Predictable Soft Format But World Cup Is Wide Open
After the disastrous (financially/ commercially) 2007 World Cup held in West Indies in which India and Pakistan flopped in the preliminary league stage, the International Cricket Council (ICC) created such a format that ensured that in future such ‘tragedies’ do not happen in the initial stages of the championship
The 2007 World Cup also brought home the stark reality that (so-called) Cricket World Cup is not financially viable unless India and to some extent Pakistan are not kept alive at least till the knockout stages.
Thus from 2011 onwards the World Cup has become predictable at least till the quarter final stages and for some like Rahul Dravid this predictability has led to boredom. The makeup of the quarterfinals didn’t take too much mental arithmetic. Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith has opined that one starts the tournament with this great hype and then it hits a lull. “The experiences I have had with the football and rugby World Cups is that every weekend there is a big challenge and one is looking forward to the next game,” he said. But such huge events are not conducted on the basis of likes and dislikes of genuine cricket lovers or former greats but on the commercial viability because sponsors pump in millions of dollars.
So it is not surprising that 14-team tournament with 49 matches will last for around 46 days while World Cup football with 32 teams and 64 matches concludes in 30 days. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the World Cup is tailored to the needs of the Indian subcontinent because it provides the heaviest number of eyeballs to the TV channels and most of the sponsorship coming from India-based companies.
The 11th edition of ICC Cricket World Cup is jointly co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, and the 14 teams taking part in it have been divided into two pools—A and B and each pool consists of five test playing teams and two qualifiers. Pool A comprises of Australia, New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland while Pool B consists of India, Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and United States of Emirates.
The World Cup is slated to be played in 14 venues with Australia staging 26 matches at Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney while New Zealand hosts 23 in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Napier, Nelson and Wellington. A total of 42 matches will be played at league/ group stage. The top four teams from each pool will qualify for the quarter finals to be played on knock out basis. The four quarter finals matches will be played between March 18 and March 21.
The first semi-final match will take place on March 24 while second semi-final on March 26. Final is scheduled on March 29 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The opening match will be played between New Zealand and Sri Lanka at Hagley Oval in Christchurch and the mouth-watering contest between arch-rivals India and Pakistan is the second match of the tournament and will be held at Adelaide on February 15. The Indian team has been in Australia for last two months thus Dhoni’s men can not complain of not having enough time for acclimatization. The Men in Blue have disappointed their fans so far by not winning a single match either in test series or in one day tri-series.
However, former skipper Saurav Ganguly feels this is no reason to worry. “Before 2003 World Cup we had a poor record but then we finished runners up in South Africa,” he said. Same is the case with Pakistan.
They have been thrashed by New Zealand in two-match ODI series but their former skipper Inzamm-ul Haq says. “We lost all the matches before 1992 World Cup but then went on to win the title.”
India is not only the defending champions but also happens to be one of the only three teams that have won it more than once but they are not starting as favourite, their track-record in Australia and New Zealand is not very encouraging. Indians are battling fitness problems—their main bowlers Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami Bhuvneshwar Kumar along with Rohit Sharma and Ravinder Jadeja are not fully fit. “I have been covering cricket for last35 years and i have never seen such an unfit Indian team to represent the country in any series or tournament’ bemoaned veteran sports journalist Padampati Sharma.
The defending champions seem to be heavily dependent on Virat Kohli and this is not a good sign. Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan struggled in tri-series.
As Rahul Dravid put it, Virat Kohli will need to be at his best as the team is heavily reliant on him. “If you look at the Indian batting lineup, they are in a sense heavily reliant on someone like Virat Kohli to get India through those middle overs which allows the likes of Raina and Dhoni to come at the back-end and finish off games,” he added.
According to former skipper the death bowling of the team was “inconsistent”. “Mohammad Shami we’ve seen has a good yorker and when he’s on song he does well. Ishant Sharma has blown hot and cold in one-day cricket. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is brilliant when the balls swings, but again his death bowling has been good on some days, not been great (on other days) same with Umesh Yadav. So there’s no consistency in that,”
On the other hand, former ace fast bowler Javagal Srinath is of the view that India needs to identify its main pace attack capable of taking wickets in their title defence. “It is extremely important for India to identify its frontline pace attack. At this time, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a certainty, and given that Ishant (Sharma) is fit, he will be a shoo-in if he can find his line and length. The third seamer is then a toss-up between Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav. Bhuvneshwar will swing the ball, which is his great strength, while the others will get seam movement. What this means is that Bhuvneshwar apart, the others have to bowl just a yard shorter and place the onus on the batsman to play the cut and the pull from that indeterminate, uncomfortable length,” he said.
Srinath said bowlers have to realise that their batsmen are not going to bail them out always and so a player like Ishant has greater responsibility. He further said: “I personally hold the opinion that the best death bowling is to bowl at tail-enders.” And mind you both Rahul and Srinath have not taken these bowlers’ fitness problems in consideration.
Here is another interesting statistics. If India does make it to the final of the World Cup, most of the players will have been away from their homes for a stretch of 144 days, starting with a Test series and triangular series in Australia. Despite all the lingering doubts about the team what keeps the hopes alive is that India is in a comparatively easier pool and unless there is an earth shaking upset There is no way a big team can be knocked out in the league stages After that it is a matter of three good days. However, there are experts who feel that format and easy pool notwithstanding, to expect that a half-fit side with virtually crippled attack to mount a challenge to defend the title is asking a bit too much.
In the given scenario, India’s pace attack lacks the sting and is considered the weakest among title-chasing teams. The spinners have also not been very effective in the tri-series. All is also going to put extra pressure on the batsmen. It will be interesting to see whether Indian team management will seek replacement for the injured players. They make ask for one or two replacements but what about others. That is a million dollar question. On the other hand Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with their recent performances, have emerged as strong contenders with Sri Lanka and England as a dark horse. Pakistan remains an unpredictable side while former champion West Indies are battling to keep themselves afloat and relevant.
By Harpal Singh Bedi
Pakistan Lack Seasoned And Big-Ticket Players
“In 1992 also, they started off very badly and they struggled for a while with a similar kind of team in which they had a lot of young players but who later on went to become absolute legends for Pakistan. So Pakistan can only hope that history repeats itself” Dravid commented in ESPN Cricinfo programme Contenders along with former South Africa captain Graeme Smith
“Pakistan lack those big-ticket players or game changers which you would associate the team of the past,” Dravid said. India and Pakistan will open their World Cup campaign by taking on each other On February 15.
Echoing Dravid’s views Smith opined: “Pakistan is looking for stability, looking for someone who can create some consistency. The younger generation of batters hasn’t quite stepped up to the plate in terms of consistent performances. When you go back to 1992, they had a charismatic captain Imran Khan. Who can forget Wasim Akram in the final of the tournament? And they had some X factor. That’s what they need to find now, early in the tournament, find their best eleven.” Smith commented. About Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq, Dravid said that he has a lot of respect from the players in the team. They respect that he brings that stability to the team. He’s been able to work really well with the board and with the coaching staff. And makes the best of the situation he finds himself in. So you can’t fault him on his effort and he’s trying to do the best that he can.
Talking about Shahid Afridi, the former Indian skipper said: “It’s almost like when he goes out to bat, there’s this red mist that comes over him, he just swings at everything. But I’ve seen him play a different kind of game. I’ve seen him play sensibly at times and construct innings. But it just hasn’t happened of late for some reason or the other.”
On Umar Akmal’s role, Dravid said, “If he can turn that obvious ability and become a run-hungry consistent batsman for Pakistan, sure enough he’ll find a spot. He could bat at No. 4 consistently, or at 3 or 5, or bat anywhere really if he wants to.”
Smith on the other hand, maintained that absence of spinner Saeed Ajmal will be hugely felt. “Every batsman in every team is breathing a sigh of relief that Ajmal is not around. Believe me, I wish I could go play a Pakistan team without Ajmal in it.”
Pakistan have an impressive World Cup record with one title, one runners-up finish and four semi-final appearances over the last ten editions of the tournament. However, the 1992 champions showing so far has been far from impressive and it will indeed need a miracle for them to repeat history after 23 years.
Clash Of The Titans
Cricket is a game where more often than not, the rush of adrenaline is faster than the course of the game itself. So rivalries become a part and parcel of this sport. But when it comes to an India vs. Pakistan game, ‘rivalry’ becomes too small word to describe. An India versus Pakistan clash always promises to be a high-voltage affair with the World Cup matches between the two arch-rivals promising to be even more dramatic as is evident by the intensity that precedes every game. The atmosphere becomes so tense and the rivalry is so intense that these two teams have even overshadowed other big teams in the world of cricket like England, who invented this game, West Indies, who lifted the first World Cup trophy, and even Australia; who have enjoyed a decade plus dominance in this game. Take this for example, the 2011 World Cup semi-final game between India and Pakistan at Mohali was the largest television event of that year, attracting around 1.5 billion TV viewers. India and Pakistan have a lot in common. They share same languages, same customs, same history, same clothes, same music and even same undying passion for cricket. Yet all of this means nothing when players from these two countries step onto the field of cricket.
So much is at stake in each game that each player, each shot, each over and excitingly each ball comes under intense scrutiny by spectators, fans and cricket experts, each giving his/her own views and opinions. A sense of enthusiasm and excitement prevails for cricket fans across the world every time they see blue and green on the field. And even the players feel this pulsating pressure as nobody wants to be at the receiving end of criticism.
Pakistani players and fans may be wondering as to what has caused them to lose all of their World Cup encounters against the Indians over the years and what needs to be done in order to overturn that ignominious statistic. It all started way back in the ICC World Cup 1992 played in Australia and New Zealand where the Indians started off with maintaining their vice-like grip over the Pakistanis over the years as they earned a 44-run win in the match at Sydney and thus started the trend of domination over their rivals in the matches to come.
Many more contests followed and surprisingly it was always the ‘Men in Blue’ who seemed to hold their nerve in World Cup encounters (India have recently the record to 9-0 against Pakistan in World Cup matches, thanks to a 7-wicket win in the ICC World T20 encounter in Dhaka last year) as they earned one victory after another in high-profile World Cup clashes which has now left the Pakistanis scratching their heads as to what needs to be done so as to break the dubious record. The fact is that records are meant to be broken in sports some time or the other and only time will tell whether the Pakistanis will do it against India in the upcoming ICC World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
And speaking of matches in the past, apart from Pakistan’s poor World Cup record against India, the side has won the tournament on two occasions (1992 World Cup and 2009 World T20) which proves that the team has it in them to deliver in the crunch games. So the fact is that it is no coincidence that Pakistan have lost nine Cup games against the Men in Blue and it can be clearly stated that all of it lie in the mind, where games are won and lost prior to the start of a World Cup campaign.
Keeping in mind that rivalry needs familiarity, and to a certain degree, regularity, the durability of Indo-Pak excitement now entirely depends on tournament organisers such as the International Cricket Council (ICC). ICC ensures that the both the rivals face-off each other at least once in ICC tournaments, after all it’s the highest revenue grosser of the game. The Australian government is expecting around 20,000 Indian travellers for the greatest clash of the 2015 World Cup. This World Cup got more interesting with millenium star Amitabh Bachchan making his commentary debut. He will join stalwarts of the cricket-commentary world, Harsh Bhogle and Kapil Dev, as a commentator during the India vs Pakistan match.
It is a high-voltage encounter – one whose intensity and fervour transcends the boundaries of the cricket field. The rivalry between India and Pakistan has its deep roots in history, and things reach a fever pitch when the two sides face each other. If the pressure of playing each other in a simple game is immense, it just magnifies in a World Cup. It is a game both sides desperately want to win, irrespective of their standing in the tournament as it is a matter of prestige. It’s certainly going to be ‘Clash of the Titans’.
By Nilabh Krishna
Former Top Players Feel India Will Make It To The Last Four
There is a general consensus among the former top cricketers that India is likely to make the semi-finals but they hesitate to consider the defending champions as top favourite to retain the title. At a cricket conclave organised by a TV channel, former India captain Kapil Dev, along with former Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq, fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar and one of the best fielder of his time, Jonty Rhodes, of South Africa gave their views on Dhoni’s team.
Kapil Dev asserted that India has only 25 per cent chance of winning the World Cup, but “It’s a different era now. They might not have the experience but they are not lacking enthusiasm”.
“I believe India will reach semi-finals and all four teams will have 25 per cent chance. You can’t predict from there on. I think the first 15 overs will decide how India will perform. I would take 40/0 in first 15 overs which can give us 270 plus total. It’s a must. But if India lose 2-3 wickets in 15 overs it will be difficult.”
“Players can bat at any order as they can slog the ball. We have 6 batsmen who are match winners. A 270 + is very necessary to build the match,” Kapil further added.
Kapil, who led India to title win in 1983 world cup also asserted: “A lot planning goes into the game, but a lot depends on the moment. All the team will come with aim of winning. Big names don’t work but big commitments only win matches.”
He was of the view that though Dhoni-led World Cup squad lacks experience, they can fill the void through their energy and commitment. “If you see the 2011 World Cup winning squad, there are a lot of big names missing. They lack experience as compared to the 2011 squad. However, this team has the energy and enthusiasm. They have the fighting spirit. That will hopefully take them ahead,” he said, adding, “Every time you go onto the field, you strive to do better. During a match, commitment makes the difference.”
Jonty Rhodes opined that much should not be read of Indian team’s performance in Australia saying “the fans should know that Dhoni’s men are not going to play Australia in every match of the World Cup.”
“The test and tri-series performance will have no bearing on team’s showing in the World Cup,” Rhodes said, adding that Dhoni factor will play a big role. India certainly has big players—Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma. Dhoni factor will play a part. The South African great, however, admitted that India will have a tough time as conditions will be completely different from sub-continent. According to him Australia, India, South Africa and New Zealand are the top 4 teams.
Rhodes views were also echoed by former Pakistan cricketers Inzamam-Ul-Haq and Shoaib Akhtar who opined that presence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a leader makes the Indian team a good unit going into World Cup,
“I believe having Dhoni as a leader is a big factor for the Indian team. An experienced captain in a big ticket event is always a plus. He is one player, who has performed for India in pressure situations and scripted innumerable comebacks for the team. Having a leader who knows how to handle pressure makes him a cut above the rest,” said former skipper Inzamam, who played five World Cups for Pakistan.
On the other hand Shoaib was more candid: “With due respect and not taking any names, I have seen captains, who hide behind the team under pressure but Dhoni is one guy who would make the team hide behind him when they are under pressure. He is one guy who doesn’t know the meaning of fear.”
While Inzamam gave India a “good 60-70 per cent” chance, Shoaib rated South Africa and New Zealand as the two teams in with good chance of winning the Cup. Inzamam said the Indian team has an added advantage as they are aware of the conditions in Australia. “They know when to put spin bowlers. India has match-winning players like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Dhoni. Players morale should be good to help them perform better.”
He also said that India’s showing so far was no cause for concern. “Let me tell you a story. In 1992, we went to Australia a month before World Cup. Not many know that we played six warm up games prior to World Cup and lost all six. We went onto win World Cup.”
“The wickets in Australia have become very different from what it used to be during our time. These are good batting tracks. Also two months in Australia have gave them insight and understanding of these tracks. Adjustment is always the key and Indian team will enjoy the advantage. But I can tell you one thing. Reverse swing won’t be a factor with two new balls from both ends
“Indian batsmen would need to put up a good score on the board which would in turn make their bowlers feel confident. I think 300 plus would be par-score in the tournament. You have seen Virat Kohli score four hundreds. I think Indo-Pak match at start will be crucial. A final before final. But I don’t mind losing to India if Pakistan win World Cup,” Inzamam said.
Shoaib, had a different take on the issue. “It’s always the last 15-20 days that’s the most crucial in a World Cup competition. In 1999, Australia peaked at right time after indifferent start. In this World Cup, it’s all about three good days. India and Pakistan are cornered tigers in the tournament. I think India versus Pakistan opening match will start from dressing room itself,” he said. (HSB)
Defending Champions Flirting With The Cup?
India’s strength is their batting and Virat Kohli is the premiere batsman for them. The big debate now is: Where should he bat? The recently concluded ODI tri-series puts a huge question mark on Shikhar Dhawan’s form and technique. Rahane looks solid at the top but failed to make big runs
There shouldn’t be any major surprise as India’s bad form overseas continues, that too before a mega event. It seems it has become a trend with them. They had a pretty bad tour in England before winning the inaugural T-20 World Cup in South Africa. In 2011, they first lost to South Africa poorly and thereafter they won the title at home (50-Over World Cup). Before reaching the Finals of the 2003 World Cup, India was crushed to a humiliating defeat in New Zealand. This time around too the same story follows; they have comprehensively been beaten by Australia in Test series followed by their dismal performance in the tri series, where they were washed out without winning a single game. Though the Australian tour has raised numerous questions on the form, fitness, capability and adaptation of Men in Blue abroad, history suggests India has the capability to bounce back in the bigger and larger stage.
Selectors picked the 15-man squad, which will try to defend the World Cup it won at home four years ago. When you select a cricket team for its biggest tournament there are at most two to three points for debate, and the rest of the squad is selected on the basis of current form and experience. But, for the current team, it is not quite the same. They have struggled to adapt to Australian conditions. The batsmen don’t like the bounce and the bowlers just don’t find the right length. While they can be impressive on their home turf, the Indian bowling attack looks decidedly toothless on Australian soil. Former captain Sunil Gavaskar lashed out at the present set of seamers saying India needed to unearth new bowlers. “You can’t keep them going because they have done nothing in the past few years, they are not penetrative enough and it did not look as if they wanted to take 20 wickets,” he said.
India’s strength is their batting and Virat Kohli is the premiere batsman for them. The big debate now is: Where should he bat? Should he bat at 3 or should he drop further down to No. 4 to shoulder the responsibility of wobbly middle order. The next worrying factor is who should open now? The recently concluded ODI tri-series puts a huge question mark on Shikhar Dhawan’s form and technique. Rahane looks solid at the top but failed to make big runs, which you need once your top order batsman gets set. Similarly, neither Raina nor Dhoni has performed satisfactorily in the tri-series. Another worrying factor for India is their inability to cash in on power play overs. They don’t just lost wickets, they also failed to score big runs in power plays.
Loaded with free-stroking batsmen but missing match-winning bowlers, India will look to chase down—rather than defend—the World Cup title. The biggest issue, though, is how weak and inexperienced the pace bowling looks. India has not been able to manage any continuity since 2011 in terms of fast bowling. Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel disintegrated fast after the event. Praveen Kumar, who could have been India’s big hope in ODIs after that World Cup, is nowhere on the scene. Bhuvi, Umesh, Varun and Shami just haven’t been good enough to cement a place in the side for long enough so as to get into the experienced bracket. As a result, Ishant Sharma, whom India had earlier preferred to keep aside for Tests and who has had quite an ordinary ODI career, is part of the attack, and it can’t even be argued that there is a better option available. Spin department too is a headache for India as spinners are hardly going to get spin friendly tracks in Australia and New Zealand.
It will be a tough task for Dhoni to pick the best eleven from the core fifteen. The lateral entry of Stuart Binny brings us to the question of all-rounders in the line-up. Looking at the record outside Asia and during the recently concluded tri-series, Dhoni is pretty keen to go with 6-batsman theory with Binny as a medium fast all-rounder and 4 bowlers including a spinner. On team selection and Binny’s inclusion, Team coach Duncan Fletcher said: “That’s one area that makes me a bit nervous. What we need in these conditions is a good batting all-rounder who bowls seam. That will add depth in our batting and give us that extra bowler. That is the real reason why we have Stuart Binny in the squad.”
Dhoni’s team have lost the Tests and the tri-series, indicating the fact that an over-exposure to Australian conditions could prove to be detrimental. But a win over Pakistan in their first match in Adelaide will be the tonic Dhoni needs to revitalise the side as India have never lost to their arch-rivals in the World Cup. At the end of the day, it will all be about how India plays on a given day, how it turns up day after day during the length of the tournament and the kind of synergy the players will bring with them. Let’s just hope this flirting with the cup doesn’t end in a break up that happened during the 1992 World Cup—when Azhar’s team lost everything in Australia before the approaching tournament and was knocked out in group stage—rather they save the relation with the Cup by defending it.
By Sorabh aggarwal
World Cup Stats
- India’s batsmen have scored most ducks in World Cup matches – 48, followed by 47 each by England and Pakistan
- This Indian team has no batsman with 300 runs in World Cup matches. Virat Kohli has the highest with 282
- The match timings for the matches will follow three timings in India – the morning matches scheduled in Australia and New Zealand at 3.30 am, 6.30 am and the Day-night matches will take place at 9.00 am IST.
- India is scheduled to begin their campaign against Pakistan on February 15 in a day-night clash at Adelaide Oval, Adelaide.