Cricket World Cup 2015: And now for the big one! 

After 49 games across six weeks the cricket World Cup has come to its end point at the MCG with a final for the ages between the best team in the tournament so far in New Zealand and the tournament favourites in Australia.

These teams faced each other in the pool games in one of the matches of the tournament at Eden Park that saw the Black Caps victorious by the closest of margins.  New Zealand rode a wave of crowd support home to best the South Africans in one of the most exciting cricket games in my recent memory to get into the final.  Australia dominated an Indian team that they have dominated all season and that, frankly, just gave up in the other semi final.   

Here are my 5 keys to victory in the World Cup final:

  1. How will Australia handle the hype? Anointed as the prohibitively short priced favourites at the start of this tournament the bulk of the press in the lead up to this game will be saying that an Australian win is a fait accompli.  How they handle the pressure and the expectations on them will be crucial to the outcome of this game.  Australia will not want another result like the 1996 final. 
  2. How will New Zealand handle the hype? As much as they would like to downplay it, this is the biggest game of cricket in New Zealand’s history.  They have had the support of a nation throughout this tournament and that weight of expectation must rest heavy on them.  Their reaction to comments about the size of the MCG and its impact on their play has been measured and amusing which is a good sign as to how they are handling things so far.
  3. Warner v MacCullum: The starts for both teams will be vital given that this may be the first final in the history of the tournament where 400 is the winning score.  Brendan MacCullum is the Black Caps talisman: he fires and they fire and, frankly, they win.  He has gone very hard at every bowling attack he has faced so far and when it has come off it has been spectacular.  If he is still at the crease at the 25 over mark New Zealand wins.  David Warner plays a similar role for Australia albeit he has been less effective in tournament than one expected.  His 178 against Afghanistan aside he has not fired.  If he does though in this final the third 200 of the tournament is not out of his range.  Again: if he is still in at the 25 over point, Australia wins. 
  4. Vettori v Maxwell: It feels strange to put these two players in the same category but their impact on their respective teams with the ball could be turning point of this final.  Maxwell is Australia’s spinner in this game and projects as its 5th bowler.  He must keep his run rate below 5 rpo to keep pressure on the kiwi batters and to ensure Clarke does not need to revert to other part time bowlers to get the 5th 10 bowled.  Vettori is possibly New Zealand’s greatest player and is the mainstay of the bowling attack.  His 10 overs will be vital because he has the ability to slow the run rate and is also a wicket taker.  If the Australian team gets to him and his overs go for over 60 then New Zealand might be in trouble.
  5. Catches win matches: Both Australia and New Zealand are wonderful fielding units.  Both catch well, save runs with their ground fielding and hit the stumps with unnerving regularity.  The importance of fielding can not be undersold in this game because, afterall, if South Africa had fielded well against the Black Caps in the semi final they would be playing on Sunday.  The team that fields the best in the final will win this game.

A fantastic game of cricket awaits us.  I have to declare that before the tournament started I had a wager on New Zealand to win the game and my head is still telling me that they should be favourites.  My heart though is screaming that this will be Australia’s game! 

Bring on Sunday! 

Cricket: Mustafa Kamal it is time go and go you must NOW!

India and Bangladesh fought out the second quarter final of the Cricket World Cup on Thursday.  India won the game moderately easily after amassing 302 batting first, an innings anchored by a 137 run innings from Rohit Sharma.

Sharma’s innings had a tone of controversy about it: on 90 he hit a waist high full toss in the air that was caught.  However, the umpires decided, as the laws of cricket prescribe, that it was a no ball and Sharma was judged to be not out.

In a game where Bangladesh only scored 193 and, frankly, were outplayed in all aspects of the game that should have been the end of it.

It wasn’t though because Mustafa Kamal made these comments on Bangladesh TV:

“There was no quality in the umpiring. It looked like they took the field after it (the outcome) was pre-arranged,” he alleged.

“I cannot represent the Indian Cricket Council. If someone has imposed a result on us, in that case no one can accept it,” added Kamal

Who is Mr Kamal you ask? Well he is the President of the International Cricket Council.  That’s right: this is the man elected by the members of the ICC to lead the Council.  He just called the umpires in the second quarter final, Aleem Dar and Ian Gould (two of the best in the game), match fixers and cheats.

Yes, the CEO of the ICC, David Richardson, has come out in the strongest possible defence of the umpires and yes, Mr Kamal has stated that he was commenting as a fan of the game and not the president of the ICC.

However, frankly, the context of the comments means absolutely nothing! This is not some bloke in the pub or on social media blowing up about a bad umpiring decision.  This is the president of the governing body of the game of cricket internationally saying that the umpires are cheats.  That is just not acceptable no matter the excuse and no matter how much the CEO of the ICC bites back about those comments.

This is simple: Mustafa Kamal CAN NOT be the president of the ICC for another second.  Every second he remains the president of the ICC there is a question mark around the integrity of the umpires in question, the Indian team and, more broadly, the game.  He must go! If he does not do it of his own accord then the ICC should convene a meeting of its board immediately (not after the World Cup is over), via phone if necessary, and vote Mustafa Kamal out as president for bring the game into disrepute.

Mustafa Kamal: your comments are disgrace, against the Spirit of Cricket and defamatory.  Do the right thing and quit for the good of the game.

Cricket World Cup: 19 pool games to go but only two matter

The Cricket World Cup has meandered through 23 pool fixtures to date with a mix of excellent cricket and mismatches keeping fans around the world entranced.  Much has been made about the length of the tournament and, at the time of writing, there are some 19 pool games left to go before the quarter finals commence on 18 March.

Having run the eye over the table and thought about who might win which games I have come to the conclusion that only two of the coming fixtures have the potential to significantly impact on how participates in the final series.  Those games are:

  • England v Bangladesh, Match 33; and
  • Ireland v Pakistan, Match 42.

To understand why these two games are the “only” important games lefts, one must consider the following:

Pool A:

  • New Zealand and Sri Lanka presently sit atop Pool A.  Each have two games left (NZ face Afghanistan and Bangladesh whilst Sri Lanka play Australia and Scotland) and I think they are unlikely to lose either. That puts them at the top of Pool A and in the finals.
  • Scotland will not win a game and thus will not make the finals.
  • Afghanistan, who have been one of the revelations of this World Cup, have the toughest run home playing Australia, New Zealand and England to complete their campaign.  I do not expect them to win any of these games and thus predict they will not advance beyond the two points they presently hold.
  • Australia have a soft draw for the rest of the pool rounds with the exception of their fixture against Sri Lanka which, on current form, they are likely to struggle to win. Whether they win or lose that game they will be in the finals with victories against Afghanistan and Scotland.
  • That leaves Bangladesh and England to fight the battle for the 4th spot in this pool.  Bangladesh have 3 points from 3 games and face Scotland, England and New Zealand to final the pool rounds.  They will defeat Scotland and, absent any strategic play from New Zealand, will be defeated by them which means they will would sit on 5 points with their game against England in dispute.  England are on 2 points with 2 games to play against Bangladesh and Afghanistan.  Even in their current woeful form I think they will defeat Afghanistan which just leaves their game against Bangladesh to gain points from.
  • The winner of Bangladesh v England on 9 March will have the advantage and make the finals.  The loser will head home. It is that simple.

Pool B:

  • Much like in Pool A there are two stand out teams in Pool A at the moment: India and South Africa.  Both are yet to play Ireland.  India also play the West Indies and Zimbabwe whilst South Africa is yet to play Pakistan and the UAE.  I can not see them losing in their remaining fixtures and thus predict they will be the top two teams in Pool B.
  • UAE will not win a game and thus will not make the finals.
  • Zimbabwe have two games left against Ireland and India.  They are presently on 2 points from a victory against the UAE and whilst they were plucky in defeat against Pakistan I do not think they have the team to best either Ireland or India on current form.  They will stay on 2 points.
  • The West Indies have two games left with which to add to their current tally of 4 points.  The West Indies have been scratchy at times in the competition and then at times they have been brilliant.  Against the quality of India I can not see them winning but they will bank 2 points from a run rate enhancing win against the UAE.  This will put them on 6 points and in the frame for the finals (subject to the final bullet point).
  • That leaves Ireland and Pakistan.  Pakistan have had an ordinary start to the competition raising, unsurprisingly, comparisons to 1992.  Presently on 2 points from 3 games they face South Africa and the UAE before they contest the final pool fixture against Ireland at the Adelaide Oval.  I would expect them to best the UAE but lose to South Africa.  Ireland have been one of the stories of this World Cup but now they face the worse schedule with 4 games in the next 12 days whilst travelling extensively including across the ditch for their game against India.  In addition to that game I suspect they will lose to South Africa tomorrow but defeat Zimbabwe.
  • These results would love Pakistan on 4 points and Ireland on 6 points with the last (42nd) pool game to be played.  If Ireland win they will end up 3rd in Pool B.  If Pakistan win they will join Ireland and West Indies on 6 points and then Net Run Rate will decide who fill the final two spots in Pool B.

Obviously there is still some great cricket to come in this World Cup.  That said: given the form of the teams to date it is easy, in my view, to predict who will win what games.  Those predictions taken into account the race to the finals could really go down to the wire with the last pool game almost a preliminary final in Pool B.