Sunday, March 18, 2007

An extraordinary day, and an amount of crow

In my preview of this tournament, I wrote the following.

There are 16 teams playing in this year's tournament: West Indies; Pakistan; Australia; Sri Lanka; South Africa; England; New Zealand; India; Scotland; Canada; Kenya; Bermuda; Ireland; Zimbabwe; Netherlands; and Bangladesh. Only the first eight of these teams have an chance of winning the tournament. It is unimaginable that any of the other eight could win it. The tournament organisers know this, which is why the second round consists of eight teams and the first stage is relatively short. It is extremely unlikely that any of the second eight teams will make the second round. It is quite unlikely that any of the second eight teams will win a game against any of the first eight, although such events have occurred in previous tournaments.

Now that the extremely unlikely and the quite unlikely have both happened, I suppose I have to draw attention to it. When I made this comment and only discussed the prospects of the top eight sides, a well known Bangladeshi blogger did chide me a little in the comments of this blog for not previewing the other eight teams as well. There was no malice in my not doing this: I simply did not have time, and in many cases I simply did no know much about the teams in question. Of those I did, I didn't feel like writing about Zimbabwe, but I should have written about Bangladesh. Bangladesh have full international status and play regularly against the good teams of international cricket. Although they have shown fight at times, they have been slowly improving, and have won the occasional match against the strong sides of world cricket (most notably against Australia in England in 2005). With a population base of more than 100 million and great enthusiasm for cricket, I have always been of the opinion that Bangladesh would come good some time, but I wasn't sure when (and in truth I am still not, but more on that in a bit). Last year they played mainly against Zimbabwe, Kenya, and other lesser sides in one day matches rather than the stronger sides: their record was good, but when they had to play the stronger sides in the ICC Champions Trophy, they were beaten. However, it is clear that they had regular competition and had a chance to get their tactics and strategies right, for they were hugely impressive yesterday.

As most of my readers would know, yesterday there were two upsets: Bangladesh beat India and Ireland beat Pakistan. Ireland beating Pakistan was I think the most remarkable result in the history of the World Cup. Pakistan are now out of the tournament, and Ireland are very likely through to the Super 8. However, that match was a fluke. Ireland are a side put together from discards from other nations who can find some Irish ancestry. The winning six was hit by Ireland captain Trent Johnston, who happens to be a native of the Australian city of Wollongong (as for that matter am I). He is likely more Irish than I am, but only barely. Ireland do not have a strong domestic structure. This win does not herald a new age in Irish cricket, although the Irish supporters (who had come for the Six Nations rugby) in the Sports Cafe in Haymarket yesterday were clearly enjoying it. Pakistan were an obviously vulnerable side, and they collapsed. Watching the end of the match, everyone knew that when Ireland had Pakistan at 8/105 everyone knew that the two final wickets had to be taken quickly, as there was no guarantee that Ireland's batting could get even a modest target. The final 132 looked to me like it might have been too much, but Ireland just scraped home, thanks largely to 72 from Niall O'Brien. When O'Brien got out stumped to a stupid shot and two more wickets fell immediately, it looked like Ireland were going to stumble at the final moment. However, Niall's brother Kevin O'Brien and Trent Johnston played very carefully to get Ireland home. Carefully until the scores were level, anyway, when Johnstone finished the match with a big six.

The Bangladesh v India match was in a way similar but in a way different. Firstly, Bangladesh bowled with more discipline and skill than did Ireland. One can't say that India batted particularly well, but Bangladesh bowled with skill to take advantage of them. Mashrafe Mortaza took 4/38 off 9.3 overs. Syen Rasel took 0/31 off 10. Abdur Razzak took 3/38 off 10. Mohammad Rafique 3/35 off 10. This was good disciplined bowling all round. Bangladesh got India to 9/159, and then the last two batsmen dug on and got the score to 191. India had more runs than Pakistan, but there was far less concern in the Bangladesh game about the tail enders getting a few more runs. India's back had been broken, and if Bangladesh was a professional side, then they would be able to get 191 with not much more difficulty than 159. If Bangladesh were to win it, this would be about them showing they were a professional side.

And they did it easily enough. 51 to Tamim Iqbal. 56 non out to Mushfiqur Rahim. 53 to Saqibul Hasan. Bangladesh's captain (and so often their best batsman) Habibul Bashar got out for 1, but it did not matter as the job was largely done by then. A pretty professional performance by Bangladesh.

However, Bangladesh have plenty more to do. The table in group B looks like this

Group BPlayedWonLostTied/NRPtsNet RR
Sri Lanka110024.860

Disregarding any predictions I might have made about the likelihood of upsets so far, let us only consider situations in which Bermuda lose to both India and Bangladesh. (Bermuda are the weakest side in the tournament). There are two other games that matter: Sri Lanka v Bangladesh and Sri Lanka v India. If Bangladesh can beat Sri Lanka, then Bangladesh go through and top the group. The other team that goes through from that group is the winner of India v Sri Lanka. If Bangladesh lose to Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka beats India, then Bangladesh and Sri Lanka go through and India are eliminated. If on the other hand Bandladesh lose to Sri Lanka and India beats Sri Lanka, then all three are tied on points and it goes down to net run rate - essentially who can thrash Bermuda by the largest margin. Sri lanka have already beaten them by 221 runs. You would think that with Tendulkar, Dravid, and the like, India can do something similar. The question remains as to whether Bangladesh have the destructive batsmen to do this themselves. For Bangladesh it would be best if they can simply defeat Sri Lanka. It is clear though that despite yesterday's victory, Bangladesh have work to do to make the Super 8. At least they do if Sri Lanka are unable to beat India. Sri Lanka are a very good side though. They have an excellent chance of beating India. On the other hand, India will be very motivated for that match - I can't imagine returning to India would be much fun after failing to make the last eight.

For Bangladesh, the aim in the rest of the tournament is to prove that this result was no fluke, that they have risen up the ranks, and that they deserve to be treated as one of the major nations of world cricket going forwards. If they do no more than they have done already in this tournament, they have made a fine step forward. Win a few more games, and it is a lot more than that.

And for that matter, returning to Pakistan is not going to be much fun after Pakistan have failed to make the last eight. That one is not hypothetical. Pakistan are out. Look at Group D.

Group DPlayedWonLostTied/NRPtsNet RR
West Indies110021.080

Pakistan are gone. Even if they win their last game against Zimbabwe, that will give them a maximum of two points. They cannot finish above Ireland, who have three points already. Zimbabwe and the West Indies are still to play, and the winner of that came will have at least three points. If that game is tied or no result, then the West Indies will have three points.

Ireland and the West Indies will go through from this group unless Zimbabwe can cause an upset. If Ireland and Zimbabwe both beat the West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe will go through. (I am not holding my breath). If Zimbabwe beat the West Indies and the West Indies beat Ireland then it goes down to net run rate between Ireland and Zimbabwe.

In a nutshell, it would be very unlucky for Ireland to miss out on the Super Eight from here. That point they got from the tie against Zimbabwe turns out to be immensely valuable. If they had lost to Zimbabwe, we would still be looking at Pakistan quite probably going through from Group D.

Okay, Australia v Holland and Canada v England today. Australia will want to give Holland similar treatment than what they got from South Africa, just to make a point to the South Africans, I fear. This might not be fun if you are Holland. The win will for all practical purposes mean Australia qualify for the super eight. England will need to beat Canada to remain comfortably in the competition. I am sure they will, although the question of by how much remains open.


Anonymous said...

While Ireland's win is the biggest romantic result since Zimbabwe beat Australia in 1983, the Bangladesh victory is far more significant.

I had not seen Bangladesh play since Australia's visit almost 12 months ago, and the improvement in their play since then has been quite remarkable.

They also have one little advantage in qualifying for the Super 8, and that is that the last match in the group is Bangladesh vs Bermuda. They will therefore go into that game knowing exactly what they have to do if it comes down to NRR.

Of course, Bangladesh might have already beaten Sri Lanka and made qualification a moot point.

Anonymous said...

Not only the defeats but the nature of defeats was even more telling. Both India and Pakistan were comprehensively outplayed in all three departments and it was a complete reversal of tags of minnows and majors. Both the teams did not stand a chance after losing first couple of over and the inexperiences sides played like true professionals, never allowing them to come back in.
Other teams must take inspiration from this and we will atleast be saved the trouble of witnessing predictable match results.
Smart Alec

Salik Shah said...

Cricket is the game of glorious uncertainties! So, here is it again.

But Pakistani team losing in such disgraceful manner is surely a biggest upset. Team India needs to improve- change before it's too late.

Without the whole Indian cricket drama, what else is there in cricket? Perhaps, such unpredictable upsets!

Jibonjatri said...

do you have any idea how exactly they are calculating these net run rate? I am trying to figure it out but not sure how these numbers are being calculated.....

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