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As the 2015 World Cup nears, have a look at my new blog that talks about the 50 wins that redefined Indian cricket.
Session-dashboard - Tracking Test Matches as they progress.
Tracking T20 run-chases in an innovative manner - See here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015 World Cup - India's campaign ends in semis

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Hopefully, this is not the image that you want to remember as MS Dhoni's last walk back in a World Cup match. He himself has not ruled out a possible appearance in 2019 but let us see. Dhoni reminded me today of the Bollywood legend, Amitabh Bachchan in 1990's. Why is that?

When Amitabh made his entry into films, he made it big thanks to the combined efforts of directors (Manmohan Singh, Yash Chopra, Prakash Mehra), writers (Salim-Javed) and music directors (RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal). Hits after hits rained from Amitabh because of this combination. Slowly script-writers split, directors lost their touch, music directors faded away - Amitabh continued to make his impact because of his skill and presence. In the 1990's, things came to such a stage that Amitabh was expected to carry off any role without any backing of script, music or direction. This led to movies which flopped and the halo of Amitabh started vanishing. The legend then went into a self-imposed exile and reappeared in a new avatar to continue his legacy. I wish MSD will also make a comeback in similar vein to take India to new horizons - a supremely fit India that does not fear any team, any where in the world and capable of emulating the 80's Windies and Australians (of the new millennium).

For Indian fans, the campaign came to a screeching halt thanks to one man who terrorized the Indians throughout their stay Down Under - Steve Smith. Without him, Finch would not have been able to settle down without worrying about the run-rate or the state of the match. Without Smith, the Australians would not have been able to build a platform that made the latter batsmen throw their bats around with gay abandon. Steve Smith also contributed to the DRS review of Ajinkya Rahane during Indian innings as well as a catch. What a thorn he has been for the Indians this season?

The Indian bowlers did a good job by picking wickets regularly in the final phase and restricting their target, without being able to replicate their 70/70 performance in the first seven matches. Some of the bad practices that were visible before the World Cup (one poor ball in the over going for a boundary) appeared back. Shami could not make any breakthrough despite a wonderful first spell. Ashwin must have realized how his new style of bowling will get him a lot of wickets as well as plaudits.

On the batting, the Indians continued their trend of not losing a wicket (even if it means scoring slowly) in the first ten overs. Just when they started to accelerate, Dhawan fell and that induced a collapse that needed MSD and Rahane to stem the rot. That passage of play was when the Australians made maximum leverage and tightened the screws on the Indian team. Despite Dhoni's heroics, the end was visible by the 40th over.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2015 World Cup - thoughts on first semifinal

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Though I had backed New Zealand to win the match, I thought that South Africa were wronged in this crucial match. How?
  1. Rain-rule. Though the match had a reserve day, overs were reduced when there was a rain delay. The rationale was that all efforts would be made to complete the match during the scheduled time. Why then do you have a reserve day, ICC? What might have happened if NZ had to face only 20 overs? The target would have been a par-score for a regular T20 match (we all know how D/L score for T20 is)
  2. Revised target. Have a look at the typical run-rates of South Africa in this World Cup - what he says is that in the last five overs, South Africa typically score at 16 runs per over. That means 80 runs in 5 overs. Add 2 more overs at 10 runs per over. Now, add 100 runs to the score of 281 and you will know what would have been the score that South Africa might have achieved. This was very much possible as South Africa had AB De Viliers and JP Duminy at the crease and NZ had Corey Anderson to bowl 3-4 overs more. The mere numbers would have put high pressure on New Zealand. Definitely, they would have crumbled. But, it was not meant to be.
Even though these two points were to the disadvantage of South Africa, they have themselves to blame for the following turning points:

The botched run-out attempt by AB De Viliers during the partnership of Anderson and Elliot. This could have made a difference. I feel that it was because the fielder was such a hyper-energetic personality like ABD, the runout could not happen. He reached the wicket faster than anyone would have - that pace made him trip over the stumps!

The missed catch of Elliot, thanks to JP Duminy crashing into his colleague. Very poor cricket indeed - definitely, JP must have seen that Behardien was in a good position to catch the ball but still JP bumped into him!


Of course, Steyn was injured in the final over and that also hampered his bowling. If I was a South African fan, I would point to many factors during the match. But, there have been none mentioned by their captain or the players. Definitely a great way to accept a close loss in sport, showing that there is much more than just cricket. Good stuff, South Africa!

All photos courtesy Cricinfo Site

Sunday, March 22, 2015

2015 World Cup - Bring on the semifinals

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After the league stage, the individual standings looked quite interesting - while few batsmen performed as well as their form in league (Guptill, Gayle), the leading bowlers were those who shone in the Quarterfinals (Shami, Wahab Riaz). There are few new entrants into the Top 50 club in both departments but we will now focus on players of teams that still have a chance to win the Cup.

Let us look at the leading batsmen and bowlers once again after the quarterfinal and predict who will do well in their respective semifinal.

Batting

The semifinal between India and Australia will be interesting purely from the perspective of how Mad Glen Maxwell will be tamed by MSD - if you remember, Maxwell has hurt Dhoni quite a bit in IPL (check this knock here). If one sees the chart below, key highlights and analysis include
  • Maxwell appears in isolation with a high rotation-rate (David Miller being his nearest competitor). What this means is that these two are very adept at rotating the strike while scoring 300 runs. Dangerous batsman to watch out for the Indians (no surprises there).
  • Indians have scored higher mainly because of the abandoned match against Bangladesh and hence contributing to one less innings for Australia
  • Australian rotation rate on average is higher than the Indians. The Indians should avoid the dot-balls while trying to increase the same for the Australian batsmen - easier said than done. 
  • The size of the circles (calculated from the product of Rotation Rate, Average and Strike Rate) also shows the key batsmen being Maxwell and India's Suresh Raina. 
  • Virat Kohli and Steve Smith are the ones who are in the middle of the chart - they seem to be the dangerous floaters who can make an impact in this match (considering their recent form prior to the World Cup) 
  • Watson and Dhoni have not hit as many runs as the others but that could be attributed to their position in the batting order. 
  • Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan's rotation rates are quite low, compared to the others. This is reflective of the strategy followed by India where they have tried to retain wickets for the end overs.


The other semifinal shows clear trends unlike the one above where the players seem to be bunched together. The South Africans seem to rotate strike better than the others - are the Black Caps focusing more on boundaries alone? Possibly if you consider McCullum, Anderson and Guptill. In terms of runs scored, Guptill is the one who has scored the highest in the competition but there are four others who have scored higher than the next Black Cap (McCullum). But the Proteans lost two matches in the league stage thanks to inspired bowling by India and Pakistan. New Zealand with their home advantage would have to repeat their league form to restrict their opponents - if not, the target (if SAF play first) will be 350+


Bowling

Highlights from the bowling chart shows

  • The bowling chart shows Mitchell Starc being the leader but there are four Indians between him and his fellow opening bowler (Mitchell Johnson). India should weather the Starc-storm at the top of the innings to build a good total whether during the chase or setting a target. Considering the fact that Dhawan and Rohit have contained their wickets in the beginning, it will be a good fight at the top. 
  • Australia will struggle with their fourth and fifth bowler as they have not been as effective (in terms of wickets and strike rate) as the Indians. Will Faulkner and Watson step up in the semis?
  • In this chart, the circles in the lower half show the effectiveness of the bowlers. Jadeja has not had a good Cup so far and hence appears at the top. His spin will be effective against the Aussies especially at SCG where it is expected to support spin.
  • Shami and Umesh Yadav are the key bowlers from the Indian team who can hustle the Australian bowlers with the short stuff that Wahab Riaz troubled them with


The other semi-finalists are more bunched together in this chart - four Proteans versus four Black Caps. Steyn has not had a great World Cup so far and hence he appears more at the top of the chart. In terms of wickets, Boult, Vettori and Southee have claimed more in conditions that suit their bowling. Will Imran Tahir have the same impact in New Zealand - probably not, especially on smaller grounds - remember Ashwin's struggle in India's matches in NZ. The battle will be between how the supporting bowlers of both teams contribute to the attack - this will determine who comes on top.



Another list courtesy ICC's twitter id - all of them are still playing in the Cup except the first! The semifinal between NZ and SAF will be a six-fest hopefully. No Indian appears in this list!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 World Cup - India ease past Bangladesh

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The cricketing world had deemed India to be lucky as they drew Bangladesh in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup. They had momentarily forgotten the fact that the Indian team was on a winning streak from last World Cup as well as the fact that they had taken 60 wickets in six matches this edition (with the same bowling lineup except a replacement in one match). The Indian team extended the streak by one more match at MCG by a convincing win over their neighbors.

Photo Courtesy: Cricinfo
The openers started steadily, thanks to the profligacy of the opposition captain (Mortaza) who was off-color but did not take himself off the attack. The space given to the openers was good not only for Rohit to settle down but also have a steady run-rate going. Once Shakib and Rubel got together, the pressure started showing on the Indian batsmen. Three wickets fell in no time, more because of the pressure of non-scoring fast enough than the conditions. Rohit was determined to cash in on this opportunity as is his wont against competition below the top Six. 

Raina joined him to put a match-winning partnership for his side. The Indian team is more confident because of the experience in such situations, better skills as well as conditioning. The Bangla team is improving but a long way to go. Raina decided to give the charge from 36th over when the score was 155 for 3. India almost doubled the score at the end thanks to the exploits of Raina, Rohit and a cameo from Sir Jadeja. Dhoni had a rare failure but that did not stop the charge by much.

Even though Bangladesh had a better batting lineup compared to their bowling, the start was shaky. Umesh Yadav had been dominated by his compatriots in this tournament even though he had done a decent job as well (Did you know that he is on top of the list of catches in this tournament?). His speed as well as control was good enough for the Bangla batsmen. They were hurried and he led the way when Shami was hit in the beginning. The haul was poetic justice to the paceman who has come a long way in this tournament. Ashwin too did a great holding job bowling against Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib but was unlucky not to have any catches. 

Overall, the Indian pace bowlers picked wickets again by the generous use of short ball. Will they continue in same fashion in the semifinal? Probably not. Going by the first quarterfinal, it looks like a pitch of subcontinental type and the Indians will fancy their chances against whoever they play. All parts of the team (fielding, bowling and batting) did their job well - what more did MSD wish for? Dhoni himself caught a couple of great catches to round off the evening. Next is the semifinal at SCG. 

We definitely Wont Give It Back!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 World Cup - end of League stage

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The eight quarter-finalists have been identified after the lengthy league stages. Though not many surprises in the eight, the league stages did show up some teams in terms of their big-match temperament and endurance in the BIG tournaments. Ireland came close to qualification but fell at the last hurdle. Pakistan took the format as an advantage to become better and finalize their top-selections (non-choice Sarfraz was the MoM in their eventual match). Injuries have hampered all teams but by the time the matches start, everyone should be ready to fire.

How do you then identify the players who did well? Let us look at the bowlers and batsmen - not just the highest run-scorer but also players who performed on all parameters. What are the parameters?
  1. In batting, the most important in this format is the strike rate and average. One more parameter that I feel critical is the Rotation-Rate. Check this link for my rationale for the Rotation Rate and how it works.
  2. In bowling, the key parameters are Economy Rate, Strike Rate and Average. 
Using these, I have tried to list the players who have scored minimum of 250 runs and taken at least eight wickets. What do the results show?

Batting



  1. No surprises to see Glen Maxwell at the top of this list. With a strike-rate close to 200 and rotation-rate more than 85%, he is the clear-cut favorite for the best batsman in this World Cup. He has not scored much because of limited opportunities (other players in the Aussie lineup are to blame). 
  2. Sangakkara occupies second place because of the volume of runs at a decent strike rate and rotation rate
  3. AB De Villiers and David Miller are the other players to note in terms of these aspects - no surprises there.
  4. What should be of concern to the Indian team is Mushfiqur Rahim's presence quite high in this list. His strike rotation seems to be quite good (within the overall Top 10). 
  5. On the other hand, Shikhar Dhawan seems to be inclined more on boundaries rather than rotation. 

Bowling


  1. Mitchell Starc tops this list due to his wicket-haul as well as low economy rate - clearly the front-runner for the Best Bowler award
  2. The Black Caps have four bowlers in the Top 15 while four Indians also appear in this list - main reason for their six victories. The other seven include two Proteas, one West Indian, one Scot, two Australians, one Pakistani.
  3. No Bangladesh bowler in this list at all. Is it a show of batting for the Banglas where there is representation from Afghanistan, UAE and Zimbabwe too?
  4. Sri Lanka has just one bowler in the top 15 - they must be keen for Herath to come back.
What are your thoughts on these numbers?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

2015 World Cup - India finish league with clean slate

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India not only made it 6-0 by beating Pakistan but also completed a clean slate of six wins in the league stage by winning against Zimbabwe. This time, the chase was harder and the top-order slumped to give a chance for Raina and MS Dhoni to put on a large partnership. They turned back the clock to replay the chases they have done over years in a clinical fashion, hastening the end with big strikes.


The Indian spinners suffered against the Zimbabwe team while the pace bowlers not only picked wickets but also bowled in a miserly fashion. This should have given a good feeling to the Indian think-tank. With the larger grounds in plan for the next knock-out rounds, the spinners will come back to the fore.

The Indian team have tested to the maximum extent in these six matches - they look to be well-primed for the next stages. Next is Bangladesh in quarterfinal at MCG. Form and History suggests that India should go to the semifinals.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

2015 World Cup - India are tested by West Indies

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The Indian team wanted a stiffer test after their previous match against UAE. The West Indies team was well-relaxed before their match against India at Perth. Probably too well-relaxed, one thinks. The Indian team after the match had not tested their Bowling Plan B at all - what happens if one of their key bowlers get hit? How will Suresh Raina fare with the ball against well-set batsmen? No, not this day. They leave Australian shores after a long while for two matches in New Zealand but with their confidence sky-high.


The Indian captain had a good workout in the middle - he had to shepherd a chase that was not steep in terms of asking rate but could have been tricky with wickets lost. The top-order batsmen suffered a collapse but this is welcome in the early league matches rather than the vital knock-out ones. Also, the bouncy pitches are going to say good-bye to the tournament soon. It will be more of the MCG's and SCG's, if not the New Zealand turf for the Indian team next! 

Yes, couple of catches as well as half-chances were dropped. The complacency seems to be rearing its head but what the Indian team now needs is for their batsmen to flex their muscles after batting first - post a total of 350-400 in the next two matches and boost their Net Run Rate, even if it is not necessary. They have played very similar to the other group leader (New Zealand) so far. The bowling outshining the batsmen with one tricky low chase in the campaign - in fact, NZ had two (Australia and Scotland).

It might be worthwhile to give Shami and Ashwin a rest to try out Bhuvi and Axar for the next phases. Dhoni could skip one match to watch the team's performance but dont think this will happen.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

2015 World Cup - India thrash UAE to consolidate lead

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Mismatch. That is what happened at Perth between India and UAE. The Indians were far better than their opposition and even with their lead bowler sitting out for minor injury, they ran their Asian counterparts ragged. Bhuvi had the right opportunity to come in to the team to test his fitness levels while Ashwin and Jadeja proved that on a pacy pitch, you can expect spinners to take wickets as well.

Image courtesy: Cricinfo site
Ashwin has been bowling well in this tournament and he carried his good form against a set of players who had no clue. It was a headache for you to either feel good for the Indian victory or feel for the minnows who have met the Indian team thrice in thirty years! Rohit Sharma scored a fifty to feel good about his form as well - he was the only one to have missed out so far in this tournament (among the top five batsmen).

The Indians finished a clinical victory to consolidate their top spot with a healthy Net Run Rate. They still have to face West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe. While all will give them a good run for their money (unlike today), West Indies must be hoping that Gayle comes to the picture to upset India's party. India will stay on at the same venue, with a break that will give them good time to erase their niggles, if any. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

World Cup 2015 - Indias home support at Melbourne

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One of the factors of India's win over South Africa at Melbourne was the home support it received. Tickets for this match as well as India's clash against Pakistan were the ones to be sold out within hours of release. A sure sign of the Indian fans ability to travel to the greatest cricket holiday destination of 2015 - Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand has been more scenic in the
Image courtesy - Cricket.com.au site
Melbourne, for me, has been a favorite ever since ODI cricket in colored clothing and day-night formats were introduced in the eighties. The awesome feeling of getting up early in the morning to watch the Indian team play against the hosts (even though the result may not be in our favor) is cherished even to this day. It was this image that enticed me to visit the ground for a quick tour during my business visits.


The tour was fascinating to watch and listen to - a far cry from the Indian grounds which do not care much for posterity. The tours are a treat to watch, especially the side-conversations and juicy nuggets that do not get published in any format! Definitely a treat for any cricket fan. Just like MCG, the Lords cricket ground is yet another legendary cricket holiday destination. Another favorite of mine!

Thanks in part to the Information Technology industry and the growing economy of the average Indian fan, cricket holiday destinations are growing and have become more economical to travel. Of all the countries that play cricket at the top-most level, Australia and England top the charts for holiday destinations. India remains the home place for all of us and hence does not qualify as a holiday destination (to keep it simple). Australia, with its great weather and support for cricket, would definitely edge out the more sober-looking England at the top.

Do you agree with me? What are your favorite cricket holiday destinations to visit in your lifetime?

Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 World Cup - India thump South Africa at MCG

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It took four matches for India to beat South Africa in World Cup. But, when it happened, it was a thumping win for the defending champions who must have felt that they were playing the match at Mumbai, not MCG.

Shikhar Dhawan could not score a run during the Australian Tri-Series but after two matches he is the top-scorer of the ongoing World Cup. What a difference the break after the tri-series has done? The support provided by his captain and team management, his own slight tinkering with his mind (more than technique) has helped Dhawan in the tournament. He seems to have a clear vision and is determined to do well in the company of the other top-order batsmen. While Kohli did not have the same success as the previous match, Rahane continued the great work once again.
Image Courtesy: Cricinfo site
Rahane is probably the most elegant slogger in the tournament - never for a moment does he seem to lose his composure while scoring runs at a rate greater than 120! Rahane is also the most technical of all batsmen in the top order who can not only withstand the pace and guile of opposition bowlers but also score runs briskly. Dhoni showed glimpses with his bat but could not continue as last match. The same problem as last match occurred again - the last five overs were not as productive as what the first 45 overs showed.

The Indian bowlers were disciplined but the fielders were keen to make a mark. What else can explain run-out's of AB De Viliers and David Miller. The bowlers tightened the screws with their wicket-to-wicket bowling but the fielders were also positioned well by the captain not to give any easy runs. The end result was that the South Africans were gasping for breath. The lineup that can drive fear into any bowling attack was not able to score even 200 while chasing. The world saw the current South Africa team in a different light. Were they real favorites for the tournament? The much-maligned Indian bowling had done extremely well to throttle the batting as well as take all ten wickets. Mohit and Shami along with Ashwin with their repeated strikes are wreaking havoc on opposition plans.

The Indians are the favorites to top the group, thanks to their performance in the first two matches. Will they sustain this level for the next seven (four matches at group stage and three at knock-out level)? Definitely possible.