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At a press conference in New Delhi to unveil the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy, we were repeatedly told that the tournament, with 15 matches being played over a fortnight, would showcase the “best of the best”. Like Mr Rumsfeld and his mythical WMD, if you tell a lie enough times, you can convince yourself that it’s the truth. Fortunately, cricket has statistics to separate fact from fiction.

So, England and West Indies belong on the highest echelon, do they? Since January 2008, England have won 12 of 36 matches. Australia stand on the threshold of a 7-0 series sweep, and India beat them with embarrassing ease 10 months ago. Without Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, it would be charitable to call them even a second-rate side.

Where does that leave West Indies, who couldn’t even beat England? (more…)

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One more game, in Nottingham on Tuesday, and the Indian cricket team – not to mention a massive media entourage – will be heading home. By the time new champions are crowned at Lord’s next Sunday, the erstwhile champions will be back home, wondering just how they made such a pig’s ear of the title defence. Sloppy in the defeat to West Indies on Friday, they were too clever for their own good on Sunday, messing up a run chase in the face of sustained short-pitched bowling from a disciplined English attack. That they got so close in the end merely highlighted the failure of their tactics, and opened up a whole new can of what-ifs.
Yusuf Pathan scored off every ball he faced to finish with 33 from 17 balls, while MS Dhoni ended the game unbeaten on 30 from 20 balls. By the time Yusuf came to the crease though, 67 were needed from six overs. Yuvraj Singh had faced a similar situation, walking out with 92 required from 57 balls. Why had it come to that? With Yuvraj in such prime form, was there really a need to send Ravindra Jadeja up the order, especially when the 20-year-old had played just one ODI and two T20 games for India? In a crunch game, why would you back a new boy over an old hand?
As it was, Jadeja struggled horribly, barely middling a ball in an innings of 25 from 35 balls that sent the asking-rate soaring. Gautam Gambhir too was far from fluent, cramped for room by balls directed at the body and eventually forced into a half-hearted paddle that went straight to short fine leg. Yuvraj slammed the first ball he faced for six, and then hit one more, but James Foster’s dazzling glovework ended any thoughts of a Durban-like six barrage.
India’s bowling had been similarly ineffectual until the spinners came on. Kevin Pietersen batted with real majesty for his 46 and with Ravi Bopara rotating the strike, a massive total appeared to be on the cards. But Jadeja’s quicker deliveries and accuracy stemmed the tide, while Harbhajan chipped in with more wickets at the end. What proved costly though were the extras, 16 of them, including two attempted yorkers from Harbhajan that only took the leg-side route to the rope past Dhoni’s gloves.
On such slipshod moments are games won and lost. Later, Dhoni called the decision to promote Jadeja a gamble that failed to pay off. But why gamble at all when you have the most destructive batsman in the side pencilled in at No.4? The history of sport is littered with examples of teams that tried to over-complicate the game and fell short. You can add India to that list now. Clever is good, too clever is not. And while England march on to a winner-take-all contest against West Indies, India can pack their bags. Champions no more.

One more game, in Nottingham on Tuesday, and the Indian cricket team – not to mention a massive media entourage – will be heading home. By the time new champions are crowned at Lord’s next Sunday, the erstwhile champions will be back home, wondering just how they made such a pig’s ear of the title defence. Sloppy in the defeat to West Indies on Friday, they were too clever for their own good on Sunday, messing up a run chase in the face of sustained short-pitched bowling from a disciplined English attack. That they got so close in the end merely highlighted the failure of their tactics, and opened up a whole new can of what-ifs.

Yusuf Pathan scored off every ball he faced to finish with 33 from 17 balls, while MS Dhoni ended the game unbeaten on 30 from 20 balls. By the time Yusuf came to the crease though, 67 were needed from six overs. Yuvraj Singh had faced a similar situation, walking out with 92 required from 57 balls. Why had it come to that? With Yuvraj in such prime form, was there really a need to send Ravindra Jadeja up the order, especially when the 20-year-old had played just one ODI and two T20 games for India? In a crunch game, why would you back a new boy over an old hand?

As it was, Jadeja struggled horribly, barely middling a ball in an innings of 25 from 35 balls that sent the asking-rate soaring. (more…)

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A couple of days ago, one of the readers on the Guardian blog wrote in with a request: “How about an article on how 2020 is boring as hell to watch?” I’m sorry that I didn’t oblige, but I do hope for his sake that he was watching tonight’s remarkable game at Lord’s. As sporting upsets go, this might not be Lake Placid 1980 or Cameroon against Argentina at Italia ’90 – England really aren’t that good – but it was more than enough to remind the so-called big teams that even the slightest bit of sloppiness can be punished in cricket’s most abbreviated and ruthless version. Zimbabwe beat Australia in 2007, and you can just about imagine Bangladesh and Ireland now training their sights on an Indian side that organised an extraordinary press conference on Friday to deny rumours of a rift in the squad.
But forget India and its scandal-hungry media. Let’s talk instead of the Netherlands and the true magic of sport. Let’s talk of how England cruised to 100 from 11 overs before limping to 162. Let’s discuss Darron Reekers biffing the sixes that the English couldn’t manage. And what about Tom de Grooth, 30 years old and a serial underachiever until he walked out at Lord’s and walloped 49 from just 30 balls? What of Stuart Broad, the Ashes hope who tried a Jonty Rhodes but proved incapable of hitting the stumps from any angle? And how will England explain the last-over tactics of bowling round the wicket instead of aiming for the stumps?
Paul Collingwood was magnanimous in defeat, saying his team were beaten fair and square, but it should embarrass England that when it came to the crunch, the minnows held their nerve while they lost theirs. Kevin Pietersen should return on Sunday, but the match against Pakistan now assumes winner-take-all proportions. Younis Khan’s side were crushed by South Africa and beaten out of sight by India, and even Dirk Nannes and his Dutch friends will be a tricky proposition now that they can play without fear. Suddenly, the two fancied sides have no margin for error. Twenty20 and boring? Maybe I was watching the wrong game.

A couple of days ago, one of the readers on the Guardian blog wrote in with a request: “How about an article on how 2020 is boring as hell to watch?” I’m sorry that I didn’t oblige, but I do hope for his sake that he was watching tonight’s remarkable game at Lord’s. As sporting upsets go, this might not be Lake Placid 1980 or Cameroon against Argentina at Italia ’90 – England really aren’t that good – but it was more than enough to remind the so-called big teams that even the slightest bit of sloppiness can be punished in cricket’s most abbreviated and ruthless version. Zimbabwe beat Australia in 2007, and you can just imagine Bangladesh and Ireland now training their sights on an Indian side that organised an extraordinary press conference on Friday to deny rumours of a rift in the squad.

But forget India and a scandal-hungry media. Let’s talk instead of the Netherlands and the true magic of sport. Let’s talk of how England cruised to 100 from 11 overs before limping to 162. Let’s discuss Darron Reekers biffing the sixes that the English couldn’t manage. And what about Tom de Grooth, 30 years old and a serial underachiever until he walked out at Lord’s and walloped 49 from just 30 balls? What of Stuart Broad, the Ashes hope who tried a Jonty Rhodes but proved incapable of hitting the stumps from any angle? And how will England explain the last-over tactics of bowling round the wicket instead of aiming for the stumps?

Paul Collingwood was magnanimous in defeat, saying his team were beaten fair and square, but it should embarrass England that when it came to the crunch, the minnows held their nerve while they lost theirs. Kevin Pietersen should return on Sunday, but the match against Pakistan now assumes winner-take-all proportions. Younis Khan’s side were crushed by South Africa and beaten out of sight by India, and even Dirk Nannes and his Dutch friends will be a tricky proposition now that they can play without fear. Suddenly, the two fancied sides have no margin for error. Twenty20 and boring? Maybe I was watching the wrong game.

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