When gods conspire …

April 1, 2011

The stage is set . The stars are aligned . The gods have the box seat . One billion people are chanting . It is the greatest stage in the sport . It is the grandest arena possible . And the game’s finest gladiator awaits . Possibly his final hurrah . Possibly the greatest sign off ever . It is the walk into sunset people dream of . It is the walk into sunset very few are able to make . But this gladiator is a special son of destiny . And he is at his home ground . He is playing for his country . He is playing for the only silverware that eludes him . And he is going to set the ball rolling and hopefully walk into history . Forever . His name as the greatest modern era cricketer is a foregone conclusion . He just might walk out of Wankhede tomorrow as unarguably the greatest cricketer ever . 21 years after he set out on a journey few could have thought of undertaking . 21 years later , he is returning home and the game’s greatest prize awaits him .

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar . Take a bow . It is all yours .

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…anyone who watches cricket and is looking forward to the T20 World Cup final today knows who is who. Mercurial probably describes Pakistan better than most other words while Sri Lankans have gone about their job in the most methodical manner.

One is surprised, yet not shocked by Pakistan’s presence in the finals. We all know that when it is their day, then they just roll over their opponents like no one else and then you can only sit and watch. Their journey to the semi-finals was rather stuttered, infact only one good victory to speak for, just that the nature of the draw meant one strong performance was enough to take them through. Even before the tournament, they crashed rather heavily against India. In the group stages they beat lowly Netherlands but lost to the Englishmen. In the super 8s, drawn in a group with Ireland, they lost to Sri Lanka but managed to thrash the Kiwis courtesy an inspired performance by Umar Gul and that is the sole top notch victory that took them to the semis while the other three semi-finalists in South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies registered strong victories against mighty nations to claim their respective berths.

But then, come semi-final and South Africa, the best team in the tournament along with Sri Lanka, ran into the most enigmatic player of the Pakistani team. Afridi single handedly blew South Africa away, once again proving what he can do when in the mood. Maybe that is why Pakistan always persist with him because on his day he will turn the match on its head, even though 4 out of 5 times he scores less than nothing.

Sri Lanka on the other hand have been clinical and methodical. Dilshan has shown the way and Jayasuriya, Sangakarra and Jayawardene have all chipped in. Over to the bowlers and Murali and Mendis have spun a vicious web leaving it to Malinga to polish the opponents off. This is their method and it has worked beautifully so far in each and every match.

So come D-day, who do you think will prevail?

Will brilliance take Pakistan over the line? Will Afridi come to the party again and prove why Pakistan still need him? Will Umar Gul fire his deadly yorkers yet again? Or will it be the wily M&M whose web will prove impossible to break? Will the grand old man of cricket show why he is still reverred and along with Dilshan build a match winning opening partnership?

It promises to be a twisted ride, a lot of unknowns, Pakistan could either capitulate or they could destroy. It should be an unforgettable finale.

Tired?!? Excuse me …

June 16, 2009

Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. So, Gary Kirsten said the IPL fatigue was a factor. Mind you, he said he was not making excuses but it definitely was a factor.

Right!

Sounds like India was the only team playing the IPL! South Africans were resting in their homes and so were the Windies and the Lankans? Give me a break!

South Africa came off almost 4 months of tough cricket against Australia and then almost all of them played the IPL! Smith, Gibbs, Kallis, AB, Boucher, Botha, Van der Merwe; they all played. For Windies, Gayle, Bravo, Fidel Edwards – the performers were all playing the IPL. For Sri Lanka, Dilshan, Jayasuriya, Jayawardene, Sangakarra, Malinga, Murali, Mendis – they were all there again!

So how do you explain the fatigue for the Indians?

Guys, lets just accept the shortcomings, work on it rather than blaming fatigue and schedules and other things. Or maybe, Indians are just not as fit as the rest??

Crash!

June 15, 2009

Right. The knifes are out. The blame game is on. What exactly went wrong in the campaign of the world champions resulting in them getting knocked out of the tournament with a game to spare? Bad bowling? Bad batting? Bad captaincy? Injured players? IPL fatigue? What?

I guess it is a combination of a lot of things. To start with, they never got tested in the group stage against Ireland and Bangladesh and hence waltzed into the super eights with their confidence high as the world backed them to defend their title. Until, they had a rude awakening.

The short ball became the nemesis of our ‘match breakers’ in the match against the Windies and it was quite sad to see them hop against the short ball and the world,especially England was watching that match keenly. India needed a rescue act from Yuvraj to take them to a respectable total but the bowling let us down. Since the beginning of the tournament, I have been skeptical about India’s bowling and it really got found out in the end against Windies with Bravo playing a blinder and Ishant Sharma going for plenty. I don’t quite seem to get the faith Dhoni has in him in this format despite him going for plenty. He is one of the few who bowls his full quota – for plenty – while the others just watch.

With India staring at an early exit – requiring to win both their matches against England and South Africa – one expected them to come out all guns blazing as you would expect the world champions to do but what transpired yesterday left many ardent fans feeling really sad at half past one in the night.

India managed to control the English innings with some good bowling but having said that, they were guilty on a few occasions. Someone explain why Ishant Sharma bowled 4 overs for 36 runs when R P Singh bowled only 3 for 13 while Zaheer also bowled only 3. Someone explain why Praveen Kumar did not play when Ishant has been leaking runs throughout. And, to top it all, someone please explain the 10 (yes ten!) wides bowled by Harbhajan Singh in a 20 over match. These matches are won and lost by a couple of runs and here our best spin bowler bowled 2 shockers down the leg side that went for fours! Unbelievable!

As if this was not enough, guess what, India had learnt nothing from their experience against Windies and it was deja-vu time. Raina looked like he was worse than a kid from the neighbourhood when it came to the short ball while Rohit perished trying to pull again. And then guess who walks in? Jadeja! I won’t blame the kid for playing the way he did because I am sure he tried his level best and probably he was just technically deficient in playing the short ball but can someone explain why Dhoni did not come out instead of him? Dhoni said he wanted Jadeja to stabilize the innings before Yuvi, he and Yusuf could take over the big hitting. The question is, in present times, how many times would you back Dhoni to smash his way to victory? I vote for 1 out of 10. He is a nudger now! Period! Even when he tries to take off, he finds it very difficult to do so and it was evident yesterday too when he just kept handing the strike over to Yusuf. So, he could have walked out, played his nudge innings better than the kid’s laborious 25 off 35 balls which totally swung the momentum England’s way!

I think the Jadeja innings was the turning point in the chase and Yuvi and India was left too much to do!

Dhoni said at the press conference that they wanted to go steady before Yuvi and Co. could launch and even 9 – 10 runs per over would have been manageable but for the loss of the wickets! Can someone explain the logic of this plan which has no contingencies? You push the run rate to an almost impossible level, then back your big hitters to do the trick. But what if they fail? If one is batting, one could get out trying to hit the ball over the rope, right? And ,what is the contingency plan then? Unfortunately, none! None? Oh yeah, because one has already let the run rate spiral out of control so the perfect plan better come off or lets just pack up and go home.

Well go home alright! Because that is exactly what you are going to be doing, Team India!

Yuvi rescued them last time around; unfortunately it was too much to ask for him this time too. So, head home, practice the short ball because you sure will face it next year too in the carribean!

One might get up and say that it is a natural backlash when Dhoni and boys have failed because he was god when we won but honestly, can you expect to win if you play like they did??

Living up to it …

June 14, 2009

… And the South African juggernaut keeps rolling. The Proteas have been ruthless so far, sweeping away all opposition in their way. Living up to the reputation of the most balanced side in the World Cup, both the batsmen and the bowlers have come to the party. They have been relentless in their approach and it shows in their no loss record in the tournament so far.

As I had mentioned earlier, they have the strongest bowling line up in the tournament and it showed in them defending a small total against New Zealand and yesterday they came good against the Windies too after their batsmen had put up a strong total.

There isn’t really a weak link in the line up at the moment with the openers giving the perfect start, the likes of AB and Boucher giving a fabulous finish and then the new ball bowlers doing their job with a very good back up job by the spinners.

They look unstoppable at the moment and if India are to hope of making it to the semi-finals, they will have to stop this juggernaut, rolling at a furious pace at the moment.

… That is the Oz story of the world cup. This is one format of the game where the Oz always look vulnerable and it was not really surprising to see them go out of the cup. After the hammering at Gayle’s hand, one expected them to come back stronger and more determined against Sri Lanka, but except for the brief period when Ponting was at the crease, they never looked like winning the game.

Perhaps, Oz are not really cut out for this format. The champions in the longest version of the game struggle in the shortest version largely due to the way they play. Very few players in the current line up are bang-bang players – David Hussey and Warner are the only ones who really qualify – the rest are great batsmen but still not used to the mad-bang cricket. Mind you, bang – bang does not mean slogging but controlled hitting by players who constantly are on the look out of 4s and 6s. That is why an Afridi does not do well but a Gayle does!

People might say if they are great, then they should be able to play all forms of the game. I partly agree to that but greats take a bit of time to settle down and flower and flow and unfortunately there isn’t much time in this format to do that, especially when you got to score a phenomenal amount of runs.

If we go through the last 2 years of T20, the likes of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Smith have not been mighty at this format even though they are all time Test cricket greats. For them aggression is scoring at run a ball and only after a point do they step it up. Whereas people like Gayle, Glichrist, Jayasuriya, Hayden and now the younger lot have excelled because this is how they play – bash the leather off the ball every now and then while still maintaining occasional sanity!

Secondly, what Oz are best at is grinding the opposition through relentless pressure, making comebacks in tough situations, the long haul where they outlast anyone. Five days of test match cricket allows them to put their foot on the throat of the opposition and press but T20 does not really allow for comebacks. If you are trailing once, you are always playing catch up and more often than not, you fall short.

Maybe Oz need to get the bang-bang players from the sheffield cricket into this format and balance it with a Ponting and a Clarke. But for sure, they need less of the Test team and more of something else. Otherwise, they will always be playing catch-up in this format.

Sanity restored …

June 7, 2009

… After the victory lap by the Dutch and the scare by the Scots to the Kiwis, sanity has been restored in the World cup. India produced a very clinical performance to put Bangladesh in its place while South Africa showed the Scots that they still have a long way to go before they can compete with the heavyweights.

There is something about the T20 world cup that brings out the savagery in Yuvraj making batting look ridiculously easy. Not that it doesn’t when he is playing otherwise but in this format and in this tournament he just tees off even when the rest are struggling. Gambhir and Dhoni were finding it tough to reach the boundary but in walked Yuvraj and sent the ball over the rope four times taking India to an imposing total. I guess a strike rate of less than 200 does not make him too happy in this format! Bangladesh did try chasing it for a while but Pragyan Ojha made sure the chase was nipped in the bud and India should now get ready for bigger tests.

South Africa , AB in particular gave the Scots a batting lesson and then they showed why they have the strongest bowling line up in the cup with a clean up job of Scotland winning with a massive margin making a mockery of the game.

So, sanity has been restored, the top two rated sides in the cup will go through as group winners to the next stage while in half an hour England fights to stay in the competition as Oz figure out a way to get out of the hole they have got themselves into as they get ready to take on Sri Lanka tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

When Gayle blew across the Oval, I think what transpired was more than just one loss for the Oz in the league stage.

By blowing the Oz away in 16 overs, he has inflicted a serious blow to their chances of making it to the next stage. Now even if Oz beat Sri Lanka in the next match, they need Sri Lanka to lose to Windies as well because if Sri Lanka win, it will make it to the next round on better run-rate unless ofcourse Oz whip them the same way they suffered at the hands of the Windies, which is seriously unlikely. And ofcourse after today, Windies are through to the next stage unless they press the self destruct button like no one else.

One thing that doesn’t happen in T20 is recover from a blistering knock that lasts more than a few overs because by then the match is pretty much over. And when you got Gayle blowing over the world’s fastest bowler, then one can do pretty little about it.

Australia posted a formidable 170 plus score but Gayle took off like he was chasing 300 and by the time Windies were half way through their overs, they had posted 120 which meant the match was as good as over. One can’t really blame Oz for what happened; no one can do anything when someone like Gayle is in a mood like that but the nature of this tournament leaves very little in Oz’s hands now.

Now all they can do is beat Sri Lanka, which won’t be a cakewalk and then hope Gayle does an encore against Sri Lanka.

It’s been a hot start to the cup, England tottering and now the mighty Aussies hanging by a thread!

… that really in a nut shell was the story last night . A very clinical performance by Netherlands in the last 30 overs of the match, albeit with some nerves at the closing stages of the game has put England in a deep spot of bother in this tournament and now they are left with no choice but to beat Pakistan to make it to the next stage.

England seemed to be rolling in the first 10 overs of the match as the nerves of the big match stage took some time to settle down for Netherlands. But after the runaway hundred by England, the Dutch pulled back magnificently allowing almost nothing in the second half of the England innings and restricting them to a more manageable, though still formidable total. The English batsmen did not look hungry enough, Netherlands bowlers stuck to their guns and their catching aided them brilliantly to keep England at bay.

And then what ensued in the next 20 overs was simply fantastic.

Netherlands never looked out of the chase, keeping up with the asking rate, rather ahead almost throughout with Tom de Grooth leading the way with a beautiful knock. He found the boundary almost every over, always keeping the pace up and no bowler seemed to really worry him. And ofcourse, England fielding was shocking. Bopara, Foster and then the biggest of them all, Stuart Broad conspired to take Netherlands to victory.

As victory got closer, nerves jangled for the Oranjees and they almost made a hash of it but then they had Stuart Broad on their side, missing the stumps thrice in six balls from a distance of almost four yards! Well, if you are going to do that, if you are going to not take your chances when you are already staring down the barrel, then you will face defeat.

The fact is, England did not put up enough runs at the end of their innings with complacent shots from their batsmen, Netherlands believed they could chase it down, put up a fantastic batting performance surprising English bowlers who thought they will find easy meat and then when the time for nerves came, Netherlands held up better than their illustrious rivals.

The fact is, yesterday, Netherlands looked the part rather than England and now its left England an ugly prospect of facing elimination as the host nation and in a format, rather the game, which they founded! How ironic is that !

This is the story doing the rounds these days and it is not surprising why the cricketers, the bookies and the world of cricket are backing India to defend the world T20 title. India seems to have match breakers lined up one after the other and seem really strong on paper . Detractors are talking about the fatigue stemming from the IPL but I don’t think that will be a factor if India don’t win it this time. I think the problem if et all will be in the bowling department because I find it hard to fathom seven match winning batsmen faltering all at once in the same match.

Having seen T20 for a couple of years now starting with those heady days in South Africa, I have come to the conclusion that the batting is probably the lesser key in this game. Now wait, I am not saying batting doesn’t count but when you start talking crunch time, especially in this format, it is the bowlers who will make the difference. Batsmen are expected to fire away while bowlers are supposed to be ambushed in this format so when the bowlers start making moves is when the game changes, and that is where the key lies. Let me explain.

No matter how strong your batting line up, there is only so much it can do if you are faced with Mt. Everest to climb. If a batting line up is left to chase 200 plus, then I would back the bowling side to defend it. And that is where the bowlers come in. In this format one expects the bowlers to get murdered anyway but whatever they do not give away, whatever they save is like runs scored for the team. If you were following the warm up games, you would have noticed that India leaked like crazy in the end in both the matches and even though Pakistan was beaten easily, Kiwis pulled through because Indians faltered while Vettori spun a web!

So, if we look at the sides from this aspect, then one team I would back is the Springboks. Led by Dale Steyn, Ntini, Morne Morkel, Van Der Merwe and the wily Botha it is probably the best bowling line up in the tournament. Every other team has one or two good bowlers but not such a good line up; India’s trumps are probably Ishant Sharma, Bhajji? (somehow I feel he is overrated) and ZaK (if he plays), Aussies rely on Mitchell Johnson, Kiwis on Vettori, Pakistan on Tanvir and Gul, Sri Lanka on Malinga and Murali, Windies on Fidel Edwards and England on pretty much no body with Flintoff gone.

Having said that, we can’t count out the batting either. And there it comes down to simply match breakers. India outnumber everyone in that regard with a line up to scare anyone from Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvi, Rohit, Raina, Dhoni to the Pathans, Springboks have Smith, Gibbs and AB to fire and Kallis and Duminy to fall back upon, Aussies have Warner, Ponting and possibly Shane Watson with Clarke and Hussey to support, Pakistan – who knows, Misbah and Younus maybe?, Windies have Chris Gayle to fire and Chanderpaul to rest upon, Sri Lanka got Jayasuriya and Dilshan with Sangakarra and Jaywardene to follow, Kiwis rest on McCullum and Ross Taylor while England depend on KP, Ravi Bopara and Collingwood. So if you look at it again, each team has one or two match breakers and one or two steady ships but the rest can falter easily except India, South Africa and Australia because they got a few stable hands too in the team along with a lot more game breakers.

This zeroes me down to my two finalists .. India and South Africa .. most balanced .. most equipped although India has the upper edge in batting while South Africa rules in bowling . Will never count the Aussies out, so they should make one semi-final and I will leave a toss up for the fourth place . Don’t expect England or Windies to make it. Most likely Sri Lanka should prevail but then one could never trust Pakistan and if Kiwis play out of their skins then who knows.

Right then, we are all set to go … Yeh cup kahin nahin jaayega !!!