Archive for February 2011

Waiting For A World Cup Upset

Six days into the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, and we are still waiting for our first upset as so far the tournament has gone as expected with the favourites winning each game.

Only England, who were pushed a lot closer than they would have felt comfortable with by the Netherlands, have come close to slipping up with India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa all registering comprehensive victories.

Bangladesh had high hopes of causing an upset in the tournament’s opening game on home soil but their plans were ruined by a once-in-a-lifetime innings of 175 from Virender Sehwag – a score that is already unlikely to be bettered throughout the duration of the World Cup.

Kenya – semi-finalists in 2003, remember – were handed sound thrashings by New Zealand and Pakistan, making only 69 and 112 with the bat while Zimbabwe made Australia work hard but were eventually outclassed and beaten by 91 runs.

Canada, as expected, proved to be no match for Sri Lanka, although they won’t be the only side to struggle against the co-hosts, who with Mahela Jayawardene in top form, will go deep into the tournament and must be the favourites to top Group A.

While the West Indies are no minnows, they were always up against it when they took on a well-drilled, well-disciplined South African outfit and came up well short, beaten by seven wickets with AB de Villiers in sparkling form. In their defence, they have been hit hard by injuries, losing Carlton Baugh and Adrian Barath to hamstring problems ahead of the tournament and then lost Dwayne Bravo during his bowling spell.

With moves afoot to trim the World Cup to ten nations and potentially denying the Associate nations the chance to compete at the highest level, what nobody needed was a series of non-contests. Some will say that it was a great shame that the Netherlands didn’t able to hold on against England and show everybody that while they might not be playing Test cricket, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be playing at World Cups.

Some would claim that the fact that they got close enough to worry England was enough to justify their inclusion in this, and future World Cups, in any case. But what do you think? Should the World Cup remain open to the best Associate nations or should it be a closed shop, open only to the top ten sides in the world?

What Can We Expect From The Opening World Cup Games?

Just hours away from the opening ceremony now and excitement levels ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 are being ramped up to a very high level. Although the opening stage of the tournament is set to pit a number of highly-ranked sides against the lower-ranked associate nations, there are some potentially interesting match-ups early on.

The first game of the competition sees Bangladesh play India. While India are the overwhelming favourites to win the game, Bangladesh famously beat them in 2007 and dumped them out of the competition, so India will be taking nothing for granted.

Then we have New Zealand against Kenya – although New Zealand enter the tournament with little in the way of form, they should be too strong for Kenya, an outfit far removed from the team that reached the semi-finals in 2003.

Sri Lanka, who many are tipping for overall glory, then meet Canada and although the Canadians gave England a serious fright in a warm-up game, with home advantage, and coming off the back of a winning run, Sri Lanka should boss the game and take some early points.

Australia then play Zimbabwe and although the four-time champions aren’t playing at their best at the moment, undoubtedly missing Mike Hussey in the middle order, neither are a Zimbabwe side that has been badly hit by injuries. They stand a chance if their big players – Brendan Taylor, Tatenda Taibu and Elton Chigumbura – all fire with the bat but Australia should be too strong.

England will be wary of their opening match against the Netherlands following their embarrasment at the hands of the men in orange in the opening match of the 2009 ICC World Twenty20. It would be an even bigger upset if the Dutch beat them over 50 overs but they do have recent victories over Bangladesh and Kenya under their belt so will be nothing if not confident going into the encounter.

Despite the six-week competition being yet to get underway, we’d like you to make your predictions – who do you think will win the tournament overall? Check out what Cricket World’s John Pennington and Jim White think below – and then leave us your views.

Muralitharan Signing Gives Gloucestershire Hope

Legendary Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan has signed a two-year deal to play Twenty20 cricket for Gloucestershire in 2011 and 2012.

Fresh from helping one new team – Kochi – launch their IPL career, Murali is set to join his third county as they bid to put behind them a poor 2010 season.

Having lost the services of William Porterfield, Anthony Ireland, Gemaal Hussain and Steve Kirby over the winter, the recent news that captain Alex Gidman has signed a new contract and now the high-profile signing of Muralitharan has given the Bristol-based team a huge boost.

The club hasn’t won a top-flight competition since 2004. Could 2011 be the year that they get back to winning ways?

In 2007, they reached the final of the Twenty20 Cup and they will be hoping that Muralitharan – a man who has won both the IPL and the Champions League, not to mention the World Cup – can produce some of his magic in the two years he is with them.

He has an outstanding T20 record, conceding just 6.16 runs per over, which in the shortest format of the game where batsmen often dominate, is nothing short of world-class.

He may be retiring from international cricket following the 2011 World Cup, but Gloucestershire supporters will hope he can add his name to the long and illustrious list of stars to have played for their club. Even for Murali, living up to the feats of the likes of Mike Proctor, Zaheer Abbas, Courtney Walsh, not to mention W.G Grace and Wally Hammond, will be a tall order, however.

Injury Worries Overshadow World Cup Preparations

Both Australia and England have been badly hit by injuries ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Following the conclusion of a seven-match ODI series, Australia have already replaced two players in their 15-man squad and England appear likely to do the same.

The list of players ruled out makes for interesting reading and you could form a handy squad from them: Shaun Marsh, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan, Michael Hussey, Stuart Broad, Nathan Hauritz, Xavier Doherty, Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad and Chris Tremlett.

Add to that the fact that Ricky Ponting, Brad Haddin and Steve Smith are nursing injuries and you have a picture of two teams expected to feature prominently in the latter stages of the competition, in the beginning, at least, struggling to pick fully-fit teams. It has been mooted that if England don’t name replacement players, Andy Flower and potentially other members of the coaching staff will have to take the field in their warm-up matches.

The good news is that the tournament goes on for as long it does and that the quarter-finals don’t get underway until 23rd March, giving injured players six weeks to recover from any niggles. However, will England gamble on the bare bones of a squad doing just enough to get through to the quarter-finals or will they approach the tournament aiming to play their best/fittest team from the start?

Australia have been here before, of course. Ahead of the 2007 World Cup, they lost Brett Lee to injury. His replacement, Shaun Tait, had a wonderful tournament as they claimed their third title in a row. England coped without Kevin Pietersen for one game on their way to glory in the ICC World Twenty20 but what the recent series in Australia has made abundantly clear is that Australia’s strength in depth is far superior to England’s.

Without Swann, Broad and Bresnan, their attack looked toothless and they desperately missed Collingwood and Morgan in the middle order. Without ready-made replacements at the ready, they have some big decisions to make as they aim for an unprecedented hat-trick of ICC World Twenty20, Ashes and World Cup success.

UPDATE: India’s Praveen Kumar is now the latest player to be ruled out due to an elbow injury. India have replaced him with Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who was, for many people, a surprise omission from the original squad.

Match-Fixing Scandal – Lengthy Bans All Round

Salman Butt (ten years), Mohammad Asif (seven years) and Mohammad Amir (five years) have all been handed lengthy bans following their involvement in the match-fixing scandal.

That all three could yet end up playing international cricket again in the future (although in the case of Butt and Asif in particular, this remains somewhat unlikely) has sparked intense debate.

There is sympathy with the plight of Amir – he appears set to appeal on the grounds that five years out of the game for two new balls is a disproportionate punishment but also widespread condemnation that the players were not banned for life.

Of course, they are also, along with managed Mazhar Majeed, set to stand trial in the UK and if found guilty could face prison sentences of up to seven years.

Has the tribunal been lenient? Or have the players been unfairly treated? And is there any way back when the bans are up?

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