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Sunday, March 15, 2015

ICC Cricket World Cup: Pakistan, West Indies In Quarterfinals!

Jonathan Carter For West Indies

Pakistan and West Indies rose to the occasion and ensured their places in the knockout stage of the ICC Cricket World Cup-2015. Notwithstanding the minnows both teams were facing they had to take the games seriously. In the first match West Indies without Gayle did win with a big margin as required for a better net run-rate against UAE. Chasing a modest target of 176 at Napier today West Indies won by 6 wickets with nearly 20 overs to spare making it almost impossible for the loser of the other match between Pakistan and Ireland to come up on better net run-rate and their place in the Quarterfinals was ensured except for a tie or no result in the other match.

Sarfraz Ahmed's Century For Pakistan
Pakistan bowling that has been responsible for the team’s great comeback stuck to their job and restricted Ireland to 237 in 50 overs despite a century by Porterfield (107 off 131 balls). Pakistan without Younis Khan did not take any chances in the chase and went steady with the only objective of a win. Their batting clicked too with Sarfraz Ahmed making the first hundred for Pakistan in this World Cup and it was also his maiden century in 38 one day internationals (101 not out off 121 balls). Finally Pakistan overwhelmed a promising Ireland by 7 wickets with nearly 4 overs to spare.

The much awaited spots in Pool-B are now final—1.India, 2.South Africa, 3.Pakistan and 4.West Indies. Accordingly the Quarterfinal line-up is clear: 

1.      March 18, Wednesday, Sydney               South Afria Vs Sri Lanka
2.      March 19, Thursday, Melbourne            India Vs Bangladesh
3.      March 20, Friday, Adelaide                    Australia Vs Pakistan
4.      March 21, Saturday, Wellington             New Zealand Vs West Indies 

Just thinking it would have been a mouth-watering prospect if the knockout stage was played as Super Eight Round Robin. I still maintain that this will be the right format for such a world event followed by billions of fans. See the irony now, the hard-fought dream of any team for reaching the next stage could be terminated with just one loss.

The winners of Quarterfinals 1 and 4 will meet in the semifinal in Auckland on 24th March. This means South Africa or Sri Lanka will meet either New Zealand or West Indies. The winners of Quarterfinals 2 and 3, that is to say, either India or Bangladesh with meet Pakistan or Australia on 26th March in Sydney. This again means India and Pakistan can possibly meet each other only in the semifinal like last time and that an India-Australia final on 29th March in Melbourne is also ruled out. New Zealand or South Africa or Sri Lanka or even West Indies are set to test their chances of reaching the final as the other team. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

ICC Cricket World Cup: India Beat Zimbabwe By 6 Wickets, Maintain All Win Record Ahead Of The Knockout Stage!

India have hit a resounding six of six consecutive wins in the ICC World Cup-2015 beating Zimbabwe by 6 wickets in their last league match in Auckland today. However, the margin of India’s victory was not as comfortable as it looks. Chasing a very competitive total of 287 set by Zimbabwe India were under intense pressure at 92 for the loss of 4 top order batsmen in the 23rd over. Thanks to a rollicking unbeaten partnership of 196 runs between Suresh Raina and skipper MS Dhoni victory was finally made easy with 8 balls to spare. Man of the Match Raina raced to a brilliant hundred, his first century in World Cups, making 110 not out off 104 balls with 9 fours and 4 sixes. Raina was helped by a simple dropped catch before he made his half century and was initially living dangerously giving somewhat catching practice to the Zimbabwe fielders. Dhoni gave him solid company making a professional 85 runs not out off 76 balls with 8 fours and 2 sixes—the winning shot being a six from him.

Armed with only a solitary win Zimbabwe almost stopped Team India’s wining spree. After putting Zimbabwe under a lot of pressure at 126 for 4, Indian bowlers seemed to have let off the opposition allowing them to a free flowing run bonanza with the spinners proving totally ineffective. As you know old habits die hard it seemed like a page out of the past. However, unlike the past behavior of Team India Zimbabwe were not allowed to cross the 300 mark and instead the last three wickets were captured for just 2 runs. So, in the six matches thus far India had the opposition all out every time—a feat only achieved by South Africa earlier.

The syndrome of ‘old habits die hard’ does not end there though. As all of us are aware in all major cricket tournaments Team India start experimenting with reserve players once assured of a berth in the next round or in semifinal or finals and in the process losing matches. I was shocked to find celebrated cricket experts and journalists ‘discussing’ the ‘need to rest key players’ in TV channels and newspaper columns. WHY FOR GOD’S SAKE? Don’t anybody realize that this is the World Cup, that the team is winning with the combinations working in the best way possible and that how disastrous it would be for the team to lose a match at this stage and thus inspiring the rival teams in the knockout stage. Good, Dhoni did not fall for it. But still, it seemed like there was some plan. Because of these points—Indian top order batsmen needed some practice in defensive techniques (else why Shikhar Dhawan and Rahane were playing so slowly and in sharp contrast charging down the pitch for non-existent singles); Suresh Raina was not getting enough opportunity to get runs and so needed to be in the middle for some time; lower order of the Indian batting including Dhoni needed more exposure and the Indian tail needed to be tailored to wag enough in the knockout stage. Well, if there was indeed such a plan it was bizarre, risky and negative. The good thing is that most of India’s needs were fulfilled finally in this game! They chased down the highest ever World Cup total despite the fits and starts. And it gave the right kind of message to a resurgent Bangladesh.

Zimbabwe captain Brendon Taylor bid adieu to his team with an explosive century (138 off 110 balls with 15 fours and 5 sixes) as he will be joining an English county team for three years and would probably keep himself open for selection in the England team. Virtually in his last innings for Zimbabwe Taylor provided the momentum for a total in excess of 300, but an injury-affected team could not capitalize fully on it. 

The line-up in Pool—A is final—1.New Zealand, 2.Australia, 3.Sri Lanka and 4.Bangladesh and knockout games start from 18th March. From Pool-B top team India is set to meet Bangladesh in the quarterfinal scheduled on 19th March in Melbourne. Sunday’s (tomorrow, 15/3/15) crucial matches of Pakistan Vs Ireland and West Indies Vs UAE will decide who will meet New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka. If Pakistan win they will move to either second or third position depending on net run-rate with South Africa. The net run-rate will also decide whether loser Ireland or West Indies winning against UAE will finally occupy the fourth position. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

ICC Cricket World Cup: Team India, Updates And More…

The biggest surprise of the ICC Cricket World Cup-2015, I think, has been the superlative performance of Team India, not only for the Indian fans but also for the whole cricketing world as everybody saw how the team performed in England and Australia just before the mega world event began. I have personally expressed my anguish in these pages on many occasions and even in my last post (circumstances forced me to take a long break, but was following everything keenly) I called Team India ‘a disillusioned listless disgruntled side’. Well, how depressing it was to watch the team losing to England—a side lot weaker and now obliterated from World Cup-2015. However, all along the underlying impression or belief was that India were not playing to its true potential and both internal and external factors like lack of confidence or application, apparent discontentment within the team, BCCI upheavals, disorder in the batting order and Mahendra Singh Dhoni suddenly running away from Test captaincy. It was of paramount importance for the team to regroup quickly for the world event.

And, how dramatically they have put behind the negativity and regrouped with determination, courage and intense motivation. They have excelled in all the departments—batting, bowling and fielding. The world cricket fraternity watched in wonderment, and the Indian fans were ecstatic relishing, cheering every moment of it. Team India has started with archrivals Pakistan beating them in a largely one sided affair and for millions of fans it was like winning the World Cup. They kept on winning against South Africa, West Indies, Ireland and UAE in fully convincing way except for a little hiccup against the West Indies. Completing the 5th consecutive win India have topped the Pool-B with just one match against Zimbabwe coming up. They have also made a record of winning 9 consecutive WC matches and Dhoni has become the best winning captain. All batsmen, particularly Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, delivered for the team and Rohit Sharma coming good too with the captain playing a crucial leadership innings for the win over West Indies. Pacers, chiefly Shami, and spinners are both doing extremely well not allowing any side to score 300 runs in a tournament where totals of 400+ are being witnessed with Australia making the highest ever 417 runs against Afghanistan. And, team India has become one of the best fielding sides of the world too.

In Pool-B the situation is still fluid with South Africa qualifying for the quarterfinals crushing UAE in today’s match, but for the other two spots there are three teams—Pakistan with 6 points have to beat Ireland in their last league match and West Indies will have to beat UAE a with big margin to pip Ireland who caused a major upset of the World Cup defeating West Indies earlier. At the moment Ireland has 6 points and West Indies only 4 points with one match to go for both teams.

In Pool-A New Zealand topped the group with some astounding cricket being the only the second unbeaten team apart from India. In this group Bangladesh have created history by qualifying for the quarterfinals for the first time ever by eliminating England, they entered the Super Eight in 2007 which was played on round-robin basis that time. They eliminated India in that World Cup and now are likely to meet India in the quarterfinals because in the unlikely event of Bangladesh beating super New Zealand in their last encounter they are set to occupy the 4th spot in Pool-A. Bangladesh at the moment is super charged for the blockbuster and is already preparing to meet and hopefully toppling India. Team India will be very aware of what Bangladesh had done to them in 2007, and realistically speaking with the kind of cricket they are playing it should not be a huge problem to overcome Bangladesh in the knockout state. However, you never know with cricket and no team can be overestimated or underestimated on a particular day. New Zealand is likely to meet Pakistan or Ireland or West Indies in the quarters. The overall picture for the other quarterfinals will be clear in a day or two.

It is really exciting and tantalizing to speculate who will win the World Cup-2015 from here on. Key players of most teams like AB deVilliers and Amla for South Africa, Glenn Maxwell, Clarke and Steven Smith for Australia, Brendon McCullum and Guptil for New Zealand, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni for India, Kumar Sangakkara who has already created history by becoming the first cricketer to hit 4 consecutive centuries in ODIs or World Cups and Dilshan for Sri Lanka are all in super form and set to play pivotal roles in the knockout stage. Not to speak of the key bowlers and fielders.

India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and even Pakistan are all capable of winning the Cup. Therefore, it is better not to speculate too much and instead relax, watch and enjoy the great cricket show. And of course, cheering on Team India!
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