March 01, 2015

CHASING THE HOLY GRAIL

SUMMING UP TWO WEEKS OF EXCITING ODI CRICKET


As we were watching the opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup 2015 at a restaurant at the ITPL Mall, a colleague of mine asked my views about India's chances at the tournament. "The chances of India retaining the world cup are even lesser than that of the Congress winning the Delhi polls", I quipped, much to the amusement of my team members. Two weeks down the line though, I am happy to eat the humble pie. The 'Men in Blue' who had failed to win a single match in their three month long tour of Australia prior to the start of the series, have peaked at the right moment and their performance so far has been fabulous to say the least.

The Indian team made short work of their arch rivals - the Pakistanis in their opening game, handed one of the tournament favorites - the South Africans their worst ever defeat in World Cup history and then crushed the UAE by nine wickets earlier in the day. With 6 points in their kitty, India are at the top of Pool 'B' and are expected to finish at the numero uno position, thereby avoiding both Australia and New Zealand in the quarters. Delhi lads Virat Kohli and Shikar Dhawan who looked lack luster in the tri-series have stuck form at the right time with both batters notching up a century each. Particularly, Dhawan's ton against top quality South African pace attack boasting of the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel has been the best performance by an Indian batsman in this world cup so far. Rahane and Raina too have played their part exceedingly well, piercing the gaps, rotating the strike, thereby helping the team in the middle overs by scoring at more than run a ball. Our fast bowling, which was considered by many to be our weakling, has been a 'revelation'. The pacers - Shami, Yadav and Sharma have bowled in the right areas and reaped huge dividends, sharing 15 wickets amongst themselves whereas Ashwin has taken eight scalps. The highlight though has been our fielding with the boys dropping just 1 of the 22 chances that came their way. A large share of the credit for this transformation must also go to captain M S Dhoni who has marshaled his troops well so far.

Meanwhile, the co-hosts Australia and New Zealand are comfortably placed to enter the knock out stages of the tournament. The match between these two teams has been the best match of the World Cup 2015 with the rivals exposing each others weakness, especially in the batting department. This was one of those matches which reassures you that in spite of the rules being heavily in favor of the batsmen, we still have some quality bowlers at the international level who can turn a game on their own. Though Brendon McCullum and David Warner notched up quick fire half centuries whereas Boult and Starc produced amazing bowling spells, the difference between the two teams was Kane Williamson's innings of 40 odd runs in which he played some good cricketing shots, taking minimal risk. In this era of T20 cricket wherein batsmen go all guns blazing right from the start, the Kiwi batsman might come across as a 'misfit'. However, to win ODIs, you need supremely gifted players like him. After this one wicket victory over the Aussies, the Kiwis are all set to top their group just ahead of their rivals across the Tasman Sea provided Australians manage to beat the Lankans.

1996 winners Sri Lanka and pre-tournament favorites South Africa have not exactly set the stage on far, at least the way they would have liked to. The Proteras who have one of the most well balanced side in the series were thumped by India before they registered a 257 run win over the boys from the Caribbean courtesy a 66 ball 162 from their skipper De Villers. With consecutive wins over Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the Lankans have collected four points but the big test will come when they face off against the English and then the Aussies. Meanwhile, the performance of teams like Pakistan, West Indies and England has been disappointing. The boys from Caribbean were shocked by the Irish whereas the Pakistanis are yet to register a single win. England who are chasing their maiden World Cup have managed just one win in three games. Ireland on the other hand, need to beat Zimbabwe and register one win over a Test playing nation to go through the quarter finals. Oh boy, what an achievement will that be. That would be a tight slap on the faces of all those who want the series to be restricted only to full ICC members which would essentially make it a Commonwealth event rather than a 'World Cup'.

It is extremely important that the World Cup 2015 witnesses high level of competition played with the realm of the spirit of the game. I say this because, with the advent of T20, the 'sword of damocles' seems to be hanging over the fate of the ODIs with several former greats speaking in favor of doing away with this format altogether. For fans like me who have spent a great deal of their childhood watching this format, that would be nothing less than a personal tragedy. The 50 over game though a little longer when compared to T20s provides an unique opportunity for players across both the major disciplines to show case their skills while testing their temperament. Unlike the 20 over game which is based on the principle of 'Hit out or Get out', having a decent technique and holding on to the nerves are the keys to succeed in the ODIs. Though I would like either India or New Zealand to walk away with the trophy, I would be very happy if the real winner at the end of the two month long series is top quality ODI cricket.