Archive for June, 2010

India took field in the Asia Cup final, looking to get the monkey off its back. On most occasions they reached the final of a multi-team tournament in the last decade, the monkey dangled for a while – looking like getting off – but then made its way back to keep clinging.

Toss has always reigned supreme in Sri Lanka and this tournament hasn’t thrown any surprises. Dhoni hadn’t been lucky in that regard until the final day in the tournament when he called right and chose to wield the willow first.

The start was cautious but instead of Gambhir (15), Karthik was first to change gears While Gambhir’s effort to cash-in on his good form was dashed by a silly run, Karthik kept up the scoring rate, with Kohli busy in getting his eye in. Kohli (28) was scoring close to run a ball later on when Malinga sent him packing. India were 100/2 and Dhoni came in to take control of the innings.

It must be said that every time Karthik has looked like set to register his first ODI hundred, he plays one shot too many. He kept his unwelcomed record intact and found Jayawardene in way while trying to attack part-timer Kandamby. Karthik made 66 off 84 balls and the scoreboard read 146/3 in the 29th over. The century-man in Zimbabwe – Rohit Sharma – came in next. Before Dhoni (38) could stitch a meaningful partnership with Sharma, the skipper’s bat twisted while playing a cut shot and the ball went straight off its face to Kulasekara at point.

A score of 167 in the 32nd over indicated a good scoring rate but losing four wickets certainly wasn’t encouraging. Raina hadn’t had a good tournament but he had a chance to make amends in the all-important final. He certainly was looking good, playing his signature heave over mid wicket. The duo of Sharma and Raina did somewhat settle the ruffled Indian feathers with a joint venture of 50-runs but Malinga worked Raina out in a dream over. He exploited Raina’s weakness to the short stuff and pushed him well back before setting him up for a yorker.

Sharma now had Jadeja & Co to negotiate the last 9 overs with. Malinga had his tail up and Jadeja was out to prove his detractors wrong. Jadeja certainly did that by not only hanging out with Sharma but scoring relatively quickly, albeit hitting just one boundary in his 25-run sojourn in 27 balls. Sharma (41) got out at an important juncture in the 48th over. Harbhajan and Jadeja had no answers to Malinga’s toe-crushers and were able to muster just 19 runs off the last 16 deliveries, finishing at 268/6.

Sri Lankan bowling revolved around Kulasekara’s perfect length at the start and Malinga’s ability to deliver punishing yorkers at the end, taking a couple of wickets each en route. The disappointment was last-match hero Maharoof (6-0-41-0) and Mathews (3-1-16-0), who were unable to stem the flow of runs, which allowed India getting close to what they would have envisaged.

Indian total was not small by any means, least so when it was on Sri Lankan soil, which has churned out low-scoring encounters historically. A Dilshan blitzkrieg was a must-have to put the islanders on course but he failed to ride a bouncer from Praveen Kumar and lobbed a dolly to Harbhajan at mid-on for naught. Now it was up to either Sangakkara or Jayawardene to instill hopes into a deflated dressing room. The skipper’s turn came first. Both Sangakkara and Tharanga buckled down to negotiate the swinging new ball but Zaheer pulled a rabbit out of his hat, bowling Tharanga over with a peach of a delivery.

If 31/2 was shaky, it got shakier when the scoreboard turned 50 in the 14th over. It proved to be the turning point of the match. Nehra hit a purple patch, sucking Jayawardene and Mathews into playing outside off and depositing a nick into Dhoni’s gloves. The score didn’t move but the wicket column did, from two to four.

Lightning struck again in the 16th over when Nehra drilled the decisive nail in the Lankan coffin by removing Sangakkara. The last recognized batsmen, Kandamby and Kapugedera, tried to steer the ship out of troubled waters but a Kohli-Jadeja combine ran Kandamby out for 31. At this moment, the islanders were gasping for breath at 104/6 in the 30th over.

There didn’t seem any steam left in Sri Lanka to add muscle to a spirited knock of 55 not out by Kapugedera. Maharoof and Kulasekera showed some fight but it all seemed too late in the day. India was well on his way to break its final jinx and the monkey did finally come off its back with the fall of Murali’s wicket, allowing India a comfortable walk towards the trophy with an 81-run triumph.

There were two heroes for India – Karthik (66 runs) in batting and Nehra (9-40-0-4) in the bowling chart. Early wickets by Praveen and Zaheer provided the pressure for every following bowler to bowl with and that’s where Sri Lanka faltered and India took advantage. Nevertheless, the Asia Cup has took long coming back home. Hopefully, it’s now the World Cup that beckons India.

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Pakistan spilled the much-needed success potion and had to remain content with its aroma, as Sri Lanka managed to brush them aside and taste victory in the opening game of Asia Cup.

The Pakistan team looked a blast from the past with the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razaaq and Mohammad Asif back in. The surprise omission, though, remained the crafty off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, which may have been decided to accommodate Abdul Razaaq to beef up the batting.

Batting first seems to be the mantra on the slow, low Sri Lankan tracks and Sangakkara did nothing different after winning the toss. The skipper himself, along with Mahela, gave the inning a settled look after an unstable start losing both the openers at 36. They put together 83 for the third wicket by the time Sangakkara (42) cut one straight to Umar Akmal at point. A small partnership of 31 followed between Mahela (54) and Samaraweera (17) but both got out at the score of 150, leaving the team with just five wickets to play with.

Shoaib Akhtar didn’t allow Kapugedera and Maharoof to settle and sent them back within a space of eight runs. At 168/7 in the 37th over, it looked highly unlikely that the Lankans would last 50 overs, but Mathews (55 not out) and Kulasekara had other ideas. They made sure the team didn’t fall apart and added crucial 43 runs for the eighth wicket, which eventually helped Sri Lank a put up a fighting 242 on the board.

Shoaib Akhtar (10-1-41-3) made an impressive comeback into the national side and was the pick of the bowlers along with Abdul Razaaq (8-0-27-1).

Pakistan chose to hold the dangerous Kamran Akmal back and gave Shahzaib Hasan a chance to open with Salman Butt. But they had the worst possible start when Butt’s timber was disturbed by Malinga in the second over for a naught, followed by another three wickets to leave the team reeling at 32/4 in the 14th over.

Afridi’s recent batting antics instill little confidence these days, but he looked focused without compromising on what he does the best – boom boom! Afridi was particularly severe against Murali and was at ease lofting him straight and over. Talented Umar Akmal (30) gave him company for 73 runs when a sudden rush of blood ran him out. The elder Akmal – Kamran – added another 49 with his skipper who reached a half century but Kamran too met the same fate as his brother – the score: 154/6.

There was no stopping Afridi who now had an equally dangerous partner in Razaaq. Afridi reached an elusive hundred and seemed to be taking the team home from a hopeless situation until Murali’s moment of success arrived. It was a sharp, juggling catch by Sangakkara that sent Afridi back after a stroke-filled 109, punctuated with 8 fours and 7 sixes.

It still wasn’t impossible for Pakistan with 38 needed in 55 balls and Razaaq at the crease but Malinga – the slinger – wrecked havoc at the other end. He mopped up the tail with a barrage of his signature toe-crushers, leaving Razaaq (26 not out) stranded. He finished with figures of 10-0-34-5 while leading his team to a 16-run win.

In a short tournament like Asia Cup where teams play each other only once, it’s going to be a tricky path ahead for Pakistan who has to beat India to harbor any hopes of making it to the final.

Something kept me at bay from coming to my blog and scribble this and that about my beloved – Cricket. Honestly, I didn’t make any attempts to find what caused this abeyance, nor do I wish to waste time on that now. All I want to do is keep that abeyance at bay. So here I am, back, to pamper my beloved and hear the vuvuzela sound from the FIFA World Cup.

A lot happened and a lot is happening, as is the nature of the taxing ICC calendar. But the off-field events in this time-gap were as newsy as the on-field show of skills.

To kick off this piece, PCB was back to its hilarious best. It must be said that they are very clever in conniving how to bring their players out of a ‘fix’ and keep them available to play in the national side.  It’s an open secret that a ban in Pakistan cricket is always temporary, that first gets changed to a fine and then eventually lifted for important fixtures or as a ‘marriage gift’. Be it old-timers Kamran Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Younus Khan or the young entrants like Umar Akmal, everyone in Pakistan cricket is free to ‘eat’ or ‘bite’ anything. The PCB takes care of the ‘digestion’.

Coming to India, many felt that the thrashing Indian ‘boys’ received in Zimbabwe is a sign of worse things to come. I would rather say it happened in the best interest of Indian cricket. Those who went gaga over a Naman Ojha, Umesh Yadav or Pankaj Singh now very well know the difference between ‘boys’ and ‘men’, with failures against a lowly Zimbabwe and an under-strength Sri Lankan outfit. In fact, it makes it much easier for the BCCI to set aside a pool of 25 for the upcoming World Cup at home.

Quite obviously, the only team benefiting in the Zimbabwe tri-series was Zimbabwe itself. With three wins in five games and an unbeaten record against India, they sent a message to the ICC that the Test arena beckons, once again. Provided the country sets things straight politically and the cricket board gets its act together, there is no stopping Zimbabwe getting back its Test status.

Then came the time to pick the teams for the all-important Asia Cup in Sri Lanka from June 15. While Pakistan and Sri Lanka picked a full-strength squad, an Indian team without Sachin looked incomplete, especially when it’s trying to bounce back from the failures in the T20 campaign in the Caribbean and the Zimbabwe tri-series. Sachin himself requested an extension of his rest period, but having played his last game a good 1-1/2 months back on April 25, I personally feel he could have opted to play. The BCCI too could have asked him to board the bus in quest for Asian supremacy.

There is no doubt that Sachin is the most valuable Indian asset for the upcoming World Cup and the team should learn to play without him now, but still his presence could have boosted the morale of the team, especially youngsters like Ashwin, Dinda, Jadeja and Tiwari. But the fact remains that he is not part of the team to Sri Lanka and as always, he is going to be sorely missed.

The other most notable omission from India’s Asia Cup squad is the southpaw Yuvraj Singh. Chief selector K. Srikkanth’s comment that fitness and fielding were given top consideration while selecting the team was a clear message for Yuvraj to get his body in order. He looked visibly heavy in the Caribbean with a lot more flab around his belly and got restricted in the field because of that, not forgetting his troublesome knee. Yuvraj is a match-winner but so was Vinod Kambli. I think that statement is enough to bring Yuvraj’s feet back on ground and I fully support selectors’ decision to drop him.

But the spotlight for the next month will surely be on the FIFA  World Cup in South Africa. It’s surprising that supporters of any other game – like I having an affair with cricket – get equally excited when it comes to the soccer World Cup. You can feel it in the air, unlike any other sporting event; I dare say not even the Olympics. That’s what makes it the most anticipated sporting event. So let’s hear the vuvuzela!