Thursday, July 25, 2019

World Cup 2019: Endgame

14th July 2019, Lords 

To borrow from Dickens - It was the best of times (for some), it was the worst of time (for others). 

It was also sport at its cruelest!

There was the jubilant English squad with members incorporated from across the cricket playing world. And on the other side was New Zealand, led by Kane Williamson, who could still smile despite the apparent (to the rest of the world) injustice of it all! 

The neutral cricket viewer was sad. The greatest game of ODI cricket ever played (move over Edgbaston 1999) had resulted in not one but two ties. And yet we had to somehow contrive a winner because there was only one trophy. And what a weird way to find a winner, boundary count (where 4s & 6s are counted as equal!). Couldn’t they have at least let both captains pose with the trophy together? 

Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties. And like all sport its always a matter of the finest margins. There were so many “What Ifs”. What if Trent Boult had not stepped back or just dropped that catch? What if Martin Guptill’s throw from the boundary was not so perfect? What If Kumara Dharmasena had interpreted the overthrows differently. So many ifs & buts. Come to think of it, the same Trent Boult had caught Carlos Brathwaite’s final heave at the boundary, and the very same Martin Guptill had produced a magical throw to run-out Dhoni in the semi-finals. You win some, you lose some, but it still doesn’t make the result feel right. 

The neutral cricket viewers were sad. There was a sense of injustice. Yes, it was all within the rules and those rules had been around for a long time but still. The sadness and injustice of it all was exacerbated by the complete calmness of Kane Williamson! 

And a final word for England. Congratulations on being crowned the Men’s ODI World Champions. What a remarkable turnaround for a team which did not even make it to the Quarter-finals last time around. 

Now for a truly Arbit Stat (#70): England have become the first ever chasing team to win the game inspite of being bowled out. 

And a final word for Jofra Archer’s twitter account – The man had a tweet for all remarkable events taking place in this World Cup! 

And thus, comes to an end the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup. A remarkable tournament with a stupendous finish to be also remembered for a bit of rain, bails not coming off, Pakistan’s 1992 comparisons, and also some decent cricket with the best games having 230-250 targets! What a throwback to 1990s!

For me, after many years did an India exit hurt so much. We were close, but the semi-final swung away in a few overs, then there was hope which was finally dashed! It just did not feel good!

Till next time!

Friday, July 12, 2019

World Cup 2019: India vs New Zealand at a glance

न्यूजीलैंड से भारत का हारना

क्रिकेट अनिश्चितता का खेल है। किसी मैच मे कोई शतक ,दोहरा शतक तो अगले ही मैच मे शुन्य पर आउट हो जाता है। बालर एक मैच मे बहुत कम रन देकर पांच-छः विकेट लेता है पर दुसरे ही मैच मे बिना विकेट लिए काफी रन दे देता है। कभी कोई फिल्डर नामूमकिन कैच पकड़ लेता है तो कभी आसान सा कैच भी ड्राप कर देता है। इनसब का मतलव यह नही कि क्रिकेट का खेल बिल्कुल ही भगवान् भरोसे है। इसमें भी भारी तकनीक है, काफी वैरीयेवलस है जिसे समझने के लिए एक दशकों कड़ी मेहनत और दिमाग लगाना पड़ता है। गवासकर, कपिलदेव, तेंदुलकर, गांगुली, बेदी, प्रसन्ना, चंद्रशेखर, धोनी .....का नाम ऐसे ही नही है। पर एक चुक हूई और आप गए। 

इसमे मौसम का भी बड़ा रोल है। मौसम शुष्क है आद्र है।हवा तेज है धीमा है। एक बार किसी चेन्नई मे हो रहे टेस्ट मैच मे वेंकटराघवन बालिंग कर रहे थे उन्हें सफलता नही मिल रहा था । कुछ देर बाद उन्हें दूसरे तरफ से लगाया गया तो सभलता मिलने लगी। बाद मे जानकारी आयी पहले छोर से हवा का रूख बाधक था जबकि बही दूसरे छोर से सहायक हो गया। कोई बालर आद्र मे तो कोई शुष्क मे ,कोई नयी बाल मे तो कोई पुरानी बाल या सफल होता है।

एक कैप्टन को और टीम को सभी बातों का ख्याल रखना होता है। एक सुझ आपको मैच जिता देगी एक चुक मैच हरा देती है।

न्यूजीलैंड के साथ हो रहा मैच मे पहला दिन वर्षा नही होता और मैच उसी दिन समाप्त होता तो भारत की जीत होती।पर वर्षा हुआ ,मैच दूसरा दिन वहीं से शुरू हुआ ।न्यूजीलैंड के दो तीन विकेट धड़ाधड़ गिरे भारत को होशियार हो जाना चाहिए था। पर हो गई चुक ।विकट गिरने लगे।नामी लोग पवेलियन लौट गये।

जब पहला विकेट रोहित का गिरा था तो मौसम को देखते हुए विराट को मैदान पर जाना एक चुक था , वाचमैन के रुप मे पांड्या को भेजना अच्छा होता ,कुछ देर टिकता तो रन भी बनता और मौसम मे भी सुधार होता। पांड्या अच्छा खेला पर दबाव मे आ गया।मारने के चक्कर मे विकेट गंवा दिया।अनुभव की कमी के कारण ऐसा हुआ। जाडेजा अच्छा खेला।तारीफ करनी होगी। धोनी को कुछ पहले तजी लानी चहीये था।दूसरे रन का रिस्क घातक हुआ।

दूसरे सेमीफाइनल मे उम्मीद के मुताबिक ही इंगलैंड की जीत हुई। इंगलैण्ड एक मजबूत टीम है और फाइनल मे भी इंगलैण्ड के जितने की प्रबल संभावना है।

Monday, July 8, 2019

World Cup 2019: The Slog Overs

Finally, the long winding league phase comes to an end. And surprise, surprise we have our 4 semi-finalists revealed to us – India, Australia, England and New Zealand! A list which had been predicted within the first fortnight itself! But that is not to say that the dead rubbers were meaningless. The very last game changed the order of the semi-finals leading to change in many travel plans!

Sporting outcomes depend on very fine margins. If that shot from Carlos Brathwaite had reached its intended destination, New Zealand would have been out of the World Cup and Pakistan would have qualified! In the end New Zealand’s campaign faltered badly but they had enough initial momentum to nudge ahead of Pakistan. 

Pakistan’s campaign showcased their one quality – unpredictability. Or, in simple terms basically being Pakistan throughout! Everyday their supporters found new similarities with the 1992 campaign. They even supported other teams including India and New Zealand, while their own kept stumbling through. Finally ran into an impossible task with the Net Run Rates where their heavy defeats and narrow wins came back to haunt them. And then, finally the 1992 comparisons stopped!

But this is cricket fandom. So we move on to the next set of analogies. In the 2008 U19 World Cup, India beat New Zealand by 3 wickets in the semi-finals. The captains on the day – Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. The same duo who will step on the field for the toss on July 9th.

South Africa, for the first time ended a World Cup campaign on a winning note, beating Australia and changing the semi-final lineups also. They have had two ties as well, and some rain involved. Maybe this is the luck they needed to turn around their future campaigns.

England’s stumble against Sri Lanka was the result which made the league phase interesting. But Sri Lanka couldn’t use that platform while England returned to their merry ways. Meanwhile, England reached semi-finals in 1992!

West Indies started with a win, ended with a win and had nothing else to show in between! Except that the signs of revival are very much there. Sheldon Cottrell has developed his own fan following with the Salute though!

Shakib-al Hassan had a sensational tournament. And in my opinion should be the Player of the World Cup. Bangladesh certainly are no pushovers. It has taken them (a lot of) time but they have arrived on the big stage. And it is the inspiration for all other newcomers and Associates.

Afghanistan were the fan favorite. Everyone would have liked to see them win a game or two. However, no one wanted to see them beat their own team though. However, the Afghan fairytale has hit a rough patch. Player indiscipline, administrative problems and fan trouble. Hope these are sorted out soon.

Australia are becoming the imposing machine again, but the ruthlessness is yet to fully come back. Wouldn’t have expected Australians of Waugh-Ponting-Clarke era to lose the last game!

And finally, India. After the weirdo game against England, easily dispatched Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Rohit Sharma has got 5 centuries in this edition with potentially two more innings to go. And yet still generates lot of social media hate, especially from the so-called fans who still do not realize that the red-ball and white-ball are two different ballgames entirely! Well, can’t do much about it.

We bid farewell to Chris Gayle, Shoaib Malik, Imran Tahir, JP Duminy and Ian Gould– in different forms. However, Ian Gould is the only one who has actually done his last game. Others might still be seen in different T20 leagues or even internationals!

So India vs New Zealand & England vs Australia. Let the Endgame commence!

Monday, July 1, 2019

World Cup 2019: The Powerplay

We are approaching the business end of the World Cup. Some of the excitement created in the not so boring middle overs has fizzled out. The top teams have shown that they still mean business barring the odd hiccup on the way. The banana skins have been (mostly) avoided by the big guns. Sri Lanka and West Indies dropped out of contention from the semi-finals with results not going their way, while the hopes of Pakistan and Bangladesh hangs in balance. 

We had India taking on England, a mouth-watering top of the table clash with an added zing of an India win keeping alive the hopes of sub-continental arch-rivals Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka! Even the Pakistanis were rooting for us. Adding to the excitement was India’s first ever appearance in orange & navy blue (a truly weird color combination IMO). Alas it was not meant to be, and the last overs left a bitter taste. The Indian team approach was baffling to say the least. England were undoubtedly the better side on the day, but there was something wrong with the Indian team. 

The Pakistan-Afghanistan match showcased all the wrongs of the sport. The game itself was close but middling affair. But it was marred by political slogans flown over the ground, fist-fights between the two sets of supporters and shambolic fracas in the ground. Terrible day for cricket. 

Meanwhile, the Aussie juggernaut rolls on like a well-oiled machine. All the parts now seem to be in place and they are just razing over all opposition. Plus, they have the experience and legacy of multiple victorious campaigns with them. 

Unlike South Africa, who just have the legacy of multiple bad endings. Now, that they are out of running, they played their best cricket and derailed Sri Lanka’s campaign as well! 

New Zealand are suddenly not looking so good with back-to-back losses. Let’s see where they end up. Most likely losing semi-finalists as is their tradition!

Pakistan’s campaign seems to find a new analogous data point with their 1992 run daily. Let’s see how long the similarities run! 

The race for the Top4 reaches its final bend – Australia are through, New Zealand and India are nearly there, while England are marginally ahead of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most importantly, Bangladesh and Pakistan face-off against each other in their last game. 

Joke of the week - the worst possible team combination – Kiwi openers, Indian middle order, West Indies spinners, Sri Lankan pace attack (minus Malinga), Pakistani fielding with South African choking talent. What a wonderful opponent that would be!

Monday, June 24, 2019

World Cup 2019: The “Not Boring" Middle Overs

Once upon a time, not too long ago, ODI cricket was stagnating. At least the ICC thought so. Especially the so called “boring” middle overs. So, ICC kept tinkering with the format for years. Extra powerplay, mandatory ball changes, powerplay at the time of choosing, two balls, field restrictions changes etc. They also came up with T20 which did away with these “boring” middle overs altogether!

So here we are in the middle of the league stage. And this one has certainly not been boring. The rain has stayed away (mostly), there have been close games (a bunch of them) and even an upset! Another game could have gone in a different direction altogether if the last shot had been hit a fraction of a second later or before or with just a little more power. And in the most shocking turn of events, the bails have started falling off, when earlier they had stubbornly stayed put!

Afghanistan & South Africa are the first two teams to be knocked out of the competition. It’s been a disappointing run for both. Being out of contention they can turn up and play spoilsport for the others in the race for the Top 4.

India nearly got a shock against Afghanistan. New Zealand were almost stunned by West Indies. Bangladesh made a hearty chase of Australia’s 383. And England find themselves with the task having to win against the Top 3 after being tripped up by Malinga and company. 

Meanwhile Pakistan are playing in a different World Cup altogether. It seems that there are two different Pakistani teams which turn up for the game. Depending on which side has turned up the results can be (a) hammering England/ South Africa, or (b) getting thumped by India/West Indies. They do not even need a personnel change. But we never know which version has turned up till the game ends.

Race for Top 4: Getting slightly heated up with England losing to Sri Lanka. Australia, New Zealand and India should make it through. While England have to face all three in their remaining games. Sri Lanka & Pakistan are still with a good chance while Bangladesh & West Indies must wait for permutations and combinations to come up in their favour. If only, Carlos Brathwaite had managed to hit that six, the table would have been even more interesting!

The “middle overs” have certainly not been a boring one!

Monday, June 17, 2019

World Cup 2019: Warming Up

The league phase of the World Cup is well and truly underway with a few marquee matches done and dusted. After the opening salvos, the teams are gradually getting into their grooves and a clearer picture of the likely Top 4 is emerging. It is still early days, but we have had many permutations & combinations thrown haywire not on account of any surprise results but with the rain pouring down! Here are the highlights.

Player of the tournament – On current form, it is the English weather which has played a major part in turning the points table topsy-turvy. West Indies & Bangladesh would certainly feel robbed of a point each against South Africa & Sri Lanka respectively. Sri Lanka meanwhile have clambered to 5th spot based on two rained-off encounters! Also rain put in a dampener at the end of the India-Pakistan clash but didn’t do enough as the teams were forced to take the field for five more overs!

7-Nil: India-Pakistan was the marquee match of the tournament, with some over-zealous reporters hyping it up further on account of recent tensions between the countries. But the gulf in class between the teams is just too wide as India extended their dominance over Pakistan in the World Cups! There is more hype than substance in the rivalry now as it was another emphatic win for India.

Something is rotten - After South Africa, it was now Afghanistan’s turn for some team chaos. Mohammed Shahzad was declared unfit and replaced. However, he claims otherwise and now wishes to quit the game altogether. The first signs of tensions in the Afghan fairytale!

The injured brigade – The list keeps going bigger and bigger with every passing game. Some players replaced (Steyn, Shahzad), others have their replacements in place but are not officially out yet (Dhawan, Stoinis).

The Complaints - Sri Lanka have been in a complaining mode, about accommodation, pitches, facilities etc. They have even missed a press conference and yet not one word against their own misfiring squad.

The Mirror Images - Bangladesh & West Indies have a similar story – Started with sensational wins, then close losses, abandoned games and suddenly both find themselves close to the exit. And they face off aginst each other today.

The Likely Top4 - On current form, India, England, Australia & New Zealand look set to make the Top 4. There still is some way to go though. Nobody expected it - but somehow Australia are sitting at the top of the points table - thanks to a combination of weird scheduling and rains!

We as fans need close matches. Otherwise it is going to be a long boring league stage. Get in more teams and break them into groups, have another knock-out round as well, that will add some fun! But when does ICC listen!

Hoping for some exciting games as we enter the middle stages with teams jostling for positions!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

World Cup 2019: Opening Salvos

Finally, everyone has got a game in the World Cup. Even India! Fans were worried for a while that Team India might not have been a part of tournament. But worry not we are still there! 

So what can we take away from the opening salvos of the tournament? 
  • India let everyone have a go before turning up and showing they are in the game. For the first time in history, have a more exciting bowling option than the batting ones. 
  • New Zealand have been resilient and winning. They are still very likable but also getting a tad boring. 
  • Pakistan have shown they are the unpredictable (how predictable is that statement). Blown away against the West Indies and then smashing almost 350 against England 
  • England have settled on the formula that they perfected over the last 4 years. Keep smashing the ball. Strong batting with a not so strong bowling. Can deliver most games but you can’t account for the maverick factor, that is Pakistan. 
  • Afghanistan have fighting spirit but it doesn’t seem to last for longer periods. 
  • Sri Lanka were smashed one day and got lucky the next to hang in there. 
  • Bangladesh are a much improved ODI side and with some luck could have been the first to 2 wins. 
  • West Indies have a fast bowling arsenal and capable batsman and a surprisingly united team. Can be the surprise element of the tournament. 
  • Australia clinically dispatched Afghanistan. The Warner-Smith reintegration seems to be working. 
  • South Africa is the one definitely in trouble, having lost all 3 games and ravaged by injuries. And have an off-field headache in form of news that AB de Villiers had made himself available for selection for the World Cup just a day before the final squad selection. An offer rejected by the team management (IMHO a very reasonable stand by the management. Also diluting AB’s stature in the game). 
Good to see the variety of pitches on offer for the tournament. The fears that the English pitches would produce bat-a-thons have been unfounded so far. But its still early days and a long way to go for everyone. 

Interestingly, saw Duckworth-Lewis return a lower target score for the first time in the Afghanistan- Sri Lanka game. It’s a different matter that Afghanistan couldn’t make most of this generosity. 

For the highlights reel 
  • Prince Harry declaring the Mens ODI World Cup open. Just a matter of an extra word there but with huge implications for the game. 
  • Ben Stokes catching Andile Phelukwayo 
  • 3 Sri Lankans diving over a well-defended ball as Afghanistan get a boundary. 
Interesting first week, just enough to whet the appetite but lots still to go.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A Tale of Two Pictures

The Men’s ODI Cricket World Cup is almost here. We are just hours from start. To fill the time, lets look at the captain’s pictures. If pictures can talk, these two will give a true perspective of the extent of cricket and its different formats
Pic 1 – Captains lounging around
When the teacher is not around, the boys lounge around, one of them even has the audacity to sit with feet on the sofa. The picture of the cool relaxed T20 atmosphere.

Pic 2 – All in formals, meeting the Queen. The new Queensguard!
Looks like a formal class photo with everyone looking prim and proper. The very picture of the Gentleman’s Game i.e. Test cricket, embodying the “game’s spirit” as well.

Some random thoughts on the pictures.
  • Her Majesty, the Queen is the only one from England & Wales in the picture! 
  • All the World Cups have been held under Queen Elizabeth’s reign. In fact she was the Queen even before the limited overs game actually started. Fun fact, if the picture was taken at the start of her reign, Bangladesh did not exist as a country & Afghanistan wasn’t playing cricket at all. Talk about longevity!
  • Nice to see Sarfaraz Ahmed drop the tie and Faf du Plessis bring a scarf for the picture, bringing their own national identities to the fore. Would have liked to see all captains do the same. Probably next time around in India.
Photos done. Now lets play

The Indian World Cup Moments

The biggest cricketing show on the planet is about to start. The players and viewers have warmed up with two games each amongst them, sorting out their lineups, giving finishing touches to their strategies, using DRS, even getting a taste of the fickle English weather with games getting washed off. Only M/s Duckworth-Lewis didn't make an appearance.

While we wait for the actual tournament to start, its time for a nostalgia trip. So here we go presenting Slipstream Cricket’s favorite memories of the Indian World Cup campaigns starting from 1992 onwards (I have barely any recollection of 1983 & 1987 editions and wasn’t around for the first two). Instead of whole games, I have selected passages of play. So here we go Slipstream Cricket’s favorite Indian World Cup Moments (in no particular order).

1. The Toss (2011) – Kumara Sangakkara forgetting (or pretending to) what he called in the Toss in the 2011 Final!. Referee didn’t/couldn’t hear the call over the crowds and they had to do the toss again leaving a bemused Dhoni! (Somehow, seems very fishy in hindsight).

2. The Winning Moment (2011) – Dhoni smashing Kulasekara for 6 as India lifted the World Cup for a second time ending a 28-year wait. Will we see an encore? Hope so. 

3. The Response (1996) – Venkatesh Prasad to Aamer Sohail. Hit for a boundary, sledged by the batsman and then sends his stumps cart-wheeling the very next ball. The perfect response.

4. The Opening Salvo (2003) – Tendulkar upper-cutting Akhtar for 6 as India set to chase down Pakistan’s 274 run target.

5. The Tumbling Catch (1992) – Ajay Jadeja running in from the boundary to catch Allan Border
The Smash (2003) – Tendulkar smashing Caddick out of the ground.

6. The Banana (2003) – In the same game Ashish Nehra swung the ball like a banana to scythe through the English Line-up and then proceeeded to puke out one.

7. The Earthquake (2007) – Dwayne Leverock diving at 1st Slip to catch out Uthappa.

8. The Fight (1992) – Kiran More vs Javed Miandad. Whatever More’s sledge was, Miandad started jumping up and down in kangaroo land.

9. The Tango (1999) – at Taunton. Ganguly-Dravid scoring 300+ between themselves.

10. The Blazing end (1996) – Ajay Jadeja smashing Waqar Younis’s last 2 overs in Bangalore with a little help from Kumble and Srinath.

11. The Quote (2011) – Everyone except Sreesanth played well – by the one and only Virender Sehwag

12. The Promo Campaign (2015) – Mauka Mauka run by Star Sports as Pakistan still chase that elusive World Cup victory over India! Will they be 7th time lucky. Hope not! Funnily I couldn't recall off-hand anything else from the 2015 World Cup. 

And now that we are sufficiently warmed up, Let the Games begin!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

My World Cup XV

'Tis the year of the World Cup. The Brits are chanting, as is their wont, that its coming home. Well, unlike last year's FIFA World Cup, the ICC Cricket World Cup is going to be at Lord's, the "Home of Cricket". Its a different matter that it might not be staying there come July!

Meanwhile, the ten Boards have commenced the task of selecting their squads for the tournament. New Zealand have been first off the mark in this regard, while India are about to announce their XV on April 15, i.e. tomorrow. So in anticipation of the 3 wise men, Slipstream Cricket decided to announce its probable lineup.

As is always the case, most of the squad picks itself. Yet, there are some pieces which refuse to fit in the jigsaw. We have the vexed No. 4 debate, plus the back-up bowling attack composition and the extra wicket-keeping debate.

Certainties - Kohli, Rohit, Dhawan, Jadhav, Dhoni, Hardik, Bumrah, Shami, Bhuvneswar, Kuldeep, Chahal

Now for the debates
  • I pick Ishant for his experience and the fact that he is a much improved bowler than his current record. Otherwise we have Navdeep Saini (yet to make his international debut), Deepak Chahar (not too experienced), Siraj, Khaleel & Umesh (too wayward).
  • Ravindra Jadeja takes the second all-rounder and 3rd spinner slot ahead of Kruna Pandya.
  • Vijay Shankar has done enough at international level and in the IPL to retain the No. 4 slot and he bowls a few overs of seam as well.
  • KL Rahul gets the back-up batsman and the backup keeper slots ahead of Karthik & Pant. 

In case of injury, BCCI has enough financial muscle to even get Jet Airways up and running to fly-in any replacement even at a short notice. Or they can have the reserves move around as part of the support staff, like Dhawal Kulkarni was last time around!

So here are Slipstream Cricket's pick for the India's World Cup squad.
Batsmen - Kohli, Rohit, Dhawan, Jadhav, Rahul
Wicket-keepers - Dhoni
All-rounder - Hardik, Vijay Shankar, Jadeja
Seamers - Bumrah, Shami, Bhuvneswar, Ishant
Spinners - Kuldeep, Chahal

Lets see what the slection panel comes up with tomorrow!