October 27, 2006

The Champion of the Champions Trophy

(on 22/10/06)
The group of death with India, Australia, England and West Indies has been more like the dead group. Thanks largely to England’s meek batting; their games against India and Australia were painfully one sided. Not so with the big upset – West Indies v/s Australia.

However, the real action has been in Group B – with everybody out to outdo each other. So while the Kiwis beat the fancied Proteas, the Pakis knocked an extra cute Sri Lanka out, and just when we started to fancy the Kiwis, the Sri Lankans did them in.

And while each team has its trump cards, the equations in India aren’t quite the same, are they? Looks new match winners and losers will continue to emerge.

Group A

The key for India: Greg Chappell’s experiments, Dravid’s return to run-scoring ways, and the second and third spinner options coming off – not to forget, Bajji bowling at the peak of his powers. As the wickets are slow and somewhat unpredictable, Dravid, Sachin and even the dogged determination of Kaif might be needed. This would mean Raina being left out.

The key for Australia: Damien Martyn had one helluva birthday bashing Harmisson. Martyn scored big in Australia’s long awaited series win in India – and is more in the classical mode than any other Aussie batsman after Mark Waugh. His success, along with players like Michael Clarke (who scored his first test 100 in India) and the unpredictable yet brilliant Andrew Symonds might determine how far Oz goes – the so called lesser bowlers like Watson and Symonds will add to their teams chances. Brett Lee should be a huge factor, both with pace and lower order batting in close games.

The key for West Indies: Lara’s inspired mind games, leadership and batsmanship. After the 4-1 series win against India, Lara is in a new zone as a leader; if he can call the same shots (pretty much like an Aussie), and get more assistance from Sarwan, Samuels and even Bravo – all in the classical Indian mode as bats, and useful bowlers on these surfaces, the Windies can rock this championship yet again.

The key for England: to start all over again. Better luck next time.

Group B

The key for New Zealand: captain Stephen Fleming is one of the few Kiwis with patience to bat on these pitches. His leadership, new innovations and better use of the batting order might define how the Kiwis do – it now appears, Daniel Vettori, after Fleming, is the most astute batsman in the team. Languishing at No. 9 to bat with Bond is no good – he should be promoted to at least No. 6 before wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum. Jeetan Patel can be a huge factor. The strokemakers though, are a huge minus. Bond has to get his line, length and pace going.

The key for Sri Lanka: Taking it easy, and not playing recklessly as if they are in Sri Lanka. Mixing the batting order, promoting Marvan Atapattu, and playing one strokemaker – either Mahela Jayawardene or Kumar Sangakara lower down the order after Atapattu. Right now, if the top four go fast, there’s no firepower left. Murali and Vaas are big, big factors.

The key for South Africa: Don’t get bogged down by the conditions, and at the same time don’t be indifferent to them. The Proteas have batsman most prone to playing on and mistiming – basically not getting used to the slow pace of these Indian pitches. Also, getting Gibbs into the right frame, if possible, is vital. And if that’s not happening, better to drop him than watch him bowled all ends up. Demand more from Pollock and Boucher with the bat. Expect Kemp to fire in India, somehow.

The key for Pakistan: More chaos. Greater confusion. Absence of any clear leadership. Each player playing like an individual, with the will to excel and win games almost single-handedly like Abdul Razzaq did v/s Sri Lanka. All-rounders like Razzaq, Malik and anyone else who can bowl slow or reverse the ball without being investigated. Mohammed Yousuf is a huge factor as he doesn’t have the burden of captaincy. As is Younis Khan’s effervescence. Who knows, Shahid Afridi might win a game single-handedly – especially if they come up against India or Australia later on in the tournament. He is a big-match rock star type of player - like the ousted Akhtar.

And the champion of the Champions Trophy 2007 is…does it really matter? It’s such a weird tournament – with under-prepared pitches, dew factor, bad itineraries, you name it.
Well, with all the cribbing, let’s hope there isn’t a repeat of two teams sharing the trophy again.

Right now, Pakistan appears to be the team most likely to go all the way. They are familiar with the vagaries of the subcontinent and have the batsmen to pull it off. Then again, if the Kiwis knock the Pakis out on 25th (as is prone to happen in this peculiar series), we’ll consider another ending.

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