Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bye Bye Blackcaps

Last night I watched my beloved Blackcaps tumble out of yet another World Cup semi final as I have before and no doubt I will again. But as I went to bed at 4:30 did I feel empty? No. Disappointed? Strangely not. Angry that I would only be getting three and a half hours sleep for watching a game that my team did not win? Not one bit. This is a feeling I'm not entirely used to when it comes to the Blackcaps, I was happy with their efforts.

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, or maybe the uni stress is getting to me but when I went to bed I did not lie there tossing and turning wondering why they do this to me but instead went straight off into blissful sleep. I'm so used to feeling bitterly disappointed with the team that I adore, I mean in the most normal way I think I know more about these players than they know about themselves so I know all the potential they have. Clearly this means I expect them to win frequently and win well. Last night not only did we lose we were fairly average. With the bat we were strangulated by a spinning attack on a difficult wicket but I did not see this I saw Martin Guptill play a fighting knock trying to get through it, the same with Ross Taylor. I saw Scott Styris batting the best he has all tournament desperate to put New Zealand through to their first World Cup final. With the ball and in the field I saw Andy McKay come straight into the team from the cold and bowl with pace and purpose, Dan Vettori bowled as if he did not want this to be his last match as captain and Southee ran in with such vigor in very trying conditions . In the field Guptill was harsh on himself, if he did not stop balls several metres to his left or right he was furious with himself he wanted to be the difference to get New Zealand through to the final. Lets not limit it to players even Allan Donald looked like he wanted to be out there bowling out the Sri Lankans.

In the end we lost only by five wickets and in the forty eighth over clearly we went down fighting. Maybe I wasn't disappointed because I have been there for these losses so many times that I am now numb to their effects, maybe now I am cynical as all those Radio Sport talk back callers who I love to disagree with. Instead I thought back on the tournament where Tim Southee proved my pre tournament prediction right as he took 18 wickets at 17.33. How we beat two very quality sides in South Africa and Pakistan and did not suffer an embarrassing defeat to a minnow like many predicted. How Jacob Oram performed at vital times adapting to his new role as mainly a bowler and disproving all those talk back callers who say he is too soft and should retire. I thought about how prior to this tournament how we had lost eleven on the trot in the subcontinent and now we were the last standing none subcontinental team. We should be proud of what our Blackcaps achieved, not in a "Oh wow, we got so many upsets and did far better than expected" we are not a minnow we are equals with these other teams so we should never be scoring upsets, did we exceed expectations? Due to our pre tournament form yes but this was our sixth World Cup semi final. It is normally where our tournament ends which was entirely predictable. From what I saw our boys gave it their all and more which is all we can ask so do not be disappointed instead be satisfied with what was a great effort from a team which I will continue to expect great things from.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Super Semis

Here I am the night before another New Zealand semi final dreaming of that time where we push through to the final for the first time, I mean you can't blame a guy for dreaming, right? But I will not just be narrow minded and just discuss my hopes and dreams for the Blackcaps so how about some semi final previews and predictions instead?

Semi final one Sri Lanka Vs New Zealand
Well here we go again in a rematch of the 2007 semi final New Zealand comes up against the quiet conquerors the Sri Lankans. First what should be applauded is the fact New Zealand is the only non-subcontinental team in the semis which is even more impressive considering their eleven match losing streak on the subcontinent. I see this game going one of two ways a close win to New Zealand or an absolute thrashing by Sri Lanka, I know slack and very on the fence of me but this is the unpredictability the Blackcaps offer. New Zealand are being offered a major boost as it is quite a possibility that Murali will miss out with a hamstring injury which removes one of the key destroyers from the pool play game and from Sri Lanka in general. New Zealand will still have to contest with the likes of Malinga and Mendis who have caused problems in the past and I think the key to us winning lies in us being able to actually bat well rather than bowling well as we did against South Africa. A fast big Brendon McCullum innings would be ideal for both chasing and setting a target but I would also like to see a key innings from Styris who has failed to perform this World Cup. New Zealand's bowling will have to be top notch to contain a batting line up with Jayawardene, Sangakkarra and Dilshan all three who have taken great joy in scoring heavily against us in the past. Sadly for the Blackcaps I do not believe this is our time to make the final and Sri Lanka will be too good.

Semi final two: India Vs Pakistan
A game which would be a dream final for a World Cup on the subcontinent but alas it came a game too soon. Pakistan stormed into the semis thrashing an inept West Indies team by ten wickets and are looking ludicrously consistent for a Pakistani side. Afridi is looking to beat Glenn Mcgrath's record for most wickets at a World Cup and needs six wickets to pass him and with the form he is currently in I would not put it past him, Gul looks to be finding good rhythm and Hafeez is looking strong with the bat and don't rule out contributions from Misbah and Younis. India on the other hand look to have a bowling attack which is hunting as a pack and taking wickets collectively, Tendulkar is still seeking that elusive hundreth hundred and my pick for a trump player is surprisingly Yuvraj Singh. His batting looks as good as ever and even with the ball he is contributing valuably and looking slimmer. This game bodes to be a thriller but I have to say this is most likely going to be India's game, they are playing at home and are looking like this will be their time to claim the crown of world champion.

For the quarters I managed to predict three out of four correctly with my doubt of the Blackcaps being my only incorrect pick and this time I will be more than happy for that to be the case again but what ever the case I'm hoping for some quality games to cap off a quality World Cup.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quarterfinals Time

Out of nowhere we are suddenly fourty two matches into this World Cup and the final will be upon us in no time so I thought I would provide my predictions for the quarter finals.

West Indies Vs Pakistan: This game is the easiest to pick in my books with Pakistan clear favorites. Shahid Afridi is bowling like a man on a mission as is Umar Gul and with Akhtar wanting a perfect farewell and with a very steady batting line up they should be too good for a misfiring West Indies team. For the West Indies to get past Pakistan they would need quality performances from a batsman such as Gayle as well as strong bowling performance from Roach and the surprisingly good Bishoo. Do not completely rule out the West Indies as Pakistan are prone to many collapses but with Pakistan's recent form in ending Australia's World Cup streak they should be too strong.

India Vs Australia: Should be the pick of the quarter finals. India has looked confident and strong in this World Cup while Australia have been disappointing but as always count Australia out at your peril. There is no doubt that Ponting, Watson and Hussey can all provide big game knocks while a bowling attack with the callibre  of Lee and Johnson can strike strong form at any time. As for India I'm sure Sachin is saving his 100th international century for at least a final so we will have to look elsewhere in the batting. I'm sure Sehwag will be good for some quick runs but either way this is a hard one, I mean I can easily see the effigies burning in the streets but I can hear the laughing at the Australians exiting in the quarters and sadly for effigy makers in India the laughing is ringing louder.

South Africa Vs New Zealand: Ah the battle of the chokers against the well rather rubbish. New Zealand has had a mixed bag at this World Cup thrashing minnows as well as Pakistan well getting thrashed by Sri Lanka and Australia. South Africa have been very strong title contenders only slipping up against England. While New Zealand should have the returned services of Vettori and Mills it is not their bowling which has been the worry. The batting has been frail but this would be a very good time to hit a rich vein of form as only three good games from here will make a champion team. South Africa's batting of Kallis Amla and De Villiers should score plenty of runs. The bowling consists of Steyn who has tormented New Zealand many a time as well as Tahir who I am sure will start tormenting us. Don't count out New Zealands very good record against South Africa but sadly I believe this will be the exit of the Kiwis.

England Vs Sri Lanka: The World Cup owes a lot to England. Without them there would have been far less insanely close results and thrilling matches. Sri Lanka on the other hand have been very steady and solid looking very good for progressing deep. Interestingly enough England have only lost to two teams though and that is Ireland and Bangladesh being more on the minnow side so now that there are no more minnows England have no more banana skins so they can focus on playing proper cricket. England have quality players in Trott, Strauss, Swann and even Tredwell who are threatening to perform against the likes of Jayawardene, Sangakkarra and the fairytale seeking Murali. In this one I am going to go for the shock result and the England rollercoaster ride to continue.

Shockingly by Sunday all these results will have occurred and in this World Cup of twists and turns four out of four would be an amazing effort, lets see how I go.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Should They Stay Or Should They Go?

Should they stay or should they go? Sadly not an incorrect reference to The Clash but rather to the situation of the associate cricket playing nations. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has decided that for the next World Cup no associate nations will be allowed to take part. There has been a steady scaling back of associate participation, in the last World Cup there was six associates in this current one there are four and if the ICC has there way then there will be none which will be a horrible shame in my eyes. There is much arguing that this has come about due to Indian cricket board objecting due to India and Pakistan being knocked out in the last World Cup in the group stage while associates advanced. With the Indian board being the most powerful in the world they were able to influence a change in structure making the World Cup less associate friendly as they had to play more games it meant they were less likely to cause more than one upset and get through as they had been able to do in the past.

The associates are the teams which make World Cups memorable sure not always specifically in results but in moments of greatness. Associate sides often contain only few professional cricketers meaning the rest of their side is made up of part timers who are taken time off from their regular jobs (in fact the Irish players had to seek extra leave from their jobs when they got past the group stage in the last World Cup). These are truly everyday people living the dream of playing in a cricket World Cup and I often rank their achievements as more enjoyable than say a Ross Taylor century or Jamie How managing to get past 20. For example who could forget regular prison van driver Dwayne Leverock taking a flying one handed catch to dismiss Robin Uthappa in the last World Cup, or say the Irish taking a wicket and performing the chicken dance (I'm not even too proud to admit that I joined in a few times). These people are what makes cricket great, they looked amazed to be on the same field as some of the people that they follow fanatically, I have even heard stories of associate players asking for autographs of other players.

This World Cup these associate players seem to have made it their mission to prove the ICC that they should stay and to be honest they have performed admirably. Ireland in particular have made an impressive case, they won two and in the other three they were only outclassed completely against South Africa who are serious contenders for champion. The Netherlands have been next best but rather disappointingly have not won a game although they have produced some fighting results. In fact one associate player (Ryan Ten Doeschate) has two individual hundreds which is the same amount as the whole New Zealand batting line up and two more than the whole Australian batting line up. Kenya and Canada have both been disappointing but as the tournament has gone on they have improved and seeing the Canadian top orded going at ten an over against Australia was a definite highlight and even Collins Obuya being disappointed at ending up 98 not out against Australia rather than just elated that he got past fifty was great. Both Canada and Kenya managed to bat out their full allocation of overs against New Zealand and Australia respectively showing that frequent exposure to top teams causes definite improvement.

We all know that playing the best makes you far better for example whenever New Zealand would play Australia and they would rack up three hundred we would manage to somehow pull it out of the bag and win miraculously just to get the thrill of beating the best. This is what drives lesser teams, to be the best you have to beat the best and I'm sure that is what was going through Kevin O'Brien's head as he struck that magnificent fifty ball century against England. For the associate teams to improve they need to consistently be able to get to play top ranked teams, the ICC always say this will occur after a World Cup but only lasts a few months and then suddenly they are back just playing associate games. If we get the associate teams put into the Future Tours Program then they would receive regular games against proper ranked teams and would therefore be able to create more of a cricket culture in their countries and start a base of young players as has been a major case in Bangladesh where they have gone from no hopers to beating all full strength teams at least once.

Now I'm not saying that the ICC is entirely wrong in removing some associates as clearly they create unnecessary games and more often than not has produced very one sided results for very few upsets so despite amazing wins such as Ireland's over England we are all too often shown 250 run wins to full nation teams. To combat this I think there should only be two associates and at this time they would most definitely be Ireland and the Netherlands. At this stage they are the two associates who are up to international cricket and would benefit greatly from playing full strength teams. If the ICC does completely remove the associate from the World Cup they will essentially be making it the exact same as the Champions Trophy and effectively taking the world out of World Cup. So ICC give the associates a chance to get some regular games against strong teams and who knows in 2015 in New Zealand and Australia I could be cheering for Ireland in the final.

P.S Sorry for the lack of posting recently very slack on my behalf so I will try to make sure that doesn't keep happening!