Wednesday, September 26, 2012

World T20 2012 - Loking Forward to the Super 8's

A Special Guest Post from my friend Leo (Vinay) who writes wonderful poems, stories and haikus at his space - I Rhyme Without Reason and is an ardent cricket fan...
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Halfway through the tournament now, and the headlines around the week have been mostly watery, literally. It’s been either the rain or some cricketers catching a stomach bug due to drinking water (or so the papers say anyways.)

Coming to the cricket, it hasn’t really been extraordinary, but there has been entertainment. I feel in general, the expectation has been met. The so-called “strong teams” have advanced to the super eights, and the “minnows” have bowed out. There has been a decent crowd in the ground to support the teams, but I think it should improve for the super eights. Non Sri Lanka matches haven’t been sold out yet, but with some big matches on the cards, I believe that would change.

I do wish the Sri Lanka and South Africa match wasn’t rain curtailed. I think it’d have been a much closer affair hadn’t the rain taken a toll, and made it a 7 over hit-out. That apart, the cricket has been good. Warner and de Villiers have shown that they can clobber the cricket ball, as has Imran Nazir. Watson’s all round skills have got him two man-of-the-match awards so far, and at the head, Australia also seems to be in form. With Australia set to clash with India, South Africa and Pakistan in what seems to be an ominous group, India’s inability to finish strongly might come back to bite them.

Yes, there was a superb performance against England, but the fact that Afghanistan pushed them to the end means there is still things to sort out in the Indian camp, where Kohli and Rohit Sharma, and the returning Harbhajan and Yuvraj have been standout performers so far. The form of the Indian openers, both in batting and bowling are a worry. Sehwag, Gambhir and Zaheer have all struggled, and the Dinda experiment seems to have backfired, even in the one game. Going forward, I wonder if that means India are going for an all spin attack, with Ashwin, Chawla and Harbhajan, and Irfan being the lone pacer. A line-up as Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Raina/Sharma, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Irfan, Ashwin, Harbhajan, Chawla and Zaheer/Balaji seems the most likely in the current scenario.

I think most people would agree that I mention Ireland. They’ve bowed out, but a fair bit of luck has gone against them. The Colombo weather got the match v/s the West Indies canceled, which they might have won if Duckworth Lewis got a chance. Even if they had managed to hold off the Aussies for another 4 balls, they’d have got through on NRR. With their ability, I think it’s about time ICC gave them full membership. Or at the least, ICC should organize tournaments where the affiliates play against the bigger teams. Only that experience would help develop these nations quicker, not once in 4 years playing v/s the bigger teams. For that, ICC should look past the monetary outcome of the match I guess.

Players to watch out for in the Super 8s

Virat Kohli: in-form and the strong point of the Indian top-order. He can change the game, and I’m sure MSD and Duncan Fletcher would be looking for that form to continue.

Harbhajan: back with a bang, and sure to play against Australia. Bhajji loves the Aussies, so he’ll either put them out, or be put out of the team again by the Aussies. A battle to look forward to.

Shane Watson: all round abilities, opening the batting and bowling as well, means there’s more man-of-the-match opportunities should he continue to be the rock at the helm.

Hafeez/Nazir: a solid partnership at the top. They showed v/s Bangla what a solid partnership can do to change an innings. More such partnerships can steer Pakistan to the semis for sure.

Saeed Ajmal: took a bit of stick v/s Bangla, but the world’s #1 T20 bowler rattled the Kiwis and can do so to other opposition too.

Richard Levi: big hitting ability can turn a match, even if Duckworth Lewis comes to play.

AB de Villiers: same like Levi, but sound captaincy has helped South Africa come forward.

Dale Steyn: super stingy, and deadly accurate, a bowler that batsmen look to play out, rather than hit out.

Brendan McCullum: has already exploded onto the scene. But remains to be seen if there’s any fire left.

Ross Taylor: New Zealand have not reached a final of a big tournament. RT can guide them there.

Chris Gayle: with Windies at the Pallekelle batting paradise, this man is a threat.

Sunil Narine: a spinner with tact and control. A game-changer.

Alex Hales: youthful, energetic, solid at the top. His partnership with Kieswetter and Wright would be tantamount to England’s title-defense.

Thissara Perera: it was expected to be his World Cup, with him being a form player for the side. Can he step up his game in the next round?

Six days of quality, top of the world action starts tomorrow. 

Team India's Schedule of Super Matches at the World T20 2012, Sri Lanka

India v/s Australia on Friday, 28th September
India v/s Pakistan on Sunday, 30th September
India v/s South Africa on Tuesday, 2nd October

If India and Pakistan can see out Australia and South Africa at this stage, a repeat of the  mouth watering 2007 T20 WC final seems on the cards.

Here’s to some wonderful matches, and a prayer that rain, rain go away!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Biggest T20 World Cup Yet?

A Special Guest Post from my friend Leo (Vinay) who writes wonderful poems, stories and haikus at his space - I Rhyme Without Reason and is an ardent cricket fan...

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We’re just one day away from what the broadcasters claim will be the biggest World Cup T20 yet. I wonder if it will be so. In my mind, my heart, the first World T20 in South Africa, in 2007 was the best edition, and it would remain so. Not because India won, but because what transpired. Neither the second edition that took place in England, nor the third one that took place in the Caribbean have had that much excitement to be frank. India and Pakistan were in one group, there was a bowl-out needed to separate the two Asian Goliaths in a match, for the first time in T20 a bowler was smashed out of the park for six times in a single over, the previously proclaimed dominance of the Australian team was challenged and conquered, and the single most fierce rivalry in World cricket as we know it was played out in the finals as well. Hell, the stadium at Kingsmead was almost like a second Eden Gardens to the national team. We did it all, and it was the biggest spectacle possible. How, I ask, can India and the world top that in Sri Lanka over the next three weeks?

ARE THERE FAVORITES THIS TIME?

No. That’s the right answer any unbiased mind can tell. None of the teams are in any particularly excellent T20 form. Even in the warm-up games. India wins a game against Sri Lanka, and then goes on and loses to Pakistan. Zimbabwe, though a full member nation of the ICC lost their game against Ireland and also against Bangladesh; likewise New Zealand have also lost both warm-up matches. Agreed, the format is such that luck also plays a very big part in the result, but still, no team can be called favorites for the title. England will miss the explosive KP in their title-defense, and he is a vital cog, having been the best player when they won the title in the Caribbean. In my eyes, the only team in a good consistent form is Ireland. I hope they do well in the games, and get that Test Cricket status that they deserve.

INDIA – STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

The biggest strength of the Men in Blue I feel are the opening 10 overs, be it while bowling or while batting. They are the most explosive in that period, and not many teams can match that. It was on display today, when they played Pakistan. Having watched the match from the start, I think they do lack that bite in the death overs. They play themselves to get a bigger target on board to defend, and lose the focus in the last three or four overs, and end up getting 10 or 20 runs less. In saying so, it’d be an injustice if I fail to mention the partnership between Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli that actually got India to that decent total of 185. Without that camaraderie, I doubt the Men in Blue would have got to 150. Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal were especially brilliant for Pakistan in that death overs, and it’s that excellence that I feel India can take a leaf out of. All bowlers except for the impressive Ravichandran Ashwin were taken to the cleaners, and if fingers are to be pointed, I am sure the first person they’d go at would be Balaji. He bowled his first two overs for just 9 runs, and then lost the plot, gave away 32 runs in his last two, which proved to be India’s undoing. If India were to get past England and Afghanistan, both of whom cannot be taken lightly in this format, they need to sort out their death bowling options.

THE OPPOSITION

Not looking very far ahead, India’s opposition in the group games are England and Afghanistan. In a usual scenario, India might be given the favorites tag, but even without KP, England have an assortment of power hitters and all rounders who can change the game. Players like Kieswetter, Hales, Wright and Morgan, and a batting depth that goes till Stuart Broad at #8, and if included, Samit Patel at #9. That’s firepower India cannot afford to take lightly. Afghanistan are the dark horses. They have talent, and more importantly, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They’re not after T20 rankings, or world reputations, so they will play their hearts out. If Ireland can win against England, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the like in 50 overs format, then the Afghans can defeat any team if they put their minds to it. If people are looking for a scenario in the future rounds where India can face Pakistan only in the finals, then first step would be to hope both India and Pakistan are top ranked in their group fixtures so they avoid each other in the Super 8s.

I still have my doubts as to this being the biggest T20 yet. I’ve never seen many empty seats during an India Pakistan game, even during a warm-up encounter. Today, there were many. Is the rivalry dwindling? No idea. But one thing was proven today. Warm-up, or not, Pakistan can beat India on the World’s biggest stage for cricket.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Melbourne Calling

I reluctantly opened my eyes in my lavish hotel room situated in Melbourne. Four days had flown by as if only a few minutes had elapsed. It all seemed like one beautiful dream to me. There were still a couple of hours to go for the start of the final days play of the Boxing Day Test that was going on between India and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) or the 'G' as we cricket crazy fans call it!! Sunshine was filtering in through the blinds and I felt like reliving my past four days all over again. I closed my eyes.

Day 1

My first day in the beautiful city of Melbourne. The first time I had stepped on foreign soil. I made my way from the airport to the hotel that I had booked for myself. I quickly dumped my bags in the room and freshened up. Made my way to the reception and collected my Boxing Day Test Tickets from the dude behind the reception desk who said, "Good Day Sir but Australia will win!!" I thanked him for the tickets and replied, "Mate, we will see" and I walked off contemplating if the Indian team was as gung-ho as me about the result. I walked around and had a great breakfast in one of the many Cafe's that will catch your attention in Melbourne.

After filling up my tummy I caught a cab and made my way to the place where I was to take my Hot Air Balloon Flight. As the sun slowly rose, I too in the hot air balloon rose high up in the air. It was a thrilling experience to view the G from the sky. Another favorite of mine was witnessing the Eureka tower. Overall, viewing the city from high up there in a moving balloon was a once in the lifetime experience for me. It was a perfect start to my Melbourne trip and set my heart racing!

The Hot Air Balloon Ride over Melbourne

After the exhilarating ride, I made my way to the MCG. Ah!! What a place it was, I felt dwarfed as I stepped into the stadium. The toss was just minutes away as I found my seat. I was, luckily, in a part of the stadium where the Indian fans seemed more in number as compared to the Aussie supporters. The stadium was already brimming and it was intimidating to be there. As Clarke won the toss and elected to Bat first there was a deafening  roar of approval from the crowd. No wonder the Australians held the first match of the season here, the ground seemed like a Colosseum with the spectators baying for the visiting teams blood!! I settled in my seat and started enjoying the match. After an early wicket, the Indian bowlers toiled hard without any reward. Australia were 108/1 at lunch. It was fun interacting with a couple of Aussie fans (they are not as bad as they seem on the television!!!) and we shared quite a few stories on cricket. The remainder of the day also breezed by with the first day ending with Australia at 356/6. Michael Clarke had hit a sublime century and was unbeaten on 121.

Next up, in the evening, for me was the Eureka Sky Deck 88!! From the time I saw it from my morning hot air balloon I was itching to visit it. It was nearly dark as I reached there. I purchased my tickets and like a small child waited eagerly for my turn to ascend 88 floors! Finally I was up there, 88 floors up in the sky. The city shone like a newly wed bride in all its finest jewelery!! To step in the glass cube which slid out was a heart stopping moment. It was yet another unforgettable experience as the city of Melbourne was under me, my eyes craved for more. The neon lights buzzed in every direction creating myriad patterns. The views were just something which will stay in the mind for life.


The Eureka Skydeck

As I descended, my heart felt content at a day spent well. I was now looking forward to the second day.

Day 2

I decided to give the first session a miss as I knew it fully well that the Aussie tail will frustrate the Indians for an hour or so in all probability. I  have always been fascinated by aquariums since my childhood and I remember pestering my parents to take me to the Machlighar (Aquarium) situated in Mumbai. They would take me there at least two times a year and I would get immense joy at watching all those different fishes in all shapes, sizes and colors. Hence I was eagerly looking forward to my visit to the Melbourne Aquarium and it was probably the only thing that would have caused me miss cricket!!

The Melbourne Aquarium

I was amazed when I got there and I saw it all there. Sharks, Stingrays... I even took an underwater sojourn in the 360 degree Oceanarium!!! Yes, I swam with those menacing sharks and stingrays!!! The Melbourne Aquarium has won several awards and is one of the premier tourist destinations in Melbourne!! If not for the Cricket and a burning desire to watch Sachin bat at the G, I would have happily spent the whole day with the fishes!!!

When I reached The G finally, I got to know that the Aussie's had been bundled out for 439 with the tail indeed frustrating the Indians!! India were 25/1 when I took seat. Soon India lost another wicket and out strode Sachin. The moment had arrived, of which I had dreamed of all along. What a rousing welcome did the little master receive, what Indians and what Australians... 100,000 people rose as one to welcome Sachin to the crease!! A trademark straight drive got him going and He along with Pujara started to take total control of the proceedings. The day ended with India at 278/6, Sachin hitting a masterly 156. Rest of the batting though disappointed and the end was almost near in the first innings for the Indians.

The evening was spent loitering around the famous Federation Square. I saw some film shootings going on, a couple of live performances were being held and the whole place was buzzing with activity and energy. I grabbed a hot espresso and filled up my tummy with the delicious fare available in plenty at the square! Then came some shopping for family and friends. I had a wonderful time there, it was just so much fun.

Federation Square jam packed with people

The second day had also come to an end now and I headed to my hotel room, tired and eagerly wanting a rest but the mind was already dreaming of the third day!!

Day 3

I decided to start my third day with a Melbourne River Cruise. Stepping on to a boat and seeing the great city from the cruise was an altogether different experience then observing it from the ground. The beauty of the city seemed accentuated and we meandered through the Yarra River. Tall skyscrapers, bridges  and gardens made beautiful reflections in the calm water. The hour long cruise ended and it gave me a perfect start for my day.

The Cruise along the Yarra River

I then made my way towards the G again but today I had decided to see the National Sports Museum first. The National Sports Museum houses Australia's most comprehensive sporting collection, showcasing more than 3500 objects related to the greatest moments in Australian sporting history. It was fascinating to know about the sports rich country, Australia. The story of MCG made for an interesting session too. If its Australia sport cannot be far off, the people of Australia are of a naturally sporting attitude. This tour provided a rare glimpse into the golden sporting accomplishments of Australia.

National Sports Museum at MCG

I was back to watching cricket as the tea break beckoned. The Indians were shot for 321 earlier in the day and Australia were 86/4 in the second innings. The day ended with the Indians finally showing some spunk in the field as the Australians ended day three at 137/5. It was turning into a fascinating test match and I was feeling a bit guilty at missing chunks of action.
Nevertheless, I made my way towards Melbourne Zoo next!! Normally the Zoo closes at 5 pm but on special days it is open till 9.30 pm and today was one of the lucky days!! Visiting the Zoo is another one of my childhood fantasies. Hence I was looking forward to coming in contact with the wildlife. The best part about the Melbourne Zoo was that the animals are kept in landscaped settings. Rain forests which had tigers roaming, monkeys swinging from branch to branch and also koalas, platypus, kangaroos... There was even a Wild Sea section which had among other exhibits Victoria's iconic Little Penguins and Australian Fur Seals.

Koala at the Melbourne Zoo

I had an absolute ball at the Zoo and then made my way towards the St Patrick's Cathedral. It was a place seeped in silence and absolute beauty. The tranquility of the place was like a soothing balm after 3 days of exhausting travel. The altar mosaics, spires, gargoyles and the exquisite brass items were the main things to look out for at the home of God!!

St Pats Cathedral

Before finally returning to my hotel room I visited the Flinders Street Station and stood under those clocks of the iconic Melbourne Station!!

Iconic Flinders Street Station

Day 4

With the Test Match standing at such a delicate situation, I was never ever going to miss the 4th day for anything else!! The day was a bit overcast and I hoped it would turn into a wonderful day for cricket as the day wore on with glorious sunshine bathing the G! The overnight not out Aussie batsmen, Mr. Cricket and Wade, took to the crease as the Indian fielders took their respective positions in the field. The first ball swung wildly down the leg side but it became clear that the clouds would help swing and seam movement and if the bowlers bowled with control then the rewards would automatically follow. The tussle between the bat and the ball was fascinating with the capacity crowd enjoying every little bit of it. After the first hour Australia were struggling at 177/8. They were soon bowled out for 185 which set up the match perfectly leaving India with a target of 303 with about 5 sessions remaining. Lunch was taken with India at 14/0.

By the time the post lunch session started the Sun decided it was time for him to watch some of the action as well. With the Sun on their backs, the Indian batsmen felt more comfortable and the pitch lost the zip and the venom it seemed to possess in the morning. Sehwag and Gambhir went about the job fairly untroubled other than on few rare occasions. Sehwag soon launched a full frontal attack and raced to his century in the session. The Indian score stood at 142/3 with Sachin and Kohli at the crease. Tea was taken.

MCG bathed in sunshine during the lunch interval

After tea the Indians were a lot more circumspect, it was only expected after the fall of Sehwag, with Sachin and Kohli both, only occasionally unfurling full blooded shots. As Kohli fell with the score on 199 and Raina once again was out fending ungainly at a vicious short ball from the rising Australian Pat Cummins, the score was 201/5. Out walked the Indian skipper Dhoni as he joined Sachin in the middle. The last recognized pair were now out and India were still 100 away from the target. The day finally ended with India at 228/7 with Sachin still available to take guard the next day.

It would be a cracker on the 5th day. India needed 75 to win a historic match while Aussie's required 3 more wickets to seal the match. Sachin stood like a rock between a victory and a defeat. I knew I would barely be able to sleep that day.

Day 5

"Why is he not up, yet? Yesterday night, he was jumping up and down about the match situation." I heard the faint voice of my Dad in the background. I jumped up with a start in horror. I just hoped and wished that I had not missed the last days play. It was 6.15 am as I quickly switched on the TV. I had actually got up at 4 am and then probably slept at around 5 am as there was still half an hour for the start of the 5th day. But what a dream I had just had!!! A dream in a dream!!

India were 259/8 with Sachin still holding fort. India were still 44 adrift. My Dad joined me as we watched the enthralling match unfold. Every dot ball was met with a sigh, every run with unbridled joy as we both put all our weight behind India. India finally won the cliffhanger by the skin of their teeth, by a solitary wicket. Sachin had silenced critics that he does not take India to victory often in big pressure matches. He was calm though amidst all the screams all around him... the helmet came off, grabbed a stump and looked upwards towards the sky while saying a silent prayer. I jumped in joy and there was a huge roar heard. Surely many people were watching the match within the confines of their homes. Sachin won the Man of the Match for making tons in both the innings.

I then narrated to my Dad the dream that I had dreamed of in my dream!!! I told him about my Australia adventure. He told me with a huge smile that maybe, the next time India play Australia at MCG on Boxing day, we might just plan a trip down under. He was serious as he said to me, ‘…it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!’ I just gave him the widest smile I could muster, hugged him and replied, ‘…it's OUR time to visit Melbourne NOW!’

PS - The post is written for the '…it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!' contest held at Indiblogger and sponsored by the good folks of Tourism Victoria. Check out all the attractions of Melbourne at - Visit Melbourne

PPS - All the images used in the post are taken from http://www.visitmelbourne.com/in

If you like my post you can vote for it here - Melbourne Calling

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