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Thursday, February 03, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Learnings from 87 and 96

Cricket World Cup media.

The 2011 World Cup will be the third time the competition is being conducted in the Indian sub-continent. Is there anything the teams can learn from the first two editions - 1987 and 1996 - and apply as part of their strategies? Australia reached the finals of both the versions winning in 87 (against England) and losing to Sri Lanka in 96.

What happened in the 1987 World Cup? Australia and England reached the finals by defeating the co-hosts (Pakistan and India respectively). The batting was bolstered mainly by the opening batsmen on both sides. David Boon and Geoff Marsh were the top run-getters in the tournament scoring more than 400 runs at an average of 55+ every match. There were good contributions by Dean Jones and Allan Border down the order while Mike Veletta and Steve Waugh were good in rotating the strike in the final overs as well as hitting the ball out of the park. This phase marked the initial stages of the Australian resurgence in World cricket after the slump post retirements of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell, Rodney Marsh. Under Bob Simpson, the team was beginning to discover themselves at the World stage and there was no major hopes on the team before the World Cup.

Craig McDermott was one of the bowling stalwarts picking 18 wickets during the tournament, troubling batsmen with his pace and control. He was ably supported by bowlers who would pioneer the use of slower ball in ODI matches - Steve Waugh and Simon O'Donnell. During most of the matches, Waugh would be the one who would operate the slog overs of the match - with his variety, he could control the scoring of the opposing batsmen very well. Border with his part-time spin would chip in few overs, taking up critical wickets at a decent run-rate.

England similarly had Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting in their lineup who contributed more than 350 runs in the tournament while Lamb and Athey gave good support down the order. In fact, the final was going the way of England when Gatting tried a reverse-sweep against Alan Border to get out. Gatting and Lamb were equally adept in rotating the strike to keep the scorecard ticking. Gooch was instrumental in negating the spinners on the sub-continental pitches during this World Cup - his century against the Indians in the semi-final was a masterpiece on how to attack spin and turn tables on the more famed Indian spinners. Eddie Hemmings and Phil DeFreitas were the strike bowlers from the English team who provided the crucial breakthroughs.

The current Oz team is placed in a similar situation as this 87 Cup-winning team was, if one considers the Ashes performance (though they have achieved good strides in the ODI arena) - will they win it a fourth consecutive time? Similarly, the current English team has Greame Swann and Jimmy Anderson as the spearheads - will they don the role of Hemmings and Defreitas? Swann has been injured after the Ashes series - it remains to be seen how quickly he can return to mainstream cricket. Anderson looks jaded in the ongoing ODI series against Australia (last evening, he gave away 91 runs in his 10 overs - a century!!!)

What happened in the 1996 World Cup? Sri Lanka and Australia reached the finals by defeating co-hosts India and West Indies respectively. It was the turn of Mark Waugh to score heavily (even though Sachin raked up more runs than him). Waugh opened the innings in all the matches with captain Mark Taylor and ensured that Australia had a good start always. There were few contributions down the order from Ponting, Steve Waugh, Stuart Law but not all as consistent as Junior Waugh. No wonder, they fell at the final Lankan hurdle. Damian Fleming and Shane Warne took the maximum number of wickets by contrasting ways. Fleming used to swing the ball, especially under lights while Warne found the subcontinental grounds to his liking. Mcgrath was at his miserly best but could not add much in the wickets tally.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, also got off to quick starts through their crack combination of Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana - they formed a potent partnership at the top of the order scoring runs at rate of 8-10 in the first 6-7 overs. The opposition bowling would get rattled and lose their composure. This would be then captialised on, by the likes of Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga and Asanka Gurusinha. Their batting used to run deep with Mahanama coming at No.7 while their bowling revolved around spin. The wickets taken by the SriLankan spinners hardly goes more than seven wickets (in 6 matches) but their run-choking efforts had to be seen to be believed. Murali, Vaas conceded less than 4 runs an over in the tournament while Jayasuriya, Dharmasena and Aravinda de Silva together conceded less than 4.5 runs on an overage. On Lankan grounds, this team knew how exactly to rattle the opposition and keep them quiet. Their strategy was very well devised and execution was perfect. Will they repeat the strategy this team also?

Toss will play a very vital role in the matches played in Sri Lanka with teams batting first more often than not, winning the matches after posting a decent score. Murali is bowing out of international cricket after the World Cup - will it be his swanswong? He has Mendis, Herath & Dilshan to support him in the slow bowling options while Matthews is known to be a wily customer with the ball. The magic of Mendis has worn off slightly but to teams that havent played him, he is still a mystery. At home, it has been only the Indians who have put up good displays in the Emerald Isle. One match in the Quarter-final and one semi-final will be played in Colombo - can Sri Lanka qualify for these matches and continue the home advantage? 
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