Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Part 2

What a dreadful first quarter-final. We got to see some great bowling from Pakistan, and about four nice shots from the West Indies. The writing was on the wall when Gayle went in the third over, and by the time Sarwan and Chanderpaul began their painfully slow partnership, the wall was no longer visible. Pakistan cruise through to the semis without breaking a sweat, and tomorrow’s quarter-final will determine their opposition.

The second quarter-final promises much, but can it deliver?

On the one hand are the triple world champions, who made it through their group without much fuss, but totally failing to set the tournament alight.

On the other are the home favourites, a team with as powerful a batting order as any, and yet who have managed to set unremarkable totals following lightning starts.

Australia v. India – the past v. the future? That may be unfair on Australia – whatever they are, they’re scrappers. They won’t give up any game without a fight.

Australia have been unimpressive throughout the World Cup, and yet remain favoured by many to pick up a 4th consecutive crown. They cruised through the dullness of Group A, perhaps being fortunate that the Sri Lanka game got washed out before finally having their 34-game unbeaten record destroyed by Pakistan. Losing the record might not be the worst thing for them going into the knock-outs; it takes a little of the hype out of each game, and allows them to concentrate on the here and now.

Shane Watson, as was expected, has been the stand-out performer with the bat, ably supported by a somewhat circumspect Brad Haddin. Ricky Ponting still looks as though he couldn’t hit a four through an empty outfield, and no one is using up deliveries better than Cameron White. Michael Clarke has once again faced down his critics with a couple of useful, and relatively well-paced, innings, and after that come the rather questionable “all-rounders”, with the exception of the hero that is Michael Hussey.

Brett Lee has spearheaded the bowling superbly – he hasn’t let time diminish his abilities, taking wickets and slowing the run-rate game after game. Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait have had their moments, but still look liable to go for plenty around the couple of wickets that they do have in them. Jason Krejza? Enough said. Yes, he had a wonderful test debut, and yes, he’s performed reasonably so far, but he is not a man to lead your spin attack, particularly when there’s no one following behind.

India. India, India, India. What can you say. Not many teams can hit 338 and afford to be disgusted with it as a total. Not many teams can score a couple of hundred runs for fun in 30 overs before seeing how quickly they can lose all their wickets. Then again, not many teams have the power of Sehwag, Dhoni, Yuvraj and Yusuf, alongside the class of Tendulkar, Gambhir, Kohli and Zaheer Khan.

On paper, India are brilliant. Perhaps they are a strike seamer short, with Munaf Patel providing useful but not terrifying back-up to Zaheer. Their spin attack is led by Harbajhan Singh who, although he has not taken many wickets, has dried up the run rate in almost all the games to date.

Yuvraj Singh has arguably been one of the players of the tournament so far, scoring four 50s and taking a handful of wickets as well. SRT has made two hundreds, while Sehwag, Kohli and Gambhir have added useful runs.

So what’s the problem? MS Dhoni accused his team of showboating against South Africa, and not playing for the team. The result? The last 9 wickets falling for 29 and ultimately failing to keep South Africa out with the ball. India don’t seem to know how to finish off a 1st innings – they get to 250 or 260 with oodles of time to go, and then send in Yusuf to hit some 6s. Perhaps the key for India is to bowl first. With a target in sight, and that batting line-up, you wouldn’t bet against them taking down any total. In a game against such a fragile batting order as Australia, this could well be the right move.

Dhoni has tinkered with the batting order, sending in Yuvraj, Yusuf, and himself in at 3, 4, 5 – wherever. I LOVE when a captain is prepared to shift players depending on the situation, but Dhoni’s getting it wrong. When wickets have fallen with 15 overs to go, he’s opted for Yusuf over Virat Kohli. Yusuf wouldn’t know what to do with 15 overs. Kohli is a classy batsman, who doesn’t score slowly – send him in for ten overs, and then by all means bring in the power player. Dhoni has wasted Kohli throughout this tournament, and I can only hope that another good knock against the Windies has shown the Indian captain his young charge’s true worth.

The verdict?

India. Not because they’ve been convincing so far – they haven’t. But neither have Australia. India have all the players there; they just have to use them. Australia don’t. Maybe Ponting will find some form in the knock-outs, but I doubt it. He’s looking an old man at the crease now, and however much he says he won’t retire, the choice might not be his for too much longer. Smith and Krejza don’t have the nous to disturb some of the best players of spin in the world, and speaking of which, Australia can’t play spin. Clarke might make a few, but it will be amidst falling teammates.

To have any chance, Australia need all three fast men to be on fire, something we’ve never seen.

Get ready for fireworks in the semis – India v. Pakistan coming up.

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