World Cup 2019: The Kiwis were the perfect amb…

New Zealand v England – ICC Cricket World Cup Final 2019

New Zealand lost the World Cup final by zero runs! After 102 overs of cricket, the World Cup final was decided on the number of boundaries hit. Extremely harsh, but the rules were drawn up before the tournament.

New Zealand had their supporters among the neutral fans, not just because they were underdogs, but because of the way the team play their cricket. Even in the tensest of situations, the Black Caps play in the spirit of the game. Take Trent Boult’s catch, for example. Ben Stokes had launched one, and as soon as Boult touched the rope, his teammate Martin Guptill signalled 6 runs.

Or the deflection off Ben Stokes’ bat, which resulted in 6 runs off the overthrow. Any other captain or team would have argued with the umpires about the incident. Not Kane Williamson though. He moved on with the game. Remarkable, considering the circumstances. 

The next day we found out that according to the rules, Stokes’ deflection should have cost only 5 runs, instead of 6. And that it should have been Adil Rashid on strike instead of Stokes. That surely would have impacted the game, even cost New Zealand the World Cup.

The trophy could have been shared, but that rarely happens in sport, in which one winner is the norm. Just as few remember the second man on the moon, in sport few remember the runners-up. But this World Cup final is likely to be remembered for both the winners and the losers. No one will forget New Zealand’s contribution to one of the greatest cricket matches of all time.

Williamson was probably the best captain in this tournament. Eoin Morgan was a close second, but he had a few star players to help him out. Williamson might not have had a star-studded team, but the way he marshalled his troops and made full use of his resources was remarkable. His field placements, bowling changes and game plan were spot on. The key was that he never lost his cool, even in the most tense circumstances.

He had players contributing in many ways, and even though they did not make a single 300-plus score in the tournament, they still managed to win crucial matches. This group is the definition of a team. They backed each other.

This final wasn’t like the 2015 World Cup, when the Kiwis were blown away by Australia in the finals. Here they fought and took England to the brink. It will be a tough defeat to swallow for Williamson and his boys, but they should remember that they did not lose that final.

For youngsters watching the game, this New Zealand team is the perfect example. Play it fair and follow the rules and always have a smile on your face. Sportsmanship goes a long way. It wouldn’t have been easy for Williamson to speak at the post-match presentation, but he handled it with class and dignity. It will be a difficult recovery for this New Zealand team, but they can always draw on the positives from this tournament and build for the future.

World Cup 2019: Buoyant England favourites aga…

Australia v South Africa – ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

When we think Australia-England, the Ashes is the first thing that comes to mind. With just a few weeks to go until the first Test match, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Ashes is the talk of the town.

However, there is something bigger at stake for these two teams when they lock horns with each other on the 11th of July in the World Cup semifinal at Edgbaston. The winner of this match will end up one step closer to lifting the prestigious trophy. 

England were the favourites before the tournament commenced, Australia took over that tag as the tournament progressed, but now it’s all about who performs better on the day.

Australia will be high on confidence after defeating England convincingly in the group stage at Lord’s. However, England will have learned from their mistakes and will also be upbeat heading into the semifinal after registering successive wins against India and New Zealand.

Jason Roy’s return has added firepower to the English side and his contributions in the last two games prove why he is a vital cog in this English wheel. 

Roy’s aggression from the start of the innings puts oppositions on the backfoot and allows England to get off to flying starts. He acts as the perfect foil for Jonny Bairstow and when the pair gets going, they take the game away from the opposition in the first 15 overs itself. 

While England have welcomed players back from injury, Australia have suffered two big blows ahead of the crunch encounter. Usman Khawaja sustained a hamstring injury which has ruled him out of the tournament and Marcus Stoinis has suffered another side strain which could potentially end his World Cup as well. 

Matthew Wade and Mitchell Marsh, who are currently touring England with the Australian ‘A’ side, have been called up. Stoinis’ injury might prove particularly worrying for Australia as he provides balance to the team. While Marsh is also an all-rounder, it will be tough for him to step into the team and perform on such short notice, particularly in a World Cup semi-final.

With Khawaja out, Steve Smith will probably push himself up to the No. 3 position. While Wade is in spectacular form, Australia are likely to opt for Peter Handscomb, who has been in the squad for a while now, serving as cover for Shaun Marsh. 

England will enter this match as favourites, however, if David Warner continues his form with the bat and Mitchell Starc can get the ball to dance to his tunes, Australia can quickly swing things back in their favor. 

The key against England will be to dismiss their openers early and get the likes of Joe Root and Eoin Morgan to the crease as soon as possible, just as Australia did in the group stage match at Lord’s. England, on the other hand, will look to target Australia’s fifth bowling option – be it Maxwell or Mitchell Marsh – so Aaron Finch needs to be meticulous when making his bowling changes.

Along with their batting, England’s bowlers have also found form, with the likes of Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett bowling some wonderful spells. 

Plunkett, in particular, has been impressive with the older ball, bowling his slower deliveries and cutters and garnering some success.

Woakes has been dead accurate with the new ball and equally effective at the death, picking up wickets consistently. Jofra Archer, on the other hand, has been lethal throughout the tournament and his extra pace has troubled batsmen in almost every match.

One advantage Australia do have over England is the prior experience of having won a World Cup. They have a few players in their current side who were also present in the 2015 squad.

Australia know what it takes to cross the line, whereas, for England, it will be a new experience. How they absorb the pressure will be what determines the outcome of the match in the end. 

In 1999, we witnessed a thriller between South Africa and Australia at Edgbaston and we might just have another cliffhanger come Thursday.

Also read – World cup winners list

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World Cup 2019: The Dhoni conundrum continues …

MS Dhoni

MS Dhoni is without a doubt the most successful captain and the best wicket-keeping batsman India has produced, but over the last year or so there has been an issue with his batting approach. A lot of Pakistani fans were disappointed with the way he paced his innings against England, but Indian fans and avid watchers of the game have seen Dhoni do this several times in the recent past. It was not too long ago when he was booed against England after scoring a slow 50 in a losing cause during last summer’s tour. 

Take the games in this year’s World Cup, against Afghanistan, West Indies, England, and Bangladesh: Dhoni either consumed plenty of dot balls or did not play with the tempo that the situation demanded. There’s no doubting that Dhoni has all the experience in the world but sometimes you just have to wonder what is causing him to play in this manner. Is it age? Is it the fact that India has a long tail? Or is it just the self-belief that as long as he stays at the crease and takes it deep, he can probably win the match for his side? 

Whatever be the case, he will have to try and alter his game according to the situation, especially in a semifinal or final. Yes, if the situation requires him to hold the fort then so be it, but if the asking rate is above 10 then he has to go all out like the Dhoni of old.

There is no doubt that Dhoni contributes to the team in more ways than one, he is still quick with the gloves behind the stumps and also uses all his experience to adequately guide Kohli in the field, especially when the pressure is on. You never know when he’ll pull a rabbit out of the hat in the knockouts and win India the game with the bat but in general, if he tweaks his mindset and is more positive from ball one it will benefit both him and team India.  

Many people have questioned why Dhoni hasn’t taken the IPL approach because when he batted for CSK in the recently concluded season, he was striking the ball at a higher rate and was much more aggressive with his intent. One reason might be that in the IPL he is playing a 20-over game whereas in the World Cup, 50 overs is a long time and he doesn’t want to throw away his wicket early on.

Also, the fact that India’s tail has not been wagging might be playing at the back of Dhoni’s mind. If he gets dismissed then the tail won’t have the ability to win the game for India or finish the innings properly and this added pressure probably plays on his mind while he is batting. 

Nonetheless, both against England and Bangladesh Dhoni’s batting did let his side down in terms of momentum and reaching an expected score. 350 was well on the cards against Bangladesh when Dhoni arrived at the crease but his approach simply slowed down the rate and put pressure on the other batsmen. In a World Cup match, you have to play according to the situation and sometimes let go of your methods if it does not suit your team at that particular moment.  

India’s top order is firing on all cylinders but there is still criticism of their middle order. Imagine the day the top order fails. That is when Dhoni will have to step up alongside Pant, Hardik, and Karthik. This team has the potential to go all the way and a change in approach and mindset of their middle order batsmen will give them the added boost.

Dhoni doesn’t have to hit every ball but he should at least rotate the strike consistently instead of eating up dot balls. He still has a match-winning innings in him, and the whole of India will be praying that this occurs in the semifinals or the finals of the World Cup.

World Cup 2019: Mohammed Shami – India’s (P)ac…

India v Afghanistan – ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah ran through the West Indian batting order with ferocious pace and accuracy, a rare sight in the past for Indian fans. We have seen Indian bowlers over the years utilize swinging conditions well but they did not have the speed to hurry the batsmen, that has all change and we are now witnessing vigorous fast bowling from India’s pacers.

Bumrah has been one of the best fast bowlers for over a year now but the emergence of Shami, in the limited overs format, in particular, has taken many by surprise. After coming into the side to replace Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who injured himself against Pakistan, Shami has grabbed the bull by its horns and has made full use of the opportunity that he received. 

Against Afghanistan, he sealed an intense game with a hat-trick, and in the following game he ripped through the West Indies batting line up, picking up four wickets for just 16 runs with some sublime fast bowling.

Shami always looked like a decent bowler, especially in test matches he gets the ball to nip around at a fair clip. Since he came back from injury, over the last year he has worked on his fitness and is now reaping the rewards for all the hard work put in. He’s shed around seven kilos, looks much fitter and his precision and speed with the ball has improved. He mentioned in an interview after the West Indies game that losing weight has helped him bowl quicker because he does not need to worry about his body holding up, he can just run in and bowl fast.  

Against the West Indies, Shami removed both Chris Gayle and Shai Hope early and the ball he bowled to Hope was a dream ball, which pitched outside the off stump and seamed in to send the off stump cartwheeling.  Even the ball he bowled to Gayle hurried the “Universe Boss” and cramped him for room, leading to a catch at mid-on. 

When it comes to cleaning up the tail, Shami can do that with his eyes closed. We saw in the Afghanistan game, he came in and picked up a hat-trick with three consecutive yorkers, and mind you he was under tremendous pressure, especially when a well-set Mohammad Nabi was still at the crease.  

No doubt, in Bumrah, Shami has a brilliant bowling partner and together the pair are tormenting opposition batsmen with ferocious fast bowling, a beautiful sight especially for Indian fans. It is not just the speed which is awe-aspiring, but the line’s and lengths that this pair bowls are immaculate. With the new ball, the West Indies were hardly able to score runs of Bumrah and Shami, and even with the old ball they came in and took wickets to close off the game.

Bumrah has a toe-crushing yorker in his arsenal, which almost always lands perfectly, and with his subtle variations, he always keeps the batsmen on his toes. Both Bumrah and Shami have definite plans to dismiss batsmen and so far in this World Cup, they have executed these plans to perfection and are not allowing the batsmen to get on top of them.  

Even if Bhuvi returns to fitness, it will be hardly possible to drop Shami now, he has picked up seven wickets in the two matches he’s played and has provided India with breakthroughs almost whenever he has a spell. Yes, that means India’s tail will lengthen but on the other hand, his early wickets and immaculate bowling will save more runs for his side.

World Cup 2019: Babar Azam graduates to the el…

New Zealand v Pakistan – ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

When one can hit the likes of Mitchell Starc, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah and Kagiso Rabada on the up, they are undoubtedly labeled to have all the talent in the world, but one thing Babar Azam was missing was the conversion of fifties to hundreds.

That has all changed now after he scored an essential hundred against New Zealand which managed to keep Pakistan’s semifinal hopes alive in this year’s World Cup 2019.

Set a target of 238 to chase on a tricky pitch, Babar was on his merry way with a few spanking drives through the covers, something we have been accustomed to in his last few innings. The difference here though was that he did not throw away his wicket even when Mitchell Santner was in the middle of a brilliant spell of bowling.

Santner was turning the ball sharply away from Babar and after surviving a knick to the keeper, Babar buckled down and made sure to see off a vicious spell from the left-arm spinner.

Babar was building a solid partnership with Hafeez, but after the ‘professor’ yet again fell to a part-timer, on this occasion Kane Williamson, Babar took the onus on himself to play till the end, something we have not seen from him in the recent past. 

It was a change in mindset more than anything else from Babar Azam and the determination to see his side through on a tough pitch. If Babar had lost his wicket after Hafeez’s dismissal, it would have almost been curtains for Pakistan, but he stayed put and received precious support from Haris Sohail.

Haris was struggling early on in his innings which shed light on the importance of a settled batsman, but Babar managed to guide him through the initial tough phase as the pair started to build a significant partnership.

The pair survived Santner’s spell and started to milk the likes of Williamson and Neesham for singles to ensure Pakistan inch closer to the target. New Zealand needed wickets but Babar was having none of that, he was solid in defence and played some glorious shots when the ball was in his zone. 

Haris was not too far behind, once he settled in he took the pressure off Babar with some sixes and fours, which allowed Pakistan to keep the run rate in check and avoid any unnecessary pressure in the death overs.

New Zealand v Pakistan – ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

Babar and Haris put on a staggering 126-run partnership which ensured a clinical and successful run chase despite the odd hiccup. Babar scored 101 off 127 balls and it might not have been the prettiest but it was indeed the most important century of his career thus far. Haris Sohail’s 68 off 76 was equally significant, as he made it easier for Babar to play his natural game and relieved the pressure with five fours and two crunching sixes.

Pakistan are back into the tournament and so far their campaign has matched that of Imran Khan’s ‘cornered tigers’ who went on to lift the trophy in 1992. Although they are still not there yet, this win will give the team and the entire nation belief that they can pull off what would be a miraculous turnaround.  

Babar Azam has proved today that he is as good as the other ‘No 3s’ going around in the world currently, he always had the ability but today he had the concentration and determination to play the long innings and see his side through. 

He will be the key for Pakistan going into the business end of the tournament and one need not be surprised if he continues to pile on the runs considering his rich vein of form. He already has a few fifties in the tournament, but this hundred will do his confidence a world of good and we just might see the best of Babar Azam in the remaining matches.

World Cup 2019: Where has Haris Sohail been al…

Pakistan v South Africa – ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

It’s the Pakistan way; get battered in one game and then show up and dominate the opposition in the next. After suffering a demoralizing defeat against India, Pakistan came back strongly against South Africa and completed a convincing 49-run win. 

The architect of the victory was a player who was kept hidden after Pakistan’s opening game of the World Cup against the West Indies – none other than Haris Sohail.

Pakistan were in a good position in the first innings with starts from the top three batsmen, but as we witnessed in earlier matches, none of those players could convert their start into a big score. That is when Haris Sohail came in, and he played a wonderful knock.

Sohail was positive from the outset and played his shots according to the quality of the bowling. The most impressive aspect of his innings was the way he was picking the deliveries bowled at him; whether it was short, full or a slower ball, he anticipated it and deposited the ball to the boundary.

Sohail’s 59-ball 89 included three sixes and nine fours, and it was this contribution that allowed Pakistan to cross the 300-mark, a match-winning total on this pitch. Imran Tahir was the standout bowler for South Africa but apart from him, no one else could challenge the Pakistani batsmen consistently.

In the second innings, South Africa relied on Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock who put together a solid partnership. But once they were both dismissed, the team’s World Cup exit was written on the wall.

Mohammad Amir bowled brilliantly for Pakistan and was well supported by Shadab Khan, who made sure he got wickets in the middle overs which put the brakes on the South Africans. Wahab Riaz started to reverse the ball in the death overs and in the end, it was a comfortable win for Pakistan.

South African are now officially out of the tournament, while Pakistan live to fight another day. The Proteas might not have had the strongest team and were troubled by injuries, but their performances have been extremely disappointing and well below expectations. Pakistan on their part now face three straight crucial matches with every game a must-win. If they can beat New Zealand, then their tough mission will be truly on.

And finally, another word on Sohail. He was criticized heavily for his strike rate and stamina, but his performance today showed that he has the talent and mindset to play at this level and that he might just be the X-factor Pakistan needed in the batting order. 

Since his return from injury in January 2018, Sohail has scored 643 runs in 14 innings at an average of 53.58 which includes two hundreds and four fifties. If this is not consistent, then what is? He needs to be given a decent run in the team and along the way if he can improve his fitness, it will do wonders for him and the entire team.  

Fielding is still an issue for Pakistan; they dropped several catches once again. If it was another team they might have punished Pakistan for their mistakes. South Africa couldn’t take advantage of the missed opportunities but going into the business end of the tournament, fielding will be extremely important – and Pakistan will need to work hard on that aspect.

World Cup 2019: David Warner, the comeback kin…

Australia v Bangladesh – ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

Despite a scintillating IPL, many questions were asked of David Warner before the start of World Cup 2019. Could he perform on the biggest stage in cricket for his national side? Could he put aside all the negativity from the last year?

Halfway into the tournament, Warner is now the leading run scorer with 447 runs which includes two big hundreds. His latest century was a lively 166 against Bangladesh in Nottingham.

We always knew the southpaw’s exhilarating ability to take the game away from the opposition, but now we also have to applaud his mental strength. To come back after a controversy that shook the country and led to a one-year ban, and to perform in this manner, is spectacular to say the least.

There was criticism directed at Warner for starting his innings off slowly against the likes of India and Pakistan. You could call it rust or World Cup pressure, but with the innings against Bangladesh he has proved that he can turn on the destructive switch at will. 

Even though he was striking at under a run a ball in the early part of his innings, once his eye was in he brought out his full array of shots and decimated the Bangladesh bowling lineup.

Warner’s 166 off 147 deliveries included five sixes and 14 fours, which shows that he is striking the ball superbly. If he continues in this vein then Australia have every chance of lifting the World Cup. 

Australia’s bowling options apart from Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are a tad weak compared to other teams, but they still manage to pick up wickets at regular intervals. Starc’s wicket of Tamim Iqbal came at a crucial point in the game. Yes Australia had the luxury of runs on the board, but you still need to go out there and pick up wickets.

Australia v Bangladesh – ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

All of Australia’s batsmen are in decent form and when you have Warner blazing away at the top it always gives you the advantage against opposition teams in pressure games. On paper, India and England might be stronger than Australia, and India already have a win over them, but one thing the team from Down Under has is fantastic mental strength. 

The likes of Smith, Warner, Starc and Maxwell have all won a World Cup previously, and that experience will surely leave them in good stead going into the knockout games.

After one year of misery, Australian cricket has turned full circle and now the team is looking like the Australia of old. They might not be the outright favourites and there are still a few weaknesses, particularly in their bowling attack, but with their ruthless mentality, the World Cup trophy is not too far away.