Saturday, July 5, 2008

Asia Cup '08 Final - India VS Sri Lanka

A few days back when local scribes asked M.S. Dhoni about his team and about missing Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, the Indian skipper paused and said, “what I say on this issue gets misinterpreted at times but all I can say is that this team has done well over a period of one year, be it batting or bowling.”

The STAR Cricket Asia Cup final against defending champion Sri Lanka at the National Stadium here on Sunday evening, presents Dhoni and Co., another opportunity to assuage genuine fears about the Indian team’s resilience in coping with a rich legacy and the resultant vacuum as Tendulkar copes with a body that has stretched itself thin over 19 years of top flight cricket while Dravid and Ganguly have been omitted on the basis of ageing shoulders.

India and Sri Lanka clashed in the tournament’s last final at Colombo in 2004 and the Islanders won by 25 runs. Only three players from the current Indian squad played in that match — Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan while the Sri Lankans have seven players from that final doing duty here.

And the Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene did probe about the young Indian batsmen’s ability to cope with pressure in the final.

Jayawardene’s comments may be part of the verbal jousting that precedes key clashes but India’s batting has to stick to its preamble of consistency that has bailed out the team all through the tournament as the bowling has lacked imagination and the fielders in the deep have resembled the walking-wounded.

Change in pace, subtle changes in angle or even the deployment of the slower delivery, have been on the wane though placid pitches that have smiled at the willow wielders often mean that bowlers walk in with slumped shoulders.

The Indian batting with the Sehwag-Gambhir duo at the top and a sedate Dhoni anchoring the middle overs, seems to be in the pink of health. Add to it Suresh Raina’s form, Rohit Sharma’s belated return to runs against Pakistan and Yuvraj Singh’s lusty strikes through the ‘V’, and you have a slew of batsmen capable of bolstering scores or dismantling targets.
Lankan attack

Yet the Sri Lankan attack with the crafty Chaminda Vaas, nippy Dilharo Fernando along with Muttiah Muralitharan and the much-discussed mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis, cannot be discounted for potency as well as the ability to stifle.

The Sri Lankans with their double-barrel-gun combine of Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara, have bludgeoned bowlers without any remorse.

Jayawardene has slowly found his feet and Chamara Kapugedera and Chamara Silva too have chipped in and the Indian attack needs to shrug its rust and stick to the basics as emphasised by bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad.

India last won the Asia Cup at Sharjah in 1995. It is time to regain the cup that at one stage was India’s monopoly since its launch in 1984.

India has won the tournament on four occasions. But before that Dhoni’s men should forget about cramped schedules, flat pitches, sultry weather and perhaps take a leaf out of their rivals who always seem to be on their toes in the field.

For Sri Lanka, playing in Pakistan is often about revisiting memories of that famous 1996 World Cup triumph at Lahore and for added inspiration, all they have to do is to look at the VIP enclosure on Sunday evening as the then skipper Arjuna Ranatunga will be around in his latest role of being the Asian Cricket Council’s president.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dhoni pats Batsmen for Asia Cup Semi Victory

Team India captain and Man-of-the-Match Mahendra Singh Dhoni looked a relieved man in the post-match presentation ceremony, after making sure that his team reached the Asia Cup final.
Following are excerpts:

Mahendra Singh Dhoni

It’s a good win for our side… We wanted to bowl well today (Thursday). It was great to see R.P. (Singh), Ishant (Sharma) and Pragyan (Ojha) bowl well. Viru (Virender Sehwag) and Gauti (Gautam Gambhir) again gave us a good start today… We finished well. We were right up there today (Thursday), though we were a bit tired. Our batting was not only about hitting boundaries today. Sehwag and Gautam also ran very well… I was telling Suresh (Raina) if we put pressure on the fielders, we will get couples… We don’t need to hit boundaries. We would like to improve a bit in the fielding department and also in bowling. We have a couple of days off now thankfully… Looking forward to a good game of cricket in the final.

Mahela Jayawardene

The wicket was pretty good… They got away from us in the first 10-15 overs. Raina’s catch became very vital. There was no question of complacency… We went flat out, we played to our plan. The Indians batted really well…

Must win match for India to be Live in Asia Cup

Younis Khan's whirlwind 123 changes the nature of Thursday's clash. Pakistan managed to chase a target of 309, and instead of a dress rehearsal for the final, the contest against Sri Lanka becomes India's chance to seal outright a place in the final without waiting for the outcome of the last Super Four match between Pakistan and Bangladesh - a win then will be enough for Pakistan to go through.

The batting has clicked for both India and Sri Lanka so far in the tournament but Pakistan's performance against the two teams highlighted how undercooked India's bowlers are. They have failed to come to grips with the flat decks in Karachi and it's their batsmen who bailed them out in the wins against Bangladesh and Pakistan. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had complained about the gruelling schedule for his team after playing three games in four days, and they will have to bounce back less than 24 hours after the loss to Pakistan.

Sri Lanka have sealed their spot in the final, and have the luxury to rest key players, something Pakistan won't want them to do. However, they will look back to the loss to Australia in an inconsequential game last year, when they rested key bowlers for tactical reasons after having sealed their spot in the semi-finals of the World Cup - the same bowlers proved ineffective in the one-sided final.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

India takes on Pakistan in Asia Cup Cricket '08

Having got three full days to recharge their batteries, a rejuvenated India will take on arch rivals Pakistan in a Super Four match of the Asia Cup cricket tournament here tomorrow, fully aware that a victory will ensure them a berth in the final.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni was visibly miffed when he complained about the tight schedule of the tournament that required his team to play three matches over four days."It is too tight. I am not happy with the schedule.
Two teams have to play back-to-back matches while two others got a day off," fumed Dhoni after his team had tamed Bangladesh in their previous match.Much to his relief, a three-day break allowed the side to get over the fatigue and the players should be raring to go when they have the traditional rivals at sight.
The cloud of doubt over Irfan Pathan's fitness, however, hovers and though the left-arm seamer slugged in yesterday's optional practice session, it's not known if the Indian think-tank would risk playing him tomorrow.
Though predicting the outcome of an India-Pakistan match can be inviting embarrassment, Dhoni's team seems to have a certain edge, having beaten the hosts in the group stage.The Indian batting line-up, especially the top order, has been firing on all cylinders and though the tight schedule made it quite taxing for them, runs have not stopped flowing from their blades. PTI