The Top Cricket Tournaments to Be Held in 2018

In most parts of the world, cricket is a game that attracts thousands of fans and celebrated like other sports.  Therefore you will hear about different cricket tournaments taking place around the year. Here is an analysis on some of the best cricket tournaments to watch for in 2018.

2018 Under-19 Cricket World Cup

Early 2018, cricket fans will head to New Zealand for the under 19 cricket world cup which begins on the 13th January ending on the 3rd of February 2018. This will be the fifth edition of the tournament which is being held in New Zealand for the third time. The first time New Zealand held the tournament was in 2002, and for the second time, they held the tournament in 2010. As a result,

Following the 2016 results, 10 participants were awarded automatic qualification, and therefore they are expected to feature for the games. These include Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Namibia, Zimbabwe, West Indies, Sri, Lanka, South Africa, and Pakistan. The other participants will be the teams that won the regional tournaments. The matches will be hosted in seven venues within NZ, and the Group stage matches are expected to begin with the opening fixtures being NZ VS West Indies.

2017–18 Bangladesh Tri-Nation Series

As the name suggests, this is a tournament that features only three nations. These include Bangladesh the host, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Three of the matches will be held at Sylhet International Cricket Stadium, and the remaining matches are likely to be held in Chittagong and Dhaka. The matches will be played on the 15th, the 17th, and 19th of January 2018.

2017–18 Trans-Tasman Tri-Series

This is another tri-nation tournament that will be held in Australia and in New Zealand. The countries that participate include the two hosts and England. These matches will begin on the 3rd of February and will be played on the 7th, 10th, 14th, 16th, and 18th of February 2018. The final match will be played on the 21st February 2018 at Eden Park in Auckland.

2018 ICC World Cricket League Division Two

Namibia will host the ICC World Cricket League Division Two tournament which is scheduled to begin in February 2018. There are a total of six participants including Kenya, Namibia, Oman, Canada, Nepal, and United Arab Emirates. The top teams that are participating in this tournament include Oman and Canada after they were promoted in Uganda.

2018 Cricket World Cup Qualifier

In preparation for the 2019 cricket world cup, Zimbabwe will host this upcoming tournament in March 2018. Of the 10 teams, the ones that perform well will qualify for the world’s cup. Note the decision to have only 10 participants was reached in 2015 when a new cricket structure was launched.

2018 Nidahas Trophy

This is a tri-nation tournament to be held on the 15th of March 2018 and ends on the 30th March 2018. The participants include Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India. The teams play each other twice, and the finals will be among the top teams.

The above cricket tournaments are some of the top tournaments that are to be held in 2018.

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?

View image | gettyimages.com

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

Dhoni reinforces my prediction on four-specialist bowlers strategy: SOS Yuvraj beckons

Just a few days back, I had endorsed the strategy of playing just four specialist bowlers in a bid to bolster Indian cricket’s original strength, i.e. batting. Today, after yet another embarrassing defeat against England in the Tri-series, which kept India winless and knocked them out of the tournament, skipper MS Dhoni echoed these very sentiments at the post-match press conference. (ESPNCricinfo: Dhoni hints at four-bowler strategy for World Cup). The idea, while irrelevant as far as the Tri-series tournament is concerned, may still fit into the category of ‘better late than never’ in the context of the all important World Cup, and comes with its own share of challenges.

Dhoni has almost quoted me by appointing Stuart Binny as the unofficial replacement for the struggling Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and with Ishant Sharma’s knee troubles, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav appear to be frontline choices for partnering Binny. I would pick Akshar Patel over Ravindra Jadeja as the single specialist spinner in the team, but knowing Dhoni’s fascination for Sir, we’ll just have to wait and watch how that selection pans out.

Which brings me back to the point I highlighted in my previous post – we can talk all we want about strengthening our batting, but the 15-man squad has very little additional batting firepower. Only if ALL the batsmen are played do we have seven specialist batsmen, with Binny and Akshar at Nos. 8 and 9 respectively. We are definitely a batsman short in the 15, but there might yet be a backdoor solution to this epoch problem.

With several of our bowlers dropping like nine-pins due to injury and related woes, it presents an opportunity to set right the mistake of taking our batting for granted while picking the 15-man probables. With a four-specialist bowler strategy more or less confirmed, the excess bowling baggage we are carrying can be neatly trimmed, citing injury concerns, and a batsman/all-rounder brought on board in lieu. 

With the need of beefing up our part-timer bowling strength at an all-time high, the buck, in my opinion, once again stops at Yuvraj Singh, whose big-match temperament and recent form with bat and ball make him a potentially indispensable asset in the middle order, who can also ‘pie-chuck’ a significant portion of the fifth-bowler duties quite effectively. Since time immemorial (or at least since I became cricket aware), the Indian batting line-up has been strong, at least on paper (even when we crumbled in reality). That sacrosanct awareness has been disturbed during this Tri-series, and the single addition of the lanky Punjabi south-paw will restore the on-paper aspect to a large extent, irrespective of how he performs.

If miraculously included, Yuvraj should replace Ambati Rayudu in the XI, and not the current top-of-mind villain , Shikhar Dhawan. Rayudu has displayed tremendous heart in attempting his best while he has been regularly fed to the wolves (Read, pushed into an unfamiliar batting position in seamer-friendly conditions against marauding pacers, to protect a certain jewel in our crown), but his best is simply not good enough, at this level, in these conditions. Even if he came off on a couple of occasions, he is the least likely to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, something India desperately need to after the recent embarrassments.

For all the solidity Ajinkya Rahane has displayed at the top, I would still prefer him in the middle order, with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma opening. Dhawan’s 30-odd at Perth today raises hopes that he is coming into some semblance of form at the right time, and he is the closest we have to Virendar Sehwag at the top, so he stays, for me. Virat Kohli must come in at No.3, irrespective of when a wicket falls; ‘protecting’ our best batsman is sending out quite a wrong message, and Kohli must get back to where he made most of his runs. Yuvraj, Rahane and Suresh Raina at 4, 5 and 6 form a rock-solid middle-order, the kind that could send a shiver down the spine of bowlers manning the middle overs. Dhoni at 7, Binny at 8  and one of our spinners at 9, makes it quite a formidable batting line-up, on the famous paper of course. To conclude by quoting Derozio, our ‘day of glory past’ is just an SOS away..but is anyone dialing? 

India’s World Cup 15: Dhoni’s last stand, selectors’ safe approach, and a shocker

Ending weeks of speculation, the selectors yesterday announced the 15-man Indian squad for the 2015 World Cup. While the possible permutations and combinations were like manna from heaven for cricket columnists and bloggers like yours truly, the final squad had ‘obvious’ written all over it. Well, almost.

The batting line-up, as expected, was not tampered with at all. Speculations were rife about Murali Vijay forcing his way into the team on the back of fabulous Test-form, but the powers-that-be ultimately decided not to consider form in one format of the game for entry into another. Fair enough, but this begs the question as to why he was included in the 30 in the first place? If established ODI credentials have more weightage than current form, then Yuvraj Singh might have been a much better option in the original 30. The inclusion was allegedly made to have a back-up opening option, if required. Between then and now, the need for a back-up opener has been highlighted several times, with Shikhar Dhawan looking woefully out of place on Australian pitches. On the other hand, Vijay has hardly placed a foot wrong, defending stodgily and attacking as and when required, to make a statement of reliability at the top. Therefore, irrespective of this being a viable selection or not, Vijay has reason to be disappointed.

The continued faith in Ravindra Jadeja and Shikhar Dhawan, the latter not exactly the apple of the eye of a certain Virat Kohli, indicates that Dhoni has had a significant influence on team selection, in what could possibly be the enigmatic captain’s last stand in even the shorter format of the game. With Jadeja not 100% fit, and Yuvraj in red-hot form in domestic cricket, there was a case for a from-the-heart decision which could have even found favor with the head, but yet again, the non-inclusion has Dhoni’s signature scrawled all over it. While it’s too early to comment on the correctness of the decision, it would be unforgivable if one the three spinners, a number which I feel is a luxury given that not more than one is expected to make it to the playing XI, ends up a tourist on the Australian safari. In that very likely scenario, not having a usable option would be a cardinal sin.
Dhoni’s faith in himself, and the corresponding faith of selectors in him, is also underlined by the fact that the squad does not have a reserve wicket-keeper, with Rayudu filling in as the pseudo glovesman. While I was perfectly happy with a similar scenario four years ago, an older and more injury-prone Dhoni should probably have had a Sanju Samson or Wriddhiman Saha as the back-up keeper. Dhoni has always made bold decisions, and this one will rank right up there; whether he is lauded or flayed for it, only time will tell.
As with the batsmen, the selectors have played safe when picking bowlers. Both Jadeja and Ashwin have had a horrendous year as far as ODIs are concerned, even in home conditions, but including them is of course, a safe choice. Akshar deserves a spot; an extraordinary 2014 across the shorter and shortest formats of the game makes him the number 1 ODI spinner in the country, on current form, and I would back him to be a consistent inclusion in the final XI, also taking into account his clean hitting skills down the order. I keep coming back to the unnecessary three-spinner luxury; Akshar on merit, and one out of Ashwin or Jadeja, or reputation, may have been the better choice.
A man largely overlooked, but in my opinion, the unluckiest among the 15 who were shown the door, is Dhawal Kulkarni. The Mumbaikar was exceptional in the Australian Quadrangular ODI series between the ODI teams of India, Australia and South Africa, emerging as the top wicket-taker, and continued in the same vein in ensuing domestic List A competitions, including the experimental Sri Lanka series, India’s final ODI engagement before the WC selection. 
Finally the shocker – Stuart Binny. With all due respect to his alleged talent and Herculean but unseen (except perhaps by Bangladesh on an international platform) abilities, Binny has done little of note this season, especially on the List A scene. Even in England, aided by conditions perfectly suited for his dibbly dobblers, Binny was mediocre, putting it mildly. Perhaps he could spring a surprise by ending up as India’s MVP of the tournament, and then we could go crazy over the absolutely inspired foresight, but till that glorious moment arrives, shocker is the best I can do. 

Problems aplenty for India as World Cup inches closer, and proposal for a desperate experiment

As I write this, Shikhar Dhawan has customarily guided Mitchell Starc to first slip for yet another cheap dismissal in the ongoing Tri-series. More than the disappointment of India’s apparent inability in stringing together something of substance at the top, it is the increasing sense of inevitability of failure which is a grave concern, as India sets itself up for title defence of the greatest tournament in limited overs cricket. Bowling was always expected to be India’s weaker link in the expedition, but when batting starts to compete for the same title, the inevitability complex starts assuming alarming proportions. 

Murali Vijay’s non inclusion in the 15-man probables list distributes opening responsibilities among the troika of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, and Dhawan, of course. The problem gets more complicated because Rahane, while looking fluent, has not yet racked up assuring numbers beside his name in the shorter format. The Mumbaikar would probably be more comfortable at No.4, but Dhawan’s inconsistency at the top may see him opening on a regular basis during the World Cup. Rohit has impressed in his only appearance in the Tri-series, and should be a certainty for the other opener’s slot.

Yet another worrying development is Virat Kohli’s demotion to the No. 4 spot, with his regular No. 3 slot being occupied by Ambati Rayudu. Whether the move is to ‘protect’ India’s most promising batsman from the juice in the pitch during the early overs, or to compensate for the missing behemoth Yuvraj Singh in the middle order, it certainly is more than a tad unfair on Rayudu, who is not cut out for the one-down slot, even in domestic conditions. Kohli himself has not taken to his new position with glee, with a 100% failure rate thus far.

The reliable (at least in the shorter and shortest formats) Suresh Raina is a solid factor in the lower middle order while Stuart Binny, despite a good showing in India’s nightmarish outing against England, does not give me much assurance; not yet, at least. Compounding India’s woes is captain MS Dhoni, for not displaying his famous penchant of staying till the end, in victory or defeat. The skipper has got in and got out, thereby denying the team a good 20-30 runs extra which he generates at the end, a figure which can easily determine the difference between victory and defeat.

We could opine out hearts out, but the truth is that, in the batting department, we cannot do much more than hope. There is not much scope to chop and change in the batting line-up, because the selection has been made under the assumption that batting is not going to be a concern at all. In other words, the selectors have taken India’s batting for granted, and focused their efforts on providing more variety in the bowling, a move which could backfire in more ways than one.

There are plenty of options in the bowling department, (not even getting into the argument on how many of these options will actually come good on any given day) but the greatest mistake, in my opinion (if I may ignore the Binny inclusion), is the unnecessary luxury of carrying three spinners into the tournament, one of whom should have been omitted in favour of an extra batsman. In an effort to provide more cover for our weakness, our strength, which has been largely taken for granted, is now tottering uncomfortable close to the edge. The bowling continues to be inconsistent, despite the additional resources, in a paradox which now leaves India unsure in both departments, with the WC almost upon us.

Call me old fashioned, but I would like India revert to a batting-focused attack, with bowling playing a sidekick, as opposed to the current plan of elevating it to hero status, something for which the firepower is clearly lacking. Yuvraj would have been a wonderful addition to have in the middle order, but since that option is not viable anymore (barring last minute injury concerns), I propose bringing out all the batting guns at our disposal, expect that some of them fire, and hope the bowling is good enough to survive.

My openers would be Rohit and Rahane, who have looked decidedly more assured than the behind-the-wickets catching practice provider Dhawan. However, rather than discarding the southpaw altogether, I would have him in at No.3, given that Kohli-protection looks set to stay. Whatever little chance of success Dhawan has, will be once the pitch eases out and the ball softens a bit, a phenomenon displayed briefly during the controversial Indian second innings of the Brisbane Test in the recently concluded Border Gavaskar trophy. Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 will be Kohli, Rayudu, Raina and Dhoni. I would risk playing Binny in place of Bhuvneshwar; both of them are similar bowlers, and with the latter not exactly setting the ODI stage ablaze with his performances, I would opt for the better batsman, at least on paper. In the event of Binny looking like a fish out of the water with the ball, Bhuvi or one of the other quicks can replace him, without the top-7 being disturbed.

I will have the one specialist spinner at No.9; with all of our options decent with the bat, this would give India an extremely strong batting line-up, of course, yet again on paper. Ishant Sharma will be a certainty in my XI, with either Umesh Yadav or Mohammed Shami rounding off. This would leave us in a familiar 4 specialist bower scenario (assuming Binny can be termed a specialist), with Rohit, Raina and Kohli combining as the 5th bowler.

To recapitulate, this would be an XI I would like to test out: Rohit, Rahane, Dhawan, Kohli, Rayudu, Raina, Dhoni, Binny/Bhuvneshwar, Akshar/Ashwin/Jadeja, Shami/Umesh, Ishant. India should target chasing whenever they win the toss, and back themselves to run down anything; if they bat first, 350 should be targeted every time (yes, Aussie pitches and all). This is by no means a guaranteed solution. It is at best, a desperate experiment. However, given the current context, these are desperate times. ‘If it ain’t broke, there is no need to mend it’ is no longer an adage we can go along with, because the current Indian ODI machinery looks pretty much conked out. Successful or not, a last ditch overhaul would be imperative.

Brisbane Test: How the Key Performers Stack Up

For a short while towards the fag end of the Brisbane Test, Australia threatened to pull off something India usually specializes in, particularly overseas – collapse in a heap to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Indeed, the Aussies made heavy weather of a 128-run target on a track where the demons, if present, were not expressing themselves as vociferously as we have seen on certain end-game pitches. The score-line reads 2-0 in Australia’s favour, and they are well on the way to the whitewash predicted by certain pundits, though the gulf between the two teams is not as broad as the numbers indicate. India have won a few battles, but have faltered at crucial junctures, leading to the inconsequentiality of these small triumphs in the context of the larger contest.

If the Adelaide Test was a perfect advertisement for the longest format of the game, Brisbane was not too far behind, perhaps scoring even higher on the scrappiness scale, bringing in an edginess, so often witnessed in clashes between these two countries, which was largely missing in Adelaide on account of the sombre backdrop of the game, in the aftermath of one of the greatest tragedies to have befallen it in recent times.

India took Day 1, largely due to the on-the-rise brilliance of Vijay, with able support from Rahane. Day 2 began with an all-too-familiar collapse triggered by debutant Hazlewood, causing the Indian team to fall well short of the 500-mark they were undoubtedly targeting, screeching to a halt at the Hughes number. Australia were themselves in deep trouble at 247-6, but a resurgent Johnson in the company of the reliable Smith turned the game on its head. The counterpunching seemed to have completely stunned India as the tailenders continued stitching partnerships together to end up with a sizeable first innings lead. A Johnson special on Day 4 morning confirmed that Australia would be chasing less than 150 in the final innings, and although there were traces of self-destructive instincts in the air, the target was too less for them to significantly manifest.

These are how the key individual performances stack up, using the Quadrant Scorecard, the methodology behind which you can read here. Do note that unless a tailender batsman, or a part-time bowler, create significant impact, they will not be included in the analysis.

Quadrant Scorecard: Batsmen

India (Blue)               1. Vijay
2. Dhawan
3. Pujara
4. Kohli
5. Rahane
6. Rohit
7. Dhoni
8. Ashwin
9. Yadav
10. Aaron
11. Ishant
Australia (Yellow)
1. Rogers
2. Warner
3. Watson
4. Smith
5. Marsh S.
6. Marsh M.
7. Haddin
8. Johnson
9. Starc
10. Lyon11. Hazlewood
Vijay was unquestionably India’s top performing batsman, his 144 on Day 1 not only allowing India to weather the early storm on a purportedly green-top pitch, but also hit back later in the day. The Tamil Nadu batsman was equally at ease against pace and spin, displaying definite purpose behind each stroke, defensive or attacking. His soft dismissal in the second innings was a big blow for India, as his presence on the fateful Day 4 morning may have been the difference.

Vijay was the highest scorer in the Test, on both sides, but Smith scores higher on the impact-factor, given that his 133 in the first innings held the shaky Australian middle-order together, and the laid the foundation for Johnson’s onslaught. Rogers made 55 in each innings, and his second innings effort rates very highly on my impact-meter. In fact, he was the difference between victory and defeat, if the innings be considered in isolation. Dhawan forces his way into the top Quadrant on the back of his second innings 81, which, in hindsight, gave India a fighting chance. Had Australia cruised to victory, his impact would have been low, and the southpaw would have been relegated to the Individual Contributors (IC) quadrant.

The IC Quadrant lies vacant in the context of the Brisbane Test, though Rahane came close to breaching its boundaries. The Mumbaikar made a few easy runs against a tiring attack on Day 1, but was unable to dig in the next day to propel the team to a substantial total.

Expectedly, there were plenty of Slackers in the match, most notable among whom were Adelaide heroes Kohli and Warner. Watson and Rohit continue to be the high-profile laggards in their respective teams for the 2nd Test running, while the Marsh brothers did nothing much of note. Haddin was bounced out in both innings, aggregating just 7 runs in the match; his form should be Australia’s biggest concern as of now. Ashwin fared better than the Indian lower middle-order, and Yadav’s second-innings’ 30 was the difference between a sub-100 target and the actual one.

The Gamechanger was undoubtedly Johnson, who awoke from deep slumber to smash 88 runs off 93 balls just as the Indians would have begun dreaming of a substantial  first innings lead. Johnson dominated during the 148-run 7th wicket partnership with Smith, and by the time he left, the teams had interchanged their positions in the driver’s seat. Starc played a similar innings, of lesser impact, but crucial in extending the Australian first innings lead. Pujara’s 43 held the Indian second innings together, which looked set for abject humiliation, before Dhawan made his late entry.

Quadrant Scorecard: Bowlers

 

India (Blue)                   
1. Ishant
2. Aaron
3. Yadav
4. Ashwin

Australia (Yellow)
1.  Johnson
2. Hazlewood
3.  Starc
4. Lyon
5. Watson

Debutant Hazlewood was the best bowler in the match, by a long way. The lanky pacer can be solely credited for derailing the Indian charge on Day 2 morning, accounting first for Rahane, and returning to dismiss both members of the dangerous Dhoni-Ashwin partnership. While this was the gamechanging moment, Hazlewood’s two big wickets on Day 1, and two more during India’s second innings propelled him into the top Quadrant. Ishant was India’s best bowler, picking up 6 wickets, just one less than Hazlewood, his 3-wicket burst in the second innings keeping afloat the dream of an unlikely victory for a large part of the fourth innings.

Yadav and Lyon toiled manfully for their respective teams, while most others were disappointing. Watson has been credited with building up significant pressure, which allowed other bowlers to cash in on the wickets; I am not entirely convinced, while not dismissing the adulation altogether.

The Gamechanger yet again was Johnson, and it is surprising that he missed out on the Player of the Match award, despite turning around the game with both bat and ball. Wicket-less in the first innings, a fiery Johnson broke the back of the Indian middle order by dismissing Kohli, Rahane and Rohit in quick succession, and returned to take out Yadav who was adding a few valuable runs. It remains to be seen if Johnson-the-bowler’s awakening was a gamechanging moment in just the match, or the entire series, and we will soon find out if India can shrug off the ghosts which tormented England during their unhappy Ashes tour a year ago.

Battered and bruised, the Indian team heads to Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test. For once, I hope that Shakespeare’s ‘What’s in a name’ adage holds true. 

Who Should Make India’s 15-man World Cup Squad?

Move on. No two words sum up the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) mindset better when it came to choosing the 30-man probables list for the looming ODI World Cup. The first cut includes just four survivors from the 2011 World Cup winning team – MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin. Reactions have been sharply divided. While fans of ignored demi-gods like Yuvraj Singh, Virendar Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan have staged vehement protests across available social media forums, the higher echelons of cricket connoisseurs have leant in favor of preferring youth over underprepared experience.

While some have hailed the BCCI’s move as brave, a closer scrutiny would indicate that omission of these big names was somewhat of a no-brainer. Zaheer has not played List A cricket for the past two years, with limited match-practice across other formats as well. Harbhajan, whose mediocrity in the 2011 WC was adequately masked by Yuvraj, is hardly a strike-bowler even in domestic matches this season. Sehwag and Gambhir average in the 20s in List A cricket since the 2012-13 season, with slightly better returns in the IPL, which should not be an influencing factor in this selection. Over the same period, Yuvraj has racked up acceptable numbers, but a poor domestic season this year probably shut the doors on him.

Now that we have dwelt on the ‘elephant in the room’ awhile, let us turn our attention to the 30-man list, as segmented by ESPNCricinfo.

The highlighted names are those I believe to be absolute certainties in the 15-man squad which needs to be declared within the January 7 deadline set by the ICC.

Batsmen
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Manoj Tiwary, Manish Pandey, M Vijay

Fast Bowlers
Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Dhawal Kulkarni, Stuart Binny, Mohit Sharma, Ashok Dinda

Spinners
R Ashwin, Parvez Rasool, Karn Sharma, Amit Mishra, Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav

Wicketkeepers
MS Dhoni, Robin Uthappa, Sanju Samson, Wriddhiman Saha.

As expected, India’s batting line-up is well settled, and barring major injuries, the top-six batsmen and Dhoni select themselves.

Moving on to the quick bowlers, Shami and Umesh have been India’s best bowlers this year (both averaging about 22 in 2014) and should surely be in the 15. I can sense a few eyebrows being raised at Bhuvneshwar’s name not being highlighted; will get to that in due course.

I have not highlighted any spinners, as both of India’s frontline tweakers, Ashwin and Jadeja, have had a mediocre year. Youngsters like Akshar and Karn are knocking at the door, and no senior can take their place for granted, bearing in mind the message given out by the board at the onset.

India went into the 2011 WC without a reserve keeper, but they may think otherwise this time around, given that Dhoni is older and more injury-prone than four years ago.

Predicting the 15-man squad

In the exercise that follows, I have attempted to narrow down to the 15-man probables list using a combination of objective and subjective analyses. With nine men already decided, for me at least, the actual task would be to select six more from the remaining 21.

Big names like Ishant, Bhuvneshwar, Aaron, Ashwin and Jadeja have not been considered for objective analysis, which focuses predominantly on the relative newcomers to ascertain their current form. The List A tournaments considered for this analysis are – Quadrangular A-Team One-Day Series 2014, Vijay Hazare Trophy (VHT), 2014/15, and Deodhar Trophy (DT), 2014/15. I have, however, taken the liberty of eliminating a few subjectively, based on their no-shows in the aforementioned tournaments.

According to unconfirmed reports, Vijay barely edged out Yuvraj, as the think-tank believes that he could be a better man to have around, in case he strikes form during the ongoing Test series in Australia. Vijay has not created an impact in any of the List A tournaments selected for analysis, and neither do his past ODI exploits generate confidence. I do not see him making the next cut unless he performs extraordinarily, or one/both of the regular ODI openers fail miserably, in the Test series.

Binny has been in and out of the Indian team, and his dibbly-dobblers, largely ineffective even in English conditions which support his ilk of medium pacers, will be largely relegated to hit-me-stuff on Australian pitches.

Rasool, Mishra and Kuldeep find themselves in the 30 on the back of consistent performances in domestic tournaments over a period of time, as well as the IPL, but should surely be the first to get culled when the next level selection is initiated.

Very much in the Vijay mold, Saha could get a look-in if he impresses during the ongoing Test series, but a relatively ho-hum List A season, and non-participation in the quadrangular, eliminate him from my analysis.

Bubble Analysis

For the drill-down, I have implemented a bubble analysis, which evaluates attributes across three parameters, and is therefore more comprehensive than two-dimensional ones.

The players to be analyzed are bucketed into two segments:

Batsmen: Jadhav, Tiwary, Pandey, Uthappa, Samson

Bowlers: Dhawal, Mohit, Dinda, Karn, Akshar (Ishant, Bhuvneshwar,Aaron, Ashwin and Jadeja are parked for subjective analysis and not a part of bubble analysis)

Determining the Batsmen

For the batting analysis, the X-axis represents a batsman’s average, Y-axis his SR, and size of the bubble represents total runs scored, across the three tournaments. For the layman, the further away from the axes a particular batsman finds himself, the better it is, for it indicates higher Average and SR. The sheer volume of runs scored is indicated by the bubble size.  

Fig 1a. Analysis across the 3 List A tournaments

Fig 1b. Analysis across the Quadrangular tournament

Looking at the bubble analysis over all three tournaments (Fig 1a), Tiwary and Pandey make a very strong case for themselves, topping the run-scoring charts, with more than respectable averages and strike rates. Jadhav has scored the fastest, but his bubble (runs scored) is quite small. Samson and Uthappa appear to be the weakest in the fray. Based on an overall analysis, the battle looks to be very much between Tiwary and Pandey.

While overall form is a definite plus, I have assigned greater weightage for the Quadrangular (Fig 1b), given that recent success or failure in conditions similar to where the World Cup will be played cannot be ignored. The equation changes quite a bit when the Quadrangular series is considered in isolation. Uthappa continues to languish at the bottom, however,and is therefore, the first to be eliminated.

Tiwary and Pandey, heavy scorers in the VHT and DT, average in the 20s in the Quadrangular. Both made 90+ in India A’s second match of the tournament, against South Africa A, which indicates that they did little else in the remainder of the tournament.

Samson and Jadhav were India’s top performers in the Quadrangular. Jadhav, not a part of the Playing XI in initial games, first made an impact in the match against National Performance Squad. Along with Samson, Jadhav’s 53-ball 87 rescued India A from 5-63 after James Muirhead and Sean Abbott (yes, him) ran through the top-order, and helmed the successful 235-run chase. His 73-ball 78 in the final was instrumental in India A emerging victorious in the keenly contested tournament.

Jadhav has played fewer matches than Tiwary and Pandey, having missed the VHT due to injury, which explains him scoring fewer runs. The fact that he was a part of the experimental squad during the recent India Sri Lanka ODI series, while the other two were not, is ample hint that he remains within the think-tank’s scheme of things.

Samson has been the standout performer in the Quadrangular, outscoring even Jadhav, as the graph indicates, although failures in the VHT and DT have pulled him down in the overall analysis. Particularly impressive was his prowess as a finisher, especially in chases, where he was almost Bevan-like in guiding the team over the finish line, ending with a tournament average of 81.33.

In an eight-man batting shortlist (including Dhoni), only one of Samson and Jadhav looks likely to get through. It is extremely difficult to separate the two, and the question to be asked is – who between them is more likely to get into the XI? The immediate answer is, probably neither, but Samson’s ability to double up as a reliable keeper could win him the selectors’ nod, considering that it is highly risky to have a coming-off-injury Dhoni as the sole keeper over the course of the marquee tournament.

Therefore, Samson is the first and only addition to my batsmen’s list for the 15-man probable shortlist.

Determining the Bowlers

There are five spots up for grabs here, in a bowling shortlist which should have five medium pacers and two spinners. With not more than one specialist spinner expected in the final XI, I do not see a point in carrying excess baggage in that department.

For the bowling analysis, the X-axis represents a bowler’s average, Y-axis his economy, and size of the bubble represents total wickets, across the three tournaments. For the layman, the closer to axes a particular bowler finds himself, the better it is, for it indicates lower average and economy. The volume of wickets captured is indicated by the bubble size.  

Fig 2a. Analysis across the 3 List A tournaments

Fig 2b. Analysis across the Quadrangular tournament
Looking at the bubble analysis across all three tournaments(Fig 2a), among the seamers, Dhawal and Dinda are the strongest competitors. The biggest impediment to Dinda’s inclusion is that he was not picked for the Quadrangular(Fig 2b). The move indicates that the Bengal quick was not even in the selectors’ second-tier thoughts a few months back, but he forced his way there with a powerful showing in the VHT and DT. This has rewarded him with a place in the 30, but I do not think he will make it into the 15. Mohit has performed in spurts, with a decent Quadrangular series but not much more. Dhawal is therefore the strongest medium-pacer in this group, and elevates him into the subjective analysis level where the completion gets stiffer.

For me, Bhuvneshwar is an overrated ODI bowler. His career ODI figures of 44 wickets in 42 matches at an average of nearly 37 are mediocre; he has been worse this year, picking only 14 wickets in 16 matches at an average in excess of 45. Bhuvneshwar continues to impress in Tests, but his ODI career has followed a disappointing pattern – tight opening spell speckled with gasp-inducing deliveries exhibiting exaggerated swing to beat the bat (in helpful conditions), followed by a lambasting at the death.

The largely inexperienced pace attack needs a moral spearhead though, one who might justify selection on the basis of ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ adage. To be honest, Bhuvneshwar cannot boast of ‘permanent class’ in the ODI context, but he has been the leader, albeit unsuccessful of late, of the Indian attack in recent times, and it could upset the psychological apple-cart if he is dumped at this stage. Therefore, going against what I have been preaching for a while, Bhuvneshwar makes it to the team, on reputation alone.

Conditions in Australia are tailor-made for a hit-the-deck bowler like Ishant, which is why, in spite of an indifferent ODI season this year, the 6’4 (193 cm) pacer will be indispensible in the 15.

The fight for the final seamer’s slot should be between Aaron and Dhawal. There is very little data to analyze Aaron, with him not participating in any of the List A tournaments I have chosen for analysis. He made a brief and impressive appearance during the ODI series against Sri Lanka, but limped off after just four overs. He could come into reckoning if he holds up and bowls well during the ongoing Test series, but as of now, I have no reason to include him. Dhawal is therefore, the final seamer in my shortlist.

Coming to the spinners, Akshar and Karn are closely matched. Owing to their increasing number of inclusions in the national team, both of them have not participated much in the domestic tournaments. A better VHT positions Karn as superior in the overall analysis, but Akshar beats him hands down in the Quadrangular. The tall left-arm slow orthodox bowler seals the deal by emerging as the highest wicket-taker in India’s recently concluded ODI series against Sri Lanka, which also featured an unimpressive Karn. Both are useful batsmen down the order, but Akshar again takes the cake with a tighter technique and greater calm under crunch situations, best displayed during his unbeaten 38-ball 45 in the Quadrangular final which took India to an improbable victory over Australia A.

Both Jadeja and Ashwin have had a mediocre year with the ball, but the left-armer’s superiority in the batting department, in addition to the overwhelming confidence skipper Dhoni has in him, hold him in good stead for selection. Also, if India go in with a five bowler strategy, then Jadeja will be an absolute necessity in the XI. Therefore, of the two specialist spinner slots in the final 15, Jadeja gets the first.

Karn may stand an outside chance if he makes an impact in the second innings of the Adelaide Test. This could extend his immediate Test career and if he continues taking wickets, could tempt selectors to include the leg-spinner in the 15. As this is highly speculative, I turn the focus back on the remaining two contenders – Akshar and Ashwin. The biggest factor against Akshar is that, in Jadeja, we already have a left-arm orthodox spinner in the 15. It might seem almost regressive to have two similar bowlers in an attack already lacking variety in the spin department. However, I think otherwise. Having followed Akshar closely over the past year, I believe that he has consistently excelled with both bat and ball in limited over formats, and on current form, is well ahead of Ashwin. I will therefore stick my neck out and pick him as the 15th member.

Here’s my final list, in the original format:

Batsmen
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu

Fast Bowlers
Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni

Spinners
Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel

Wicketkeepers
MS Dhoni, Sanju Samson

This equation could change on the basis of performances in the Test series, injuries, and/or gut feel of the powers that be. With the ICC deadline less than a month away, we will soon know.

The anticipation is palpable.

This article was first published in Mailer Report: http://www.mailerreport.com/#!who-should-make-indias-world-cup-squad/cjuh

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