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Return with a Roar: A Gujarat Lions Post Auction & Pre-Season Review

Suresh Raina (image from espncricinfo.com)

Suresh Raina will lead the Gujarat Lions once again. (image from espncricinfo.com)

While the Gujarat Lions had an excellent season on the field in 2016, it is key to appreciate all the work they put in before the season even began, starting right from the Player Draft in December 2015 – where the spoils of the suspended Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were divided between the Lions and the Rising Pune Supergiants. While Pune went for the batsmen, Gujarat picked five very all-round players, beyond whom they would not need to spend too much to build a strong team. This was an invaluable foresight, given that they had to build from scratch in an auction that not only had limited marquee players to begin with, but would also have to contend with other franchises with fewer players to buy, and more to spend. In the end, GL entered IPL 2016 with a squad closely resembling that of the Chennai Super Kings in 2015, with all their overseas strength invested in their top and middle order, and a robust Indian bowling lineup, even if not the best.

The results went their way, as they topped the table in the league stages before eventually bowing out after successive losses in the Playoffs to the eventual finalists Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Their key issue was that while their bowling lineup was – more often than not – solid enough to keep any opposing batting units to totals within the chasing range of their batting lineup. However, that same bowling lineup lacked the ability to defend totals posted by their batting lineup. This is shown as only 2 of their 7 losses came while chasing, but only 1 of their 9 wins came defending. Addressing this issue would have been their main concern in this auction. Here’s how they fared:

GL Auction Results - Property of IPLgeek.com.

On the whole, the only thing GL seemed interested in was strengthening their Indian bowling contingent. Barring Ekalavya Dwivedi, even all of their unsuccessful bids – Pawan Negi, Aniket Choudhary, Karn Sharma, and Varun Aaron – are all Indian bowlers. This indicates that they are looking to retain the same squad composure, with the beefed-up top and middle order, followed by a largely Indian bowling lineup. Chirag Suri – the first UAE player to be offered an IPL contract – was also a talking point from the Lions’ auction.

Once again, it was fairly smart auctioning from GL; they didn’t splurge on one player, but looked to pick up a wide range of different players to help remedy their situation. It will also be interesting to see Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony back in the mix of things again – neither has represented an IPL team since 2013, but both offer skills and experience that will be invaluable to the GL lineup.

However, one key point they did not address was the issue of their overseas all-rounders. Their top order firepower is matched by few in the competition (especially when you add Jason Roy to the mix), but they did not address the issue of Dwayne Bravo. Bravo is still recovering from an injury he sustained in the Big Bash League, and is likely to miss at least the first few games for the Lions. It would have served them well to have an additional all-rounder – such as Chris Woakes, perhaps – to hold fort, especially considering James Faulkner had a fairly unremarkable 2016 season. Yet, nothing has suggested that Bravo’s injury is serious enough to keep him out of the entire tournament, which means that Faulkner could perform his duties until he returns.

GL had a pretty decent auction, picking up a truckload of Indian youth as well as some experienced faces, and should enter IPL 2017 ready to roar.Now, check out my dynamic for their playing XI:

GL Playing XI Dynamic - Property of IPLgeek.com.

Note: This dynamic represents possible scenarios of my own deduction, and have no direct affiliation with the actual plans of the GL team management.

Jason Roy is not likely to feature unless either Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum or Aaron Finch is injured or has a lean run. However, Roy’s aggressive technique and ability matches that of his colleagues, and having someone like him as a reserve will go a long way for GL. All said, however, an interesting move would be to play him ahead of Dwayne Bravo while he is injured. While this might disrupt the overall balance of the lineup while weakening the bowling, the prospect of a top order consisting of McCullum, Roy, Raina, Smith, Finch and Dinesh Karthik is undoubtedly very tempting. Regardless, GL fans will be hoping to see the belligerent Englishman plundering runs under their flag in 2017.

The bowling is likely to be a mix of old and new. Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni – who had solid returns in 2017 – are likely to stay, and Nathu Singh is likely to make it in as a third seamer. He beats out Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony on youth, and because his extra pace would bring a little more diversity to skipper Raina’s attack. Shivil Kaushik will likely play as the main specialist spinner, given pretty solid returns last season.

Chirag Suri made history as the first UAE player to receive an IPL contract, but if he was looking to make it into the playing XI there are few other teams in which he would have a lower chance of making it. Like Jason Roy, he would have to count on an injury/a poor run of form from one of the Lions’ first-choice overseas batsmen to make the cut. His best scenario would be if this were to happen while Dwayne Bravo is out on injury, and if the Lions’ bowling attack puts up solid displays, negating the need for James Faulkner. While it may be a long shot, it would no doubt be a memorable moment for Suri, his country, and the IPL at large, if he were to make it into the XI.

Given GL’s issues with all-rounders, the form of Ravindra Jadeja will be vital for GL’s success. Although ever-reliable with the ball, Jadeja has flattered to deceive with the bat (191 runs, SR 107.30), leaving the Lions’ lineup dangerously exposed beyond the top order. That said, he has played a number of gutsy knocks down the order for the Indian test side in recent times, and the Lions will hope he can do the same for them come game time.

The Gujarat Lions will make their first appearance of the season on April 6th, as they lock horns with the Kolkata Knight Riders at home.

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#PlayBold Once Again: A Royal Challengers Bangalore Post Auction & Pre-Season Review

Virat Kohli (Image from espncricinfo.com)

Virat Kohli’s 2016 run was truly awesome to behold. (Image from espncricinfo.com)

It was a memorable, yet all too familiar IPL for RCB. After having to win all 4 of their last league games to make it to the playoffs, the side found an enormous adrenalin burst, and not only won those games, but won them big (including a 144-run trouncing of the Gujarat Lions). At the helm of this burst was Virat Kohli, who – after an already incredible run in the rest of the league stage – blasted 351 runs in those 4 games, including two centuries. After trouncing GL for a second time to make the Final, RCB fell just short of chasing down SRH’s 208, meaning that they failed to lift the cup yet again.

As it has been for many years, the crux of RCB’s problems was their bowling. Or rather, the lack of a quality spearhead bowler. Like the Rising Pune Supergiants suffered with injuries to all their best batsmen, RCB suffered with all their best bowlers. Despite possessing three of the best T20 spearheads in the world – Mitchell Starc, Adam Milne, and Samuel Badree – injuries meant that the three played a combined total of one solitary game: Adam Milne’s short feature in RCB’s tournament opener. Hence, while all of RCB’s remaining bowlers were able to pick up wickets, they were unable to exert any pressure from the onset, as a good spearhead would do.

One thing that did go for RCB, however, was their batting. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers held firm at the helm, everyone else played around them. The result was that RCB scored above 170 on all but one occasion, and registered four 200+ scores (the other 7 franchises put together made 2). Kohli and AB aside, they possess Chris Gayle and Shane Watson, two of heavyweights of the T20 world, in addition to their stock of young talent – including Kedar Jadhav, KL Rahul, Sarfaraz Khan, Mandeep Singh and Travis Head. Hence, batting is one whole avenue RCB did not need to worry about entering the 2017 Auction.

Hence, their main goal would have been to get a quality spearhead in the auction, particularly in wake of Mitchell Starc’s dissociation from the squad. Here’s how they fared:

RCB Auction Results - Image property of IPLgeek.com

It was not a particularly active auction for RCB. Apart from the players they eventually purchased, the only players for whom they even made a bid were English all-rounder Ben Stokes, and uncapped Indian fast-bowler Mohammed Siraj. Their biggest talking point was the English seamer Tymal Mills, on whom they spent ₹12 crore.

From a purely monetary perspective, this isn’t a very smart purchase, just because of the fact that Mills is a one-dimensional player (i.e. a full-time bowler), and hence his ability to provide a contribution worthy of the sum spent on him is limited. However, consider this from RCB’s perspective: their squad was already fairly solid, with few wounds to remedy. In other words, they had very little patching up or backing up to do ahead of the 2017 season, and hence would not have to spend their money on a large number of players.

Mills, being one of the few players they really wanted to get given his calibre as a T20 spearhead bowler. Also, due to the high-scoring nature of their home ground, they needed – as Daniel Vettori put it – some[one] special. Therefore, someone like Mills would be worth splurging on. Would it have helped to get him at a cheaper price? Certainly. That extra money could have then been spent on a backup overseas all-rounder (like Chris Woakes, for example), but then again, Mills was the first priority.

The benefit to having Mills in that XI is that RCB now have a player who they can rely on for solid starts with the ball, which increases the potency of the rest of their bowling lineup. How? All of RCB’s main bowlers – Watson, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sreenath Aravind, etc. – are players who can make demons appear when the batsmen are under pressure, but can’t quite generate said pressure on their own – as shown by the fact that they all (barring Aravind) had economy rates above 8 during the 2016 season.

However, given a spearhead who can generate that pressure, they all are suddenly that much more dangerous. Consider RCB’s bowling show in 2015, for example: Mitchell Starc’s spearhead ability allowed all of RCB’s other bowlers – Chahal, Aravind, Harshal Patel and David Wiese – to build on his generated pressure and thrive. This is why Mills is so absolutely critical to RCB’s setup .

Tymal Mills (Image from wisdenindia.com)

Mills will be an integral cog for RCB in the 2017 season. (Image from wisdenindia.com)

The rest of RCB’s buys aligned with their main goal of strengthening their bowling. Rajasthan’s Aniket Choudhary, for example, offers an additional Indian fast-bowling option, while Australia and Adelaide Strikers seamer Billy Stanlake – the tallest player to represent Australia – serves as a handy backup overseas seamer, in case Adam Milne fails to regain fitness. Pawan Negi can provide some quick runs lower down the order, as well as providing an extra spinning option to partner with Yuzvendra Chahal.

While this was a quiet auction for RCB, they still did make some fairly significant purchases, purchases that could potentially make the difference as they make their tenth bid for IPL glory. Check out the playing XI dynamic for RCB:

RCB Playing XI Dynamic - Image Property of IPLgeek.com.

Note: This dynamic represents possible scenarios of my own deduction, and have no direct affiliation with the actual plans of the RCB team management.

On the whole, RCB are likely to go with a 6 man bowling attack – 4 bowlers, Negi and Watson. This means that skipper Kohli will have a decent set of options to chose from on the field. Aravind and Choudhary are most likely to make it in as the Indian seamers, but for sake of diversity Avesh Khan or Harshal Patel could be slotted in ahead of one of them. One of those spots could also be occupied by Iqbal Abdulla, should RCB see the need for the extra spinner.

It will be interesting to see of Samuel Badree gets a run in the playing XI. One of the best T20 bowlers out there, he played an integral role in the West Indies’ triumph in the 2016 World T20. Had he been available for selection during 2016, things might have been very different for Virat Kohli’s men. If RCB persist with their standard dynamic, it is unlikely that he will make it into the XI ahead of Mills. However, Chris Gayle’s poor form in the PSL suggests that there might just be an entry for him. If this is the case, Badree could come in at the expense of one of RCB’s Indian bowlers, and someone like Mandeep Singh or Sarfaraz Khan could come in to fill the batting void.

As hinted above, a lot will ride on the form of Chris Gayle. On his day he can absolutely maul his opponents into submission, but his run in the 2016 IPL was less than remarkable, with 7 single digit scores out of his 10 innings. However, just because of his sheer potential, as well as his incredible name value, it is unlikely RCB will drop him unless he has yet another awful run. If they do, though, Shane Watson will have a chance to open the innings, a position more natural to him than his regular of number 5 last year. Travis Head will also look to cash in on such an opportunity if it arises, both as a solid figure in the middle order, as well as another bowling option for Kohli. All said, however, it would do a world of good for RCB if Chris Gayle gets out there and smashes some out of the park.

Although it may not be explicit on paper, Pawan Negi will have a significant role to play in RCB’s lower order. Not only will he be expected to score runs as the last line of defense before the tail, but he will also be expected to function as a full-time left-arm spinner, contributing more overs than Stuart Binny did with his part-time medium pace. If he pulls through, it will allow RCB to walk in with 6 reliable bowlers instead of 5, which – given the nature of their home ground – could prove to make the difference in the end.

The Royal Challengers’ first game will be a “re-enactment” of sorts of the 2016 Final, as they take on the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the tournament opener on April 5th.

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RCB Need a Daniel Vettori

by iplgeek 0 Comments

 

Daniel Vettori, RCB’s current Head Coach, was one of the team’s best bowlers when he played. (image from www.burrp.com)

After watching RCB triumph over the Sunrisers Hyderabad last week, I will not deny that I thought they would be an invincible side in this tournament. Then, when I saw Kedhar Jadhav scratch around so hard to score runs, and Quinton de Kock literally playing the same shot over and over again en route to his century, doubts began to form in my head. After the Mumbai mishap yesterday night, my fears have been realized: RCB’s bowling is still poor. All in all they weren’t horrible, but they simply lacked the ability to keep the pressure on MI. There was not a single time where the required run rate reached the 10 rpo mark, something that liberated the likes of Pollard and Buttler to play their natural games without any pressure.

This issue stems from one simple fact: RCB lack a bowler who can bowl economically in all circumstances. This reminds me of the days of Daniel Vettori. One game during which I saw this illustrated best was the game between RCB and the South Australian Redbacks, during the 2011 edition of the Champions League T20. Daniel Harris, the Redbacks opener, took a special liking to Sreenath Aravind, and wasted no time in piling up 49 in the first 4 overs. Then, in came DLV. He bowled 4 tidy overs, conceding only 24, in a match where the Redbacks would eventually go on to score 214. However, that was a time when the RCB bowlers didn’t have enough teeth to do any damage, apart from DLV himself.

Now, what I have noticed about RCB’s bowling attack this year is that it is smart enough to crush a side under pressure. This is something that was clearly demonstrated against the Sunrisers, as they were able to land the KO blow pretty easily once David Warner was out of the way. And it’s not a bad tactic at that, given the sheer magnitude of their batting line up. However, what they seem to lack is the ability to squeeze their opposition enough to create that pressure. Against SRH, Adam Milne fired a wide down leg side that went for five wides the very first ball. Sreenath Aravind followed suit vs. DD (albeit off the 2nd ball). This is something that is really hurting them, and is why they are having trouble keeping the opposition batsmen down. This is where they need someone who can come in, even against the tide of the innings, and get away four tidy overs at 6 an over or so. If that can happen, this combined with the high standards created by the batsmen will no doubt place a significant stress on the opposition, and will create optimum environment for wickets. They need a Daniel Vettori.

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Post Auction & Pre-Season Review #1: Rising Pune Supergiants

by iplgeek 0 Comments
image

"What? No MSD in CSK?" :3 (image creds: www.india.com)

Welcome to my series of Post Auction & Pre-Season Reviews! How I will do this is that I will discuss my proposed Playing XI for each team, and in the process review my thoughts on the players and the team. Enjoy! 

Basic Analysis

The Rising Pune Supergiants have one of the more glamorous and star-studded sides in this IPL. It was interesting to see their approach as they approached an auction where most other teams were looking to strengthen their sides with a whole team to purchase. They were not able to spend exorbidantly, like some of their counterparts could, but still managed to scrap together what I think is a very strong side. They played to a good plan, picking up bowlers to complement their strong batting pics from the draft. My only issue with their auction picks is that they undervalued the importance of those “in between” reserve Indian batsmen. Their lineup is strong up top, but the fact that they lack a couple of Indian batsmen who they can squish into their middle order while they use their overseas slots to experiment with bowlers/bowling all rounders. Saurabh Tiwari is the only guy they have right now who can do this, so his form will be vital.

Squad

Here’s the playing XI I think they should use. I’ve also done some player-specific player analysis there, which is why it’s so long:

Ajinkya Rahane

Rahane’s biggest role at the top of the order for RPS will be that of an anchor. His solidity at the top should allow other players, such as Kevin Pietersen, Steve Smith and MS Dhoni, to play a more free-flowing, aggressive variant. Many complained that his innings in the T20 World Cup semifinal vs. the West Indies was too slow given the pitch they were playing on, but I personally feel that Rahane did his job well. He gave the strike to the more aggressive Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli as much as possible, and although he could have tried for a few more boundaries here and there, he fulfilled the role that was given to him. If he can do the same for Pune, they will be quite happy.

Kevin Pietersen

The mainstream path would be making Faf open the batting, as he has a significant amount of experience with the role in IPL cricket. However, I would go with KP. The main reason for this is that he contrasts Rahane better. Faf’s conventional style of play is that of an anchor, not unlike Rahane himself. While that is handy to have, I feel KP would be better utilized at the position. Rahane’s stabilizing effect will allow the Englishmen to do what he does best, and attack from ball one, all without the worry of trying to rebuild after the fall of a wicket. It will be an unorthodox ploy, but will definitely be one that can bring the Warriors Supergiants great success. Also, with the track in Pune known for being notoriously slow, don’t be surprised if he is called on to roll his arm over once in a while.

Faf du Plessis & Steve Smith

Faf and Smith. Nuff said, to be honest. Anyways, I find it so hard to decide which one of them should play at 3 and which one at 4. Both have similar variants of gameplay, and both are equally capable of batting at both positions. However, if I were forced to chose, I would say that I would send Smith at 3 if KP got out early, as Smith has a better reputation for being aggressive in the IPL. If Rahane got out, I’d send Faf, as he can consolidate better.  Again, these are just speculations. Only the actual tournament will tell which one is in better form to take that number 3 spot. Both batsmen will also be looking to re-cuperate themselves in the T20 format after rather dismal campaigns in the recently concluded World T20, so expect them to come hard.

MS Dhoni

Self Explanatory.

Saurabh Tiwari

Tiwari’s role – should Pune play him – will be of utmost importance. Pune, as it seems, have contracted what I call “RCB Syndrome,” where they have a super strong top 4 or 5, but after that you kind of see that there’s on one else who really makes that much of an impact (so named because of RCB’s issues with this between 2012-2014). Hence, Tiwari’s form will be critical to determining the flavor of Pune’s squad composition this year. If he does well, they will be free to experiment with options like Adam Zampa, Scott Boland, Thisara Perera and Albie Morkel, without much fear of losing batting stability. If he fails, however, they will pretty much be stuck with Mitchell Marsh, who has been a bit off-color lately.

Irfan Pathan

Irfan Pathan joins Dhoni for a second time. He did not get much of a chance in CSK due to the resurgence of Ashish Nehra, as well as the arrival of Pawan Negi. However, Pune’s squad composure will allow for his talents to really be put to the test. More than being a 5th bowling option, he provides some extra insurance with the bat at that number 7 position. Also, should Saurabh Tiwari fail and Adam Zampa prove to be worthy of cementing himself in the playing XI, he will need to take the further responsibility of shoring up the batting at number 6. All this said, Irfan cannot afford to be complacent with his role, as Rajat Bhatia is also knocking on the door.

Ravichandran Ashwin

Ashwin is probably India’s best bowler out there right now. Especially on a slower wicket in Pune, Dhoni will be licking his lips at how he can deploy his number one spinner to max effect. Also, Ashwin’s moderately effective batting ability will come in handy for those few extra runs that – in T20s – can really make the difference. Honestly, there is not much else to say for Ash.

Ishwar Pandey

Pandey was one of CSK’s best finds over the last 2 years. His excellent tandem with Ashish Nehra allowed CSK to go with their traditional structure of 3 overseas batsmen and Dwayne Bravo, something that was crucial to their success in the tournament. He represented the Pune Warriors India in 2013, so he should have some prior knowledge of the wicket.

RP Singh

This slot is basically one that will be contested for between RP Singh, Ashok Dinda, and Ishant Sharma. I picked RP because he offers a unique angle of left arm seam, has the best IPL stats of the three, and frankly because Ishant and Dinda have been pretty terrible off late. However, the competition is still healthy to have, as it will keep all three bowlers on their toes. Also, this will be RP’s first IPL appearance in 3 years, so hopefully he can use it to springboard himself back into the limelight.

Adam Zampa

Zampa is probably Pune’s most underrated foreign player. I would understand if they eventually decided to go with Mitchell Marsh ahead of him, but I still feel that he is one of their true trump cards. He was one of Australia’s most successful bowlers in their recently concluded WT20 campaign, and also bowled some superb spells for his Big Bash franchise, the Melbourne Stars. Especially on what has historically been a turning track, I think Zampa will really make a difference. It will help that he has MS Dhoni, Steve Smith (his Int’l cricket captain), and R Ashwin in his team, players that can help him reach his full potential with the Supergiants.
 

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5 Players Who Can Make It Happen this IPL

Shane Watson could be RCB’s formula to success (image from sports.ndtv.com).

The T20 World Cup is nearing its end, meaning that the IPL is just around the corner. Now, I have spent a fair bit of time preparing for a set of pre-season/post auction reviews I plan to do in the near future, and as I have perused the player lists, I have found some players who can definitely cause ripples in this season for their respective franchises, and possibly even bring them the trophy (i.e. “Make it Happen):

Note: I have attempted to be as diverse as possible in terms of franchises without discounting player worth.

#5: Samuel Badree (RCB)

Badree has been one of WI’s standout bowlers this WT20. Although his 7 wickets in 5 games are impressive on their own, his economy rate of 5.68 is what really stands out. Considering that he played 2 of those 5 games on the run-rich track of Mumbai. His ability to bowl those tight overs upfront with the new ball will be invaluable for RCB, especially in light of Mitchell Starc’s uncertainty due to injury.

#4: Ashish Nehra (SRH)

In the last few months, Ashish Nehra has scripted quite a turnaround in his T20 career. He had a mighty fine T20 World Cup, taking a wicket in each of his 5 games while conceding under 30 runs. Even more impressive is that he has accomplished this feat across 5 different grounds, which is a great indicator that he isn’t just someone who is constantly reaping the rewards of a pitch he knows well. In addition, it will be a chance for him to step up and lead a relatively young Sunrisers bowling lineup, and fill the void left by the departure of Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma.

#3: Kevin Pietersen (RPS)

Last time Kevin Pietersen played an IPL, he had to lead the Delhi Daredevils, and struggle with a contingent of out of form players who were not quite settled with their roles in the team. Now, however, he is playing under MS Dhoni, arguably the Otto von Bismarck of cricket (in terms of genius, that is, not inciting wars with countries). He is also in a batting lineup that consists of men like Ajinkya Rahane and Faf du Plessis, who are known to be good at anchor roles. Hence, this season, KP will truly be liberated and free to do what he does best: attack the bowlers from ball one.

#2: Quinton de Kock (DD)

QDK has really enjoyed his time in India during the T20 World Cup. He registered scores of 52, 45. 47, and 9 in four games to put up a performance so strong it effectively shunned AB de Villiers from his traditional T20I opening slot, giving the Proteas one star in an otherwise dark night of a tournament. He will also be partnering with the illustrious Shreyas Iyer at the top of the order, which will finally give Zaheer Khan’s Daredevils hope of batting stability that they have sought so desparately since the era of Sehwag, Mahela and Warner.

#1: Shane Watson (RCB)

Shane Watson is probably the most accomplished all-rounder to don the RCB jersey since the legendary Jacques Kallis himself. For the franchise that has struggled so much with side balance in the last several years, there are so many options he opens up. He covers the role of a seasoned fast-bowler, allowing RCB to invest one of their overseas slots in a Samuel Badree, who could tantalize batsmen on the newly laid slower Chinnaswami track. His flexibility in the batting order allows RCB to give their young batting contingent a chance to find the positions and roles that suit them best. Lastly, his years of experience and success in both international and IPL cricket will allow him to bring something to the table for both the batsmen and the bowlers, and will also be someone Virat Kohli can turn to for a word of wisdom. In addition, Watto delivered consistently with both bat and ball for Australia in the T20 World Cup, and although some team lapses meant that trophy will still remain elusive to the otherwise trophy-rich Australian team, Watto sure did exit International Cricket in style.

 

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Bowler Banzai: What Happened to Malinga and Narine?

by iplgeek 0 Comments
Lasith Malinga and Sunil Narine (image from ibnlive.in)

Lasith Malinga and Sunil Narine (image from ibnlive.in)

IPL 2015 is 32 matches in, and is thrilling as ever. We’ve seen some excellent cricket from some of the best. However, there have been some shockers so far as well. Most of all, Sunil Narine and Lasith Malinga. Malinga, despite his 10 wickets – four of which came in his last game against the Sunrisers – has been quite expensive, going at 7.96 runs to the over, an economy rate which – for someone of Malinga’s calibre – is just not up to par. Narine, on the other hand, has played 5 matches thus far, and taken 2 wickets – something he made double of in his very first match in the 2014 IPL (and Brad Hogg equalled in his first over against CSK last night).

Now Malinga and Narine are two of those bowlers who’s good form we just seem to take for granted, and to see them fail is something of an “end of the world” scenario. Malinga, with 129 wickets, is by far the highest wicket-taker of the tournament, outstripping his nearest competitor (Amit Mishra; 109 wickets) by 20 wickets. Narine, in his 4-year IPL career, has achieved nearly everything a bowler could hope to achieve in the IPL (except the elusive Purple Cap award) – a hat-trick, a 5-er, Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket, you name it. So what could be causing these greats to look so mediocre so far in this tournament?

For Narine, I think we could probably accredit that to his bowling action change. Last October, he was suspended following reports of an illegal bowling action, and this subsequently led to his not being selected for the 2015 World Cup – where he was missed dearly by the West Indies lineup. He was cleared in time for the IPL, but the first delivery he served up in the tournament was a juicy full-toss just outside off, which an in-form Rohit Sharma gladly crashed through the covers for a boundary. He was good, but couldn’t quite bring out that magical bowling that we associate with Sunil Narine. Malinga, on the other hand, looked quite off-color even in the World Cup, where he managed only 12 wickets in his 63.4 overs, and at a rather expensive 5.56 runs to the over. Some have said that his age of brilliance is coming to it’s end, but the thing is that he has still shown some brilliance. A maiden to Chris Gayle whilst defending 209. A wonderful spell of 4/23 to puncture the Sunrisers Hyderabad. These things have shown that he isn’t completely dead just yet, and has still got some juice in him.

Now what has happened to Narine and Malinga? Is it something technical, or is it just the law of averages catching up with them? Either way, we must acknowledge that every cricket player goes through bad patches in his or her career, and it’s how you’re able to pick yourself up and rise from those bad patches that truly defines who you are as a cricket player. And knowing Malinga and Narine, I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before they’re back in their usual legendary composures.

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World Cup Journal #4: Felicitations and Farewells

Mitchell Starc’s 22 wickets with an average of 10.18 earned him the Man of the Series award. (image from www.3news.co.nz)

Australia have done it. They’ve pulled off a 5th World Cup Victory. They played some stellar cricket routing the much-favored New Zealand side by 7 wickets with 101 balls to spare in what turned out to be a convincingly one-sided final. From the moment Mitchell Starc uprooted Brendon McCullum’s off stump in the 5th delivery in the match, the Kiwis were Down Under the heat, and were constantly harried by Mitchell Johnson and James Faulkner as they stumbled and tumbled to 183, which the Mighty Aussies chased down quite convincingly. Captain Michael Clarke, who had come under a lot of scrutiny for his patchy form during the tournament, wrapped up his ODI career with a lovely 72-ball 74, leading from the front in a manner not unlike MS Dhoni did in his scintillating innnings in the 2011 World Cup Final. New Zealand were brilliant through the tournament, but looked completely dazed in the final. Congrats Australia!
Overall, this World Cup was an extremely exciting one. It was undoubtedly the most exciting in terms of run-fests, with the 300 mark being hit on an almost daily basis. Some may complain that this is destroying the essence of cricket, but when you see the likes of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Brendon McCullum blasting it to all parts, don’t you just feel excited? Isn’t it just fun to watch their brutal power-hitting and (in AB’s case most of all) ludicrously outrageous strokeplay?
Some teams disappointed, but others made great strides. Bangladesh beat England to make the quarterfinals. Afghanistan came pretty close to securing a win against their Asian Sri Lanka. Ireland pulled off a stunning victory against the West Indies. Scotland had New Zealand in a corner, and all but managed to slip through with an upset. These associate nations showed now more than ever that cricket is an international sport, and every nation has the potential to make waves.
So to conclude this last World Cup Journal for 2015, I’d just like to say thanks to everyone who made this World Cup possible (I’m not a player so it isn’t cliché). It was a wonderful experience to follow, and I will miss constantly refreshing my scorecard during English class to see how the matches are going. This is also the last ODI World Cup I will watch before I go to college (*sniff sniff*). Thank you WC 2015!
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World Cup Journal #3: Fall of the Minnows and the Rise of Pakistan

Shahid Afridi needs to come to the party. (Image from icccricketwc.com)

 

In the last couple of weeks of World Cup cricket, we’ve been perplexed by the bizarre, and blown away by the blitzkrieg of some players stamping their dominance on others (and no, none of them was Hitler). However, in this week, things have been a little more, to use the word, normal. All in all, the results of the various matches have been good for the safe better, and tough for the radical. Everything has been fairly predictable, with good teams beating minnows fairly comfortably.

Now I’m not saying that we’ve not seen exciting cricket; quite the contrary. We’ve seen some excellent cricket, with just as much muscle and excitement as ever. In fact, 3 of the top 5 totals in all World Cups were made in the last 10 days, one of which was in the top 10 for all time ODI scores (Australia’s 417-6 vs. Afghanistan). Rather, what I’m saying is that the results of the matches haven’t been anything of a surprise. For example, South Africa scored a match-winning 411-4 vs. Ireland on Tuesday. Of course, most people would have been willing to bet that South Africa would indeed make a mammoth score and beat Ireland, but none of them would sit there and say “this is boring.” Similarly, what I’m trying to say is that there has been an air of predictability to the results here, but they have certainly not been boring.

Another point I wanted to highlight was the rise of Pakistan. Now, Pakistan got off to a horrid start, losing their military-tension clash vs. India, and then dropping like dominoes in the face of a stoic West Indies bowling lineup. They were terrible defeats, both statistically and morally. Even in their clash against Zimbabwe, their batting lineup slugged along, and it took an all-round show from Wahab Riaz to get them over the line. Then, however, against the UAE their showing was much more convincing, with Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail leading from the front with the bat to take Pakistan to 339, followed by a spirited bowling show to keep UAE down to 210. However, they saved their best for the best, as Sarfraz Ahmed backed up his sublime run-a-ball 49 at the top with 6 catches behind the stumps, and coupled with the 3 left arm seamers’ 9 wickets between them to pull off a stunner that left the Protea side (wait for it) stunned.

 

I think that while Pakistan have shown clear signs of weakness, particularly in their batting lineup, they may be peaking at the right time, and may just pull it off. My personal view is that their biggest concern would be Shahid Afridi’s mediocre form. The all-rounder truly led from the front in the last tournament, and marshalled his troops sublimely to make it to the semifinals. He hasn’t been in top form this year, but I believe that if he can come to the party, Pakistan have a great chance of making it big.

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World Cup Journal #2: Blitzkrieg

AB de Villiers’ innings of 162 in 66 is an innings we will never forget for a long time. (Image from lockerdome.com)

The World Cup has steamed through February, and has now hit March. We’ve seen some exciting cricket, but I’d like to bring up one theme we’ve seen prevalently since my last World Cup Journal just over a week ago: Blitzkrieg.

Before you ask, no, Adolf Hitler did not invade Australia (he’s dead, and will hopefully stay so). Rather, the style of cricket we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks has been like that. For those who aren’t World War 2 Enthusiasts like I am, Blitzkrieg was a tactic used by Nazy Germany during WWII. Basically, what they did was that they would send forward an initial overwhelming thrust of tanks, which would shake up the opposition. Then, the rest of their army would come in, and finish the job. Using this, the Germans conquered nearly all of Europe. Similarly, now teams in the CWC are using it to destroy their opponents.

We’ve seen some belligerent cricket being played in the last week: Chris Gayle’s 215, AB de Villiers’ 66-ball 162, Dilshan’s 161, Mitchell Starc’s steaming 6-28, and Kumar Sangakkara’s twin centuries all showed a sense of dominance that the opposition fell flat before. While the innings themselves were magnificent, it was that air of supremacy, and authoritarianism that they stamped into the pitch that was so wonderful. It was as though they went up to the pitch and said “we’re here to thrash you, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. This is a marvellous quality we see in cricket, and I hope to see it more as the World Cup progresses.

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World Cup Journal #1: Expect the Unexpected

 

Paul Stirling on his way o leading Ireland to an incredible win. (Image from espncricinfo.com)

Paul Stirling on his way to leading Ireland to an incredible win. (Image from espncricinfo.com)

This 2015 World Cup has been chugging along quite merrily. Of course, we’ve all had our fair share of nail biting, shivering, praying, and (for some), TV smashing, but more than that, the general ambience that the Cricket World Cup is here is very pleasant.

What has made this World Cup stand out to me so much ahead of the 4 World Cups (T20 included) that I’ve followed intensely before this is the equality we’ve had in terms of competition. Barring the white flag encounters of England vs. New Zealand and Pakistan vs. West Indies, we’ve always had some degree of a fight in pretty much every game, even those Mammoth vs. Minnow competitions that we usually like to consider as walkovers. We saw this even in the in the warm-ups, as Scotland were all but successful in their chase of 313 against the West Indies, and Zimbabwe pulled the carpet from under Sri Lanka to register a surprising upset. In the league stage, we saw Scotland make the resurgent and roaring New Zealand side sweat in their chase of a paltry 142, a spirited Afghanistan just failing to pull through after putting Sri Lanka in a precarious situation at 178-6 in 41.2 overs chasing 233, and a belligerent Paul Stirling leading Ireland to a massive victory over the West Indies. In essence, this World Cup hasn’t just been about the Giants steaming through a bunch of minnows to face each other in the playoffs; rather, it’s been about everyone playing their best cricket (at least most of the time), and making us cricket fans expect the unexpected.

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