Thursday, March 26, 2015

World Cup Semi-Final: India vs Australia – How It Unfolded (For Me)

I am wide awake much before the usual waking time. And why not? After all not everyday in a World Cup semi-final featuring your team. If this is how nervous I as a follower feel, wonder what goes on in the players’ minds?

Start getting ready for office. I am not bunking work to watch the match? Why, because the team won on the days I went to work. So why jinx it? On the eve of the game I have changed my mobile wallpaper to the “BleedBlue” logo. My way of supporting the team. Meanwhile Star Sports has suddenly realized that there are other sports being played on this played also. And shows a montage of the coming live action from Football, Badminton, F1, Tennis etc. Actually a good line-up for any sports fan.

Toss Time: Australia win the toss and elect to bat India out of the game. But We Won’t Give It Back. The commentators are already talking about this game being a home game for India. Finally, we are realizing the virtues of a huge population and the brain drain. Any corner of the big wide world and you will find Indians, lots of us Indians.

Anthem Time: I sing along to Jan Gana Mana. There is no music more rousing than your national anthem. Can there be? During the anthem, they show the entire team, then the support staff, a few crowd shots and then the lone figure of Dhawal Kulkarni. A player who has been around the team for the whole World Cup but not officially part of the World Cup team. Wonder how must that feel. Binny, Rayudu & Axar also did feature in a single game but they are World Cup players while Kulkarni is not. Okay back to the game now.

1st ball – Shami misses the edge of Finch’s bat. And I am off to work.

I hear snatches of commentary blaring out from the shops on the roadside. They are discussing those number things which mostly do not make any sense. But its early part of the game, so the commentators need to be kept busy. On the way, twitter keeps me company. Finch seemingly in trouble but surviving. Warner looking to hammer them all away and WARNER is OUT. (yay 15/1). Smith joins Finch and the milking of the Indian bowling has started.

I have reached office in quick time. The traffic was much less than usual but more than expected. And went to my desk instead of going to the Food Court, where a big screen had been put up for the live telecast. There will be a time, but it’s not now.

89/1 (15): Not looking terribly good at the moment. Need wickets pronto. All online commentary channels have been fired up. I might be in office but being focused on the work seems highly unlikely.

132/1 (25): Expecting to chase 340 odd. Need wickets. Lots of them and fast. Steve Smith has hit fifty and is looking ominous. Finch has also reached a fifty now. [Aside - A home team wearing yellow had been utterly destroyed in the previous World Cup that I had followed. That doesn’t seem to be happening here].

155/1 (30): Old wisdom says you double the score after 30 overs. Post T20 era, you score 200 in the last 20. Whichever way its going to be a tall chase for India.

181/1 (33): Australia take the Powerplay early. And Steve Smith gets another 100 against India in the 2014-15 Season. Not good at all from our perspective. 

197/2 (34.1). And Smith is OUT. And Maxwell walks in. This could go anywhere now.
Maxwell threatening to take the game away. Lands a few hefty blows as well. But Ashwin has got him. We need a collapse like India’s 29/9 against South Africa in last World Cup. Umesh gets Finch. Are the Aussies collapsing? 235/4 (39). [Aside - Successfully postponed a bit off work which was threatening to come my way. Cricket and my nation need my undivided attention].

250/5 (43). Now Clarke goes. 42 balls left. C’mon India get those 5 wickets and maintain your neat wicket taking record.

271/5 (45): 5 overs to go. How much can they score? 50 more? We are still looking at a BIGGG chase :( The Aussies have been losing wickets at the death, very like India, but unlike India the big hits have kept coming as well.

328/7(50):Australia the first team to not get all out against India this World Cup. India actually need to tie this game to go through to the final. That would be FUN. 

Time for Lunch. The Food Court looks different. Its more crowded because of the game telecast. The openers stride out to loud cheers in the food court. Lunch is gulped down amidst oohs and aahs across the food court.

Haddin drops Dhawan? Has he dropped the World Cup. India breathes. And scores runs easily.

Back at desk. Dhawan out. And so is Kohli. And Rohit. Now Raina is out. Need to get away from the desk. This has been quite a wicket-taking spell. :(

156/4 (32): Rahane & Dhoni have been becalmed. Afraid the game is meandering away to an end. (179 off 108 balls). Well Played India. You had already exceeded the expectations.

178/5 (36.2): Rahane OUT! Suddenly work seems to have become more interesting. DRS used for the sake of using it by the Aussies and they get a positive result in their favour. Some days the dice just does not roll your way.

183/5 (38): It’s THAT Score. Now the question – Will we crawl to a defeat, a la UAE, or go out all guns blazing, like the West Indies? Prefer the 2nd option but Dhoni is playing like the first.

196/5 (40): 132 off 60 balls. Well-nigh impossible now. It has all gone down since Dhawan’s dismissal. Nothing much to write home about.

232/7 (45): Dhoni also gone. And the last flickering embers die out.

233/10: Its all over at SCG. Australia win by 95 runs. 

Brad Haddin did not drop the World Cup. Well played Australia!. Though methinks the country happiest with this result is not Australia but Bangladesh. Which reminds me all Asian teams knocked out of the tournament at the first possible opportunity.

India certainly exceeded the expectations by reaching the semis with a clean slate. It was a complete team effort with no individual standing out throughout the course of the tournament. Well Played. Team India. Thanks for all the entertainment.

Random Thoughts: Was this the last India game for Dhoni. What will we remember India's tournament for? How many casualties from this World Cup lineup. How different will the team be when they next take the ground. But these questions will wait. After all the World Cup final is still to be played.

And for me, I will finish off the pending work and go home. Also feel sad for a while. And then tomorrow is another day. After all one of the side-effects of growing up is that such defeats don't hurt for long, unlike earlier.

So off to the MCG. The Kiwis are waiting. This is their mauka for the first ever World Cup victory.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

World Cup 2015 - Quarter-Final Predictions

The battle-lines are drawn. The Quarter-finalists identified. 7 games remaining, 7 teams to be knocked out. 1 winner. On the eve of the first of the 4 Quarter-finals, its Divination time – the time to predict the teams still left standing after four days of hopefully intense battle.

Quarter-Final 1 – South Africa vs Sri Lanka

The foremost question - Will South Africa choke again? AB de Villiers has said they won’t. History suggests otherwise.

It’s an intriguing clash between two teams with very evenly matched records against each other. Both are coming in with 4 wins each. South Africa have a suspect record while chasing and a tendency to not make through to the knock-outs. Sri Lanka on the other hand have regularly been reaching the last stages of ICC events. They also have been losing players through the tournament and have a question mark on their bowling.

The toss will be crucial. Both would want to bat first and avoid the scoreboard pressure while chasing.

Prediction – Sri Lanka to win toss, bat first, put up a fairly decent total. South Africa would begin the chase in earnest, then falter, and asphyxiate, resulting in a Sri Lankan victory.

Quarter-Final 2 – India vs Bangladesh

Both teams have had a much better than expected Group Stage. Powered by their bowlers (!!!), India sailed through to the top of the Group with 1 full game to spare. On the other hand, Bangladesh punched out England and gave a good scare to the Kiwis on their way to the knockouts. The MCG is expected to be filled with Indian supporters, some Bangladeshi supporters and a decent contingent of the Barmy Army. 

India are the favorites but will do well to remember the 2007 World Cup. Bangladesh don’t have anything to lose but a win would certainly be the greatest day in their sporting history. 

Prediction – India (what else to expect from an Indian blogger)

Quarter-Final 3 – Australia vs Pakistan

On one corner, the home team, who are an efficient mean machine out to destroy all opposition with both bat and ball and powered by a sense of not giving it up till the last ball has been bowled. They have had a smooth ride into the Quarters with only one bump in the road. Even in that loss to the Kiwis they showed the true Aussie grit. Where many teams would have given up after being knocked out for 150 odd, Australia fought back hard and the Kiwis barely managed to scrape home with one wicket to spare.

On the other corner, you have Pakistan, a team which is the very definition of mavericks. The Irish were knocked out by Pakistan, not because of their own loss to them, but due the hammering which Pakistan got from the West Indies. After years of using one Akmal or the other, Pakistan have finally learnt that it pays to have an actual wicket-keeper doing the job behind the stumps. A good bowling combined with some brittle batting make up for a totally unpredictable combination.

Prediction – Australia to win.

Quarter-Final 4 – New Zealand vs West Indies

The Kiwis go into the knock-outs with a cent percent record while West Indies have barely managed to make it on the basis of net run rates. The Kiwis have looked set to destroy the opposition batting and then chase down the small targets as fast as possible. Though sometimes the batting does implode but so far they have survived on this tactics. West Indies, on the other hand, seem to have no plan but just individuals doing the job either fantastically well or spectacularly badly with no middle ground. Gayle can get a double century all by himself or the bowlers can tie down the Indian top order but chances of both events happening together seem quite unlikely.

The result could well depend on which version of West Indies turns up to play.

Prediction – New Zealand to win. Or a Chris Gayle explodes (which hasn’t ever happened in any crucial game in any format for any team).

Now its time to see how good my "inner eye" is.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

World Cup 2015: Short Notes - March 15th

The Group Stages of the World Cup 2015 have finally drawn to a close. It was a long-winded affair (but we already knew that). The 8 Quarter-finalists have been identified (with 7 of them being the usual suspects). There were upsets but not as many as we would have liked. There were mismatches, many more than we wanted with the team batting first generally knocking the stuffing out of the bowling. India won all their games (a pleasant surprise) as did New Zealand, Pakistan stumbled along as did the West Indies but in the end both made it, England were punched out by Bangladesh, Australia, Sri Lanka and South Africa duly made it into the knock-outs, while the Associates won the hearts but not many games except for the Irish who also won a few games. And now we are at the business end of the tournament. 7 matches, 7 teams knocked out, 1 winner remains. But before that its time for a look back at the performances of the teams which won't be making any further progress into the tournament.

UAE - a team made up of people who hold regular jobs (like you and me) but have the passion to play the game (unlike most of you and me). Their approach to the games was simple. Try to bat out as many overs as possible getting the runs which came along regardless of how many the other team has got. Only against fellow Associate Ireland did they provide some serious challenge. May not play at the World Cup ever again and probably will not be missed at all. Which would be quite ironical given that ICC has a global academy in UAE and they also play home country to Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Scotland - This was Scotland's 3rd appearance in World Cup cricket and it is the third time they are going home winless. Another team which has been regularly found wanting at the top level. They never even challenged the big teams. Though they did have a very close game with fellow Associate Afghanistan. The team ran out of steam by the end of its run. Worse, it ran out of team spirit with Majid Haq having to be sent home on disciplinary grounds.

Afghanistan - They have been the fairy tale story of the cricketing world. Their rise is well documented. The players are icons in their own right. And they can actually play cricket. They won a game against Scotland and gave Sri Lanka a mighty scare. They might have been well beaten by the others but they also provided the heart-warming story. There might not be a more impressive sight in cricket than Shapoor Zadran running down to bowl. This is a team with the potential to be competitive. And ICC better make sure that they stay so and not let them drift away like Kenya.

Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe had provided the template for growth of a modern cricket nation. Repeatedly qualify for the World Cup. Win the occasional big game. Get Test status. The wins then start coming in more frequently. Reach the knock-outs of the World Cup. And then the story changes. However it wasn't cricket at fault, it was the country itself imploding. Cricket bore the collateral damage and they have been a mere shadow of their former self. And since the last ten years they have been trying to make the best out of limited resources which keep ever depleting. Brendan Taylor joins a long list of cricketers who couldn't carry on any further due to the various constraints. However he might well be back. In the Cup, Zimbabwe weren't outclassed and were far more competitive than expected. Can we expect better days for them? Maybe or Maybe not. They might miss out if ICC does implement its 10 team format in 2019.

Ireland - On the Irish shoulders fall the responsibility of not just carrying the hopes of their own nation but also those of the entire Associate cricketing world. A responsibility which they have carried gamely but would certainly wish would be shared around a bit more. They played well, won three games adding two more full nation scalps into their World Cup collection. And yet were finally knocked out after the last game on the basis of net run rates. This is a team which deserves more chances to improve. Should they be the 11th test playing country? Certainly. Should ICC amend laws to prevent England poaching their players? Definitely. Imagine Morgan and Rankin in their ranks. Well played Ireland, You deserve better.

England - The butt of all jokes. In a format designed to ensure that the big boys are through to the quarter-finals, somehow England have contrived to not do so. Last World Cup, they were the entertainers, losing to Ireland & Bangladesh while beating South Africa, West Indies and tying with India. This time there was no such roller-coaster ride. They beat Scotland and lost to everybody else (heavily). So heavily that Malaysia, Singapore & Japan are trolling them with challenges. Yet England will be there lining up as hosts in 2019. Important question - Are England still the best limited overs team in Europe? Probably yes, though many would disagree, most certainly Ireland. Or if you were Peter Moores, you would first be looking into the data.

Arbit Stat#42
Wins against Test Playing Nations in ODI World Cup
Ireland (since 2007) - 5 wins - 2007 (Pakistan & Bangladesh),  2011 (England), 2015 (West Indies & Zimbabwe)
England (since 2007) -  4 wins - 2007 (Bangladesh & West Indies), 2011 (South Africa & West Indies), 2015 (0)
Head-to-Head - 1-1
Well the "data" says Ireland are better.

Now awaiting the knock-outs where the real action begins.

Monday, March 9, 2015

World Cup 2015: Short Notes - March 9th

Tigers have tamed the Three Lions.

England, the inventors of the Gentleman's Game, have been knocked out of the World Cup by Bangladesh. 

A result which has made them the butt of jokes in the cricketing world. On Twitter they have already been invited by Malaysia and Japan for a challenge game. Lets see what their response is. Although judging by Peter Moores' reaction, they would be looking into the data before making any response. During which time, a couple of other countries would have surpassed them in ODI cricket.

However, this was not really a surprising result, given that Bangladesh had beaten them in the last World Cup as well. Bangladesh in quarters seems to be a just reward for their most loyal fans who have been supporting the team from one loss to another, with the occasional win thrown in. But most of the wins had come in home conditions (Asia Cup 2012, and the Kiwi whitewashes) or in Zimbabwe. So good to see them qualify in the conditions Down Under.

On the other hand, England have been on a seemingly never-ending downward spiral, at least in World Cup cricket. Can they go down any further? They are hosting the World Cup in 2019. So does it mean a direct qualification as hosts or do they still have to fulfill the Top 8 criteria or go through qualifying, if they do not? ICC, we are still looking for a response.

In other news
  • 5 of the 8 quarter-finalists have been identified and 4 are in running for remaining three spots, all in Group B. South Africa are more or less through with Pakistan also in a comfortable position while Ireland still need to do some running to ensure a knock-out spot ahead of West Indies. The final week of games will see teams jockeying for positions.
  • England will be looking to avoid embarrassment against Afghanistan, otherwise more Associates and Affiliates will be clamoring for a game against them.
  • Pakistan are back at their unpredictable best and South Africa are already preparing their supporters for the coming "choke".
  • Sri Lanka's injury list keeps growing with every game. 
  • How is Sangakkara even thinking of retiring from any format of the game. 
  • Jason Holder is the new Darren Sammy. Contributing more that his fair share with bat and ball, yet coming up short because of his team.
  • John Mooney - was the foot on the line, when he caught it? Did Sean Ervine walk off before he was given out? 
  • The DRS debate will never end. Just shows how tough is the field umpires' job when even the TV umpire makes mistakes/has to make judgement calls.
  • Eoin Morgan is in the wrong team. Among other things, can ICC create a system of ensuring that Associate players are not stolen by the likes of England. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

World Cup 2015: Short Notes - March 5th

After a break of 1 day, in which the cricketing world's focus was on BCCI's presidency battle, the World Cup resumed on Tuesday. 
  • Seems like ICC had had enough of the brickbats. So they asked the big boys to go all Sparta on the Associates. Result - South Africa, Australia & Pakistan hammering the little fellows to pulp, with all of them recording huge wins.
  • We now bid farewell to Scotland whose purely mathematical chances of qualifying have evaporated. They were never in with a chance but at least they had the best kit.
  • These one team bat-a-thons are getting ridiculous to watch. The mind is numbed from seeing teams score at 15 an over for the last 10 overs. What are the bowlers supposed to do? And the big scoreboard pressure gets to the team chasing and the contest is all but over within a few overs into the chase. Not good for any game.
  • Krishna Chandra Karate - the best name of the tournament.
  • Shaiman Anwar of UAE leading the run-charts. Who would have thunk this?
  • Sachin Tendulkar apparently wants a 25 team World Cup. Well that will be just a series of mismatches. My suggestion is have 16 teams in 4 groups (like in West Indies) followed by straight knock-outs (unlike the long unending Super 8 stage in West Indies). Or you can have 2 groups of 4 each in the 2nd round followed by semis & finals (like the T20 World Cup). Enough said.
  • No some crucial games coming up. More than that hoping for a few genuine contests. Need not be a edge-of-the-seat cliffhanger all the time but is a contest too much to ask for?

Monday, March 2, 2015

World Cup 2015: Short Notes - 2nd March

With a 14 team tournament and going at the rate of 1 game a day, somehow the World Cup schedule has found a rest day in the group stages itself. How did the scheduling committee achieve this tremendous milestone? All the teams get enough days to rest between games, yet there is a day without a single game. For what purpose one may ask? To give the fans a chance to detox from cricketing or to let the world focus on the biggest cricketing battle - BCCI's presidency.

Anyways the 1 day break in the matches gives a good chance to evaluate the tournament gone so far.

The Qualifying Scenarios
  • All the teams are still in contention, however minuscule their chances. And no team has booked its quarter-final berth. There is a very tiny chance that the likes of India and New Zealand can still miss out.
  • The ones with cent per cent winning record - New Zealand, India & Ireland
  • The ones with cent per cent losing record - Scotland & UAE
The patterns to the madness
  • When Associate plays Associate - Great Game.
  • When Associate plays Test playing team - Good game. Generally the Associate runs out of steam by the end of the game
  • When 2 Test playing teams play - Boring one sided game with the team batting second generally getting hammered.
  • When New Zealand play - Knock out the opposition for a smallish score and try to chase it down in under 20 overs while losing wickets in a bunch, thus boosting their run-rate, while at the same time making their fans very nervous.
  • Old formula - Double the score after 30 overs. New formula - Triple the score from the 25 over mark.
ICC doing things
  • Tweak the World Cup format. Get egg on the face. Where every other orgnization is going for globalization and expansion, ICC is looking at shortening the World Cup for making it more "competitive".
  • Keep tinkering with the playing conditions -  Powerplay overs, field restrictions, number of balls, Duckworth-Lewis, DRS - basically making the game more and more impossible to comprehend.
How the teams are stacking up
  • India, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka- looking good to march into the knock-outs.
  • West Indies, England, Pakistan - There might be an embarrassing early exit. 
  • Bangladesh, Ireland - should be looking to repeat their 2007 top 8 foray.
  • Zimbabwe, Scotland & Afghanistan - may have just run out of steam by now, but can create havoc for some others' qualification chances.
Now awaiting the second half of the group stage before the actual tournament begins. It should still be an interesting exercise with some teams jockeying for positions while others fighting for survival and the rest waiting to trip them up.