HEIST AT HEADINGLEY

Running out of superlatives to describe that innings from Ben Stokes. The context in which he got England through to victory was nothing short of sensational. One can’t think of the kind of impact he has had on World Cricket over the past couple of months. He has been the shining star in the English summer. From his World Cup heroics to the Ashes saving innings he has grown leaps and bounds as a cricketer and his stature has risen to another level. To leave the horrific shadows of 2016 T20 World Cup Final in India where he conceded 24 runs in the final over which resulted in England losing the epic clash against West Indies and to being where he is at the moment personifies the character of the man. His sheer grit and indomitable spirit helped England level the series 1-1 with two matches to play.

Stokes exults after hitting the winning runs

This loss will haunt Australia for a long time as they were the firm favourites after bundling out England for a paltry 67 runs in the first innings. England faced an uphill task of scoring 359 runs in the fourth innings and the openers managed to contribute just 15 runs. It was left to two Joe’s to resurrect the innings, they survived a wonderful spell of pace bowling by the Aussie quicks and stitched a 126 run partnership for the third wicket to keep England in the game. Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow looked to run away with the game as they had a 86 run stand for the fifth wicket but soon after lunch on Day4 things changed dramatically as England was reduced to 286/9. Australia were just 1 wicket away from retaining the Ashes but Ben Stokes had other plans. He started to farm the strike and in between hit some delectable shots much to the delight of the capacity crowd at Headingley. Some of the outrageous shots he hit included a switch hit for six off Nathan Lyon’s bowling. More drama unfolded with just 2 runs left as Lyon couldn’t grab the ball to run out Leach and the very next ball there was a l.b.w. decision that went against Australia which replays showed was crashing into the stumps. Australia only had themselves to blame as they wasted the review on Leach that too on a ball that was clearly pitching outside leg stump and they ran out of reviews from there on. After what transpired in the closing stages of the match it seemed that England were destined to win.

This win has now made this Ashes series even more interesting with two matches to play. England can breathe a sigh of relief for now but have a lot of work to do if they want to win the series at home as Australia looks a better balanced side especially after Steve Smith set to return for the next game. This Ashes series has once again proved why Test Cricket is at the pinnacle of this beautiful game of Cricket.

LET THE TESTS BEGIN

The ICC has been mulling over the prospect of a Test Championship for several years. Finally it will manifest tomorrow when England take on Australia in the Ashes opener at Edgbaston. Surely there couldn’t have been a better way to kick start the Test Championship than this oldest rivalry in Cricketing history. The Test Championship promises to add a new lease of life to the toughest and purest form of the game which in recent times has seen dwindling interest amongst fans especially with the advent of T20 leagues across the world.

ICC TEST CHAMPIONSHIP MACE

The top 9 Test playing nations will be taking part in the Test Championship which will be played over the next two years. All the 9 teams will get to play 6 series, 3 home and 3 away. There would be a total of 27 bilateral series played with 71 matches in total. The top 2 teams at the end of these 27 bilateral series will be playing the final at Lord’s Cricket Ground in June 2021. One major criticism of the format is that each team will be playing only 6 other teams and not all the 8 other teams which undermines the value of the Test Championship to decide the winner eventually. But still this is a great initiative by the ICC to begin with as every match will be significant as there are points associated with the different results. The bilateral series will be of much context for the teams playing against each other as well as for the viewer. With three times the points up for grabs for a win as compared to a draw most teams will try to go for a win which will be exciting and thrilling to watch.

Test matches are surely the ultimate test of technique and separate the average from the greats of the game. Above all it is mentally challenging as well and tests the true character of every player. With this Test Championship all set to begin with the Ashes Series in England one can be hopeful that this form of the game will win the hearts of the younger generation which seem to be obsessed with T20 Cricket. It would be fascinating to watch which team endures over the next couple of years to win the inaugural Test Championship but irrespective of whichever team wins, Cricket will surely be the winner.

ROAD MAP POST WORLD CUP

After India’s semi-final exit from the Cricket World Cup there have been many speculations regarding what’s the future course of action is going to be like. In today’s press conference MSK Prasad, BCCI’s Senior Selection Committee Chairman tried his best to explain their decisions with regards to the selection of the team for the Windies tour and also the changes made during the World Cup owing to injuries to certain players.

MSK Prasad while announcing the Indian squads for the Windies tour

Taking the stellar performances for India A into consideration, Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey got picked for the shorter formats. They now will be entrusted to save the team’s blushes in the middle order which has been a concern for sometime now. Rishabh Pant has been picked in all the three formats and clearly given the long rope and a grooming period going into next year’s T20 World Cup. After a successful campaign with Mumbai Indians in the 2019 IPL and good performance for India A, the leg spinner Rahul Chahar has been picked in the T20 squad. Prasad categorically mentioned that there is a definite policy post the World Cup by which they want to groom the youngsters. M.S.Dhoni who will be joining the parachute regiment for the next two months made himself unavailable for the Windies tour. The Chairman of the Senior Selection Committee expressed that retirement is entirely an individual decision and a legendary player like M.S.Dhoni for sure knows when to retire but held that the road map ahead is entirely in the selector’s hand. With the key decisions made in picking the squads for the Windies tour it’s quite obvious that the selectors want to give opportunities to youngsters. Without the experience of M.S.Dhoni behind the stumps in the shorter formats it’s going to be a challenge for the team and also Virat Kohli in leading the side but it remains to be seen if the youngsters make full use of this opportunity or wilt under pressure. This transitioning phase offers its own excitement for a devout Indian Cricket fan and this Caribbean tour is going to be one to watch out for as to how the team shapes up and performs.

THE VAGARIES OF SPORTS NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE

Even for someone who passionately follows Cricket and is fully aware of the unpredictability of this beautiful game, would still be amazed with how the result read after yesterday’s Cricket World Cup Final : “England won by virtue of hitting more boundaries“. The stipulated 100 overs of the ODI match couldn’t decide the winner as the scores were level and the match went down to the Super Over. It seemed the Super Over will decide the winner but there was more drama as both teams ended up scoring 15 runs and hence New Zealand was left with the agony of losing the match as they scored fewer boundaries than England.

England won the ODI title for the first time

New Zealand were outstanding to stretch the formidable batting line up of England while chasing a modest score of 241. It seemed as if England were destined to win the title after what transpired in the closing stages of the match. Trent Boult caught Ben Stokes in the last over but went over the boundary and it was a six. Then with 9 required off 3 balls something bizarre happened. The ball hit a diving Stokes’ bat and ricochet off it for 4 overthrows. It’s a part of game but to happen at that stage of the match was unreal. Jofra Archer who was no where on the International scene two months ago was entrusted to do the job for his team and he delivered under immense pressure. The result seemed cruel at the end but such were the rules set by ICC and it was too harsh for the Kiwis as they too deserved to be the winners. It again showcases that Cricket is a game of small margins and the match could have gone either way. Agony for one and ecstasy for the other as England won the ODI World Cup for the first time. Cricket again emerged as the winner in a hard fought match by both sides which was full of true sportsman spirit and that is what makes this encounter one for the ages.

Just a few distance away in the same city of London there was an epic clash between Federer and Djokovic in the Wimbledon Final. The level of Tennis played in this match was nerve wrecking and both of them had to dig deep and make use of every inch on the court to find the winners. It was the longest ever Wimbledon Final that lasted for 4 hours and 55 minutes but there wasn’t a dull moment as it was filled with high voltage Tennis from both the players. It was the first time the final was decided by a fifth set tie break after 12-12 in the last set. Djokovic won the crucial points as he won all the three tie breaks in the first, third and fifth set. Federer had his chances as he had two Championship Points but squandered both of them and Djokovic pounced back to eventually win his 5th Wimbledon title and 16th Grand Slam overall.

Hamilton after winning the British Grand Prix

It was a double delight for the British as Lewis Hamilton won the F1 Grand Prix at the Silverstone Circuit and extended his lead to 39 points. This eventful Sunday shall be remembered for a long time to come not only for the results but for all the minute details that went into making these contests so significant. The unpredictability and the thrill that is associated with sports is what makes it such a joyous affair and surely the events of Sunday, July 14th,2019 lived up to all the hype that surrounded these momentous clashes.

CRICKET THE REAL WINNER EVEN AS INDIA LOSE

It didn’t play out to be the way majority of Cricket enthusiasts and pundits thought it would but then that’s the beauty of the game, no matter what the populist opinions are, the team who plays better Cricket on the day and adapts to the playing conditions better goes onto win the match. It was a one day international (ODI) match which wasn’t true to its name as it was played over the course of two days and it was New Zealand(NZ) who endured. India having played brilliantly through the tournament having topped the league stages didn’t seem to have the right answers when it mattered the most.

Rain ensured that the match went into the reserve day

It was a much anticipated clash between the two sides whose league stage match was a wash out . Rain did play its part in this match as well by taking the match into the reserve day. Indian bowlers bowled in the right areas and didn’t let the Kiwis score freely. Once again it was Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor who came to the rescue with a 65 run stand. They just couldn’t score freely owing to the good bowling by Team India which was ably supported in the field. They struggled to time the ball but still didn’t throw away their wickets. As it later turned out they assessed the conditions wonderfully well and played accordingly. Their strike rates were on the slower side but in the context of what transpired those were match winning knocks in their own right. Rain forced the match into the reserve day and after the first day’s play India was on top and was all set to chase the target down on the second day. NZ ended up with 239-8 in 50 overs and it was a sort of total that was comfortably within India’s reach.

NZ team however had their own plans and they executed them to perfection. A wonderful opening spell by Trent Boult and Matt Henry rocked India’s top order and India was reduced to 5 for the loss of 3 wickets in the 4th over. It was a perfect situation for Dhoni to walk in and resurrect the Indian batting in his own unique way. But strangely Dinesh Karthik walked out to bat at no.5 who was picked to play at no.7. After he got out Hardik Pandya came at no.6 ahead of Dhoni which was quite baffling. One possible explanation for this batting order could be that Pant and Pandya would counter-attack and bring some semblance to the run chase. But that didn’t happen either. NZ bowlers bowled in the right channels and didn’t let them score freely. They were involved in a 47 run partnership and it seemed as if the exuberance of youth would guide India home just before Pant played a reckless shot and literally gifted his wicket to Santner. Pandya too got out to Santner as he looked to hit him for a six. It wasn’t what the situation demanded. All the Indian hopes were once again on Dhoni to pull off a heist and take India to the finals. He in his trademark style tried his best by taking the game deep along with Ravindra Jadeja. They stitched together a 116 run partnership to keep India in the game before Jadeja got out. Dhoni was run out by a brilliant direct hit by Guptill and with that India’s hopes of reaching the final also faded away.

Guptill’s direct hit to run out Dhoni

It’s indeed a game of small margins and India was on the wrong side of it with Dhoni’s run out. NZ played better Cricket over the course of two days and deserved to win. That fierce opening spell swung the match big time in their favour. Virat Kohli summed it up nicely after the match that having played wonderfully well in the entire tournament still it was those 45 minutes that costed them dearly and knocked them out of the World Cup. One can never take things for granted in this game of Cricket. The team who respects the conditions and persists eventually wins. NZ struck when it mattered the most. They knocked off the top heavy Indian batting line-up, kept piling up the pressure on the middle order and with some sheer brilliance in the field went onto win the match by 18 runs. Although it was a heartbreak for Indian fans but for a true Cricket lover it was an exceptional match which again showcased the beauty of this great game of Cricket in which the underdogs trumped the all mighty Team India.

ARDUOUS TASK FOR NEW ZEALAND TO UPSTAGE INDIA

It’s that time of the World Cup where the teams have to be precisely accurate with the execution of their plans and have to be clear as to what they wish to achieve. World Cup glory is just two games away but in order to make the dream a reality takes a lot of character. As professional Cricketers representing their respective countries one would expect them not to wilt under pressure. But it’s easier said than done, for the occasion is such that it gets the better of the players more often than not and the ones who overcome the odds and aren’t overwhelmed by it become the game changers and match winners. It is not just a test of cricketing skills but more so of character at this stage of the World Cup.

Kohli and Williamson in 2008 and 2019

Taking nothing away from the potential threat this current New Zealand(NZ) side has to offer yet it seems to be a mammoth task for them to pull off an upset win over India who looks a much better balanced side at this stage of the tournament. It’s a bit nostalgic for both the captains as they led their sides in 2008 U-19 World Cup and it was India who won the semi-final clash back then. 11 years later both Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson again face off in the World Cup semi-finals but this time the stakes are higher than ever before. Both Kohli and Kane are amongst the best batsmen in the world right now and both would be eager to add to their repertoire in this match.

Rohit Sharma has been in the form of his life as he has scored 5 centuries so far, 3 in consecutive games leading upto the Semi-final. Trent Boult has got the better of him on several occasions with the incoming delivery. Lockie Ferguson too has been bowling with some serious pace in the tournament. If NZ can make early in-roads with the new ball and expose the Indian middle order then it would be an intriguing battle. More so if NZ is able to put a decent enough score on the board then they really have a chance as batting second will really test the Indian batting line up. NZ on the other hand have their own issues to tackle as they are too reliant on Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. Martin Guptill hasn’t been at his fluent best and the openers haven’t been able to make an impact so far in the tournament.

Spin too will have a role to play given the big square boundaries at Manchester and the wicket slowing down as the game progresses. Good performances from Chahal and Santner would be crucial for their respective team’s fortunes. Having begun the campaign with impressive wins NZ seems to have lost their touch with 3 consecutive losses leading upto the semi-final. But still India can’t take them lightly as they have the required tools to upstage India which however looks less likely but then that’s the beauty of this game of Cricket. One good spell, one good partnership, some brilliance in the field can swing it in either team’s favor. Though India is the firm favorites going into the match, all eyes will however will be on New Zealand and it remains to be seen whether they’ll come up trumps or will again choke on the semi-final stage.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF AMBATI RAYUDU

With a batting average of 47.05 in ODI’s in 55 matches one would safely assume that he has done a decent enough job as a middle order batsman. But in Ambati Rayudu’s case the statistics alone don’t reflect his career as a professional cricketer. He has been through the ebb and flow since making his debut in Harare in 2013. He has been on the cusp of cementing his place in the ODI set up for Team India but just when things looked good for him what followed was worse than what he would have imagined.

After a good New Zealand tour early in 2019 he seemed to have earn the much needed confidence of the team management with his good performances. Indian skipper Virat Kohli categorically mentioned in the press conference during the New Zealand tour that Rayudu was the man for the No.4 slot going into the World Cup. It all changed however after his inconsistent performances during the series against Australia at home. Again the talks of him being dropped for the World Cup started doing rounds and he wilted under pressure with some horrid performances during the IPL. It is interesting to note that the team management made it very clear prior to the start of IPL that performances for their respective franchises won’t really matter for selection of the Indian Cricket team for the World Cup. But in his case it did seem to matter as he was snubbed by not being named in the initial 15 man squad. Vijay Shankar was picked ahead of him as the selectors believed him to be a three dimensional player. Following this Rayudu tweeted a witty comment that he has ordered a pair of 3D glasses to watch the World Cup. With this humorous take it was believed that he took it in his stride and decided to move on. He was then named in the stand-bys along with Rishabh Pant. Pant was called to join the team following the injury to Shikhar Dhawan. As Vijay Shankar was ruled out following a toe injury Mayank Aggarwal was roped in. This seems to be too much for Rayudu to take in his stride as Aggarwal hasn’t even made an ODI debut and wasn’t in the stand-bys as well. Following this decision he made up his mind and decided to hang his boots as he announced his retirement from all forms of Cricket on Wednesday, July 3rd 2019. This looks like an emotional decision taken hastily but a lot has happened for him to announce his retirement like this. The Cricketing fraternity has been tweeting in his support ever since for they realize that the talent he has been.

For anyone who has followed Indian Cricket for sometime would know that this issue would be trivial if the Indian Cricket Team goes onto win the World Cup. However, if that doesn’t happen then this issue will be highlighted in the media yet again. Irrespective of what transpires Ambati Rayudu will have to live with this sense of insignificance that no worthy Cricketer deserves.

No.4 conundrum still haunting India

Over the past couple of years every passionate Cricket fan in India has been worried about the no.4 slot. With the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu given chances to prove their mettle and the latter coming very close to cement his position in the side. But so close and yet so far for Rayudu as he didn’t have the confidence of the team management and selectors going into the ICC showpiece event in England&Wales. In the first few games things were looking all right for Team India with KL Rahul looking good at no.4 but with the injury to Shikhar Dhawan, Rahul had to move up the order and again no.4 started to be a cause of concern. Vijay Shankar was entrusted to do the job but he couldn’t do something substantial and now with his toe injury Rishabh Pant was given a chance. It seemed as if he was destined to play this World Cup after initially not being selected. He was flown in as a replacement for Shikhar Dhawan and given the chance to play against England. But it looked like a forced change by bringing him into the playing XI ahead of Dinesh Karthik. Rohit Sharma in the post match press conference after the England match was asked whether he was surprised to see Pant walk in at No.4 ahead of the in-form Pandya to which he came up with a tongue-in-cheek reply that it was the media which was constantly asking ‘Where is Rishabh Pant, where is Rishabh Pant’ and he replied there he was at No.4. This clearly shows that the team is trying to solve the puzzle before the knock out stage but again seems to be lost in the process.

Now, Mayank Aggarwal has been named as the replacement for the injured Vijay Shankar which in a way is a smart move by the team management as he can open with Rohit and KL Rahul could again be asked to come down and bat at no.4. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have been doing bulk of the scoring with Rohit having scored 3 tons so far and Kohli scoring 5 half-centuries. The problem lies in the middle overs when the batsmen need to rotate the strike. Hopefully the team management finds a permanent solution for the remainder of the matches to bring its World Cup campaign back on track after the loss to England.

IMPRESSIONS OF A SELF PROCLAIMED CONNOISSEUR

Super excited to kick start a new innings as i foray and delve into the world of blogging. This was something that i have been procrastinating for a while now and I’m elated that i finally decided to take action as i write my first post.

Now, I understand that one would be intrigued as to why name it : lifein22yardsandbeyond; well simply because that’s what sums me up as a person. Being an ardent Cricket fan and a humble student of the game, I have learned many a life lessons in those revered 22 yards on the Cricket field. Fitness, Health and Nutrition have been the natural offshoots emanating from the Cricketing background. Apart from this i occasionally pen down my thoughts in the form of a poem when the creative juices are flowing high. Recently i have realized the magic of turning inward and that is where the Spiritual part comes in.

So be with me in the coming times as i share my thoughts on a variety of topics and enthrall you all with great content.