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Posts Tagged ‘ICC World Twenty20 2009’

It’s hard to think of a sporting event with more of a fairytale ending. Perhaps South Africa’s rugby World Cup final victory in 1995, with Nelson Mandela wearing Francois Pienaar’s shirt in the stands, would come close. But South Africa were a nation at the cusp of a new beginning, a country trying to say goodbye to a deeply divisive and forgettable past. Pakistanis are currently engaged in a battle for existence, against the forces of extremism that have already dragged parts of central Asia back to the Middle Ages. Sporting victories don’t alter such harsh realities, but they can certainly do wonders for morale. When India won a Test match against England at Chennai less than three weeks after the terror attacks in Mumbai, it was so much more than just a win. For Pakistan fans who danced to Dil Dil Pakistan and We Are The Champions at the end, this will never be just another day out at the cricket. It will be THE day.
Younis Khan, who announced his retirement from international Twenty20 games after this triumph, spoke jokingly of how he was the Second Khan (after Imran) and seriously of how determined he had been to be remembered for a World Cup victory. There were certainly similarities too. Pakistan were a push and a shove from the exit when they took on Australia at Perth on March 11, 1992, and 17 years on, they were left in a situation where they had no option but to win convincingly against the Netherlands. Having been thrashed by South Africa and India in warm-up games and then outclassed by England in their opening group game, few expected much from this side.
But when needed, they made the big calls. Out went Salman Butt and Ahmed Shehzad, and up came Kamran Akmal to open the batting. When Yasir Arafat got injured, they called up Abdul Razzaq, one of the veterans of Pakistan’s run to the 50-over World Cup final in 1999. Not only did Razzaq add experience and nous to the bowling, but he was yet another sounding board for Younis in conditions that he knew intimately because of his county experience. The awareness came to the fore in the final as early wickets ensured that Sri Lanka couldn’t aspire to anything more than a par score.
But the biggest change was in Shahid Afridi. An accident waiting to happen with the bat in the early stages of the competition, he batted with a maturity that astonished even his captain in the two games that mattered. Until Isuru Udana was clubbed over midwicket late on, it would have been hard to convince yourself that it was Afridi batting. Or that it was Pakistan. So used to living on their wits and winning the hard way, they won this final with as clinical a performance as you could hope to see.
You had to feel for Sri Lanka. In tremendous form for a fortnight and with the player of the tournament in Tillakaratne Dilshan, they came up short yet again in a major final. Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews batted beautifully at the end to take them to a half-decent score, but failure to take wickets in the Power Play meant that the ground never shook beneath Pakistani feet. They also played Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan better than most teams have, and treated Udana with contempt, taking 44 from his four overs. It was the sort of display you associate with Australia.
And so the team who won’t be playing much cricket at home this decade, and whose players were barred from IPL riches, has proved just why world cricket can’t afford to isolate them. In the worst of times, they produced a performance redolent of the best. The thousands of fans who never gave up on their team, who turned up with faces painted and hearts thumping, deserved nothing less. This was their MCG, an evening to etch in the memory. The second Khan and his boys may just have paved the way for Pakistan cricket’s second coming.

It’s hard to think of a sporting event with more of a fairytale ending. Perhaps South Africa’s rugby World Cup final victory in 1995, with Nelson Mandela wearing Francois Pienaar’s shirt in the stands, would come close. But South Africa were a nation at the cusp of a new beginning, a country trying to say goodbye to a deeply divisive and forgettable past. Pakistanis are currently engaged in a battle for existence, against the forces of extremism that have already dragged parts of central Asia back to the Middle Ages.

Sporting victories don’t alter such harsh realities, but they can certainly do wonders for morale. When India won a Test match against England at Chennai less than three weeks after the terror attacks in Mumbai, it was so much more than just a win. For Pakistan fans who danced to Dil Dil Pakistan and We Are The Champions at the end, this will never be just another day out at the cricket. It will be THE day. (more…)

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If you didn’t think Twenty20 was an Asian sport, you know the truth now. In South Africa two years ago, India and Pakistan contested a dazzling final. Now, Pakistan are back to try and clear the final hurdle, but instead of the Indians, they will face a wonderfully accomplished Sri Lankan side that have yet to be beaten in the competition. The Sri Lankans were pushed hardest by Ireland of all teams, but Pakistan will no doubt remember how they went toe-to-toe with them for much of their Super-Eights encounter.
This second semi-final was a tale of two innings, neither particularly well supported, but it was no contest to speak of. Pakistan had made a powerful statement of intent at Trent Bridge, and a day later at The Oval it was Sri Lanka’s turn to showcase their bowling might. The Twenty20 format hasn’t seen a bowling attack like this, and it will be fascinating to see how Pakistan’s batsmen go against them in the final.
As fabulous as Sri Lanka’s bowlers were though, there would have been no total to defend without the greatest innings ever played in a T20 international. Tillakaratne Dilshan had shown during the IPL why he’s the world’s most improved batsman and on a stage where the West Indians traditionally love to strut their stuff, he wrenched the game away from them with an innings that combined brute force, finesse and considerable nous. While Sanath Jayasuriya struggled horribly at the other end, Dilshan clobbered 12 fours and two sixes, maintaining a terrific tempo right through the innings. It took him 30 balls to score his half-century, and but for Angelo Matthews cornering the strike in the final over, a century was on the cards. It didn’t matter. The 96 was worth far more, as Sri Lanka finished with a score that Kumar Sangakkara would have been more than confident of defending.
Much has been made of the Muralitharan-Mendis-Malinga triumvirate, and with good reason, but today it was the fourth M, Mathews, that killed off West Indian hopes in the very first over. Xavier Marshall and Dwayne Bravo both played on, while Lendl Simmons moved too far across and lost his leg stump. Whatever Chris Gayle did afterwards, and he did finish with 63 from 50 balls, was a bit like spit in the rain. Murali wasn’t particularly economical, going for 29 while taking three wickets, but Mendis was once again nearly unplayable, taking 2 for 9.
Malinga went for a few before returning to end the innings with a searing yorker, but it was Mathews that deserved the most plaudits for his four-over stint that cost just 16 runs. He doesn’t do much with the ball, but his accuracy and a happy knack of taking wickets at opportune times has pushed Farveez Maharoof to the periphery.
When asked to preview the event, I picked Sri Lanka, but such have been the travails of Pakistan cricket that it would be a stone-hearted man that didn’t wish them well. It will be a real contrast in styles, with Sri Lankan consistency up against Pakistan’s mavericks. The heart says the mavericks will prevail, but the head is set on the Lankans, who have been different class all tournament.

If you didn’t think Twenty20 was an Asian sport, you know the truth now. In South Africa two years ago, India and Pakistan contested a dazzling final. Now, Pakistan are back to try and clear the final hurdle, but instead of the Indians, they will face a wonderfully accomplished Sri Lankan side that have yet to be beaten in the competition. The Sri Lankans were pushed hardest by Ireland of all teams, but Pakistan will no doubt remember how they went toe-to-toe with them for much of their Super-Eights encounter.

This second semi-final was a tale of two innings, neither particularly well supported, but it was no contest to speak of. Pakistan had made a powerful statement of intent at Trent Bridge, and a day later at The Oval it was Sri Lanka’s turn to showcase their bowling might. The Twenty20 format hasn’t seen a bowling attack like this, and it will be fascinating to see how Pakistan’s batsmen go against them in the final.

As fabulous as Sri Lanka’s bowlers were though, there would have been no total to defend without one of the greatest innings ever played in a T20 international. (more…)

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I had goosebumps walking back from Younis Khan’s press conference. There was bedlam in the streets outside Trent Bridge – car horns blaring, klaxons, guys leaning out of car windows waving flags, traffic at a standstill. Pakistan are the outcasts of international cricket, for reasons way beyond the players’ and fans’ control, and you couldn’t help but be chuffed for them. Soon after the match, I’d had a good laugh as I spotted a placard that read: “Cost of match ticket: £40, Cost of replica shirt: £20, India going home: Priceless.” After two years of putting up with Indian gloating, the lead-toed boot is on the other foot, and the chants of “Pakistan zindabad” will probably still break Nottingham’s night-time silence for a few hours yet.
In the city associated with Robin Hood, Pakistan came out and played like merry men, with an intensity that had been absent from their performances until they hammered New Zealand. No one illustrated that desire better than Shahid Afridi, whose uselessness with the bat in recent times has been in stark contrast to his brilliance with the bat. But sent in at No.3 and given license to express himself, he caught South Africa cold. It would be simplistic to say that his assault on Johan Botha changed the game, but it did ensure that the two-pronged spin attack that had been so lethal against India wouldn’t be repeated here.
South Africa battled back superbly with the ball, with Wayne Parnell in particular showing the composure of a wizened veteran after being walloped for 14 in his first over. Once Pakistan were kept below 150, South Africa were favourites, but there’s something about them in the really big games that makes you wonder if they ever will break that big-cup hoodoo. Graeme Smith was flat and with Jacques Kallis so orthodox in his approach, they really needed someone to be inventive against the spinners. Perhaps they missed a trick by not promoting Mark Boucher.
Kallis and JP Duminy added 61, but by the time Kallis departed, after being riled by what Afridi called a “flying kiss”, the asking-rate needed Gary Sobers rather than Albie Morkel. And after Afridi had starred with a super spell of 2 for 16, Umar Gul was impeccable at the death, sending down yorkers almost at will. Faced with a side that raised their game immeasurably for the big occasion, South Africa had no answers. At least it wasn’t as embarrassing as the 50-over World Cup semi-final two years ago, when Glenn McGrath and friends ended the contest before most punters could grab a beer.
Afterwards, Younis was asked why Pakistan couldn’t be consistent. “Look at the situation in our country,” he said. “It’s not at all stable. Why do you expect cricketers to be any different?” It was perhaps said in jest, but he has a valid point. Like a coin, you just can’t predict which side will turn up.

I had goosebumps walking back from Younis Khan’s press conference. There was bedlam in the streets outside Trent Bridge – car horns blaring, klaxons, guys leaning out of car windows waving flags, traffic at a standstill. Pakistan are the outcasts of international cricket, for reasons way beyond the players’ and fans’ control, and you couldn’t help but be chuffed for them. Soon after the match, I’d had a good laugh as I spotted a placard that read: “Cost of match ticket: £40, Cost of replica shirt: £20, India going home: Priceless.” After two years of putting up with Indian gloating, the lead-toed boot is on the other foot, and the chants of “Pakistan zindabad” will probably still break Nottingham’s night-time silence for a few hours yet.

In the city associated with Robin Hood, Pakistan came out and played like merry men, with an intensity that had been absent from their performances until they hammered New Zealand. No one illustrated that desire better than Shahid Afridi, whose uselessness with the bat in recent times has been in stark contrast to his brilliance with the ball. But sent in at No.3 and given license to express himself, he caught South Africa cold. It would be simplistic to say that his assault on Johan Botha changed the game, but it did ensure that the two-pronged spin attack that had been so lethal against India wouldn’t be repeated here. (more…)

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Aside from the Argentina football team at the 1982 World Cup, and France 20 years later, you could not have watched such a miserable title defence. At least Argentina and Diego Maradona went down kicking and cursing. India’s cricketers left the World Twenty20 with nary a whimper, falling miserably short of South Africa’s meagre target. Even a consolation win, against one of the best sides in the competition, proved beyond them.

From today’s Guardian blog. You can read the rest here.

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And so India finished their Super-Eight campaign with an unblemished slate. Three games, three defeats, and the most dismal defence of a title since Sri Lanka were sent packing from the 1999 World Cup, also in England. As for South Africa, eliminated on home soil by the Indians two years ago despite losing just one game, they go into the semi-finals with a perfect record, just like Sri Lanka. Pakistan and West Indies will need to play out of their skins to deny them.
India’s self-destruction at Trent Bridge was almost comical, though the fans who had flocked to the ground despite the meaninglessness of the fixture certainly weren’t amused. From 47 for 0 at the end of the Power Play to 64 for 4 after the next six represented a very steep decline, and when Yusuf Pathan then lofted one tamely to short cover, the end was nigh. The two Singhs, Yuvraj and Harbhajan, tried to go down swinging, but there wasn’t much conviction in the effort.
South Africa’s spinners were exceptional, with Johan Botha taking 3 for 16, and Roelof ven der Merwe finishing with 1 for 13. They were tidy and aggressive, and backed up by typically brilliant fielding. And they could still call on Dale Steyn at the end to finish the job. With Wayne Parnell and the Morkel brothers also part of the pack, and Jacques Kallis due to come back, South Africa will take some stopping.
India bowled far better than they had in previous games, with the spinners choking the life out of South Africa. Like the Indians, South Africa had also made a frantic start, taking 44 from the first five overs. The next eight produced just 27, and the eventual total of 130 owed much to the dazzling skills of AB de Villiers, who struck the ball so cleanly and cleverly during the course of a 51-ball 63.
Once again though, Dhoni did something to raise the odd eyebrow. Having bowled spin for 14 overs on the trot, he opted to give the final over to Zaheer Khan, whose opening burst had once again been disappointing. He went for 11 runs, and India ended up losing by 12. More ammunition for the critics.
Having been embarrassed by the bouncing ball at Lord’s, India’s batsmen were terrible against the turning one as well. Rather than knocking the ball around for singles, too many of them went for the Bollywood stroke, while Dhoni’s charge down the pitch and subsequent run-out will feature in blooper shows for some time to come.
In the weeks to come, many will pinpoint the IPL, fatigue and a million other reasons for this Indian debacle. Ultimately though, the players didn’t appear hungry enough. The way Parnell ran across to deep cover to stop a lofted drive from Rohit was symbolic of how seriously South Africa took this, and it’s no coincidence that they have now won seven T20 games in a row. The IPL may revolutionise the Twenty20 game, but for the moment, it seems to have benefited the foreign contingent as much as the Indians.
Officials can bang a gong all they like about the country’s financial might, but just as the Premiership has taken England no closer to football World Cup glory, the IPL will never be a magic fix for Indian cricket’s problems. Global events are won by the teams that want it badly enough. India weren’t one of them.

And so India finished their Super-Eight campaign with an unblemished slate. Three games, three defeats, and the most dismal defence of a title since Sri Lanka were sent packing from the 1999 World Cup, also in England. As for South Africa, eliminated on home soil by the Indians two years ago despite losing just one game, they go into the semi-finals with a perfect record, just like Sri Lanka. Pakistan and West Indies will need to play out of their skins to deny them.

India’s self-destruction at Trent Bridge was almost comical, though the fans who had flocked to the ground despite the meaninglessness of the fixture certainly weren’t amused. From 47 for 0 at the end of the Power Play to 64 for 4 after the next six represented a very steep decline, and when Yusuf Pathan then lofted one tamely to short cover, the end was nigh. The two Singhs, Yuvraj and Harbhajan, tried to go down swinging, but there wasn’t much conviction in the effort. (more…)

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When you read the reactions to India’s exit from the World Twenty20, you’re left to wonder if some of the fans deserve any better from the team that they profess to support. Sample this gem from The Times. “Dhoni took the match lightly, he adopted a casual attitude,” Arun Kumar, a young protester in Ranchi, said. “He is fascinated by the glamour world more than cricket.”

When I read that, I was beyond flabbergasted. Specimens like Arun Kumar are a damning indictment of India’s education system and also of a sensation-hungry media that often does little more than whip up mass hysteria. Pandering to the lowest-common denominator [Arun Kumar] is the name of the game for most channels. (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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Like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, the Pakistan cricket team’s behaviour is impossible to predict. Against England and Sri Lanka, they were horrid, especially with the bat, but against the Netherlands they were good. Today, at The Oval against fancied New Zealand, they were very good indeed. Barring another unimaginable Irish upset though, it’s safe to say that Pakistani fans can start looking at semi-final tickets.
This was as clinical a performance as anyone could have hoped for. And it should have surprised no one that the catalyst for it was a rebel. Abdul Razzaq hasn’t played for Pakistan since throwing in his lot with the Indian Cricket League and it was only injuries to Sohail Tanvir and Yasir Arafat that saw him being called up after he had torn up the ICL contract. A decade ago, Razzaq was a young star as Pakistan went all the way to a World Cup final against Australia. These days, he bowls about 10km/hr slower, but his cleverness was a big factor in a superb bowling performance after Mohammad Aamer had started the innings poorly. Razzaq had Brendon McCullum caught at point off his fourth delivery and he bowled a maiden on his way to figures of 2 for 17.
With an experienced hand ensuring that the new ball wasn’t wasted, Umar Gul was in his element with the older ball. New Zealand’s middle and lower order had no answer whatsoever to wicked reverse-swung yorkers as they went from 73 for 4 to 99 all out. Gul’s contribution was 5 for 6 from  three overs, and he was twice on a hat-trick. In faraway Kolkata, some would no doubt have wondered how much different the Knight Riders’ IPL campaign might have been if one of the world’s best T20 bowlers had been involved.
Statistically, it was the best spell ever in a T20 international, and it gave Pakistan much leeway in the net run-rate stake in a group that might not be as straightforward as some people think. But for some slipshod batting – horrid, to go back to the poem – the margin of victory should have been even more emphatic.
You could have said the same for South Africa earlier in the day. With Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs batting as though they were having a net, a total in excess of 200 seemed possible. But Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor bowled superbly in the final stages to keep the vaunted middle order in check. A target of 184 might have been surpassed had Chris Gayle and a couple of others got going. But apart from an exceptional innings from Lendl Simmons [77 from 50 balls], only two West Indians got to double figures, and neither went past 20. Like the girl with the curl, West Indies too deal in extremes.
Credit to South Africa though. Dale Steyn was fast and accurate and Roelof van der Merwe is a bruiser trapped in a spin bowler’s body. And they have a star in the making in Wayne Parnell. One of the best performers at the Under-19 World Cup last year, Parnell has made the transition to senior level without too many hitches, and today he finished with 4 for 13. The semi-finals loom large now, and the main challenge for the South Africans will be to avoid the mental glitches that have stymied them in big tournaments ever since they returned from isolation. The quality of their players and the form-guide both make them big favourites, but things are seldom so simple in a World Cup. Just ask Pakistan, who go from 0 to 60, and from 60 to 0 so rapidly that it can make the head spin.

Like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, the Pakistan cricket team’s behaviour is impossible to predict. Against England and Sri Lanka, they were horrid, especially with the bat, but against the Netherlands they were good. Today, at The Oval against fancied New Zealand, they were very good indeed. Barring another unimaginable Irish upset, it’s safe to say that Pakistani fans can start looking at semi-final tickets.

This was as clinical a performance as anyone could have hoped for. And it should have surprised no one that the catalyst for it was a rebel. Abdul Razzaq hasn’t played for Pakistan since throwing in his lot with the Indian Cricket League and it was only injuries to Sohail Tanvir and Yasir Arafat that saw him being called up after he had torn up his ICL contract. A decade ago, Razzaq was a young star as Pakistan went all the way to a World Cup final against Australia. These days, he bowls about 10km/hr slower, but his cleverness was a big factor in a superb bowling performance after Mohammad Aamer had started the innings poorly. Razzaq had Brendon McCullum caught at point off his fourth delivery and he bowled a maiden on his way to figures of 2 for 17.

With an experienced hand ensuring that the new ball wasn’t wasted, Umar Gul was in his element with the older ball. (more…)

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The Indians fans that had come early to Lord’s whooped it up in the early part of the afternoon, as Pakistan stumbled badly in pursuit of a modest Sri Lankan total. But any Pakistani supporters that stayed back for the later game soon got their chance for payback as West Indies produced a high-class performance to push India toward the abyss. Lendl Simmons took a mind-boggling catch to dismiss Gautam Gambhir and then batted beautifully for 44, but it was Dwayne Bravo that took the game away, following up 4 for 38 with a dazzling 36-ball 66.

At one stage, the required rate was climbing up to 10, but Bravo cut loose with some gorgeous orthodox strokes, targetting the straight boundary and cover with equal fluency. India lost it in two overs, with Ishant Sharma giving up 16 and Harbhajan 15 in the 17th and 18th overs of the innings. India had done well to take the game that far, but ultimately they paid the price for the poorest of starts. Having slumped to 29 for 3, they were then marooned in treacle for eight overs as the bowlers frustrated Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni. Dhoni’s 11 spanned 23 balls, and it was left to Yuvraj to inject some urgency with some stunning shots in the final overs.

Yusuf Pathan chipped in as well, but you always sensed that they were 10 or 15 short. (more…)

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So, the preliminaries are over, and we move in to the part of the tournament that actually matters. With one notable absentee. The Australians will be based in Leicester and probably loathe to watch as eight other teams, including Ireland and West Indies, tussle for the one trophy that they have never won. On the evidence of what we’ve seen so far, Asian cricket’s two powerhouses, India and Sri Lanka, look best equipped to carry off the trophy, with the strongest challenge likely to come from South Africa and New Zealand. But with Kevin Pietersen back, England’s chances can’t be completely discounted, and there’s always the prospect of surprises from a mercurial Pakistan team.
Sri Lanka and India will be delighted with the way they concluded the league phase. India never really had to get out of second gear once they sent Ireland in to bat, and Sri Lanka rode on a brilliant opening partnership to see off a West Indies side that rested Chris Gayle. Sri Lanka’s spinners were again extremely impressive, and India would have been boosted by Zaheer Khan’s wonderful spell on his return from injury.
Both teams have minor concerns to address. Sri Lanka could do with some runs from Mahela Jayawardene and Chamara Silva, while India will hope that Irfan Pathan, if chosen ahead of RP Singh, gives Zaheer better new-ball support. The death-overs bowling has also been average, and against batsmen of the calibre of Pietersen, de Villiers and Gayle, that could be a recipe for disaster. So far, so good though.

So, the preliminaries are over, and we move in to the part of the tournament that actually matters. With one notable absentee. The Australians will be based in Leicester and probably loathe to watch as eight other teams, including Ireland and West Indies, tussle for the one trophy that they have never won. On the evidence of what we’ve seen so far, Asian cricket’s two powerhouses, India and Sri Lanka, look best equipped to carry off the trophy, with the strongest challenge likely to come from South Africa and New Zealand. But with Kevin Pietersen back, England’s chances can’t be completely discounted, and there’s always the prospect of surprises from a mercurial Pakistan team.

Sri Lanka and India will be delighted with the way they concluded the league phase. India never really had to get out of second gear once they sent Ireland in to bat, and Sri Lanka rode on a brilliant opening partnership to see off a West Indies side that rested Chris Gayle. Sri Lanka’s spinners were again extremely impressive, and India would have been boosted by Zaheer Khan’s wonderful spell on his return from injury.

Both teams have minor concerns to address. Sri Lanka could do with some runs from Mahela Jayawardene and Chamara Silva, while India will hope that Irfan Pathan, if chosen ahead of RP Singh, gives Zaheer better new-ball support. The death-overs bowling has also been average, and against batsmen of the calibre of Pietersen, de Villiers and Gayle, that could be a recipe for disaster. So far, so good though.

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