Kane Williamson: The pillar that stands betwee…

Kane Williamson-a class act.

India probably lost the semi-final to New Zealand in a catastrophic 40-minute spell, but New Zealand have one man to thank them for getting them to their second successive World Cup final. That man is their captain and talisman, the soft-spoken batsman who with his steely batsmanship refuses to back down even in the toughest situations.

Kane Williamson might not be the highest run-getter in this World Cup nor might he have played the devastating knocks that have signified Rohit Sharma or David Warner’s glorious journeys, but he has been more instrumental in his team’s charge into the final than the other two.

Those journeys are over, his is on the edge of greatness. His journey continues on Sunday in the final at Lord’s, while the others are left lamenting their inability to put up a solid knock when it mattered.

The wall

On Tuesday, India had begun the semi-final against Williamson’s team all guns blazing. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuveshwar Kumar were right on the money with the new ball and the Kiwis already seemed to have capitulated before the first powerplay was over.

Martin Guptill’s horror show in this tournament ended soon and it was again left to the captain to rescue another lost cause. From 1/1, Williamson began another slow, but steady, recovery process.

The pitch was difficult, the Indian bowlers were on top and Williamson seemed to have no fluency in his stroke-play, but the significance of his stuttering knock of 67 could only be inferred in hindsight post one of the greatest wins in Kiwi cricket history.

Williamson, one of the world’s premier batsmen, has played troubleshooter throughout the World Cup, as his openers have been on a prolonged nightmarish run. His 148 against West Indies reinforced his pedigree as the new wall of world cricket, slow and solid batting at the beginning, precise acceleration towards the end. He may not have managed that final phase against India, but what he had done was enough for a famous win.

Not always pretty

Williamson, understandably, has a strike rate of just 76.32 in this World Cup because he has always played the role of an escape artiste for a mediocre batting unit, but his astounding average of 91.33 proves that he is one of the toughest batsmen to get out once he gets into the groove.

New Zealand’s journey into the final, despite a series of losses towards the end of the league phase and indifferent form, owes a lot to their mercurial captain, who has scored almost 31 per cent of his team’s runs.

One man against a team

Yes, the Kiwis have a great pace attack with the likes of Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson in their ranks, they might have the veteran Ross Taylor to get runs in the middle-order.

However, compared to England’s stature as a complete team, New Zealand are more of a one-man army. Williamson’s intelligent captaincy, level-headedness and impeccable technique as a batsman stand between the hosts and a maiden World Cup trophy.

All eyes will be on the home of cricket on the 14th to find out whether Williamson can conjure another memorable win in his classic, understated style.

World Cup 2019: Why England deserve to win the…

Joe Root and Eoin Morgan celebrate a job well done on Thursday.

So we will have a new World Champion of cricket come Sunday. After New Zealand pipped hot-favourites India to the post in a thriller last afternoon, it was England’s turn to dismantle the old enemy Australia in a majestic display today that ensured a thoroughly-deserved passage into the summit clash of the World Cup at Lord’s on Sunday.

Though India and Australia were the favourites to reach the final based on their consistent performances in the league stage, on the day, they were beaten by the better team and New Zealand and England are worthy finalists. One may claim that New Zealand deserve their due after falling at the final hurdle in 2015 and having improved considerably since being the back-benchers of world cricket for a while, but England deserve this title more, and here’s why.

The most consistent side

Eoin Morgan has revolutionized the English ODI team since taking over the reins. They were the pre-tournament favourites on home soil, and not for nothing. For close to two years, the Englishmen have dominated the 50-over game, consistently posting gargantuan scores and holding on to the No.1 rank for large swathes of time. They might have been displaced off the top of the ODI rankings by India but have surely proved that they are the most consistent ODI team right now, especially after an all-round show in such a high-pressure game against Australia which they won by eight wickets.

Comeback kings

England showed great resolve to ensure the dream of bringing it home lived on after being on the brink following a shock loss to Sri Lanka and then a drubbing by Australia.

However, when the imperious Jason Roy returned to the top of the order, the old England resurfaced at the most vital moment. Jonny Bairstow hit consecutive hundreds in pressure situations and the team chimed in like a well-tuned clock as England toppled heavyweights India and New Zealand to make it to the last four. The mental strength that the team demonstrated at home, on the precipice, makes them more deserving of the crown than any other team in the fray.

Most balanced

England did not even require the batting prowess of a Ben Stokes or Jos Buttler to dispose of Australia on Thursday, such was their command. They bat deep, very, very deep, but that does not mean England don’t pack a punch as a bowling unit.

In fact, the wonderful pace bowling by Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes at the beginning of the 2nd semi-final crippled Australia’s famed top-order. They have two great pace bowling all-rounders in Woakes and Stokes and spinner Adil Rashid showed his chops today by picking up three crucial wickets.

While other contenders such as India and Australia have had a top-heavy batting line-up and New Zealand have relied heavily on Kane Williamson to get their runs. England, despite the losses, have a much more complete batting unit than their rivals.

In terms of bowling, their pace attack is as good as any in world cricket right now.

Emotion

England, the inventors of the modern game, have played in three World Cup finals but won none. Many outside England will hate them clinching their first World Cup crown, but it might be time that they finally lay their hands on the trophy at the home of cricket, Lord’s, in front of their fans. The stage cannot be better set than this for England’s maiden World Cup trophy, they have the right personnel and are at the peak of confidence.

World Cup 2019: The inexplicable selection of …

Dinesh Karthik.

Dinesh Karthik had waited a long, long time to play in a World Cup and finally, the stage was set for the veteran to get a shot at redemption at the biggest stage of them all.

India, the favorites in the World Cup-semifinal, were tottering at 5/3, an unthinkable collapse had led to the Men in Blue standing on the edge of the precipice in pursuit of New Zealand’s score of 239. India’s top three, including the titans Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, had perished to dexterous swing bowling.

Out stepped the 34-year-old wicket-keeper who was playing as a specialist batsman in this crunch game. He joined another wicket-keeper, Rishabh Pant, at the crease, both had come out to bat in front of the actual wicket-keeper, and legend, MS Dhoni.

Karthik could have shut up his critics once and for all with a heroic knock that helped India pull off a great escape. It was not to be, after eons of scratching around, including a thickish outside edge that went to the boundary, Karthik returned to the hut courtesy of an incredible catch. He made 6 off 25 balls in an innings that never inspired any confidence.

Why Karthik?

Many eyebrows were raised when the Tamil Nadu-‘keeper and Kolkata Knight Riders’ captain was picked ahead of Pant as the back-up wicket-keeper for Dhoni. Karthik had an underwhelming Indian Premier League with just one innings of note and had only impressed in India colors last in a T20 match where he pulled off a tough chase at the climax against Bangladesh in the Nidahas trophy.

Pant was the future, his willow was more fluent, his ‘keeping full of the exuberance of youth, if slightly callow. It was evident that Karthik was traveling only as a backup to MS Dhoni. Clearly, the selectors had chosen experience over youth for the biggest stage, but was he really required?

Flashback to Dravid, flash-forward to Rahul

India reached the 2003 World Cup final while playing Rahul Dravid as the keeper, just to maintain the balance of the team. Here, India were already taking KL Rahul, a capable, if occasional, wicket-keeper, who could have easily stepped in in an emergency where Dhoni was in trouble. As it turned out, India were playing 4 wicket-keepers in a single team with Pant also arriving as a replacement in a bit of a farcical situation.

Tough to defend

India’s main issue in this World Cup was the fragile middle-order which needed more depth. This necessitated the selection of Pant, Karthik and Ravindra Jadeja in the semi-final. However, when the top-order failed to shield them in the crunch match, only Jadeja and, to an extent, Dhoni brought India close to a thrilling victory in a backs-to-the-wall job.

Karthik was a massive failure, just like his uninspired knock against Sri Lanka in his first outing. Pant began fluently, but threw away his wicket.

India badly needed a batsman with the technique and class of someone like an Ajinkya Rahane, or even veteran Suresh Raina. None of them were even in contention, both had good IPLs. Instead, India went with 3D man Vijay Shankar and Karthik. Jadeja silenced his critics with his performance during the semi-final, but Karthik’s selection will be impossible to defend given the stark weaknesses in the middle-order that ultimately played its part in India’s elimination.

NOTE: The writer’s views need not necessarily reflect the views of Sportskeeda.

World Cup 2019: Virat Kohli 2.0 is the batsman…

Eyes on the ball: Virat Kohli is the world’s premier batsman.

It’s Rohit Sharma, who seems to be inhabiting a different galaxy of batsmen in this World Cup, as mere mortals look on with a strange mix of awe and admiration. With five centuries, it seems inevitable that Sharma seems will get his sixth before it all ends at Lord’s on the 14th.

He seems all set to break Sachin Tendulkar’s record of most runs scored in a single edition of the tournament as well, as his inexorable march towards greatness continues in England and Wales.

Left in the shadows by Rohit’s humongous achievements is his captain Virat Kohli, who has had a great World Cup with the bat as well, if not compared to his vice-captain’s overreaching accomplishments. But, one can, for certainly, aver that King Kohli is not complaining.

A different role

Kohli has mellowed in this World Cup as a batsman, that does not mean he has gone soft by any means. This statement simply underscores the fact that the cause of the team has transcended everything else for the captain, personal achievements matter little in the grand scheme of things for the man who has 41 ODI centuries to his credit. That cause and the aim is to win the world’s most coveted cricket trophy for India for the third time, and Virat 2.0 is doing a vital job in the shadows, a job that’s hiding certain skeletons underneath a glittering facade.

No rivalry

In the pre-match presser before India’s semi-final encounter against New Zealand, Kohli admitted that he has had to play a different kind of game with Rohit going all guns blazing at the top. The Mumbaikar might be catching up to him at the summit of the ICC rankings for batsmen and may even be having a better calendar year as a batsman than his captain, but Kohli knows that’s great news for the team he leads.

Why Kohli’s role is essential

Kohli has hit five consecutive half-centuries in the World Cup but missed out on the big one till now. Yet, those half-centuries might be some of the most crucial runs he has scored in his career.

Let’s find out why. India have looked a very complete side in this Cup, but in reality, they are a top-heavy batting side. India’s mammoth scores against Australia, Pakistan and Bangladesh (all games where they crossed 300) and their successful chases against South Africa and Sri Lanka, depended on the top three getting most of the runs.

When the openers perished, it was Kohli who had to play a subdued role to hold the innings together because he knew, if he went early, a crisis could be imminent. None of the middle-order batsmen, including MS Dhoni, or the swashbuckling Rishabh Pant, have inspired enough confidence to suggest that they can bat through a period of 20 overs and get India out of the woods if the top three depart cheaply.

That’s where Kohli’s quality has steered India to safety. He has curbed his natural instincts beautifully during his vital 50s against Australia and Pakistan, taking his time to get in, rotating the strike and then slowly unleashing his lofted drives and pulls, caressing the ball like a magician. One big example of Virat 2.0’s instrumental role was in the match against Afghanistan, where Rohit went early and Virat top-scored with a beautiful 67, but even he left the stage too soon for his own liking. Thereafter, the story was of a humongous struggle for the Indian batsmen, a crisis that could have led to an embarrassing upset.

In conclusion

There is no room for error come Tuesday as we are finally in that stage which makes Cup tournaments so attractive – the knockouts. After a protracted league stage where slip-ups were permissible, this sudden arrival of sudden-death will raise the temperatures and only the toughest will survive.

Captain Kohli knows that very well, he is not going after any individual target in this Cup, it is all about the collective for him. That is why Virat 2.0 is what India need right now, someone who can manoeuvre the ship with dexterity, someone who can curb the speed of the boat to go the extra distance. He knows he needs to stay there for the long haul and he is savouring this new avatar.

Also see – India vs New Zealand head to head stats

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Why the persistent attacks on Sanjay Manjrekar…

Sanjay Manjrekar is more famous as a commentator than a cricketer.

Ravindra Jadeja has torn the lid off a half-open can of worms by attacking Sanjay Manjrekar, the cricketer-turned-controversial-commentator on Wednesday by accusing him of having verbal diarrhea.

The can was already half-open because Manjrekar has been the favorite punching bag amongst established commentators for a while now, if not for members of the cricket fraternity, then most certainly for the vociferous Indian cricket fans, who have called him all kinds of names and joked about his acumen on social media, for a while now.

Manjrekar, so far, has maintained a dignified silence in response to Jadeja’s tweet and moved on with his duties as a commentator in the World Cup. So what caused Jadeja’s ire?

Well, Manjrekar, reportedly referred to him as a bits-and -pieces cricketer when asked about the allrounder’s selection prospects into the final eleven. One can understand the reasons behind Jadeja’s anger, he was a top test bowler for some time in the past after all and Manjrekar was harsh in his opinion, but not the mode of his dissent.

Why Manjrekar?

Lest we forget, Manjrekar has already been attacked, albeit obliquely, by a former legend of the game, Sourav Ganguly, on the same social media platform. Again, like Jadeja, the aim of the attack was both his supposed comments and his relatively inferior record as a cricketer compared to the other two.

While Ganguly remains one of India’s best limited-overs’ batsmen and a celebrated captain, Jadeja has excelled at all forms of the game and remains a vital cog in the Indian set-up despite not playing. Compared to them, Manjrekar’s record is feeble.

He has just one century in ODIs at a poor strike-rate of 64.3, but attained more success as a test batsman with four centuries to his credit. He was part of a team that traveled poorly, was stung by match-fixing (in retrospect) and wasn’t given the revolutionary breath of fresh air instilled by Ganguly himself.

Yet, as a commentator, Manjrekar has had a longer, and more successful career. He has managed to survive by dint of his straight-talking abilities, his approach of not caring two hoots for the reputation of a player while critiquing him, something hardly found in most commentators nowadays, and in the process he has stepped on the toes of big personalities.

The issue

Therein lies the problem. It is absolutely alright for Ganguly, who was just the victim of harmless banter, and Jadeja to respond to Manjrekar’s words but not in the fashion they have done so. By attacking him for his cricketing skills in an insulting tone (provided Ganguly was indeed taking a dig at Manjrekar), they have attacked the very foundations of critiquing. The best film critics in the world are not the greatest filmmakers, the best food critics, not the best chefs; the ability to analyse well, or even competently, doesn’t always necessitate a mastery over the form.

Culture of disrespect

By all means, Jadeja has the freedom of speech to logically counter Manjrekar’s words if he feels hard done by, but not by getting personal. It speaks of a vacuum in critical thinking and inflated egos that is inherent of the current clime in Indian cricket.

Despite the on-field success of recent Indian teams, criticism is not taken well, both by fans and more alarmingly, cricketers. Harsha Bhogle has also been in the receiving end of the same issue and Akash Chopra has also faced the ridicule of fans for being an expert despite having an average international record.

Again, to reiterate, the best coaches in the world (and thus the best analysts), were not top performers in the sport. Look no further than football coaches Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho if one wants examples. Thus, Manjrekar should not have been attacked on the grounds he was. Counter critics with logic and not insults, should be the underlying message, that will only benefit critical thinking in Indian cricket in the long run.

Note: The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of Sportskeeda.

Ego or bad luck, what led to Ambati Rayudu’s u…

Ambati Rayudu, a talented player who never got his due?

The dust has settled on the shock announcement. Ambati Rayudu, forever considered a classy batsman who never fulfilled his true potential, has called time on his international career.

The 33-year-old middle-order batsman was snubbed thrice by the Indian selectors and denied a World Cup spot despite two players from the original squad, Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar, getting ruled out due to injury and being replaced by others. That was the last straw in Rayudu’s tumultuous relationship with the Indian set-up.

Fair record

Rayudu departs the international stage with a creditable total runs of 1694 at an average of 47.00, which included three centuries. To be fair to him, he has always performed to the best of his abilities whenever called upon to do duty for the national side, but never cemented his place in the same. India captain Virat Kohli rightly paid a handsome tribute to the former Hyderabad captain on Twitter.

However, Rayudu’s career as a cricketer was often hampered by bad decision-making that were engendered by bouts of ego and impulse; these decisions played a huge role in his early retirement after being left in the lurch.

Looking back

Rayudu was one of those high-profile names that had signed up for the ill-fated Indian Cricket League way back in 2007, leading to his first clash with, and subsequent ban by, the BCCI. His other poor cricketing decisions centred on moments of hot-headedness both on and off the field, that severely impacted his reputation.

This included a well-publicized scuffle with Mumbai Indians teammate Harbhajan Singh, another in an IPL match against Royal Challengers Bangalore a few years prior, clashes in his early days in the Ranji Trophy and another on-field bad behaviour that led to suspensions and fines.

Rayudu’s ego seemed to dominate his career even as he matured as a batsman. The final straw was his snide tweet regarding Vijay Shankar’s 3D abilities that the selectors had cited while informing why the former was picked in the 15-man World Cup squad. This tweet, though not censored by the board, possibly led to the inevitable repercussion of him not getting a call-up despite the injuries. However, fate has also not been kind to him when it comes to representing India.

Unlucky

Rayudu began his ODI career with a charming half-century against Zimbabwe on debut; big things were expected of him post that innings, but what he became the protagonist of was a tale of frustration. Near misses included being part of the 2012 World T20 initial list but not getting a place in the final team and then getting into the 2015 World Cup team but not getting game time.

His bad luck followed him with the India team switching to the yo-yo test to gauge fitness and the batsman failing it in embarrassing fashion, subsequently dropping out of the team for a while. However, the last straw was definitely the 2019 World Cup where he was favourite to get the crucial No.4 batting position for a while but saw himself in the sidelines once again.

BCCI added insult to injury by naming him in the standbys but not picking him despite Dhawan and Shankar being ruled out.

A tale of unfulfilled promise

Rayudu, has over the years, suffered at the hands of destiny, a part of his downfall was also his own doing. His lack of care for fitness, his failure to sort out his bowling action that led to the ban and his motor mouth, have all played their part. Indian cricket has seen many such tales of talented players achieving a lot, but in the end failing to fulfil their potential to the utmost and not doing justice to the ability they had been bestowed with. Ambati Rayudu will remain such a name.

World Cup 2019: What India can learn from Bang…

Mohammad Saifuddin

The wickets kept tumbling but they kept coming like a never-ending pack of avengers hell-bent on making it their day. What were they avenging, then? Only the little matter of a contentious World Cup-quarterfinal loss in 2015, that still rankles with the vociferous Bangladeshi faithful. And boy, did they not give it their all?

In the end, India, the eternal shadow under which Bangladesh cricket has forever lived, prevailed as deserving winners by 28 runs after yet another stellar show with the ball. But the lessons the big boys from India can take away from this tense victory can have a telling impact on their World Cup prospects heading into the semifinal stage.

The issue at stake

India’s bone of contention, and the cause of frequent ire in the team’s vociferous fans, has been the tepid performances of the middle and lower middle-order, which have struggled to be consistent. MS Dhoni, the legend and current favorite fall guy, has begun slowly and often not kicked on to get those quick runs so necessary towards the latter stages of a limited overs’ innings.

Kedar Jadhav, dropped for this game, has also come under fire for a similar approach. Once the behemoths Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have got out and the top-order departed, India have batted with a strange kind of circumspection that has led to both a slowing down of the run rate and a loss of wickets.

Things came to a head in the defeat to England, where, needing almost 70 runs off the last five overs, Jadav and Dhoni failed to get going as India fell short by quite a margin. Their approach was perceived to be shackled and showing a lack of intent; an issue that can be a cause for concern with the semifinals knocking on the doors.

Lower-order, higher purpose

One can legitimately claim that Bangladesh have redefined the art of chasing big totals in this World Cup. They chased down a 300-plus score against West Indies with seven wickets in hand, while another brilliant chase against Australia fell short by a handsome margin simply because the target was too imposing.

The catalyst of this reinvented Bangladesh has been Shakib Al Hasan, who has batted in this tournament like a magician, getting past 500 runs in the tournament on Tuesday. While chasing a challenging 315 on a slow surface, Al Hasan again led the charge with a fine 66 before the ball stopped on him and he lobbed a catch to short cover.

However, the revelation of the chase was the bowling all-rounder Mohammad Saifuddin, whose left-handed willow continued swinging like a mighty sword till the very end, as he kept the equation close right to the point he ran out of partners. His counter-attacking 51 not out of a mere 38 balls was a breathtaking spectacle, literally so, for the Indian fans who must have had their hearts in their mouths. Saifuddin had come into bat at No.8.

What India can learn

It was another day of frustration for the Indian middle and lower-middle order as they slowed down after a cracking start provided by the aesthetically-pleasing opening stand between Rohit Sharma, in sublime form this time, and KL Rahul, who ground out his runs in a commendable fashion.

However, once the top-order departed, India could manage just 60-odd in the last ten overs while losing a plethora of wickets. One might argue that the 35 MS Dhoni eked out with Mustafizur Rahman in his elements, was vital to the cause. But question marks remain about the shackled approach of the middle and lower-middle order despite Kedar Jadhav rightly making way for Dinesh Karthik. That lesson is of freedom and courage which have, to an extent, unusually deserted the Indian batsmen coming in later. This, despite the impressive 48 that Rishabh Pant struck at No.4.

The audacious six hit off a lofted on-drive by Liton Das in a tricky situation sums up this approach. Saifuddin took a costly single late in the match that exposed the last two batsmen to the viciousness of Jasprit Bumrah’s yorkers, otherwise, the tale could have had a twist.

In conclusion

India possibly have the right batting personnel playing right now, Jadhav has been dropped, while Vijay Shankar has had to exit the tournament due to an injury, forcing the inclusion of Pant. India, though, might be a bit batsman-heavy with Karthik or Pant not offering a bowling option. Ravindra Jadeja could be tried for the last match in the lower-middle order but he is yet to play a game this tournament and the semis beckon. India have had a deservedly great run in the tournament, but one bad day in knockout sports can end a dream.

In the end, whoever they play in those vital positions, the approach needs to evolve at the business end of the tournament, and Bangladesh’s resilience could be a lesson in that.