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.