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.

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World T20 2016: Pakistan’s batting woes

Pakistan’s cricket team has been on a rotten run in the limited overs format. Yes the PSL was a good reprieve in between and certainly did warm the heart to see something Pakistan with the potential of becoming big in the years to come however fact is fact. In the ODI and T20 format our team has simply been awful. The results are there for all to see. And with the World T20 main round just around the corner and on the back of an extremely disastrous Asia Cup, a major overhaul is the only thing that seems to be the cure.

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From the batting to the captaincy to the management and coaching and maybe a tweak or two in bowling – a major overhaul is required. There are no two ways about it. Our batsmen made a hash of things in the Asia Cup and even before that against the Kiwis. They have repeatedly shown that this batting lineup lacks any solidity, character or consistency. The biggest culprits have been the openers and the middle order. Pakistan’s opening problem is quite old. Not since the days of Saeed Anwar have we found a single, consistent and world class opening batsman. And not since his partnership with Aamir Sohail have we found a consistent pair at the top of the order. There have been numerous openers and numerous pairing options with not a single consistent and world class pair or player emerging. The middle order has taken hits since the decline of Younis Khan in the shorter format of the game and afterwards the retirement of Misbah. Prior to that the departures of Inzimam and Yousuf did the same but we had Misbah and Younis. Now we don’t. Azhar is not a Misbah. There is no Inzi in sight to bank on for even 7 out 10 times. Simply put – batting has been our biggest area of churning out losses and bad performances. Even with a strong and completely fit line up our bowling has not been able to do anything about inept and schoolboy batting displays. The most recent example being the Asia Cup match against India in which we were shot out for 83. Our bowlers tried but just didn’t have a realistic enough target to defend. Senior players like Umar Akmal and Hafeez have to take more responsibility. They have to be more consistent and deliver. Sarfaraz also has to ensure that he continues to be a responsible player with the bat more often than not. He has done that somewhat in the past and will have to up it in the tournament.

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Captaincy is another issue. While Afridi has served Pakistan for a long time and has definitely provided in the past, it just keeps looking like he is running out of steam. Batting has never really been something that I have ever put Afridi on onus for but even his bowling is in decline. And with leadership comes responsibility. You need to inspire somehow on the field through bowling, batting or fielding the rest of the team. To galvanize them. To get them out of the slumber. However that really has been missing. Nor has there been a sacrificing rescue act to stabilize the ship. Something that was often the feature of Misbah’s captaincy and for which he was often given the stick by people left, right and center. I would again ask them – what else could he have done. And had he not done that the shambles that are the batting right now would have been the shambles then as well. Afridi’s captaincy of late has been neither inspiring nor the self-sacrificing for stability nor the leading from the front sort. His captaincy has neither been Misbah nor has it been anywhere near the heights he reached as captain in the 2011 world cup. We badly need that inspiration or leading from the front. And we need it now to have any sort of respectability at the World T20.

Including a batting coach now may very well be having left it too late. And not just any batting coach but an established, respected and accomplished figure. But it may just bring a little bit of semblance in the approach that our batsmen use. Khurram Manzoor was always going to be a disaster and recalling Ahmed Shehzad to the squad was all but inevitable. Even if it doesn’t really guarantee immediate success or consistency, it will at least add some experience. How far is that experience used by Ahmed Shehzad with the bat rather than social media is left to be seen.

The bowling department, yet again seems to be our only ray of hope. With the return of Amir to the team the attack has gotten a spearhead for attack even thou I was opposed to him returning on principle. I still maintain it but this is more of a practical assessment of the team more than anything else. And technically his inclusion is after due process of being banned and having served his time. Coming back to the assessment, with Amir the spearhead and having Irfan and Wahab Riaz in support our bowling will have the required bite. I would definitely keep Wahab Riaz ahead of Sami because he can give that required intensity more than Sami and can contribute a little with the bat as well. Irfan will remain an asset with his height. Spin is something that we are hurting in no longer having someone like Saeed Ajmal in the side nor Yasir Shah for that matter. Afridi as mentioned earlier is no longer the bowler he used to be. Hafeez cannot bowl due to his action being termed as illegal. Shoaib Malik can be useful, but that’s about it, he can just be useful.

Keeping all of the above in mind and given that our group has India, New Zealand, Australia and one qualifier from the initial rounds (most likely Bangladesh) it will be nothing short of a miracle if we qualify from the group. Australia are perhaps the only team we can be more confident of beating given their T20 side is not that good. India has a curse on us in tournaments and will most likely be victors against us especially in front of their home crowd. The Kiwis are a strong unit. Bangladesh (if they qualify) are going to use their recent victory against us in the Asia Cup as an inspiration to repeat that victory and can achieve that.

So as usual prayers for team Pakistan but doesn’t seem like it is going to be a very good cup for us. Sad to see Afridi sign off from international cricket in what looks more and more likely to be the above scenario. He has been a great asset for the team in the past and has had an interesting, part glorious part chaotic career in the green shirt and one would have hoped for him to depart on a high.

Of Test Cricket & Smith’s 100

Cricket has over the past 7-8 years seen a move towards making more exciting formats and attracting a wider audience with a fast paced result oriented encounter. Smash and bash has been the tone and the T20 format has been established as the third format here to stay. Domestic leagues are getting more importance and wider coverage through this short and excitement based format, the T20 World Cup is far more important than the ICC Champions Trophy – or so the perception is. Bowlers and batsmen alike are getting more and more tuned to the shorter format of the game especially in the subcontinent. The Indian Premier League and now in the last year the addition of the Sri Lankan Premier League and Bangladesh premier league are giving more credence to Club Cricket.

However perhaps because Cricket has since its inception been so much more of a international sport in the sense that if compared to Football (Soccer) club cricket has been and still is less important than international cricket that I haven’t really taken to following club or domestic cricket as much. No matter how exciting it seems to have been made. The calendar has national duties has filled up and the domestic level is confined to proving your worth enough to be included in the national squad.

Also for me Test Cricket still remains the holy grail of cricketing. It is the original gentleman’s game. The superb draw of tactics, strategy, endurance and moments of brilliance is what makes Test cricket for me ultimate. Bring on two good test playing nations packed with lots of skilled and talented players and you are in for a great series. I am not saying that ODI and T20 internationals do not excite me.. but they cannot take away what test cricket has to offer. I loved the Pak India series (of course that is also because we won) but the intensity of the clash was brilliant. If only the tour would have had a test leg to!

I am really looking forward to Pakistan’s full tour of SA (Starting with the first test today). 3 Tests, 2 T20s and 5 ODIs. Great tour for us and against great opposition.

What I am loving most is seeing our team battle with South Africans in the test format ( the first day so far has been classic test match cricket ).

Also something of note: Graeme Smith has today led the South African side for the 100th time in test matches. The mere fact that he has played more than a 100 tests alone is a great achievement but to become the only captain test history to lead a side for the 100th side is fantastic. And they have been the number 1 test side on a few occasions under his lead and are currently the top side too. The guy has been a fantastic leader, taking it on almost as soon as he entered the international cricketing arena ( I think he took over in his 8th or 7th test) and at the young age of 23ish. Fantastic. Kudos to Smith on this great achievement.

Looking forward to a good tour for Pakistan Smile

The Year That Was: 2012

First of all a Happy New Year to all. May 2013 be wonderful, prosperous, joyous, happier, merrier, more successful, more opportune, more everything positive that you can think of on this planet for you!

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As it turned out the Mayan’s probably ran out of steam in continuing their calendar or planned a very elaborate practical joke for the superstitious and weak hearted around in the year 2012. Also there was no planet x or Nibirui or whatever on course towards earth. In short.. we have survived 2012 without any world ending incidence. We are in 2013. So cheers to all for that.

Now apart from the hullabaloo of the Mayan apocalypse the rest of the year was much like most years. Some good and some bad all mixed in 365 days to make a year. Actually 2012 was a leap year so let’s make that 366.

Some notable things from around the world:

  • Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated 60 years as head of the Commonwealth in February
  • The Greek Debt crisis forced the Eurozone Finance ministers to grant a second bailout to Greece worth 130 Billion Euro in February
  • After 244 years of publications the Encyclopedia Brittanica discontinued its print edition in March
  • A pastel version of ‘The Scream’ by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch sells for US$ 120 Million in New York City setting a new record in May
  • CERN discovered a new particle in July after experiments in Large Hadron Collider
  • London successfully held the 2012 Summer Olympics between July-August
    london-2012
  • 620 Million people were left without electricity after what was the world’s worst blackout in history in India in July
  • September saw a series of hostile attacks, protests and outrage over a anti Islamic amateur film made and uploaded on YouTube. As a result of an attack in Libya, the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens lost his life. The protests and violence also claimed lives and damage to property in other countries and cities. Pakistan has since banned YouTube as protest for allowing the video to stay on the website which is deemed an offense to sensitivities of the Muslim world.
  • Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner becomes the first person to break the sound barrier without any machine assistance during a record space dive out of the Red Bull Stratos helium-filled balloon from 24 miles (39 kilometers) over Roswell, New Mexico in the United States in October
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  • Israel launches Operation Pillar of Defense against the Palestinian-governed Gaza Strip, killing Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari. In the following week 140 Palestinians and five Israelis are killed in an ensuing cycle of violence. A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is announced by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after the week-long escalation in hostilities in Southern Israel and the Gaza Strip in November

The above list is from Wikipedia’s online timeline of 2012 of sorts. Their complete list can be viewed on the following link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012

There were a couple of things that got missed out in the list and which I feel are important to the list:

  • The Caribbean Kings won the World T20 2012 tournament against hosts Sri Lanka
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    • Sri Lanka were playing in their 4th final of an ICC tournament in the last 6 years and have lost all 4. They lost the 2007 ODI World Cup Final to Australia. The 2009 T20 Final to Pakistan. The 2011 World Cup Final to India. And now this one to the West Indies. Also Sri Lanka were the host nation and would have become the first host nation to also lift the cup had they won.
  • South Korean singer PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ claimed a global fame level and even became the West Indies teams, especially Chris Gayle’s, celebration style after a wicket, match win and the T20 tournament win. Rumor has it that it even made its way to the song lists of some mehndi’s in the Sub Continent region!
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  • 2012’s best Hollywood release for me and many many many more will most definitely have to be ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Chris Nolan’s trilogy telling the story of Batman has been fantastic. It connects the bat with the audience on completely different level. The third movie delivers on all counts and this marvel fan will admit that it beats the avengers hands down. The Avengers had its own appeal. It was a fun and entertaining movie and was great to see so many supers packed in a single movie. But the Dark Knight definitely makes them pale in comparison.
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So that was all that happened Globally. I mean much more happened but those were some of the bigger things.

Pakistan in 2012 has had it’s ups and downs. There have been proud moments and moments of despair all the same. But that’s for another post.

However just a few quick positive mentions since I can’t help myself:

  • Pakistan won the Asia Cup 2012 in cricket
    287960,xcitefun-pakistan-champions-asia-cup-2012
  • Pakistan’s Muhammad Asif won the World Snooker Championship
  • Pakistan set a world record for setting the most world records in a day with Guinness – I kid you not
  • Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy became the first Pakistani to win an Oscar. She got this for directing the documentary ‘Saving Face’ based on acid attack victims in Pakistan.
  • Our Hockey team won Bronze in Champions Trophy
    Champions Trophy
  • Asif Ali Zardari and company have managed to so far steer their political ship to survive 5 years in the Government. And if they stick till February / March 2013 they will become the first democratically elected government to complete its tenure in the country.
  • It has been 2, 3 years and we still have no clue as to who the heck is Dr. Ghulam Mujtaba! (not really a positive but interesting none the less)

Once again happy new year to you all! Cheers! Smile

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 ?