Sunday, 8 February 2015

Cricket WC 2015 -- Bring it on !!

“And Dhoniii, finishes off in style. With a magnificent hit…”. The words and the video are now etched into the memory of Indian cricket fan forever. India lifted the 2011 World Cup and made a generation of people happy. This generation was always “listening” to 1983 heroics and now they had their own memory of the cricket world cup triumph.

It is hard to realize that 4 years have passed by since Dhoni lifted Kulasekara for a six. 4 years is a whole lot of time in any sphere of life and the same is true with cricket. The world cup venue now is Australia and NZ. IND is no longer the favorites to win this cup. The equations have changed, the teams have changed and now we are heading into an exciting new World Cup.
This blog is an attempt by me to put my views on an ideal team, analyze the different teams and finally to predict the World Cup results.

To start with, we can have some basics first. This world cup is being played in AUS and NZ, two very different countries with regards to pitches and grounds. Australian pitches are a bit favorable to bowling and also the grounds are big. You will not see a team scoring more than 300 so easily. On the other hand, NZ grounds are short and you can see 300 being scored more frequently. The pitches in Australia favor the batsmen who rotate the strike, take singles and twos. NZ can be a friendly wicket for the slam bang batsmen.

The new rules also are important. The restriction on the number of fielders outside the circle makes it very difficult for teams with just 4 genuine bowling options. On the sub-continent pitches, you can scrape through with a part time spinner. The same is not the case on Australian pitches.
I. Ideal Team:
The ideal team for me has the following combination:

4 batsmen + 1 batting allrounder + 1 Wicket keeper + 1 bowling allrounder + 4 bowlers.  Atleast one of the bowlers should be a genuine spin bowler.

The obvious question will be about the batting allrounder and the bowling allrounder.  Let me take examples of ideal allrounders to help explain the point.
An ideal batting allrounder = Shane Watson or Mitchell Marsh

An ideal bowling allrounder = Faulkner or Afridi

This above combination will be the ideal combination. Now, we can understand why Dhoni is pushing Stuart Binny to bowl opening spells in this just concluded tri series.

II. Teams and how they stack up:
While the other sections for each side are self explanatory, I am adding an “X-Factor” section that needs to be explained. I am going to write the “X-factor” players for each team. These are the players whom many people will not expect to play a defining role. But if they do their job, they will increase the chances of their team manifold. So, it is that player who is misfiring/under the radar but if he plays well throughout the tournament, he would be solving a big problem for his side and increasing his team’s chances “dramatically”.

1. Australia: Surely got to be the team to beat !! What makes Australia a powerful team is that they have the ideal mix of specialists and allrounders.

Ideal Team: Warner, Finch, Watson/Mitchel Marsh, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, Faulkner, Maxwell/Doherthy, Hazelwood, Johnson, Starc.

Allrounders: Watson/Marsh are batting allrounders and Faulkner is the bowling allrounder. The advantage for AUS is that Maxwell too is an allrounder and can be a useful spinner too.
Tough choice: Between Maxwell and Doherthy. It should strictly be a better bowler of these 2 players who should play. Australia already has a good batting lineup and they should not compromise on the bowling by going for Maxwell’s aggressive batting. In crucial matches, I think Maxwell’s high risk batting cannot come on top against strong bowling attacks. Infact, I thought Lyon should have been selected as the specialist spinner in the squad.

Sure shot success: Faulkner, Warner, Finch. These players are in great form. Faulkner’s injury is a concern but if he plays he is that ideal bowling all-rounder any team will look for.
X-Factor: For Australia, this is Michael Clarke. Clarke has an average of 45 at strike rate of 80. Just imagine, everytime he walks out he scores 45 on average. Which means he will be involved in a 100 run partnership. That will be the strong platform his lower order needs to launch a ferocious attack.

Clarke and Faulkner – two key players should recover in time for Australia. Then it will be very difficult for other teams to cope up with them.
2. Newzealand: No more dark horses !!  It is amazing to see NZ prepare for the World Cup. Each and every single position was tried by different players. And finally they came out with rationale decisions (except, maybe, for the exclusion of Matt Henry). It was as methodical as it can get.

Ideal Team: Guptill, McCullum, Williamson, Taylor, Eliott, Anderson, Ronchi, Vettori, McClenaghan/Milne, Southee, Boult.
Allrounders: Eliott is the batting allrounder, Anderson is the bowling allrounder

Tough Choice: Looks like none as of now. It is a testament of the fact that they are so thoroughly prepared. However, the 3rd seamer might be the point in question. McClenaghan and Milne are front runners while it is tempting to go for Mills as he offers a bit more with the bat.
Sure Shot Success: NZ has a blue print for batting in ODIs. It is simple – a 100 run partnership in the middle order !! The players who will do that will be Williamson and either Taylor or Eliott.

Williamson is the 2nd best batsmen on this earth right now. He is the Roger Federer of cricket, all class !! He will be surely building partnership after partnership in this world cup.
X-Factor: Got to be Guptill. If Guptill fires, the strength of this mighty side will be doubled !! He seems to be working back to form now.

3. Sri Lanka: SL is a team that has a good composition but they are not playing the right people at the right positions. The opening is still a problem and continues to be the biggest headache.
Ideal Team: Dilshan, Thirimanne, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Chandimal, Mathews, Perrera/Senanayake, Hearth,  Malinga, Kulasekara, Dhammika Prasad.

Allrounders: Mathews is the batting allrounder and Senanayake is the bowling allrounder.
Tough choice: Thisara Perrera or 2 spinners ? When Perrera comes off, it is so good for the balance of the side. But lately, he is switched off. SL’s strength has been spinners and might be better if they stick to that formula even on AUS pitches.

The other tough choice is to decide whether to open with Jayawardene or not. It will make the batting very top heavy and hence they might go with Thirimanne only at the top.
Sure to be success: Sangakkara. No more words to say.

X-Factor: The 2nd opener. Thirimanne playing well will almost book a high score considering the batting depth to come.

4. England: By the time England woke up, they were too late. They are desperately trying to change the team and the approach. They also had success against IND in the tri series, but you cannot read too much into this one series where IND looked jaded and tired.
Ideal Team: Bell, M Ali, Hales/Taylor, Root, Morgan, Butler, Bopara, Tredwell, Broad, Anderson, Finn.

Allrounders: Ali is the batting allrounder and Bopara is the bowling allrounder.

Tough Choice: Bopara and Tredwell. ENG inexplicably keeps dropping Tredwell. And they play Bopara only as a batsman !! This has to surely do with the inexperience of Morgan as a captain that he is playing a specialist batsman at #7.
Also, they need to decide on Hales. He is too explosive to not even get one chance. I see a redundancy in Taylor and Root. Root can do better at what Taylor can do.

Sure to be success: Root.
X-Factor: The captain himself. If Morgan comes good, it will just ensure that ENG gets to competitive scores.

5. South Africa: The dream team of many. The SA public seem to believe that this time they will win the world cup. A very strong team indeed.
Ideal Team: Amla, Decock, Du Plessis, ABD, Miller, JPD, Kyle Abott, Tahir, Philander, Morkel, Steyn.

Allrounders: JP Duminy can be the batting allrounder but they don’t seem to have a good bowling allrounder. South Africa is the only team that can be exempted from the theory of 2 allrounders. The reason is that their specialists are so good that they don’t want to give up #7 slot to someone like Behardien. It may just be that weak link the other teams will try to exploit. Instead they can just go for a good bowler (Abott looks the best option) and ensure that they have 5 super special batsmen and 5 super special bowlers.
Tough choice: As explained, the #7. I suggest going for the best available bowler. 

Sure to be success: ABD, again no more words to say.
X-Factor: JPD. Duminy is the finisher and he is the one batting all rounder in case of an off-day for one of their bowlers. His absence was felt dearly in the recent AUS ODI series.

6. India: The World Champions but not the favorites this time. IND looks confused with the strategy, the line up undecided and key players either injured or out of form.
There are 3 teams that are suffering in ODIs due to the T20 cricket format. INDIA is the first team that suffered due to the T20 cricket. Their bowling department thinks that wickets will come on the boundary lines and not in the slips. And they are fine with giving 7 Runs per over.

But, the one thing with IND is they are tournament players. Bring a tournament and they will switch it ON. So, do not write them off yet.
Ideal Team: Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli, Rahane, Raina, Dhoni, Binny, Jadeja/Ashwin/Axar Patel, B Kumar, I Sharma, Shami/Yadav.

Allrounders: Raina is the batting allrounder and either Jadeja/Ashwin/Axar Patel will be the bowling allrounder. They also have Binny.
Tough choice: The spinner and Stuart Binny. Of the 3 spinners + Binny combination, they have to choose 2. If Dhoni chooses more out of this pool, then the already weak bowling will become toothless.

Sure shot success: Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Watch out for them.
X-Factor: The first one is more of a hope. If Dhawan fires, then IND will be in that position where they will easily get to 300. But Dhawan has technical problems. However, teams like PAK and WI have bowling attacks that can enable Dhawan to work into some form.

The biggest X factor has got to be Bhuvaneswar Kumar. He can swing and when in form he will take wickets. He is the one who can really transform this weak bowling attack into something reasonable.
7. West Indies: Graeme Smith believes WI cannot reach the QFs. This may be true till that point of time but not now. Now, WI will ensure they prove him wrong.

The team was mired into controversies. Dwayne Bravo and Pollard are out of the squad for non-cricketing reasons. Bravo was the captain at that time. And selecting Miller in place of Narine is a bit of surprise when they have other quality spinners like Permaul. And giving Holder the captaincy now is a shocker, they could have easily given it to Ramdin.
The problem with WI is that they need specialists. Their main problem is that they have too many bits and pieces allrounders. It is hard to think about matches that Dwayne Bravo won for WI either with the ball or with the bat. And Pollard’s ODI record doesn’t justify his selection. Dwayne Bravo should have been selected in the side but there is no question in my mind that Andre Russell is now a far better allrounder than Dwayne Bravo.

WI cricket got ruined with T20s in both the departments. Their bowlers think that giving 7 Runs per over is acceptable and their batsmen think that there is no need to play 50 overs !! The surprising part is that the WI batting doesn’t seem to last more than 40-45 overs but they still end up with 200-250 scores !! T20 effect at its best/worst ?
Ideal Team: Gayle, Smith, Darren Bravo, Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Ramdin, Russell, Benn, Holder, Roach, Taylor.

Allrounders: Dwayne Smith is the batting allrounder and Russell is the bowling allrounder. You can consider Gayle and Samuels also as batting allrounders but their spin will be mostly ineffective in AUS/NZ conditions.
Tough Choice: Got to be the exclusion of Sammy. The more tempting option will be to include Sammy for his batting and exclude Taylor. But Taylor is more of a wicket taking bowler and I would really want to see the above team.

Sure shot success: Samuels. He will play well but his tendency to throw his wicket at crucial times is the one to be looked at in this world cup. If he uses more caution, then WI will give fight to other big nations.
X-Factor: Gayle will play devastatingly in a few matches. And everyone is talking about how important Dwayne Bravo is to this team and hence his exclusion. But I think it is the other Bravo (Darren Bravo) who will be the X-factor. WI has too many allrounders and too less of specialists. And WI batsmen generally are averse to singles and twos and concentrate only on boundaries (Raina made this comment in the 2014 T20 world cup for which Sammy gave a pathetic answer and eventually his team lost due to this very trait). Darren Bravo is the best test batsman of WI (even better than Chanderpaul in recent times). So, it should be Bravo who should rotate the strike, stitch the partnerships and place a high price on his wicket. The problem with Darren Bravo is that he is trying too hard (you can see him being dejected everytime he gets out, just check when he got out in his last ODI played – the 4th ODI in IND) and it is not hard to see why he is opting out frequently for personal reasons. It looks like he is taking too much of a stress. Sadly, WICB is in no position to help its players. Worst, I am sure they don’t even realize how important Darren Bravo is.

If Darren Bravo plays well, he and Samuels will become the “Williamson and Taylor” of WI. They will give a platform to the power hitters down the order to play their T20 style of innings. The key for WI is that the No. 3 to No.6 batsmen should play till the 45th over. And the onus is on Darren Bravo and Samuels.
If there is one player who can change the equation of the entire tournament and make WI a real competitive team, it is Darren Bravo.

The other X-factor in this team is Andre Russell. He is going to be the finisher for this side and his bowling is very good as per current WI standards.

8. Pakistan: Truly an unpredictable team. The team selections are highly debatable and latest is that they lost their best bowler Junaid Khan. This is one team that is literally hoping some of its players to come good rather than taking bold/correct decisions.
Also, PAK is the 3rd and final team that suffered due to the T20 cricket. Their batting was always the weaker department but now they think that it is fine not to last 50 overs.

Ideal Team: Shehzad, U Akmal/ Sarfraz Ahmad, Harris Sohail, Misbah, Shoaib Maqsood, Sarfraz Ahmad/U Akmal, Afridi, Irfan, Yasir Ahmad, Ehsan Adil/Sohail Khan, Rahat Ali.
Tough Choice: Too many tough choices to make. Otherwise, the run of the business stuff will not work for them.

First and foremost, the opening slot. Hafeez’s injury may be a blessing in disguise. He is not a good batsman on these kinds of pitches. Add to that his ineffective spin bowling on these pitches is now non-existent.
I would really like to see U Akmal to open. Unpredictability has been PAK’s strength and given their current form they should throw a bold/aggressive surprise to other teams. Get U Akmal/Sarfraz Ahmad to bat at the top. Nasir Jamshed  is currently out of form and it is hard to work into form immediately on the AUS/NZ pitches.

PAK need to let go of Younis Khan if he does not perform. Shoaib Maqsood is a very good talent and he should come in.
Sure to be success: Misbah ? Afridi ? Mohammed Irfan ? Cannot say with confidence but it looks like the 2 veterans will play well. Afridi is one of the best bowling allrounders in the world. But the key is to treat him like that – more of a bowler.

X-Factor: Harris Sohail. He is the batting allrounder PAK can use in this World Cup. They really don’t have many choices.
But the biggest X-factor is Shoaib Maqsood. PAK won the 1992 World Cup and one of the major contributors was a baby faced Inzimam Ul Haq. If ever there is a batsman who can be that bold and play with that freedom and also has that range of shots, it is Shoaib Maqsood in this side. It is a pity that he is not being selected in the playing 11.

 
III. Predictions:
Group A:
This group is the stronger of the two groups. Australia will be tough to beat. New Zealand also is one of the contenders. The real matches that decide the group standings are as below:

AUS vs NZ: A match between two contenders. This match will be an aggressive match with lots of fireworks. The match will be decided in one half, AUS bowling vs NZ batting. As impressive as NZ are at the moment, AUS is a different proposition and NZ’s batting is still their weaker department and still prone to occasional collapses. So, it is here that AUS will win this match and stand at the top of the group.

SL vs ENG: ENG has been playing something close to “decent” cricket now. But SL will get Malinga back and the main factor is that SL is an ICC tournament team. They play well in the big tournaments. The experienced folks in SL know the crucial moments better than the “Still finding its feed” ENG team. SL will win this match.
Group B:
SA vs IND: IND will come into the match on the back of an emotional, stress-relieving, first victory of this tour and that will be against PAK. So, there will be real hopes of doing well against SA based on that victory. However, SA is a very good team at group stages and the SA batting vs IND bowling is a no-contest. It is scary to imagine the kind of score SA will put up if they bat first and IND has literally no chance if they lose the toss and chase in this match. So, SA to win this match.

PAK vs WI: Even though a few folks are predicting WI to get eliminated at the group stage, I don’t think that will happen. If WI is prone to a shocker defeat, then PAK also is equally prone to a shocker defeat. These 2 teams will have to guard themselves against the minnows and treat this particular match a bit more seriously. The loser may well end up playing a QF against AUS.
I think WI will be aggressive in this match and they have a slightly better batting unit compared to PAK. The PAK bowling used to be very good but now it is not the case. Hence WI will win this match.


Standings:

Rank
Group A
 
Rank
Group B
A1
Australia
 
B1
South Africa
A2
New Zealand
 
B2
IND
A3
Sri Lanka
 
B3
West Indies
A4
England
 
B4
Paksitan

 

Quarterfinals:
Australia vs Pakistan: Australia will be a settled side by this time and their confidence would be sky high.  On the other hand, Pakistan will be coming off a weak display in its group. Also, I don’t expect Pakistan to make the correct selection throughout the tournament (the ideal squad that I picked for PAK will be different from the actual squad they pick). Australia will come up with an authoritative performance in all departments to serve a notice to the other teams. AUS to win this QF.

New Zealand vs West Indies: This is one of two quarter finals that have the potential to be close matches. WI is a dangerous team and qualifying for the QF itself is a big victory for them (so unfortunate that nobody thinks WI has a real chance after what all happened in the last 3 months).
NZ is a disciplined team and the NZ bowlers are skillful at dismissing the hit or miss kind of batsmen that WI has. It is here that Darren Bravo and Samuels have to really come good. “If” they come good, then this match will be very close.

However, it is no secret that the NZ batting will be far more superior to the WI bowling. This match will be a high scoring match and eventually the NZ batting depth and the new found discipline and confidence will carry them through to the Semi finals.
Sri Lanka vs IND: This is the 2nd interesting quarter final that I was talking about a little earlier.  This is really the reason why IND needs to win their group match against SA and finish at the top of the table. Sri Lanka, in ICC tournaments, is a difficult team to beat. All matches involving IND depend a lot on the toss because they want to bat first and put pressure on the opposition (seriously, their bowling doesn’t seem to be in a position to put pressure on the opposition).

SL has Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan in the batting department. But it is the SL bowling vs IND batting that decided the recent matches between the two sides (IND chased a big score in 2011 ODI WC final, IND restricted to a low score in the 2014 T20 final). The same will be the case with this match too. The conditions (IND has a little more experience now on these conditions) and also the recent history between the two sides (the recent 5-0 drubbing for SL at the hands of IND) will play a part.
IND will handle the spinners better and the Indian batsmen will win this match even though their bowlers will be under fire from the experienced SL top-heavy batting line-up.

England vs South Africa: So, finally the moment of truth comes for South Africa. Their knock-out syndrome has to end somewhere and ENG is the best chance to do that. South Africa will come out all guns blazing against England. I expect SA players to take this match more seriously and personally too. Their batting will click and a cool Hashim Amla will help to calm the nerves. Expect a big SA score if they bat first and SA to win this match.

Semi-Finals:
Now, the tough part for predictions.

Semi final 1: IND vs AUS: Once again, an India vs AUS contest !! But this time, it has far more meaning and impact. This match will really be a test of character for IND.
Winning the toss is crucial for IND. But, either batting first or batting second, the AUS batting line-up simply seems to have cracked the code with the Indian bowling line-up. IND would be jaded and tired by this time.

This contest will have any semblance of a close match only if IND bat first and put up a big score. But there are too many “ifs” here and even though all such conditions come good in India’s favor, AUS is just too tough to crack for IND and the recent dominance will help them.
My heart says India but my mind says AUS. I am sure this is the case with other folks also, AUS is just so obviously a better team in those conditions compared to India. I will be the happiest person if this prediction comes false.

Semi final 2 SA vs NZ: This match will be a dream semi-final. South Africa and New Zealand have a history (the 2011 WC QF which turned out to be a war of words). These 2 sides are well balanced. NZ has the allround strength while SA has the specialists that can hit centuries at will or take 4-5 wickets on a routine basis.
This match will be a fiercely contested match and the X-factors will come into play here. Guptill cannot be a walking wicket to the SA pacers and if SA get an early wicket then NZ will just play catch up all the time.

This match has to be analysed in two contests:
NZ bowling vs SA batting: This will be an even contest. At the end of it, SA will get to a good score but one that will be chaseable on the NZ grounds.

NZ batting vs SA bowling: As I said earlier, NZ batting is still prone to the occasional collapses. Against a very good SA bowling attack, with Steyn and Co playing in one of the most important matches of their career and also having just conquered the “knock out syndrome”, SA will be steaming in with the ball. NZ batting will be marginally losing this bout to the SA bowling.
If not IND, I want either NZ or SA to win this WC. And for this match, my heart says NZ but the mind says SA.


Final:
Final AUS vs SA: The final that a lot of neutral fans will be hoping for at the start of the tournament.

This match is really more a test for the strength of the mind and character. Both the teams have the skills of the highest quality. SA has the best bowling attack and a batting unit that churns out centuries at will. AUS will play as a team and they will try to intimidate. Do not be surprised if AUS comes out to this match with some on-field verbal strategies.
The bowling unit of SA is so intimidating for any team. Steyn, Morkel and Philander make a hostile pace attack for any opposition. But historically, AUS always wanted to target the opposition’s main players. And they will try to do it in this match also. The good thing for AUS is that they have the skills necessary to do that and the proof that Australian sides of the past have done that (remember 2007 WC super six match ? Mathew Hayden, in a premeditated attack, took out Pollock).

This is the match that ABD will have to play well. He is the one player who can absorb the pressure. And when in the right frame of mind, he is the No. 1 batsman in the world. However,  the most important observation for this match will be a specialists team vs Allrounders team. South Africa believe more in specialists and Australia has more of the allrounders. It is a match between teams of different psychology, team composition and think tank.
In this match, the finishing skills of JP Duminy will be evaluated by the Australian bowlers. Also, Australia will devise strategies to take out the potent SA attack. If SA chose a weak No. 7, then that player will surely be exploited by Australia.

Ultimately, I think I have to use the same sentence for the third time. My heart says SA but the mind says AUS.
AUS is just too good to beat when they are on a roll and from November (when the home series against SA started) they are on a bit of a roll. Unless ABD plays really well and others support him, I don’t think SA will overcome an Australian juggernaut. For that matter, South Africa will run Australia the closest in the entire world cup and this final will be remembered as a classic. And I think, for once South Africa will leave a tournament with 2 changes in the result – (1) they go far and deep into the knock out stages (2) When they lose, it will be to a team that is playing some very very good cricket and not because of their own deeds and the “c” word.

 

2 comments:

aizaz said...

you seem to find some time now, a long detailed blog :)

Manoj said...

If not IND, I want either NZ or SA to win this WC.