Cricket’s final Battle Royale is in full flow and the Indians appear to be holding all the right weapons at this stage. Rana Malook reviews the ICC Champion’s trophy which has hit cricket fans for six thus far.
With packed stadiums, roaring crowds and nail biting matches of the highest cricketing quality, the final instalment of ICC Champions trophy is leaving the building like Elvis on speed.
The involvement of fewer teams and resultantly cramped nature of fixtures has meant sudden death cricket pretty much from the word go. The cricketing gladiators have engaged in six bouts up until this point and the effects are showing on some more than others. I sank my teeth into each one like a hungry mosquito, the blood samples results are back and the prognosis for India looks the most promising.
If history repeats itself and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience? I’m pretty sure if George Bernard Shaw was alive and a cricket journalist he would stick to posing cricketing questions to the Indian players prior to the tournament.
Like Italian footballers in the 2006 football World Cup, the Indians came into this tournament with the domestic scene of their respective sport in a smog of fixing controversy. Like their Italian footballing counterparts however they’ve appeared completely unaffected, dismissive of any matters unrelated to the task ahead and are on course to win the tournament.
The depth of their batting and the balanced nature of their bowling attack have meant they’ve comfortably seen off two other heavy weight contenders in South Africa and West Indies. Shikhar Dhawan has started the tournament scoring back to back centuries. The seam attack of Yadav, Kumar and Sharma is an excellent blend of pace, experience and swing. Which coupled with the genuine wicket taking threat of spin twins Ashwin and Jadeja means India have arguably the strongest and most balanced side in the tournament. The World Champions have no doubt come with a mission to avenge the ghosts of their last visit to England. They aren’t wasting any time.
The Proteas had, as always arrived as one of the favourites. But despite having a strong batting line up which has David Miller batting at 7, the absence of Morkel and questions over Steyn’s fitness are problematic facts for Saffers fans hoping for a tournament win. Whilst the three South African seaming musketeers (Tsotsobe, Mclaren, Morris) put on a good show against Pakistan in the absence of Steyn and Morkel, it’s no secret that Pakistan have the daisyiest batting line up in the tournament. Tsotsobe and Mclaren went for 153 runs against India, a tad expensive despite picking up 5 wickets between them. Chris Morris made an impressive debut in the same game. However whether his evident talent compensates for his lack of ODI experience and pressure of facing Gayle and company on Friday remains to be seen.
The West Indians who won the tournament almost a decade ago appear to be less reliant on Chris Gayle this time around. However ask any Windies fan or an informed neutral and they’ll vouch that a Gayle force can never be underestimated. Worryingly for South Africa whom they play next in a make or break clash, he is due a massive score having gone 13 ODI innings without passing 50. I rather optimistically predicted a 150+ score from Gayle in the tournament, I’m sure the big man will settle for a 50 and a win against the Proteas on Friday. I would bet against either. Additionally, the ludicrously harsh suspension of Dinesh Ramdin for claiming a grassed catch has come as a blessing in disguise with replacement Darren Sammy recording a blistering 56 off 35 against the Indians. This particular West Indian team has enough talent to rank as outsiders for the tournament.
Pakistan have been knocked out despite having the best bowling attack in the tournament. The lack of depth in their batting line up resembled a Britney Spears narrative on a bad day! Only skipper Misbah-ul-haq and Naser Jamshed have come away with a shred of dignity, something they’ll be looking to preserve in a dead rubber against India at the weekend.
New Zealand and Australia
New Zealand and Australia go head to head today in a milder derby version of India-Pakistan. The Kiwis are in good ODI form in England with Martin Guptill in the form of his life and a humble yet effective bowling unit helping beat Sri lanka in their opening match. The ease with which England beat Australia will also encourage the New Zealanders, who’ve just come off an ODI series win against the hosts themselves. The lack of belief in the Australian squad in the absence of captain Michael Clarke is reflected across the plains of general opinion. The phrase never underestimate the Aussies has well and truly lost all meaning, but since this is in my own words battle royale, I’ll say it. Never rule out the Aussies, there, that’s that stone turned.
For Sri Lanka the bowling burden on Malinga has become too much and it might be telling. Despite his heroic spell of 4-36 the Lankans still manage to lose to the Kiwis, having been rolled over for a measly 138.
“What hope do Sangakara’s men have against the likes of Narine, Ashwin, Steyn & co if they’re struggling against the ageing Vettori and rookie Mitchell McClenaghan?" Barked my Sri Lankan neighbour upon returning from the match. Herath and Dilshan do provide good spin options but when the ball decides not to turn both have serious cannon fodder potential for the likes of Gayle, Dhawan and AB. It’s difficult to see them reaching the Semi-Finals.
England’s fortunes are probably the hardest to predict. ESPNCrincinfo senior correspondent George Dobell recently compared their tactics to football’s equivalent of the long ball game. The problem of course with playing the long ball game is, whilst it’s possible to fluke it to the final given the condensed format, there’s always a Brazil waiting to run circles around you at the last hurdle.
Thus it’s all very well Trott and Bell accumulating runs like winter mice do food for 20 overs, but the problem arises when they don’t convert to 50 or 100, getting out and leaving the middle order in a spot of bother. What then? Well, England’s batting order without Pieterson doesn’t inspire waves of confidence in that scenario.
For all the hype and talk of them possessing cricketing weapons of mass destruction Joe Root and Jos Butler between them managed a poultry 13 runs against the Aussies. Luckily it didn’t matter as Bopara and Bresnan helped England finish with a healthy total of 269, which the sorry Australians failed to chase.
Jos Butler’s happy hour teeing off exercise against New Zealand in a dead rubber prompted some exciting praise. He has to justify that praise by performing when it matters and It’d be interesting to see if he attempts those kamikaze shots against the likes of Steyn and Roach.
Joe Root has had a very good start to his ODI career with three 50s and three red inkers helping him reach the dizzy heights of a 53 ODI average. If the run pattern from his last 6 innings continues however that average will descend rather quickly. He still has a long way to go as a batsman and needs to show the English fans he is the real McCoy in ODI’s by performing in this international tournament. If ECB and Sky narrative is to be believed however form is irrelevant, Root is here to stay and joins the family of cricketers who were “Born to play for England”. England fans will be hoping he starts to play in this tournament.
England’s batting may raise some questions, but the bowling attack led by Jimmy Anderson appears to have all the answers. If and when Steve Finn and Graeme Swann return to the attack, home conditions mean they’ll make for a formidable proposition for any team. Even when not taking wickets they all have the ability to bowl tight and squeeze opposition run rates. If they remain injury free throughout the competition, England might just have a chance.
Who do you predict to win the trophy?
image: © ell-r-brown