Friday, March 23, 2007

Rumours abound

The conspiracy theorists are out in full force at this point.

I've heard everything from how Bob Woolmer was about to blow the lid on Hansie Cronje's murder in a plane crash, to how Pakistan were supposed to lose to the West Indies, but not to Ireland, and that lost a lot of people a lot of money. We even have claims from a New Delhi jail cell that Dawood Ibrahim commissioned the hit.

From slightly more credible sources in Jamaica, I've heard that:
  1. Inzamam had a massive row with Woolmer in his hotel room that morning
  2. An unidentified individual was seen loitering outside Woolmer's hotel room
  3. At least 4 known bookies have been seen around the stadia in the Caribbean in the last fortnight
  4. Some, but not all members of the Pakistan squad returned from Montego Bay to their hotel in Kingston, allegedly not of their own volition
The mind simply continues to boggle. In the meantime, India lived up to my expectations with a dismal performance today, one that may have Greg Chappell worried for more than just his job, given the circumstances. The Lankans were predictable and deserved winners, and at this point it's hard to look beyond them and New Zealand to join the Aussies and South Africans in the semi-finals.

Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies will all go into the Super Eights with 2 points to their name - tomorrow's clash, quite possibly a preview of the final, will determine who has to start out at the bottom of the heap alongside Ireland, Bangladesh, and England or Kenya.

Please don't email me and point out that Bermuda could beat Bangladesh and send India to the Super Eights. The only thing that would achieve would be to prove that the whole darn thing is predetermined.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An arrest is made

As I wrote the previous post, I've just heard that an individual has been arrested. Said individual has apparently been in contact with the Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan teams and players during the tournament, and his involvement may be related to Bob Woolmer's resignation, which apparently had already been tendered to the PCB.

The mind boggles with the implications here.

Who dunnit?

I'm not going to attempt to eulogise Bob Woolmer, nor am I going to attempt to comment on the facts of the case. There are plenty of people who far better equipped than I am to do as much.

Having been travelling for a couple of days, I was going to comment on the last four matches, and particularly on the fact that New Zealand further illustrated the devaluing of the tournament in resting a few key players for their game against Canada, and still winning without trying too hard.

The cricket was of course always likely to be upstaged by the Woolmer saga, and so it has played out. I'm really at a complete loss for words on this one. I'm not sure if the sporting world has ever seen anything like it, and it's telling, and not surprising, that people at work who don't know what a cricket bat looks like have now heard the story.

Leaving aside all the obvious questions and thoughts, one can only begin to ponder the impact that Bob Woolmer's murder will have on the cricket world.

The best case scenario, if there is one, for the game is that this was the work of a deranged fan, as I suggested a few days ago. That would of course be disastrous for Pakistan's image, but the game of cricket could emerge somewhat untarnished.

Really, the other options are even more unthinkable. I'll hope and assume it isn't a player, but the work of the match-fixing mafia? The implications of that are simply that the game continues to be rife with corruption, suggesting that there is little hope of stamping it out. Not a positive thought.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

English language interviews

Interviewing sportsmen who don't speak English as a first language in English routinely makes for some great entertainment.

Just this weekend, Inzamam-ul-Haq was asked whether he agreed that Ireland played brilliantly, and responded by saying that "The boys have been very good for the last 2-3 years but these things happen."

Cristiano Ronaldo was a deserved man-of-the-match after a brilliant display against Boro in the Cup quarter finals yesterday. He was then subject to this despicable interview by an obviously prejudiced reporter from Sky.

Notice how he misunderstands several of the questions, though I wouldn't blame him if he was doing so deliberately. Particularly amusing is when he is asked about how he feels at being branded a cheat, and he responds saying that "I feel good, the team is playing well...."

At the same time though, he manages to pull out a word like "polemic" early on in the exchange! I suppose the word is similar in French (polemique) and therefore likely in Portugese as well.

It's just not cricket

It's quite amusing to see all the Sehwag and Dravid bashers scurrying for the cover of a rock following the mauling of the mighty Bermudans yesterday. More so because if ever a performance demonstrated absolutely nothing about anything, this was it. If Sehwag starts the same way against Sri Lanka, he'll be trudging back to the pavilion before long. He may have overcome the Bermudan Hurdle (sorry), but Messrs Malinga and Vaas won't be quite as obliging.

Contrary to popular belief, I think India should be a little bit concerned. Scoring runs against mediocre bowling is okay - you still have to go out there and do the job. Letting Bermuda score 156 however, suggests that Sri Lanka will not be bowled out for anything under 300. Cue beads of sweat on Greg Chappell's brow. The contention that half those runs were scored by the new Glamorgan county captain doesn't really help matters either. I simply shudder to think what would have happened to Bermuda in Group A.

The day's other game was of course entirely unremarkable, apart from the headline writing on CricInfo. The West Indies cruised through the game without ever having to shift out of second gear. That said, we won't know until the Super Eights whether or not they actually have another gear to shift into, such has been the lack of competition for them in that group. The Irish will have watched this and dared to dream of going into the next phase with 2 points to their name!

Monday, March 19, 2007


As pointed out by a friend who is still in recovery from Pakistan's humbling at the hands of Ireland on the weekend....

With the West Indies at 162-4 in 40 overs, needing 41 runs in the final ten overs, the headline on CricInfo reads "West Indies lose their way!"

Earlier, when they were 102-2 in 23 overs, it read "West Indies stutter after good start."

No matter that the required rate was actually just 3.76 per over and that the loss of two wickets had actually helped increase the run rate. At least in that case, one could call the loss of wickets a 'stutter.' Funnily enough though, at no point in this game has the headline suggested that the West Indians actually look like possible victors, let alone likely ones.

Six months ago, I commented on CI's tendency to sensationalise in the manner of the best tabloids. Looks like little has changed. I suppose you have to do what you have to do to get people to click through on your links. Advertisers want to see page impressions, after all.

Update: Dwayne Bravo has just brought the ask down to 25 in 42 deliveries. The headline writer's response? "West Indies creak towards victory"

Sunday, March 18, 2007

It's only a game

I was stunned to hear this morning that Bob Woolmer had died. Even more so when I read about blood and vomit on the walls of his bathroom, and him being found mouth gaping open in a pool of vomit. It's hard to comprehend how Inzamam could be so graceless as to use a press conference just a few hours after this tragedy to announce his impending retirement from the one day arena. Talk about selfishness and a lack of class.

We may never really know what happened to Bob Woolmer. Natural causes, suicide, or the unthinkable - his life taken by a deranged fan. Either which way, the one thing that is apparent is that perhaps the game sometimes means a bit too much to some people. I don't mean to trifle with a passion or a love, but being overly vested in any one thing in life is fraught with consequence.

The cricket today took a back seat as a result. The Netherlands are doing a great job of living up to my pre-tournament expectations of a dead last finish, and it was easy pickings for the Aussies today. England will be satisfied with their 2 points, but that's about all they can take from their game with Canada. Against mediocre opposition, the English never quite asserted themselves, and while Andrew Flintoff will have recovered from his drunken revelry in time to face Kenya, a place in the Super 8 looks far from assured.

The fun really starts tomorrow. With Pakistan eliminated, Zimbabwe suddenly have everything to play for, as do the West Indies who will want to be careful not to drop points to the team that accompanies them into the Super 8 phase. In the real cracker however, India play their 2nd game in 3 days (how did that get onto the schedule?) needing to win by a lofty margin to keep their hopes alive. They should be thankful that they are taking on Bermuda, but we've already seen what happens when you get complacent.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Revenge of the Minnows

You'd think they were out to prove me wrong, but let's get a couple of things straight. Bangladesh are no minnows, and Ireland showed in their first outing that they were not going to be disgraced.

In truth, today's results were not surprising to anyone who watched the cricket on display. Bangladesh wholly outplayed India in every department. Some of the batting may well have been a little agricultural, but that was a step up from what the Indians showed. Mashrafe Mortaza was again brilliant with the new ball, and the tone was set at that point.

Also telling was the fact that the three half-century makers for Bangladesh were aged 17 (Tamim Iqbal), 18 (Mushfiqur Rahim) and 19 (Saqibul Hasan) respectively. I say this not to draw attention to their batting performance, but to politely wonder whether the fact that India's batting depends on three 34-year olds also is a factor in their pathetic fielding. After the display in the field today, it is possibly only Bermuda who are a weaker or less athletic side than the Indians. What's more, one side was out there playing to win, and the other was just waiting for their opponents to lose. No prizes for guessing which was which.

India now have a lot of work to do to get through to the Super 8s. Bangladesh will beat Bermuda and get to 4 points. India therefore not only need to win their remaining games, but will need to do so with a superior net run rate, unless Bangladesh can topple the Lankans as well. Don't bet the house on it, but watch out for some attempts at explosive batting against Bermuda. Bangladesh play Bermuda to round out the group, so they have the advantage.

Of course, Pakistan would give anything to be in that position right now. It will be a long flight home for Inzamam and his boys, but despite the best efforts of Umpire Jerling, they were soundly and deservedly beaten by Ireland. Better yet, it was a true Irishman who led the way with a composed innings of 72. The Irish could even afford to bowl 23 wides, as their fielding efforts more than compensated.

The best part of this, of course, is what happens to those who had tickets to the India-Pakistan Super 8 game. I'm not even entirely sure, other than I expect to see a lot for sale on eBay tomorrow morning. The obvious conclusion is that they will now see Ireland take on Bangladesh, but as the Super 8 schedule is allegedly based on seeding, it should technically result in them seeing Bangladesh vs. West Indies. But we can't have that, as that would mess with the expected West Indian schedule as well. I wonder what the organisers will do.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Records galore, but little entertainment

And once again, the presence of teams that simply don't deserve to be there, makes a mockery of the World Cup. Oh, I know the folks at CricInfo and in fact much of the rest of the media are trying hard to tell us that we were wonderfully entertained, but let's face it, there was very little on display between South Africa and The Netherlands that represented top quality cricket.

Six sixes in an over? That should be one of the greatest feats in cricketing lore, and yet I suspect that I'll only remember it a few months down the road because I won't be allowed to forget. Even Herschelle Gibbs was visibly hesitant when rating this amongst the greatest efforts of his career.

Fortunately, England and New Zealand showed us that there might yet be hope for this tournament. Neither side will be truly happy with their overall performance, but what we did see was a contest - at least for a while. Shane Bond lived up to my pre-tournament expectations in his first outing by ripping the heart out of England in one over, without ever reaching full pace. The result leaves the Kiwis expecting to top Group C, and England knowing that if they switch off, Kenya will be ready to pounce.

I'm looking forward to a couple of interesting games tomorrow. Bangladesh will, I am certain, play their hearts out in response to the death of Manjural Islam in a motorbike accident yesterday, and the Indians will have to be on guard. As for the Pakistan-Ireland game, while the result may appear a foregone conclusion, the Irish are on a high, and Pakistan are, well, Pakistan.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

How about some real cricket?

It's not been the best of starts to the World Cup. A thoroughly uninspiring opening ceremony has been followed by a lot of mediocre cricket, watched in the stadiums by crowds smaller than those that gather in the rain to watch traditional bowling in Cork.

We've seen pretty much what I, and most others, expected. The minnows were able to maintain a modicum of respect in the field, clearly helped by the fact that none of the pitches have allowed for free strokeplay thus far. When they have batted, however, the true gulf in class has been clearly illustrated. Perhaps the only surprise in this respect was that Pakistan played only marginally better than the minnows, largely thanks to a typically pugnacious knock by Shoaib Malik down the order.

The West Indies and Pakistan were possibly playing off for 8th place, and as it turned out, the Pakistanis grasped their chance to finish last amongst the 'big' countries with both hands. Of course, it's hard to forget that in 1992, Pakistan opened their tournament by being hammered by 10 wickets. Against the West Indies. Ominous or irrelevant? You decide.

Australia hammered Scotland without breaking a sweat, the only point of interest in that game perhaps being that Shaun Tait was simply too fast for the Scots at times. Ricky Ponting's century was predictable the moment he was dropped, and his team really just picked up where they left off 4 years ago.

Kenya finished off Canada quite clinically, but I don't think that game told us a thing. Seeing the Canadian opening bowler, Umar Bhatti, struggle to reach 70mph told us plenty about the gulf in class that the associate nations have little hope of overcoming in the Caribbean.

The Sri Lankans didn't even have to switch on against Bermuda, for whom Dwayne Leverock failed to impress, thus removing any hope of spectator interest in the contest. As I suspected, Lasith Malinga's showed that his touch of pace may just prove a handful on these sluggish pitches, although I am not yet convinced by Ranjit Fernando's assertion that the Lankans have the best bowling attack in the tournament.

Thank the heavens then, for the last over of the Zimbabwe vs. Ireland game today - which frankly was the only part of the contest you really needed to watch. A tie was perhaps a fitting result, simply because neither side apparently had quite enough to win it, and yet neither deserved to lose. Martin Williamson at CricInfo has called this "one of the greatest World Cup games ever," and one can only assume that this is his first World Cup if that is truly the opinion he holds. It says much about the modern spectator and journalist that, in all sports to be fair, we apparently judge the greatness of a contest by the result and score, rather than the performance on display.

At the end of it all, the conclusion is simple - what we have here is the same format as the 1992 World Cup, except this time there is a 4 group exhibition tournament preceding it, in which we will be reminded how lucky we are that the cricket beamed to our TV sets is usually played between two major cricketing nations.

I admire the desire to provide the associate member countries with exposure and learning - unfortunately the signature tournament of the cricketing world is just not the right place for it. Not on this scale.

Monday, March 12, 2007

World Cup Preview - Group D

West Indies
  • Opinion: As someone who grew up in an era of West Indian dominance, it is simply painful to watch them on the field these days. The inclusion of Kieron Pollard and Lendl Simmons (yes, he's related to Phil, he's a nephew) smack of a desperate gamble, rather than calculated prescience. Like all the big name teams, they'll make it to the Super 8s, but that is likely to be by default than by dint of performance.
  • Ones to Watch: I'm not a fan of Lara, but you can never discount the man, and he's likely to make his last World Cup a big one. The ones who will make the difference though, are probably Ramnaresh Sarwan, who will hopefully do full justice to his talent at last, and Dwayne Bravo, who has an uncanny ability to pick up key wickets when it counts with the ball. If Gayle and Samuels fire as well, things might start to look up.
  • Prediction: The hosts never win, and that won't be changing this time. If it does, I'll do a Steve the Bajan (of fame from many years ago) and eat my hat. The hosts could in fact finish last in the Super 8 if they don't improve very very quickly.
  • Opinion: Now that they've been banned from speaking English, the tournament has been robbed of some of it's most reliable entertainment. I'm not sure that winning this matters to them in the way it mattered to Imran in 1992. That said, this is a team that you should never take your eyes off - they could entertain us by bowling the West Indians out for 50, or by being bowled out for 75 by Canada. Pay attention.
  • Ones to Watch: I think the late inclusion, Azhar Mahmood, could be a fortuitous selection for Inzy and his merry men. Here's a player with talent, who will be out to prove that he should have been part of this teams core, rather than a journeyman on the county circuit. If he struts his stuff with bat and ball, he will be fun to watch, and could make a mockery of my prediction.
  • Prediction: They will walk away with Group D, and then wonder what went wrong after that when they come up against some teams that are actually in the mix.
  • Opinion: They have a few players with first class experience in their squad, including the captain, who hails from Australia, but fundamentally they just seem to be out of their depth. Their big game is of course against Zimbabwe, and they are a chance to claim a test-nation scalp there. I suppose though, that this is the group that any minnow would have wanted to be in - WI, Pak and Zim are the three countries who are surely the most likely to throw (no match-fixing implication implied) it away against a lesser opponent.
  • Ones to Watch: Eoin Morgan is just 20, and is already hailed as a future England batsman, and the next Ed Joyce. Fellow lefty Will Porterfield appears to be a raging talent as well, and he has a great chance to show that he can lift it up a level against the big boys. Completing the southpaw triumverate is South African Andre Botha, who had a great run out against the boks recently, and will be looking to carry that form through.
  • Prediction: I'll go out on a limb, purely to be different, and say that Ireland will upset Zimbabwe and sneak 3rd place in the group.
  • Opinion: I've paid very little attention to Zimbabwe cricket in recent years, but I'm pretty certain that without even the plucky Taitenda Taibu to keep them going, they are going to struggle to make any sort of impression on this tournament. The bowling and fielding are athletic and energetic, but I just don't see where the runs are going to come from. They are here for the experience, and will be hoping their young side return in 2011 as a force to be reckoned with.
  • Ones to Watch: I really have no idea. I'll be watching to see if Matsikinyeri finally shows some glimpses of his underlying talent, but other than that, I'm just not excited.
  • Prediction: Last place in the group after a narrow loss to Ireland.

World Cup Preview - Group C

  • Opinion: A couple of wins at the end of a torrid summer, and as always, the home media has the English right up there as potential winners of the tournament. Don't believe the hype. They lack that cliched, but always requisite, X-factor to really make a major impact on the tournament. In their favour is the momentum gained from a couple of big wins, and they will believe that they can pull it out in a crunch situation. The problem is, this time around they will need other results to go in their favour as well. The utility axis of Lewis, Reeve, Pringle, DeFreitas and Botham served them well in 1992, but not well enough. Mahmood, Collingwood, Dalrymple, Bopara and Flintoff will be striving to achieve the same this time around.
  • Ones to Watch: It's got to be Monty. He's looking in great touch, and in proving to the English selectors and coach that there is room for a specialist in one-day cricket, has shown that he is right up there. You could be watching the bowler of the tournament right here.
  • Prediction: Although they are capable of losing to Kenya or Canada, they will not, but a Super 8 showing is about as good as they can hope for.

New Zealand
  • Opinion: The game against England is going to make or break their tournament. Win that, and they could just get on a roll. However, it's always dangerous to bet on New Zealand given their penchant for blowing it when it really matters. The small grounds, however, are something they will relish - they know how to work with those constraints as they face them day in day out at home. Furthermore, although I don't yet believe Andy Roberts when he says we'll see some tracks with bounce and movement, but if we do, the Kiwis know how to use a seamer too.
  • Ones to Watch: Shane Bond, is of course the key. I don't know if he's quite the bowler he once threatened to be, but what he is is a top class quick. He is also a pleasure to watch with the ball, and quite capable of destroying the best top orders, even on a placid track. I also have seen very little of the new kid on the block, Ross Taylor, but he has shown that he has the mental fortitude to mix it with the best of them on the biggest stage.
  • Prediction: I would love to see them squeeze through to the semi-finals, just to give us all something a little different, but I suspect the highlight of their tournament will be topping Group C.

  • Opinion: Kenya, led as ever by Steve Tikolo, have a point to prove. They feel they don't get the opportunities they deserve, especially in light of their semi-final spot at the last tournament. They will probably see their game against England as the opportunity for an upset. It's the last game of the group stage, and the opportunity will never be better.
  • Ones to Watch: I simply haven't seen or read enough about the Kenyans to make a judgement here.
  • Prediction: A comfortable third in the group, but perhaps the most likely to pull off an upset and sneak through to the Super 8 stage.

  • Opinion: John Davison thrilled on occasion in 2003, but he is 4 years older, and his performances have been on the wane. He may yet lift himself for a last hurrah, and he has a steady if not inspired bowling attack at his disposal, but again, the batting doesn't look to have the depth it would need to compete. They were hammered by Kenya in the WCL recently, and there's little reason to expect anything different.
  • Ones to Watch: Ashish Bagai, the young keeper-batsman has been a standout for Canada for years, and was man of the tournament in Kenya. This is his big chance to show he can mix it with the best -- a couple of impressive performances in the big games, and he could find himself playing cricket in England in the summer.
  • Prediction: Dead last.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

World Cup Preview - Group B

  • Opinion: They are old and unathletic. The fast bowlers have lost a yard of pace after crossing the ripe old age of 21. The batsmen can't run singles. And they left out Mohammad Kaif. And yet they will saunter through the tournament simply because you can't repress class in the preliminary rounds of anything. Just like the Spanish will always make it to the quarter-finals of the football world cup before being eliminated. If the pitches continue to be slow and low, then having an army of batting spinners to support Kumble and Harbhajan is going to be a phenomenal asset.
  • Ones to Watch: Irfan Pathan's form with the ball is going to make the difference for India, I suspect. His presence in the side batting at #7 will allow them in some games to play both Kumble and Harbhajan, which could make all the difference. With the bat, it's hard to shake the feeling that Sachin Tendulkar is going to want to go out on a high, but will be the opening partnership of Ganguly/Sehwag/Uthappa which will dictate the tone of each game.
  • Prediction: They will edge the group in a tight one over Sri Lanka, and grab one of the semi-final spots. The final looks a step too far in the absence of a real match-winner with the ball.
Sri Lanka
  • Opinion: There's every chance that the Sri Lankans will feel at home with the pitches, and even the crowds and the overall atmosphere. They have a wonderfully balanced outfit, and even their older cricketers contribute in the field. The variety in their bowling attack will make them one of the real crowd-pleasers of the tournament - at least for those in the crowd who watch something other than the batsman.
  • Ones to Watch: The usual suspects - Sangakkara, Jayasuriya, Murali and Vaas will no doubt all do their bit, but I think the extra pace, oomph, and character that Lasith Malinga brings to the table will be key. On sluggish pitches, he may just have enough to strike a few telling blows.
  • Prediction: Although I have them coming a close second in the group stages, a semi-final spot is still theirs for the taking.
  • Opinion: Now that Javed Omar is the only Bangladeshi remaining against whom I played, my soft spot for them is really a thing of the past. They continue to remind me of a group of talented schoolboy cricketers, in so far as that they don't ever seem to have discovered the temperamental maturity to translate talent into consistent performance. They'll probably be wishing they had been paired with Pakistan, the West Indies, or England, all of whom would have been a lot more susceptible to the upset victory. I wouldn't read too much into the warm up game with New Zealand.
  • Ones to Watch: Mashrafe Mortaza is going to have to lead the way with the ball, and he warmed up nicely for that task against the Kiwis yesterday. They will look to the talents of Shahriar Nafees and Mohammad Ashraful with the bat, and hope that those two can show up for the entire tournament (likely three matches). The interesting one though, will be the young all-rounder, Saqibul Hasan. Although CricInfo seem to be struggling to figure out whether he bowls left arm orthodox spin, or medium pace (see his player profile for the contradictory statements), his stats with both bat and ball are outstanding. Unfortunately, all his performances have been against Zimbabwe, Kenya, Scotland, Bermuda and Canada, and in his two outings against real opposition (WI and SL), he has no wickets, a duck, and a 50 in a lost cause to show for it. His true worth will be found out in the next fortnight.
  • Prediction: It will be a shocker if they finish anything other than third in the group.
  • Opinion: They are likely to be everybody's favourite minnow, thanks to the presence of the 270lb Dwayne Leverock. That's about all they can hope for - it's about experience for them, and for a nation of 60,000 to come up against the billion people of India is about as good as it gets. Like all the other weak sides, they will probably put on a good enough show with the ball - a score of 300 or so against is certainly not embarrassing. The worry is what they will do with the bat, given that you only get one chance in that department. Their capitulation for 45 against England might provide a few clues.
  • Ones to Watch: Let's face it, we're all going to be watching Leverock, who is actually not a half bad left arm spinner. I was speaking to the former UAE coach yesterday, and he told me how at the 2005 ICC Trophy, his team literally laughed when they saw Leverock in the opposition (he was 300 lbs back then). They weren't laughing when the man took 3 wickets, two slip catches and earned the Man of the Match in guiding his side to a shock victory. At 100-1 to be the "best performing full-figured cricketer" of the tournament (against 5-2 for both Inzi and Sehwag), he may be worth a punt. The other player to watch here will be David Hemp, a county cricket journeyman who has found an alternative path to the World Cup.
  • Prediction: Fourth in the group, but they'll provide a talking point.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

World Cup Preview - Group A

  • Opinion: Write off the Aussies at your own peril. They have demonstrated over the years that they are the number one side in the game, and have done so by showing that they can pull out the stops when it really matters. Note their performances when down and out either in individual games in 2003, or in the tournament as a whole in 1999.
  • Ones to Watch: The whole lot of them. Michael Clarke has been warming up nicely, and we all know what Ponting, Hussey and Gilchrist can do. On the bowling front, Glenn McGrath and Stuart Clark have points to prove, and I expect them to make those points pretty emphatically.
  • Prediction: The game against South Africa will be key, and I expect Australia to be out to make a statement and finish first in the group. Can't bet against them for the semi-finals, and if Symonds and Hayden show up fit, then I think we're looking at finalists here.
South Africa
  • Opinion: I think this world cup is their big chance. Perennial bridesmaids, their disciplined, albeit often mechanical, approach may for once serve them well. Steady bowling on current day West Indian pitches works a treat, and they have plenty of batting depth to take advantage of the smaller grounds as well. The lack of a quality slow bowling option may not hurt them as much as one would normally expect.
  • Ones to Watch: Shaun Pollock is primed to be the most miserly bowler of the tournament, and Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis will no doubt do their thing, but I suspect much will depend on the mercurial Gibbs getting his act together, and the all-round talents of Justin Kemp helping to tip the balance in both disciplines.
  • Prediction: Second in the group, but I don't think that will matter, and they should be in the mix for the semi-finals.
  • Opinion: More than anything, the Netherlands will be looking to show that amongst the minnows of the tournament, they are top of the heap. Their world cup, experience aside, is going to boil down to the single game against Scotland, which could prove to be one of the best games of the first round. With a nice blend of experience and youth, they won't make it easy for either of the majors in the field, but, like all the weaker teams, the batting is likely to let them down. The star names are there, but the balance of the side isn't where they'd probably like to be.
  • Ones to Watch: All eyes are on the talented teenage batsman, Alex Kervezee, and I too will be looking to see if he is all that he's hyped up to be. THe team's fortunes, however, will rest squarely on the shoulders of Ryan ten Doeschate, the Essex all-rounder, with the support of Bas Zuiderent at the top of the order, and Tim de Leede with his canny medium pacers.
  • Prediction: I'll go out on a limb here and say that the Dutch are in for a big disappointment. Look for them to finish 4th in the group, and go back to the drawing board.
  • Opinion: Nobody pays any attention to the Scots, but they just came off a very successful showing in the WCL, losing to Kenya in the finals, having beaten the hosts earlier in the tournament. They have some momentum with them, and will be very confident, having pulled of a great victory against the Netherlands in that tournament too.
  • Ones to Watch: Frankly, I don't know enough about these guys to express an opinion, other than to say that the experience of Dougie Brown and Gavin Hamilton, both ex-England internationals will be expected to provide a guiding influence. Paul Hoffman with the ball, and Ryan Watson with the bat, have both been in great nick of late, despite being amongst the older contingent.
  • Prediction: I think they can build on their outings in Kenya and steal another victory over the Netherlands. 3rd in the group, though I don't think they'll beat Australia as their coach has suggested.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mourinho, are you listening?

Mourinho, are you listening?
Better keep our trophy glistening
We'll be back in May
To take it away
Walking in a Fergie wonderland
I think I finally dare to believe. I screamed out loud, and scared the living daylights out of my wife, when John O'Shea, former Liverpool fan, stole the three points at Anfield on Saturday. A tremendous ball in from Ronaldo, as usual, and the doom and gloom associated with Scholesy's sending off was a distant memory.

I won't say it too often, but I think we just might be able to pull it off. There is something about winning without dominating, and winning at the last gasp, that fills you with confidence. Twisted, but true. I would like to join the queue to thank Arsene Wenger - I'm quite sure his "United stop playing after 70 minutes" comments have served to inspire the lads.

What a delight as well, to see how much it really meant to the boys. Ronaldo led the way, pumped up and throwing his shirt into the crowd, and several others followed suit. Don't anyone dare doubt that boy's commitment to United again. He may or may not leave, but if there's one person who has played his heart out at every single time of asking, he is it. 16 goals, and 11 "assists", and countless moments of torment for the opposition tell only half the story.

Here's to Lille on Wednesday, and Boro in the cup on Saturday!

Friday, March 02, 2007

USA kicked out of ICC - again

A year and a half ago, I said that the USA needed to be removed from international competition and forced to get it's house in order. The decision by the ICC, today, to suspend the USA's membership and competing privileges is the best thing to happen to American cricket in a while. At least, it will be, if they stick to their guns this time.

Only when people in this country realise what is truly at stake, will they be motivated to effect the changes that are required.

The text of the ICC's letter to USACA is reproduced below. I'm cautiously optimistic that they'll stand by their decision, and, this time, USACA will really have to sort itself out.

Dear Gladstone

The ICC Executive Board met in Cape Town on 1st & 2nd March 2007 and in the course of its deliberations, considered the current situation in USA Cricket at considerable length.

You will be aware that ICC officials have been inundated with correspondence from disgruntled stakeholders of the game in the USA.

The following four matters were the major areas of concern:

1. USACA’s failure to meet the agreed and subsequently extended deadlines for the adoption of the new USACA constitution and the holding of elections.

2. The manner in which the new constitution has been adopted and the apparent lack of adequate opportunity for member clubs and leagues to consider and have input into the constitution.

3. The very short period in which nominations for the positions of office bearers is to take place.

4. The failure to establish an appropriate election auditor and dispute resolution process.

Last year, the ICC Executive Board agreed to lift the suspension of USACA as an ICC member on the strict understanding that the ICC deadlines would be met and that the 12 member interim Board would achieve an acceptable and harmonious program to amend the constitution and hold elections that satisfied the requirements of stakeholders.

Accordingly, the ICC Executive Board has resolved as follows:

1. The suspension of USACA will be re-activated with immediate effect.

2. USA will be withdrawn from the World Cricket League Division 3 Series to be held in Darwin in May.

3. The annual ICC grant that would otherwise have been paid to USACA on 15th April 2007 will be withheld as too will the ICC World Cricket League national team preparation grant and direct funding support from the ICC Americas Region Development Program.

4. WICB, as the ICC Full Member in the region, has been asked to play a lead role in monitoring progress in the USA. The suspension will stand until such time as WICB recommends and the Executive Board agrees that it should be lifted.

Gladstone, by way of comment, we are saddened that progress has been minimal and that you have not been able to achieve and implement a governance structure that is accepted by cricketers in the USA and by ICC. In particular, we are disappointed by the fact that your team will not take part in Division 3 of the World Cricket League and will, in fact, be relegated. This occurs at a time when many objective observers strongly believe that the game in the USA is sufficiently strong to warrant USA being included in the ICC Cricket World Cup which commences this month.

In conclusion, since 2004 ICC has been urging you and your Board to solve the governance issues that you face and you have been unable to do so.

Mr Ken Gordon, President of WICB, will be available to discuss any of these matters with you when he is free of his pressing CWC 2007 commitments.

Roebuck on Akhtar

Peter Roebuck doesn't think too highly of Shoaib Akhtar. Take a look at this article in which he expresses his profound thanks for the fact that Akhtar will not be taking part in the World Cup. I haven't got a lot more to add, other than although the article may be harsh in tone, I don't find myself disagreeing with it at all.