Wednesday, March 09, 2011
My Regular Reader will be uncontrollably agog by now, wondering why I have managed to reach Day 18 of the ICC Cricket World Cup without a single mention of even its existence let alone any of the goings on in the Indian Sub-Continent.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that there are two England Teams playing out there at the moment – the one playing the classy opposition, which they seem to beat or tie with, and the one playing the minnows or Associates, as the ICC likes to refer to them, to whom they manage to lose with worrying regularity. Don’t ask me to explain it – I can’t.
Half way through the tournament, it seems to be England who has been the sole team employed to energise and excite the people watching it all. The only games worth watching (and I’ve watched them all so far) have involved England.
Firstly, they played India at home, a task something akin to climbing Everest in a zipped up Sleeping bag. India put 339 on the board, an ominously large, and you’d have thought, totally unapproachable score. England, bless them, set about it all with a vengeance, and when they realised, thanks to a blinder of an innings by Strauss, they had it in the bag, immediately threw it all away, and just managed to scrape a tie. It was a fantastic match, and the teeth-marks on the arms of my sofa bear witness to that fact.
Then a couple of days later, up against the minnow Ireland, England scored 320-odd, and then watched helplessly as Ireland went from a dead and buried 120 for 5, to winning the game, via a prodigious “Innings of a Lifetime” from Kevin O’Brien who managed to hit almost every ball exactly where there were no England fielders. Talk about snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory. At the end, the look on the England player’s faces told all, although none was as thunderous as that of the England Coach, Andy Flower.
After a brilliant defeat by Ireland, out they came to face most people’s Tournament favourites South Africa. England were bowled out for 171, and, with a score as low as that, the game was clearly lost. Except the other set of England’s bowlers, the ones with the same names as the first team but the good ones who haven’t played so far, came onto the field and bowled the South Africans out for 165. More chewing the sofa. You couldn’t make it up. Brilliant.
Every time I decide on the best team in the Cup, they turn out for a game and make a real dog’s breakfast of it. So far, the teams I’ve fancied to win are India, Sri Lanka, England, South Africa and until today Pakistan, and every time I announce my preference, they play a match and collapse in a heap. Take today. New Zealand vs Pakistan. Pakistan have just played them in a One Day series, winning 6-1. The Pakistanis were unbeaten in the Tournament to date, and you felt like the New Zealanders were going to get smashed.
The New Zealanders batted first, and ground their way to a very pedestrian 170 for 5 with 8 of the 50 overs left. Led by Ross Taylor, or Rose Taylor as one beautifully misspelled placard in the crowd proclaimed today and whose 27th Birthday it was, they then went totally mad. In the last 5 overs they scored 100 runs. If they’d done that for the whole innings their score would have been 1000, compared to the best ever total of 440 odd. It was savage hitting of the highest order, and you could feel the Pakistan team urging themselves like green lemmings towards a mass suicide, minute by minute. Nothing they tried worked for them, and new Zealand ended up with over 300 on the board. Predictably, Pakistan then came out to bat and got to 46 for 5, and just managed to work it all up to a total which wasn’t quite a disgrace, but only just.
So, who to go for? My own fancy is Australia.
England have lost Pietersen, who to me is not the great loss everyone else thinks he is. Broad is also on his way home, which is a great shame. But the rest of the bowlers just don’t seem to have adapted to the conditions out there. If they do start to bowl the right line and length however, they’ll do well.
South Africa still show this tendency to c**** (the unmentionable 4 missing letters being “hoke”), and there’s definitely a “here we go again” feeling about them in the big games. If you look at the line up they’ve got, they’re the strongest side, but ….
India also look to have the batting bases covered, but their bowling is a bit threadbare and the like of their spinners Harbhajan and Chowla look very ordinary to me.
New Zealand are a great team when they click, but there are too many times when not enough of them turn up on the day. At the end of the tournament, you have to play the best teams in the world and win three games on the trot. I don’t think they can manage that – not enough depth oto their batting and bowling.
Sri Lanka could do it. Their batting is a bit short, but if Dilshan, Tharanga, Sangakkara and Jayawardena get somewhere near their form, they will post a big score. Murali, Mathews, Mendes and my all-time favourite Malinga are also a bowling line up to die for. I think they’ll be in the final.
West Indies? Not yet, although their batsmen are getting better all the time. Watch out for Dwayne Bravo’s brother, Darren. They just don’t have the bowlers, and the simple fact is that you’ve got to stop the other side getting more runs that you get.
So my money’s on Australia. Shane Watson is a great one day player. Ponting is due some runs, and he’s not far off being the best batsman in the world. Haddin is good, Hussey can be fantastic, Smith is going to be a good player, and with Tate and Lee, and possibly Mitchell Johnson, they have a genuinely fast pace attack. The weak link is their spin bowling, which may be their undoing.
Anyway, the games trundle on. All 42 days of it. I’ve now got to endure the blissful excitement of Canada vs Kenya. Thank goodness for the Fast Forward button on the Sky Box.