2011 World Cup

India Set Up World Cup Final Clash With Sri Lanka

It might not have been a classic cricket World Cup semi-final, but India did enough to beat arch-rivals Pakistan and set up a final with Sri Lanka on Saturday.

Sachin Tendulkar was dropped no fewer than four times and survived a close stumping appeal on his way to 85 before both teams’ middle orders rather lost their way – Wahab Riaz’s five-wicket haul inspiring a mini-collapse and Pakistan’s engine room failing to click into gear until the game was all but over.

India-Pakistan clashes are typically nervy affairs and this one proved to be no exception. Umar Gul, usually reliable, lost his line and length early on and was savaged by Virender Sehwag, who in turn inexplicably missed a straight ball.

Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq – two of Pakistan’s most experienced cricketers, and two who usually save their best for matches against India – then dropped simple chances to offer Tendulkar further chances.

He eventually fell 15 short of a century having played far from his best innings before Riaz rose to the occasion in style, returning five for 46 and picking the perfect stage to return a career-best performance.

His efforts, were in vain however, as despite a fast start from Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan fell away dramatically, and once Hafeez was dismissed – to an uncharacteristically bad shot – India were always likely to close out the game.

Yuvraj Singh registered just the second golden duck of his ODI career but struck twice with the ball in quick succession to further pin Pakistan down and the look of shock on Umar Akmal’s face when he was bowled by Harbhajan Singh left little to the imagination.

Pakistan were perhaps stunned by their own inability to cope with the situation of playing India in a World Cup (five times they have played, five times they have lost now) in front of 40,000 screaming fans in Mohali.

In the eyes of many Pakistan fans, Misbah is the main culprit for the defeat. His 56 in 76 balls was a valiant effort, but he hardly played an attacking stroke before the required run rate had shot up to 12 an over and he was left with the tail-enders.

In his defence, he would not be expected to take on the role of the aggressor while Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq were at the crease. Their failures to go on and make big scores quickly merely increased the pressure on him.

Had he been unbeaten on 40 and one of those players had have smashed 50 in 35 balls then he would be a hero. Yesterday was India’s day and therefore Misbah was cast as villain.

Now India take on Sri Lanka on Saturday with both teams bidding for a second World Cup triumph and Mahendra Singh Dhoni looking to complete a full house – he has already led India to the number one spot in the Test rankings and the ICC World Twenty20 title in 2007, as well as guiding the Chennai Super Kings to both Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 glory.

Yuvraj Inspires India – Now For Clash With Pakistan

India answered a lot of searching questions during the course of their five-wicket win over Australia in their World Cup quarter-final in Ahmedabad. The majority of the 42,000 fans in the stadium went away happy with what they had seen and for the first time in 15 years, an Australian captain will not be lifting the World Cup trophy.

Going into the match, many questioned India’s temperament – did they have what it takes to beat Australia in a match that really mattered in the latter stages of a competition? They proved they did thanks to an outstanding bowling, fielding and batting display.

Led by Yuvraj Singh’s unbeaten 57 and brace of wickets, the only blemish was the mix-up which saw Gautam Gambhir run out; but Yuvraj made sure that he was there at the end to see the game through.

We also questioned whether India’s batsmen could cope with the extreme pace offered by Australia’s bowling attack – Shaun Tait, Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson – but they dealt with the challenge admirably. And Sachin Tendulkar shone through once again, his half-century taking him past the mark of 18,000 One-Day International runs. It is surely inconceivable that anyone will ever score that many again.

A word for Ricky Ponting, who came into the game in no sort of form and under intense pressure – not something he has become unused to following the recent dip in his side’s performances – only to produce a fine century.

Although he was able to deliver when his country needed it most, few of his colleagues, with the honourable exceptions of Brad Haddin and David Hussey, were also able to weigh in, resulting in Australia setting India a target that they always knew, provided they didn’t lose wickets in the way they have been throughout the tournament, would be attainable.

Yuvraj, on the other hand, in and out of the side in the last 12 months, has come into form at just the right moment. He has now scored 341 runs in the tournament, with a century and four half-centuries to his name. He averages the small matter of 113.66 and has also taken 11 wickets at 24.63 including a maiden five-wicket haul against Ireland.

What we now have in store is the match-up that many cricket fans will have been dreaming of as India and Pakistan meet in what promises to be an unmissable semi-final in Mohali on 30th March.

Yuvraj has an excellent record against Pakistan and India have never lost a 50-over match in a World Cup against their arch-rivals. However, Pakistan showed how strong they were with a ruthless demolition job against the West Indies in the opening quarter-final having finished on top of a competitive Group A.

They do have recent history of beating India in Mohali and have already gone way further in the tournament than they did in both 2003 and 2007. Aiming for a repeat of 1992, when they won, and 1999 when they reached the final, they will need their own talisman – Shahid Afridi – to inspire them as Yuvray has been inspiring India thus far.

As far as predictions go – as Chetan Narula says during his latest Cricket World @ The World Cup podcast, it will come down to who handles the pressure and the situation the best on the day.

One thing is for sure – it is a game nobody can afford to miss.

ICC Reacts To ‘Fictional’ Claims Of Corruption

ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat has been moved to react to a news story published in the Times of India alleging incidents of corruption in the ICC Cricket World Cup match between Australia and Zimbabwe.

While Australian openers Shane Watson and Brad Haddin started their innings slowly in that match, few seasoned cricket viewers and anybody who had been watching much of the tournament, thought anything untoward was going on. Both players were taking their time on a slow pitch against a wily operator in Ray Price and the team were making their first appearance of the tournament.

Most will have reacted as Haddin did to suggestions that his side were under any sort of scrutiny from the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) – by laughing it off as nonsense.

However, the fact that we are still discussing the issue this deep into the tournament, and long since Zimbabwe have returned home, goes to show how seriously any allegations are being taken at the moment.

In a strongly-worded statement, Lorgat said: “An article by Mr Dayal in yesterday’s newspaper made a number of claims about an ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 match between Australia and Zimbabwe that can only be described as fictional.

“We do not comment on the activities of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) and for good reason. However, after several misleading and downright false stories appearing in recent weeks it is time for us to show our displeasure and expose those responsible for affecting the integrity of the media.

“It is also patently false of the reporter to claim that the ICC ever suggested to it that the match was corrupted. The ICC confirms that, in terms of its policy, at no stage did anyone from the ICC speak to the journalist on this topic.”

It is unusual for the ICC to so much as pass comment on such speculation and articles but it does show how important they feel it is to prove that the game is as clean as they can possibly make it.

The last thing this World Cup – which to be fair has produced some great entertainment – needs is any hint of corruption or wrongdoing, particularly in the wake of Pakistan players Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif all being banned following spot-fixing late last year.

And that is why the ICC has felt it important to condemn what it calls such ‘wild claims’ of corruption in order to protect the integrity of cricket.

What Do You Make Of Pakistan?

Mercurial. Pathetic. Inconsistent. Just some of the adjectives being used to describe Pakistan’s performance at the Cricket World Cup. And that’s just from a few posts on our forum.

Particularly galling for Pakistan fans was the way in which they succumbed to a 110-run defeat at the hands of New Zealand, which followed a win over Canada and an impressive 11-run success against Sri Lanka.

Ross Taylor played a blinder, smashing 131 not out in 124 balls but he had been gifted two birthday presents when wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal dropped him twice when he had yet to reach double figures.

At the highest level, teams cannot afford to carry players whose skill in one discipline is not up to scratch and increasingly, Akmal’s glovework is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Pakistan have, in the last year used five wicket-keepers – Kamran, his brothers Umar and Adnan as well as Zulqarnain Haider and Sarfraz Ahmed, but for the moment, Kamran appears to be the man in favour, if not the man in form.

If he was performing with the bat then he might be forgiven a few fumbles but, like Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad at the top of the order, is having a bad tournament.

There are only so many times that experienced hands Misbah-ul-Haq and Younus Khan can get their side out of trouble.

The role of Abdul Razzaq in the side has also been questioned in some quarters. Not seen as quick enough to open the bowling, and nor, if Taylor’s assault is anything to go by, an option at the end of an innings, is he wasted at number eight in the order?

He was the only player who showed much resilience with the bat against New Zealand although Pakistan will point to innings he has played against England and South Africa in recent memory where coming in low down he turned matches around in style.

That can’t happen every game and although captain Shahid Afridi has been impressive with the ball, he too is struggling with the bat. Might he too benefit from moving down the order.

Perhaps a solution might be to shift Abdul Razzaq up the order to number three, replacing one of the misfiring openers – probably Shahzad given that Hafeez is a handy off-spin option – and bring in another bowler?

We must not forget that is still a team in transition, following the loss of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir to suspension and the non-selection of Mohammad Yousuf, but, as seems so often to be the case with Pakistan, there are more questions than answers following their latest performance.

Do you have any answers? Will they confound their critics by bouncing back to even go as far as the final? Or will they run out of luck and crash out at the quarter-final stage?

A Topsy-Turvy Cricket World Cup Week

It’s been a topsy-turvy few days at the Cricket World Cup 2011. We’ve seen Ireland topple England to register the tournament’s first upset, Canada push Pakistan hard before the West Indies dismissed Bangladesh for just 58 in a match that we expected to be a lot closer.

Bangladesh’s fans partied after their own victory against Ireland as if they had won the World Cup but their mood changed following the West Indies match and reports emerged that they had thrown stones at the West Indies team bus, breaking a window.

They thought they were attacking their countrymen, so lauded a few days earlier for a hard-fought 27-run win against a team that would go on and down England in fine style.

Kevin O’Brien’s 50-ball century and innings of 113 in 63 balls will live long in the memory of all who saw it as he helped his side recover from a precarious position of 111 for five chasing 328 to see his team over line with balls to spare.

He may never play as well again, but he helped Ireland write their own piece of World Cup history with the highest run chase ever achieved.

England, who are chasing an unlikely hat-trick of Ashes, ICC World Twenty20 and World Cup success, have some serious questions to answer having conceded, on average, more than 300 runs in each of their matches so far.

They were almost turned over by the Netherlands, escaped with a tie against an Indian side that has similar bowling issues and finally embarrassed by Ireland, who were completely deserving victors and good value for their victory.

Ireland’s win did the campaign to keep the Associate and Affiliate nations out of the World Cup no favours either. However, with the skills they showed in Bangalore, don’t rule out Ireland making big impacts in future ICC World Twenty20 events.

Following the excitement of the England-Ireland game, we unfortunately had to sit through some one-sided games – New Zealand thumping Zimbabwe and South Africa hammering the Netherlands but a plucky Canada showed plenty of grit and determination to bowl them out for 184.

They were therefore very much in the game but their hopes were extinguished by another fine performance in the field – led by the (other) man-of-the-moment Shahid Afridi, who took his second five-wicket haul.

Finally, if Bangladesh’s disappointing loss at the hands of the West Indies proved anything, it is that even a match between two Test-playing nations can end up being dreadfully one-sided.

That is the beauty of sport – the underdog will have its day but on others, evenly-match teams can produce games that don’t live up to their billing.

Back in August, New Zealand beat India by 200 runs in a One-Day International. Was anyone then claiming that India shouldn’t be playing ODI cricket?

World Cup 2011 Hat-Tricks And Batting Feats

There have been only seven instances of a bowler taking a World Cup hat-trick, but two of those came within 24 hours of each other when quick men Kemar Roach and Lasith Malinga both achieved the feat in Delhi and Colombo respectively.

West Indian Roach took six for 27, ending his side’s game against the Netherlands with three in three while Sri Lankan Malinga then returned six for 38 to hustle out Kenya’s lower order with a series of deliveries that would have tested any batting line-up, let alone the beleaguered African side’s.

Remarkably, Malinga’s feat means he has now taken two World Cup hat-tricks – prior to Roach he was the previous man to take a hat-trick when he memorably knocked over four South Africans in four balls in Guyana in 2007. On that occasion, just as against Kenya, the hat-trick was spread over separate overs but unlike in Colombo, Sri Lanka still couldn’t quite force victory in Guyana with Robin Peterson hitting the winning runs.

In his joy at getting South Africa out of a tight spot, his celebrations included him hitting the stumps with his bat, an action repeated by Tim Bresnan – but for different reasons after he was dismissed – for England against India. He had bowled beautifully earlier in the day, taking the tournament’s second five-wicket haul (Shahid Afridi having managed the first).

He then slipped from second to fourth on the list of best bowling analyses with Roach and Malinga cottoning on to the blueprint of how to bowl fast and take wickets on unresponsive, slow subcontinental wickets. They bowled straight and full and got stunning rewards and it will be fascinating to see whether other bowlers will now follow suit.

The likes of James Anderson and Dale Steyn, who traditionally rely on movement through the air and off the pitch, for example, will have to mix things up and change their lengths if they are to succeed.

And one final point – Jonathan Trott has just equalled the record of Kevin Pietersen and Sir Vivian Richards in needing just 21 innings to reach 1000 One-Day International runs. His international record is outstanding and, just like Michael Hussey, Graeme Swann and Andy McKay, he is further proof that sometimes, taking your international bow once you know your own game inside out is the best way to go.

There will always be exceptions to that particular ‘rule’ – Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Clarke and Steven Finn to name just three – but like everything in cricket, it’s about finding the right balance.

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.

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.