opinion poll

First impressions of IPL 4

The fourth edition of the IPL is up and running. All the 10 teams have played one game each so far and already there are some ideas as to how each team is going to fare in the rest of the tournament.

Personally, I can’t seem to get excited enough about this edition compared to the previous ones; because I want to bask in the World Cup win hangover for some more time, dammit!  A few days back, Tendulkar watches Malinga take out Sehwag off the second ball of the Indian innings in the World Cup final before falling victim himself; now, he rejoices with Malinga after running out Sehwag of a direct hit. A few days back, Dhoni negated Randiv in the Final to perfection; now, they celebrate after plotting the dismissal of an Indian batsman. Its not that I don’t enjoy it; its just that it is too soon!

Anyway, I like the IPL. Despite its faults and crassness, I enjoy players from different countries get together to play as a team. Inadvertently, it has improved the ODI performance of the Indian team over the last couple of years and given the likes of Raina, Ashwin, Yusuf Pathan and Pragyan Ojha the opportunities to break into the Indian team. Foreign players have a better understanding of a different culture and most importantly, the ‘club’ culture is slowly taking root in India.

The IPL is not going to please everyone. For those people, I would just say – Don’t watch it then. There are other alternatives. For International cricket, you can tune into the Australian tour of Bangladesh, where ‘Pup’ has transformed into ‘Big Dog’. For the antithesis of IPL T20, there is the County Season which is underway (Go Lancs!). While critics like Peter Roebuck (who is slowly turning into the cricketing version of Glenn Beck!) and others harp on about the IPL’s contribution to the supposed decline of cricket, the recent World Cup is a reminder that cricket has and will survive in the future, no matter the number of changes and innovations which will inevitably grace the sport.

Anyway, here are my first impressions of IPL 4 so far:

Chennai Super Kings


  • Despite the loss of Hayden, Oram, Murali and Balaji, CSK are one of the teams to beat in this IPL, with the addition of Southee, Du Plessis, Randiv, Kulasekara and Styris.
  • With Bollinger slated to join from CSK’s third game, this team is going to get better.
  • As long as Dhoni is involved in a cricket match, the game will be decided in the last over.
  • The presence of so many Kiwi and Saffer cricketers in this team makes it a top class fielding side too.
  • It’s a long way to go, but I’m confident that CSK will progress to the final easily.

Kolkata Knight Riders


  • New captain, new team, same problems.
  • Gambhir is trying to be a very unique captain. It didn’t work too well against CSK but it will be an interesting campaign for sure.
  • With the likes of Kallis, Y Pathan, Eoin Morgan, Haddin, Tiwary and Ten Doeschate in the squad, the batting looks top class, but the bowling looks weak despite the presence of Lee and Shakib.
  • KKR played with only two overseas players in the CSK game. Surely, a first?
  • KKR play their first game at home today, and it will be interesting to see the reception in the absence of Dada.

Deccan Chargers


  • One keeper captain replaces another. Kumar Sangakarra replaces Gilchrist as captain of the Chargers. Still didn’t break their home jinx though.
  • Neither the batting or bowling seem full strength. Steyn and Ojha are top class bowlers but the likes of Christian, Ishant Sharma, Mishra are not consistent enough. A lot depends on if Sangakarra would want two Saffer new ball operators in Rusty Theron and Steyn.
  • Kevin Pietersen is injured and Cam White is terribly out of form. That leaves the batting in the hands of Sanga, Dhawan, Duminy and Lumb. As you can see, too much dependence on foreign players.
  • It’s hard to see this team doing well, but then again, what do I know?

Rajasthan Royals


  • Warnie’s team are at it again. Despite the lack of big stars, they have started their campaign on a winning note, with their most expensive signing, Johan Botha leading the way.
  • The team actually has a lot of good domestic talent with the presence of Rahane, Asnodkar, Binny, Dravid, Chopra, Menaria and Pinal Shah to bolster the batting and Trivedi, Pankaj Singh, Narwal and Chahar shoring up the bowling.
  • They are complemented by the foreign exports in Oram, Taylor, Watson and Tait.
  • Safe to say, they can go far in this tournament. They should be disappointed if they don’t make it to the semifinals.

Kochi Tuskers Kerela


  • Worst Jersey. Period.
  • They have the talented Mr Jayawardene at the helm, which is a huge boost.
  • Then again, they have Jadeja, Sreesanth, RP Singh and Steven Smith; and that drastically reduces their chances of winning.
  • That puts a lot of pressure on Murali, Powar, Hastings and Vinay Kumar to be at their best always.
  • Batting is top class (Laxman, Hodge, McCullum, Jayawardene, Owais Shah and Perera) but local talent is not sufficient to see them through to the semifinals.

Royal Challengers Bangalore


  • One intelligent spinning legend replaces another at the helm. Vettori replaces Kumble and the team gets off to a winning start.
  • Zaheer, Nannes, Vettori, Langeveldt, Mithun in bowling. De Villiers, Dilshan, Kohli, Tiwary and Pomersbach in batting. Need I say more?
  • The trick will be, as with all teams, to get the balance between the local talent and international players right.
  • Another team which will be disappointed if they do not get to the semifinals.

Delhi Daredevils


  • The Daredevils or the ‘Triple D’ as Morrison screams in our ears – have a shambolic team composition. They were duly knocked senseless in their opening game.
  • On paper, their strength is the top heavy Sehwag, Warner and Finch. That also happens to be their weakness as these players know only one way to play, and if that does not come off, their performance against Malinga and co are a good template as to how it can pan out.
  • Same goes for bowling; Agarkar, Dinda, Umesh Yadav, Morkel, Irfan Pathan. They can be really good or terribly bad. No middle ground what so ever.
  • Sehwag remains their main X-Factor as a captain and a batsman. Take him out and half the match is gone.
  • If they reach the semis, it can be considered as an achievement.

Mumbai Indians


  • Along with CSK, my other pick for reaching the final. They dispatched the Daredevils with ease in their opening game, with the batting and bowling firing on all cylinders. They didn’t even have to play Symonds yet.
  • Tendulkar and Davy Jacobs opening. Rohit Sharma, Rayadu, Pollard, Symonds to follow. Easily the most frightening batting line up in the IPL.
  • Their bowling has Malinga. Enough said.
  • If at all, there is any weakness, it is a paucity of quality domestic talent; but right now, it seems they have the requisite players to see them through to the finish.

Kings XI Punjab


  • Along with the Daredevils, I expect them to be at the bottom of the table for most part of the tournament. Another shambolic team composition; do we have to see a distressed Preity Zinta after every match?
  • Gilchrist’s powers are on the wane. Shaun Marsh is fighting injuries half the time. That leaves a lot on the plate of David Hussey (who is yet to join the team) and McLaren to shore up the batting. Local talent not good enough to see the team through tough phases.
  • Bowling depends on Praveen Kumar and Chawla too much; and we all know how consistent they can be.
  • A tough slog awaits the Kings XI in this IPL. If their match against the Pune Warriors are any indication, they are going to get walloped in every game till they figure how to manage with what they got.

Pune Warriors


  • I like this team (smart looking jersey and everything) and I expect them to be in the top four of this IPL.
  • Yuvraj Singh seems to be a much improved captain compared to the KXP version of the first two editions. Still, it is a long way to go and it will be interesting to see how he handles himself and the team.
  • Top order is one of the better ones: Smith (despite poor form), Ryder, Manhas, Yuvraj, Utthappa and Ferguson (If he gets to play). They can also fall back on T Paine, Jhunjhunwala and Manish Pandey (once he is done with the suspension).
  • Bowling looks classy with Parnell, Nehra, Alfonso Thomas, N McCullum and Murali Kartik. If only they had the services of the injured Mathews and Jerome Taylor, they would be even harder to beat.
  • The team owner who happens to own the main sponsor of the Indian team as well, sat with a huge horde of young ladies surrounding him and watched the game. For some reason, it reminds me too much of Allen Stanford. On the other hand, they might just have the best cheerleaders in IPL history!

An additional note on the commentators. I had always thought that Modi was to blame for the shameless shilling of the sponsors and overexcited nature of the commentary team. Glad to know that even in his absence, the commentators can continue their atrocious job!

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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…

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