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Sachin’s post 100th ton Facebook update

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The polls are in..

Hello World…So, I have been away from cricket for a few days attending to non-cricket matters; and when I return, I see that apart from a Sehwag thumping, a Lankan mauling and a couple of other Associates-bashing matches, I didn’t miss much.

Anyway, I was checking my blog stats when I was stunned to see that my World Cup preview post had got a total of 3,844 hits since it was published on Feb 2, and that the highest number (765) was on the day before the World Cup opener. Still, only about 196 people voted in the opinion poll as to who will lift the trophy on April 2, and this is what I learnt.

  • India lead the way, with 44 percent believing that they will win; I suspect this is more out of optimism than anything else.
  • There is a broad consensus that a subcontinent team will lift the trophy, as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th placed are Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
  • Shockingly, South Africa only got 8 votes, which is a vast underestimation of their ability and overestimation of their choking skills.
  • Australia and West Indies got three votes each, with England getting just two. When West Indies are given more of a chance to lift the trophy than England, there is something wrong somewhere.

What?? You can't be serious!!

  • New Zealand got no takers, while there is at least one person who believes that any one of the associate nations can walk away with the trophy.

Anyway, the World Cup is just getting warmed up, and predictably it is the minnows who are facing most of the heat; but a week of interesting clashes is coming up – South Africa vs West Indies, Australia vs New Zealand, Sri Lanka vs Pakistan and India vs England. It will provide the earliest indicator of which teams are serious contenders for the title.

ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 – A Preview and Opinion Poll

The World Cup is finally upon us! The premier ODI competition which comes around every four years and confers bragging rights as the World Champion in that format is being held this time in the subcontinent, which should heavily favor teams such as India, Sri Lanka and dare I say, Bangladesh. Despite the arrivals of the World T20 championships, IPL, Champions League and doubts over the future of ODIs, the World Cup continues to stay relevant as it has for the last four decades; for the simple reason that it has history behind it, and that present day cricketers grew up watching their heroes battling it out in the biggest stage of their days. So, the competition will be intense, and the players have the chance to make/break their careers based on their performances. Without much further ado, here are the chances of the 9 Test playing nations based on their team composition:

SRI LANKA

The squad:

Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath.

My starting XI:

Dilshan-Tharanga-Sangakarra-Jayawardene-Samaraweera-Mathews-Perera-Herath-Kulasekara-Malinga-Muralitharan

Player to watch:

Angelo Mathews

Chances:

One of the best placed teams to win the tournament. They have the ingredients needed to go all the way through: an attacking opening combination, two world class middle order batsmen, power packed allrounders who can win a game with either bat or ball, a spin legend in home conditions, tricky combination of sling, seam and pace and the best Asian fielding, to boot. Anything less than an entry to the Final should be considered a failure.

INDIA

The squad:

MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin

(Edit: Praveen Kumar replaced with S Sreesanth)

My starting XI:

Tendulkar-Sehwag-Gambhir-Kohli-Yuvraj-Dhoni-Pathan-Harbhajan-Khan-Patel-Nehra

Player to watch:

Yusuf Pathan

Chances:

The last time India played in a World Cup at home, the campaign ended in tears at Kolkata in the semi-finals. This time, nothing short of winning the tournament will do for thousands of cheering, crazy fans. They have one of the most balanced teams in the fray with a power-packed batting order and a canny bowling attack. In home conditions, expect the likes of Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan to play some big innings, and for Harbhajan and Zaheer to be among the wickets. The team as a whole, will be under a lot of pressure; but in Dhoni, they have one of the calmest skippers in the game; and they would love to win the Cup for Tendulkar in what could be his last outing in a tournament which he has owned since 1992.

SOUTH AFRICA

The squad:

Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne van Wyk (wk)

My starting XI:

Amla-Smith-Kallis-de Villiers-Duminy-Ingram-du Plessis-Botha-Morkel-Steyn-Tsotsobe

Player to watch:

Dale Steyn

Chances:

With the team they have, they can go as far as the semifinals. After that, it is all a matter of coping with the pressure of doing what no other SA cricket team has done before – not screw it up! They have a fearsome pace attack and a couple of batsmen in good nick, but the likes of Smith, de Villiers, and the spinners will have to do their part if they want to make Smith’s last ODI assignment as skipper, memorable. This is one of their best opportunities to shake off the ‘C’ tag once and for all.

AUSTRALIA


The squad:

Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Cameron White, Tim Paine (wk), Steven Smith, John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger.

(Edit: Michael Hussey and Nathan Hauritz replaced with Callum Ferguson and Jason Krejza)

My starting XI:

Watson-Haddin-Ponting-Clarke-Ferguson-White-D Hussey-Smith-Johnson-Lee-Bollinger

Player to watch:

Shane Watson

Chances:

It is typical of the Australian team, that when you start to write off their chances, they come back with a fighting performance, as they did recently against England. They are ranked number 1 in the world, but I don’t give them much chance of reaching the semis, as their selections are flawed and they have injury concerns regarding their main players. Their only spinner who was good, is injured and the remaining one in the squad is not fit to be in the squad either for his batting or bowling. Their batting is prone to collapse, and the bowling attack is comprised of players who are too injury prone. They will make it to the quarters, but hard to see them progressing beyond that. Still, it is the World Cup, and the last time Australia was beaten in a WC encounter was more than a decade ago! They have a proud record to maintain, and it might yet see Ponting and his men cock a snook at their detractors. Unlikely, but possible.  Also, this will be the last hurrah for the likes of Ponting and Lee in World Cups and they will be keen to cap off their ODI careers in style.

ENGLAND

The squad:

Andrew Strauss (capt), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Ajmal Shahzad, Graeme Swann, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy

(Edit: Eoin Morgan replaced with Ravi Bopara)

My starting XI:

Strauss-Bell-Trott-Pietersen-Collingwood-Bopara-Prior-Yardy-Swann-Broad-Anderson

Player to watch:

Graeme Swann

Chances:

It is hard to justify my predictions for England reaching the semis, given their performance down under. Still, they have got a supremely talented ODI side, and this is the best placed English team to win their first ever ODI World Cup (injuries aside). They have a lot of talented batters, who if they get going, can set up a big total or chase one down. In the bowling stakes, they have the world’s best spinner and two talented pacers who can win a game on their own. They are also a very good fielding unit, to boot. Now, if they can only elicit some sort of consistency and stability from their batting – they will go a long way towards lifting the trophy at the Wankhede stadium on April 2nd.

NEW ZEALAND


The squad:

Daniel Vettori, Hamish Bennett, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Jamie How, Brendon McCullum, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Luke Woodcock.

My starting XI:

Ryder-Guptill-Williamson-Taylor-Styris-B McCullum-Oram-Franklin-Vettori-Southee-N McCullum

Player to watch:

Ross Taylor

Chances:

When you take a look at the players in this squad, it is a wonder that they don’t win more often. The Kiwis have always been good at the World Cup and make it a habit of making it to the semifinals before getting knocked out. This time, on the back of two consecutive heavy series defeats in the subcontinent, it is hard to see them making it past the quarterfinal stage. Still, they are one of the most multi-faceted teams in the fray, packed with batsmen who can bowl and bowlers who can bat (allrounder, in other words!) and they are traditionally a brilliant fielding side as well. So, if Vettori can inspire his men in his last outing as captain, they have all the talented players needed to win their first ever World Cup.

WEST INDIES


The squad:

Darren Sammy (capt), Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Devon Smith, Sulieman Benn, Nikita Miller, Carlton Baugh (wk), Andre Rusell, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Adrian Barath.

My starting XI:

Gayle-Barath-Darren Bravo-Sarwan-Chanderpaul-Dwayne Bravo-Pollard-Sammy-Baugh-Benn-Roach

Player to watch:

Kieron Pollard

Chances:

Another multi-faceted team, which has been playing below its potential for a long time. When a team has the likes of Gayle, Bravo and Pollard to explode, complementing the stability of Sarwan and Chanderpaul and the youthful exuberance of Darren Bravo and Barath – they should not be in the bottom rung of the rankings. Of course, it is much harder when a number of your first choice bowers are injured for the most part of their careers. Their bowling, despite the likes of Sammy, Dwayne Bravo, Roach and Benn, is their weakness and it will take the best of their abilities and discipline to get to the knockout stage ahead of Bangladesh. If they do make it to the quarters, they stand as good a chance as anyone else to make it all the way to the final.

PAKISTAN:


The squad:

Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal (wk), Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Tanvir, Ahmed Shehzad

My starting XI:

Hafeez-K Akmal-Younis-Misbah-U Akmal-Shafiq-Afridi-Razzaq-Riaz-Gul-Rehman

Player to watch:

Abdul Razzaq

Chances:

It is safe to say that despite all the turmoil and uncertainties surrounding Pakistan cricket, they will make it to the quarterfinals and give a serious challenge for the title. Afridi, Razzaq and Younis Khan are veterans who have seen it all and they are complemented by a bunch of players who will be itching for World Cup glory. They have a talented batting lineup, which is rather prone to implosions and a disciplined bowling attack which might not run through any line-up but will definitely keep the opposition batsmen honest (Thank you, Mr Shastri). Still, there will be a tremendous load of pressure on a team whose board did not even bother announcing the skipper till the 11th hour and who will be the only subcontinent team not to play their matches at home. Anything better than getting knocked out in the quarterfinals can be considered a major success.

BANGLADESH

The squad:

Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Junaid Siddique, Shahriar Nafees, Raqibul Hasan, Mohammad Ashraful, Mushfiqur Rahim, Naeem Islam, Mahmudullah, Abdur Razzak, Rubel Hossain, Shafiul Islam, Nazmul Hossain, Suhrawadi Shuvo.

My starting XI:

Iqbal-Kayes-Siddique-Raqibul Hasan-Shakib-Rahim-Mahmudullah-Shuvo-Razzak-Shafiul Islam-Rubel Hossain

Player to watch:

Shakib Al Hasan

Chances:

Personally, the dark horse of the tournament. They have had two back to back successful home series against New Zealand and Zimbabwe, and are riding on a crest of confidence right now. They will be playing their games in familiar conditions backed by a raucous home crowd. They have one of the finest openers in Tamim Iqbal and the best allrounder in Shakib al Hasan – who will be reinforced by players who have learnt to punch above their weight in the shorter formats of the game. I favor them to get to the quarters ahead of West Indies and with a bit of luck can go even further.Also, be prepared to see an endless loop of left-arm spin bowling, when Bangladesh is on the field.

As you can see, at least six teams will back themselves to win this tournament and as a consequence the World Cup will be the most open contest since 1999. Will Murali end his ODI career the same way he ended his Test career? Will Tendulkar get to taste World Cup glory at home, in his 6th and possibly final attempt? Or will Smith or Vettori sign off as ODI skippers in style? All these answers and more will be finally answered in Mumbai on April 2nd, at the end of what promises to be a fascinating and well fought tournament. May the best team (hopefully, mine!) win…

Don’t forget to take part in the following opinion poll-

My 2011 wishlist for International Cricket

I had a terrible year...how about you guys?

 

Its the end of a fascinating year in cricket  – a year which included among many others, a maiden World T20 title for England, a thrilling end to Murali’s career, Laxman’s numerous houdini acts, the spot-fixing saga in England, Bangladesh whitewashing New Zealand in ODIs, Modi’s crash and burn, Sachin breaking barriers in ODIs and Tests, the declining fortunes of the Aussies, and of course, the Ashes retained by England. I can only hope for another year like that in 2011:

  • Khawaja scores a breath-taking ton in a losing cause against England at Sydney, as Collingwood scores a gritty double century to prolong his career.
  • Zaheer grabs a 10 wicket haul and Sehwag scores a double century to seal a historic series victory in South Africa, despite the best efforts of Amla and  Steyn.
  • Pakistan and New Zealand take part in a thrilling ODI series, at the end of which, Ijaz Butt starts off on a rant, as to how it is all a big conspiracy to defraud Pakistan cricket, when someone reminds him that Pakistan have won.
  • The World Cup final is contested between India and England, which ends in a dramatic tie, after valiant performances by the unlikely duo of Strauss and Jadeja.
  • IPL 4 is won by Ganguly-led Kochi, after a whirlwind knock by Clarke (yes, Michael!) just pushes them over the line against Lara’s Pune (Clarke vs Lara, get it?).
  • England and India take part in a run-filled Test series featuring marathon batting knocks by Cook, Trott, Dravid and Harbhajan.
  • West Indies and Pakistan take part in a Test series, which is filled with countless mentions of how Darren Bravo’s stroke-play reminds one of Brian Lara, and how Amir’s return to international cricket is a disgrace to the beautiful game (cricket, in this instance!)
  • New Zealand skipper, chief selector, part-time cricket board chief – Dan Vettori, blasts the media, after taking umbrage to the remark that he was a poor man’s Shakib Al Hasan, at the end of another whitewash against Bangladesh even as coach Wright longs for another stint with India.
  • Zimbabwe invite Sri Lanka to take part in their domestic competition, after Sangakarra is left fuming at the lack of games for his team. Sri Lanka accept the invitation and travel to Zimbabwe, upon which the entire season is washed out due to rain, leading to the skipper’s remarks that it was the “worst first class season of my life”.
  • Things move fast in South Africa where Hashim Amla takes over the reins after De Villiers decides to take a break, to spend more time developing his music career. Paul Harris is the leading wicket taker of the year, after batsmen throw their wickets away attempting to slog him, after bearing the brunt of Steyn and Morkel.
  • India’s tour of Australia is mired in controversy, after new Aussie skipper Watson accuses India of deliberately destroying Johnson’s career by smashing him all around the park with scant respect. It completely overshadows career defining performances by Pujara, Unadkat, Ferguson and Beer.
  • Finally, the leading run scorer and wicket taker of the year are, Ian Bell and some fast bowler Pakistan unearthed at the beginning of 2011.

Have a good 2011, everybody!

Meanwhile, in a parallel non-Ashes world…

As England continue to ruthlessly break down Australian spirit, down under in Adelaide; there are quite a few interesting things happening elsewhere in the world of cricket:

  • Under a stand-in captain, and without most of their first choice players, India has been doing an ‘England’ to the Kiwis, by demolishing them in one-sided games; with two games to go, India has already claimed the series, thanks to the Delhi pair of Gambhir and Kohli. When the seniors return, this Indian side will be a handful, in the World Cup. For New Zealand, there is simply nothing to write about.
  • West Indies and Sri Lanka played one of the most rain-affected series, in a long time. Except for Gayle’s triple ton and Darren Bravo’s stroke-play, the series didn’t really excite. Darren Sammy made a decent start to his captaincy stint and if he continues to have the respect and loyalty of his team-mates, West Indies can start to hope again. 
  • Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are playing yet another series against each other; though i admit, the cricket is usually entertaining because it is like a battle of equals. Shakib Al-Hasan, who is turning out to be the Vettori of Bangladesh, is once again at the forefront with a couple of good performances so far. If you don’t mind the lack of star players, and fancy some well fought cricket, this series is worth watching.
  • The IPL saga rambles on. Kochi is back in, Rajasthan and Punjab are still in limbo, and the auction looks like it is going to be postponed again; despite a flurry of IPL-related activity, which happens every day, nothing really changes. It is a spectacle in itself.
  • South Africa have included Ryan McLaren to the squad for the first test against India. I don’t think it is going to make too much of a difference. Steyn and Morkel are the only bowlers, India will worry about.
  • And finally, in Pakistan, Shahid Afridi has wisely played down any hopes of winning the World Cup next year; while their batting in tests seems to have improved in their last two matches, their ODI batting has to improve, and I doubt if they have enough time for that.  

I’ll conclude this post, by posting a good quote by Ian Chappell, regarding the merits of the team huddle:

If speeches were that important, Winston Churchill would have made a great captain.