India vs Pakistan World Cup 2015: Dhoni’s strategic masterstrokes deliver clinical victory

_MG_8196 by lensmate, on Flickr

CLINICAL. A word which, in the context closest to what I am pursuing, is defined by Oxford Dictionary as: very efficient and without feeling; coldly detached. A word, whose association in the cricketing sense, almost begins and ends with Australia when it comes to long-term positioning, also temporarily attributed to other teams who occasionally rise above feelings associated with mere mortals to register famous victories. A word hardly ever associated with India vs. Pakistan clashes, World Cup or otherwise, which are always high adrenalin, passionate, memorable moment generating affairs.

And yet, even after churning my mind over with a plethora of adjectives to select one which would best capture the essence of the mauling India handed out to their neighbors at the Adelaide Oval in a marquee contest of the 2015 ICC World Cup, the winner is – clinical. In a match mostly bereft of the intensity and heated exchanges normally associated with Indo-Pakistan clashes, barring the sea of blue and green jerseys in the stands, MS Dhoni downed his counterpart Misbah-ul-Haq in a strategic battle which saw the Pakistanis crash to one of their biggest defeats on the World Cup stage. 

Dhoni’s masterstroke #1: A perfect XI, given available resources

After numerous permutations and combinations with the playing XI in the run up to the tournament, an act which can be dubbed experimentation or red-herring strategy, depending on one’s appetite for conspiracy theories, Dhoni got together the perfect XI, given the resources.

This batting line-up, which finally looks fearsome, at least on paper, should not be tampered with at all. Ambati Rayudu, for all his earnestness, is unfortunately not in the same league as the rest of the batsmen, and his eviction makes the line-up look formidable, though perhaps one batsman lesser than optimum.

Ravichandran Ashwin, ignored for a majority of the tri-series, delivered one of his best spells in recent times overseas; the confidence with which he bowled both the regular offies as well as the variations, was not on show in recent times, and definitely hints at the possibility of Dhoni playing this one close to his chest.

The seamers, sans Bhuvneshwar Kumar, were impressive. Ravindra Jadeja looks the weakest link in the bowling attack, and could make way for Akshar Patel, should India persist with two spinners, or Stuart Binny on pitches more conducive for the swinging ball. 

Dhoni’s masterstroke #2: Reining in the firebrands

In what is unlikely to be a coincidence, two of India’s biggest firebrand batsmen, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum as far as form is concerned, displayed immense maturity in building their respective innings, in a complete departure from the recklessness both demonstrated during the recently concluded tri-series tournament in Australia.

Kohli did have his momentary brain-freeze, when he almost replicated his dismissal off Nathan Lyon in the second innings of the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar 2001 series, at the same venue, while attempting a short-arm pull off Shahid Afridi. A better fielder than Yasir Shah might have drawn the curtains prematurely on a now-historic innings, but Kohli survived.

Even more impeccable was Dhawan’s shot selection, and after surviving a trying spell from the seven-footer Mohammed Irfan, the southpaw settled down into his best innings on the Australian tour thus far. Dhawan looked more comfortable than Kohli at the crease, mixing caution with aggression, and was set for a big 100 before the misunderstanding cut short his innings.

Dhoni’s masterstroke #3: Raina’s promotion

When Dhawan fell in the 30th over with the score reading 163, the stage looked set for an in-form Ajinkya Rahane to come in and consolidate the innings between overs 30-40, before Raina and Dhoni launched the final assault in the death overs.

In a masterstroke reminiscent of the skipper promoting himself over Yuvraj Singh in the 2011 World Cup final, Raina came in ahead of Rahane, and played the best innings of the day, slamming 74 runs off just 56 balls to nitro-boost the Indian score, raising visions of a 320-330 target before his dismissal triggered a mini-collapse.

Not many can match the strike-power of an in-form Raina, but taking the call despite a lackluster showing by the southpaw of late, was undoubtedly a masterstroke. 

Dhoni’s masterstroke #4: Tearaway bowling: a leaf out of Imran’s book?

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Exactly a week before the monumental clash, in the warm-up game against Australia, India opened its bowling with Stuart Binny and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, both bowling gentle seam-up deliveries in the 120-125kmph range which hardly posed a threat to the Aussie openers.

Against Pakistan however, the bowlers seemed to be under specific instructions to bowl as quick as possible, not worrying too much about wides and no-balls, a theory made famous by the majestic former Pakistan skipper Imran Khan during the 1992 World Cup.

Umesh Yadav opened the  bowling with a wide which set the tone for the rest of the innings, which saw a total of 10 wides and a no-ball, a statistic which could have the experts wrinkling their noses at the indiscipline. From a cup-half-full viewpoint, the number, considered alongside the overall bowling display, was also an indicator of the quicks’ aggression  – both Yadav and Mohammed Shami bowled regularly in the 145-150kmph range; even the relatively slower Mohit Sharma was touching 140kmph.

There was no let up on the short stuff, seldom allowing the Pakistani batsmen to get on the front foot. Dhoni displayed no anguish and neither did he reprimand the bowlers when some of these deliveries sailed well clear of the batsmen to be called wides.

The agenda was clear – bowl fast and intimidate the batsmen. With the quicks picking up 8 wickets between them, the move, in tow with other strategic masterstrokes, saw India canter home in a one-sided contest.

10 most memorable moments in India Pakistan World Cup clashes

As India heads into its first World Cup clash against arch-rivals Pakistan sans the services of master blaster Sachin Tendulkar, a confidence built up on empirical data is getting slightly tempered by the team’s current form, which can at best be termed pathetic.

However, the World Cup is a different prospect altogether, and to push that envelope a bit further, I have put together some of my favourite moments from Indo-Pak clashed in the marquee event over the years.

Whether February 15th 2015 will add to the list or take away some of this pleasant nostalgia remains to be seen, but till then, if you are an Indian fan, enjoy!

#10. Miandad emulates a Jumping Jack, 1992

In an era when the game of cricket could, with a certain degree of honesty, pass of as the gentlemen’s game as per its original christening, the Javed Miandad-Kiran More episode was one of the earlier instances of well-documented animosities, something commonplace in today’s camera-friendly game.

The stakes were high. Arch-rivals India and Pakistan were meeting for the first time in a World Cup, at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground. Pakistan were under pressure during the tricky chase of 217 after a couple of quick wickets fell, and though opener Aamer Sohail and Miandad steadied the ship, runs were being scored in a trickle.

Miandad, famous for his ‘getting under the skin of the opponent’ skills, was getting a dose of his own medicine, looking visibly disturbed by the incessant appealing synchronized with  spasmodic  leaps of wicket-keeper More at almost every opportunity.

Words were exchanged, and Miandad even complained to the umpire, but More was unflappable. A few overs later, Miandad disposed of the flimsy thread of sanity that was holding him together. After surviving a run-out attempt at the wicket-keeper’s end, Miandad, displaying a flexibility which belied his bulky frame, leapt up and down animatedly several times, in a bid to imitate the diminutive wicket-keeper’s enthusiastic appealing style.

Viewers, umpires and commentators looked on in shock and awe, as the moment went on to register itself as one of the most poignant visuals in the history of Indo-Pak cricket rivalry.

#9. Yuvraj-Dravid partnership, 2003

At a time when India still held the tag of shaky chasers, the unbeaten Rahul Dravid-Yuvraj Singh partnership which led India to victory against Pakistan at Centurion Park went a long way in changing that perception, before finishers like MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli established chasing as one of India’s strengths, as opposed to a weakness.

After Sachin Tendulkar had laid the foundation with a brilliant 75-ball 98, the two got together with the target still about 100 runs away. Thanks to Sachin’s belligerence, the Required Run Rate was well under control, but a couple of wickets would have exposed India’s wobbly lower order.

What followed was a masterclass in batting. Dravid was solid as ever, while Yuvraj exuded a degree of control over the flamboyance the world had come to associate him with, opening out only when the target was well within reach. There were no further hiccups, as the unbeaten 99 run partnership carried India comfortably over the line.

#8. Sehwag cameos, 2003 & 2011

Virender Sehwag may not have fired on all of his ballistic cylinders in Indo-Pak clashes in the World Cup, but his cameos on both occasions the teams met on his watch, completely took the pressure off Sachin, allowing  the master blaster to play match-winning knocks both times.

In 2003, at the SuperSport Park, Centurion, chasing a stiff target, Sachin had channelized some of his nervous energy (more on that ahead on the list) towards dispatching Shoaib Akhtar to all corners of the park, including the uppercut, before the wily Wasim Akram turned on the screws with a one-run over.

That’s when Viru took matters into his own hands, with Uppercut 2.0 off Waqar Younis and a couple of spanking boundaries against Akram. Though he fell soon after, Sehwag’s 14-ball 21 set the ball rolling and put India on course for a memorable victory.

The Nawab of Najafgarh’s innings in the crucial semi-final clash at Mohali during the 2011 World Cup was even more vital. Sachin, in a complete departure from his 2003 avatar against the same opposition, was a picture of concentration, perhaps sensing it as his final opportunity to make a mark against the famed rivals.

While the sense of finale would have been as applicable to Sehwag, given his non-selection in the 2015 squad, the right-hander went about his task with gay abandon, doing what he does best – categorically providing the cricket ball with an all-expenses-paid trip across the vast expanses of the ground.

Sehwag was particularly severe on strike bowler Umar Gul, who he took for 21 runs off one over, and struck two more boundaries for good measure, in his next.  Even if the most experienced batsman in the team was feeling touch anxious, given the occasion, the Delhi opener’s 25-ball 38 would certainly have eased any jangly nerves, and set India off on a path which would take the team within striking distance of the most coveted trophy, one it ultimately secured.

#7. Srinath yorking Miandad, 1992

I am not sure how highly this moment rates itself in the minds of avid Indo-Pak fans, but for me, the annihilation of ‘Jumping Jack’ Miandad not just exacted sweet revenge for the unnecessary histrionics against More, but was also the turning point in a keen contest.

Though wickets were falling around him like nine-pins, Miandad’s presence at the crease, though he was crawling along at a snail’s pace and looked mentally agitated, continued to be a danger, his finishing abilities fresh in mind 6 years after Sharjah, 1986 (fresh even today, as a matter of fact).

That was when India’s new-found tearaway quick Javagal Srinath decided to claim a piece of history. Often accused of sticking a tad too frequently to the incoming length ball, the Karnataka speedster bowled a perfect searing yorker, which Miandad, perhaps still intoxicated by all the jumping around, played like a length ball – trying to run it down to third man, to have his timber disturbed.

Almost equally momentous was the dignified celebration of the Indian fielders, which, given Miandad’s dramatics, was in stark contrast to some of the exaggerated send-offs which have become the norm of modern game-play under the guise of aggressive cricket.

#6. Sachin announces himself on the biggest stage

The clash at Sydney had aspects of an Olympic relay race, with a distinct phase in the latter part of India’s innings when the country’s greatest ODI player till date, rubbed shoulders with, and eventually passed the baton onto the man who was to hold on to that crown for decades, perhaps even pipping his predecessor in the contest for the all-time recipient of the abovementioned laurel.

The 19-year old Sachin Tendulkar was already a household name, thanks to a couple of brilliant Test innings in England and Australia, though he was yet to create such an impact (by his own lofty standards) in the shorter version of the game, and did not play much of a role in the first two games of this tournament.

When Sanjay Manjrekar fell for a first-ball duck with the score reading 148-5, Sachin was joined by the beyond-his-prime rockstar  of Indian cricket, Kapil Dev. In an absolute gem of a ‘passing-the-baton’ partnership, the duo put on 60 runs in just 8 overs.

Kapil launched into the bowling with gusto, slamming a 26-ball 35, while Sachin played a more controlled, albeit delightfully strokeful 62-ball 54, the little master’s first half century in a World Cup.

The Mumbaikar, then a regular fixture in India’s bowling line-up as well, returned to snare Pakistan’s best batsman that day, Aamer Sohail, to claim his first Player of the Match award on the biggest stage, signing off a glorious opening chapter in an epic journey he was to dominate over the years.

#5. The Prasad and Srinath show, 1999

In what was perhaps the least intense, at least in terms of visible activity, World Cup encounter between the two sides, even as the countries’ respective armies faced off in Kargil a short while back, India’s new ball pair of Venkatesh Prasad and Javagal Srinath decimated the Pakistani batsmen, accounting for 8 wickets between them.

At the quaint Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, India, after winning the toss and electing to bat, set up a moderate total of 227, built around solid if not spectacular innings by Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Mohammed Azharuddin.

Often the bane of the Indian bowling attack through the 90s, Saeed Anwar got the team off to a brisk start, though Srinath got rid of the dangerous Shahid Afridi and stalwart Ijaz Ahmed in quick succession.  Post that, his Karnataka teammate Prasad, no stranger to being in the thick of action in Indo-Pak clashes, took over, breaking the back of Pakistan’s batting line-up with 5 wickets, an assault the men in green could never quite recover come, surrendering tamely 47 runs short of the target.

#4. DRS and butterfingers aid Sachin’s last stand, 2011

Pakistan stood between India and a famous second triumph, when the two teams met in the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup, at Mohali. If the immense pressure associated with Indo-Pak clashes was not enough, the presence of both countries’ Prime Ministers, the knockout stage and the inevitability of the tournament being the final opportunity for Sachin Tendulkar to add the one piece of silverware missing from his overflowing awards cabinet, transformed the park into a cauldron.

After winning the toss and electing to bat first, Sehwag blazed away in his customary fashion, while the little master was highly circumspect. The heart-in-the-mouth moment came in the 11th over, when a Saeed Ajmal delivery rapped Sachin on the pads, and umpire Ian Gould immediately lifted his finger. The diminutive right-hander immediately sought the services of the Decision Review System (DRS), a contraption which India looked at (and still does) with mistrust and suspicion.

DRS overturned the umpire’s call, a momentous decision which triggered punches and counterpunchesover its authenticity, well after the match was over. The little master had survived, and only by the skin of his teeth.

In a departure from the uber-confident Sachin we saw against Pakistan in the 2003 edition, the maestro trudged along, in a last stand which was significantly aided by four dropped catches by the Pakistan fielders.

Sachin stood tall amongst the ruins of a middle order which saw Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh fall cheaply, his 115-ball 85 lending respectability to the Indian total, one which the Pakistanis fell 29 runs short of.

In a circle of life scenario, Sachin picked up his final Player of the Match award in a World Cup, nearly 20 years after his first, against the same opposition, to lead India to the threshold of what would be their greatest triumph on this side of the millennium.

#3. The Sachin uppercut, 2003

Perhaps the most visually stunning moment in this entire list, Sachin upper-cutting then fastest bowler in the world, Shoaib Akhtar, for a six, set against the backdrop of the picturesque Centurian Park, is my favourite Sachin-moment – not just against Pakistan in World Cups, but his cricketing career as a whole. No mean achievement, given the numerous moments the master has given us those 24 sparkling years when he donned Indian colours.

Getting back, Sachin admitted to being under tremendous pressure going into this match, having not even slept properly for the past 12 days, as reported by ESPNCricinfo. India’s bowling attack, and in particular Ashish Nehra, who was most impressive in the previous match against England, had been taken for plenty and a good start to the chase was imperative.

All of Sachin’s pent up anxiety lent weight to that stunning stroke off Akhtar . The moment transformed into something much more than a cricket shot; a knockout punch in a slugfest between two heavyweights may have been closer to the statement it sent across – that the balance of power, till then somewhat in Pakistan’s hands, had been firmly wrested back.

The six was followed by a couple of breathtaking boundaries off Akhtar’s next two deliveries, and with Sehwag providing able initial support, Sachin settled down into what was, in my opinion, his best non-century making World Cup innings ever. The maestro’s 75-ball 98, while falling tragically short of an immensely deserved century, relegated the Required Run Rate factor to a mere number, allowing his successors to knock off the target without too many risks.

#2. Jadeja takes on Waqar, 1996

The M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore played host to a high-voltage clash, the most intense in my opinion, between the two sub-continental neighbours, in the quarterfinals of the 1996 World Cup, and bore witness to not one, but two of the most memorable moments in Indo-Pak clashes, both of which figure right up there in my list.

India, batting first after winning the toss, had built a solid platform on the back of Navjot Singh Sidhu’s 93, augmented by 20s and 30s by others around him. At 200-4 in the 42nd over, when Ajay Jadeja strolled in, the X-factor was missing from an innings which looked set to fold up in the vicinity of 250, hardly a match-winning total on a placid pitch.

The normally chatty Jadeja was, as former Pakistan wicket-keeper Rashid Latif recalls, quiet and focused. It was, perhaps, the calm before the storm, which, when it did come, blew away the reputation of one of the most fearsome quick bowlers in international cricket at that time.

Waqar Younis, in that era, at the death, was what Lasith Malinga, at his best, is in the current – virtually unplayable with pin-point inswinging yorkers. While most batsmen would have looked to save a toe, Jadeja went deep in his crease, and with what could be termed an improvised version of the helicopter shot branded by MS Dhoni, lofted two such perfect yorkers into the stands.

The assault was just beginning, and when the dust settled, the veteran pacer’s final two overs had gone for 18 and 22 respectively, Jadeja had conjured 45 runs off just 25 balls, and the Indian score had surged to 287, X-factor very much included.

#1. The Prasad-Sohail camaraderie, 1996

Finally, my favourite moment in Indo-Pak clashes – ever! If the entire history of the rivalry between these enigmatic teams were converted into an infographic, the heading visual would undoubtedly be this timeless classic of a bullfight, which at the end of the day, was the turning point of in that eventful 1996 World Cup quarterfinal clash.

Ajay Jadeja’s heroics looked in danger of being in vain, as Saeed Anwar and stand-in captain, Aamer Sohail, smashed 84 runs off the first 10 overs, silencing the crowd which was dancing in the aisles a short while back.

Though Anwar fell, Sohail looked at complete ease, dictating terms against bowlers, in the process reaching his half century with a Strike Rate in excess of 100.

Then came the moment, or to be precise, the prelude to the moment. Sohail stepped out of the crease and slashed a length delivery from a till-then lacklustre Venkatesh Prasad to the extra-cover fence. To rub it in, Sohail pointed out the path traversed by the ball to Prasad, either asking him to fetch it, or suggesting extra protection.

The very next ball it happened. The stuff scripted in fairytales. Or perhaps at the movies. Prasad ambled up to the stumps and hurled down a seemingly innocuous delivery, this time on the stumps. The charged up Sohail, without moving his feet, took an almighty swipe, only to miss, and found his off-stump uprooted.

Prasad’s humiliation was avenged in the space of just a single delivery, and even as the lanky pacer issued a fiery send-off with the crowd exulting in the background, the tide had turned firmly in favour of India.

This article was first published in Sportskeeda:

http://www.sportskeeda.com/slideshow/10-most-memorable-moments-india-pakistan-world-cup-clashes-cricket?imgid=45436

Most incredible matches in World Cup history – England vs Ireland, 2011

  by  HikingArtist.com 

Everyone loves an underdog. In an adulation which has transcended boundaries of sport, movies, reality entertainment shows and more, these David vs Goliath battles tug at our heartstrings like nothing else, with a generous dollop of initial sympathy, which gradually builds into an overwhelming empathy and culminates in excessively strong feelings of joy or sorrow, based on how the story ends up for the David in question.

The greatest stage of the 50-over cricket game provides excellent scope for such skewed battles, with several instances of leviathan upsets by so-called minnows over their more fancied opponents. As the name suggests, a minnow often lures its unwitting prey into a trap, but the story I am about to recount here is one where a minnow develops shark-like features to batter its foe into submission before crunching it to bits.

Clash of the neighbours

When next-door European neighbours England and Ireland clashed in Game 15 of the 2011 World Cup on 2nd March 2011, at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru, not many expected David to trump Goliath.

Ireland had shown some promise with an impressive bowling display against higher-echelon minnows Bangladesh in their tournament opener, but England were coming off an outstanding display against favourites India, clearly in the ascendancy in the final stages of the match, despite chasing 338, before collapsing under the impact of a brilliant Zaheer Khan and a bit of hara-kiri to register an exciting tie.

The Irishmen were not expected to trouble them beyond the temporary minnow moments of glory, customary of most non-embarrassing clashes featuring the lesser nations.

Trott-ing away to glory, with impecca-Bell support

England won the toss and elected to bat on a belter of a wicket, a move soon vindicated by the excellent opening partnership between previous match’s almost-hero Andrew Strauss and quintessential bad-boy Kevin Pieterson, both of whom fell on either side of the team hundred.

Ireland’s joy was short lived, as Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell settled into a 167-run partnership, looking least bothered by whatever the bowlers dished out. In the process, ‘Test specialist’ Trott reached 1000 runs in One Day International (ODI) cricket in only his 21st innings, equalling the record set by famed ODI specialists, Viv Richards and this inning’s ancestor Pieterson.

Bell provided solid support as both men hurtled towards their respective hundreds, and a 350-400 looked very much on the cards.

A hole in the middle

Both Trott and Bell lost their wickets in a display of utter disdain for the bowling, the beneficiary on both occasions being soon-to-be second lead hero John Mooney. This was followed by a hole-in-the-middle implosion with Matt Prior, Paul Collingwood, Michael Yardy and Tim Bresnan departing in quick succession, without bothering the score-keepers too much.

In a rather rare phenomenon in cricket, England’s death batting woes returned to haunt them (the final five overs yielded just 33 runs) the second time in two games, and Mooney finished with a career-best 4 for 63.

England’s 327, though about 40-50 runs short of what they looked capable of achieving during the Trott-Bell partnership, still looked a mountain too high for Ireland to surpass.

minnowy start

In response, Ireland lost opening batman William Porterfield first ball to a nothing delivery from James Anderson. What followed was a struggle, with star batsman Ed Joyce trudging along at a strike rate of 50, and Paul Stirling chancing his arm with moderate success, with a bit of help from the sloppy Prior.

Graeme Swann came on to bowl in the first Powerplay, and gradually weaved his magic on the game, accounting for three quick wickets in the middle order. With Stirling falling to the sword earlier, half of Ireland’s side was back in the pavilion with the scoreboard reading 111.

The match had, till then, dedicatedly stuck to the standard minnow script – chasing a huge target, the underdogs, after suffering an early jolt, stick manfully to their task, eliciting a few words of praise, before being slowly outgunned and eventually obliterated.

However, a purple-haired marauder decided to throw a spanner in the works and engineer a slightly different script.

The Kevin carnage

“Sometimes Kevin gives you the impression that he is 100% determined not to just give it away. On this occasion his was just a carefree, relaxed attitude.” These words by Andrew White, Ireland’s most capped player who was dropped after the loss against Bangladesh, described Kevin O’Brien’s frame of mind when he went out to bat. Incidentally, they quite aptly captured what was to follow in the middle as well.

O’Brien began with a couple of sixes against England’s most successful bowler thus far, Swann, before cutting loose with the calmness of a highly trained sniper against the quicks, during the batting powerplay. The clean hitting was reminiscent of, but with superior technique, what an unknown Kieron Pollard displayed, playing for Trinidad & Tobago against New South Wales, in the group encounter of the inaugural edition of the Champions League T20 tournament.

O’Brien waltzed to the quickest century in World Cup history, off just 50 balls, and the match had turned on its head, with Ireland requiring 65 runs off the final ten overs for a memorable victory.

The support staff

Almost as significant was the contribution of O’Brien’s unsung mate in the 162-run 6th wicket partnership, Alex Cusack, whose 58-ball 47 paled before O’Brien’s in statistical terms, but the solidity of whom allowed the purple-haired Irishman to come out all guns blazing, while allowing him to catch his breath occasionally with a few magnificent strikes off his own.

Cusack’s final act of the day was perhaps his most heroic as well. With nine overs remaining and 56 runs yet to be knocked off, Cusack sacrificed his wicket after a misunderstanding over a non-existing single. The soldier had laid down his life so that his king (for that day at least) could continue to wage battle, and win the all-important war.

The dismissal brought out Ireland’s bowling champion of the day, Mooney, whose support role with the bat was to provide tremendous relief to a tiring O’Brien.

A memorable victory

Mooney was to the Irish chase, in the finishing moments, a shot of adrenalin into a well-worked but faltering heart. He hogged the strike, and combined the optimum mix of defence and attack to propel the team along towards a now very gettable target.

Like most great matches, this one was not bereft of last minute drama. With 12 runs required off the final two overs, O’Brien ran himself out, ending one of the most stunning innings in recent memory, the fruitfulness of which yet remained to be ascertained.

Given their lack of experience at the highest level, a panic attack may have been warranted, but as White recalls, when he ran out to the centre with drinks after the run-out, “The calmest people in the ground were the two batsmen. They knew exactly what they were trying to do. I asked John (Mooney) if he was happy with the way things were going. And he said, ‘Yes, all under control.’ This, when the rest of us were sitting on the edge of our seats.”

Mooney’s words of reassurance were not spoken lightly. New man Trent Johnston blazed the first delivery he received, a gentle full toss from Stuart Broad, to the extra-cover fence, and sensible batting off the remaining deliveries of the penultimate over saw Ireland require just 3 runs off the final 6 deliveries.

Leaving no space for last moment histrionics, Mooney clipped the first ball of the final over, bowled by Anderson, to the mid-wicket boundary for his country’s greatest victory ever.

As the man whipped off his helmet and emanated a warrior cry, the message resounded around the world: ‘Goliath was slain yet again; long live David’.

This article was first published in Sportskeeda: http://www.sportskeeda.com/cricket/most-incredible-matches-world-cup-history-england-vs-ireland-2011

Caught in a time warp: Actual and potential similarities between 1992 and 2015 World Cups

A few days back, after witnessing Tom Cruise die and come to life approximately a zillion times in the 2014 sci-fi thriller, Edge of Tomorrow, on DVDmy idiot box redirected me to one of the countless re-runs of the history of the World Cup (WC) on a popular sports channel, which was broadcasting Pakistan’s mercurial triumph in the 1992 WC.

With my brain still tuned in to the time-warp, our evergreen loverboy-turned-action-hero found himself in; I could not help but wonder about some of the coincidences, some actual, some potential, between the events playing out in that game-changing edition of the tournament, and the one we are about to immerse ourselves in, about a week from now.

While there may not be any threat from rampaging aliens in the near future (in spite of what conspiracy theorists claim), we do stand the risk of a 23-year old de-ja-vu, which on second thought, may not be the worst thing to happen, given the wonderful entertainment which was on show during that unforgettable event.

Stating the obvious

Before I hear the very deserving snickers and snorts of contempt, let me issue the disclaimer that, being a fan of Ravi Shastri’s commentary since my childhood days, and more recently, MS Dhoni’s customary ‘Well, obviously’,whenever the microphone is pointed in his direction, I have no shame in stating the obvious, which is, the venue itself.

Only for the second time in the history of the most coveted limited overs tournament in cricket will the action play out on the popular cricketing shores Down Under, a privilege mostly hogged by England and the Indian sub-continent.

For everyone cricket-aware back in 1992, the literal translation of deja vu (‘already seen’ in French, for the uninitiated) may hold more water in this case than the thrilling associations made by Hollywood blockbusters and bestsellers over the years, though the excitement factor could be just as high, if not more.

Expectedly, the smattering of day-night matches in the 1992 edition has been revised into an almost mirror-image as far as day matches are concerned (10 D/N matches in 1992 v/s 12 D matches in 2015), to satisfy commercial interests as well as current viewer synchronization, and I will miss the groggy-eyed mornings when a 10-year old explored a domain, highly attractive but relatively unknown, in a manner not too different from a teenager walking down the mysterious but alluring corridor of their first love.

Face-Off: The England-New Zealand switch hit

My movie hangover is back with a vengeance, because the Face-Off I refer to is not what is commonly associated with sporting events, but the 1997 Nicholas Cage-John Travolta starrer (Bollywood fans may associate better with the 2001 Amitabh Bachchan-Manoj Bajpai thriller Aks). Bear with me as I attempt to correlate.

The Kiwis’ amazing flight in the 1992 WC is well documented, but a slightly lesser known fact is that they were whitewashed by the Englishmen, at home, in both Tests and ODIs, just days before the tournament kick-started. In an era where bilateral ODI series were limited, this must have been devastating for New Zealand, even as England glided into the event as a well-oiled machine psyched for success.

Back in the present, on current form, or the lack of it, England stake claim to the ‘least favourites’ crown among the Big 8; India’s recent surge poses a genuine threat, but England’s consistency over the past year gives them the edge.

New Zealand, on the other hand, are coming off one of their most successful years in international cricket, across all formats, and given the red-hot form they currently find themselves in, are one of the most exciting teams to watch out for in this edition.

In other words, both these teams are shrouded in the pre-’92 WC avatar of the other. If this Face-Off lasts the distance, the Kiwis would finally break into an elusive WC final, and England will literally shock the world with their innovativeness.

Captains Royale

Majestic captains. Most WCs had one, incidentally from the winning team – Clive Lloyd (1975 and 1979), Kapil Dev (1983), Allan Border (1987), Arjuna Ranatunga (1996), Steve Waugh (1999) and MS Dhoni (2011). (Ricky Ponting’s credits get shared with the majestic team he had at his disposal during the 2003 and 2007 editions).

The 1992 tournament, however, had two – Martin Crowe the Innovator and Imran Khan the Street Fighter. Both carried their respective teams into the business end of the tournament, albeit with varying strategies, before meeting in an epic ‘Rumble in Auckland’ semi-final, where the Street Fighter downed an injured Innovator before ascending to the throne.

New Zealand look certain to tick that box yet again in 2015. After a few tournaments under solid but sedate captains like Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori, the Kiwis finally have an aggressive skipper in Brendon McCullum. He commands the team’s respect, and given the stunning turnaround the Kiwis are displaying under him, the man from Otago is, in my opinion, the strongest candidate for the Majestic Captain crown for this edition.

In addition, my gut feeling says that, in a parallel with 1992, this edition will see not one, but two great captains display their wares. Craning my neck a little, if not sticking it out entirely, I pick AB de Villiers to be the second captain – the Immovable Object which meets the Unstoppable Force (The Dark Knight,anyone?), as far as captaincy battles go.

In his first opportunity to lead the Proteas at the highest stage, the near-superhuman Pretorian should be able to translate some of his unconventional batting skills into innovative captaincy, which might see South Africa finally ridding itself of the Albatross it has been carrying around for years.

Pakistan captains 

Like any researcher worth his salt, I Googled ‘similarities between the 1992 and 2015 World Cup’ before embarking on this article, and found the first few pages dedicated entirely to this query, but in Pakistan’s context. Article after article, with a strong hint of ‘sharing and caring’, all of which focused on similarities between the Pakistan squad of 1992 and 2015, kept popping up.

While I leave considerations of authenticity of these articles on the wise shoulders of curious readers, I would have to admit that a couple of coincidences were indeed interesting. The obvious one is, of course, the fact that while Imran, Pakistan’s enigmatic skipper in 1992, was touching 40, the country’s current captain Misbah-ul-Haq already cleared that milestone last year; an achievement in itself, given the current clamour for exuberance of youth over steadfastness of experience.

Borrowing from James Bond’s vocabulary, if that’s happenstance, both men hailing from Mianwali make it a coincidence. Thankfully, an ‘enemy-action’ scenario need not arise, with their captaincy styles as different as chalk and cheese. While it looks improbable that Misbah can inspire his men to motivational levels in the vicinity of those achieved by Imran, the inherently mercurial Pakistan team can never be written off.

If only the 1992 WC can repeat itself….  

I have steered clear of parallels which have surfaced in every WC post 1992 – like Australia and South Africa almost always starting as favourites, or the latter being unable to realize the full potential of exceptionally talented squads due to a heady cocktail of choking, mind-freeze and just plain bad luck, or the customary minnow upset.

Even with these usual suspects knocked off, the 2015 tournament bears more than a passing resemblance to the pioneering 1992 edition, which, according to the Guardian, in an opinion I strongly endorse, was the best WC of them all, barring a rainy hiccup.

With a sequel to one of my all-time favourite movies set to release shortly after WC 2015, I cannot resist interjecting a ludicrous tribute to conclude – had the beautiful crystal 1992 trophy, while disappearing from public view aloft the broad shoulders of Imran, mouthed incoherently, “I’ll be bakk(sic)”,  (a phrase first used by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s villainous Terminator in the franchise’s first instalment in 1984, and deployed subsequently in all sequels and several other movies of the Austrian-born hulk), then WC 2015 is undoubtedly the best stage to fulfil that promise, and if realized, we are definitely going to be in for a helluva lot of entertainment.

This article was first published in Sportskeeda: http://www.sportskeeda.com/cricket/caught-in-a-time-warp-actual-and-potential-similarities-between-the-1992-and-2015-world-cups