Saturday, February 28, 2015

World Cup Report Match 21: India v United Arab Emirates

It was only a matter of time that one of the minnows of world cricket would cop an absolute caning from one of the major nations, and the first real instance of this occurred today, with India defeating the U.A.E by nine wickets with a million overs still remaining in their clash in Perth.
The U.A.E bravely won the toss and batted, hoping to post a defendable total rather than chasing an unobtainable one. They were uprooted by an Indian bowling attack who enjoyed the extra pace and bounce of the W.A.C.A. wicket, perhaps surprisingly since the BCCI had refused to play against Australia here this summer. While the faster bowlers enjoyed themselves, it was the spin of Ashwin (4/25) and Jadeja (2/23) that reaped the rewards. Shaiman Anwar again showcased his batting skills, and aided in putting 31 runs on for the final wicket, lifting the final total to 102. He was the last wicket to fall for 35, and again lifted his profile to those that were watching. Another impressive effort.
India wasted little time in their chase, taking a little over 18 overs to pass the required total in losing only Dhawan, improving their net run rate in the bargain. Guruge again bowled well for the U.A.E but with little true support their quest was in vain.

India face the West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe in their final three games - none of which are likely to be walkovers, but on current form nor should they be defeated by any of them. The top of Group B now beckons for the reigning champions, and a possible quarter final match up with England seemingly closer. The U.A.E still are to face Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies, where they will face tough tasks in order to be competitive.

Friday, February 27, 2015

World Cup Report Match 19: South Africa v West Indies

If the West Indies don't play against South Africa for the next decade, they will still have nightmares about AB de Villiers and his destructive intent. After receiving their fair share of thrashings in South Africa a month ago, it was more of the same on the world stage today in Sydney. Whether or not this reveals any more for the latter stages of the tournament however is still up in the air.

For a start, the Windies bowled well. Only 31 runs came from the first 10 overs, and even at the halfway mark, the score was 1/112. The lack of wickets was a concern, but the Windies must have thought that 300 would be a maximum chase, given Sydney was at best a 280 wicket historically. Then they struck gold in the 30th over, dismissing both set batsmen du Plessis and Amla. at 3/147 after 30, one more wicket had the Windies in a terrific position.

Explosion. And Implosion.

Lightning does apparently strike twice, as de Villiers made a mess of the Windies bowling attack again. He was assisted admirably by Rilee Rossouw, who set the scene with his innings of 61 off 39 deliveries, which allowed AB to ease into his innings. By the time Rossouw departed AB was on his way, willing the Windies bowlers to bowl where he wanted the to, and just destroying them. Skipper Jason Holder had started with five overs for just nine runs. His final two overs alone, the 48th (34) and 50th (30) went for 64 runs, and in all 95 runs came from his final five overs. de Villiers finished with 162 runs off 66 deliveries. South Africa scored 261 runs from the final 20 overs, 150 from the last ten overs. Their total of 5/408 was another uniquely familiar number on the S.C.G. from recent months.

It was brutal. Was it avoidable? Again the bowling appeared rather plan-less, but such is the regularity that de Villiers plays this type of innings you can only wonder. The fact his two most recent efforts have been against a waning West Indies attack may have something to do with it, and his ability to do so against more potent attacks will be monitored. It was spectacular viewing for those in attendance or watching on TV.

The Windies reply was predictable. Having been praised and feted for the days since their record partnership against the heavyweights of Zimbabwe, Gayle and Samuels both fell in the first three overs, Gayle backing away and exposing all stumps for 3, and Samuels edging behind for a duck. No building an innings here, and swinging the bat late. This task was too tough, and a good one to get away from early. A much better evaluation of those batsmen than the plaudits they received against an inferior bowling attack. Simmons, Sammy and Russell, the sloggers who have so far come off for the Windies late in the innings, contributed five runs between them, all victims of Imran Tahir, who finished with 5/45 from ten overs. Their final total of 151 flattered their batting efforts, and the record defeat of 257 runs again better illustrated where they currently sit in the scheme of world cricket than their previous game had.

With four points from four games, the Windies are still walking a finals tightrope. They have games against India next Friday and U.A.E the following week to force their way into a finals spot. It is not yet assured that they will be there. South Africa have games against Ireland, Pakistan and U.A.E to complete their initial rounds, which should see them finish either first or second in Group B depending on whether India can hold their unbeaten streak together.

An Open Letter to the Australian Cricket Selection Panel: Why the F%&k Do You Love Shane Watson?!

The National Selection Panel
Cricket Australia
60 Jolimont Street
Jolimont  VIC  3002

Dear Sirs,

I have felt the need to contact you personally on this matter on a vast number of occasions over the past few years in regards to this situation - a situation that has been brought on by successive National Selection Panels, and not just you fine members of the current Panel. Finally, following the decision made in selecting the team for this current match, I realise I have wavered too long, and I am now rectifying this by addressing this correspondence to you.

As you will be well aware, the Australian cricketer Shane Watson has long been the debate of selection amongst both the media and the long time supporters of the game of cricket in our country. Despite a promising start to his career, his constant injury battles caused him to miss possible selection on a number of occasions, though when doctors pronounced him available again, he almost always moved straight back into the fold. Then, in recent years, as his performance on the field has failed to deliver the expected riches that his many chances should surely have cultivated, he seems to have received favourable treatment at the selection table, often at the expense of someone who may not have set the world on fire in regards to runs or wickets, but has certainly performed better than, or at least the equal, of Watson himself.

Now, I completely understand that your combined experience both on and off the field at the highest level of representation is a bit higher than the 30-odd years at country club level with half a dozen representative caps at junior level that I can offer as my expertise on the subject of National Selection. I know that every one of you has represented our country in Test cricket, and are more qualified in that regard compared to myself.
However - and you may dispute this if you wish - I don't believe any of you fine gentlemen has watched as much international cricket over the past 40 years as I have. I have spent my days and nights glued to the television and at various grounds around Australia, through the Centenary Test, through World Series Cricket, through countless Ashes tours, tours of the sub-continent, World Cups of various descriptions, and now almost every Test match, one day international and Twenty20 match that takes place around the globe. I have lived and breathed cricket like few others have since the age of five, to the annoyance, amusement and ridicule of friends and family alike. And the reason I have now felt the need to correspond with you is this:

In bringing Michael Clarke back into the ODI team for the World Cup match against New Zealand, your decision to drop captain George Bailey and retain Shane Watson in the final XI is the last in a long line of selection decisions involving Watson that goes against every logical method used in the selection of a team. It is perhaps the most damning proof that selection in the Australian cricket team no longer hinges on the evidence of form and statistics, or even potential, but instead is based on an old boys club where the people who use the media to their best advantage are the ones who get selected, while those that don't whinge or complain but just try to get on and perform their best on the field get the raw end of the prawn.

It is a ludicrous position that, despite a batting average that has seen countless numbers of other similarly-qualified batsmen being demoted from national teams, and a bowling average and wicket rate that wouldn't sustain any bowlers place in the squad, Watson's position in the team never seems to be in question. In fact, has Shane Watson ever actually been dropped from a national team? Is it possible that, since he was wedged into the Test team in England in 2009 at the expense of Phillip Hughes, he has never actually been dropped from the national team, and that he has only ever missed out due to his constant barrage of injuries - and that the second he is "fit" again, he waltzes straight back into the side? I have a terrible feeling this is completely accurate. For goodness sakes - you left out Steve Smith to fit Watson in for the first ODI of the summer last November. Don't you recall what a blunder THAT turned out to be?! How different would the summer have been if Michael Clarke had not been injured in that same ODI, opening up a place for Smith in the following game? You dodged a bullet there, no question.

I have no real brief for George Bailey. But he is a man you have entrusted the ODI captaincy to in Michael Clarke's absence over the past two seasons - and that has turned out to be a job that he has filled a LOT. And what has he done for you as a result? Averaged over 40 with that bat at a strike rate over 80. Won the majority of ODI games for Australia that he has been in charge of. And how have you chosen to repay that achievement? Good bye George, take a seat on the bench, Shane "Superman" Watson is back.

Since January 1, 2014, Watson has played 10 ODI's. He was "rested" for one of the England ODI's in January. He was injured before the tour of Zimbabwe, meaning he missed 5 ODI's there, and also missed the tour of Pakistan in the U.A.E, missing another 3 ODI's. He was also injured in the recent tri-series with India and England, and played only two of a possible five matches. So that is 10 of a possible 22 matches Watson has played. Not a good start.
In those 10 matches, he scored 222 runs at an average of 22.20, and took 2 wickets at an average of 135.50. Bloody hell!!! Quick!!! Get him in my team!!!
Are George's figures better? Well, Bailey played every single one of those 22 ODI's, captaining Australia in 15 of those games. He has scored 478 runs at 23.90. In case you missed that, his batting average is better than Watson's, over more games. And also, HE HAS BEEN CAPTAIN OF OUR COUNTRY!! And captain of a winning team as well! So where should your loyalty lie? To a man who, as of last Saturday, is the captain of our team, or a man whose form with bat and ball does not entitle him to play as either a batsman or a bowler?
Oh, you judge Watson as an all-rounder?! Really? Well, let's stack him up against the current crop. Does he deserve his spot in front of Glenn Maxwell, who is scoring double the number of runs, stops everything in the field, and bowls his odd number of off spin overs? Does he deserve his spot in front of Mitch Marsh, who is scoring more runs, taking more wickets (two and half times just last match than Watson has taken in a year) and is a far better fieldsman? Does he deserve his spot in front of James Faulkner, who has won matches on his bat alone and whose bowling economy rate is better than Watson's?

You know what? I know you know all this. You are the National Selection Panel. You have the stats, you've seen the matches, you know the score. And yet you continue to choose this bumbling almost-34 year old, because you plainly believe he is a match-winner, a game-breaker, a player too invaluable to ever leave out of any team. This despite the facts and stats to the contrary, that his fielding is close to abysmal (old age does that), and that he rarely influences a game positively with either bat and ball anymore. His younger all round counterparts have gone past him, and made him obsolete. And yet, you continue to choose him. When does it become enough? Does he ever become accountable for his form? How many more chances do you give him? 5? 10? 50?? Is scoring 20 a pass mark, enough to say he's safe? It seems to have been so for the past five years.

Watson may score a century in this match. He may take a five wicket haul. It will be seen as a genius call by the selectors, and this letter will appear bitter and biased and irrelevant. So be it, if it comes to pass. These are pent up feelings from five years of torment as an Australian cricket supporter, watching as so many players have had their careers stymied or halted for performing better than one player who just continues to be the golden child, chosen on selective talent rather than solid performance. And to be honest, I couldn't sit by one moment longer without venting these frustrations to the four men who currently have the power in their hands to do the right thing, but have chosen not to.


Bill Peters
Cricket Tragic & Frustrated Australian Supporter.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

World Cup Report Match 18: Sri Lanka v Bangladesh

As far back as January, it was fairly obvious that Sri Lanka's only chance of winning the World Cup - or any game in the World Cup for that matter - was for their Big Three (Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene) to score 300+ runs on their own, and then for their popgun bowling attack to hold their opponents to less than that. Today, that was executed to perfection against an opponent that once again showed its own limitations.

Bangladesh probably needed to bat first to exert any influence on their opponents. They certainly needed to do better than give Thirimanne so many lives. He was dropped fourth ball of the innings (a sitter to first slip), edged to the right of gully, then between the keeper and first slip, and again to gully, all in the first ten overs. Then a simple stumping chance was missed when he was on 44. Five real chances in all, in an innings of 52. He was not dismissed until the 25th over and the score on 122. If he had been picked up earlier, the whole match may have changed.
Why? Because Sangakkara would have entered to a completely different match. Instead, with Dilshan blazing on 63 not out... Sangakkara simply took over. On 25, he was dropped in a caught and bowled chance to Taskin. Oh dear, how costly. Even then, the game could have been saved if the simple chance he gave to Mominul at point when he was on 60 had been taken. But no. In the same over Dilshan raised his century. By the end of the innings he had crashed his way to 161 off 146, with Sangakkara scoring 106 off 76 deliveries. 115 came from the last ten overs. It was the most costly way to show the importance of taking all of your chances. With 1/332 in the bank, the game was over.
To complete this debacle, Tamim Iqbal was bowled by Malinga second ball of the innings, in such a way that it lifted the whole team. The innings never recovered, and though they eventually reached a total of 240 through some solid innings from Al Hasan, Rahim and Rahman, there was never a time that it looked as though they could push for victory.

Sri Lanka now take on England this Sunday in a game that could push them to 2nd in Group A depending on the result of the Australia vs New Zealand match on Saturday, while Bangladesh will be thankful for their drawn match against Australia last Saturday, going into their match with Scotland next Thursday which they must win if they want to still be in with a chance of reaching the quarter final stage.

World Cup Report Match 17: Scotland v Afghanistan

This World Cup is starting to do my head in. You have to wonder how the same things seem to keep happening again and again and again. It makes for fascinating viewing, and the respect for the fighting qualities of all of the Associate nations here increases with every day. The joy of victory, and heartbreak of defeat, will not be felt more in the eventual final of this tournament, as it was felt in yesterday's match between Ireland and U.A.E, or in this match today, where both teams were battling for their first ever victory in a World Cup match.

Afghanistan won the toss, and as appears epidemic in this Cup, decided to send Scotland in to bat. Four times during this match the positivity or negativity of this decision changed 180 degrees. The Afghani's bowling attack looks more impressive each time they play, with Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran and Hamid Hassan bowling quite superbly, with good pace at times, and for the most part a great line and length. Their accuracy continued to knock over Scottish batsmen at key moments. Coetzer, Mommsen, Machan and Berrington all made starts, but once again failed to go on with it and make a big score. It has been Scotland's problem, never having totalled over 186 in a World Cup game. And, at 8/144 after 37 overs, it wasn't going to happen here either.
But of course, that is where this World Cup is so different. Scotland's ninth wicket pair of Haq and Evans didn't throw their wickets away, and batted sensibly, getting runs where they could. Suddenly, the pitch went from a minefield to a belter, and the bowlers just couldn't break through. Their excellent partnership of 62 runs off 75 balls defied the efforts of their more established higher order, and showed that determination can succeed in any situation. Haq made 31, and Evans was dismissed from the final ball of the 50th over for 28, and remarkably Scotland has made 210, their highest total in a World Cup game, and at least something for their bowlers to defend (given two of them had made most of the runs).

Afghanistan started the chase like a shot, with Javed Ahmadi looking like he has somewhere else to be. After racing to 0/40 off 7 overs, two wickets in four balls halted that momentum. Ahmadi and Samiullah Shenwari steadied the ship, with Ahmadi bringing up a very classy 50, until a calamitous six overs saw Afghanistan lose 5/12, and thus the match. At 7/97 off 24 overs, though the rate required was reasonably comfortable still, there was no way the Afghani's could manoeuvre their way to a winning score. Even an 8th wicket partnership of 35, to take the score to 8/132, was not enough to raise hopes.
And yet... somehow... a second 9th wicket partnership for the match produced a nail biter. Shenwari looked impenetrable, unperturbed, invincible. He managed the strike, happy not to take long singles unless necessary. In support he had the impressive Hamid Hassan - obviously not a batsman at all, but a damn good fighter who doesn't like to give up. He blocked, he left, and let his senior partner decide which balls to hit, and which to take a single from. It was tense stuff, for both teams. Just when one seemed to be taking control, the other fought back.
Four overs to go, and Afghanistan needed 38 runs off 24 balls. The off spinner Haq bowling to Shenwari, and this was the over where it had to happen. And it did - for both sides!

From Cricinfo:

Haq to Samiullah Shenwari, SIX, it's flat and it sits up for a magnificent mow over cow corner. Shenwari has skipped down the track and is playing the innings of his life

Haq to Samiullah Shenwari, 1 wide, runs down the track and Haq drifts it down the leg side. The sweep misses, but he gets the wide

Haq to Samiullah Shenwari, SIX, another length ball sliding down leg and Shenwari has hammered another six. Nabi roars in the dressing room, Shenwari points at the bottom of the bat and indicates he has mistimed it. That's the fifty partnership for the ninth wicket!

Haq to Samiullah Shenwari, no run, fired into the block hole and its been blocked

Haq to Samiullah Shenwari, SIX, flighted into the slot and Shenwari has launched it over the square leg boundary and sinks onto his knees again. He's 96 not out and he's got every scenario rolling in his head. Will the pressure be too much? Its only 19 off 20

Haq to Samiullah Shenwari, OUT, length ball on middle and Shenwari has picked out deep midwicket! Haq goes mad, Shenwari is on his knees in despair! What an innings! What a performance! What passion! And spare a thought for Davey on the boundary, who kept calm and pouched a good, pressure catch. But wait... the third umpire is asking him to wait. He's checking if Scotland have adhered to the field restrictions. You're allowed four outside the circle. How many did Scotland have? They had the right people and Shenwari has to walk and he does so while counting the men on the deep in his mind 
Samiullah Shenwari c Davey b Haq 96 (176m 147b 7x4 5x6) SR: 65.30

So now the last pair is at the crease, and they need 19 runs off 19 balls. Surely... SURELY... Scotland can hold on. Well, as the record shows, this wonderful match went to the final over, and a boundary from Shapoor Zadran off the fourth last delivery sealed the victory for Afghanistan. It was a terrific match again, as have all of the matches between the lesser lights of the competition.

Afghanistan will now wait until Wednesday, when they have a date with Australia at the W.A.C.A, a match that will no doubt excite their bowlers, but perhaps not their batsmen. Scotland will now have to try and pick themselves up for their match with Bangladesh next Thursday, in the hope they can break their World Cup duck.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

World Cup Report Match 16: Ireland v United Arab Emirates

In what was arguably the most entertaining match of the World Cup so far, the Luck of the Irish shone in the favourites direction at the right moments and allowed Ireland to sneak away with a victory that was vital for their future chances. It was also a heartbreaking loss for the U.A.E who fought magnificently throughout the match.
Ireland's captain was almost left to rue his decision to send the U.A.E in to bat upon winning the toss - again, a very strange decision given the conditions. However, Ireland bowled well, surprisingly best served by off spinner Paul Stirling, who bowled 10 overs straight for his 2/27. U.A.E had lost 6/131 after 35 overs, and for all intents and purposes, 200 looked a long way off. Early on, opening batsman Amjad Ali had impressed with some good stroke play, before being bogged down later in his innings. he had 29 runs off 31 deliveries, before only adding a further 16 runs off his next 40 deliveries. Still, he had looked good in execution.
When the innings could have spluttered for U.A.E, it instead blossomed. The very impressive Shaiman Anwar was partnered by the determined Amjad Javed, and together put on 107 for the seventh wicket - what turned out to be the highest 7th wicket partnership in World Cup history! - from just 71 deliveries. Javed made an excellent 42, but it was the innings on Anwar that was the gem. He played shots all around the ground, worked the strike when he needed to, wasn't afraid to wait for the right ball, moved around his crease before balls were delivered, and generally worried the Irish bowlers into changing the way they had been bowling, thus opening up the floodgates. He brought up his century in the 48th over, in which the U.A.E pair took 19 runs off, and it was fantastic to watch. It was just as fascinating to watch as Gayle's had been the previous day. As a result of this, the U.A.E scored 147 runs from the final 15 overs, and reached 9/278 off their 50 overs. And, no doubt the Irish were suddenly shaking in their boots.

Ireland's innings was travelling a similar path to the U.A.E by the halfway mark. Starts from Porterfield and Joyce had not been followed up. Joyce had indeed received an incredible piece of luck, when during his innings a ball clipped his off-stump. dislodging the zinger bails which duly lit up, before falling back into place and extinguishing their light, and Joyce remained at the crease. Unbelievable. He wasn't so fortunately soon after, edging to the keeper for 37.

A solid recovery from Balbirnie and Gary Wilson saw Ireland moving in the right direction, but they were still a long way behind the eight ball. Balbirnie's dismissal came at the right time for Ireland, as it allowed the entrance of giant killer Kevin O'Brien to enter, requiring 108 runs off 68 balls. He and Wilson combined well, and had brought the asking rate down to 72 runs off 48 balls, when the turning point of the match came.

Amjad Javed to KJ O'Brien, FOUR, dropped! slower ball on middle stump, and Kev goes for the big heave down the ground and skies it high in the air. Nasir Aziz, the substitute fielder, moves to his left at long-on and was pretty much under it, a few feet in front of the boundary. Got into a poor position to catch it, leaning backwards with his hands in the air, and ended up palming it towards the boundary.

Along with this four, 36 runs were taken from 14 deliveries, and when O'Brien was dismissed the game was in a much more winnable position with 36 required from 32 balls. 13 runs then came from the next over, meaning Ireland required 23 from 24 balls, and surely the game was as good as over.
But the U.A.E didn't think so. Two wickets in four balls, including the solid Wilson, who had made an invaluable 80, left 12 required from 15 balls, but now only two wickets in hand. It was tense, fighting cricket from both teams, and wonderful to watch. A few swipes, a little fortunate, meant Ireland got the winning runs with four balls to spare, but they had almost all the luck go their way. The Ed Joyce non-bowling. A vital dropped catch to a substitute who had literally just walked out of the dressing room. The hamstring injury to the U.A.E's best bowler Guruge who couldn't complete his ten overs. An "Umpires Call" LBW decision against Wilson late in the innings that would have saved two boundaries had it been given. It all added up to fall in their favour. The Emirates bowling was... almost... good enough at the death. They just missed their marks by a smidgen, allowing the batsman to get under the deliveries and away to the boundary. At least, unlike so many teams in this tournament, they had a plan to bowl full and straight in those death overs. It was a pleasant change, even if it didn't quite pay off.

Ireland now have 2 wins from 2 games, and now play South Africa next Tuesday in what will be a real eye opener for them in their chase for a finals position. The U.A.E, who have lost two games now by hair's breath, play India on Saturday at the W.A.C.A, which will be eye opening for a whole different reason.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

World Cup Report Match 15: West Indies v Zimbabwe

In a tournament filled with the frustrations of a viewer unable to will his opinions on the cricketers playing in the tournament through his TV, this match brought to a head all of these in a whirlwind of incompetence and fury that makes one ponder the intelligence (or lack thereof) in international cricket. The result and records broken are well known. Chris Gayle scored the first double century in a World Cup. His partnership of 372 with Marlon Samuels is the highest ever in one day cricket. The West Indies won comfortably despite Zimbabwe making 289 with overs to spare.

So why am I so aggravated? Allow me to place it in front of you in note form:
  1. Chris Gayle "up the guts". The world's most overrated batsman Dwayne Smith has been removed second ball. On the fourth ball, Gayle is hit on the pads in front of the stumps. I swear everyone watching around the world immediately said "out - plumb". Steve Davis said no. Zimbabwe refer, and it's green lights all the way, except for hitting the stumps, it is called "Umpire's Call". Gayle stays, and Zimbabwe lose their only review with 49.2 overs remaining. Proponents for this law say it is justified, because the review should only be used for a "howler". Well, this was howler in my eyes, and Zimbabwe was punished for it. Davis just didn't fancy the Windies being 2/0. Piss poor. Of course, after the event, "commentators" are saying imagine what the fans would have missed out on if it had been given out? What crap. With the bowling that followed (see below) they still would have seen as many runs. It probably just would have been Sammy or Simmons or Russell who scored a double century.
  2. Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels struggle to middle the ball. The first 25 overs for both batsmen was painful. Neither looked likely to score runs, and were hit on the pads more than they hit the middle of the bat. Okay, they did well to work their way through this period with their wicket intact, but fortune was on their side a number of times, with balls falling safely into gaps, or inside edges passing the stumps. Do not discount the part luck played in both their innings. Gayle described his innings as his finest. I think he has selective memory.
  3. Poor Zimbabwe fielding and lack of penetration. Honestly, it was schoolboy stuff at times. Apart from that first over, the only time Zimbabwe looked like getting a wicket was if the batsman offered them a chance, not through good bowling. Obviously there is no way to solve that in the short term, but it is a key for the teams to play Zimbabwe. In essence, if you get through the first six overs, you shouldn't lose another wicket.
  4. Disgraceful bowling again in last 15 overs. To this end, I would like to quote myself from a post on social media this evening - "In a World Cup where the ineptitude of bowling and fielding in the final 10-15 overs of an innings has reached incalculable levels, where the lack of bowling and fielding plans has been criminal, where the inability of any bowler to figure out that six yorkers with the correct field will inevitably concede a maximum of six runs in an over, this performance by Zimbabwe (notwithstanding any level of moisture that may be used as an excuse) is without a doubt the worst performance of such I have seen so far. A disgrace to cricket". Enough said.
  5. Commentators. We are plumbing new depths when it comes to commentary at some of these games, and tonight's was by far the worst so far. Okay, I felt for Ian Bishop, whose team has been downtrodden recently, so his enthusiasm for the carnage is justified. But there were some terrible, uninformed comments that were just sound bites for pop culture. "The West Indies are right back in this tournament", "Chris Gayle is in rich form", "The West Indies are the dark horses for the World Cup" - I mean, infantile stuff from guys like Mervyn Pringle and Shane Warne and Pommie Mbangwa in particular. They were massacring Zimbabwe for goodness sakes, not South Africa. Apart from winning and gaining two points for the match, they are no closer to being a chance of winning the World Cup than the Kiama Cavaliers are. And then there was the shemozzle Shane Warne made of the LBW shout in Zimbabwe's innings. As soon as the West Indies reviewed, he pretty much called it the worst review of all time. Having claimed it definitely hit the bat, he continued to insist there was an edge even when slow motion replays and snicko insisted there wasn't. Then he insisted that the ball was definitely going to be going over the top of the stumps, when it was shown it was hitting about two-thirds of the way up. It was ludicrous commentary, and it made Warne look like an idiot. There's no problem with airing an opinion, but at least follow the game as it is progressing. We then had to keep hearing about this dismissal compared with the non-dismissal of Gayle, for the next couple of overs. Get over it, and get on with it!! There are no Richie Benaud's out there at the moment, and more's the pity.
  6. The second innings. It has faded into insignificance given what occurred in the first, but Zimbabwe managed to score 289 off 44.3 overs at 6.5 runs an over. They never appeared likely to win the match, but surely the fact that they appeared to do this so easily had to be a concern to any West Indies supporter or player. Their bowling was almost in the same bracket as Zimbabwe. Oh, the ball was wet? This contributed to the poor bowling? If you want to fool yourself like that, go ahead.
If you hadn't guessed, I was not as enamored of the West Indies performance as most of the media has been. You can't take away from the records created. Gayle obliterated the Zimbabweans, his second hundred coming off just 33 balls as the plan-less, clueless bowlers kept firing in half-volley and length balls at his leg stump. Samuels just fed him the strike before bringing up his own century. They are big numbers which don't show the level of incompetence in the bowling and fielding (Gayle was caught twice in two balls - firstly from a no-ball, and then from the free hit ball). The West Indies own bowling woes were then covered by the fact that they won so comfortably. As a spectacle, casual fans will have received what they wanted to see. As a cricket tragic, I only mourned the insensibility of the cricket and the lack of credibility in the commentary.

Anyway, moving on...

The West Indies back up quickly, taking on a bruised and revenge-seeking South Africa on Friday at the S.C.G which will give a much better indication of their chances of progressing in this World Cup. Zimbabwe play Pakistan in Brisbane on Sunday, in a game likely to eliminate the loser from the competition.

Monday, February 23, 2015

World Cup Report Match 14: England v Scotland

From the very moment that Scotland captain Preston Mommsen won the toss today, and elected to send England in to bat, the chance of an upset result in this match was effectively over. Though at the time his reasoning may have been sound - try and catch England's batsmen while they were still in shock after their pummeling at the hands of New Zealand on Friday - it was a false hope. Better to have tried to take on the England bowlers first, who surely had more scars than their batsmen after their obliteration by Brendan McCullum, and make the batsmen sweat it out before trying to (hopefully) chase down a total of 250. Under that kind of pressure, who knows what would have happened? England had kept the same team that had received the spanking from the Kiwi's - either to give them all a chance of redemption, or simply because the tour selectors have no faith at all in the remaining four players in the squad - and all of them must have felt as though they were on notice.

Instead, Ian Bell and especially Moeen Ali found the Scotland attack very friendly indeed, and took full advantage. While Bell struggled for fluency but still worked the ball around, Ali punched and counter-punched at every opportunity, hitting the ball to all corners of the ground against the hapless Scots. The pair cruised along at 6 an over without any trouble, barely considering to accelerate as they worked through the Scots bowling line up. It wasn't until Bell fell at 172 that any problems appeared. His 54 off 84 was circumspect, but with his partner doing the job at the other end he did his job admirably. Ali was finally dismissed with the score on 201, for an excellent 128 off 107 deliveries. At 2/201 off 34 overs, England had to be eyeing off 350 as a minimum score. Every other team in the competition seems to be score a minimum of 110-120 in the last 10 overs at least. England, though, as they do, appeared incapable of this. Ali was followed in quick succession by Ballance (who must surely have played his final match of the tournament) and Root, and having lost 3/2 in 11 deliveries the momentum of the opening partnership was completely lost. England managed to recover slightly to reach 8/303 off their 50 overs, meaning only 7/102 had come from the last 16 overs - not bad in the "old days", but a relative doddle in this new age of one day cricket. In this match, it was always going to be enough.
Scotland was brave, but undermanned. Kyle Coetzer scored an excellent 71 from the opening position, no doubt familiar with the attack from his County cricket, but once he was the fourth man out at 122, any resistance failed. Scotland managed to reach 184 before being dismissed, giving England their first victory.

Does this place England back on track? It probably leaves as many questions unanswered as it answers. You would surely think Alex Hales would be a better option than Gary Ballance, even if he had a bash at 6 and promote James Taylor back to number 3. Steve Finn's figures were better today than Friday, though I'd have thought the suspicion in his role remains, and that Chris Jordan is still worth a try. For Scotland, their quest for their first victory in a World Cup fixture continues, but to achieve it they will need to continue to improve all facets of their play, because they need more runs from their batsmen to defend, and better penetration from their bowlers to dismiss.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

World Cup Report Match 13: India v South Africa

This summer in Australia, the Indian cricket team has rarely appeared likely to win a game of cricket. Sure, they have had their moments, but overall they have been unable to put it all together when the chips have been down. Last weekend they won well against Pakistan to kick start their World Cup campaign. Today, the sun shone in their direction and barely abated. MS Dhoni won the toss, and elected to bat on a true MCG surface. The 86,000 strong crowd was well and truly in India's favour, cheering madly for every run. One of South Africa's spearheads, Vernon Philander, broke down after four overs, meaning that AB de Villiers had to find six overs from other part-timers, while Wayne Parnell was feasted upon by the Indian batsmen. Add to this that South Africa dropped catches that rarely trouble them, and it was almost a perfect storm.

There is no one in international cricket who considers taking a single to AB de Villiers. Well, Dhawan and Rohit Sharma thought about it, and it led to Sharma being run out for a duck. Ridiculous. Even if they had both gone straight away, one of them would have been out by half a pitch. Still, apart from this, India progressed soundly. Dhawan played his best innings in 18 months, while Kohli built his innings. Dhawan was dropped in the gully by Amla just after he passed fifty, a planned dismissal as de Villiers had just moved him into that position. It was to prove costly, as he was eventually dismissed for 137. Kohli and Rahane provided great support, and at 2/261 India should have pushed on to somewhere near 350, so that the eventual total of 7/307 should have been a disappointment to them, and despite the travails they had faced South Africa would have thought themselves still a chance.

It was false hope though, as their batsmen faltered under the excellent spells from Mohammed Shami and Mohit Sharma, who exploited the conditions wonderfully well, bowling much better and faster than their more highly fancied opponents. de Kock again failed to impress, while the dismissal of Amla, and the run outs of de Villiers and Miller had this game out of reach at a very early stage. Ashwin and Jadeja then did the job expected of them after the fast bowlers had made the early break throughs, and they final victory margin of 130 runs was as surprising as it was enormous.

After four months, India appear to have their formula for the tournament. The batsmen look good, apart from Raina, who will no doubt receive a barrage of bouncers for the remainder of the tournament such is his aversion to them. Their pace attack of Umesh Yadav, Shami and Mohit look to be one of the best attacks now, especially given India have two games to play at the W.A.C.A. Ashwin and Jadeja will be the spin support. There is now every chance India will finish first in Group B - and who would have said that a week ago? It's a long time in international cricket. South Africa was pushed by Zimbabwe, and has now lost to India in their first two matches. Their woes on Australian wickets continues, and finding a number seven batsman and fifth bowler is also proving to be a problem. Add to this that South Africa was fined for their slow over-rate, which means another infringement will mean AB de Villiers will be suspended for a match. All in all, if you look at how these teams were travelling at about 9.00am last Sunday, and how they look a week later, you could not be any further apart.

World Cup Report Match 12: Sri Lanka v Afghanistan

Both sides of the Associates argument will use the result of the Sri Lanka and Afghanistan game as their example of why their belief is correct, following a match where the inexperienced team failed to grasp the opportunity offered by their more experienced but faltering opponents to gain an unexpected World Cup victory. Sri Lanka's victory on paper looks comfortable, the 'four wickets with 10 balls remaining' score line not illuminating the tension and terror of their dressing sheds as the match see-sawed over the length of the match.

None of this was really foreseen during Afghanistan's innings, who were (obviously) sent in by Sri Lanka's captain. Their innings progressed without real torment, their batting was steady throughout and showed a maturity that some would say went beyond their status as an Associate in the I.C.C. Every batsman in the top eight reached double figures, with Stanikzai scoring a good fifty, and Afghanistan managed to make 232 before being bowled out in the 50th over. It shouldn't have been enough, It didn't look as though it would be enough.
Sri Lanka walked out to bat. Thirimanne went first ball, triggered LBW. Dilshan departed seven balls later, also to the first ball he faced. It was the first time in ODI history that both opening batsmen had been dismissed for golden ducks. Then twice within the space of an over, Sangakkara should have been run out, which would have made the score 3/9 with two of Sri Lanka's big three back in the shed. As it turned out, the face painting warrior Hamid Hassan came on and bowled the great man anyway, leaving them at 3/18, and suddenly the game had turned.
Even so, to win Afghanistan had to bowl their opponents out, and it was only going to take cool and calm heads to win this game from a batting perspective. For this job there is no better man than Mahela Jayawardene, and he simply batted in an efficient manner. Firstly with Karunaratne and then with Matthews, he steered the Sri Lankan bating ships into calm waters, working and cajoling the ball around the field. Matthews appeared out of touch, making enormously hard work of his innings, but stuck with Jayawardene as he reached his hundred off 118 balls. It was a brilliantly boring unspectacular innings, the exactly required innings for the situation. It was a surprise then, when two balls later he guided Hassan straight down third man's throat. The previous over, Matthews' agony had been ended by running himself out when it was completely unnecessary - his 44 coming from 81 balls - and suddenly an easing win had turned into a mini crisis. 50 required off 48 balls, only four wickets in hand.

From here it was the inexperience of Afghanistan that cost them the match, and not the experience of Sri Lanka. Field settings were too deep in the circle, allowing singles. It became obvious that Mendis was only looking for singles, and that Perera was going to slog at everything come what may, except the last ball of the over, where he would try and pinch a single to retain the strike. Unfortunately, the bowlers were unable to maintain a length that could contain this stroke play, and the field settings were exposed each time they were changed. Luck favoured the sloggers, with two close reviews going their way, and the ball kept falling into the gaps. Eventually, it all played out in Sri Lanka's favour to win by that four wicket margin.

So how does the argument stack up? The I.C.C has already announced that there will only be 10 teams qualifying for the 2019 World Cup as against the 14 in this edition. The proponents of this will point to the fact that Associate teams such as Afghanistan are not up to this level of competition - if they were, they should have been able to close that game out and win. They believe that by excluding the Associates, the World Cup will be closer and harder fought, and a better spectacle. 
To me, that argument ignores what the World Cup should be about. How are teams such as Afghanistan expected to improve if they are unable to compete at an event like this? How will they learn to win close games like this against better opponents if they are unable to compete against better opponents? And probably the best three matches of this tournament so far have been the West Indies vs Ireland match, the United Arab Emirates vs Zimbabwe match, and this match. All three had Associate sides punching above their weight, and were closer, and harder-fought matches than ones such as Australia vs England, New Zealand vs England or West Indies vs Pakistan, all involving member nations. 
The first week of this tournament has been a celebration of the lesser nations giving a great account of themselves. The I.C.C should be immediately reconsidering their options for four years time, before it is too late.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

World Cup Report Match 11: Australia v Bangladesh

With Cyclone Marcia ensuring this match didn't get started, it proved to be a blessing for more than one group. Certainly, though they would like to have played the game, the one point Bangladesh received is one more than they would have if the game had gone ahead. It will certainly help in their chances of making the next round. Australia still have to defeat New Zealand next Saturday to top Group A. 
However, the Australian selectors have dodged a media bullet, as there is little doubt their team selection would have caused some outcry had the match gone ahead. That will now have to wait until next week, when if all players are fit (and that is likely) it will make the selection of Australia's final XI very interesting indeed.

World Cup Report Match 10: West Indies v Pakistan

The two most unpredictable teams in cricket came together to see if any clarity could be made on their chances of making the knockout stage of this tournament. By the end one team had tasted victory, but the question probably still remains unanswered.

Pakistan decided to forego the advantage of winning the toss by electing to field, though this was not the end result in their eventual defeat. The early wickets of Gayle and Smith were not surprising, these two under-performing gentlemen have made a habit of ditching their wicket too quickly. The Pakistan bowlers bowled well, and didn't enjoy a lot of luck. Once again they contributed to their own misery. Umar Akmal added to the tally of sitters that he and his brothers have dropped when wicket-keepers for their country. The enormity of the missed chances over the years by Kamran and then Umar is incalculable. Shahid Afridi had a shocker, dropping two sitters himself that also could have changed the course of the match. Even with these taken into account, The Windies were 4/194 off 40 when Ramdin was dismissed, and with Darren Bravo retired hurt, good bowling and fielding would have meant no more than a target of 270 should be the aim.


The bowling plans went out the window again, as Sammy and Simmons and Russell did exactly as they had done against Ireland, this time scoring 116 from the final 10 overs to set up a total of 310. It was the same old story - no Plan A, no Plan B, and certainly not very full straight balls. It was carnage again, with length balls going to the boundary, short balls going to the boundary, slower balls going to the boundary. Those of us who had invested in Pakistan to win this game started to tear up their tickets.

To complete compound the errors of their last ten overs of the West Indies innings, Pakistan sealed their fate with the first 19 deliveries of their own innings. By this point, they had lost four wickets for only one run scored, the worst start in International one day cricket history. Even the reliable veterans Younis Khan (golden duck) and Misbah-ul-Haq (7 off 21) could not withstand the debacle. At 5/25 off ten overs, only a miracle or Shahid Afridi could save this match. Fifties to Maqsood and Akmal delayed the inevitable, but Pakistan were eventually routed for 160, taken apart by the same fast, short-pitched bowling from the West Indies that had ironically cost them their match against Ireland a few days beforehand.

What were the lessons to be taken from this match? For the Windies, you can be certain that their future opponents will be talking very seriously about how to bowl to their middle-late order hitters who have been so effective in both of their matches so far. They will also know that the Windies game plan with the ball will be to bounce teams out. Pakistan's paper-thin batting is becoming a real problem for them, along with their capacity for dropped catches. No one truly believes either of these teams can win the World Cup - one wonders if they believe it themselves. For now, they are both still fighting just to make the next stage of the competition, and to do so they will both need to improve markedly over the next couple of weeks.

Friday, February 20, 2015

World Cup Report Match 9: New Zealand v England

Before this game, if the England team management had sat down, and envisaged an absolutely, iron-clad, worst case scenario for their clash with New Zealand in this World Cup fixture, they still wouldn't have come close to what occurred here in Wellington today. This result, the worst thrashing of the Cup so far, and likely to remain that way, will not only have sent confidence levels to an all time low, but now raises questions as to their future in the Cup beyond the qualifying rounds.

Morgan won the toss, and having seen the cock-up his team made of their first round encounter, this time elected to bat. Not that it mattered. Bell received a peach from Southee, a perfectly pitched outswinger from wide of the crease that took out his off-stump. Ali counterpunched, before receiving a better ball, that also took his off-stump. Then Gary Ballance, marooned and at sea in a position he appears incapable of playing, bunted an indescribable non-shot off the toe straight to short cover, and England was in familiar territory at 3/57.
Root and Morgan fought (struggled) hard, and when I left work for the ten minute journey home they had stabilised at 3/104. When I walked in my front door four overs later, the first ball I saw was Stuart Broad, backing away from Southee, and prodding him to mid off to be dismissed for 4, and the score was 8/116. "What the bloody hell just happened?" I asked. England had lost 5/12 in four overs, four of those to a rampaging Southee. Through a combination of great swing bowling and dreadful batting the match had turned on its head. Only Joe Root, last man out for 46 having watched seven wickets fall at the other end, should have escaped scrutiny at the end of the innings. All out for 123 in 33.2 overs, and England was in complete disarray.

New Zealand's response was predictable, but perhaps not with the ferocity it came with. McCullum and Guptill had employed the same tactics in chasing a small total against Scotland, which had almost come unstuck in losing seven wickets in gaining victory. Today, McCullum was savage. His only intention was to hit every ball to or over the boundary, an intention he did magnificently. At one stage, the only way he could not break AB de Villiers recent record for fastest century in ODI cricket was if Guptill scored too many at the other end to allow him to get there. He has 72 off 21 balls, only needing 28 off a further 9. He eventually fell for 77 off 25 balls, an innings that tore the heart out of England's bowlers. It was all and well to ask where they should be bowling to McCullum in that mood - the real problem to me was that they had no plan at all. It just didn't appear at any stage that they decided to set a certain field, and then bowl to that field. It was just run in, get smashed, go back to your mark, run in, get smashed, and repeat. No yorker-length bowling, just length bowling. And then short bowling. Great to watch if you aren't English, but troublesome if you are.

The match was over with less than 46 overs bowled. New Zealand have only one more obstacle to claim to spot in Group A, against Australia next Saturday. England have several hurdles to clear just to qualify for the quarter finals. With a game against Scotland on Monday, their future in the tournament probably hangs on that game.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

World Cup Report Match 8: Zimbabwe v United Arab Emirates

Today's match proved to be a closer and harder-fought event than most would have believed, and revealed a little bit more about the international teams that can be considered the second tier. Whereas both of these teams have some handy players, and skill with bat and ball, they are missing some vital abilities which set them apart from the higher ranked teams.
Zimbabwe won the toss, and... yes, you guessed it... decided to field first. While this may have helped even up the score of win ratio when sending the opposition in, it was a bit shaky at times. The United Arab Emirates actually batted very well, and had moved to 4/156 after 35 overs. The loss of their top order however looked as though it would inhibit their ability to put on a defendable total. Not so! cried the masses, and in the final 15 overs the U.A.E managed to slash and slog 129 runs, and finish up at 7/285 from 50 overs, their highest total in an ODI.
Despite the big total, it never felt like it would be enough. Consistent wicket losses by Zimbabwe made the chase tough, yet it was obvious that U.A.E had to bowl Zimbabwe out if they were to pull off the victory, and a sensible sixth wicket partnership from Sean Williams and Craig Ervine shored up the wobbling ship. Three wides, and 17 runs in total from the 41st over by Naveed got the chase below a run a ball, and Williams, Ervine and Chigumbura got their team home with two overs to spare.

So what are those vital abilities missing, as mentioned at the top of the article? Well, you already know them, as do the teams in question. They need two or three real match-winners - those players that can score big and quickly when needed, but rebuild when necessary, or get the big wickets when necessary, but can contain the opposition if need be. And, in particular, the level of fielding has to improve. Teams must take all of those catches that should be taken at this level, and even snare a few that no one should catch. The general ground fielding in particular is where it is most noticeable. It would be an interesting exercise to note how much misfields and dropped catches cost these teams in regards to extra runs and sundries, because it would be quite a bit. In a match such as this, where the teams are evenly matched in ability, my guess is that those errors even out between the two sides. Unfortunately, when you take on the better teams, these things are the ones that will cost you the most. The coaches of these teams know this, and it will be why they are (hopefully) working so hard on making sure their fielding improves to the point where they are watertight on the paddock.

Zimbabwe will be pleased with their win, and will now be looking forward to their matches against the West Indies and Ireland, which they must win if they want to make the quarter final stage of the tournament. For the U.A.E, their best chance of winning a game has now passed, but their progress will be interesting to watch over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

World Cup Report Match 7: Bangladesh v Afghanistan

Afghanistan's first match in a World Cup always felt as though it was going to be a bridge too far, whereas Bangladesh simply could not afford to lose a game to their opponent, lest their obvious slide out of competitiveness in the cricket world advance at an alarming rate. The expected result occurred, and little advancement was made.
In batting first, Bangladesh was stymied in their efforts from some accurate bowling from the Afghani bowlers. Right armed Hamid Hassan, donned in sweatband around his head and war paint on his cheeks, got points for his attitude, while opening partner left armed Shapoor Zadran bowled at good pace. His second spell, where he picked up two wickets to halt Bangladesh's progress, was well worth watching. Mirwais Ashraf, apart from conceding 17 runs from his ninth and final over, kept the brakes on the batsman. All three picked up two wickets apiece, and did not look out of place on the international scene. The fielding however was not impressive, with plenty of runs left through from misfields, boundaries allowed by fieldsman unable to adjust to the pace of the outfield, and vital catches put down that could have changed the course of proceedings.
High farce endured when the leg spinner Shenwari was given two official warnings for running on the pitch in his first over, only to then be banned for the innings two balls into his second over for a third official infringement. Despite the fact it was blatant, it showed either than this is generally overlooked in the Afghanistan national league, or their coaches have been looking the other way for a long, long time. His start had been good as well, and this possibly cost the Afghani's a better chance at dismissing Bangladesh for a lower total. Or, perhaps it was just a plot against the world Leg Spinner's Union.
Bangladesh's top order of Animul, Tamim, Mahmudullah and Sarkar were cautious to the point that it eventually cost them their wickets. It was left to their most accomplished International batsmen, Shakib and Mushfiqur to rally in the middle order and set up their total. Both sides would have been happy with the 267 Bangladesh scored.
Afghanistan's start couldn't have been much worse, falling to 3/3 in the third over. Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza bowled as he has shown he can over the past decade with pace and swing, but far too infrequently. Perhaps the captaincy will finally bring the best out of his talent. Nawroz and Shenwari rebuilt the innings with 62 for the 4th wicket, and 58 for the 6th wicket between Nabi and Zadran showed promise and added respectability, without even threatening to snatch an unlikely victory. Bangladesh's bowling was tidy without being especially threatening, eventually bowling out their opponents for 162 to win by 105 runs.

Both teams will publicly say they took away good things from this match. Afghanistan will point to the positives of their bowling and middle order batting. Bangladesh will say their patience in building a defendable total and the initial strike of their opening bowlers were keys to their success. In essence, the fielding of both teams is below par. Afghanistan will be monstered by Australia and New Zealand unless their fielding and top order batting can improve and sustain itself. Bangladesh still rely too much on four or five players to star to win matches. Given that the rain does not wash their match out against Australia on Saturday in Brisbane, that will be a sterner test for their capabilities and their promise moving forward.

Australia's Highest Paid Cricketer

I have been asked to address the current story going around in regards to the person who has been named as Australia's highest paid cricketer. So here we go.

Yes, it appears that Shane Watson is currently the highest paid Australian cricketer, which includes his stipend from Cricket Australia and various sponsorship deals. And isn't that a wonderful thing, because not only is he obviously Australia's finest current cricketer, he has been our best all round cricketer for a decade. His statistics prove this, averaging 35.74 with the bat and 33.09 with the ball in Test cricket.
Are. You. Freaking. KIDDING. Me?!?!?

Will the weather in Brisbane save the selectors from their biggest mistake this weekend? Because if they have to name a team, and they decide to pick Watson in front of... well... ANYONE... then they surely forfeit their right to be on the selection panel. Look at our "all rounders". Glenn Maxwell has overtaken him. Mitch Marsh has overtaken him. James Faulkner has overtaken him. For goodness sakes, Nathan Lyon bats better and bowls faster than him. There is no justification for picking him in the side if they must drop someone to include Michael Clarke.

We all know that he will be picked, and once again it will be a total travesty of justice. Be ready for the roof to be yelled down when it happens.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

World Cup Report Match 6: New Zealand v Scotland

The end result of this game was that New Zealand defeated Scotland, as was expected as far back as when the original draw was done for this World Cup.The fact that it got a little tighter towards the end than anyone really expected seems to have a few people questioning New Zealand's team strength as a result. That seems a little dramatic, though given many seem to be tied to the England team and supporters, who take on the Black Caps on Friday, it is perhaps more in hope than in truth.

The continuing phase of winning the toss and inserting their opponents continued here in Dunedin, though on this occasion it could be seen that New Zealand was looking for a quick kill, trying to gain an early finish to rest up for Friday's big clash. Early on it looked a big possibility, with Scotland falling to 4/12 in the fifth over, with both Trent Boult and Tim Southee finding themselves on hat-tricks. Scotland, whose squad contains nine players who participate in the County Championship, showed themselves of steelier stuff, and excellent half centuries to Matt Machan and Richie Berrington put on 97 for the fifth wicket, and the possibility of setting 180-200 had grown considerably. Their dismissals within two overs left only the tail, and they were eventually dismissed for 142 in 36.2 overs, which looked nowhere near enough.
The Kiwis batted for 9 overs before the lunch break, losing both openers in reaching 2/63. It was obvious to all viewing the match that New Zealand could have taken the easy option, and spent 35-40 overs safely compiling the total required for victory, but they chose to go at it boldly, and as a result of this and some handy seam bowling from Wardlaw and Davey in particular, they lost wickets at regular intervals in their chase. Against a more seasoned opponent there is little doubt the Kiwis would have been much more circumspect in attaining the required total, but as the batsman squandered their wickets, the more optimistic Scottish supporters sensed an upset. Though it was not to be, the loss of seven wickets in overhauling the total had made some question New Zealand's batting strength in chasing a small total, and raised the awareness of the wicket taking ability of the Scotland attack. The reality was that New Zealand won the game in less than 25 overs of batting, and all of the Scotland bowlers were taken for almost 6 runs an over.

New Zealand now look forward to their match against England on Friday, which on current form should be a less close-fought contest that this match was. Ironically, Scotland now wait until next Monday, when they also will face England, a match that they may feel they are a chance of winning if they can improve their top order batting.

Monday, February 16, 2015

World Cup Report Match 5: West Indies v Ireland

10 days ago I plonked my hard earned down on Ireland to win this match. They were paying $4.50 - an outrageous price - and the Windies had done nothing for... years. It was a game that I thought would be where the Irish cricket nation would takes its big steps towards Test status.
I wasn't quite correct. Or incorrect.

Once again we witnessed a skipper winning the toss and inserting his opponents. Once again, despite a good start by the bowlers, it was all let down by their bowling in the last dozen overs, and any chance of an upset was swatted away by the flailing bats of Darren Sammy and Lendl Simmons.
Chris Gayle is seen to be the key to victory or defeat for the West Indies, and his batting today was cautious, as if he now believes it himself. Also apparently struggling with an injury, his 65 ball 36 was a measured response. At 5/87 though, Ireland looked a real chance of bowling them out for 150, which would have made for an exciting second innings.
However, as seems to be the case everywhere at the moment, the middle order of Sammy and Simmons consolidated through the middle overs, and then launched an assault in the final 10, which the bowling team was completely incapable of stopping or even stemming. Erratic bowling, with little evidence of a plan, was let loose again, with 124 runs coming in a trice. Once again the team batting first made over 300 - 7/304 here, with Sammy 89 off 67 and Simmons 102 off 84 - and again the match was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Shows you how much I know.

Because bugger me, it wasn't over. Ireland came out to bat, and showed amazing intent. They didn't play massive shots, they played sensibly, taking their chances. Their chances were improved dramatically by the brainless bowling of their supposedly more experienced opponents. Captain Jason Holder was steady, but the pacier Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor decided that the best form of attack was short and fast, obviously believing they could bully the Irish out. They were wrong, the shorter and faster they bowled, the more runs they went for. Chris Gayle slowed things up in the middle overs with his off spin, also snaring the wicket of Porterfield. But the Irish would not lay down. When Stirling was dismissed for a brilliant 92, Ireland was 2/177 off 28 overs. Even at this point, they needed just 128 runs off 132 deliveries with 8 wickets in hand. In the modern game, that is an unloseable situation.
And so it proved. Niall O'Brien and Ed Joyce batted superbly, increasing the run rate, and putting the Windies bowlers and fielders under immense pressure, when you would have expected the reverse to have been true. When Joyce was caught on the boundary for 84 off 67 deliveries, Ireland only required 32 runs from a further 64 balls. It had been a brilliant partnership of 96 from 69 deliveries.
Within sight of the finish line, the wheels began to wobble. Taylor picked up Joyce, Balbirnie and Wilson, before Kevin O'Brien was run out in attempting a second run, and suddenly they still needed 14 runs with only four wickets remaining. Niall O'Brien remained defiant, and three boundaries saw the team home with almost four overs to spare.
The West Indies were atrocious. Apart from Taylor and Roach's bowling, the fielding was woeful and showed not heart or interest in fighting out the contest. Misfields allow ones and two's and even boundaries. There was no excitement at wickets falling, even at a stage where you would expect that they SHOULD still believe they could pull off a huge comeback. It was amazingly disappointing, and legends at the ground such as Clive Lloyd, Richie Richardson and commentator Ian Bishop must have been heartbroken.

The result of the match is a huge fillip for Ireland, not only for their future in the World Cup, but their ambitions to gain Test status (as long as England don't try and steal all their players again...). For the West Indies, it is quite possibly the end of them as an International cricket team. How they can possibly recover from this is a question that has only one answer - they can't. For years they have been held together by wispy lengths of paper by the performances of players such as Shiv Chanderpaul. With all of their great players now retired, and anyone with a modicum of talent only interested in the monetary riches of Twenty20 cricket, the West Indies may now be a spent force. For good.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

World Cup Report Match 4: India v Pakistan

A captain won the toss and batted, Virat Kohli was dropped three times, a packed Adelaide Oval made so much noise television viewers could at times barely hear the commentary, and a rather serene one day match took place concluding in India again besting their rivals Pakistan.
India batted first upon winning the toss (the first time in four matches in this tournament), and despite predictions of massive totals, India moved along at 4-5 runs an over, due to some good bowling from Pakistan's pace attack. One wonders whether the course of the match would have changed had any of the three catches Kohli offered up were taken. All three were difficult, although Umar Akmal's at keeper was perhaps as much a blot on taking in a part-time keeper, but even if he had been snared there when on 74, perhaps a more approachable total could have been kept to. As it turned out Pakistan bowled well at the death, allowing only 30 runs off the last five overs to halt the Indian innings at 7/300.
Kohli, despite his chances, batted as only he can, for the most part taking the singles and twos on offer, and working boundaries when necessary. He made batting look easy. Dhawan made 73 and Raina 74 in support. Pakistan never really loosened the reins, but by not being able to penetrate early, allowed India too many wickets to play with late in the innings to stop them from reaching 300.
In reply, Pakistan were the opposite, losing wickets just when partnerships were beginning to form, which retarded their momentum at every turn. India's fast bowling attack appeared to appreciate not bowling to Australians, and Yadav, Shami and Mohit Sharma all bowled with good pace and fire. With two of their preliminary matches scheduled at the W.A.C.A one would assume these three will enjoy the experience. Pakistan skipper Misbah top scored again, but their batting was obviously a man short in their desire to play an extra bowler. They may have to review that decision for their next fixtures, though it most likely still would not have helped them here.
India will feel they have made the perfect start to their campaign, and may well reflect that the previous three months in Australia have been an aberration. With only a match against South Africa in their section now likely to test them, they will be confident of finishing second at worst now in their group. Pakistan showed enough to suggest they can still be a force in their group, but their unpredictability means that it would not surprise to see them struggle in the coming weeks either.

World Cup Report Match 3: South Africa v Zimbabwe

Either South Africa took their neighbouring opponents a tad too easy, or Zimbabwe took the bull by the horns, because for all but the final 12 overs of South Africa's innings, the less experienced team had the upper hand in this match. The final result almost flattered the World Cup favourites, and one wonders what was said in their dressing rooms this evening.
For the third match in succession the team that won the toss decided to field, and for the third match in succession they lost comfortably. However, South Africa teetered slightly at 4/83 in the 21st over, Amla, du Plessis and de Villiers all out. One more wicket could prove to be conclusive. Miller and Duminy would have been as aware of this as most, and batted sensibly from this point, adding 100 runs in the next 19 overs without playing a stroke in anger.
Then the crash began. In the final 11 overs, South Africa's pair scored 159 runs. It was an amazing exhibition of power hitting from two set batsmen. Sure, the wicket was true. Yes, the ground was small and clearable. But the bowling was atrocious. From the very moment that Miller and Duminy moved into overdrive, accepting that the time to accelerate had arrived, Zimbabwe's bowling plans crumbled. They had no answer, no discernible idea on setting a field and bowling to it. Full tosses, half trackers, slower balls - all were delivered and all were dispatched. Perhaps they were planning on a full bowling strategy, but if they were it was abominable. They are not the only team that appear to have no plan to bowl at the death, but this was carnage.
The real tragedy of those final overs was shown in their own chase of an insurmountable 4/339. Zimbabwe started well, didn't lose early wickets, and maintained a pace of around six runs an over, reaching 2/190 in the 33rd over. While they were never going to be able to chase down the total required, they showed great intent. Imagine if in those final 11 overs they had only gone for 100 runs? That really should have been the maximum - and if they had, they would have finished three runs from the South African total. In the end, their score of 277 was commendable, but surely must have clearly indicated where they lost the game.
South Africa may have won by a comfortable margin of 62 runs, but was it dominating? Apart from Philander with the ball, their other strike weapons appeared far less dangerous than has been intimated in the lead up. Like their 4-1 loss in the ODI's in Australia in November last year, the big names don't seem to scare their opponents as much as they probably should. It's early in the tournament, but I would be surprised in their coach wasn't working them very hard in the next few days to find some better form.
Zimbabwe have shown they have a lot to give here, and that they certainly have enough to reach the quarter final stage if they can make some small improvements. South Africa have the win they required, but at the cost of their invulnerability in the tournament.