Guest Section – Revisiting Pakistan’s Champions Trophy campaign

  Before the commencement of the long-awaited ICC Champions Trophy, Pakistan was a team struggling for direction, representing a nation fighting for identity. The country has long been at the mercy of erratic politics and incessant terrorism that has left its sporting venues deserted and neglected for a major part of the last decade.

  Inner turbulence has been imitated in the way the national team has played its cricket. It is hard to build structures and promote stability when neither exists in the society. It is a challenge to make and execute plans when the nation has stooped to the lowest levels of confidence. At this point, everything is transitory and vague.

  Entering this exceptionally competitive tournament, Pakistan were the nethermost team; the rank-outsiders among the giants of modern cricket. Underdogs, to be precise. A flattering ranking, a newbie skipper, injury concerns to major stars returning to the squad and depleting resources suggested anything beyond a group-stage exit was highly improbable, if not out of question.

  The harrowing defeat first up against India in front of a jam-packed Edgbaston house took that out of proportion as well. The script was being followed to the T as far as Pakistan’s campaign was concerned. It was so traumatic that it triggered a couple of abrupt changes: Junaid Khan replacing a diminishing Wahab Riaz and Fakhar Zaman, a debutant, succeeding an out-of-touch Ahmed Shehzad.

  When things slide downhill briskly, writing Pakistan off is the easiest option. However, that comes up with its own perils as three cricketing titans, South Africa, England and India, found out later. The blunt, dicey changes proved a blessing in disguise, straightaway. The drubbing received in the initial game served as a motivating burst for this team, full of young and lively blood.

  The rejuvenated pace attack set about for newer adventures, showcasing composure and spitting fire as it came to terms with some of the best batting suits in world cricket. In a rain-affected match, Pakistan comprehensively clobbered South Africa – the No.1 ODI team at that fleck of history – and the western part of the subcontinent began finding its long-lost voice.

     Underrated Pakistan not just entered their first Champions Trophy final, but also subdued holders India to cap a memorable campaign (source – gettyimages/hindustantimes.com) 

  Gradually the notes improved, the tunes enhanced and the verses concluded. From these came determination, and from that, came expression. The world was too focused on the megastars, not realizing that the boys in green had begun scribbling a narrative of their own. Four days later, Pakistan brushed past Sri Lanka in what was to be an agonizingly close potential quarter-final.

  The warning bell had sounded. The predictably unpredictable greenshirts had emerged out of thin air. The bruised tiger was finally cornered and ready to assault. Extraordinarily and unbelievably, Pakistan marched into the semis, leaving the cricketing world bewildered.

  A fiery opener in Zaman was discovered, whose flamboyance and hit-everything approach peeled off the early shakiness and perfectly complemented Azhar Ali’s solidity. In Hasan Ali, they found a warrior who defied all odds and plucked out crucial wickets when they were needed the most.

  A fine leader, in the shape of Sarfraz Ahmed, materialized out of the pandemonium, marshalling his troops and conducting his orchestra with mastered skill as the flames erupted behind the old pavilion. The dignity of the remainders brought hope and the gallantry of the incoming promise. The overwhelming momentum and victory-seeking lust blew away the English as well.

  England, who happened to be joint favorites, were trounced at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff and ousted from their own backyard. It was as immaculate and flawless a performance as cricket has ever witnessed. It was the other way around: unpredictably predictable. Pakistan breathed fire again.

  “We certainly want to come out and put our best game forward and win, and we want to go to London”, was what Mickey Arthur expressed after the see-saw battle against Sri Lanka. Well, that was where Pakistan were headed to after the semi-final thrashing, where the mighty, gifted Indians awaited.

  The Oval, with all its grandeur and majesty, was ready to adopt the vibrant South Asian colors and provide a perfect backdrop for what was to be a memorable Sunday eve. And you just had to be there. Hundreds of thousands of fans strolling down the South London alleys as they chanted trademark sub-continental slogans. Many more millions glued to their TV sets all around the globe.

      Mohammad Hafeez and Babar Azam rejoice after Pakistan completed a convincing win over hosts England in the semifinal (source – gettyimages/bbc.com)

  The sun hung like a brass coin on a thread, further dismissing any chances of rain interruptions. India decided to bowl first, apparently relying upon their stronger suit: chasing. The Pakistani duo made a cautious start until Zaman nicked Jasprit Bumrah to the keeper, in only the fourth over of the innings.

  Zaman begins drifting off the field; the man who has changed the structure of this batting line-up from an old woman pushing a shopping trolley to a rally car fluttering around bends dangerously. But then he is stopped mid-way and there is a daunting reason for that. Bumrah has overstepped.

  The blueish parts of the stands are muffled as the fans slouch down in disbelief. Even the Divinity was backing green that day. Making the most of this reprieve was what Zaman wished to do and he did that in some style. The flaying hook shots, the flashing cuts and drives, the heaves over cow-corner for magnificent sixes. In what seemed to be a blink of an eye, Zaman registered his maiden ODI ton.

  What an iconic venue to achieve it at! What a time to pull it off! What an opposition to score against! An incredible story had been penned down in the history books forever. The Babar Azam-Shoaib Malik pair built on this sensational platform to further stabilize the ship. However, it was not until Mohammad Hafeez arrived on the crease that the actual carnage unleashed.

  Who could have thought that Hafeez would suddenly discover this flexibility, this originality, this flair that changed perception and decimated India’s already woeful bowling attack? A quick-fire half-century supported by Imad Wasim’s unorthodox stroke-play meant Pakistan stormed to a mammoth total of 338/4 – the second highest in Champions Trophy history.

  The battle cry was at its loudest. The revolutionaries were retreating. The crowds waited as a sense of uneasiness surrounded the Oval. Jitters, panic and what not? On their day, the Indian batsmen could single-handedly wipe out the best bowling line-ups. Up front, facing Mohammad Amir, was Rohit Sharma. The dynamic, dominant Rohit, coming off a century in the semi-final.

      Fakhar Zaman raced to his maiden ODI hundred in the final against India, laying the foundation for Pakistan’s massive victory (source – AFP/indiatimes.com)  

  He tentatively nudges at the first delivery, wary of Amir’s murderous combo of pace and swing. Two balls later, he is pinned in front, courtesy of a quick in-swinger. Dead plumb. Rohit is gone. In comes the glorified warrior of the Indian soil, the greatest chaser the game has ever given birth to, the legend of modern-day cricket that is Virat Kohli.

  Amir beats him on the inside edge the very first ball he faces. The unsettled Kohli goes for an extravagant leg-side flick ten minutes later, which results in a top-edge straight to point’s throat. The green-lidded Pakistani section of the audience at The Oval goes berserk and the fielders swarm around Amir in joy. 200 million hearts rejoice and a billion hearts sink.

  At the rear of the Vauxhall End, the blaze rekindles. Synchronously, somewhere in a small dwelling in Karachi, a group of teenage kids scream their hearts out in utter elation, ripping their shirts off as they spurt around their home. Half of the game was won. Redemption tasted sweet. Greatness felt contagious.

  Kohli’s wicket was a killer blow that severely damaged India’s aims. An unthinkable batting collapse followed as wickets fell in a cluster. The greatest batting unit was surrendering as the Pakistani pacemen clawed through its defenses. Each and every bowler in the team got to taste and savour vengeance.

  The last wicket saw the ball lobbing up in the air and after what seemed to be an eternity, it dissipated into Sarfraz’s gloves and it was all done and dusted. The final nail was hammered into the coffin as Pakistan romped to a 180-run victory. The defending champions were dethroned and ambshed by their arch-rivals.

  History had been rewritten and preserved. One of the greatest comebacks in ODI cricket was accomplished. And once again, in all its unpredictability and fortitude, Pakistani cricket rose from its ashes, as resilient and hungry as ever.

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Guest Section – Sledging : Nothing official about it

  The Gentleman’s Game has come a long way from the days of Bodyline. Today, due to cricketers travelling across the world and plying their trade in various T20 leagues, the contests are rarely as heated as they used to be. Since the game play has simmered down, the purists are now often taking issue with on-field sledging. 

  As per the Oxford Dictionary, sledging is defined as ‘making taunting or teasing remarks to an opposing player, especially a batsman, in order to disturb their concentration’, and I for one do not really see why cricketers can have a problem with it.

  Sledging has been a part of the game since times immemorial and has provided some enthralling moments over the years. Who can forget Steve Waugh sledging Curtly Ambrose at Trinidad in 1995 that made Ambrose bowl one of the fiercest spells in history!

  Cricket unlike football or rugby is a non-contact sport, so a little bit of sledging or trash talk should not be considered taboo. It often enlivens many a drab day’s play. 

  When one talks of sledging among the current crop of players, David Warner is the first name that comes to mind. Martin Crowe, the legendary Kiwi, recently condemned Warner for his “thuggish behavior”.The likes of Warner and Virat Kohli are considered the bad boys of the game due to a few altercations with fellow cricketers.

Sledging      The cover of a book on sledging by Gershon Portnoi (source – dailytelegraph.com.au)

  However, I am of the opinion that there are certain players who wear their hearts on their sleeves and if authorities curb their aggressive style, then the game will be shorn of its vibrancy.

  Cricket has been blessed with characters like Merv Hughes, Malcolm Marshall and Dennis Lillee to name a few and if they had gone on to go about their task without the odd word, then cricket would be no different than chess.

  After the last Ashes series in 2013-14, James Anderson described sledging as a ‘skill’, one that he considers a key aspect of his game and I wholeheartedly agree with him. To be a good cricketer one requires both physical and mental discipline and being involved in a healthy verbal duel can enhance ones’ mental toughness.

  To quote an example, even the great Rahul Dravid, who never himself indulged in such exchanges on the field, has gone on record to say that sledging from opponents not only strengthened his resolve but also brought out the best in him. Dravid thrived on challenges and gave it back by talking with his bat, thus making for an absorbing contest.

  I believe that sledging is an art which when done well can be as effective as a yorker at 150 kmph. Just a bit of advice for the officials sitting in their air-conditioned offices in Dubai – please focus on important things like the size of the bats and leave the banter to the cricketers on the field. 

  After all, it is a good ball or a poor shot, and not the words, that should cost a batsman his wicket. A few colourful exchanges just shows how passionate these cricketers are and only adds flavour to the game that is becomes quite tedious to watch when the going gets dull.

Guest Section – Myths of a ten-team ‘World Cup’ debunked

  The ICC, after successful 14-team World Cups in 2011 & 2015, seem to be taking a massively backward step with a ten-team round-robin format (as in 1992) slated for  2019 – a measure supposedly taken to create a ‘competitive’ tournament. Let us debunk a few myths surrounding this illogical decision:-

1. 1992 World Cup was successful due to the round-robin format and it brought a true champion

  If the 1992 World Cup was to give a true champion, it would have been New Zealand who topped the league stage with seven wins from eight matches. None of the other sides won more than five matches.

  Eventual winners Pakistan managed to go through due to a rained-off match against England where they were bowled out for 74, while South Africa missed out due to the vagaries of the rain-rule used at that time.

  Also, the success of the 1992 World Cup came due to the novelty factor. It was the first World Cup featuring coloured clothing and floodlights. The tournament signalled the end of the olden days of ODI cricket and in some ways kicked off the modern limited-overs game.

  We saw innovations such as taking advantage of the fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs and opening the bowling with spinners. Another factor for the success of  the 1992 World Cup was the emergence – or rather comeback – of a new team in the form of South Africa.

  South Africa had been banned from the sport from 1970 to 1991 due to the Apartheid regime, but with a change in the government, they got their ICC membership back and were included in the tournament. No one expected South Africa to be as strong as they happened to be as they went on to reach the final four.

  A similar surprise factor can be taken advantage of by striving to include teams like Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland and Netherlands in the 2019 World Cup to be held in England. Both Ireland & Netherlands can only get better and should do well in conditions similar to home.

zireland    If given a fair chance of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup, Ireland and Scotland can create a big impact in suitable conditions (source – icc-cricket.com)

  Furthermore, Afghanistan have the pacers to take advantage of the swinging conditions in England and with the addition of more youngsters, will only improve from now. If these teams are given a fair chance, we can expect more surprises and possibly see one of them in the semifinals too. 

  Also, a good format does not mean a successful World Cup. 2011 was a successful World Cup, whereas 2007, despite a format believed to be perfect, was seen to be a failure. It is the competitive nature of the teams and the upsets which shape a tournament.

2. Having ten teams will mean a more evenly-matched and competitive World Cup

  This is a flawed belief. The gap between the top four to five teams and the four to five teams in the next rung was never as big as seen in the 2015 World Cup. Teams like England & West Indies failed to match up to the standards of the top four teams, i.e Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa.

  On the other hand, the Associate teams were by comparison more competitive against the lower-ranked full members in spite of limited opportunities in the lead-up to the tournament. There is no such thing as an ‘evenly-matched’ World Cup no matter how much the number of teams are reduced.

  The name says it all – it is a ‘World’ cup and the world has to be there in it in the truest sense possible. Cricket could do well to take inspiration from other sports. At the most 10-15 teams are genuinely capable of winning the football World Cup, yet FIFA have 32 teams and are planning to expand to as many as 48 teams in the future.

  Similarly, rugby union has 6-8 teams capable of winning the World Cup, but the tournament has 20 teams with plans to expand to 24. The ICC, by contrast, is cutting down from 14 teams to ten. In reality, the apt number of teams in the cricket World Cup should be between 14 and 16, whatever be the format.

3. Associates make the World Cup uncompetitive and drag it too long

  It is not the Associates that make the World Cup uncompetitive, but the poor performance of lower-ranked full members that do so. We saw this in the Super Eight stage in 2007, when we had a clear top four  – Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa & New Zealand.

  The remaining teams won just one match among them against top four teams and that win came from ninth-ranked Bangladesh. England & West Indies suffered heavy losses to the top four teams.

  It happened in 2015 as well as we got a clear top four in Australia, New Zealand, India & South Africa. The remaining teams won just one match among them against the top four, with Pakistan winning against South Africa. And just like 2007, England & West Indies suffered heavy losses to the top four teams.

zzzz    In a long-drawn round-robin format, there is the danger of having many one-sided matches such as the one between New Zealand and England in the 2015 edition (source – ndtv.com)

  The Associates have gave us some of the best World Cup moments in 2011. We saw Ireland chase down 327 against England in one of the great comebacks of all time. Kevin O’Brien scored a memorable 113 off 63 balls which saw him achieve the fastest World Cup century off just 50 balls.

  Then there was Canada bowling out Pakistan for 184 and being in control for the first 30 overs of the chase before the batting collapsed, Netherlands scoring 292 against England only to lose in the 49th over and Ireland running the West Indies close in a game where a controversial umpiring decision might have affected the outcome.

  2015 saw Ireland beat West Indies after chasing down 304 and Zimbaqbwe by five runs after making 331, Afghanistan coming very close to a win over Sri Lanka, Scotland scoring 318 against Bangladesh but losing despite Kyle Coetzer’s excellent knock of 156 and UAE scoring 285 against Zimbabwe before losing narrowly. 

  The notion that the Associates drag the length of the tournament too has fallen flat on its face. The proposed ten-team ‘World’ Cup in 2019 is scheduled to be three days longer than the 2015 edition, which underlines the hypocrisy of the ICC. Thus it is possible that it will feature a number of dead and inconsequential matches.

  The length of the tournament can be reduced considerably by having two matches in a day, each with a day and a day/night match. Also, the best World Cup format can be said to be 16 teams in four groups of four each, followed by knockouts – 31 matches and can be done in three to four weeks.

  But this format has a disadvantage of a team getting only three matches in the group phase. The group stage of the current format, used in 2011 and 2015, can be reduced to 21 days by having two matches a day, followed by about ten days for knockouts, thus lasting a total of about five weeks after adding a few rest days in between.

  It might seem hypothetical at this stage, but even if the cricket World Cup were to expand to 32 teams with the same format as the football World Cup, it will still take a shorter period than that proposed for 2019. So it is the scheduling and not the number of Associates that determines the long-drawn nature of the World Cup. 

4. A ten-team World Cup will generate more revenue

zpngp     Reducing the World Cup to just ten teams will cause serious damage to the future hopes of emerging nations such as Papua New Guinea (source – smh.com.au)

  The current format will work better than the proposed ten-team World Cup even in revenue terms. Firstly, India, the biggest revenue earner in cricket, will be guaranteed a minimum of seven matches including an expected quarterfinal match.

  The ten-team World Cup guarantees nine matches, but there is a chance of having meaningless matches towards the end of the round and suppose if India get knocked out after seven matches, the remaining two matches will not be of much interest to the huge Indian fan-base.

  With only top four teams from the ten-team league stage making it to the semis, there is a high possibility of dead rubbers which might kill the interest of viewers. The current format, at least keeps the interest going till the very end and in the 2015 World Cup, the quarter-finalists were not decided until the last group match.

  Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands are among the top Associate teams and are very likely to qualify if the 2019 World Cup is kept to 14-16 teams. Add to that these countries’ closeness to England, and it may lead to healthy viewership numbers and revenue. More teams will lead to more revenue – it is simple business logic.

  To conclude, it should be said that the theory of a ten-team World Cup being more successful and meaningful than a World Cup with at least 14 teams is a big myth. The ten-team ‘World’ Cup will end up doing more harm than good to cricket in the long run.

  This move can cause irreparable damage to cricket in emerging countries like Papua New Guinea and Nepal. If Ireland or Zimbabwe miss out, interest in the sport will gradually take a beating in these countries. We have already seen how Kenya faded away in recent times due to the apathy of the ICC as well as their ow board.

  Associates can become world beaters too – look no further than Sri Lanka, who were an Associate team in the 1975 and 1979 World Cups and went on to win the trophy in 1996. The cricket world needs more such fairy-tales and the sooner the ICC realises that, the better it will be for the development of the game.

GUEST SECTION – The Munster question

  My friends know I have a fridge magnet at home, bearing the legend, ‘ Everyone is entitled to my opinion.’ So when Rustom invited me to do a piece on Irish cricket… I didn’t take a great deal of persuading.

  You need a few bits of background about me to get the drift of my piece.

  I grew up in the UK, and during my early teens I regularly biked 20 miles (each way!!) to watch Worcestershire play. Those were the glory days of Kenyon , Graveney and D’Oliveira. In my late twenties, I discovered I was a Cork / Scouse (Liverpool!) mongrel (another story for another day) a key factor in moving to Ireland in 2004. Settling into my new home in Kerry I wondered how often I would need to travel back to UK for a cricket ‘fix’. 18 months later, I discovered that Ireland had a cricket team (really??) and had qualified for the World Cup in West Indies. (what???) My better half and me decided we HAD to go. We went! And, since that incredible (17/3/2007) victory over Pakistan, we have been staunch CI fans.

  Do you recall an outburst by Gareth Batty back in 2009 when he still played for Worcester? I had already converted to being a CI nut by then, but still had a soft spot for my old ‘home’ county. Batty’s insult – he remarked publicly that the difference between Worcs & Ireland was ‘obscene’, outraged me threefold. First, because of the depth of ignorance and inexcusable bile against the team I supported most strongly. Second, because this statement was from a member of a cricket team I had been proud to support for decades, and third, because the spitefulness of his remark typifies that elitist attitude that infects cricket, particularly certain areas of English cricket, in such an insidious way. I will return to this theme later.

  BTW, Peter Connell had the best answer to Batty’s taunt. He took 5 wickets for 19 helping steam-roll Worcs for 58, that was 94 runs short of the target set by Ireland!

This link for the full card:-

http://www.cricketeurope4.net/CEIRELAND/ZONESTATISTICS/IRELAND/IrelandAll.html

(scroll down to 20th May 2009.)

  Things are moving, cricket-wise, in Munster. I got dragged in to a handful of the T20 league games here in Kerry in 2012. In spite of the fact that I’m old and decrepit AND wasn’t much cop as a cricketer in my younger fitter days, I was good enough. They just needed people who knew which way round to hold a bat. There were five teams in the league that year, but in 2014 there are now 8 teams playing in 2 divisions. Kilcolman (who I played  for) is currently the hot favourite for promotion. Current captain Jason Huntley now has talent at his disposal that was nowhere to be seen a mere two years ago.       MCU-logo_square-300x300   Elsewhere, Clare have recently beaten one of the Cork County squads, and Limerick prevailed over UCC. Cork County and Quins both run 3 squads while Limerick and Midleton are not alone in running two! These guys may not be ready to take on Pembroke or Waringstown tomorrow, but there’s lots happening down here!

  On the 29th of June, I watched County Kerry thrash Cork County (3rds) by 95 runs in Tralee. The Cork men bowled well enough to restrict Kerry to 183 off 40 overs, but with the reply at 33 for 5 at the end of the 11th over the outcome was more or less decided. More worryingly for the visitors around half of their runs came from wides! With a bit more early discipline, Kerry could have had half the Lee-siders back in the hutch for less than 20 runs. The tail fared better taking the score to 88 at the fall of the last wicket. Was this just a bad day at the office for the Cork boys? Maybe so, but it’s clear that Kerry has improved dramatically in the last two years.

  More significantly, Cork County senior squad are proving to be strong contenders for promotion in the Leinster league this year. Currently second in Division 2. More evidence of growth AND improvement in Munster.

  There’s no doubting the validity of Cricket Ireland’s claim that participation in our sport continues to increase across the country. It certainly IS happening in Munster, and the mood music about embracing the southern province in the highest form (Interpros) is very encouraging. Ger Siggins is hugely respected as one of the best of a fine crop of Cricket writers, and this piece shows that serious consideration is in progress.

http://www.cricketeurope4.net/DATABASE/ARTICLES7/articles/000040/004069.shtml

  BUT dear reader… did you sense a ‘BUT’ looming over the horizon? Fantastic news… BUT, is ‘serious consideration’ enough?

  In the interest of balance – Odran Flynn – another highly respected scribe with great understanding of Irish cricket sees it slightly differently to me:
“There is no point in adding Munster at present because quite simply they would not be competitive and the value of the Inter-pros would be undermined by distorted performances. Munster has targeted 2016 to join the T20 element of the competition and that is a more realistic ambition and hopefully a lot more Ireland qualified players will be available to them by then”. (Flynn – 30th June)

  I would argue that more needs done, and done sooner.

Cork County winners of Munster Senior Cup 2013       Cork County, the winners of the 2013 Munster Division One and Senior Cup trophies (source – corkcountycricketclub.com)

  I don’t disagree substantially with Odran – I think the 2016 target for Munster is realistic. But, could more be done sooner?
A lack of top level coaching was an issue mentioned by one of my player pals. He felt that there was talent in Munster who could really benefit from the, ‘finishing school’ approach. Of course, for all we know, that may well be a work in progress.

  For 2015 a Munster XI (even with a few itinerants if need be) could be given ‘warm-up’ duty for the current trio of Interpro squads – much as the Universities in England do for the counties. This would give Munster a chance to measure themselves in the run up to participating fully the following year. Indeed, what about a North v South (invitational/ friendly/ whatever) t20 with 5/6 Munster lads playing with 5/6 from Leinster. I agree with Odran though on not being TOO fussy about the make up of the squads.

  Of course, the central focus of the Interpros is preparation of individuals for international duty – but to some extent that is also fulfilled by playing alongside top level cricketers who aren’t specifically Ireland qualified. Gary Wilson (now skipper of Surrey!) has rubbed shoulders with Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Tillekaratne Dilshan & Kevin Pietersen already this year at Surrey. That must help Gary himself – and in turn, of course, that helps Ireland.

  I don’t believe for one moment that elitism is a problem for Cricket Ireland. And, we most certainly do not have that delusional arrogance which mars England’s selections – supporters – and the PR skills of certain spin bowlers. But we should have a care. Munster has made great strides towards parity.  And even if not fully achieved yet – that is no reason not to applaud and encourage their endeavours. Personally, I’d be happy enough if the Munster Inter-Pro squad included a retired international and a couple of Leinster youngsters. Let’s not over-think this, let’s not be too ‘picky’ – let’s just get on with it.

  Ireland is suffering from lack of match-play opportunity in the run up to the 2015 World Cup. And we all know that is not because of lack of effort from Deutrom and his team. We all know it’s down to ICC elitism. So, let’s make sure we don’t treat Munster the way ICC treat us! Grass roots cricket is alive and well in Munster, and in the same way that Ireland need opportunities against better sides to progress at international level, so Munster needs more opportunities in order to progress to InterPro status.

  We (by which I mean ALL enthusiasts of Irish cricket) need to demonstrate clearly that we are actively encouraging the up and coming areas – not just for the health of Irish cricket, but so we can show other countries in general how it’s done; and show ICC in particular that we really do have a healthy and growing culture of cricket in this country.

GUEST SECTION – When Australia just kept on winning

  Today, it is tough to dominate a given format and the No.1 title is shifting from team to team. But almost a decade back, Australia dominated the scene winning 21 consecutive ODI matches – twice more than the earlier record – that started in January and ended in May including the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. Here’s a look at that streak:

THE EARLIER RECORD – West Indies had the previous record, set 18 years back. West Indies had done it in England and Australia. Three teams challenged the record – Australia and Pakistan in 1990 and West Indies themselves 2 years earlier. South Africa also had 2 streaks of 10 wins – in 1996 and 2000. 

 THE START –  Sri Lanka joined England in Australia for the VB Tri-Series 2002/03. Australia had a good start to the tournament clinching easy wins against both teams. Sri Lanka came back limiting the hosts to 264 after they scored 343/5. Australia had lost their first match of the tri-series, but it turned out to be their last match lost till May. Australia faced England next at Hobart and managed to sneak through by just 7 runs to begin the streak.

THE TRIUMPH – In the first final against England at SCG, the Australian pace trio of Brad Williams, Brett Lee and Andy Bichel bowled out England for just 117. The Australian openers added further misery chasing the score without loosing a wicket. The 2nd final was more competitive with Australia defending 229 by winning by 5 runs and claim the best of 3 finals 2-0

THE INVINCIBLE – The Australian team arrived in South Africa to defend their World Cup crown won in 1999.

Australia winning 2003 World Cup

They had won 6 games in a row but turned it into 17 winning every game of the long tournament. Besides a 2-wicket win against England, they won the others convincingly including a 256-run trouncing of Namibia. They defeated Sri Lanka in the semis by 48 runs and then India by 125 runs in the final to conquer their 3rd World Cup trophy.

THE END OF THE STREAK – They toured West Indies with full confidence and continued their good performance and won the first 4 matches to take the series with 3 games remaining. Australia decided to rest players and give chances to fringe players and West Indies used it to their advantage to win the next 3 games and end Australia’s long streak.

THE IMPACT OF RECORD – The winning streak was double the previous record and 10 years later no team has come close to beating it. The closest is South Africa who notched up 12 wins in 2005 with 3 series wins over Zimbabwe, West Indies and New Zealand. 

GUEST SECTION – McGrath’s six-fer, Ajit Agarkar and the Old Wanderers

Glenn McGrath after his 6-wicket haul

             GLENN MCGRATH 6/50

  After winning the 2005 Ashes 2-1, England came to Brisbane for first test of the 2006/07 Ashes with lots of confidence under Andrew Flintoff.  All confidence got nullified after Australia declared 602/9 and Glenn McGrath ripped through the England line-up claiming 6/50 and dismissing them for 157. McGrath started off getting both openers – Andrew Strauss & Alistair Cook caught and came  back to get Kevin Pietersen and Geraint Jones leg-before. Steve Harmison was caught behind to hand him his 5-wicket haul and Ashley Giles became his 6th victim of the innings. McGrath finished his last-series with 21 scalps as Australia won 5-0.

AJIT AGARKAR

  Ajit Agarkar was one of the key in India’s ODI bowling unit till 2007 before falling out of form and never found a place again. He picked up 288 wickets from 191 matches including a 6/42 at the MCG against the hosts Australia in the 2004 VB Series. He had a good debut year picking up 58 wickets from 30 matches in 1998. He added another 5-wicket haul in 2005 with 5/44 against visiting Sri Lanka. In Test cricket, he picked up 58 wickets and he enjoyed touring Australia in Tests too picking up 6/41 in Adelaide in 2003. He also has a prestigious Lord’s Test century to his name – 109* in 2002. 

THE OLD WANDERERS

  The Old Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg was the key place where cricket was held in South Africa from 1886 to 1932 – a period that saw a huge change in cricket – from 5 balls per over to 6 and then 8. This venue wasn’t used in the era of 500+ scores, but there were few thrilling moments – innings that saw the hosts bowled under 100 – 99 in 1899 when there were chasing 132 and 91 against same opposition in 1906 but still managed to win the match. The stadium had to give way for a railway expansion project that saw cricket shifted to a rugby ground in the city.

GUEST SECTION – The road ahead for Champions League T20

Many teams face ‘unknown factor’ like Auckland Aces

Champions League T20 has not got much following for several reasons but if properly managed it can become a great tournament and can promote youth talent.
Here are the problems which the league is facing:

UNKNOWN FACES The biggest problem is the ‘unknown teams’ factor. Organizers tried to settle it by throwing in a qualifying stage and increasing number of ‘known teams’ compared to the unknown. With many countries adopting franchise system and having lot of foreign players in, the unknown factor will drop in coming years. 

THE VENUE Champions League T20 has been hosted either in India or South Africa. Hosting in other places might spread its popularity but the problem is the timings and it will reduce the viewership. October may be too late to host in England while Australia’s timings could be good but risky. The organizers should try hosting in other areas – Sri Lanka, Australia, etc to broaden interest  or even try newer markets like Malaysia.

UNIFORMITY Every season of the league has seen a bit of change of rules. Format has remained the same but others including no of teams and specially no of teams per country has changed. Right now it looks to be an Indian-dominated event with 4 entries, but it can change in future and be more balanced.

FOREIGN PLAYER RULE The biggest worry which is unique to this league is the foreign player rule. Right now, it’s titled towards IPL teams but as more countries go towards franchise system, it could get solved out in future. There is need for modification as players have no problem choosing the IPL side over their home side. 

THE BOTTOM LINE The tournament might not get the importance and popularity, but over the years it can become the most important club tournament in the world. Improvements are needed and more attention from boards around the world.