Friday, 25 February 2011

New Zealand look to bring some relief

New Zealand will go into their massive group game against Australia after spending the week trying to cope with the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake back home. Kiwi skipper Daniel Vettori has expressed his intention of trying to bring some "light relief" to his fellow New Zealanders with a good showing in their World Cup campaign.

"The biggest thing we can do for people is win our next game against Australia. That will bring a little bit of light relief to some people going through a tough time," he said.

The Black Caps will line-up for their second group game this week, taking on fierce rivals Australia looking to pick up their second win of the tournament. The Kiwis can be assured of a much firmer test than they faced in their opening game against Kenya. The African side only managed to rack up 69 in their innings with New Zealand's pace attack taking little time in establishing their superiority in the match, although the ICC cricket world cup betting always suggested they'd win.

Openers Martin Guptill and Brendan McCullum had no issue reaching their target and the game won't have been a fair assessment of what this squad can achieve in this tournament. The Aussie batsmen will be a different proposition and they were given a good run out batting first against Zimbabwe with most of the top order getting time at the crease.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Wish you were here XI

This is an XI from current cricketers who, for various reasons, will not be gracing this World Cup.

Hershelle Gibbs
His autobiography may have been a gripping read, but its vivid depiction of the cliques in the South African dressing room helped end his international career. Which is a great shame, because, even at 36, Gibbs’s panache and audacity at the crease, best illustrated in his 111-ball 175 against Australia, have the capacity to thrill – as does his fielding.

Marcus Trescothick
For a man often described as ‘stand and deliver’ in his style, Trescothick is remarkably nimble on his feet. Of all the examples of his clean striking in the opening overs of ODI innings, perhaps the best was against Glenn McGrath in the Champions Trophy in 2004: Trescothick, happy to charge virtually any quick, drove McGrath for four consecutive boundaries. If he made himself available, there is no doubt Trescothick would have been opening for England: Andrew Strauss’s forays down the wicket look almost apologetic in comparison.

VVS Laxman
Too orthodox for ODIs? Perhaps, but tell Australia, against who he’s scored four centuries at an average of 46. If Hashim Amla can become the top-ranked one-day batsman in the world, it seems strange that there is no place for Laxman in India’s side. His classical style looks incongruous in Twenty20, certainly, but a man with his range of shots and ability to accelerate could be invaluable in ODIs.

Brad Hodge
Despite seven centuries in his past 20 Australian domestic one-day games and a limited overs know-how few batsmen can match, there’s no place for Hodge at the World Cup. Labelled the “hard-luck story of the century” by Matthew Hayden, it’s pretty hard to argue – rumours that he never fitted into the Australian dressing room are one potential explanation.

Owais Shah
Overly intense and a shoddy fielder he may be, but Shah has a six-hitting ability England appear to lack in their middle-order. That much was epitomised by an 89-ball 98, with six maximums, against South Africa in the 2009 Champions Trophy. And his ease against spin helped him average 59 in England’s last one-day series in India. In the absence of Eoin Morgan, could Shah have been England’s finisher?

Zulqarnain Haider
Remembered for fleeing mid-series against South Africa last year, promising to blow the whistle on match-fixers, Haider retired from cricket aged just 24. Those who saw his superbly gritty 88 on Test debut last summer will know he should be in south Asia now, rather than England.

Albie Morkel
The ‘next Klusener’ will not be appearing in the World Cup. For a fifth bowler, he was always too liable to be expensive with the ball. Nevertheless, South Africa may long for him when chasing eight-an-over: Morkel can exploit the batting powerplay like few others, most notably when looting Australia for 40* (off 18) and 40 (off 22) in two match-winning innings down under in 2009.

Mohammad Nabi
Afghanistan’s skipper will rue the change in the format from 2007: if 16 teams were permitted as they were then, he would be appearing in the World Cup. An off-spinning all-rounder who also has a first-class hundred to his name, Nabi is a useful cricketer who, with 13 wickets at 10 in the World Twenty20 qualifiers last year, did more than anyone to secure Afghanistan’s place in that tournament.

Mohammed Amir
Yes, yes, we know why he won’t be playing, and that is right. But there’s no denying the sight of Amir’s mastery of the left-arm craft would have added to the tournament. Facing him under lights is not a prospect any opener would relish.

Simon Jones
The notion of a fit Jones may seem ridiculous, but his performances in the Carribbean Twenty20 competition, including claiming 4-10 in four overs, served as a reminder of his reverse swing mastery of ’05, as well as his oft-ignored subtleties. Still capable of touching 90mph, could he yet play for England again, if used in a manner akin to Australia with Shaun Tait?

Shane Bond
A slight cheat of a selection in that he’s retired, but what a shame it is. His last series – nine wickets at 21 against Australia last year – suggested Bond still possessed a genuine threat at international level. With express pace and canny use of bouncers, yorkers, cutters and slower balls alike Bond, even at 35, would have provided New Zealand’s attack with the cutting edge they are conspicuously lacking.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Strauss – “we’re here to win the World Cup”

England Captain has declared his team’s intentions of making an impact at the World Cup, which begins later this week. England endured a torrid time during their one-day series against sports betting favourites Australia at the tail end of their prolonged winter tour, but Strauss insists his side are capable of competing with the best in the world.England are the last of the teams to arrive at the tournament, which lasts six weeks, and Strauss insists the tournament coming so soon after the long Australian tour won’t have an effect on his side. He said: “We're here to win it and we're excited.”

“The 6-1 defeat by Australia was not ideal, but in some ways we might have benefited from the fact that five or six of our players picked up some injuries and therefore had an opportunity to rest for two or three weeks.”

The Middlesex batsman also believes his team can learn from their Twenty20 counterparts, who are reigning World Twenty20 champions.

"I think the guys took a lot of confidence from winning the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last year." He said.

England have a chequered past in the World Cup since reaching the final in 1991. Under Nasser Hussein and coach Duncan Fletcher they withdrew from a game against Zimbabwe in 2003 for political reasons, a move which eventually cost them as they missed out on qualification from the group stage. In 2007 they also left the competition early after a heavy defeat against South Africa.

Strauss and his side will have to do it the hard way after losing Eoin Morgan for the tournament with a finger injury, while bowler Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad are in a race to be ready in time. Graeme Swann looks to have overcome a knee injury.

England received a boost earlier this week after Kevin Pietersen announced on twitter that it was not his intention to retire after the tournament. Amid reports in the media that this tournament would be his last, the South African-born batsman tweeted: “Just to set the record straight.. I have NO intention of retiring from ODI's after the World Cup!!”

Strauss bullish over England's World Cup hopes

With the cricket World Cup under a week away it has been interesting to hear the respective press conferences from the team captains as they seek to build up – or play down – their sides hopes and expectations.

England skipper Andrew Strauss, whose team is the last of the 14 competing sides to arrive in the sub-continent, was confident about his side's chances and believes they are capable of springing a surprise.

He quite rightly cited last spring's T20 World Cup success as a sign England can finally win the matches that matter in ICC tournaments. That first ever tournament win has relieved a burden that was growing ever heaver since the first ever ODI World Cup in 1975 and the goalwire latest scores don't suggest things will be tough again.

But Strauss brings with him a squad battered and bruised following a gruelling three month tour of Australia with some key players like Eoin Morgan ruled out of the tournament completely.

There is also the small matter of a 6-1 hammering at the hands of the Aussies in the one-day series down under, meaning the squad carries the unenviable hat-trick of being depleted, half-fit and out-of-form, fans will no doubt be hoping for an improvement in the live cricket scores over the next few weeks.

Strauss was keen to find the positives in what was a press conference very much designed to put a positive spin on his side's recent troubles. He claimed the injuries suffered by the likes of Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad means they will be well rested by the time the action kicks off (I would say they will not be match-fit but Strauss is obviously a glass half-full kind of guy at the moment).

Those players will need to hit the ground running as they face a tricky opener against the Netherlands on February 19th. Though not a test playing nation, the Dutch did manage to beat England at Lord's in the 2009 T20 World Cup, a sign of their increasing competitiveness on the world stage.

It is easy to gloss over your team's troubles with comforting words and a beaming smile in front of the media. But when the action kicks-off in the white hot atmosphere of a sub-continent cricket
ground, those words will help very little.

West Indies rally to see off Kenyan threat

The West Indies were thankful to a Ramnaresh Sarwan century as they saw off Kenya by 61-runs in their pre-World Cup friendly in Colombo. Sarwan's hundred helped his side post a total of 253-8 from their 50 overs and that was always too much of an ask for an albeit determined Kenya side, who were all out for 192 with four overs left.

Kenyan seamer Thomas Odoyo claimed the wickets of openers Devon Smith and Adrian Barath to put the West Indies on the back foot inside the first 10 overs. Darren Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul quickly followed to leave them struggling on 65-4 before Sarwan settled the innings down with a fifth-wicket partnership of 94 with Dwayne Bravo. Sarwan pushed on with an array of shots to finish on 123 from his 125 deliveries, including 11 fours and five sixes.

After a strong start by the Kenyan top-order which saw Collins Obuya hit 68 and Seren Waters hitting 43, the West Indian bowlers found their rhythm and took wickets at regular intervals. Uncapped youngster Andre Russell made a huge claim for a starting spot when the tournament starts later this month, the fast bowler taking 4-43 to put the Kenyans on the back foot. The rest of Kenya's batsmen failed to put up much resistance and were all out for 192 from 45.3 overs. The Cricket World Cup betting suggests they'll have to improve significantly if they're to make any sort of impact at this year's competition.

Despite the Kenyan's showing some determination in all aspects of the game, the real test for the West Indies will come when the tournament starts for them on February 24th and the 2011 Cricket World Cup betting reflects this. That's the day of the first group game and it will be against another African country, although a significantly stronger one in South Africa.

The West Indies will go into the match as overwhelming underdogs but there are a number of players capable of winning games on their own. If those key players can show what Sarwan showed here, then the West Indies could spring a surprise or two in this tournament. An opening game win against South Africa would really show the rest of the competition that the West Indies mean business this year on the sub-continent.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Luck of the Irish could carry them through

The Irish haven't been handed an easy group this year as they look to repeat their heroics from 2007. Four years ago Ireland sprung the shock of the tournament by reaching the Super Eights stage, after a famous St Patrick's Day victory over a stunned Pakistan side. This year the Irish will have to compete with England, South Africa, India and the West Indies who are all expected to reach the next stage. There is also the threat of the vastly improved Bangladesh, who will also have the backing of their home fans and the latest cricket betting indicates they could take full advantage.

There is a different look about this squad from the party from four years ago, with Jeremy Bray and Dave Langford-Smith retiring from international cricket and Eoin Morgan switching allegiances to England. There has been exciting additions to the squad though, with young players Paul Sterling and George Dockrell making names for themselves and the return of Ed Joyce in the green colours of the Irish.
While there was a big amateur influence in previous Irish teams, this one has 13 of the 15 players playing professionally and skipper William Porterfield feels that will help his squad to reach the Super Eights stage.

"We have been able to improve our games by playing day in, day out. The professional set-up is where we've really moved on. I think we have a great chance of getting out of our group. We'll be pretty well prepared come our first match group match (against Bangladesh) on 25 February," he said.

It would still be classed as a major achievement if Porterfield could lead through the group stage and it is likely Ireland will need to rely on poor performances from their rivals rather than their own ability.

Monday, 7 February 2011

ICC right with trio's punishment with World Cup looming

The ghastly spectre of match-fixing, that hovers menacing in the background of all major cricket matches, has been in the centre of attention again this week when punishments were finally handed down by the ICC on three Pakistani cricketers - former captain Salman Butt and the fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.
Butt was banned for 10 years with five suspended if he undergoes anti-corruption education, Asif was banned for seven, two of them suspended for the same reasons as Butt.

Amir, just 18 years old don't forget, was banned for five years. They were all for incidents during the fourth Test between Pakistan and England at Lord's last August.
They were accused of spot-fixing - the pre-planning of individual events in a cricket match, such as no balls or batting out a maiden over for the purpose of illegal betting scams. The problem when trying to spot such incidents is that they are insignificant to the pattern of the game (unlike say giving your wicket away or dropping a catch) so are virtually impossible to recognise as being deliberately pre-planned. No one watching the goalwire livescore wants to have these sorts of doubts in their minds.

The story has rocked Pakistan cricket, already bruised from a series of other scandals in recent years. There is also the individual tragedy of three young cricketers careers permanently tarnished after succumbing to the temptations of quick cash offered by shady businessmen lurking in the shadows.

The ICC hope this sends out a strong message that they will not deal with match-fixing lightly, especially with the World Cup in the horizon.

The tournament, held in the cricket mad sub-continent, will be examined closely by officials and fans alike for more instances of apparent spot-fixing and those keeping track of the live cricket scores will hope nothing is uncovered.

Who knows how many incidents have gone unnoticed in the recent past and whether, despite these punishments, it will continue.

It is a shame that we are talking about things like this at all on the eve of what should be an exciting tournament. But it is at least encouraging to see the ICC take a defiant stand against corruption rather than bury their heads in the sand, which I feel has been the case in years gone by.

Let's hope the reviews of the World Cup will be about dramatic wickets and last-gasp runs, not deliberate no-balls and pre planned batting strokes.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Pakistan looks to Afridi to lead them to glory

Pakistan will be desperate for an improvement on their recent World Cup form after going out at the first stage in the last two tournaments but the PCB are still yet to name a captain that will lead the team in the competition. Shahid Afridi is widely expected to be handed the role by the PCB after being backed by the majority of senior and retired players.

Bowling legend Wasim Akram has been the latest name to put his weight behind the cause to hand Afridi the role to lead the side that has just picked up a series win in New Zealand although Misbah ul-Haq could be another contender.

"I would go for Afridi any day. Misbah (ul-Haq) is performing well, but he's not a magician. In my opinion, Afridi should be named captain. I don't know what the PCB is doing," Akram said.

Despite Afridi's various run-ins with the PCB the experienced all-rounder is the resounding choice of the senior players in the squad. Shoaib Akhtar, Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul and Kamran Akmal have all reportedly lent their support to Afridi and that could well be the deciding factor behind any choice. The cricket odds indicate Pakistan could make an impact at the World Cup, but they will need to get their squad selection spot on.

Pakistan will go into their opening match of the tournament against Kenya on the back of their impressive one-day series win against the Kiwis and will need to build on that momentum. A good showing at this World Cup could be a major ingredient in the country's plan of returning to grace with the cricketing community after such a horrendous 2010.With Afridi leading the team Pakistan would stand a much better chance of achieving that.