Friday, March 13, 2015

World Cup 2015 Cricket Tour - Match 38 Afghanistan vs England - Sydney

When we all decided that we were going to venture to a World Cup game during this tournament, this was the one that came up on our radar. I also decided to take the opportunity to get tickets in the new Victor Trumper Stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground, so we could experience the view behind the bowler arm at a match that was vaguely affordable. The tickets were $38 each, pretty good value in this tournament. Of course, if we hadn't purchased them ahead, and just bought that day's Daily Telegraph, we could all have gotten in for free. Of course. The best laid plans etc etc.
There were also big black clouds looking north from Oak Flats Railway Station, which is a pretty typical event for when we are going to the cricket. Still, as we said at the time, if worse came to worst, the pubs would be dry and the beer would be cold.

Jason at the ready with Chicken Esky in hand.
Six of us made the journey - Dan, Jason, Bono, Dad, Dave Martin and myself. We caught the train to Central, and then snuck around the corner to our first pub on circuit - the Kippax Lounge on Kippax Street. It was a good choice. A reasonable patronage, good tables, cold beer. Excellent. We actually had a couple of beers there before we struck out again to find the next port of call.

It was a poor decision.

We came to a place called the Dove & Olive. Which, while decked out nicely with World Cup paraphernalia and having the cricket from New Zealand about to start on the main TV, only sold craft beer. Now, let's be clear. I do not like craft beer. The vast majority is rubbish. But they literally had nothing else, so we gave it a crack. And it is pretty close to the worst beer I have ever had. Seriously. I finished it, but to be honest I could have happily walked out without doing so. It was dishwater. We did not stay long, and vowed never to return.

The Dove & Olive. Possibly the worst beer of any pub ever.
After a very quick escape, we found the Shakespeare Hotel, and we were back in business. Carlton on tap, a ripping lunch menu, and tables near both the cricket and the races. It was a win/win situation.

Thank goodness for the next pub up the road
By 1.45pm it was time to head to the S.C.G, and it was a bit morbid walking across Moore Park with more people volunteering to help direct the crowds than the crowd itself. Still, given England had by now found yet another way to fail to make the knockout stages of a World Cup and the relative newness of the Afghanistan team on the international stage it was not unexpected.

Security fighting back the huge crowds

Dan and Jason fight their way through the masses on the way to the SCG

Dan trying to work out who Tibby Cotter is. Or was.
The merchandise fiends of the group decided that they had to have World Cup merchandise, and thus they got themselves their Afghanistan supporters caps. By the time I got home I knew that I should have splashed out myself. Maybe in the future... well... I really have too many caps already.

The boys with their new Afghanistan caps

The warm ups, while Dan, Jason and Bono try to work out where their seats are.
The Three Amigos
The game itself was more of a disappointment than we were hoping for. We had high hopes for an entertaining contest, though when England won the toss and bowled there was always going to be the chance of a short sharp jab. And so it proved to be. Anderson, Broad and Jordan scythed their way through the top order, robbing the contest of any great chance. Brief recoveries were shut down just when they could blossom, and the drizzle began to increase which gave the air a morbid scene.

Afghanistan looking to put England to the sword
Finally the umpires had no choice but to take the players from the ground at 4/62, and though they were able to return, the eventual climax of the innings came with Afghanistan 7/111 off 38.2 overs.
Dad and Dave made their exit not long after, while we hung around and watched the conclusion of the exciting New Zealand vs Bangladesh match from Hamilton on the big screen, where the Kiwis managed to scrape home with 7 balls and three wickets to spare.

And the winner is... rain!
By 7.30pm the prospect of any further play seemed completely remote, and so we made our way back towards Central via taxi. Of course, once we were halfway there it was announced play would recommence with England batting, requiring 101 runs from 25 overs. Oh well, such is life.
We found the Central Hotel accomodating, and found more alcohol while watching the conclusion of the match on the screen, with England unfortunately ensuring their victory for the loss of one wicket and with seven overs in hand. Jason then dashed for the next train, while Bono, Dan and I contemplated more alcohol until the later trains were our final chance to return home.

Despite the lackluster day weather-wise, cricket-wise and alcohol-wise, we all had a great day. Let's hope it isn't the last World Cup fixture we can go to.

Final drinks at the pub near Central Station

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

World Cup Report Match 34: India v Ireland

Today's match brought some semblance of reality back to the World Cup, with the current holders showing a realistic gap between them and the up-and-coming Irish team, and how much improvement is needed in all parts of their cricket if they want to progress to Test status.

Ireland was not bad. They were quite steady. Their batting moved along with some impetus early on, reaching 89 off 15 overs before the loss of their first wicket. In all respects, they should have been able to push on to a total close to 300, and at 3/206 in the 39th over it still appeared realistic. However, the dismissal of Balbirnie triggered a collapse that halted the entire momentum of the innings, so much so that they were dismissed with an over remaining for 259. It was a fair total, one that showed they were still improving. But it was never going to be enough against the Indian batting line up unless they could make significant breakthroughs in their top order.
And that wasn't to be. Sharma and Dhawan feasted upon the capable but pedestrian Irish bowling attack, putting on 173 for the first wicket in just 23 overs. They passed their target just two wickets down and with 13 overs remaining in absolutely comfort. It was a clinical display from the Indian team. Ireland never dropped their heads, and will be all the better for having played the game against excellent opposition, who showed them just how they need to improve their batting and bowling in order to continue their advancement in the game.

India has now assured itself of top spot in Group B, and unless something untoward happens they will play Bangladesh in their quarter final at the M.C.G, followed by Australia in a semi-final at the S.C.G. Ireland now have their final match against Pakistan this Sunday, with the winner gaining a place in the quarter finals, and the loser bowing out. After today, Ireland will be aware of what they will have to produce in order to defeat on of the top ranked nations.

Monday, March 9, 2015

World Cup Report Match 33: Bangladesh v England

There have been a number of feel-good stories in this 2015 World Cup. The advance of Ireland, the impressive displays of the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and Scotland, the fall and rise of Pakistan. So many matches have gone down to the wire, producing exciting and amazing cricket to watch. But as an Australian, nothing has given me a more profound sense of joy and happiness as watching England capitulate to Bangladesh in this evening's match in Adelaide, a result that has knocked the England team out of the World Cup before the preliminary matches have even been completed. Now for the backlash to begin, which could be just as enjoyable.

England has only themselves to blame. They waited far too long in this tournament to make a bold change in their team, despite only being able to defeat Scotland up to this point of the World Cup. Their batting has been steady, whereas almost every other team has had moments of explosiveness. Their bowling has been ineffectual and lacking in penetration, and their fielding has been less than exhilarating. Their captain has been hamstrung in his decision making, not to mention his own form with the bat.

To the match at hand, and England threw away the advantage of winning the toss by inviting Bangladesh to bat first. It is tactic that has occurred far too often in this World Cup, and teams keep being burned by it. Just ask South Africa how they felt about chasing 233 against Pakistan the other day. It seems ludicrous, unless the wicket is a raging greentop, that a top flight team believes chasing is a better option than defending. Did Morgan and his allies really believe that they would restrict Bangladesh to a total that would end up being containable to their batting line up? To me it seemed like a risk. And, despite those initial breakthroughs that had Bangladesh reeling at 2/8, the lack of penetration that England's bowling attack has shown through this whole tournament returned just as quickly, as the Bangladesh batsmen consolidated and worked their way through the changes. 86 for the third wicket produced certainty that was then dissolved by a fourth wicket eight balls later. But even then England could not close down their opponents. Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur put on 141 from 144 deliveries with barely a risk, with Mahmudullah scoring his country's first World Cup century, and his keeper finishing with 89 when his own century beckoned.
As a total, 7/275 was not a huge one in the context of this World Cup, but consider the baggage that it carried. England's batting has not been great, and the pressure they now found themselves under was enormous. If they couldn't chase down this total, they were out of the World Cup. Everything hinged on THIS innings. Perhaps they felt against this bowling attack they could do it comfortably, but weighing on the backs of their minds for the entire fifty overs was the fact that it was over if they failed, and the media and supporter backlash if that occurred would be cataclysmic.

In effect it was a calamity. Ridiculous running between the wickets between Bell and Ali cost Ali his wicket, with Bell not responding and then turning his back on his partner. The long overdue recalling of Hales went well until outdone by a Mortaza outswinger. Bell against failed to capitalise on a good start before also edging to the keeper. Skipper Morgan, with five recent ducks, added a sixth by hooking third ball down fine leg's throat. It was second rate stuff, especially with the tournament's future on the line. Bell and Morgan, as the senior players and leaders, had to do better than this when their team needed leaders. Taylor lasted four deliveries, and Root was also undone by another Mortaza beauty, leaving the English team at 6/163, with 113 required of 87 deliveries.

Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, the players who had been the least effected by the battering received by this team in Australia last summer, now put together a smart partnership, seeing off the dangers of Mortaza and Shakib, while taking on the lesser lights of the Bangladesh bowling attack. Their partnership of 75 from 61 balls had put England back into the box seat, needing 38 from 26 deliveries and a short boundary at Adelaide to target. The Buttler tried to be too cute, was caught between two shots, and was caught behind. England's trump was gone. Then, the very next ball, Chris Jordan tried to pinch a single, but was forced to turn back when Woakes didn't move. He dived for the crease, and made it in time as the return hit the stumps. However, in the process, his bat bounced in the air, and it was referred to the third umpire. After a thousand viewings, there really wasn't anyone who could honestly say for sure that the bat was grounded, or the bat was in the air. As a result, it was a 50-50 decision whichever way the umpire went. He went with red. Bangladesh celebrated, England fumed. I cheered the decision, but honestly felt the benefit of the doubt had to go to the batsman.

There is nothing in the Laws of Cricket where it is written that the batsman will get the benefit of the doubt. In the case of recent matches it is obvious that this is being adhered to, as batsmen in recent matches have had no benefit of some very close calls sent to the referring umpire. It is probably time to implement a further ruling to any decision being referred to the third umpire. When referring something to the third umpire, whether it be a run out or stumping or disputed catch, the on-field umpire should have to tell the third umpire whether he believes the batsmen is out or not out. The third umpire should then look over the incident, but if conclusive evidence cannot be found to indicate whether a ruling is out or not out, then the referral is handed back to the on field umpire, whose initial ruling is then taken as the decision. This therefore means that the on-field umpire is still the ruling official, unless it is conclusively proven he is incorrect. Umpire error may/will still occur (and in the case of Jordan's dismissal, we'll never know what the umpire would have said if this was implemented last night) but at least it will be the decision of the on field umpire, rather than belittling the third umpire who has made a big call on something he probably shouldn't have to. 

Broad and Woakes did their best. 22 runs came from the next two overs, and left 16 required from 12 balls. But, as was to be expected, it was too much. Two great deliveries from Rubel Hossain accounted for Broad and then Anderson, and Bangladesh had sealed their spot in the quarter finals, and committed England to also rans. For Bangladesh, it is a day of celebration. A quarter final against India at the M.C.G is a fitting reward for their efforts, and what a huge day it will be for the players and their supporters playing in that stadium.

For England, it looks like a repeat showing of the blood and carnage of twelve months ago awaits them. No doubt for England the Ashes will be their first and most pertinent problem, and they somehow have to prepare themselves for that very quickly. In regards to the one day game though, surely they must almost immediately start looking four years down the track. The next World Cup is held in their country in 2019, which means anyone who is not likely to be of an age or performance in four years time should immediately be shown the door. It is hard to believe that any of the coaching staff will keep their jobs. Surely the time has come to take a punt on someone who has the experience and is as highly regarded as Michael Vaughan to come into that coaching and mentoring role. Players such as Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ian Bell would be on the cusp of finishing their careers by 2019, and surely not a part of that planning. All the 22 and 23 years old Englishmen playing County cricket this northern summer (if there are any amongst the South Africans, Pakistani's and Australians) should be being brought along with a view to four years time, immediately. I highly doubt it will occur, it is not in the English make up to admit errors and make bold decisions in regards to their future. Let's instead just sit back and listen to what their media and supporters have to say for the next few days. It should be more entertaining than their cricket has been, unless you love watching them getting beaten.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

World Cup Report Match 30: Zimbabwe v Ireland

The Associate teams have done it again, putting on a terrific game of cricket that managed to wind its way down to the 100th over before a result could be ascertained, and along with the kind of intrigue and controversy that matches of the highest calibre can produce. There didn't deserve to be a loser in the Ireland vs. Zimbabwe match in Hobart, and by the conclusion one team was happy, and other probably thought it may have been robbed. Such is the result of high class cricket.

Ireland benefitted from Zimbabwe winning the toss and sending them in to bat, and batted almost perfectly in reaching their highest ODI total of 8/331. Ed Joyce again enjoyed some good fortune early in his innings, but he was able to fight through to score an invaluable 112 from 103 balls, and able assisted by Andrew Balbirnie who was run out in the final over for 97 off 79 balls. 110 runs came from the final 11 overs as Balbirnie was helped along by Kevin O'Brien and Gary Wilson. Where it appeared as though 300 would be a good total for Ireland, their final total put them in a position of comfort, if not complete ascendancy.
Zimbabwe's reply stuttered and faltered at 4/74, until a ripping partnership of 149 from Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams got them back in the match. Taylor was superb with 121 from 91, but his wicket did restore the balance of the chance. Then Williams took over, and had reaped 96 from 82 balls when he crashed another leg side swat out to the long deep square leg boundary, where he was caught by John Mooney right on the boundary... literally? Moments of confusion reigned, as replay after replay tried to determine whether or not he had been standing on the soft boundary edge, or just inside. Opinions differed in the commentary box, and no one could agree on either verdict. In the end, Williams left the ground of his own accord, and the match resumed with Zimbabwe needing 32 off 19 balls. Mark Nicholas was adamant that the boundary moved when Mooney lifted his foot after accepting the catch. To me, it was only his shadow on the soft raised boundary advertising. In the long run, the decision was made by the despondent batsman, in a way fitting of sportsmanship in taking the fieldsman's word for it. If only it happened more often. Despite this, it got close. Mupariwa smashed 19 runs from the 49th over bowled by Kevin O'Brien, leaving 7 required from 6 balls. The cool and level headed Cusack responded with two wickets in four balls to end the innings and chase at 326, and a wonderful match was concluded.

Zimbabwe has now gotten close in many of their matches without being able to force a victory. They have one match remaining in which to do so. Ireland has done what it had to do in its continuing chase for a quarter final spot. Pakistan's victory over South Africa may have made that a little murkier than they would have liked, but it sets up their final two matches as terrific contests.

World Cup Report Match 29: Pakistan v South Africa

Oh dear oh dear. Cue the "chokers" tag again. Start up the printing presses that exclaim "South Africa fold under pressure again!" It has come to that time of the World Cup when those outside of the team - and very possibly those within the team - will start to question the theoretical favouritism this team has carried with it for so long, and whether we are about to see yet another spectacular implosion at a international cricket event.

Twice in this World Cup South Africa has been asked to bat second - this time of their own volition - and both times they have been found out. Spectacularly so too. Pakistan played steadily and less spectacularly. Their batsmen were kept under reasonable control for the majority of the innings. Their run rate was just over 5 for most of the innings up until the 35th over, with five wickets already back in the shed. Skipper Misbah once again played the steadying influence, with yet another ODI half century. The rain break came at a very inopportune moment for them, just as Misbah and Afridi had started the acceleration. When they returned to the field, all momentum had been lost, and the final wickets fell, such that Pakistan was bowled out for 222 in their final over, which had been reset back to 47 overs a side after the time lost. Duckworth-Lewis revised this total up to 231, leaving South Africa the rather comfortable total of 232 required from 47 overs.
But the batsmen fell to the pressure - and it must be said excellent bowling from Pakistan. Quinton de Kock failed again, and one wonders how much longer South Africa can continue to leave him in the opening position, or perhaps even in the team itself. Amla and du Plessis recovered, only to fall within four balls of each other, and then quickly followed by Rossouw and Miller. South Africa had lost 4/10 in 33 balls, and when Duminy went at 102, only a superman could have gotten them home. In his mild mannered guise as AB de Villiers, 'Superman' did his utmost, and helped by Steyn, Abbot and Morkel he managed to get the score to within sight of victory at 200 before he was finally dismissed for another remarkable innings of 77 off 58 balls.

Pakistan's pace attack was fantastic, exploiting the conditions brilliantly, and attacking at all times, knowing they had to bowl their opponents out to win the game. They left nothing in the bag, and fully deserved their win. It also puts them back into a finals position in Group B, where a loss could have been fatal. South Africa now have to find another way to recover. They have lost to India and Pakistan, and while they were tough matches, it was expected that they would win both of them. perhaps a month of playing the lacklustre West Indies team has not been the best preparation for this tournament after all. There will a lot of soul searching in the coming days, in an attempt to eradicate any sense of foreboding, or the mention of the word "chokers".

Friday, March 6, 2015

World Cup Report Match 28: India v West Indies

Sometimes you have to wonder how the West Indies are still in this tournament. It isn't as though their fall down the international tree hasn't been well documented, or the troubles they have between players and board, as well as drawing from different nations in order to put a team together. However, even when everything goes wrong, there still seems to be that glimmer of opportunity in every match they play where if they just did one thing right at that time, they could win the game. And even in a match where they were pretty soundly defeated, there is cause for hope. Except that this isn't being followed through with any positive changes or initiatives.

Batting first, the Windies had to put on a big score. But even a novice can tell you where the problems lie in the Windies batting line up. Dwayne Smith, simply not up to this level. How he has played 104 ODI's shows how poor the back up players are going. Chris Gayle, either stationary or at 200kph. He is incapable of building an innings and playing for the team. If he is meek he prods out meekly. If he is swinging, he eventually just sings his way out. he did both here today, was dropped twice and then slapped a couple over the fence before predictably swiping to deep mid wicket to be dismissed. How did he think this helped his team's cause? All of the baloney and smoke blown up his arse for his 216 against Zimbabwe is again shown for what it is - a bully against the lightweights, no heart to try and survive for his team against the heavyweights. He also left Samuels for dead in running him out in a childish display of non-running. It's time commentators called him out for his constant poor showings rather than dribbling over his (very) occasional big shot innings.
India's pace men feasted on the bouncy wicket, and probably should have had the Windies out for under 150. However, beleaguered skipper Jason Holder, who must wonder what his future holds let alone his team's future, again showed some heart and guts to score 57, and the last three wickets scored more than the first seven to reach 182.
In reply the Windies fast bowlers gave their all, running in hard and using the wicket as best they could. India's own problems at the top order announced themselves again, while Russell cleverly outthought Kohli in having him hook down square leg's throat, and Rahane and Raina were outdone again. At 5/107, the game was still within the Windies grasp, but here Holder's inexperienced showed, and he went for spin when he really needed to unload his pace arsenal at the lower order in the hope of bowling India out, their only realistic chance of winning the game. Dhoni and Ashwin steadied the ship, and eventually passed the total 6 wickets down with more than 10 overs remaining.

India will have appreciated the solid workout ahead of their playoff games, and despite a couple of hiccups they appear to have their best XI firing at the right time. The West Indies, apart from few exceptions, are not only on the brink of being eliminated from the tournament, they are still a chance of finishing 3rd in Group B. It is an anomaly of the relative difference between the top four teams in this tournament and the rest. Logic suggests that even if they make the quarter finals, they cannot progress any further. The great magic of the game of cricket of course suggests that once you make the knockout stages... anything can still happen...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

World Cup Report Match 27: Bangladesh v Scotland

Bangladesh are within another washout of reaching the quarter finals of this World Cup, while Scotland continue to chase a maiden World Cup victory after once again doing most things right without being able to close the deal. This whole World Cup, and especially the matches staged in New Zealand, seem to be an effort to get your opposition first, let them score as many as they can, and then run it down with overs to spare. In the majority of cases this appears to be a 300+ total (except from the New Zealand v Australia match, where two superior bowling line ups faced each other), which up until this tournament should have been an impregnable score. Not so anymore. 

No doubt Bangladesh thought they could restrict Scotland to a total of around 200, preferably less, and be home in time for an afternoon swim. Scotland's batsmen were not aware of this, and took the advantage of batting first on the benign strip to rack up their highest score in a World Cup match. Opener Kyle Coetzer played wonderfully well, with his innings of 156 off 134 deliveries the rock around which the innings was built. He weathered the initial onslaught, took his time, but kept the score rolling over. The middle order all batted well in support, accelerating when required, and the final total of 8/318 was more than Scotland would have expected at the 35 over mark. It also still appeared a little short, unless the Scotland bowling attack could really find its teeth.
Once again though, this failed to occur. As with most of the bowling attacks in this tournament, there is a real lack of penetrability in the bowling, especially considering that two new balls are used in each innings. For the most part, an early breakthrough occurs (in this case Sarkar was the victim for 2) and then the innings builds on a huge second or third wicket partnership until the 35 over mark, at which time a batting explosion occurs. Despite the best efforts from all of the Scotland bowlers, there didn't appear at any stage during the run chase the possibility of Bangladesh losing this match. Their bowling is serviceable, but on the roads that are being dished up for this tournament, they don't have enough in their favour to get wickets unless the batsmen do something untoward. Cruising to 4/322 of 48 overs, it was almost like a training run. Scotland's coaching staff will know they have to find bowlers with a bit more pace, and who turn the ball a bit more, than the ones they have. Their bowling is not a lost cause, but for the flat-track bullies on these pitches, they don't stand a chance.

Bangladesh now play England in Adelaide on Monday, with the winner to go through to play a quarter final against India, and the loser to miss out. If, heaven forbid, the match was to be washed out, Bangladesh would go through as England would be three points behind them with only one match to play. Scotland now play Sri Lanka and Australia, both in Hobart to complete their tournament, where they will be hoping to be competitive and to learn from their vastly more experienced opponents.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

World Cup Report Match 25: Pakistan v United Arab Emirates

I'm not sure whether the recent trend for Associate teams who win the toss to send in their most experienced opponents to bat first has a reason. Perhaps they believe it is the best chance for their less penetrative bowling attacks to utilise the fresh wicket to attempt to make early breakthroughs. May be they are resigned to their fate, and believe the best way to get the most out of the match is to have their fifty overs at their opponents, before (hopefully) being able to bat out their own fifty overs. Or is it a directive from the ICC? That the Associates must allow the big teams to bat first in order to have the match stretch out to its full limit? Whatever the reasoning may be, here was another match where the experienced team (Pakistan) was able to have first use of a very good batting wicket, and work their way to a 300+ score without too many problems, before then giving their peripheral bowlers a crack at their opponents, with the match extending to the 100th over without the result ever being in danger.

That's not to say there were not good performances. Misbah-ul-Haq continued his excellent tournament, racking up another half century. Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail scored their own fifties, and got some good batting into them before the bigger games ahead. Manjula Guruge, who is without a doubt the U.A.E's best and most effective bowler, took four wickets, yet bowled only 8 overs. Pakistan's total of 6/339 came at a rate that barely changed through the whole innings, there was no acceleration nor deceleration. In the U.A.E's innings Shaiman Anwar impressed against in top scoring with 62, while former captain and the team's other most stable batsman Khurram Khan made 43. Pakistan moved through their peripheral bowlers, and the result was certainly never in question as the Emirates totalled 8/210.

Both sides would have been satisfied with the game, despite the ease of the result. Pakistan got some good time for their batsmen and their bowlers. The U.A.E got the maximum benefit fro their match against one of the world's best team's and can only improve and benefit from such fixtures. While their World Cup will not progress beyond this stage of the tournament, Pakistan have put themselves back in the frame for a quarter final position, and the results of the final matches of Group B will be fascinating for this reason.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

World Cup Report Match 24: South Africa v Ireland

Any doubts about the gap between the up and coming young guns of International cricket and the team at the very top of the tree were laid to rest here today, as the South African juggernaut increased speed towards finally laying its World Cup hoodoo to rest in obliterating the Ireland team in Canberra.

South Africa smashed any remnants of doubt about their attacking ability, firstly dominating with the bat with a minimum of fuss before blowing away their opponents with speed and bounce with the ball. Having swept aside the West Indies last week in a similarly devastating way, they became the first team in International ODI history to post back-to-back totals of 400+. Despite the early loss of the dreadfully out of touch de Kock, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis toyed with the Irish bowlers, calmly potting them around wherever they felt necessary in a partnership that reaped 247 runs at better than a run a ball. Then, when it was time to up the ante (yeah, from better than a run a ball...) wickets were sacrificed, giving batsmen such as de Villiers (24 off 9), Rossouw (61* off 30) and Miller (46* off 23) the chance to finish off the slaughter. With the ball, the South African pace attack made their statement as well. Perhaps having lacked the fire they should in previous games, they brought it in spades here. Interestingly though, Dale Steyn only really fired up after he was hit to the boundary. His gentleness so far in the tournament has been unusual. Whether that will change after tonight will be interesting, but his first spell tonight brought two wickets with unplayable deliveries to Stirling and Joyce. Kyle Abbot put his hand up for a permanent place in the team with his excellent spell, while Morne Morkel was again threatening. Such was the ferocity of his pace attack, and the enormous figure his opponents had to chase, de Villiers even deemed to give his part-timers a couple of overs each, perhaps with a view for the games ahead should they be required. Rossouw, du Plessis and even de Villiers himself rolled their arm over, with AB once again picking up a wicket as a part of the bargain. The fact that this stretched the game beyond what it could have been was no doubt appreciated by spectators and TV networks alike. A final total of 210 flattered the Irish in a record loss.

South Africa appear to be circling their wagons at the right time, with the only problem for them being they do not have a good team to work out against before the quarter finals arrive, a match that will now be against either Sri Lanka or Australia. Ireland meanwhile still have their future in their own hands, and victories against both Zimbabwe and Pakistan will see them make the next round. Losses in either may mean they have to watch from the sidelines. They will be hoping to regroup and put this match behind them.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

World Cup Report Match 23: Pakistan v Zimbabwe

It started off disastrously for Pakistan, but the benefit of cool heads prevailed in a fascinating match at the Gabba, with Zimbabwe unable to wrest control over a match that they appeared to be in front in for the majority of the evening.

The fact that Pakistan was 2/4 after four overs, and then crawled along at a pace that snails would have been comfortable with in order to re-establish the innings, should have given Zimbabwe the confidence to try and ram home an advantage. No doubt at the end of the 50 overs, they had to feel as though they had performed the first half of their job with aplomb. They didn't bowl Pakistan out, but wickets came at regular intervals, enough to keep the run rate down to a minimum. Picking up Shahid Afridi for a second ball duck, just before the start of the Powerplay, was an added bonus. Their only failing was in allowing Wahab Riaz the ability to fling his bat towards the end of the innings. His 54 not out from 46 balls, after the skipper Misbah had again anchored the recovery effort with a brilliant 73bably allowed 20-30 runs more than they should have. No doubt both sides would have felt comfortable with the final score of 7/235 - Zimbabwe because of the reachable target, and Pakistan because it was more than they looked like scoring.
Zimbabwe's batting line up couldn't push home the advantage. The Richard Karl of the cricket world, Mohammed Irfan, bowled quick, straight and from about 9 feet in height, and took out the top three in two fine spells. Much like the Pakistan innings, Zimbabwe was just unable to get going and put together a match winning stand. At 4/150 after 33 overs they should have been in a winning position, but the loss of Williams, Ervine and Mire for 18 runs in 7 overs spelled trouble, and despite an injured and slogging Chigumbura trying his utmost, the damage had been done in the middle order, and Zimbabwe was dismissed for 215 in the final over, still 21 runs short of a winning total.

It was a great chance for Zimbabwe to show that they were a team on the improve, by not only beating a team of Pakistan's ilk but by controlling the game from the outset. This loss will be a tough one to swallow. It pins them to the bottom of the Full Member teams again, with little to show again after 23 years. Pakistan escaped calamity thanks to their ageless skipper, who again rescued the middle order to enable his team to at least post a competitive total, which on this occasion was enough for victory. They are still in a fight with the West Indies and Ireland for quarter final positions, which will likely not be resolved until the final day of the preliminary rounds.

World Cup Report Match 22: England v Sri Lanka

England's inevitable fall from competitiveness in the latest World Cup has almost reached its conclusion, after failing to even remotely defend 309, losing to a Sri Lankan team that lost only one wicket in the chase with 16 deliveries still to face. Rather than heighten any regard to Sri Lanka's chances in this tournament, this match continued to highlight the ineffectiveness of England's squad and their selection process, and their inability to perform in this version of the game.

Their batsmen, for the most part, did a reasonable job, without ever really showing the explosiveness that other teams have been producing, and appears to be a highlight of this tournament. Ali went early, Ballance again failed, Bell got the team off to a start before fall with the job only half done. Morgan hung around while Root did the majority of the work, but never looked likely to get going. His tournament is fast receding into nightmare. Taylor and Buttler helped along at the end, and a final score of 6/309 from their 50 overs appeared a reasonable tally and return for the after noon's work. However, England's real problems surfaced. Their much-heralded opening attack of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad again appeared toothless, incapable of troubling the batsmen or finding a way to penetrate their defences. These two were supposed to be England's huge bargaining chip, able to break open the top order of teams and fire into the middle order. Against Sri Lanka, it was imperative. It is generally regarded that if Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene are dismissed, then so is Sri Lanka. As a result, early wickets were a necessity. Sadly for England, it was not to be. In the fourth over, Thirimanne edged to the left of keeper Buttler, who went for, then pulled out of, the catch. The result was that it baulked Joe Root at first slip so much that he put the chance down, the chance that was most certainly the keeper's catch. Thirimanne was on 7. Sri Lanka's first wicket fell at 100, but it was Dilshan who went. Thirimanne was still there at the end on 139 when Sri Lanka won the game by 9 wickets, with Sangakkara on 117. It was a pasting, a thrashing.

For Sri Lanka it has confirmed their position in the quarter finals, their opponent to be decided by the outcome of their match against Australia. Their bowling attack still appears to lack potency, though they will probably enjoy Australian wickets more than the New Zealand ones. It was always imperative that their batsmen fired if they were to progress in this tournament, something they have done so far. Whether they are able to escape the lacklustre performances from their series against New Zealand and reach higher in this World Cup may well be answered next Sunday.
England are a rabble, and on the precipice of being knocked out of the tournament. If they lose to Bangladesh that is exactly what will happen. There is a compelling case for all three squad members who have not yet been offered a game - Alex Hales, Chris Jordan and James Tredwell - to play the next match, most likely in place of Ballance, Woakes and Steve Finn. Whether the current coach and selectors can get past their blinkered viewing is another matter entirely. If they wish to remain in this tournament, there is little other choice. Even that may not achieve that aim.