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Archive for the ‘World Cup’ Category

 

‘Coaches don’t win you matches, players do’, goes the word of wisdom. But lets not forget one man’s contribution to the India’s lifting of the world cup after twenty eight long and tedious years. 

Taking over the coaching of the Indian team during turbulent times and then moulding it into an invincible unit by sheer motivational training in just three years has not only earned Gary Kirsten due recognition but also put many unsettled questions to rest. Most importantly when a former Australian great Greg Chappell fell out with the skipper and the team and packed his bags under bitter circumstances in a classic showdown that witnessed magnanimous exchange of vocabulary and accusations from both ends, the efficacy of foreign coaches in regional context was widely questioned. It was in those adverse conditions and controversy that Gary accepted the challenge to work in an alien world and environment. 

India and its cricket with all its geographical vastness and cultural diversity was all ripe to present every possible shock and challenge to a man on threshold of discovering wide regional, religious, traditional and ethical spheres within a whole. The team representing a rich mix emerges from a background comprising dozens of languages, having entirely different habits, preferences, approach and way of doing things. It was under those conditions that the man took to his job, not only acclimatized himself but just during a brief stint of three years, delivered and accomplished what none other could achieve for India during his tenure. 

In their own turn, looks like the Indian lads took his every advice to heart including indulging in fervent sex ( not between themselves ) before the match to stimulate flow of their hormones and testosterone yielding aggression and spirit in the field defying and thus trampling the solemn lessons of celibacy preached ardently by the fatherly figure of Mahatma Gandhi for decades.

Perhaps what makes Gary unique is his motivational approach. Knowing the potential and capabilities of his players apparently, he knew how to extract the best out of them individually and more importantly to gel them together into a formidable unit with full faith in themselves. That is the reason that even the cricketing giants like Sehwag and Tendulkar are all praise for the man and have been drumming about the difference he has made to their game and the Indian cricket. Going through a depressing phase, from a low, when he was even left out of the squad for a few games to the ultimate surge where he emerged as the man of the tournament, Yuvraj Singh acknowledges his coach’s contribution in his achievement. Even a senior and accomplished player like Yuvraj considers Gary a parental figure. 

Coaching a star studded rainbow of players with huge egos boasting of enviable and extravagant records takes all one could possibly imagine. In all probability, it was South African’s humble and intelligent handling, seamless communication and overwhelming commitment that helped him sail across the seas and deliver perhaps more than what he was expected to. 

With a job well done, while the man is all set to return to his homeland and family to possibly accept a similar assignment for his native country or some Australian teams as the press reports reveal, lets give the man his due credit who has stamped his mark on the history of the game.

Taking nothing away from Indian team and their well deserved victory, WELL DONE Gary Kirsten!!!

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Pakistan has never beaten India in the world cup cricket_ a hard and bitter bare fact and well yes a jinx maybe! But the history has to change its course somewhere. So what’s the harm if it takes a diversion on coming Wednesday?

Having remained invincible for so long against Pakistan adds to the vulnerability of the Indian team just as the Aussies came crashing down after a remarkable winning streak of thirty four matches to lose two successive games_ the last one sending them packing back home.

It is not just the statistics, though skewed heavily in favour of India, that make its victory improbable but the immense home ground pressure against arch rivals Pakistan coupled with its inconsistent performances. Whatever the outcome is going to be, nothing can be more electrifying than the mouth watering clash between India and Pakistan.

Having advanced to the semi finals, the game ensures representation of at least one team from the sub continent in the final thus continuing an intermittent pattern of regional supremacy. Both sides have obvious strengths and weaknesses that make the contest even and potentially highly interesting.

With an unending depth in its batting, India can perhaps boast of the most potent and annihilating batting arsenal the one day game has ever known. Batting first on any surface, the team can never be sure of ‘a potentially safe’ total if that happens to be setting a target for the Indians to chase. With the likes of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Gambhir, Yousaf or Raina, the tormenting lineup on a home ground is capable of accomplishing any score that seems improbable. The only ray of hope is the vulnerability to collapse that the Indian middle and lower batting order has displayed time and again during the world cup.

India’s biggest weakness lies in its makeshift bowling attack_ an ordinary and average lineup that has been unable to defend humungous totals like 338 and 297 on its own pitches. If Pakistan has to win, it will definitely have to target a couple of weak links in the Indian bowling chain. How well will Pakistan cope without having a chance to acclimatize to the conditions and playing for the first time on Indian soil in nearly four years is anybody’s guess!?

In contrast, Pakistan’s main strength lies in its bowling resources. Traditionally known to enjoy supremacy in fast bowling faculty, the spin bowlers have been very effective so far in the tournament. This, in all likelihood, is the one clear edge that Pakistan has maintained over the rest of the teams and has been the main driving force behind the Pakistani victories. Talking of the game at hand, Shoaib’s appearance can be decisive even if there are some differences brewing up in the dressing room.

Averse to chase and batting in pressure situations, Pakistan’s best bet lies in getting a sizeable total and then restricting India by bowling on a cracking pitch. In case India bats first, restricting India to a chase able total can prove testing. Remember our batting has been tested only once by New Zealand and that was the match that we lost with a phenomenal margin.  

In the end what is most crucial are the nerves and the team that deals with the enormous pressure by staying calm and collective gives itself a fair chance to sail through.

And like I have been emphasising throughout the tournament, defying all logic and reason, nothing serves us better than our unpredictability. If qualifying by securing most points and climbing to the top of the pool and then storming to the semis in a mesmerising royal fashion was unpredictable, why not beating India and then cruising to penultimate victory in the finals!?

Go greens go! 

All the way!

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With twenty out of forty two matches played and decided, we are almost halfway through the preliminary rounds of the world cup cricket 2011. There has been plenty of excitement during the matches as well as mismatches. But what is draining is the current format of the tournament.

At the end of a prolonged and tiring first round it will all lead to qualification of eight best teams. To me, it would’ve been more thrilling if the first round ended up in knocking out more than half the participating teams and picking something like a pack of six teams to compete further.

With the current lot of teams broadly categorized into eight heavyweights and six minnows, the result of the first round thus remains highly predictable. Despite some great efforts by the underdogs, there doesn’t seem to be much of a possibility of a displacement, unless of course, if Ireland stages another upset or England opts to be kind to another unfancied opponent such as host Bangladesh. And then it would rest more on the shoulders of luck and less on cricket, to scrape through the knock out rounds with only a handful of games played between the eight best sides to determine the fate of the championship.

What we have seen of the sport so far in the world cup, there have been some very interesting observations. At one extreme, we have seen Indians or English fail to defend totals considerably in excess of intimidating figure of 300 while at the other Pakistan romped home and defended lowest winning score of 184 at Columbo and yet in another game that lasted less than one third of the scheduled one hundred overs Bangladesh succumbed to the Windies bowling onslaught at a mere 58 paving way for an easy victory for the opposition.

In all probability, the most classic and thrilling contest was between England and India. Massive entertainment, a huge pile of 776 runs in a day, enviable fighting spirit, fluctuating fortunes, loads of excitement all leading to a most improbable draw but it was eventually the game of cricket itself that emerged victorious!

As opposed to the popular belief, it is the bowling capability, skills and effort that are proving decisive instead of the much fancied batting prowess. That is precisely why even the teams with lethal and mesmerizing batting lineups like India and England have struggled while Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa and to a degree West Indies have appeared formidable so far. The way the world cup has progressed, even a massive first innings score does not warrant a win unless the team has a strong bowling reserve. Who would know it better than the shock-stricken England who chased 338 against India only to earn a draw and then lost surprisingly to lowly rated arch rivals Ireland who stunned everyone by chasing the biggest total in the history of the world cup?

While the world cup remains predictably open, there have been some impressive performances. Australians, unbeaten in the world cup since 1999, seem to be peaking at the right time yet again. South Africans are as clinical and devastating in their approach as ever. By far, Pakistan is the only team to have earned all 6 points and had the nerves to survive a batting slump and a scare against Canada and a nail biting finish against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka lost to Pakistan but one can argue to their defence that the team was devoid of capabilities and skill of ace bowler Malinga on that particular day.

While the rest of the games in the first round are unlikely to affect a great deal on the predictable quarter final line up, the results would determine the pool rankings that would then decide the eventual opponents from the contrasting pools confronting each other in the second round. Thus a slight slip in the ranking of Pakistan could easily land them in another potential quarter final contest against India_ a side they have never beaten in the world cup. Such a happening will invariably refresh the sore memories of 1996 quarter final in Bangalore when even a gallant start by Amir Sohail and Saeed Anwer leading to 113/2 in 15 overs could not prevent a collapse making Pakistan fall drastically short of Indian score of 287.


Aussies, who have failed to live up to their reputation lately, have appeared menacing and ominous so far. It won’t be a surprise if they clinch the victory for the 4th successive time but will the fortune favour them yet again? 

The way spirited Pakistanis, on course to revival, have blended and forged into a team is impressive and amazing. But there are still certain question marks and a long way to go. While Afridi has performed consistently as a captain and a bowler, both him and Razzaq have failed to fire with their batting. Like Imran Khan has pointed out repeatedly, making Razzaq bat so much down the order is pointless. It is time to advance and attack with a balanced combination and as Afridi himself asserted, it is inevitable that the top of the (batting) order comes up with a good start. 

While the Pakistan side remains highly unpredictable, it has shown signs of vulnerability and major batting collapse that it is highly known for. A prospective challenge; It will be interesting to see how we fare in case of a batting chase during the upcoming pressure games? 

It was the leadership coupled with the spirit and passion that made us win the world cup against all odds in 1992. Let’s see how far Lala Afridi can lead us eighteen years later?

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Despite all that potential bashing that our baRey Khan Sahib invited at the hands of patriotic and sensitive Pakistanis, I highly feel tempted to echo his views on Dhoni and Indian team. There is a difference between being realistic and patriotic just as between being emotional and rational. Sometimes the games are won by sheer passion but only once in a while.

With increasing technological breakthroughs and professionalism coming into play, cricket is transforming into a strategic warfare. Physical and mental toughness, accuracy, flexibility and versatility, strengths and weakness of the individuals and limitations as a collective lot, weather and surface behaviour and conduciveness of the conditions and environment are analyzed to the last shred to devise a strategic game plan for each opposing outfit. How much room does that still leave for the cliche ‘cricket by chance’ to govern is anybody’s guess!      
So when Ian Chappell analyzes and picks up the five prospective world cup champions and Pakistan figures NOWHERE, I feel despondent but not surprised at all. If I sniff an element of bias and malice in the claimed rankings that may well be intended against England for obvious reasons but certainly not towards Pakistan.

He is very right when he says that tournament is potentially the most open since the inaugural world cup in 1975 and not anymore the case of ‘Who’ll meet Australia in the final?’

Once again India riding a high tide with a lethal and mesmerising batting line up, braced by its seasoned and calm leadership, that makes up for its ordinary bowling resource comes out as a favourite. The question remains whether the co- hosts would be able to sustain the immense pressure and expectations of home crowd to belie the maxim that ‘the home team never lifts the world cup’?

Australian team looks far from the best. Ponting, with his drooping shoulders, is not the near invincible captain that he once used to be. Michael Hussey, the most accomplished and gifted lower middle order batsman, is a great potential loss. With a prospective mouth watering quarter final clash against the arch rivals England, even with a recent one sided one day series win against them under their belt which they swept away 6-1, it won’t come as a surprise if the howling lions seeking their fourth consecutive trophy are shown the exit doors at such an early stage.

That brings us to another prospective winner. What about the chokers? As strong and balanced as ever and one of the best on the paper, do the Proteas have the temperament to deliver? They have the potential to beat every side and can never be underestimated to emerge from the wings to break the myth.

The Sri Lankan tigers can may well prove to be the dark horses yet again. Having already one a world cup on subcontinent soil, they have every capability to repeat that feat again. Not to be forgotten, the match winner in Muralitharan can tilt the balance with his quest for glory during the farewell series.

England has come a long way from the ordinary and ‘bits and pieces’ side of yester years. It has finally evolved and forged into a team well worthy of winning their maiden world cup. Their chances may hinge on their capability to overcome their traditional weakness i.e to counter spin bowling. Although in the one day version of the game the balance is skewed highly in favour of the batsmen, the spin still can sometimes play a role on subcontinent’s surfaces.

The rest of the teams including Pakistan can, at best, be given an outside chance. What goes in our favour is a recent surge in the form and blending into a team with better cohesion and co-ordination as a singular unit. The conditions are better suited to our liking and spirits will be at all time high while performing before the Indian crowds. Fitness and fielding remain nagging issues and Pakistan will have to count highly on one factor that it is conventionally and most known for_ its unpredictability.

Unless that unpredictability pops up repeatedly with some consistency against the top notch sides, Pakistan’s  chances to fare well during the world cup remain slim.

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