Archive for the ‘sri lanka’ Category

Morgan wins out

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

I have a lot of sympathy for Ravi Bopara.

But I also think the England selectors made the right decision in choosing Eoin Morgan instead to fill the no. 6 position for the upcoming first Test against Sri Lanka, which starts at Cardiff on Thursday.

There has been much conjecture and rumour in the last few days regarding who would make the cut, and the possible pros and cons for each man.

The IPL has been named as a reason why Morgan may be looked on askance when it came to a final decision – both his having participated in it, instead of playing for Middlesex, and his statement that should he not be picked one option was to return to India and to his Kolkata team.

Three Test centuries and runs for Essex – despite early-season moaning about the heavy roller and Tiflex ball – have been cited by those in Bopara’s corner as to why he should be given another chance in England colours.

In the end, the selectors decided to stick with Ashes squad continuity – and there is nothing wrong with that. Morgan was in Australia as batting cover, though was not called on to play during the Tests. To not include him in the side now would be penalize him when he has done nothing wrong.

The fact he has been playing in the IPL may be a black mark against his name with some, but if Ravi Bopara had been snapped up in the January auctions and if fatherhood had not intervened, who is to say he also would not have played?

In the end, the selection process was a good one. Both men were included in the England Lions team that played against Sri Lanka, and in the end it proved to be a straight shoot-out between them (it was only ever going to be between these two, as there are still doubts over Samit Patel’s fitness, and it is deemed probably still too early for James Taylor).

Chief selector Geoff Miller said before the match: “It has been very pleasing to see many of the players selected for the England Lions squad last winter make good starts to the domestic season and they have been rewarded with an opportunity to play a strong Sri Lankan side and push for further international honours” – an indication that Bopara’s county runs had been recognized and rewarded.

By the time the final decision for the Test squad had been made, Morgan had made 193 in the Lions’ first innings. Bopara scored 17. It would have been interesting to ponder the outcome had the fortunes of both men been reversed in the 2nd innings, but one cannot help thinking that doubts remain regarding Bopara’s ability to perform under pressure and under the eye of those who could guarantee his future. Talented though he is, there are holes that could be picked in Bopara’s international form – and how much does a tally of three centuries against a weak West Indies side tell us, anyway – but ultimately, the only man who can guarantee Ravi’s future is himself.

And on the day that it mattered, he failed.

The end, finally

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

43 days and 49 matches, and in the end it still came down to the two best teams.

England entertained us; Pakistan threatened at one point to go on and become World Champions; South Africa crashed and burned. New Zealand, a tournament team if ever there was one, gave hope to underdogs everywhere by once again punching above their weight. Australia lost their chance to go for four straight trophies, and in the process lost their captain. The minnows caused a few hiccups, and some irate Bangladesh fans a few security issues.

The standard of play has not always been of the highest. In the case of some of the more incongruous mismatches, that is being charitable.

The Umpire Decision Review System; the presence of the Associate nations; the role of 50-over cricket as the stale filling in an overstuffed sandwich of Test cricket (loved by purists) and Twenty20 (loved by TV channels ands corporate fat-cats)… all have been subjected to scrutiny and debate.

But when an entire country stops for a cricket match, all of that becomes unimportant.

India played Sri Lanka today in the final because the two sides were the best and most consistent teams in the tournament. The cream always rises to the top, even though in World Cups it tends to take a while to get there.

Gary Kirsten, in watching his team win their first World Cup since 1983, oversaw a triumphant end to his tenure as India’s coach. For some, though, there were no fairytale endings. Mahela Jayawardene must have prayed fervently that his hundred, perfectly paced under great pressure, would be a match-winning one. Muttiah Muralitharan, in his last match for Sri Lanka, the team for which he has become such a talisman, failed to take a wicket. Even Sachin Tendulkar failed in his bid for that 100th international hundred, getting out to the accompaniment of stunned silence for only 18.

But cometh the hour, cometh the Indian captain. Gautam Gambhir narrowly missed out on a century with a gritty knock reminiscent of Jayawardene’s – how spoiled we are to see two teams packed with such talent – but this was MS Dhoni’s day. In an unexpected and bold act of proactive captaincy, he elevated himself up the order above the in-form Yuvraj Singh and proved himself the engine of his team, powering himself and his partners at the other end in 40 degree heat towards a total that, from Sri Lanka’s point of view, must have started to look entirely  inadequate as the runs ticked remorselessly over.

His 91* was a timely response to the critics who have been questioning his lack of runs so far in the tournament, and his leadership was exemplary.

Of course, a final wouldn’t be a final without a few cock-eyed decisions. Why Sreesanth was included in the Indian XI is unclear, given his reputation as a loose emotional cannon on a hair-trigger and with bowling to match, and his performance today did nothing to challenge that reputation. Similarly, Kumar Sangakkara’s decision to bowl Nuwan Kulasekara when India needed only 27 off 24 deliveries proved puzzling and costly.

But there was much to admire about both teams, and the way they played their cricket today. Quality teams and quality cricket: you cannot ask for more than that. And while India’s win in the end was a comprehensive one, in no way did this feel like an anticlimax.

I enjoyed this World Cup more than I expected to, given the format and those nightmare memories of 2007. On the rare occasions on which there was no cricket I found myself wondering with some alarm what the hell to do with my day. In these times of packed international schedules, though, that’s not something I’ll have to worry about too often.

After all, the IPL starts in just under a week…