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

by iplgeek 0 Comments
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"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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IPL Player Draft: Takes

by iplgeek 0 Comments

MS Dhoni will be seen in Pune colors this year. Image Source: www.ibnlive.com

This year’s IPL will feature an interesting twist. The termination of the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals left a gap for two new franchises – Pune and Rajkot – and these two teams today picked 5 players each out of the pool of former CSK and RR players.

Here’s what came out:

Pune: MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Steve Smith, Faf du Plessis

Rajkot: Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Brendon McCullum, James Faulkner, Dwayne Bravo

It is no surprise that these players were picked; the only question was which teams they would play for. The biggest talking point is that Shane Watson was not picked. However, this too is not entirely shocking. Watson has been plagued by injuries and very sporadic form over the last 2 years, even in IPL. Hence, he will appear in the auctions for the first time since 2008.

Pune

Overview

It is interesting to see Dhoni, Faf and Smith – three leaders for their respective countries – all in one team. In Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin, they also have what is arguably team India’s best batsman-bowler combination today. Their team is very “polar” in terms of player specialities selected, as they’ve gone with 4 batsmen and one bowler. For the historically slow Pune track, this is not an entirely bad strategy.

What to Go for in the Auction

Pune’s top order looks in safe hands, with Rahane and Faf both capable of opening the innings, and Smith playing one down. What they should go for in the auction would be some all-rounders and bowlers, to provide some stability. The exact players they should go for is something that will be released when the auction list is.

Rajkot

Overview

While I love Pune’s players, Rajkot have probably done a better job in terms of team selection. Going for 3 all rounders in Jadeja, Faulkner and Bravo, they will have a strong foundation of all-rounders upon which to build their squad. In addition, McCullum and Raina are both prime top-order batsmen, and decent captaincy options.

What to Go for in the Auction

Like I mentioned, Rajkot have a strong foundation. Therefore, in the auction I sense they will be looking for more prolific, expensive bowlers, and top- of-the-line hard-hitters to work with Raina and McCullum. However, once again, it is difficult to come up with a definitive list of players for them to buy without a full list of players who will participate in the auction.

We will see the two teams again in the Auctions, which will take place on the 6th of February 2016 (our 5th Anniversary) in Bangalore.

 

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Why are CSK so Good?

by iplgeek 0 Comments

CSK have been one of IPL’s most successful franchises of all time (image from livecricketscore.io).

If you’ve browsed IPL memes on the internet, you’ve probably seen this one (or some variation of it):

 

Image from indianexpress.com

 

Just based off this meme (and many, many others online), you can pretty much conclude that the Chennai Super Kings are one of the IPL’s most dominant franchises. Again, this year, they are sitting pretty on the top of the points table with 12 points in 8 matches.

Now if you’re an non-CSK IPL fan, you’ve probably asked yourself: how are they so good? Many people have said match fixing, many people have said N. Srinivasan, and others have said match fixing by N. Srinivasan. Illegal activities aside, this is why I think CSK have been the best franchise this IPL:

1. They’ve got depth: Very few franchises will be able to say that they don’t have room for Michael Hussey in their first playing XI. CSK, though, have got that kind of depth. This is why, as we saw yesterday, they could recover from 90-5 and still make it to 150-odd.

2. They’re not afraid to be aggressive from the onset: A lot of teams walk out to bat with the mindset of “let me play out these first overs and go big later.” CSK, however, don’t do that. With guys like Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith and Suresh Raina in their order, they won’t be afraid to go after you from ball one. As a result, they immediately push their opponents into playing catch-up cricket, which then allows them to consolidate and set up for the big score. It must be noted though that this aggressive attitude has often cost them quick loss of wickets at the top of the order.

3. They’ve got a stable playing XI: Throughout the IPL, CSK have been known to not really change their squad much. Same thing here. They’ve not tinkered with their lineup too much, and just kept things simple with the same players. After, if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it.

4. They back their players: This is a tie-on from my previous point, but is still important. There are franchises that keep changing out their squad after rough performances, and don’t really give individual players many chances. However, CSK have been rather generous in this sense, and have always backed their players to come back strong.

5. They Work as a Team: This is one key element that you see in every successful sports team (not just cricket teams). Teams that are carried by one or two people can come far, but the teams that take that final step over the line to make history are the ones that have powerful teamwork. CSK are one such team. If you look at the way they play, you can barely ever pinpoint one man and say he’s the sole cause for CSK’s excellent form. Rather, it’s all the players coming together: the batsmen knocking the runs, and the bowlers and fielders backing them up. This is a crucial element of every champion team.

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India’s Missing Cog

Image from static.ibnlive.in.com

Imagine you’re a high schooler, like me. You’re going to write your SAT tomorrow, but you’re pretty darn well prepared. Just to savour the victory ahead of time, you decide to try out a practice test. However, you finish the test with a score of 1200 (which is a 22nd percentile, and enough to make your parents mad at you). Has that ever happened to you? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening to the Indian cricketing team right now. They’ve been in Australia for just about 2 months now, and they’ve still not tasted victory. With the World Cup just weeks away (which is by the way being played in Australia and New Zealand), no doubt both Indian fan and player alike would be feeling the heat.
The defending champs have shown on more than one occasion on this tour that they are fighters, but regrettably they have no win to show for their efforts. They’ve has some stars, such as the mature, peerless Ajinkya Rahane and the resurgent, vengeful Virat Kohli, but all in all their performance as a team has been average.
What is wrong with them you may ask? Well I personally feel that their issue is not batting quality (although that has been rather on-and-off as well), but their bowling. To be more specific, their fast bowling. Their quicks simply have not been able to step up, and therefore have not been able to make the dents that people like Mitchell Starc and Steven Finn have been making. Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav have been fast but too wayward, gifting too many runs to the opposition but not keeping up the pressure. Mohammed Shami has had relatively more success, but has still not quite been able to hold on his discipline when bowling long spells. Ishant Sharma was also good on some occasions, but again, he just didn’t have the “oomph” factor that men like Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris had. Even Bhuvneshwar Kumar, once India’s go-to fast bowler, made a very lackadaisical comeback from injury, barely troubling Australia’s batsmen. Now, if there’s something Indian need more than ever, especially with the World Cup looming over, it’s a top grade fast bowler. Not just a guy who can hit the 150’s, but a guy who you can rely on to hit the new ball hard and draw early blood, and then come back in the death and land the final kill. There are going to be plenty of these types of players coming into the World Cup, such as Dale Steyn, Mitchell Starc and Lasith Malinga. If India want to be able to hold on to their trophy, they will need such a bowler. It’s probably too late to call up a new face, so for now India will have to trust Shami, Umesh, Ishant and Bhuvi, and just hope for the best. However, in the long run, it is imperative that India look for a pacer who they can rely on.
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What Happened to India?

Along with the rest of the Indian lineup, Cheteshwar Pujara had a below-par time in England. (Image from espncricinfo.com)

Along with the rest of the Indian lineup, Cheteshwar Pujara had a below-par time in England. (Image from espncricinfo.com)

July 21st, 2014: Indian won in Lord’s for the first time in 28 years. It was a day to rejoice, and Indian fan and cricketer alike were all happy. However, the cloud of jubilation proved to be but a mask of what would come next. The English batsmen began the third test with an attack of renewed vigour to register a massive total of 569 before James Anderson and Moeen Ali cleaned up the dazed Indian lineup to register a mighty 266 run victory; their first since beating Australia in the Ashes during the summer of 2013. The Indian side never quite looked the same again, as they were routed for 152 and 161 within 3 days during the 4th test, registering one of the meekest surrenders in cricket history. At the start of the 4th test, Independence Day luck failed India as they collapsed yet again to register only 148. Now down 2-1 in the series (with 1 draw), it is hard to see how this young Indian side, which had looked so authoritative back in Lord’s, managed to bring themselves down to such a lowly fate.

 

The biggest problem in the last 2 tests was undoubtedly the Indian batting lineup’s failure to click. Virat Kohli in particular has failed to give India those strong partnerships and 100-ball innings you see from guys like Kumar Sangakkara. Even Ajinkya Rahane – who looked set to be India’s Mr. Dependable in the making after his mature Lord’s century – stuttered and spluttered in the last few innings. Only a few “rescue operations” (literally) innings from MS Dhoni and R Ashwin saved the Indians from sub-100 scores in the last few innings.

 

This may lead you to the conclusion that it is easy to blame the losses entirely on India’s batting, but don’t cast your judgement just yet. We must also take into accord England’s bowling. After the Lord’s test, England took a bit of a gamble bringing in 4 specialist fast-bowlers and leaving only 1 part-time spinner. However, it paid off dramatically well. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were the key figures, as they demolished the Indian batting as clinically as German U-Boats sunk Allied shipment during WWII. Don’t forget Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes though. While they may not have done the damage done by the Broad-Anderson duo, they definitely made an impact, silencing a few batsmen and allowing the pressure to creep on them. Now the bottom line question arises: why couldn’t India do the same? Why couldn’t India’s bowlers dive bomb the British batsmen as efficiently as their English counterparts had done to theirs?

 

There are quite a few reasons for this. The first is poor selection. Where England played 4 full-time seamers, India played just 3, of whom 1 was debuting and 1 was not known for his pace (in the 3rd test). Hence while they were not terrible, they did not do as much as Anderson and Broad had. Their problem was that their selection did not have the pace needed to repeat what Ishant Sharma did back in Lord’s. Varun Aaron had more success in the 4th test, as he picked up 3 wickets, including a lovely inswinger to knock over Moeen Ali. He was probably bowling slower than he would during a T20 to preserve his fragile fitness, but was still fast enough to trouble the English batsmen. This is where it might have been handy to use someone like Umesh Yadav (not selected for the tour) or Mohammed Shami ahead of Stuart Binny or Pankaj Singh, as those guys are probably the fastest bowlers we have in India today and might have had a strong impact.

 

The second issue is inexperience. India’s complete revamp of the side in the past 3 years has stripped them drastically of hardened international experience. In fact, Ishant Sharma is the only Indian pacer who’s played the tour to debut before 2013. In England, on the other hand, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are hardened veterans, and Woakes and Jordan have a good level of experience with English tracks, even if not much at the international level. Therefore the English side was able to outplay the Indians on experience alone (the inexperienced Indian lineup did not help). Even though guys like Mohammed Shami possessed the pace to dent England, their lack of experience barred the way. Persisting with Zaheer Khan might help. Even though he is injury prone and possesses only flashes of the potent that made him such a lethal bowler a few years ago, he would help smooth the transition into the new generation for India’s quicks.

 

This tour has been a bittersweet one for India (maybe more bitter than sweet though). They lost two crushing defeats, true, but it’s not everyday that you win a test at Lord’s. I personally feel it will be a tour of comprehension for India. It is time for them to find some way to either bring an experience equilibrium to the squad, or get their youngsters accustomed to foreign conditions (through domestic leagues in different countries). Even if India lose the series, I feel it will be a good wake-up call for them, and will hopefully spark some degree of reform and change, so we have a better, classier Indian side too watch in the near future.

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Chennai Super Kings: Season Preview

As before, watch my podcast for my general thoughts on the team, as it looks on paper:

The Chennai Super Kings have undoubtedly been the most successful team in the IPL so far. They are the only team to qualify for every single semifinal since the inaugural edition, and are also the only team to win the league twice. They come into the tournament with a side similar to the one they had in 2013, but with more changes than one is used to when it comes to CSK. Firstly, we see that former clutch players like Michael Hussey, Albie Morkel and Subramaniam Badrinath have been discarded. Also, we see several new faces, such as New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, Australia’s John Hastings, and West Indies’ duo of Dwayne Smith and Samuel Badree. Overall, the CSK squad looks very well balanced, as it always has. The only niggle they will have will be the question of who will be the spearhead fast bowler. Although Ben Hilfenhaus is indeed an option, he hasn’t played international cricket in well over a year now, and bringing him in will mean leaving out either Faf du Plessis or Samuel Badree, two of CSK’s clutch players this tournament. Therefore, it is likely that CSK will give someone along the lines of Ashish Nehra, Ishwar Pandey, or Mohit Sharma that responsibility, although it is a risky move. However, their spin attack is impeccable, with Badree combining with an in-form Ravi Ashwin, and Ravi Jadeja.

Author’s XI (Based on more recent times):

Brendon McCullum

Faf du Plessis

Suresh Raina

Dwayne Bravo

MS Dhoni

Mithun Manhas

Ravindra Jadeja

Ravichandran Ashwin

Ishwar Pandey

Samuel Badree

Mohit Sharma

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India vs Sri Lanka: Familiar Foes in a Fiery Final

Apart from just being a World Cup Final, this will be the last time we see these two men playing a T20 for Sri Lanka (Image credits:  Troll Cricket)

Apart from just being a World Cup Final, this will be the last time we see these two men playing a T20 for Sri Lanka
(Image credits: Troll Cricket)

There is a time in all sports where none but the best are left in the contest. When all are judged unworthy for success but the top guns, who have played their very best game. This is that time. India and Sri Lanka, the top two teams in this year’s world cup T20, take each other on in an epic final tomorrow night. Both teams have been in sublime touch throughout the tournament. India barely ever looked troubled for the first few games, and in fact it was even said that they were simply not “tested enough”. However, in their previous game against South Africa, they were under the hammer as Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy mercilessly took the attack to the Indian bowlers, with even Amit Mishra, India’s trump card so far in this world cup, going for plenty. However, Virat Kohli’s inspired 72* in just 44 took India over the line quiet comfortably. For Sri Lanka, it has been a series of dominance as well, even if not as one-sided as most of India’s games. They pulled off a clinical victory over South Africa to start their campaign, before absolutely decimating the Netherlands. Although they ended up on the wrong end of the stick in their high-scoring affair against England, they came back with vengeance to defend a paltry 119 as the hapless New Zealand lineup was bowled out for 60. Their semifinal encounter against the West Indies was a close one, as Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels’ decision to take it slow and steady at the start of the innings despite the possibility of rain proved to be their own death rite as they ended up losing by 27 runs according to the D/L method. Sri Lanka might have to have gone through a considerably higher amount of strain had the entire match been played out, but it was not to be.

The key thing to notice in both sides’ extreme success has been the strong presence of one particular element: spin. Both India and Sri Lanka docked up on heir spin resources, and on the spin-friendly tracks in Bangladesh, this has proven to be a brilliant move. For India, it has been Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, and Ravindra Jadeja who have done their magic, while it has been Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, and Ajantha Mendis (though not all at once), who have done it for Sri Lanka. This has been what set these two sides ahead of other brilliant T20 teams, such as South Africa and Australia, who insisted on going in with just the one spinner per game. Therefore, I feel that apart from being just a clash between India and Sri Lanka, it’s going to be a battle between the two teams’ spinners. What strategy will Sri Lanka have for playing Ravi Ashwin’s carrom ball (which produced an absolute gem of a wicket in the game vs RSA)? Will India be tenacious in their approach towards Rangana Herath? These are some of the questions one must ask for this “spin to win” encounter.

Setting the Stage: 

It’s going to be an emotional game for most cricket fans as it will be the last time we ever see Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jaywardene walk out onto the field for a T20 in Sri Lankan colors. Although both have been far from remarkable so far, it would be lovely to see them do well in this final T20I for them. On other news, it’s interesting that this final should be exactly 3 years and 3 days since the 2011 World Cup Final, which India pulled off quiet a heist to win, courtesy of MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir (you can read my emotional facebook post about it here). While India would use that as inspiration for them, Sri Lanka would want to put the past in the past and look to make a fresh start here. Also, Sri Lanka have often be teased for being a team that only makes it to the finals of tournaments, but never wins. Of course, Sri Lanka broke this tradition by winning the Asia Cup finals against Pakistan, but will want to try and finish that here as well.

Player Contests:

Virat Kohli vs Lasith Malinga: Virat Kohli is currently in the form of his life. With 242 runs at an average of 121, he has single handedly taken the reigns of India’s batting in this tournament. Lasith Malinga, on the other hand, has had a slightly more quiet tournament, as his 5 wickets from 14 overs leaves him lower down down the wicket takers chart than he would be used to. However, that does not nullify the effect he can have one bit. Those slinging yorkers he produces, especially at death, are not by any means easy to pick. Although Malinga has painful recollections of bowling to Virat Kohli, he would still take it upon himself to run one past VK, and if he can get the in-form batsman out early, it would put India in all sorts of trouble.

Ravichandran Ashwin vs Mahela Jaywardene: Ravi Ashwin has had a brilliant tournament so far. His stash of 10 wickets from 19.2 overs at an economy rate of just 4.91 (just as a reminder, this is a T20 tournament) speaks for itself, and there is nothing more that is needed to be mentioned about his impact for India this tournament. Mahela, on the other hand, has had quiet a struggle, having scored just 45 runs across his 4 innings, barring that 89 he made against England. Despite that, Mahela is a known expert against spin, and he would want to do everything in his power to neutralize Ashwin before he can have an effect. On the other hand, Ashwin would want to try and make the veteran batsmen look like Hashim Amla did, and give him a good “send off” in his final ever T20 game.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar vs Kushal Perera: In almost all of Lanka’s games so far in the tournament, they’ve been able to rely on Kushal Perera for a strong start at the head of the innings that would set the tone for the later part. Bhuvneshwar, on the other hand, has been silently baffling batsmen with his sharp swing bowling at the start of the innings, and setting the stage for the spinners to come in for the kill. Both of them would look to dismantle each other in this epic final clash.

Squads:

While there is really nothing much you would want to change in either of the teams, my only change would be to see Sri Lanka bring back Ajantha Mendis into the side, as particularly against a side with a batting lineup as reputed as India’s they would want to keep as many bowling cards in hand as they can. Although this would leave them with an extended tail, Nuwan Kulasekara and Senanayake are decent batsmen, and can give SL sufficient insurance for that spot.

India (Potential XI):

Ajinkya Rahane

Rohit Sharma

Virat Kohli

Yuvraj Singh

Suresh Raina

MS Dhoni (c & wk)

Ravindra Jadeja

Ravichandran Ashwin

Amit Mishra

Bhuvneshwar Kumar

Mohit Sharma

Sri Lanka (Potential XI):

Kushal Perera

Tillakaratne Dilshan

Mahela Jaywardene

Kumar Sangakkara (wk)

Lahiru Thirimanne

Angelo Matthews

Nuwan Kulasekara

Sachithra Senanayake

Rangana Herath

Ajantha Mendis

Lasith Malinga (c)

 

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Game over for Ishant?

Is Ishant Sharma out of chances?

Is Ishant Sharma out of chances?

44 needed in 18 balls. Adam Voges and James Faulkner at the crease. Most people would agree that India would have easily taken the game home from here. However, they also thought RCB would have defended 43 in 12 in that game vs CSK in IPL 2012. However, the circumstances are a bit different here. For one, MSD had far more trustworthy bowling options than poor Daniel Vettori did, and secondly, James Faulkner is not as renowned as a batsman as Albie Morkel is. So when Ishant Sharma walked in to bowl the 48th with figures of 7-1-33-1, no one protested much. After all, Ishant had responded to his captain’s need back in the Champions Trophy Final during the summer and defended much less against much more dangerous batsmen. However, what came was enough to give some a heart-attack, and made others look like this:

Why when even I popped open my Yahoo Cricket app on my iPod this morning and saw Australia won, I naturally went to investigate more and I saw James Faulkner with a score of 64 in 29. I was upset that we had lost, but not as much as I was befuddled as to how James Faulkner’s batting could have been the instrumental to it. Even more when I found that he had taken Ishant Sharma for 30 runs in an over to pull it off. However, a quick look at some highlights showed me that Ishant had really walked right into Faulkner’s trap. Or rather, fixed it up before falling into it. From the highlights I saw, it could not have been more evident that Faulkner was playing the typical “desperate tailender” game. He was simply slogging at everything, and a yorker, or a delivery that was a tad wider and slower would have done him in. However, like I said, Ishant fixed up the trap before he fell into it. He gave Faulkner a series of pitched-up deliveries, which to the Ozzies was like Gold Dust. Faulkner smashed 4 of them for six in addition one double and a boundary. A real “whoops” moment for poor Ishant.

Alright, end flashback. Back to the here and now. Now that brings us onto what I really wanted to discuss in this post. Is it time up for Ishant Sharma? Of course, one can argue that it was just one of his “bad days”. However, we must also consider that Ishant has an economy of 7.87 this series, with only 2 wickets and a pitiful average of  94.5. Not what you’d expect of the most experienced seamer in the XI. Now the reason he is so disappointing as contrasted to the other two seamers – Vinay Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar – is that they each have a plus and minus. Bhuvi is expensive at death, but is tidy at the front and even though he has only 1 wicket this series, he is the only Indian bowler to keep his economy below 6 in all three games. Vinay has been terribly expensive (he is not known for economical bowling) but did what he did for RCB: picked up wickets. Even if his death bowling hasn’t been as good as it was during IPL 2013, he was the only Indian bowler to pick a wicket in every one of the 3 games. Ishant has been on neither side. Many have jokingly said that his poor shows are “tribute” to Ajit Agarkar, who recently retired from first-class cricket. On the up side, India have plenty of reserves. Jaydev Unadkat – who had a good tour of Zimbabwe and a brilliant IPL, along with Amit Mishra – who used the slow track of the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium to his advantage to outfox batsmen in IPL 2013, and was also India’s best bowler in Zimbabwe. So in the likely event of Ishant getting dropped, India will not miss him too much. As for Ishant himself, hopefully he will use this as a wake-up call and look to work on his lines and lengths so he can hope to make a comeback soon.

 

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India pull off unbeaten Champions Trophy win

After enduring through consistent showers and shortened playing time, the fans who grouped at Birmingham finally got the result of the final of this last ever Champions Trophy, and it was India who pulled out victorious. Chasing 130 for victory in the 20 over game, on a challenging track, the Englishmen were rocked as they lost their top four inside 10 overs, with the required rate climbing. Then Ravi Bopara – who had shined with the ball and in the field – bugged India once again as he put together a strong 64-run stand with Eoin Morgan. The two of them managed to simplify the equation to 28 needed of 18. Then Ishant Sharma – who’s arrival to the bowling crease that over had been greeted with heavy criticism – went from Zero to Hero in 2 balls as he removed both Bopara and Morgan in just 2 balls. That was the end of England’s chances of getting the cup. Looking at the rainy conditions, English skipper Alastair Cook gave his seamers the first ball. The Englishmen were very disciplined, and never really let India run away with it. Only Shikhar Dhawan (31), Virat Kohli (43) and Ravindra Jadeja (33*) made double digits. It was a marvelous tournament for the Men in Blue, as they were unbeaten throughout; including the Warm-Up games. This is quiet a contrasting result to the one expected by most people, looking at India’s squad – particularly the fast-bowling attack. Still, MSD’s men proved their critics wrong yet again, and shone bright to clench another cup. An example of just how dominating they were was shown as both the leading run scorer and wicket taker were both Indian (Dhawan and Jadeja respectively). This seems to show that India have finally struck a balanced side, and hopefully can carry this form onto their various other tournaments.

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