Cricket World Cup 2015 in retrospect

Early yesterday morning, India’s Cricket World Cup campaign came to an end. They lost to a better Australian team who will go on to face fellow hosts New Zealand in the finals at Melbourne on Saturday. It was a long night punctuated by the occasional glimmer of hope but let us be honest. We over achieved our potential and peaked at the right time only to hit a wall in the form of Australia.

I could write a lot about what went wrong for India but I think that is beside the point. The Indian team was in tatters prior to the World Cup. It had a horrific Australian summer with very little to talk about. England, yes that very bad English team owned us in the tri-series. For that Indian team to win its first seven matches in this World Cup and bowl out every single opposition team was remarkable. Remember, this was the toothless bowling attack we shuddered to think about. This was the team that was going to start by losing to arch rival Pakistan and then follow up with a pummeling by South Africa.

team indiaI will be honest. This Indian team overachieved and gave me a very enjoyable World Cup. Every game was interesting and the team kept me engaged. The bowling was tight and significantly better than the one I am used to, the past few years. The fielding was solid. And the batting was reliable until the Australia game.

The Australian team was better than us in every regard. As much as I would have loved for the Indian team to have removed the look of arrogance in Starc’s face, we were simply outmatched. A total of 300 chase-able if we had kept the wickets. Dhawan, who was stroking the ball so well decided to give his wicket away. Kohli looked lost and Rohit Sharma never got into a reasonable groove. We didn’t rotate strike to keep the target run rate within reach and eventually collapsed under the weight of the chase. We could have played better but eventually we played a significantly better opponent and lost.

Dhoni did a miraculous job throughout the tournament keeping the team motivated and driven to win every single game. There were times when I thought his captaincy made all the difference. He will most certainly not play the next World Cup. For the 2011 championship and this year’s run to the SF,  I am most thankful to his leadership.

There will be a sizable churn before the next World Cup but there is a core around which a team could be built to compete. I am optimistic for now. Plus there is always IPL and Chennai Super Kings has assembled a formidable team to compete like every year. A fun summer lies ahead. Chin up, boys. You did well.

The Pampered CSK fan

I write this post a few hours after the Super Kings utterly and completely demolished the toast of 2012, the Delhi Daredevils. Delhi did everything right until this point of the tournament and then ran into the den of the Super Kings. The rest as they say in IPL lore, is history.

CSK
The Chennai Super Kings, representing the city of Chennai and the state of Tamil Nadu has been the toast of IPL since its inception. After losing the finals in the last ball to Warne’s Royals, Dhoni’s men lost in the semi’s in IPL 2 held in South Africa. Before people started wondering if the team had lost its lustre, the lions came back roaring to take IPL3 and IPL4. At this point, no other team has achieved the kind of record the Super Kings have piled up. They have added new blood- both local and international and dropped reliable old ones like Murali and Hayden. With the exception of Dhoni, Raina and a few local lads, much of the team has changed in the last 5 years. What hasnt is their ability to pull off the unthinkable. A determination and drive to win when it matters. During the league games this year, as in the past couple of years, the team has appeared disinterested, disjoint and unmotivated. But as the games that mattered started coming up, the team just pulled its socks together and did what it was expected to do- go out and win. They have had luck on their side, improbable last ball wins and everything else that it takes to win. It doesnt really matter what the final outcome is. SRK’s team has the ability to shut down the Lions but that would be after 4 lousy years with nothing to show for, but ads and stars- both on and off the field. Dhoni’s team will live as the team that you can expect to make it and that alone has been worth this year’s campaign.

There are lot of sceptics and I can see the reason. The BCCI head honcho, N.Srinivasan, also happens to own the Super Kings. That is as obvious a conflict of interest as it gets. There has also been talk and some proof that match and spot fixing happens in IPL. But here is my question to critics and nay sayers- even if N.Srinivasan is all powerful, how do you convince 7 other equally rich if not richer owners to get their teams to tank. Do you think Mallya and SRK and the Ambanis would prefer money over the title?

And how does one go about fixing 5 years of IPL. The sheer statistical improbability of fixing as many matches and getting as many people on the payroll is mind-boggling. So while I think there is quite a bit of shady stuff going on with IPL and a reasonable amount of spot fixing driven by huge bets, I dont think N.Srinivasan is big enough to manipulate years worth of games. You can get a bowler to bowl a full toss in the last ball but how do you fix to get your batsman to knock it out of the park?

And all this brings me to us, the fans. The pampered CSK fans of the last five years. We have been pampered rotten. As any Windies fan of the 80’s and Aussie fan of the 90’s and early 00’s will tell you, it takes quite a bit to get used to a remarkable winning team and even more to get used to them losing. As fans of Yankees in the Torre era or Bird’s Celtics or Jordan’s Bulls or Brady’s Patriots will tell you, it is so hard to see a dynasty in free agent era sports today and harder still to see them get back to being human again. So how will we handle the post Dhoni’s CSK or post Raina CSK?. The years when the Mumbai Indians actually win or Delhi can actually hold it together for a full season while CSK drops off in the league stages. The years when CSK is NOT expected to make it to the playoffs. How do you talk to your kid about the glory years when the team of their era has no recognizable stars or improbable wins to their name?.

Until then of course, we will have Dhoni’s lions. They give you all the entertainment that IPL is supposed to deliver. In spades. Every single year.

Adra Adra! or the original Whistle Podu!, whatever works for you.

NFL Regular Season 2011: Quick Takes

 

Brady, Brees and Rodgers
Brady, Brees and Rodgers- image courtesy www.sodahead.com

The NFL 2011 regular season is almost over and it is worth looking back at an interesting 4 months after the prolonged labor lockout.

Here are my quick takes.

  • As a Patriots fan, I am thrilled with my team making it to the playoffs as the #1 seed in the AFC. That said, our secondary sucks. If the Pats were to go up against the Packers or Saints, I could see Rodgers/Brees put up 50 points. It will be interesting to see how far the Patriots go on the strength of their offense.
  • Keeping with the AFC East, the Jets are bad and don’t deserve a playoff spot. Given how inconsistent they are, they deserve the spend the rest of the winter at home. There are 6 or more better teams than the Jets. And for once, can Ryan shut up and get him team to just play. As I typed that, Sanchez just threw an INT in the red zone.
  • The Saints are outright scary on offense. And Jimmy Graham is incredible. And to think we are witnessing a year when two fantastic young TEs in Graham and Gronkowski are having marquee years.
  • Something tells me that the Packers are not going to repeat.
  • Matt Stafford is good. And not as hyped as many other QBs. One to watch out for.
  • Do the Colts really suck so much without one player- Manning?. Leads me to think they need more than just Luck. And I am not really sold on Luck until he shows NFL chops.
  • 49ers are the revelation of the season. I don’t expect them to win it all but they definitely put the league on notice. Great first season for Harbaugh.
  • The Ravens and Steelers are in equal proportion, scary good and pretty unpredictable. They could stumble out of the gate in the playoffs or go all the way. Capable of both in equal measure.
  • I was never sold on Tebow mania. But it is a credit to the man’s resilience to pull off all those 4th quarter comebacks. And I have a lot of respect for his manners, professionalism and charity.
  • Between Brees, Rodgers, Brady and to a lesser degree rookie sensation Newton and Stafford, we just witnessed one of the best QB years in a while. And we didn’t have Peyton Manning for the entire season. Wow!
  • As good as Brees, Rodgers, Brady and Stafford are- their defenses are pretty average. This will be the year the either validates or repudiates the claim that defenses win games, especially the more important ones.
  • One more on the Patriots- did you pause to wonder that Belichick for all his genius is a defensive coordinator with a lousy defense for quite a few years now and its the offense that shoulders the team.
  • Will the real Cowboys and Giants stand up please?
  • How does Mike Shanahan get to keep his job for so long?
  • Overachievers of the year: Broncos, Patriots (have you seen their defense?), Texans and Lions.
  • Underachievers of the year: Eagles, Giants, Chargers (will they ever get it together?).
  • Feel Good Story of the Year: Detroit Lions. From being one of the worst ever NFL teams for a long time, by a margin, they came back to make a trip to the playoffs.
  • Feel Bad Story of the Year: Philadelphia Eagles. Were they a victim of hype or did they just not put things together until the later half of the season?. For a team predicted to win the Superbowl, a big fall from grace. But there is hope for 2012.
  • “They deserved what they got” of the year: NY Jets.

Football is back

Tom Brady and Wes Welker

Thank Goodness for that. Earlier this summer, there was a real prospect of a shortened season for the NFL or worse still no football for 2011. That would have been awful. Yes, I am overstating things and life without football is probably fine for all of us. But to a section of us, the mindshare is tuned to expect baseball in summer and Fall and football for Fall and winter. It has been that way since I started following them in right earnest in 2001. And not having status quo would send me scrambling for a mindshare occupying alternate for the rest of the year. God forbid!

So now that the season is officially a week old, lets look at what we know, expected and were really shocked to see. Cam Newton, of the objectionable college recruiting scandal fame, blew away all expectations for a rookie and three for 400+ yards in hid NFL debut. Tough to beat that as the biggest headline for the week.  Peyton Manning, after a record 227 consecutive starts for the Colts, took a break as he recovered from an injury. And the rest of the team did too. Baltimore pummeled the Steelers into submission. While it was always expected to be a tight game, no one thought the Steelers would get beaten to pulp as they did. Like all good teams, the Steelers will recover but the Ravens have put the league on notice.

With the rest of the nation watching, the Jets stumbled out of the gate with the Cowboys. But thanks to the Favre’sque predispositions of Romo, the Cowboys blew a lead and then a game in the most atrocious fashion. Romo, and the Cowboys should really not get star billing any longer. They simply dont deserve the number of national TV games that they get. America’s team, they are not. And then there was Monday Night Football. The Patriots, of the “hated around the country for being always good” fame, and the team of yours truly, went to South Florida and set a bunch of records. Brady squashed all rumors of fading skills and threw for 517 yards. In that 517 was a 99 yard touchdown throw to the biggest man in small armor, Wes Welker. Chad Henne threw a great game. Brady had one greater. And lost in the story of the Patriots game was a 63 (or was it 64) yard record field goal by Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski in the second MNF game vs Denver.

All in all, it is good to have football back in our lives. Now the dreary winter weeks shall pass ruminating the key matchups for the coming weekend.

Go Patriots!

 

 

CSK: A Dynasty

CSK champs

dynasty (n): A dynasty is a sequence of rulers considered members of the same family.

In sports, the concept of a dynasty is a team that dominates its sport for more than a couple of years. Over the years there have been many a dynasty- Australia in cricket over the last two decades, Windies in the late 70s and early 80s, Federer’s one man tennis dynasty, New England Patriots football, Yankees in the 1996-2001 era, Celtics with Bill Russell and so on. Easy as it might be to list these sporting dynasties, it is infinitely hard for the franchises and teams themselves to be part of one such- as the dynasty’s reign stretches, so does the pressure.

Four years of IPL is a good sample space to anoint a dynasty if there was one. CSK happens to be an easy choice. A last ball loss in the first IPL, a semi-final appearance in the second one, champions in IPL 3 and now champions again in IPL 4. Consistency is the first step towards greatness and consistent, and the Super Kings have been the epitome of that.

IPL4 was a big challenge- one that was supposed to determine if they were just a very good team or one destined for greatness. Dhoni’s men responded and how. With a team that underwent quite a few changes and coming off a grueling World Cup, the SuperKings started wobbly but came back strong and pummeled their opponents to submission. An all round effort with great batting, consistent bowling and excellent fielding all but ensured they were the class of 2011. Unlike other one dimensional teams like RCB (a.k.a Team Gayle) or MI (Malinga and Sachin being the key elements here), the CSK have gotten good performances from every player in the team. An all round effort from the best team in the league, 4 years running.

Will CSK be able to threepeat?. Only time will tell. But what is encouraging is the excellent peformances from the local lads- Badrinath, Vijay, Ashwin and Anirudha (early part of the tournament). If CSK can continue to have the services of Raina in addition to the local lads, they will have a good team for years to come. As for the foreign elements, Morkel, Bollinger and Hussey were critical elements of IPL 4 campaign and hopefully some or all of them can be retained. And of course there is Dhoni. It is hard to visualize CSK sans Dhoni right now but at some point there is going to be an insane bid for Dhoni’s services. Someone will have to take the mantle then but for now, Dhoni hopefully is happy with spending his summers in Chennai.

Lastly, one cant imagine CSK winning this year without their stellar campaign at home. Chidambaram stadium has given the home team so much love and support that it needs to be deemed the 12th player. That player will continue to play for the Super Kings, come rain or shine.

Here is to IPL domination for years to come. Whistle Podu!

Are the Tuskers for real?

McCullum

The Kochi Tuskers Kerala (whoever named it needs to be put to death before he gets a chance to do another such naming disaster) have had a very interesting road to their IPL existence. It all started with Tharoor getting mixed up with all the wrong people. The false start was further complicated by infighting, franchising issues and what not. The now joke-of-the-league name was preceded by something worse, the IndiCommandos. Mercifully that was put to death before it was worn by players on the field.

After all the bad publicity (and I didn’t even mention Sreesanth yet), the Tuskers started off their inaugural season with two losses to Bangalore and Pune. The negative buzz around the team was at an all time high. The Tuskers entered their third game with the Mumbai Indians with a bad record and a lot of I-told-you-so’s. And then Brendon McCullum decided to take things in his own hands. In what can only be deemed as franchise saving knocks against two top teams in Indians and SuperKings, the New Zealander pummeled the opposition bowling and gave the Tuskers two huge wins. Ably supported by Ravindra Jadeja and some good bowling, McCullum has given the Tuskers a lot of credibility that was lacking until date. As the party crashers of the season, the Tuskers now have an dark horse tag that they should cherish. No one is expecting them to win it all and that alone should be incentive enough for them to do well. Throw in the lack of pressure and giant-killer tag and the Tuskers have all that they need to make it a memorable debut season.

Now about Sreesanth…

Why IPL matters?

Forget the after parties. Ignore the cheerleaders and the glitzy owners. Just focus on the cricket.

IPL4 in its first few days has shown us why exactly it matters to the game of cricket. Talent. If it were not for IPLs past, would we have known about the gem that is Suresh Raina?. In the first week of IPL4, two stars of significant untapped potential have emerged: Paul Valthaty and Ambati Rayudu. Both these players have been around for a few years, just not under the public eye. Due to various reasons, they didnt make the cut for the national team and had talent untapped. Not anymore. With a blitzkreig that shocked champions CSK, Valthaty signaled to the world that he has arrived. Rayudu did it much more differently. In a serene innings of 63 on a weird track in Bangalore, he showed that he can handle the pressures of the game very well. It may be too early to anoint them as the second coming of Dhoni or Raina but it definitely shows how much talent is hidden beneath the surface that only a high profile tournament/league like the IPL can bring out.

And this is not the end. Before IPL 4 draws to a close, there will be many more such heroes that blaze a trail of destruction and remind the selectors that there is a long future ahead for their respective national teams.

IPL t20

Can CSK repeat?

 

CSK

The Chennai Super Kings started the defense of their IPL Champions title with an interesting win over the Knight Riders. What was interesting was that a significantly reconstructed CSK was able to wrest a win from the hands of Kolkata. While Gambhir will have to answer his critics on continued running woes and the decision to move himself down the order, what remains is that Kolkata lost a game they should have won. The game also established the uncanny ability of CSK to win games that matter.

If you remember, the Super Kings lost the first IPL to Rajasthan in the last ball. The Royals were the underdogs that went all the way in IPL 1. CSK’s freshman campaign was also pretty good by IPL standards but they were derailed in the semis by Anil Kumble’s Challengers. The third time was the charm for Dhoni’s boys who had a resurgent second half in IPL3 to win it all over Sachin’s Mumbai Indians.

The Super Kings will have a challenge in their hands this season from a very good Indians team and a bunch of above average teams from Deccan, Rajasthan and Kolkata. Pune will be a dark horse if they can pull things together. As the most valuable franchise in the league, the CSK management has done a stellar job in replacing stars like Hayden and Murali not to mention an injured Bollinger (who should hopefully be back for the second half) with local and internation choices like Aniruddha Sreekanth and Tim Southee. Already, Bollinger’s replacement Tim Southee proved his mettle by bowling a very tight last over to Kolkata in the first game. Dhoni’s ability to eke out wins in such tight situations will hopefully stay intact and the Super Kings will be the champions once more in 2011.

Whistle Podu!