The Reverse Sweep

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This week we preview the Super Eight stage of the World T20 as the tournament finally gets going in earnest. We also look at the main talking points from the World T20 and county circuit, as well as enjoying the fact that India has fallen in love with test cricket again.

The Reverse Sweep is an irreverent and sometimes acerbic round-up of the week that was in cricket. For similar musings on this wonderful game of ours please visit my blog also entitled The Reverse Sweep, read my new twice-weekly column on CricDude, or follow me on Twitter @TheReverseSweep

Will the Super Eight’s kick-start a flat World T20?

As Election Day dawns in Great Britain, the candidates for the World T20 crown have been shortened down to the expected parties as the Super Eight stage kicks off with England facing reigning champions Pakistan in Barbados today.
So far, with the exception of some plucky performances from Afghanistan we saw a closely fought opening match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand, some imperious batting from Raina and Jayawardene in particular, and then yesterday pace came to the fore first with Tait and Nannes, and then from Steyn and Morkel. But the overwhelming sensation has been one of disappointment.

This has arisen in part due to the close proximity of the IPL – surely even the most ardent T20 follower could do with a break from the format, and also the fact that this year’s tournament comes less than a year after the last one finished. Moreover, the decision to stage matches in rainy Guyana was flawed and the Duckworth Lewis method clearly needs to be refined for T20. Also the ICC’s decision to have four initial groups of three before the Super Eight stage hasn’t helped. Surely, it would have been better to have two groups of six followed by semi-finals and a final? That may mean six more matches in the tournament, but at least each team would then play a minimum of five matches. Afghanistan in particular deserved that opportunity.

But the business end of the tournament has finally arrived, and the level of intensity will inevitably rise. Group E sees holders Pakistan take on England, New Zealand and South Africa. This one is difficult to predict and not just because it includes Shahid Afridi’s mercurial team. England too can be brilliant one day and woeful the next as evidenced by the contrasting batting performances against West Indies and Ireland. New Zealand are a strong T20 side, which continually punches above its weight and South Africa must be strong contenders considering that each side will play its first two games in pace-friendly Barbados. Given that we initially tipped England to win the tournament we have to stick with that; albeit with little confidence, and South Africa seem the strongest of the other three sides.

Group F is also hard to predict with India the most impressive side to date up against Australia, Sri Lanka and West Indies. All four sides are capable of winning the whole competition, but Sri Lanka can probably be discounted this time due to form. Mahela Jayawardene may have continued the excellent performances he produced in the second half of the IPL season but with Dilshan and Sangakkara in dreadful touch and with Murali ruled out of the competition, last year’s finalists won’t make the last four. With India excellently marshalled by MS Dhoni and their key men in good form, they can be expected to top the group, which leaves Australia and the hosts battling for second and a place in the semi-finals. As with South Africa, Australia will be delighted that two of their matches are in Bridgetown and we take the firepower of Tait, Nannes and Harris to ease Michael Clarke’s men past Chris Gayle’s side.

But the overwhelming hope is that the competition begins to find a bit of life and that the matches will be close and competitive.

Please can we see more of Afghanistan

The story of Afghanistan’s rise from cricket’s fifth division to the World T20 is one of the most remarkable and positive stories in sport over the last ten years. Indeed, a film “Out of the Ashes” has been made, which documents the journey to the Caribbean via Jersey, Tanzania, Buenos Aires, South Africa and Dubai. Given Afghanistan’s rapid rise and the fact that unlike Ireland for example, they had not played at this level before, they emerge with bats held high from their two defeats to India and South Africa. They certainly justified their belief that they should have the opportunity to play regular T20 and ODI against the top teams. Their fielding has been sharp, the bowlers have done well and even the batsmen performed reasonably against India despite being blown away by Steyn and Morkel yesterday. So let’s hope this is just the start for Afghanistan and that a sequel tracking their entry into test cricket will be filmed in the next five years.

Stand and deliver
Staying with Afghanistan, their opening batsman Karim Sadiq provided us with the best moment so far of the World T20 with his innings against India. It only lasted three balls and he was out for a duck, but it is the most entertaining duck we have ever witnessed.

India rekindles its love for test cricket

It’s amazing what getting to number one can do to you. For Liam and Noel Gallagher it prompted an almighty binge on coke, booze and brotherly fallouts, which led to the disaster that was the Be Here Now album. For the BCCI, India’s rise to number one in the ICC test rankings has prompted them to fall in love with test cricket again. Soon after reaching the top of the tree during the home series victory against Sri Lanka last year, the BCCI quickly realised that with only five tests scheduled in 2010 (against Bangladesh and New Zealand), India were unlikely to hold on to the prize without playing more test cricket. As a result, the ODI series with South Africa was hastily shortened so that two tests could also take place. India’s victory in the second test, which squared the series, meant that they kept their number one position.

Now, the BCCI has apparently asked Australia to restructure the seven match ODI series scheduled for October into two tests and three ODI. This will benefit both parties as it will help MS Dhoni’s men try and hold on to its number one spot and give the Australians a couple of tests just a few weeks before the start of the Ashes in November. Given that we at the Reverse Sweep are getting a little sick of T20 at the moment, the BCCI’s rekindled love for test cricket is one we reciprocate.

Is Yuvraj over-rated?

On our blog this week, we asked if Yuvraj Singh was over-rated. It certainly provoked a strong response from Indian supporters. Whilst we concede that Yuvraj is important to the Indian T20 and ODI sides as an impact player and that his record is good in those formats, we were mainly focussing on his test record, which is poor. Yuvraj has an average under 36 and only three hundreds in his 33 tests. When you consider the fact that most of these tests have been played on the batting paradises of the subcontinent that average is only worth about 30 to an English or Australian player. By sheer coincidence that is what Graeme Swann and Nathan Hauritz average.

Andrew Gale –a future England captain?

Last week we wrote that Yorkshire are looking the best bet to unseat Durham as champions, and their good form has continued this week with Andrew Gale’s and Anthony McGrath’s centuries leading the White Rose county to a 500 plus score against Essex, who are already following-on. Gale has had a fantastic start as skipper and is in a rich vein of form with the bat. He impressed the England management with his captaincy of the Lions over the winter and is increasingly looking like a possible future England captain.

Surrey and Middlesex in the mire

The two London based counties are having a dreadful start to the season. We have already written before about Surrey’s travails and rookie skipper Rory Hamilton-Brown has a monumental task to help bring former glories back to the Oval. Middlesex have had an even worse start and have lost their first four championship matches despite the presence of Andrew Strauss, whose bad form from South Africa seems to have spilled over into the new season. Surrey are struggling currently against Gloucestershire, but Middlesex are in a good position against leaders Sussex. It will certainly be an interesting season at the Oval and Lord’s.

That’s all for this week folks.

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