The Year of the West Indies

‘6 6 6 6! Carlos Braithwaite! Remember that name’

Just can’t get over the emotion with which Ian Bishop was commentating when in a 4 balls West Indies turned the nail biter final of the World T20 2016 on its head. It was quite literally amazing. The young all rounder in question made the 19 required off the last over seem like a paltry sum. 4 hits and done. It was actually more or less done in the first 2 hits but he chose to hit 2 more of the same for good measure.

As a Pakistani fan and for a majority of the other Pakistani fans our World T20 triumph pretty much came when India were defeated in the semi-finals. That West Indies went on to beat England as well and clinch the title was more of a brotherly (in cricketing terms) happiness for the Caribbean team.

There is always something likeable, at least for me, when it comes to two teams – the West Indies and the Kiwis. So personally I am happy they won. And they deserved every bit of it. Starting from uncertainty and a complete lack of support from their cricket board this team literally scrapped everything together, every member of it to achieve the success they did. They triumphed against unbelievable odds off the field. On the field they banded together and played as a unit. They tried their best to cover whatever they were lacking. And they triumphed. It will make for an unbelievable story for years to come – h–w the West Indies won the 2016 World T20. And it was not just a one man show throughout the tournament. Everyone delivered in different games. There was a different hero in each game. And there were contributions here and there by everyone.

It was Gayle in the group game against England with a hammering century. It was Simmons, Charles and Russel against India in the semi-final. It was mostly Samuels against England in the final and of course the 4 ball demolition from Braithwaite.

Darren Sammy’s men also capped off with their title an overall great year for the West Indies. As it stands they are the Under 19 World ODI champions (January), the Women’s World T20 champions and the Men’s World T20 Champions. The men’s team also became the first country to lift a second World T20 title. England, SL, India and Pakistan have 1 each.

They played like a united team from a situation where the cricket board’s actions and relationship with the players would be deemed anything other than unity. They played with heart. They played with spirit. They played in a way where no one can say they didn’t deserve it. I think every neutral would have been supporting them.

The world as it is in this day and age has moved on from that euphoria on to the more current happenings of the IPL and the post world cup soul searching of certain countries’ performance at the tournament. Pakistan for one has gone into full gear of heads rolling and overhauls and calls for change. Afridi has resigned from captaincy but not opted for retirement just yet. Waqar Younis after much love hate drama with the PCB has resigned as coach. Aaqib Javed has refused to become the coach after what he deemed was the PCB going back on their word and their handling of Waqar Younis and much more. Oh and Inzi is our new head selector.

So yes all this will go on and much more. However we must not easily take away from this being the year of the Caribbean’s cricketers. Youngsters, Women and Men. The Calypso kings have truly marked 2016 as their year and in style. 6,6,6,6.

ICC World Cup 2015 – Knockout Predictions

As a nation of 180 Million Pakistanis breathed a huge sigh of relief on Sunday, the World Cup 2015 bid farewell to the group stages of the tournament.

Knockouts ICC

A couple of surprises, some strong performances and late inspirational starters have all been part and parcel so far. Runs have been a plenty, in fact I would say by the end of this tournament it would probably rank as perhaps the highest in terms of total runs scored in the history of the competition. The par scores have been beyond 300 with 3 instances of the 400 mark being reached already. Twice by the Proteas and once by the Aussies although only one of those instances was against a test playing nation (South Africa versus West Indies). It has actually been ridiculous and mundane in some instances the ease with which run  s have been pummeled so far. A little too much of the T20 nature combined with smaller grounds and new age rules to make the ODI format more fast and happening is the main reasoning for this.

However it has not been batting traffic all the way. We have seen some exceptional bowling as well especially from the pace batteries of New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan. While the attacks of the co-hosts have successfully destroyed lineups front up, the late party joiners of Pakistan have shown a separate class altogether when it comes to the batting power play and death overs bowling. Where the likes of Boult, Southee, Starc and Johnson have ripped up the batting the bowlers from Pakistan have induced a slower death – much in line with the resources they have had after losing key bowlers to injuries and suspensions. Where the hosts have been clinical, the mercurial boys in green have been surgical. In short the attacks of these three teams have kept the bowlers in this tournament.

England is not part of the quarter finals and Bangladesh successfully usurped them in Group A. The English will no doubt be gutted, distraught and left reeling from this. Their performance overall had been dismal with the bat and ball and hence this was coming their way. They lacked that edge and didn’t seem at all inspired. Pakistan started in the same fashion but thankfully rallied themselves in time to reach the quarterfinals.

The Quarterfinals:

South Africa vs Sri Lanka – Prediction: Whoever bats first will win

If South Africa Bat first I would pick them to make it to the semis ahead of the Sri Lankans. While Sangakarra has been outstanding (4 consecutive tons) along with the good form of Dilshan and Mathews I feel their bowling lacks the required cutting edge. The Proteas are suspect to a chase but if they bat first they can very well dominate the Sri Lankan attack and post a total maybe just slightly out of the reach of Sanga and company. The toss will be important and may decide the tie.Sanga DE Vil ICC

India vs Bangladesh – Prediction: India to win with perhaps a good fight from Bangladesh

India should by all counts get through this getting the easiest of the quarter final ties. However given that Bangladesh defended against England to qualify instead of them and also almost carved out a win against the Kiwis will give them a lot of confidence coming into this tie. They will play with nothing to lose and then you never know! I would still say the Indians will win thou. But wouldn’t that be something if they went out against Bangladesh. Would love to see the fireworks ads on Star Sports after that!!

Australia vs Pakistan – Prediction: Depends on which Pakistan side shows up

The clinical aggression of a somewhat efficient Australian Unit vs the quintessential art of the mercurial Pakistanis. You will hear a lot of optimism buzzing about amongst Pakistanis these days of how ‘it is quite possible for us to beat Australia’ ‘The game is in Adelaide which will help us more than the Australian bowling attack’ ‘Pakistan has the universe conspiring for it now’. While all that is great the fact of the matter is that it may very well be evenly poised or it may very well be a one sided show. It all depends really on which Pakistani side shows up. The one that choked South Africa to defend a low total or the one that capitulated against the West Indies to be 4 down on 1 run.

Sarfaraz ICC

New Zealand vs West Indies – Prediction: New Zealand to win

While New Zealand’s batting is not impenetrable it is at the moment hard for me to see West Indies manage a fight against their lethal attack. The likes of Boult, Southee and Vettori all being in top form should ensure a Kiwi victory and a spot in the semis. The Gayle factor is always there but of late I feel it has been less frequent. And also there is an injury concern which could keep him out of the tie altogether.

The Semis:

New Zealand vs South Africa / Sri Lanka – New Zealand to win if it’s South Africa otherwise Sri Lanka to go through to their 3rd Consecutive final. South Africa have a habit of choking on the big stage and I feel it will be against the Kiwis (has happened before) and since it will be the semis. The Kiwis would show more mental strength then the Proteas during the crunch time. However the same will not be the case if Sri Lanka are their opponents. Sri Lanka’s start was poor against the Kiwis however the same will not be the case if the two sides meet again and I would pick Sri Lanka’s batting to see off the Kiwi attack.

India vs Australia / Pakistan – Just on principle I would say in either case India will lose. My gut says this is not going to be their cup. My brain says it might. But let’s stick to the gut as we have been doing so far. Australia will be efficient and a much more difficult test for India then they have had so far in the tournament. An imploded South African performance in their match granted a somewhat easy life for the Indians during the group stages. Even with Pakistan they will face a more confident side which has gotten into its groove and would be on a high after beating South Africa in the group and then Australia in the quarters should they make it till here. Hard to call but again on principle I would say India to lose.

The final would then be an open book as per the above permutations! My gut says it will be an all Tasman Clash – Australia vs New Zealand. And unfortunately Australia will win the 5th. However that’s just my gut and it could all go quite differently from all that I am saying. It is an open tournament with no clear all out favorite. Fantastic and exciting stuff ahead!

So happy viewing to all cricket fans! Go Team Green! Pakistan all the way! 😀

The Caribbean Kings! WorldT20, 2012 Champs

They had two incomplete games in the group stages. After a 5 run win over the English, a one sided loss to Sri Lanka and a super over victory over the Kiwis their fate was in the result of the Lanka-England match with a poor net run rate. But come the semis the Caribbean kings rose.

A complete annihilation of the Aussies in the semi finals was a treat to watch. 205 runs with the bat and a ‘Gayle’-storm of sixes!

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Of course Gayle wasn’t the only one hitting them, but given his name and his contribution being 75 it seems fitting. And then with the ball, my lord, it seemed like the Australians were out of sorts with that daunting total in sight. Kudos to Bailey for going down like a fighting captain.

Then came the final. The first 10 overs seemed very predictable of a modern and recent West Indies team. 32 in 10 overs. They were after all playing Sri Lanka at their home ground. The pitch was made to favor the Lankan’s strengths. I had literally written off the final by that time saying there was no chance in hell that they will win it. Samuels had other ideas. A splendid match winning knock of 77 meant that he gave his side a slightly decent total, if not the best. It was impressive but I still wasn’t convinced. It was only when Dilshan went on the first ball, an absolute beauty from Ravi Rampaul that I started thinking there could be the other possibility. That was an unplayable delivery especially if it is the first ball of the innings. The best batsmen would find themselves getting bowled or hand a nice edge towards slip on that delivery. From there on the party had already started. The West Indians had sensed victory and it spurred them on. They threw themselves in the field. They bowled tight. They had energy. They had the vibe with them. And as Bravo took Malinga’s catch the Caribbean King’s had returned to be crowned World Champions after 33 years.

Prior to the 1999 world cup I had always enjoyed watching the Windies because of three players: Lara, Ambrose and Walsh. Since then, I have always longed for West Indian success because of some unexplainable sympathy for them. They are a fun side to watch especially if they are winning. I think it is because of the genuine happiness that one sees on the field. Or maybe it is because they were the first dominant side of the game. Clive Lloyd’s side that won the inaugural and second world cup. Or maybe this time because of their celebrations! I don’t know. But After Pakistan I have always found myself siding the Windies in world tournaments. And it was truly fun to see them win and then celebrate.

Congratulations West Indies, you are the 2012 World T20 champions. You deserve it!

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World T20, 2012

So as we approach the final match of the group stages of the 4th edition of the World T20 tournament I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the matches so far. Yes there have been big scores and yes there have been outstanding individual performances. But the drama and suspense and the nail biting factor has been missing.

Part of it is because the ICC has in all it’s wisdom structured the tournament in such a way that everybody knows who they will play after the group stages. The teams were seeded before the tournament and based on that seeding they knew exactly who they will play. Also the scheduling had the heavyweights playing each other in most cases after having played the minnows or rather the ‘associate’ nations. That kind of took the impetus for half the teams out of their second group matches. The Sri Lanka vs South Africa game was pointless in terms of progression. So was India vs England. Had those been played earlier then the losing side’s match against the lower ranked side would have been more fun and could have been edgy. And the heavy weights own game itself would have been fantastic to watch.

The other downside has been the weather. It hasn’t been well accounted for in terms of the scheduling. This is monsoon season in Sri Lanka. The Australia West Indies match which could have potentially been a cracker (thou Australia were cruising at the time the rain stopped play) was settled by duck worth lewis. Sri Lanka and South Africa even thou pointless was turned into a 7 overs a side match. And today, the first straight shooter of the tournament so far between WI and Ireland was washed out after 1 innings of play (that too 19 overs). So that has also been a dampner and threatens to be the same as the tournament progresses. Doesn’t make for a happy fan.

Lastly on the group stages I think the 3 teams a group format is just not fun. And I have never been a fan of the second stage being a super 8 or a 6. One of the key factors of the 2011 world cup being wonderfully exciting was the simple knock out format after the group stages. This tournament should also have been 2 groups with quarter finals, semis and final to follow. Would have been more exciting.

Anyway moving on to the super 8 stage. Assuming Pakistan will not be on the bad side of their unpredictability tomorrow against Bangladesh we will have the following two groups

Group A: NZ, SL, WI and Eng
Group B: Pak, Ind, Aus and SA

Suffice to say the second one is the tougher group. But starting with the first group. England’s performance with bat hasn’t been confident against good sides on these pitches. They scored really low totals against Pakistan in the warm up game and yesterday against India. The fireworks only came against an inexperienced but determined Afghanistan side. Their attack hasn’t been bad but hasn’t been exceptional either. I doubt the current world champions will progress beyond the super 8 stage. Broad and company will not be enjoying the next 10 days.

West Indies, its hard to say what they will be like. Their batting did a brilliant job dismantling the Australian attack. However the same fate was being suffered by them when the Aussies were cruising with a 100 in 10/11 overs. Then Ireland posted 129 in 19 today which wasn’t bad and could have been defended in a do or die match before the rain played it’s part. So no, the West Indies do not inspire confidence in being a sure shot qualifier for the next round. Besides the huge total was partly due to the Gayle factor. A factor which comes and goes as it pleases without any trend or consistency. That makes it harder to call.

The Kiwis have a fairly good side. I think they haven’t been seen as a team to go all the way for this tournament but in Southee, Vettori, Mc Cullum and Taylor they hold good chances of doing very well. They are for the me the dark horses this time around and wouldn’t be surprised if they are in the final. They almost took the match against undeniably brilliant Pakistani attack (possessing the top 3 wicket takers in international T20s). Well that’s until Ajmal decided enough is enough and put an end to it!

Finally the hosts. Sri Lanka have a very good team. They have the home crowd and ground advantage. They have the flair of Sangakarra, the wizardry of Mendis and the menace of Malinga. They will be a tough side to beat. 7 overs a side matches notwithstanding they have a good chance of being crowned champions.

Coming now to the tougher lot.

Australia regardless of their ICC rankings in the shortest format are as always a formidable side. They have taken their time to take this format seriously and focus on it but now they have. They were the runners up in the last tournament losing out to England and this time around they will be fired up to add the T20 world title to their impressive trophy case. They will most certainly be determined to ensure that they are not tagged as a non-t20 side from now on. Individually they have been great t20 performers in the past especially thanks to the IPLs of the this world. But as a team they have not really shown the same formidable nature as the other two formats in this one. Something they have been working on changing and have to quite an extent. With Warner and Watson making up a explosive opening duo they can very well smash their way to the end.

Solid batting line up. An extremely in form Kohli. A remarkable return of Yuvraj. And the cool head of Dhoni. Will that be enough for the former champions to go all the way? Seems doubtful. Their weakness is their bowling. The spin department is still somewhat ok and actually good if bhaji can continue being the same as he was against the english yesterday along with Ashwin and Chawla. Their pace attack is not up to the mark. It can quite easily get smashed around the ground. India’s bowling failed to defend 180+ in the warm up against Pakistan. And they almost at various points let Afghanistan cause an upset. They performed well against England but that was also because England performed woefully. And their batting isn’t as ‘formidable’ and ‘dominating’ as people are used to it being. It is solid without a doubt but for some reason looks like it can be restricted if not bowled out. Afghanistan managed to restrict them to 159. With their batting depth, that total should have had at least 30-35 more runs. I doubt if India can make it past the semis even if they progress from a very tough Super 8 stage.

South Africa has the best and most balanced squad. They haven’t seemed to break a sweat so far. They seem efficient and clinical in their performances. A solid opening pair, good middle order and menacing attack you would be a fool not to pick them as the hot favorites to lift the cup. However you would also be a fool to not take into account that this is the case with South Africa in almost every ICC tournament. They are always clinical and efficient and almost dominating and well balanced and all that hooplah. That is until they reach a knock out match. That’s when they inexplicably almost always choke.

 

They are the most famous chokers across the board in comparison to any other team in any sport. The Proteas have a painful history with this. Apart from the 92 world cup (that one dealing them an unfair and unlucky hand with the rain and D/L) each successive world cup they have simply choked on the big stage. At the knock out stage. In 1996 it was against the West Indies. In 1999 it was in the semis against Australia.  2003 their management got the D/L calculation wrong and they didn’t play it out as they should have resulting an exit from the group stage in a do or die against SL. And then in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 (with the T20 world cups starting in 2007 there has been a choke a year for them for the last 4 years). So if you are a proteas fan then you know they have every right to win the damn thing if they can just get past their mental block.

And finally, last but not least the men in green. Pakistan are what they always are in every match, tournament, tour or series. Unpredictable. Therein lies their greatest strength as well as their worst failure. Hafeez & company have since the t20 series against the Aussies in UAE been showing that they have an excellent squad and without a doubt one of the more dangerous and balanced attacks in the format right now. Actually same applies for the ODI and to an extent test formats as well. But focusing on T20s. The batting has also been strengthened by in form Jamshed putting in regular solid performances along with captain Hafeez at the start of the innings or rather 1 down in Jamshed’s case. With these 2 in the top 3 spots of our batting line up chances of a good base being set for the rest are high. There on you just need 1 or 2 more players to click and a good total is almost guaranteed. Something that has happened with some frequency in the last couple of months. Ajmal, Afridi, Gul and Hafeez will be deadly with the ball and can dismantle any side with ease on their day.

The problem is you can’t ever know whether it is their day or not. In either department! The everlasting heartache of a Pakistani cricket fan.. that they are mercurial. So the next 10 days as a Pakistani you would hope that the excellent Pakistan keeps showing up and not the flat one. On their day… Pakistan can literally dismantle and take the game away from anyone. And not on their day they can fail to chase down a target of 112. So you can’t really predict anything for these guys.

We can but continue to cheer for Pakistan and hope that we are crowned champions at the end!

My honest predictions:

The final would be from the following three : SL , Aus and Pak.

A cousin mine says that the trophy will be lifted by the winner of the Pak vs India game. If history is anything to go by in the head to heads between these two at ICC tournaments then I hope he is wrong!

Your thoughts/predictions ?