman's worth, ask the question "Who would you want at the crease when the team is 45 for 5?".  I'll choose Raina anyday over Yusuf if such a situation arises.  This is not to say that Yusuf is not a quality batsman, but like Afridi, Yusuf bringing the heavy demolitions cannot be expected to be consistent.  Dhoni acknowledged that very fact.  Also Ashwin has showed the world he is a world-class bowler.  I always was of the opinion that he was highly over rated, however watching the last two matches in which he played, I'm being made to eat my words.

So I end this post by asking the question, is Yuvraj Singh, India's messiah?  With 4 man of the match awards in the tournament, 11 wickets and more than 300 runs, it does very much looks like it.  Isn't it surprising that just six months ago people wanted this guy out?  He too has proved his critics wrong!

As for Ponting?  No, his century hasn't proved his doubters wrong as Ian Chappell is still calling out for a new Aussie captain.