Saturday, April 07, 2007

How do you say "La Gloire" in Bengali?


Before the World Cup, I wrote "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", with the eight teams I was referring to being Australia, New Zealand, England, the West Indies, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Of course, I soon ate a certain amount of crow after Bangladesh and Ireland scored victories and India and Pakistan were eliminated.

However, although Bangladesh did what was expected to beat Bermuda and qualify for the Super Eights, their next few games were not all that impressive. They lost heavily to Sri Lanka in the first round, and then to New Zealand and Australia in the Super Eights. My thoughts were that if they could beat Ireland and scrape a victory against one of the underperforming sides or England and West Indies, they would go hoem with their heads high and a successful World Cup behind them, and strong prospects of doing better next time.

Going into today's match, there were really two opinions about Bangladesh's presence in the Super Eights. There was the "The minnows have ruined the World Cup by making the Super Eight" position, and there was the "Bangladesh's cricket team is on the rise" position (put eloquently by Rahul Bhattacharya in the linked artcle - go read it). I do not and did not agree with the first position - Bangladesh and Ireland earned their places and India and Pakistan deserved to go out - but I none the less missed the excitement of having India in particular in the tournament. On the second, well, I am delighted that Bangladesh are improving, particularly given the enthusiasm of the players and most Bangladeshis I meet, but I still had doubts as to wether Bangladesh had reached the point where they were a competitive side.

I did not give them any chance against South Africa today. I really should have learned better after the India match. I will not doubt them again - they deserve their place as a major international side. They played splendidly against South Africa today, and deserved their win.

Bangladesh got off to a decent start, scoring 41 for the first wicket. They then lost four wickets, and were 4/84 after 24 overs. They could have lost heart at that point, but they did not. Aftab Ahmed stuck in for 35 as Mohammad Ashruful batted superbly, ultimately being out for 87 in the last over. Thanks to lower order support from Mushrafe Mortaza at the end, Bangladesh ended up with an excellent score of 8/251 off 50 overs. That was certainly something to bowl at, and when they came out they were more enthusiastic in the field than just about any side I have ever seen. Rasel and Razzak removed the dangerous trio of Smith, Kallis, and de Villiers, and it was 3/64. Prince fell soon after to a fine run out, and at that point Bangladesh were on top. And they didn't ever lose it. Saqibul Hasan was on a hat trick after removing Boucher and Kemp with successive balls. (The first dismissal was very intelligent. Having been hit for six by Boucher the previous ball, Hasan tempted Boucher to go for it again, and he was caught in the outfield. The second was a very good caught and bowled, and to say that Hasan was ecstatic doesn't beging to go there). Pollock and Gibbs (who came in with a runner at 7, after getting injured earlier) hung in for a bit, but they weren't getting the run rate. In any event, if there was danger Tamim Iqbal threw down the stumps to remove Pollock - an even better run out than the first one. Dav Whatmore has taught his team to field, and in a match like this this matters. Gibbs hung in to the end, scoring 56 not out, but I was not impressed. I have no idea how badly injured he is, but he made no attempt to score boundaries and just take the loss. He didn't seem adequately disgusted with the match situation, either, shaking hands with his partner and smiling when he got his 50. Steve Waugh wouldn't have tolerated this.

But it was all over when South Africa were bowled out for 184 in the 49th over. Bangladesh won by 67 runs.

Looking at the table the fourth place in the semi-finals is more open. South Africa are still probably favoured to get there, but England, Bangladesh and even the West Indies have a chance. It may be that a side will make it with only six points. If that happens, England are a strong chance, as their run rate is presently better than the others. They must try to beat Australia tomorrow, or at the worst, if they do lose they must do so narrowly to preseve that run rate. Bangladesh have the worst run rate due to the heaviness of their earlier defeats to Australia and New Zealand. To go through they still probably need to beat all of England, West Indies, and Ireland. Although all of these are probably easier than South Africa today, asking them to win all three is a lot.

But they must now be confident. Good luck to them.

Correction: When I originally posted this, I said that "Bangladesh lost heavily to India in the first round". Obviously I meant to type "Sri Lanka", not India. Sorry.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I am in Paris until Tuesday evening


I haven't blogged on Wednesday's England v Sri Lanka game, which in a way is a shame, because it was probably the best game of cricket in the tournament so far. The game swang to England, to Sri Lanka, to England, to Sri Lanka, and then England managed to just about eke out the runs, with Bopora and Nixon batting well at the end.

But, Nixon got out with a couple of overs to go, and England ultimately found themselves with Bopora needing to score three runs to win off the last ball of the match from Fernando. Fernando finished the innings with what may have been an interesting piece of gamesmanship, although I am sure he would deny it. Dilhara Fernando came in to bowl the last ball, but didn't release the ball, claiming to have messed up his runup. Having thus distracted the batsman, he came in again and bowled a beauty, clean bowling Bopora and winnig the game for Sri Lanka by two runs. Sri Lanka are now clearly in a safe place on the table, and a semi-final lineup of Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and New Zealand looks likelier than ever. If South Africa beats Bangladesh tomorrow, all those four teams will have six points (Sri Lanka and South Africa having played one extra game each), England and the West Indies will each have two, and Bangladesh and Ireland none. That gap between fourth and fifth will be hard to close.

In truth though, I am not sure Sri Lanka should be terribly positive about their performance. Their top order did not bat all that well, and their score of 235 was probably a good way short against opposition with stronger batting. They had several chances to really put their foot on the England throat, but couldn't do it, winning rather luckily at the end. I think Sri Lanka's position on the table is fair - they have had two very close ones and have won and lost one each, but I think Australia would have scored 100 runs more than Sri Lanka did against that England attack, and in that case England would have had no chance. Sri Lanka can always surprise anyone, but I think at the moment they are looking weaker than Australia or New Zealand.

The tournament resumes tomorrow with South Africa taking on Bangladesh. That should be a straightforward win for South Africa, and then Australia takes on England on Sunday. Australia will have comething to prove after their losses in the CB trophy in Australia, and I think they will come out with all guns blazing. If Australia bat first, I would expect them to get a very big score. With Watson's injury, it will be interesting to see who Australia bring in. They will probably bring in Brad Hodge, but that will weaken the bowling, which I am not sure is a great idea. The batting can be weakened a little without it mattering, but the bowling is more marginal. It might be better to bring in a specialist bowler like Mitchell Johnson. We will see what they do.

If any readers are in Paris, I will be watching at least some of the match in the Frog and Pricess in St Germain. The pub has WiFi. I am the guy with the Sony Vaio subcompact laptop who is in need of a haircut.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Michael Jennings Cricket quote of the day

In Pakistan the power of cricket is such that when I interviewed General Musharraf my ice-breaker was: "Mr President, I must apologise on behalf of my country." "Do you mean for colonialism?" he replied, faintly puzzled. "No," I said, "for the fact that an English umpire gave your captain out lbw yesterday when he clearly wasn't."

From that moment on we were bosom pals. The same tactic would not be so effective, I suspect, with Messrs Blair, Brown or Cameron.

UK Daily Telegraph writer Donald Trelford gives us an insight into sub-Continental attitudes to cricket.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Not the debacle we expected

Michael correctly noted that this World Cup is becoming a debacle. However, it is doing so in a way that was not expected.

Most of the fears surrounding this tournament in the leadup was about the ability of the West Indies to host it properly. There were fears that the new stadiums would not be finished in time, and there were also worries that the transport infrastructure of the region would buckle under the strain of so many tourists. There was also a concern that the relaxed attitude of the region would not be compatible with the 'just in time' demands of event organisers and television broadcasters.

These fears have largely been unfounded- the stadiums are finished, the tourists have disappeared with the demise of the Indian and Pakistani teams, and apart from the notable slackness of the ground authorities to clean up the rain in the Bangladesh vs Australia fixture, the hosts have been competent.

The debacle has instead come from the ICC, and it comes in two major forms. The first is the scheduling, which has caused the tournament to drag out for too long. During the group phases there were two matches a day, which is fine. It is also compatible with most major television networks. What we have is a situation where there are 24 super 8 fixtures- they could have been played in a little over 2 weeks, and instead the whole thing is dragging over close to four weeks. This taxes the patience and interest of even the most ardent cricket fans. We aren't even half way through the super 8 phase and already it is hard to maintain interest.

The other problem is that the ICC has swamped the grounds with so many rules, regulations, and price gouging that they have alienated the paying public from attending, especially the locals. International tourists, who have paid considerable sums of money to attend feel compelled to put up with this, but the local fans have voted with their feet by staying home. This situation has come about because the ICC has been seduced by the corporate dollar. Therefore, the ICC considers its customers to be the television customers and the sponsors it can attract. However, the ICC is only attractive to these organisations in as much as it provides access to customers; by treating cricket fans in such a high-handed manner, the ICC is actually devaluing itself. There is already talk that the Korean chaebol LG is 'reviewing' its sponsorship. (This is code for not renewing). This is probably actually caused by India's failure to make the super 8s, but the constant images of empty stadiums that we see underline the ICC's failure at every point. It would be better for everyone if the ICC at this stage simply opened the games up for free and quit banning horns and acting like Big Brother. That would require that ICC admit that it has been wrong, and that is something Big Brother can never do.

The former editor of Wisden Cricketer's Almanack, Tim de Lisle, has more thoughts on this issue.
This is a strange World Cup

Since I last wrote, there have been two games. Yesterday, New Zealand overpowered Bangladesh. (A frew runs to Tamim Iqbal, Aftab Ahmed, and Mohammad Rafique for Bangladesh. Wickets to Oram, Styris, and Bond. Bangladesh all out 174. A century to Stephen Fleming and New Zealand managed a devastatingly easy nine wicket winwith more than 20 overs to spare. Today wasn't greatly different. Ireland could only muster 8/152 off the reduced 35 overs against South Africa, with White and Morgan each able to muster about 30. Wickets to Pollock, Langeveldt (who does have my favourite name of any player in the World Cup) and Hall. South Africa then breezed past the total for the loss of only three wickets thanks to 64 not out from Kallis. (In truth, Ireland put up a slightly better fight than did Bangladesh yesterday, but both were absolute thrashings).

Although Ireland and Bangladesh earned their places in the Super Eight fair and square, the absence of India and Pakistan is really being felt. There are too many mismatches, and the identity of the semi-finalists seems clear all ready. The next two and a half weeks of the Super Eight feel pointless. There is some slight possibility that England might make some sort of a fight for a place in the semis, but that is about it for uncertaintly. If Sri Lanka comprehensively beat England tomorrow, then even that uncertainty is largely gone, unless there is a truly horrendous form reversal after that. The only interest in the rest of the Super Eight stage after that is really whether Ireland or Bangladesh can upset the West Indies or England. While it would be nice for them if they do, this isn't going to carry any interest with respect to the result of the tournament.

Once we do get to the semi-finals there are lots of possibilities, but frankly I just wish we could get on to them now. Because the next two and a half weeks have little point. The Indians sponsors (for who they were created) don't care, and nor do I think do anybody else. This tournament is turning into a debacle.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Things remain predictable

Ian Chappell has a piece on Cricinfo in which he decries the way in which apparently good sides seem to be falling away from the leaders, and in which he argues that Australia and New Zealand are the only two sides still looking good, and that there is therefore a good chance that those two sides will meet in the final.

I don't really disagree with any of this. An Australia v New Zealand final is very possible, and I am certainly disappointed with the performances of the West Indies and England (and for that matter Pakistan and Inida) in this tournament. Chappell is critical of the South African batting against Sri Lanka and their bowling against Australia, and also by the Sri Lankan top order batting against South Africa. These are fair criticisms, but they are only about one or two matches (or parts of matches). It would be foolish to write off either Sri Lanka or South Africa at this point. All either side needs to do is make the semi-finals (which is looking pretty easy for both) and then win two matches. And the strengths of both sides are considerable.

As it happened, Sri Lanka's top order batted well against the West Indies today. Sri Lanka lost Tharanga and Sangakkara early to be 2/35, but Jayasuriya and Jayawardene then batted superbly, putting on nearly 200 as Jayasuriya scored 115 and Jayawardene (who, incidentally and very well deservedly is named one of the five cricketers of the year in the new Wisden) 82. At 2/218 off 34.4 overs, a score of 330 or 340 was possible, but Sri Lanka were pegged back perhaps a little and ended up with 5/303 after Dilshan hit 39 off 22 balls at the end.

The way the West Indies have been batting, that was likely to be plenty, and so it turned out. The West Indies lost Gayle, Bravo and Lara quite quickly and it was 3/42 off 10.1 overs. After that they were never really in it, and although Chanderpaul (76) and Sarwan (44) put on 92 for the fourth wicket they were a very long way below the Sri Lankan run rate and they were only adding respectability. Once they were out, any respectability went quickly, as wickets tumbled and the West Indies were all out for 190, a third consecutive pathetic defeat for the West Indies with Sri Lanka winning by 113 runs. Wickets were shared around, but Malinga took the two important wickets of Gayle and Chanderpaul. His form is important. He is a bowler who can rapidly turn around a match the way Brett Lee can for Australia when he is playing. (It is such a shame that he isn't).

The table looks like this.
Super 8PlayedWonLostTied/NRPtsNet RR
Sri Lanka321042.069
New Zealand220040.982
England 211020.047
South Africa21102-0.714
West Indies41302-1.177

Sri Lanka will take heart at this after their lacklustre performance against South Africa. This was a good win. On the other hand, the West Indies remain dreadful. They will still likely (but not definitely) make the semi-finals if they can defeat South Africa, Bangladesh and England. This is an easier combination of opponents than Australia, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka, but on presently form their chances of winning all three games do not look good. Their next game is not until April 10, so they do have time to regroup, but oh boy do they need to regroup.

We are in fact only a quarter of the way through the Super Eights - six games have been played. However, the semi-finals almost seem settled, with Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa lookings odds on to be the four semi-finalists. The one proviso is that England and South Africa have each only played one Super Eight game, and each have two points. (It would have been more interesting if Sri Lanka had got that last wicket against South Africa, because in that case South Africa would really be playing catchup, albeit with weaker opposition in front of them than behind them). The expectation is that South Africa will get well ahead of England on the basis of form and ability, not on presently positions on the table. If South Africa could unexpectedly lose a game or England unepectedly win one, then things could be interesting. I stress could, because in truth I doubt it.
In the short terms, this would require England to upset Sri Lanka on Wednesday, and I can't see that.

New Zealand v Bangladesh in Antigua tomorrow. New Zealand are making all the correct noises about not taking Sri Lanka lightly, but I can't see the game being remotely close. New Zealand are not going to let their guard down, and Bangladesh are not good enough to beat them if they do not.

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