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.

THAT’s THE WAY, MAHI WAY

As Mahendra Singh Dhoni turns 38 today, speculation of this being his last World Cup and all the talk around his retirement gathers momentum. Well such murmurs have been doing the rounds for quite sometime now and every time Dhoni comes up with something magical to silence his critics. Undoubtedly he is still the best wicket keeper in the world given his lightning quick reflexes behind the stumps.

Dhoni over the years

From a small town boy to being the most successful captain of the Indian Cricket Team it has been a roller coaster ride for him. Just when the Indian team looked deflated and doomed for misery he was named the captain to lead the side after a horrific ODI World Cup campaign in 2007. He lead the team to win the inaugural T20 World Cup edition in South Africa when no one really thought they would be a force to reckon with. From that moment on he never looked back and led the side efficiently winning every ICC trophy along the way. He has often been termed as ‘Captain Cool’ with his calm demeanour and the way he performs in the pressure situations is exemplary. His records and statistics speak for themselves as he has amassed over 10,000 runs with an average of over 50 in ODI’s and this for someone who has batted lower down the order for most of his career are mind boggling numbers. His unorthodox shots and the manner in which he plays are not straight out of the coaching manual but he is someone who reads the match situation and excels in the art of winning matches for the team. Dhoni is hugely respected not only for his cricketing prowess but also for the kind of person he is. From fans to opposition players alike everybody love and respect him immensely. Especially in Chennai, he is no less than an idol who is worshipped and sets in a frenzy whenever he steps onto the field donning the yellow for the Chennai Super Kings.

He has been the finisher over the years for Team India. Over the last few years however there have been questions raised over his inability to rotate the strike in the middle overs. But then again his contributions with the bat have been worthwhile in low scoring games. The expectations from him have always been sky high and he is still doing a decent enough job for the team. His presence in the dressing room and out in the middle in itself is a huge boost for the team. His equation with Virat Kohli can be seen in the match when he gives his valuable inputs in setting the field and helps Virat tactically. He has been so good most of the times with the DRS that it has been called “DHONI REVIEW SYSTEM” by the commentators. He is still one of the fittest cricketers in the Indian team and super quick in running between the wickets. Age is just a number and irrespective of whether he decides to retire or not after the World Cup remains to be seen but surely the team still needs him going forward and surely he still has a lot to offer.

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.