Archive for September, 2009

CenturionThe all-important India-Australia tie in the Champions Trophy met a fateful end when the skies opened up to create puddles in Centurion. The forecast was for rain but nobody knew that a downpour was on its way. It was in the 43rd over of the Australian innings that the umpires called for covers and that was it.

Winning the toss and electing to bat, Ponting & Co started cautiously against a probing Nehra, who removed Watson early, and a steady Praveen Kumar. Both kept a nagging line and length and didn’t let Australians take off, all to be wasted by Ishant Sharma. He was thrusted into the attack as early as the ninth over and gave away 16 runs in the first six deliveries he bowled. Australia upped the ante from thereon in, with Paine being the aggressor. He carted Ishant’s short-pitched stuff to all corners of the ground, including one six.

The change in momentum was there for everyone to see as Paine and Ponting took control. After Paine’s dismissal for 56, Hussey ensured that the proceedings didn’t take a dull turn and kept playing his shots. Meanwhile, Ponting completed his half-ton, which meant runs were leaking from both ends. Ponting (65) was unfortunate to be run out off Gambhir’s direct hit from the boundary.

Overhead conditions forced the Aussies to take the batting power-play earlier than they would have liked. White and Ferguson were at the crease when rain played spoilsport at SuperSport Park and never looked like stopping, forcing the umpires to abandon the game.

India’s bowling again proved dreary with an inconsistent Harbhajan and ineffective Ishant. Nehra, Praveen Kumar and Mishra bowled well but the wicket column remained very scarcely populated, with Nehra and Mishra taking one apiece.

With a loss to Pakistan and a no-result against Australia, India sits at one point from two outings while Australia has two. An Australian victory against Pakistan will seal both India and Australia’s fate, with India packing their bags and Australia through to the semis. India can stay afloat should Pakistan turn the tables on Australia and then they themselves maul the West Indies on Wednesday to elbow out Australia on net run rate.

 Looking at the current Aussie form, they seem to have things under control. Though Australia would love an outright qualification by beating Pakistan, only time will tell if they lose too badly to give India any chance to better their run rate.

SmithSouth Africa kept its date with the nightmare they hate the most but one which has got deeply embedded into their brain to return time and again. The repeated attempts to get the monkey named ‘choker’ off its back have failed and South Africa has again been knocked out of a big ICC event before reaching the semifinals. Its nemesis this time is England.

In a win-at-any-cost match against the English team, South Africa was shown the door by Shah (98 off 89), Collingwood (82 off 94) and Morgan (67 off 34) with their aerial bombardment into the crowd. Together, the three hit 12 sixes and 15 fours. Batting first, the most remarkable aspect of the English inning was the counter-attack by Collingwood and Shah from a sedate 59/2 in the 13th over to a colossal 222 in the 39th over.

 Shah was unfortunate to miss out on his century but Collingwood and Morgan kept the foot on the accelerator, especially Morgan who is turning out to be a find of the tournament for England. Even though the team took just 32 off the last four overs – largely attributed to wickets tumbling at the end– a total of over 300 was imminent. England finally put together 323 runs and South Africa was staring at a familiar prospect – crashing out of another ICC event and at home once again.

Gibbs’ return to the side raised some hopes but only for a brief period. He took-off with Smith and the score read 42 in the 7th over. Unfortunately for SA, the same over saw the end of Gibbs in an attempt to pull Anderson. He made 22. Kallis left soon, which shook the fans, but AB was there to refuel the expectation tank. He looked good but only for 36 runs for his own and 78 for the team in partnership with Smith. Duminy stayed but for too little and fell in an attempt to unleash himself to bring down a climbing required run rate. It won’t be unfair to say that Smith – watching from the other end – was kind of left in the lurk by his team.

We must acknowledge that the South African skipper wore his heart on his sleeve and did his bit to bring a much-deserved cricketing glory to his team and nation. He made 141 in just 136 balls and was there until the 47th over, limping and denied a runner by his counterpart. Strauss’ denial to Smith’s runner request created much furor but going by the book, it was within the permissible limits of a fielding captain.

That apart, Smith’s knock was a testimony to the fact that South Africans wanted it badly this time. People say this game is a great leveler but if there is one team that would vehemently deny that fact, it’s South Africa. They have crashed out of another major ODI tournament. Bad luck mates!

This brings us to England, the so called pushovers of the tournament after an under-strength West Indies. Having qualified for the semis, they are now in a situation to stand eyeball to eyeball against any team or critic. They have answered their fans’ outcry and their critics’ rebuke. What’s best about that is that they have not done it with their words but with their game. Well done England!

NZAfter England, it was the turn of Kiwis to shake a somewhat complacent Sri Lanka on view in this Champions Trophy. All the islanders needed was a win and the only thing they could salvage was a fighting defeat.

The Kiwi CT stint was at stake, and they had to win against SL to dream of a semifinal appearance. NZ batting suffered a jolt right at the start of their inning when Jesse Ryder got injured and could barely move. It’s amazing how often it happens that a batsman’s injury plays to his advantage. That’s exactly what transpired with Ryder. He started playing his shots and surprisingly, even the miss-hits fell into unmanned spaces. The opening stand – which once seemed to end prematurely – lasted 125 runs and ended with Ryder’s dismissal.

Ryder left limping with assistance from Tuffey – his runner.  He made 74 off just 58 balls and gave a sound platform for his peers to build on. It’s another story that it did not happen. Kiwis lost wickets in a bunch slipping from 125 for no loss to 161/5. Vettori joined Guptill at the crease in the rebuilding process and added valuable 69 runs for the sixth wicket.

Franklin’s inclusion – due to Oram’s injury – proved a blessing in disguise as he too looked busy at the crease for his 28 at less than a run a ball and added another 54 with Guptill. When Kyle Mills hit 18 off just 6 balls, figure of 315 was easily mounted on the scoreboard. Among the Sri Lankan bowlers, notable contribution came from Sanath who took 3 for 39. The rest were plundered for runs, with Malinga going for as much as 85 runs in his 10 overs.

Sri Lanka’s batters began briskly, with both Sanath and Dilshan on the rampage, amassing 66 in just the eighth over. Much to Sri Lanka’s distress, both fell in the space of one run, soon followed by a flurry of wickets. A score of 141 in the 28th over suggests good run rate but losing six wickets for that certainly does not. Out of the recognized batters, only Jayawardene stood among the ruins with a knock of 77.  

Resistance in the lower order came from Kulasekara who made 57 but when Jayawardene left him, it was just a matter of time that the Kiwis pulled out the stumps as souvenirs. With two defeats on the trot, Sri Lanka now has to depend on other results for an outside chance to qualify for the semis. They would stand a chance to qualify on net run rate if England beats New Zealand on September 29, in which case NZ, SL and SA will all have one win and two losses.

Whosoever be the second qualifier from this group, England has surprised us all. Nobody was counting on them but they have shown us what a glorious game cricket is.

Yousuf-MalikA record match-winning partnership of 206 between Mohammad Yousuf (87) and Shoaib Malik (128) turned out to be the deciding element that separated the two estranged neighbors. Apart from those two, nobody else clicked among Pakistan batters but such a huge partnership always ensures a total in excess of 275.

Pakistan ended up with a mammoth 302, which meant either Sachin or Dhoni had to come up trumps to get anywhere near that total. When that didn’t happen, it was Gambhir (57) and Dravid (76) who tried to take that mantle. Gambhir was swashbuckling, especially in dispatching the gifts in the shape of free hits given by Pak no-balls. Dravid played the culprit’s role in Gambhir’s run-out and that too when Gambhir would have wrested the initiative, evident in the manner he was playing.

Dravid, to his credit, plugged one end up but the batsmen kept changing at the other end. Only Suresh Raina (46 off 41 balls) showed signs of recovery and at one moment even looked like winning it for his team in a partnership of 72 with Dravid. It was an ideal situation for Yusuf Pathan’s blitzkrieg but he disappointed once again, may be the last time in ODIs. His continuous failure is ensuring that he remains only a 20-20 wonder and nothing more. We can say that elder brother’s (Yusuf) loss may be younger brother’s (Ifran) gain.

Pakistan’s bowlers seemed too difficult for Indians to handle under the lights. Apart from Gul and part-timer Malik, everybody else bowled with adequate control to restrict the Indians. Aamer, Naved-ul-Hasan, Afridi and Ajmal chipped away with a couple of wickets each. Saeed Ajmal’s off-spinners were reminiscent of Saqlain’s guile. His spell was a guiding lesson for Harbhajan who was adamant on pushing the ball through instead of pitching it up with a little flight.  

India’s bowling, especially the pace battery –  apart from Aashish Nehra – looked pedestrian. Ishant and RP were totally ineffective, with no pace, line or length. They proved to be the weaklink in the Indian bowling, which meant Harbhajan’s 10 overs were crucial and when he failed too, Pakistanis took advantage and dispatched the Indians to all parts of the ground.

The post-match analysis shows hardly any weakness for Pakistan and a lot of issues to be addressed for Indians. First and the most disturbing feature is the decline of once-promising Ishant and a frustratingly erroneous RP Singh. Though Nehra’s return has been very impressive, a futile support from the other end is giving Dhoni unbearable headaches. This was evident in Sri Lanka as well in the Compaq cup. Harbhajan’s ordinary efforts mean Dhoni has to create space for an extra spinner in Amit Mishra.

In their next do-or-die encounter with Australia, we may see wholesale changes in the Indian side. Viraat Kohli may make way for the all rounder Abhishek Nayar, which would add some variety and hope to the Indian bowling. In the pace department, we might see either Ishant or RP making way for Praveen Kumar. Yusuf Pathan might also be replaced by Amit Mishra to support Harbhajan.

Dhoni and Kirsten may make as many changes as they want, Indian fans don’t want an early exit in consecutive ICC tournaments. If my memory serves me right, I have never seen India losing on Dushehra day. It might be superstitious, but I won’t mind being superstitious even one bit if India can survive the Aussie challenge. Good luck India!

JohnsonA seemingly easy-looking outing almost turned into a disaster for Australia who was jolted by fighting West Indians before the Johnson tornado struck the island nation.

After being put in, Australia was fairly well placed at 120/2 in the 26th over but it was from thereon in that the match started swinging. In the space of 51 runs, the Aussies lost five wickets, with the scoreboard reading 171/7. Johnson and Lee were at the crease with nothing much to follow in terms of batting. In fear of being bundled out before 50 overs, both started consolidating and took the score to 193/7 in the 44th over.

What happened after that is something even the West Indies failed to decipher. Johnson took 21 runs off the 45th over and the score rocketed to 214/7. It was mayhem that. The next five overs went for a staggering 61 runs and the Aussies – who were once struggling to post 225 – ended up putting together a huge total of 275.

No one on the ground or in front of the TV sets could believe what transpired. An upset was in the making but Johnson had other plans. He made 73 runs off just 47 balls with eight hits to the fence and three over it. The WI bowling figures went upside down from a dream to a nightmare. Only Nikita Miller (10-1-24-2) had figures worth showing but then one could argue that he was not bowling when Johnson went bananas.

If the Australians thought the hard part was over, then they were in for some surprise. Just like their dream start to the bowling, the West Indies had a dream start to their batting as well. Though they lost Devon Smith early, his dismissal was followed by an 86-run stand between Fletcher (54) and Dowlin (55), taking the score to 124 in the 25th over when Fletcher was run out by Johnson. Walton fell soon after Fletcher. Reifer and Dowlin again instilled some hope into their fans taking the score to 170 in the 37th over, which saw the end of Dowlin.

Dowlin’s dismissal saw West Indies continue to fall behind the run rate, which was too much to ask from an untried lower order. Tonge was unable to bat, which meant that the fall of ninth wicket for 225 in the 47th over was the end of the match as well.

In the end, one can say that it was a comfortable victory for the Australians but if it was not for man 0f the match Mitchell Johnson’s heroics with the bat, I might have been writing about a dream victory for a second-string West Indies against the World Champions.

EnglandThe battle of unequals did turn out to be a one-sided affair, but the surprise was that the favorite ended up on the receiving end. The Sri Lanka (SL) versus England match was hugely loaded in favor of the islanders but the Englishmen had other ideas.

Under an angry-looking sky, Andrew Strauss called rightly at the toss and didn’t think twice to put SL in to bat. Their premier seamers – Anderson, Broad and Onions – reciprocated the skipper’s faith by reducing the Lankans to 17/4 in the sixth over. The notable facet was that the four wickets included the cream of Sri Lankan batting; namely, Dilshan, Jayasuriya, Jayawardene and Sangakara. So it was left to the relatively inexperienced lower middle order to restore some parity. Samaraweera (30),  Kandamby (53) and Mathews (52) did bring some smiles back into a gloomy Sri Lankan dressing room and finished with a respectable 212.

Most teams would have fancied their chances right away chasing 213, but England’s story at this time is different. They are not riding on any recent success stories. Agreed that they won the Ashes but the ODI drubbing they got suggested that Australia was still the better team even though they lost the urn. Reduced to 19/2, which included Strauss’ scalp, England was searching for consolidation. It did come, but not in the form of ones and twos but boundaries and sixes from Collingwood’s bat. He played like a man on a mission but met a premature end after playing on to Malinga having made 46 off 51 deliveries including three towering sixes.

Collingwood’s dismissal was followed by a 76-run sensible stand between Shaw and the ever-improving Eoin Morgan. When Shah (44) left in the 35th over, England was just 55 adrift of the target. Prior (28 not out) played attackingly and with a solid Morgan (62 not out) at the other end, England got past the chequered flag in the 45th over to complete a facile 6-wicket win.  Sri Lankan bowling was tight but not enough to defend a meager 212. Their problems got compounded with an off-color Muralidharan who gave away 60 runs in his 10 overs returning with just one wicket. Mendis and Mathews kept a tight leash but were unable to contribute to the wickets column.

This surprise result has opened up the group with all the four teams in with a chance to qualify for the semifinals. Almost all the matches in this group have now become a knockout, truly a viewer’s delight!

StraussA depleted English team, fresh from a pasting by Australia, kicks off its Champions Trophy (CT) campaign against red hot Sri Lanka that got the better of an overconfident South Africa in the opener. Given the depleted nature of this English side without the likes of Flintoff and Pietersen, many term this as a mismatch between tournament favorites and pushovers.

Frankly speaking, after the West Indies, England looks to be the weakest of the lot and it would do well to give SL a run for its money, which will make for some interesting viewing. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has to guard against any complacency creeping into their game. However, I can’t see that happening, especially when the team knows that a win against England would almost certainly assure them of a place in the semifinals.

England looks more assertive with their bowling than batting and they need that too, against an unleashed Dilshan and ever-dangerous Jayasuriya.  England indeed will have to pull everything out of its stock and can’t afford to relax even a wee bit whether bowling or batting.

Considering the form Sri Lanka is in, bookmakers might consider them as runaway winner but as the famous cliché goes, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties; and if England goes past Sri Lanka, it will indeed be glorious.