Deepanjan Datta

Aug 212015

On a crucial third day, India pursued more wickets with their discipline while Sri Lanka looked to persevere and whittle the lead.

Match-Report (Day 3): Sri Lanka v India, P Sara Oval, August 21, 2015

Ishant Sharma was on the money immediately, troubling Thirimanne with movement and bounce off length. Mathews responded with some cracking shots off his own. Amit Mishra got some revs and Ashwin duly got Thirimanne to play edgily. However, with Mathews driving the intent, both batsmen were far more willing to rotate the strike and not allow any bowler to settle into a rhythm. The result was a strong stand which yielded no opening and took Sri Lanka past 200. Soon, both men got to their respective half-centuries and thwarted India with their century stand.

Post lunch, Angelo Mathews came out with punishment on his mind. With the partnership and confidence on swell, he banished Ishant Sharma inexplicable 'round the wicket' strategy with a hattrick of fours, all wristed away to on-side fence. It prompted the bowler to switch, just as well, for he soon delivered the breakthrough with the wicket of Thirimanne before the showers halted play. While Yadav continued to be inconsistent - often straying on to the pads, Ishant Sharma persisted with nip-backers in the channel. It was his accurate bouncers which shook Chandimal up (clanging his helmet first-ball) and eventually a fuller one had him edging behind.

Angelo Mathews by now was farming strike. Anything on middle and leg were dispatched with almost muscle-memory of wristy flicks, spin was smothered or swept with conviction. After a few nervy moments in his 90s, he brought up his sixth test ton, a rather valuable one, with a reverse-sweep. However the moment of the day arrived an over later when Stuart Binny, finally had his name in the Test Wickets tally. Having seen Dhoni not go for an edge in his Lord's debut, and missed his chance yesterday with a no-ball, he was able to laugh and inquire about an overstep in a rare moment of self-deprecating candor.

Mishra picked up his 50th test wicket to get rid of Dhammika Prasad soon after, before bamboozling Mubarak with a mix of flight and drift to to beat his forward defense. Ashwin took out Herath and India had a rare moment of polishing off the tail quickly enough.

Prasad wasn't done with his work though, and began with his familiar mix of bustling fast-medium allied with incoming movement. K L Rahul, fresh from his first-innings century failed to cover the movement and was bowled early in the piece. However Rahane and Vijay buckled down, negating some threatening-but-not-unplayable bowling on a decent pitch to eke out a patient 67 run stand. India would need to stretch their lead to at least another 150 runs to have any semblance of control over Sri Lanka who'd bat last.

Sri Lanka  306(Mathews 102,Mishra 4/43) vs India 393

Player(s) of the Day: Angelo Mathews (SL), Amit Mishra (IND)

Disappointment(s) of the Day: Jehan Mubarak (SL), K L Rahul (IND)

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Aug 212015
Sri Lanka v India (Day 3): Persistent India gain 87-run lead despite Mathews ton!

On a crucial third day, India pursued more wickets with their discipline while Sri Lanka looked to persevere and whittle the lead.

Match-Report (Day 3): Sri Lanka v India, P Sara Oval, August 21, 2015

Ishant Sharma was on the money immediately, troubling Thirimanne with movement and bounce off length. Mathews responded with some cracking shots off his own. Amit Mishra got some revs and Ashwin duly got Thirimanne to play edgily. However, with Mathews driving the intent, both batsmen were far more willing to rotate the strike and not allow any bowler to settle into a rhythm. The result was a strong stand which yielded no opening and took Sri Lanka past 200. Soon, both men got to their respective half-centuries and thwarted India with their century stand.

Post lunch, Angelo Mathews came out with punishment on his mind. With the partnership and confidence on swell, he punished Ishant Sharma inexplicable ’round the wicket’ strategy with a hattrick of fours, all wristed away to on-side fence. It prompted the bowler to switch, just as well, for he soon delivered the breakthrough with the wicket of Thirimanne before the showers halted play. While Yadav continued to be inconsistent – often straying on to the pads, Ishant Sharma persisted with nip-backers in the channel. It was his accurate bouncers which shook Chandimal up (clanging his helmet first-ball) and eventually a fuller one had him edging behind.

Angelo Mathews by now was farming strike. Anything on middle and leg were dispatched with almost muscle-memory of wristy flicks, spin was smothered or swept with conviction. After a few nervy moments in his 90s, he brought up his sixth test ton, a rather valuable one, with a reverse-sweep. However the moment of the day arrived an over later when Stuart Binny, finally had his name in the Test Wickets tally. Having seen Dhoni not go for an edge in his Lord’s debut, and missed his chance yesterday with a no-ball, he was able to laugh and inquire about an overstep in a rare moment of self-deprecating candour. Mishra picked up his 50th test wicket to get rid of Dhammika Prasad soon after.

Sri Lanka  298/7 vs India 393

Player(s) of the Day: Angelo Mathews (SL)

Disappointment(s) of the Day: TBD

Aug 202015
Sri Lanka v India (Day 2): Teams finish even on tough day. Sri Lanka 140/3

India resumed batting on a pitch which was gradually getting better for batting. That wasn’t good news for a side which had lost 6 wickets, nor had really solid bowling stocks.

Match-Report (Day 2): Sri Lanka v India, P Sara Oval, August 20, 2015

The late wicket of Rohit Sharma, who played his most significant knock in the island – meant India were neither in a particularly strong position, nor a position which their bowlers can defend well. K L Rahul would learn, that getting to three figures is often not the end, but a point to mark your guard afresh to really nail the advantage. But it was Stuart Binny’s ‘cat-on-the-hot-tin-roof’ stay which truly belied India’s comfort with the five-bowler strategy, with an inability to put up a solid number six. 

Sri Lanka began well, yet again snaring an early wicket of Ashwin, skipper Mathews providing his second important inroad. India would know, on an increasingly flattening wicket, anything less than 400 would be easy pickings. Amit Mishra and Wriddhiman Saha survived a testing spell from Prasad and Mathews, who seamed the new ball about, induced edges, but either they were over-ruled by third umpires as not clean enough, or not given out. Mishra proceeded to club a few handy boundaries (including an audacious reverse-sweep against Kaushal). Youngster Dushmantha Chameera regularly clocked 85-90mph, and finally induced a tentative poke from Amit Mishra. It ended a pesky 46-run stand.

While Sri Lanka kept chipping away, Saha scored yet another vital half-century, punctuating solid defense and sharp running with occasional boundary. It carried India to 386/8 at lunch. Post-lunch, it took a mere two overs for Rangana Herath to polish off India for 393.

Umesh Yadav, drafted in place of Varun Aaron, took one ball to strike as he bent the ball back into Karunaratne’s pads, rapping him in front. Despite a good first spell from both Yadav and Ishant, Kaushal Silva and Sangakkara scored at a fair clip, even if not always through convincing shots. Stuart Binny at first change got his dibbly-dobblies to catch Silva’s edge, but a front-foot overstep prolonged his wait for maiden test wicket. The combination of Ashwin and Rahane’s quicksilver slip reflexes got rid of Sangakkara yet again after he’d got a start. Silva continued to mix some excellent drives with edgy batting until he threw it all away against the discipline of Mishra. That late wicket helped both teams finish even on a tough day of Test cricket.

Sri Lanka  140/3 vs India 393 (Rahul 108, Rohit 79, Herath 4/81)

Player(s) of the Day: Wriddhiman Saha (IND) , Kaushal Silva (SL)

Disappointment(s) of the Day: Dimuth Karunaratne (SL)

Aug 142015
Sri Lanka v India (Day 4) LIVE: Herath six leaves India tottering! 98/8

Indian batting imploded spectacularly against some accurate, but hardly threatening spin. Rangana Herath and Tharindu Kaushal stifled them with their discipline before the variable bounce and indecision did them in.

Match-Report (Day 4): Sri Lanka v India, Galle, August 12, 2015

India resumed their fight to win the Galle test after an inspired ton from Chandimalabetted by useful middle-order resistance from Mubarak and Thirimanne and some howlers from both umpires allowed the hosts to reverse a big lead and pose a 176 run target. Ominously, no team has ever  chased a target of over 100 in fourth innings at Galle, and the pitch is a turner pretty much from day one. Rangana Herath would be the threat-in-chief for a side which has a soft underbelly and plenty of inexperience, and has already picked up a wicket.

Ishant Sharma provided some dogged resistance, nearly a third of India’s run-tally and was dropped early before Herath trapped him LBW before threading Rohit Sharma’s defenses to castle him. It brought into sharp focus, yet again, that Pujara at one-drop might’ve added a different solidity. Nuwan Pradeep at the other end cranked up some good pace and discipline to keep Dhawan stagnant, though not before he received an official warning for stepping on danger area. The big fish was netted in by the mercurial Tharindu Kaushal, courtesy some fine short-leg catching. Kohli, who was India’s best hope to inject some momentum, fell early and the visitors were beginning to regret their five-bowler strategy.

By now, the scoring had completely stagnated, allowing Angelo Mathews to crowd the batsmen with close-in fielders and mount the pressure. Dhawan and Saha perished in search of the “release shots” and India imploded spectacularly to 65/6. Ajinkya Rahane applied himself admirably, displaying amply that the pitch had variable bounce, but was far from unplayable. Herath however kept chipping away at wickets at the other end, deflating any hopes of lower order resistance from R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh.

Sri Lanka 183 and 367 (Chandimal 162, Ashwin 4/114) vs India 375 and 98/8 (Rahane 36*, Herath 6/42)

Player(s) of the Day: Rangana Herath, SL

Disappointment(s) of the Day: Rohit Sharma, IND

Aug 122015
Sri Lanka v India (Day 1): Ashwin six-for puts India ahead.

R Ashwin’s eleventh five-for in test cricket was the quickest of his career, and it put the visitors in pole position against an unsettled Sri Lankan side. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli built on it with an unbroken 100-run stand.

Match-Report (Day 1): Sri Lanka v India, Harare, August 12, 2015

On a dryer than usual Galle pitch, almost all experts predicted early turn, dominance of spinners and recommended batting first. It must all be doubly vexing then, for skipper Angelo Mathews who waged a lone battle as the Indian bowlers picked his top-order apart and erased any advantage of winning the toss.

The Indians took field with three-pronged spin attack of Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and returning Amit Mishra. But it was the pacers who softened up the top-order. Ishant Sharma was the more impressive one, sticking to his impressive line, allowing his natural inward movement to attack the stumps and rarely allowing a scoring shot. Despite a customary no-ball, he extracted movement off the seam to keep the openers guessing. The wicket came off his other weapon – the awkward bounce from just short of length – allied to his incoming angle which had Karunaratne fending to Rahane. His excellent first spell read 7-3-7-1. Aaron had the disappointment of seeing a sitter dropped, when Silva attempted consecutive boundaries by cutting through backward point and the simple edge was shelled by Dhawan. However, a pacier bouncer took off and Dhawan made up with a better catch. DRS might’ve made it interesting though, as the ball seemed closer to arm guard than bat handle.

At 16/2 it was the familiar figure of Sangakkara out to batten down the hatches. Kohli introduced Ashwin, and of his third ball an outstanding piece of reflex catch did it for the great man. Sangakkara merely pushed a defensive shot, with no bat-pad impact to soften the pace. K L Rahul at short leg didn’t look away, didn’t flinch and merely stuck his hand out in the general direction of the ball. The ball stuck in his fingertips! 27/3 and their talisman back, the gains from the toss were waning already. Angelo Mathews calmed a few nerves by dancing down to spinners Mishra and Ashwin, and taking the hosts past 50 before Ashwin struck again – this time spinning away from left-hander Thirimanne and Rahane taking a fine, low slip take. Jehan Mubarak was clueless and his seven-ball torture was over before he could bother the scorers. Ashwin meanwhile, was relishing bowling to the left-handers.

Post lunch Ishant began another good spell, and it was his turn at seeing a sitter dropped. A straighforward edge off Chandimal was shelled by Saha and it began a period of consolidation as both men punished the indifferent bowling that followed. Harbhajan Singh was luckless, if a bit impatient. Ishant and Aaron flagged in the humid afternoon. Just as Mathews settled down with a six, bringing up his fifty, Rohit Sharma pulled off a stunner at short-leg to send him back. Mathews danced down to Ashwin, and went through with an attempted loft over midwicket even as he was beaten in flight. The ball brushed his pad off the inside edge of the bat and was nearly behind Rohit, when he leapt up and parried it before turning and diving forward to claim it. 

Chandimal proceeded to flay four fours off an Aaron over – plenty of width, half-volleys and stingless short ones aiding his cause. But Ashwin kept collecting his wickets, this time rapping Dhammika Prasad plumb in front. It was a mere 63 deliveries all told for his haul. The end came swiftly as Mishra took two-in-two – inducing an edge off Chandimal and threading Tharindu Kaushal’s defense with a googly. 

Indian batsmen began with more intent, but Dhammika Prasad sent back Rahul early for 7. Rohit Sharma’s lean run in the island continued when Angelo Mathews came on as first change, and delivered an indipper to trap his LBW. At 28/2, you could sense another wicket might have exposed the middle order firmly but Virat Kohli’s solidity and Shikhar Dhawan’s adventurous shot-making shut the door. The pair stayed together for an unbroken 100 run stand to end the day 55 behind, with eight wickets in hand. Rangana Herath, for all his experience, failed to create enough doubts or opportunities and it could yet prove to be the difference considering Ashwin’s success. 

Sri Lanka 183 (Mathews 64, Chandimal 59, Ashwin 6/46) vs India 128/2 (Dhawan 53*, Mathews 1/12)

Player(s) of the Day: R Ashwin (IND)

Disappointment(s) of the Day: Kumar Sangakkara, Jehan Mubarak (SL)

Aug 062015
60 all out! Australia mugged in Broad daylight! Root ton piles on agony.

Stuart Broad delivered one of the greatest Ashes bowling spells to consign Australia to a humiliating 60 all out. Joe Root then piled on further agony with a boundary-laden century.

Match-Report (4th Investec Test Match, The Ashes): England vs Australia at Nottingham, Aug 06, 2015

If the alternating win-loss patterns of England had any concerns that the ‘bad’ England would turn up in Trent Bridge, they were banished, in part at least, with one of the most emphatic bowling displays in the history of The Ashes. The good news was, it came from quarters where England might have least expected, but wanted the most from.

Stuart Broad, once the contender for leading all-rounder in test cricket, has lost much of his batting vim since copping a Varun Aaron bouncer en route a bloodied nose. So much so that Moeen Ali is the designated lower-order enforcer now. But Broad’s bowling was more of a concern as his returns (5 wickets in Cardiff, 4 in Lord’s, 3 in Birmingham) dwindled even as Anderson, Finn and Mark Wood each made their mark. But Trent Bridge offers something to fuller lengths, and Broad’s late, subtle swing combined to devastating effect as he remembered the lesson in time.

Broad began as he meant to go. On 299 Test wickets, it took him a mere three deliveries to get into 300 club. A pitch perfect delivery which came in with the angle and nipped away off seam, took out Chris Rogers, perhaps the one batsman Australia had capable of ‘knuckling down’. Smith has been in the sort of form which makes you feel indestructible. He showed as much with a four through point second ball. But the caveat is, no matter your form, you still build each inning afresh and Smith, over-eager to assert himself was squared up by the next one which had his edge fly to third slip. Over one, 10/2. Warner didn’t trouble the scorers, as a nip-backer from Wood at 140k+ was welcomed with delirious cheers from the slip-cordon. 

Michael Clarke might’ve hoped for a better situation to come out to, when he demoted himself to No 5. Tenth delivery of the match and the crowd already was short of breath. Another full ball nearly had Clarke’s number as he edged to fine-leg. Broad, meanwhile, was relentlessly pounding the full-length, again bringing in a delivery to Marsh, and seaming away to catch his edge en route Bell’s safe hands. The champagne moment came in the next over. First ball, on the off-stump, full. Voges pushed hard and Ben Stokes at fifth slip plucked it out while still airborne, the ball past him. 21/5 and Broad had figures of 3-2-6-4. His fiver came soon after, when Clarke – showing no gumption for battling the conditions – threw his hands impatiently at a wide offering and duly edged to Cook at first slip. It looked ugly, but importantly it looked like the last semblance of patience and fight had gone out of Australia.

Steven Finn beat Nevill for pace. 33/7. Johnson kicked away a couple of boundaries, while extras continued to add more weight when the swing went awry. But Broad was willing to concede a few byes as a trade-off. It was worthwhile, for he had his second two-wicket over when both Starc and Johnson nicked to Root at third slip off that subtle nipping away delivery on the channel. Seven in seven, and finally Australia found some patience in batting order in form of Lyon and Hazlewood but Broad wrapped it up with his eigth. It took him all of 100 minutes to do so. Fittingly, he also drew level with one of England’s finest ever – Fred Trueman and surpassed McGrath’s 8-38 in Lord’s.

England’s response was fittingly with a spring in step. Lyth crunched couple of delicious boundaries while Cook timed some of his own sweetly to safely negotiate the first ten overs. Mitchell Starc broke through with the wicket of Lyth and Bell in consecutive overs but Joe Root purred to (yet another) half-century in 67 balls. Johnson and Hazlewood kept feeding him width and Root happily unfurled a variety of cuts, late-cuts and drives to double Australia’s score and beyond. Cook was beaten for pace by Starc at the stroke of tea but Bairstow and Root clicked another gear. A desperate Clarke brought on the off-beat option of Warner’s bowling. By the time Root caressed yet another four to bring up his third Ashes ton, he had outscored Australia on boundaries alone.

Hazlewood broke the 173 run stand with a cross-seamer to account for Bairstow, but the pair had scored at over five-an-over to take the game well and truly away from the visitors.

Australia 60 (Johnson 13, Broad 8/15) vs England  274/4 (Root 124*, Starc 3/73)  

Player(s) of the Day: Stuart Broad, England

Disappointment(s) of the Day: Australian batsmen(!)

Apr 082015
IPL 2015 (KKR v MI): All-round KKR stroll to easy win!

Defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders began with a facile win against a strong Mumbai Indians outfit, thanks to clinical batting and tight bowling for majority of their outing.

Match-Report (IPL 2015): Kolkata Knight Riders vs Mumbai Indians at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, April 08, 2015

KKR are one of the most balanced sides on paper despite heavy reliance on their overseas bowlers Narine (coping with a new action), Morkel (who couldn’t quite finish with the World Cup) and Shakib. Mumbai Indians looked to leverage their power hitters Corey Anderson and Aaron Finch (both of whom appeared in the World Cup finals) and Keiron Pollard (with a point to prove after his World Cup squad snub).

Gautam Gambhir won the toss, and first signs of his attacking mindset came to fore, when he promptly sent in Mumbai. Umesh Yadav opened the bowling with an efficient over before Morkel slanted one down the leg and Finch helped it away for the first four. Two balls later the bowler added an extra yard of pace, and this time Finch was hurried on to his leg-side loft, top-edge duly snaffled by Yadav’s safe hands. It was all pretty misleading given what followed. Yadav’s good form deserted him as Rohit Sharma slammed him for a troika of fours next before sending one from Shakib soaring for a six. Aditya Tare was struggling at the other end and his effort to match his skipper only resulted in another lofted shot to Umesh. Rayudu’s stay was brief, undone by steepling bounce extracted by Morkel from good-length to edge behind. 37/3 after six, Mumbai were tottering and Gambhir sensed blood, pressing Sunil Narine into action.

It was Narine’s ‘action’ however, which was decidedly different – delivered with a straighter arm and lacking the bite he usually extracts. Rohit sensed the moment and immediately dispatched him for a four first ball. Morkel finished his spell with excellent figures of 4-1-18-2 and Andre Russell, replacing him, delivered couple of tight overs for a mere six runs. Chawla and Narine didn’t give much away either and Mumbai had just about crawled to 80/3 after 14. Rohit though, was fairly settled by now and Corey Anderson was playing a mature knock which belied his reputation as a lower-order biffer. 

Enter Yadav, and couple of his length balls which might have swung and bounced in Australia – were creamed by Rohit in Eden Gardens’ low bounce pitch. Before the over was done, Rohit had topped off with another four and a six. Pressure told on KKR’s fielding, as Russell dropped Anderson’s simple chance at deep midwicket off Shakib. Shakib was unfortunate again when in the final over Morkel dropped the same batsman. In between Rohit Sharma got a let off from Uthappa, who missed a nick off Narine. Rohit rubbed it in further by hitting the next two balls for a four and a six. By now Anderson was finding his range too, pummeling Shakib’s faster ones with the power of a hammer-thrower for fours. Russell was taken for a six apiece in the 19th over before Shakib went one worse with two sixes and a four in the 20th. Mumbai looted 88 off the last six and Rohit, despite finishing two short of a deserving ton, had carried his team to a strong 168/3 with strong support from Anderson.

Kolkata’s response was typically watchful. Gambhir looked edgy, perhaps mindful of his horror start of three consecutive ducks last season. His first show of intent resulted in a broken bat. The bowler Vinay Kumar even extracted an edge off the last ball, but saw keeper Tare shell it. Uthappa hit a dreamy six off Anderson, timed so well that it merely took a flick to get it over the ropes. Three balls later he poked at one outside off without any intent and walked back – typically showing why he wasn’t picked for the World Cup squad. While Gambhir continued to poke and prod to 7 off 14, Manish Pandey immediately found his range, slog-swwping Anderson and Jasprit Bumrah to keep the asking rate within reach.

The introduction of spin allowed Gambhir’s footwork to dominate the proceedings. Against veteran Harbhajan, he hit a brace of fours in each of his first two overs. Full balls outside off were cover driven, short ones cut to the left of point but deftly placed to the right of sweeper, flighted ones carved inside-out to extra cover and Pandey kept finding a handy six or two. From 38/1 in the powerplay, the pair stepped on to gather 63 from the next five. With 75 required off 54 and 9 wickets in tow, the game looked sewn up, more so when Anderson dropped Pandey off Harbhajan to take the tally to seven drops for the night. Harbhajan however got his man in the next over before dropping Gambhir off his own bowling to finish a dismal night of fielding for both sides.

Out came young Suryakumar Yadav ahead of Yusuf Pathan and immediately set about his task in a hurry. He began with a Viv-Richard-esque plonk across the stumps to murder one over midwicket from outside off. While Gambhir fell to Bumrah, Yadav played a finer version of his pick-up shot against him, again for a six over long-leg. After the time-out Yadav again tonked Bumrah, this time over extra-cover, before repeating the dose with a wristy flick over long-on. It was a surreal sight to see Yadav resting on 33(15) at one point while Yusuf Pathan at 2(6). Pathan soon found his range against Malinga, hitting a four but it was Yadav who got the Eden Gardens screaming with the fifth six of his innings, another whip to midwicket against Malinga. He finished off the chase with a crisp cover drive for a four, his first after having hit five sixes. 

Kolkata’s tight bowling for 14 overs, backed up by nerveless batting from Pandey, Gambhir and Yadav ensured they began defending their crown with little alarm.

Mar 312015
ICC World Cup 2015: Sportpulse Team of the Tournament.

The red mist has settled and Australia yet again justified their ranking and duly overwhelmed all-comers to snap up their fifth World Cup. They batted deep, they looked for wickets and fielded with desperation of a team possessed. New Zealand, despite their final meltdown, were deserving finalists as well. Led by McCullum’s aggression and a well-rounded team, they perhaps lost the final because they took a step back at key moments only once – in the finals. 

There were however, plenty of stellar individual performances, not least from Associate team members, many of whom lapped up their first ( and sadly, perhaps last!) chance to show that they can mix it in with the big boys. We asked our cricket department writers to pick their team of the tournament. This is our take:

  1. Brendon McCullum – (c) (New Zealand) – Brutal and brilliant, Baz took 10 votes out of 14 to easily ace the run for the best man to face the first ball. He scored at scarcely believable strike-rate of 188.50 (the highest among recognized batsmen in the tournament), pipping the outrageous hitters like Glenn Maxwell, A B DeVilliers, Suresh Raina, Chris Gayle (who had one monster innings) and the pair of Davids (Warner and Miller). Leading from the front, Baz ensured targets were whittled rapidly – his particular savagery against England sticks to mind – and backed up the fine work of his bowlers. His average (36.44) and his run-tally is 16th overall, behind Mahmudullah (Bangladesh) or Williams (Zimbabwe). But this was ‘impact’ … full throttle, and Mark Greatbatch must be grinning somewhere in New Zealand. 
  2. Martin Guptill (New Zealand) – Guptill shrugged off indifferent form at the beginning of the tournament, to explode spectacularly in the knockouts. His 237 is a record for New Zealand and he finished as the tournament’s top run-getter. His relatively sedate stroke-play makes him a player for the long-haul. Surprisingly, he also finished as the 4th highest six-hitter, behind Gayle, ABDV and fellow opener McCullum. Shikhar Dhawan, and Dilshan, with two centuries apiece, were also among the top ten run-getters and only other openers in the running.
  3. Kumar Sangakkara – (wk) (Sri Lanka)  – One of the four unanimous picks! At the ripe age of 37, the classy Sri Lankan aged like the finest of wines – reeling off four centuries (a world cup record) and finishing only six short of Guptill in run-tally, despite playing two fewer games. More than the volume, it was the manner. While others summoned swipes and muscular hacks, his smooth drives purred along the turf, making him look like a Picasso among house-painters. He is also the designated wicket-keeper of the team who will sledge the lights out of opponents, and hoodwink a few umps to boot.
  4. Steven Smith (vc) – (Australia) – The vice-captain of the team edged out competition for a spot which split the votes remarkably. He began the tournament, perhaps a touch too low at #5, but soon came into his own at #3, showing off his new-found consistency and maturity. Resolute in defense, steadily accelerating in the middle overs, and explosive at the end- he is the perfect ODI bat if the attacking openers fail, or if the team needs to lay a solid platform for the pyrotechnics to follow. David Miller, Corey Anderson and Clarke split a vote apiece, while Misbah and Brendon Taylor got two each. It helps that Smith is also the finest fielder of the lot, capable of turning games with breathtaking catches or run-outs alone. There isn’t one ‘outstanding’ knock which comes to mind, and his S/R of 91 is almost lower than industry-standard. That he’s still the 6th on the run-tally speaks volumes of the value he brings.
  5. A B DeVilliers – (South Africa)  – Another unanimous pick! A B led South Africa to a fearless campaign. While the team didn’t quite nail it to the finals, they were anything but ‘chokers’. DeVilliers encouraged his team to play with freedom, and epitomized it himself with his outrageous hitting which had the entire field on its 360′ compass. The man with ODI cricket’s fastest 50, 100 and 150 to his name was summed up best by team-mate Dale Steyn “It’s like watching the Matrix movie. There’s Neo right there. He doesn’t understand how good he is … ” . The bowlers certainly did.
  6. Glenn Maxwell (Australia) – If that imposing top-order doesn’t get you, the ‘Big Show’ will. Once labeled as ‘hit and miss’, his confidence in his ‘unorthodox’ technique is supreme. So much so, that he successfully reverse-swept pacers first ball, struck at 182 without seemingly any effort, notched up his maiden ODI ton and was leading the run-charts for Australia before the semi-finals! Maxwell gathered 6 outright votes, with four more for the #7 slot, ahead of Corey Anderson’s three, Vettori’s two and one for Faulkner.
  7. James Faulkner (Australia) / Daniel Vettori (New Zealand) –  At seven we have arguably the toughest choice. J P Duminy adds excellent value as a finisher; he also had a hattrick with the ball. Josh Davey of Scotland garnered the only Associate vote, and deservingly so. But splitting the allegiance are Dan Vettori and James Faulkner. Vettori, one of the few players from 90s still active in the circuit, was crucial in adding the middle-overs finesse in New Zealand’s bowling. As the lone spinner he brought all his experience and craft to display. His batting remains a strong second suit – the straight drive off Mitchell Johnson in the finals was as good a shot as any. And then there was one of the moments of the tournament – that catch which made Marlon Samuels look like an old duck. Faulkner on the other hand, is the designated ‘finisher’ of the team. Australia were desperate to get him match-fit, and his canny bowling which broke the back of New Zealand during batting powerplay, showed just why! He is just as handy with the bat, capable of closing out an innings in a flurry of big hits. We will probably rotate them depending on the pitch.
  8. Mitchell Starc (Australia) – Unanimous Pick #3. 8 Games, 22 wickets, average 10.18 (it took until the last game to cost him in double-digits for every wicket!), E/R 3.5 (no other bowler gave away at less than 4 RPO), and a sensational strike-rate of wicket every 17 balls. His spell of 6/28 nearly snatched an improbable victory defending only 152. He showed, the best way to cut runs, is to cut short the innings itself. Pace, bounce and late-swing, he offered it all. In a game unfairly biased towards batsmen, Starc made bowling sexy.
  9. Wahab Riaz (Pakistan) – Rarely has one spell roused an entire tournament like Wahab vs Watson did. Pakistan were the underdogs. Their ‘unpredictability’ is more of a fashionable tag to mask their chronic incompetence with bat and abject fielding which is a throwback to 1980s. But with the ball, Wahab showed why Pakistan can never be ruled out. In a manic, ferociously fast spell which transcended the game itself, he had Watson (and indeed the entire Adelaide) in his thrall. He bowled the fastest ball of the tournament at 155Ks and mostly fought a lone battle (more so, once Irfan broke down). His economy (5.56 RPO) and average (23) are among the worst compared to best bowlers of the tournament. There was also a case of already two left-arm pacemen in the squad, with some votes going for Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Tim Southee. But hey, nobody complains if there’s an all right-arm attack, do they? Wahab adds magic!
  10. Imran Tahir (South Africa) – As the specialist spinner in the squad, Imran Tahir (five votes) just about edges R Ashwin (three votes) of India. Ashwin is a more secure bat, but with the sort of batting this line-up has (add to it, handy runs from Wahab and Starc available too) that doesn’t remain a big factor. What does, is that Tahir stood for everything a good spinner ought to be – his mastery of loop, drift, wrong’uns and googlies was absolute. He flighted balls at will, and always looked for wickets and finished with a fantastic economy of 4.23 to go with 15 wickets (8 games). This one is for the cricket romantics – a South African spinner? of course!
  11. Trent Boult (New Zealand) – It seems a long time ago now, but Boult took a fiver against the formidable South African line-up in warm-up game. It was a sign of things to come. A genuine number eleven, Boult was one half of the finest new-ball pairing in the tournament. He inevitably broke through early, finishing as the joint highest wicket taker of the tournament (22 wickets). His haul was full of top-order batsmen. Bowling on the brisk side of fast-medium he expertly married swing and discipline. His five-for in a win against Australia delivered what Michael Clarke called ‘a kick up our backsides’. You can milk it now – ‘Boult from Blue’. Another one of our unanimous picks.

So bring it on now. An ultra-aggressive skipper; a calm, adaptable vice-captain, fire-and-ice opening pair, classy one-down, outrageous stroke-makers forming the middle order and then four bowlers who offer entire range of pace, swing, bounce, spin – in addition to high-class spin or seam from part-time options. What’s more, we have two international keepers playing as batsmen alone, capable of backing up the first-choice keeper should the need be. A team to beat? You bet!


With inputs from Abdul Muqeet, Ahsan Iftikhar Nagi, Asif AkberBareera Rufi, Emmon Raza, Eshani ShevdeHusain Channiwala, Jamie Ramage, Jordan Shaskey, Praful Sohal, Pratyush Sinha, Waqar Asghar, Waqas ArshadZaki Haider

Oct 162014
'No time for Darrell Hair's nonsense. Who the hell is he?' fumes Harbhajan

Former Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh was in his element while responding to controversial Australian umpire Darrell Hair’s recent allegations.

There has seldom been any love lost between Australia and Harbhajan, who has reserved some of his best on-field performances (including a test hat-trick) and sledges (Monkey-gate) for them. However, the latest comments by the former umpire has riled him. 

Harbhajan has threatened legal action against Darrell Hair if his insinuations that ‘youngsters with suspect action see him as a role model’ continues to harm his reputation .

I have no time for Darrell Hair’s nonsense. Who the hell is he? Is he bigger than the ICC? But if he tries to damage my reputation or belittle my achievements as an international cricketer with another provocative comment, I will be speaking to BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and seek legal action against Hair,”  he fumed. 

He was responding to Hair’s recent comments in an Australian daily where he apparently insists that he ‘said it in the late ’90s that ICC must take action or deal with a generation of chuckers’, adding further that “They try to emulate Harbajan Singh and Saqlain Mushtaq and Murali and that’s the problem“.

The former offie shot back saying What does he mean by role models like Murali, Saqlain or Harbhajan? Did we teach them to bowl with suspect action?

Harbhajan further claims that Hair has always been too headstrong and generic in his assessment. He questions why didn’t Hair challenge the ICC back when he was actively officiating, also citing that Hair had quickly backtracked about his claims to sue ICC in the aftermath of the Oval test forfeiture fiasco.

Just because three for four international bowlers’ action has been found suspect, who gives him (Hair) the right to put everyone in the same bracket. Those who have problems with their action will undergo corrective measures. I have undergone bio-mechanics test at Perth in Australia in 2005 under (Daryl) Foster as well as in England under Fred Titmus in 1999. ICC has all my reports and this former umpire tries to malign my reputation. Just as three/four bowlers are called, he wakes up and makes a random comment. He could not do it with me because he knew there was nothing wrong.

Harbhajan has a formidable record, with 413 Test and 259 ODI wickets for India. He says it has taken him 14 years of hard work to build his reputation. He also added that the biomechanics test, which captures 130 frames per second couldn’t be inferior than Darrell Hair’s ‘naked eye’. 

Oct 132014
Pietersen says Dravid the 'genuine guru' of batting; wants to 'hug' Strauss! Stewart backs him on Twitter parody!

Kevin Pietersen’s box office autobiography saga rolls on, driving more headlines.

One of the most anticipated, most publicly scathing and outspoken cricket literatures of our times, it has generated reams of debate on print and electronic media off late. While both parties, Pietersen and ECB in general (and different players and coaches, in particular) haven’t emerged with much credit – the book continues to spawn controversies and severely partisan arguments.

As more incidents continue to ask for deeper exploration of England’s cricketing culture, not just in the dressing room of the national squad but also their administration – newer revelations might make them even more uneasy. Former England skipper Alec Stewart backs KP’s version of the facts that Richard Bailey, the owner of parody Twitter account @KPgenius used first hand information from England dressing room. Pietersen mentions that Bailey had introduced himself and confessed that England players Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, and Tim Bresnan had access to the parody account. There were several mocking, disparaging comments against the batsman made through the account. 

The account was subsequently shut down as Bailey confessed to ownership but he had repeatedly denied about no England player having direct access to it. He also issued an apology ‘to anyone I know involved with England Cricket who I may have put in an awkward or embarrassing position‘. It was a known fact that Stuart Broad was a close friend of his, as were a few other squad members – but all of them, including Swann and Bresnan had assured ECB that they weren’t involved.

Bailey repeated his denial earlier this week, but Stewart insists that is untrue and that he had been told a different version two years ago.

The reason why I’m prepared to talk about this is because Bailey said he didn’t say anything to me, therefore doubting my integrity and I won’t have that,” said Stewart. The ECB back then had issued a media statement saying “a thorough and robust investigation” was conducted by speaking to all three players. It remains a matter of fresh conjecture now, how thoroughly they investigated Stewart’s tip-off.

Pietersen was dropped from England team two years ago for exchanging disparaging texts about his captain Andrew Strauss with South African opponents. Needless to say, ECB puts itself up for some embarrassment, if evidences point to a campaign to belittle KP from inside the England dressing room. Pietersen meanwhile insists that he regrets ruining the last lap of Strauss’s career and wishes to ‘hug’ his former skipper and put things behind him.

We were close, my wife and his wife, Ruth were friends .. ‘ and that he played a part in hastening his retirement rankles him.

It’s worth noting that Strauss has been one of the neutral voices since controversy erupted around Pietersen’s autobiography just saying that England cricket needs to move forward and this ‘tit for tat’ is sad. He however, was overheard on Sky commentary earlier this summer making a crude comment on Pietersen, subsequently forced to apologize

I apologise unreservedly, especially to Kevin Pietersen. I am mortified and profusely sorry.’

One person to emerge with more credit and further shine to his universally upright persona (both on and off the field) is Indian batting bulwark Rahul Dravid. Dravid, one of the best test bats of all time, was described by Pietersen as a ‘batting guru’, who helped him cope with spin bowling. During his struggles at various times against spin, especially left-arm spin – Dravid had emailed him asking him to trust his instincts about using his feet, and committing fully when stepping down the wicket.

KP, you are a really good player, you need to watch the ball and trust yourself… Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t play spin, I have seen you and you can!

Pietersen for his part, pays back rich tributes.

Our conversations and emails were a private masterclass from a genuine guru. Rahul improved my cricket and helped me develop the way I think about the game. His generosity will stay with me always.’

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