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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mohali—Epic Saga of Pressure Chances and Surprises!

A typical India-Pakistan encounter with the teams not performing to their true potential, but very true to the pressure and nerves. Eternal rivals meeting in a rare face-to-face apart, it was also a World Cup semi final which is normally tougher than the Final and watched by two Prime Ministers taking cricket to the noble goal of achieving lasting friendship between the two countries. There were pleasant surprises all around—Indian and Pakistani fans watching and cheering their teams sitting together, sweet friendly smiles and chats between the rival players on field, slogans around the stadium announcing ‘India and Pakistan are friends forever’ and so on.

India won the toss and there was the shocker nobody on earth expected. Ashwin was replaced by an out-of-sorts Nehra who was condemned for his last disastrous over against South Africa. But the real point of debate was ‘how you dare changing a winning combination against the Champions Australia’! It defied all logic! It had been evident that all pitches in this tournament behaved almost the same way—becoming slower and the ball not coming on to the bat as the ball gets older. Dhoni who learnt the hard way to include Ashwin and Raina committed a mistake again which could have haunted him all his life.

True to their batting strength India started in a whirlwind fashion with Sehwag going great guns, but Pakistan true to their strength bowled superbly. The greatest batsman of the world had to struggle making his shots. And, true to their unpredictability Pakistan fielded like school boys dropping catches and converting singles into fours all around apart from dropping the master four times making Afridi agonized both as the skipper and as a bowler. Surprises here again—most consistent Umar Gul throughout this world cup failed miserably in all his spells and the cricket experts and commentators shouting for a 300 plus total even after seeing how the pitch behaved. Thanks to the excellent spells by young Wahab Riaz and the spinners India were finally restricted to 260 for 9. Only Sunil Gavaskar said, in a WC semi final chasing a total of over or at least 250 was not going to be easy at all and that too involving India and Pakistan.

And for a change India bowled superbly and with tremendous discipline not allowing an extra till the 37th over supported by keen fielding. Nehra too bowled passionately rescuing Dhoni from possible embarrassment. It was such a complete effort that only five bowlers were used and they all shared two wickets each!

Pakistan seemed to be cruising at one stage in spite of the bowling effort and slowing pitch, but then their batting surprises started surfacing. Confident Hafeez committed harakiri trying a weird shot, main batsman Younus Khan who did not field well too earlier failed miserably. And Misbah was the greatest mystery of missed opportunities! He progressed at an inexplicable sluggish rate hardly trying to be aggressive. He allowed the run rate keep on mounting. As the last man standing Misbah finally played his huge hits in the last two overs and that was outrageously too late. The biggest surprise of all—why the batting powerplay  was not taken when Razzak joined Misbah and even when the skipper Afridi himself joined the mystery at a more crucial juncture where a few lusty hits could have made the match go either way.

Pakistani fans are hugely disappointed no doubt, but they are accepting it in the true spirit of the game and friendship. But Pakistani team cannot escape answering such basic questions. Another puzzle for me, why Afridi is trying to be only a bowler and coming at no. 8? Nobody could ever forget what he did as a devastating batsman in many  memorable matches. Pakistan need him desperately as a batsman too.

Meantime huge celebrations are going on all over India! It was a Diwali night last night here in Mumbai. Team India is coming to Mumbai to play the Final against Sri Lanka on Saturday, April 2, 2011. Sri Lanka defeated a fighting New Zealand in the first semi final in Colombo on Tuesday. Both teams are making their third appearances in world cup finals and whoever win it will be their second Cup.

Security is a bigger concern in Mumbai and unprecedented arrangements are being made. We are sure, cricket will defeat terror most convincingly. Cheers!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Battle Lines Drawn! Epic Clash at Mohali on Wednesday!

England disappointed sorely and Sri Lanka won in style at the last quarter final clash at Colombo. Despite rare Sri Lankan lapses on the field England could not set a competitive target. And Sri Lanka made a mockery of the 230 run target achieving it without any loss of wickets and nearly 11 overs to spare. Like South Africa now England too must indulge in an intense introspection.

Battle lines drawn now: Sri Lanka Vs New Zealand on March 29 at Colombo, Ist Semi Final.

India Vs Pakistan on March 30 at Mohali, 2nd Semi Final.

The ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 has in a way become an Asia Cup with three Asian teams making it to the semis! Barring a continuing NZ upsurge the final is going to be all Asian and if any Asian team wins it that will be its 2nd title.

All ways lead now to Mohali! Clash of the arch rivals! The Epic war! Some channel calls it the Mother of all Battles! Yes, it is indeed the biggest occasion involving the two countries rarely playing each other in recent times and that too in India! Preliminary skirmishes have already begun preparing for the War! Pak skipper Afridi had  warned that they are not going to let Tendulkar score his century of centuries. Cricket experts have been fighting it out possibly across all the news channels of the subcontinent. Now, with Prime Ministers of both the countries watching the battle the clash has attained one more dimension--call it cricket diplomacy. Everything makes the pressure on both the teams extremely extreme!

If India win they will do it mostly on batting strength to be supported by inspired spells from Zaheer, Ashwin and Harbhajan and fielding standards set against Australia. If Pakistan win it will be on their bowling strength to be supported by inspired innings from the top order batsmen and a fielding above mediocre level. World Cup and Mohalli records are in favor of India. With Indian crowds and Pakistani crowds desperately wanting their respective teams win notwithstanding, whoever wins it will be the ultimate victory for the game of cricket. For both India and Pakistan this is the Final and both countries are expected to impose a virtual curfew across streets work and life.

Countdown begins now! The clock is ticking maybe not fast enough! Wait watch and GO!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Now Hot Favorites South Africa Knocked Out!

South Africa choked again! They must seriously consider this malady. Big occasions, big matches and knockout stages are continuing nightmares for them. Another World Cup gone! Fours years will be long wait before they hope to team up and say.' We are no longer 'chokers'.'  Okay, New Zealand tonight outplayed them, but the scrappy target of 222 set before South Africa was immensely gettable. This is the point they should take it forward from in a determined frame of mind never to choke again.

Though hailed as a major upset in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 this was not unexpected. I had been saying all the way and also yesterday that New Zealand was fully capable of winning on its day. NZ did not set a huge target, but their tremendous fielding combined with some inspired bowling finished a mindless performance by South Africa. Sluggish Dhaka pitch also helped, but that factor helped SA too in restricting NZ.

Champions gone yesterday! Clinically proficient favorites gone today! Who will ask for the return tickets tomorrow? England or Sri Lanka? Nobody can dare make a guess Colombo conditions notwithstanding! My advice-- the eventual winner should never for a moment heave a sigh of relief at the prospect of meeting NZ in the first semi final on March 29.

Meantime, the Indian Prime Minister today decided to be a part of the spectators at Mohali for the gigantic Ind-Pak encounter. The Prime Minister also invited the Pak President and Prime Minister over and the invitation was reportedly welcomed in Pakistan. Reports further say that Ind-Pak bilateral talks may benefit from this mega sporting event. Let cricket be the binding force. Let cricket defeat terror.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Team India Knock Australia Out Of World Cup 2011!

I said in one of my posts earlier that somebody needed to stop Australia before they ran away with the ICC Cricket World Cup for the fifth time! Pakistan stopped them! Team India knocked them out tonight! Incredible, but truly so and magnificently too! 

More significantly, now India meet Pakistan the semi final at Mohali on March 30. If today's match was a huge one and hugely hyped, the Mohali one will be a gigantic match and a gigantic hype may be also be inadequate! Eternal rivals clash in a big one and words are not enough to describe the sensation. But one thing is sure, one nation of the subcontinent is going to figure in the final and Sri Lanka may even make it total.

Finally, India bowled better, fielded better and Dhoni shuffled his bowlers better. He also made the right decision bringing in Raina which was strongly suggested in my earlier post on SA disaster. But what's Dhoni doing with the bat? It remains a worry. Only his sweating sweltering ad keeps on coming consistently again and again! Gautam Gambhir messed up running between wicket with Yuvjaj giving the Aussies throwing practice three times and getting hopelessly out the third time. From a winning 166 for 2 India landed up at 186 for 5 which was really tense considering Indian batting collapses in the last matches. But Raina came in at that pressure moment  and his handling of the situation was the real difference between Raina and Pathan.

And Yuvraj Singh! What a match winner he has been! All round consistent performances with four half centuries and more than 10 wickets in this world cup.  He batted fielded and bowled brilliantly today and more importantly saw India through this well deserved victory. I say well deserved, because India deserved to win all its matches including that against England and SA. But internal individual factors prevented that. Noting of that now. Now for two more breathtaking matches and hopefully the World Cup!

Positives are: bowling & fielding getting better, captaincy getting better, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Raina batting wonderfully. Sehwag and Kohli are ready to fire next! Maybe Dhoni too! Zaheer, Ashwin bowling wonderfully. Harbhajan needs to adopt a wicket taking habit fast. How is Pakistan feeling? Maybe Afridi will speak out in a day or two!

South Africa take on New Zealand tomorrow at Dhaka. New Zealand could make it real tough for SA. After today's thriller we expect more exciting encounters. You know preparing for the gigantic one!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

West Indies---Reduced To 'Minnows'! And Tomorrow's Big One!

The once mighty West Indies is on the verge of being reduced to a status of minnows. From being less unpredictable they beat even the most unpredictable by playing one of their worst games in WC history. What a way to start the much awaited Quarter Finals!

West Indies can blame only themselves. Their negative mindset was palpable in the match against India. They decided to rest few of their best players signifying their 'will to lose'. It has been widely discussed that they wanted to meet Pak and not the Aussies in the QF. Well, there must be some truth in all this. If you become choosy and want to experiment about losing you just lose the competitive spirit and so cannot perform to win from there. You cannot expect a player like Gayle to just come and deliver, he lost such a huge opportunity of having some invaluable practice against India.

Pakistan has been becoming less unpredictable meaning more consistent of late and this is a healthy sign. They are already in the semis and need to win just two more matches to achieve their second title since the 1992 victory. Incidentally in that 1992 WC  WI beat Pak by this same margin of 10 wickets inspired by young Brian Lara.

And, now for the big one tomorrow! India meet Australia in the second QF at Ahmedabad. Problem is India has been very predictable of late in engineering huge batting collapses and not able to bat through the full fifty overs. Like their neighbor Pakistan India too need to be a little unpredictable. They need to perform fully to their potential if they want to reach the semis. There is always an inherent spirit of competition between Ind and Pak, what one does or achieves, the other naturally tries to overdo or achieve the same. Right! Pak beat Australia, so India must do the same or even better! They should also learn from Pak bowlers to add more sting to their bowling effort.

Tomorrow must come and come sooner for this big one!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Finally Pakistan Stops Australia! Bangladesh Let England In!

It had to be Pakistan! Pakistan was trounced by New Zealand who in turn was beaten squarely by Australia. And now Pakistan ends Australia's run of unbeaten World Cup matches since 1999. They have topped Group A followed by Sri Lanka, Australia and NZ. But hardly anything can be said about what they are going to do in the first QF. You saw how Afridi got out today with the team needing him urgently at that moment and balls remaining were nearly three times more than the runs needed! Pakistan need to be a little more predictable or a little consistent if they want their second title.

Bangladesh who caused a major upset defeating England crashed out today doing immense favors to none other then England only! Though they are still with the same points as West Indies, their net runrate is so bad that it is not even mathematically possible to make it if West Indies is defeated tomorrow.

India is likely to meet Australia in QF if they defeat WI tomorrow and take the second spot in Group B. If they lose less heavily they are most likely to take the third spot due to better NRR than England and will face Sri Lanka in QF. Hardly any choice. The mantra must be only 'win' from here onwards. If they still have their sights on the World Cup they cannot afford to lose any more match.

All major eight teams are in the knockout stage. If there was a super league here it would have been a mouth watering proposition. But alas! Only seven matches from QF onwards will decide the final winner. But these seven matches are going to be big big ones with every team capable of winning on its day. If WI is defeated tomorrow Pakistan will meet WI in QF and that will be a match of glorious unpredictability! You can expect everything--the best or the worst.And of course, watch out for England who were beaten by minnows Ireland and Bangladesh, but tied India with an impossible target and beat the hot favorites South Africa!

Start howling for your favorite teams and enjoy!

Friday, March 18, 2011

England Stays In QF Contention! Is India In or Out?

You must thank England for making every match it played very close and exciting. It will be a tragedy if they bow out of the world cup. They were in dire straits when their match against West Indies threatened to go out of their reach at several points. Finally England prevailed and got WI all out for 225, 18 short of the England total. So, for the moment they stay in contention for a birth in quarter finals (QF).

There are many possibilities as who out of England, WI and Bangladesh makes it to QF. First let’s take a look at the Group B points table:

Group B - Standings

South Africa
West Indies

If Bangladesh manages to beat SA they will be through with clear 8 points and England will sail through only if India beat WI. If WI win England will be out as they have a poor net runrate. If Bangladesh loses which is the more likely eventuality England will qualify irrespective of Ind-WI result.

Some controversy is created by different reports saying India is not yet confirmed for QF birth. Well, due to Group B complications there evolved a mathematical possibility of India crashing out. If Bangladesh win against SA and WI beat India very heavily then only India may go out, but it is very unlikely. Even if the first case materializes the second one will be very hard to achieve, because Indian batsmen have scored big totals in every match though always falling short by 30-50 runs, and so it will be almost impossible for WI to win by big margins.

India is virtually in the knockout stage as announced here earlier or else where. But the problem is it needs just one match to get knocked out. The crux remains that India must regroup quickly and give inspired performance to still be favorites.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pray For Japan!

The 9 point earthquake, worst ever in world history, struck Japan on Friday and then came the devastating Tsunami. In mere minutes Japan was reduced to junk, rabble and desolation. But hats off to tremendous technological advance achieved by the tiny country which saved millions of lives.

Suffering suffering and sufferings for the Japanese people. You can see and feel the pain.

The crisis is far from over. With blasts and possible more blasts in the nuclear plants the radiation factor has become a real threat. Fears are expressed like in the case of Chernobyl Nuclear Accident in 1986, but here again the high technological standards of Japan can come to the rescue. Let us pray for the Japanese to tide over the worst ever crisis after World War II.

How helpless are humans before Nature! Up to whatever extent you make progress it can be wiped out in minutes if Nature feels like it and you just cannot do anything about it. So much for the power of mankind! You make nuclear plants to generate more energy because your needs always go on increasing and increasing. But do you know enough to control the Frankenstein hidden behind? Reduce your aspirations greed and needs, O' humans! Learn how to save preserve and conserve. You are all sons and daughters of Nature. Learn to turn to your mother for love and help. At least sometimes!

One more thing. Politics, racialism, religion, business rivalries and idealistic conflicts should not come into play while helping Japan to recover. In a way, helping Japan mankind is most likely to help mankind only in the ultimate goal of saving Mother Earth.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Thriller India Never Deserved To Win!

Because, from a position of supreme command, an incredible opening partnership, 99th international hundred from a master you got to a situation of 9 overs, 9 wickets and 29 runs. The matter of absolute shame is that you failed to bat through 50 overs yet again after you boast of batting strength and opt for 7 batsmen! After getting into an incredible position with 8.5 runrate you surrender the psychological advantage squarely to the opposition.

And yet, they could have won with 13 needed off the last over. But, the great skipper gave the ball to Nehra, about whom it is not even clear if he is fit or not. And not to Harbhajan who bowled excellent, fielded excellent, involved in catching and run outs and was a live wire on the field.

Time now for Raina to come in, time now for five main bowlers and time now for underplaying so called batting prowess. So far only two or three batsmen delivered in almost all matches. With so many powerful batsmen around batting order shuffling always follows. Why to send Pathan when you have proven batsmen like Kohli and Yuvraj. Somehow compelling them to go for only sixes and fours and sacrificing their wickets. If 360 was unrealistic 330 was immensely possible if they managed to bat through.

Very unfortunate that India is going backwards to a team of individual brilliance and no total effort or follow up. That they nearly won the match was thanks to total involvement of Tendulkar, Harbhajan, Kohli, Yuvraj, Zaheer Khan and substitute Raina. Skipper Dhoni was just nowhere in the match except for doing all the wrong things.

No, this is not the team who can go on to winning the world cup. I had rated them high in my writings praising them for the ability to snatch win from the jaws of defeat and the will to win. But now I have changed my opinion as the team has gone into regressive mindset. Prove me wrong!

True to the tremendous hype about this India-South Africa league encounter the match indeed was a thriller going down the wire all the way.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Team India Hiccups Into Quarter Finals!

India win by five wickets with more than 13 overs to spare. But Netherlands made them labor for the win. Not convincing Team India! Top celebrated batsmen fell in heaps. Thanks to Yuvraj Singh who stars in both of the last  wins.  There are questions all the way...

If unfit Nehra could be tested then why not test the  sitting spinner Ashwin as well. If you are not giving him a chance against the minnows when you are planning to cap him or not at all. Chawla is hardly doing anything except being Dhoni's favorite. Sreesanth was dumped for just one bad spell that too in the very first match and was also rewarded with rebukes. That aggressive fellow has a lot to contribute to Team India's fortune or how would you know if not tested at all. Why the same standards not being applied to Chawla too? Or is the thinking other way round? First ensure QF birth and then go on with the experimenting! Meaning you want to experiment against the likes of South Africa and West Indies! While whole of India knew Team India would easily make it to the QFs how come the Indian skipper himself had all the doubts! And,don't you know at the QF stage you need just one match to get knocked out of the World Cup!

Things are not looking good. Experiment or no experiment Saturday's match against SA will be crucial for proving Team India's credentials, if any, and the performance in that match will set the future prospects in a meaningful perspective. It's not that you have to win the World Cup, there cannot be any compulsion. But you must give it a serious try utilizing all your talent and expertise available. You must never leave scope for regrets after the event is over.

This is the biggest cricketing event of the world, Realize it and keep the personal likes and dislikes on the shelves. Answer all the questions with your unquestionable performance. Time is running out!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pakistan Back To Inexplicable Ways!

As late as the 43rd over Pakistan had the New Zealand innings and the match in control. The expected target was around 220—quite achievable considering Pak batting strength. But mayhem broke loose then.

Pakistan already fielded badly dropping several straight forward catches, but the bowlers managed to keep NZ batsmen in check.

Shoaib Akhter, the fastest and the most experienced campaigner started it all. Suddenly he became so generous that fours and sixes just rained apart from wides. As many as 28 runs were scored in his 9th and 46th of the innings. Is this the most expensive WC over ever? Other Pak bowlers did no help to their team either. Last 30 balls yielded more than 100 runs! As happens in one day games teams score maximum runs in the last ten, but today after being in absolute control Pakistan seemed to give up. Crossing 250, okay possible. But more than 300 (303 target to be exact) was just the impossible made possible by Pak.

When we say Pak bowled horribly in the end we must also say about the incredible batting by New Zealanders. Ross Taylor scored a brilliant century consisting of 7 huge sixes and 8 fours. The seventh wicket partnership lasting hardly four overs was the most destructive from Pak point of view. Nothing much to write about Pak batting. They were just blasted out of the match. With subdued body language the Pak batsmen tried to hit out blindly and fell easy prey to tight NZ bowling. All out for 192.

Back at their unpredictable best, Pakistan is capable of doing anything from now onwards. It will be very difficult for them to go back to hard intense cricket of late. With England around just don’t put your bets on any team in the knockout stage. True to cricket anything is possible. India take on Netherlands tomorrow, but days to go for the much awaited Ind-SA and Ind-WI matches.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Wonder That Is...England!

They nearly lost to minnows Netherlands. Chased a target of 339 runs against favorites India successfully--resulting in a tie. They set a target of 328 against minnows Ireland...and LOST! They set a pathetic target of 172 against mighty South Africa...and WON!

England is living dangerously and so they could be immensely dangerous to any side--particularly in the knockout stage. If they happen to meet Australia in the quarters I would bet they win! Basically or potentially they are a very strong side and now is fast accumulating the Pakistanish unpredictability! This is a deadly combination. Beware, all team captains! They have nothing to lose, but everything to win the World Cup..once!

Meantime the saga of ineffectual matches continue. Barring a few rather debilitating possible upsets by the minnows everybody knows which four top teams of each group go to the quarters. By the time you have all the top teams together it will be over in a whiff. Then why suffer the ordeal!

For cricket crazy Indians, Team India will play minnows Netherlands on 9th. Then the big one against South Africa on 12th. After an excruciating break of over a week they play the last big match against West Indies on 20th. And then the knockout begins.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sideburns! More!

***My grandmother had a thorough way of getting fully posted on any topic the answers to which she might have known already. She used to make sure she had all the details and the necessary action taken. For that she asked the same question at least three times though in varied forms of longer to shorter and to short.  Here is an example of what she used to ask me almost everyday. ‘Dearest, have you eaten your lunch?’ ‘Yes, grandma.’ ‘You have eaten?’ ‘Yes, grandma.’  ‘Eaten, no?’ ‘Yes, grandma!’ I took it as an expression of her tremendous love for me which was the case indeed.

***Greatly angered by inaction of one of his subordinates the boss one day stormed into the subordinate’s room and shouted, ‘Look Mr… My last warning to you! I want results! Don’t continue sitting on the files!’ And he stormed out. The dazed subordinate lifted the cushions of his seat moment the boss left and muttered, ‘What the hell…!’ Not a joke, mind you!

***Once in a project we were trying out young interns for casual work. One lady in a different department used to help us in various ways from technical to routine. That lady knew little English, had a peculiar accent and just managed to convey her thoughts to us. One day she came to my room and said,’ You see… three girls available. You can use if you want!’ Putting on a straight face I asked,’ But have you told them about our consolidated payments?’ ‘Nothing! It’s free!’ I was horrified even though I knew she just conveyed her helpful thoughts!

From Jaipur With Music...

Meantime back from Jaipur--the Pink City--today. Ragini performed in the 43rd Mahashivaratri Sangeet Samaroh there. A breathtaking venue called Gaitore Ki Chhatriya consisting of royal monuments including an ancient Shiva temple and surrounded by hills. A temple of Ganesha on the right atop a steep hill. The color pink is very predominant all around Jaipur. Sawai Man Singh II who was the last ruling monarch of Rajasthan liked this color and made ample use of it in his campaign for modernization of Rajasthan and capital Jaipur. 

A beautiful place to visit. We also visited the Amber Fort and the Jaigarh Fort. The world's largest canon at Jaigarh Fort was really spectacular. Mounted on wheels it has a range of 22 miles and one blast needs 100 kilos of gunpowder. It is said because of terror inspiring defense no enemy dared attack Rajasthan and the canon needed to fire only test blasts.

The Ajmer Dargah Sharif  is world's second most sacred and India's first. People of all religions visit this pilgrimage to fulfill their wishes. Just near Ajmer is a small town called Pushkar which is also a major tourist attraction for its Brahma temple and a lake surrounded by nearly thousand temples. Pushkar is the only place in the world where Lord Brahma is worshiped and there is beautiful story about it.
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