Asia Cup: Triumphant Lankans, Sorrowful India and Quintessential Pakistan

So a good Asia Cup comes to a close. There were wickets, sixes and close chases and not so close ones. In then end Sri Lanka triumphed in very much the same manner as they played through out the tournament. India’s sorrows continued from their trip to Kiwi Land (which they would have wanted to forget soon). Pakistan were what they are best – Pakistan. Mercurial and flat at the same time, in the same tournament, in the space of 2-3 days.

Shahid Khan Afridi a.k.a Lala. You can dump on him for the string of lousy performances with the bat in 15 consecutive matches. You can curse him. You can continue saying 17 years! Still no responsibility. You can all that you want but on the day when he blasts sixes all over the ground to hit an 18 ball match winning 50 you forget all of the rest. You love him. He is quintessentially Afridi. More so since in the previous match he took you over the finish line against India of all teams. Love for Lala sealed. Adoration pouring.

In many ways Afridi is the perfect embodiment of Pakistani Cricket. He represents that special ‘Pakistani kind of hero’ as Osman Samiuddin noted on cricinfo (link: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/724937.html )

Pakistan for all intents and purposes have always been best when they have a persona of unpredictability about them. On their day they can make you truly realize exactly why you love this sport. And Afridi is exactly the same. On his day – its one of those innings that you are forever thankful for having witnessed.

Pakistan as a unit impressed in the way they contained India’s batting juggernaut and then chased down the score. And far more in the chase of Bangaldesh’s 326! Pakistan’s highest ever chase in ODI history. And that fantastic turnaround from horrific starts in both games against Afghanistan and the final against Sri Lanka. In fact all in all the batting has been the higher performing part of Pakistan in an entire series which is not at all the norm. The balling didn’t quite hit the spot really. But in all fairness the pitches were more in favor of the bat then the ball. Still. All in all – a lot to take heart from this tournament going into the World T20 (strange as it might be given they are two completely different formats). Continued positive batting, enough proven talent and experience in balling and perhaps better catching can provide for a good World T20 outing.

India – after a fine and wonderful Kiwi tour (fine and wonderful from my point of view Open-mouthed smile , and well most fans this side of the border) managed wins only against the minnows. They missed out on close wins against both Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The latter defeat always being more painful then anything else. Especially from the-fans-on-that-side-of-the-border’s point of view. I am surprised no houses or effigies were burned this time. To be fair they were missing some of their key players and their captain. But Kohli is supposed to be the crown prince to the Indian Team Raj so really would have wanted to deliver.

Sri Lanka were finally able to break their finals jinx and picked up a trophy. They performed well throughout the tournament and did their job. So definitely a threat going into the World T20. Mathews will be quite delighted with how his unit has performed – experienced and new players alike.

Afghanistan should take heart in showing glimpses of potential of being part of the big boys. They certainly did well in upstaging their minnow seniors and rejected them to winless tournament. Bangladesh for all their gains over the years need to start hitting more results now. At least I feel they should. I genuinely believe that given the same amount of time as Bangladesh, Afghanistan would be ahead on the achievements curve. Far ahead. I mean they almost embarrassed Pakistan.

So again – all in all not a bad Asia Cup. We were runners up. We beat India. Afridi smashed several sixes in consecutive matches. And did what lala does best! Be quintessentially lala. And Pakistan did what they do best, be quintessentially Pakistan.

Go Greens for the World T20!! Bring it on! ‘GRRRRR’ (bit much? Smile with tongue out)

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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 ?