It is a case of survival of the fittest for those playing in the ICC World Cup Qualifier

The UAE are in a World Cup Qualifier group with Ireland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and West Indies. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2018
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It is a case of survival of the fittest for those playing in the ICC World Cup Qualifier

BANGALORE: As much as we have been conditioned to celebrate victory, the average sports fan remembers far more than who lifted the trophy. There may be many, especially Italians, who remember what happened in the 1982 World Cup final, but for the vast majority around the globe, memories of that Spanish summer invariably revolve around a Brazilian team of matchless beauty and skill.
And as much as we might cherish Zinedine Zidane’s headed goals in the 1998 final, who can forget Sunday Olizeh’s rocket from outside the box as Nigeria upset Spain in the opening round? No one but the biggest golf tragic will remember that Paul Lawrie won the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. But the image of poor Jean van der Velde, water up to his shins in the Barry Burn, is just indelible.
New Zealand’s All Blacks won the 2015 World Cup, as most expected them to, but the game of the tournament featured Japan’s high-risk-high-skill approach that ultimately proved too much for the once-mighty Springboks.
Cricket is no different. The first World Cup I covered, in the Caribbean in 2007, was won by Australia, the dominant team of the decade. But as eventful as the final was, floodlight failures and all, it wasn’t a patch on the drama we witnessed at Sabina Park in the tournament’s opening week, when the new boys from Ireland first tied with Zimbabwe and then upset Pakistan, winners in 1992.
The Irish were at it again four years later, embarrassing England in Bangalore as Kevin O’Brien scored one of the all-time great hundreds. And if you want to go back much further, it could be persuasively argued that cricket’s place at the top of India’s sporting totem pole is largely the result of the magnificent running catch that Kapil Dev took to dismiss a rampant Vivian Richards in the 1983 final.
But as the decades have passed and the sport has become richer, cricket has also become more and more insular and selfish. Instead of building on the gains made by the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan in recent years, the International Cricket Council (ICC) opted to shrink the World Cup. It’s still interminably long, but instead of 14 teams – already far less than football and rugby – the 2019 edition will feature just ten.
What’s more, the top seven in the rankings as of Sept. 30, 2017, and England, the hosts, didn’t even need to qualify. When you consider how mediocre some of those teams have been in recent seasons, the emerging sides’ sense of injustice only becomes more acute.
Ireland, who have beaten at least one higher ranked team in each of their three World Cup appearances, and Afghanistan, whose attack-minded cricket and drum-beating fans added so much to the 2015 spectacle, are among those left to scrap for two remaining places at the top table.
Given what’s at stake, it’s probably no exaggeration to say that the World Cup Qualifier, to be hosted by Zimbabwe between March 4 and 25, will be the most important tournament that many of these players take part in. The Netherlands, and the top three Associate nations, will get ODI status till 2022. For the rest, the price of failure will be especially catastrophic.
Zimbabwe, who reached the Super Sixes in both 1999 and 2003, are trying to claw their way back, but were recently well beaten by Afghanistan, whose spin resources will make every other side wary. West Indies, champions twice (1975 and ‘79) in the halcyon years, continue to undermine their chances by ostracizing some of their most talented white-ball cricketers, while Ireland have slipped a bit as a generation of players has grown old together.
The Netherlands’ Peter Borren and Scotland’s Preston Mommsen were two of the most articulate critics of the reduction in teams when it was announced, and both sides face a tough task to match those sides that have deeper player pools to choose from. Hong Kong are in the same boat, having lost Mark Chapman, their gun batsman, to New Zealand.
Papua New Guinea and Nepal are the Cinderella sides, especially the Nepalese who enjoy frenzied support in the Himalayan kingdom. As for the UAE, with most of the squad having roots in the subcontinent, they can call on some of the best facilities outside the established nations.
The level of competition will be as high as it has ever been, with failure potentially derailing some national programs and playing careers. Instead of learning from rugby, which will host its World Cup in Japan next year and which has grown the sport using the sevens format, cricket has pushed those that aspire to the biggest stage into the Barry Burn. Over the next month, we’ll see which two teams manage to wade out of it.


Time for the Sun to shine on Hyderabad in the IPL

Updated 22 March 2019
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Time for the Sun to shine on Hyderabad in the IPL

  • Can MS Dhoni lead the Super Kings to another IPL title?
  • Who are the players to watch out for?

LONDON: The 12th edition of the Indian Premier League gets underway today with the usual razzmatazz, stacks of cash — in cricketing terms at least, pure conspicuous consumption — on display. This is the form of leather on willow that is as close to pure Americana as you are going to find.
As much as $15 million was shelled out at this year’s auction on 60 players. You only have to look at the riches the players are now earning to realize why every big-hitting batsman or wily bowler wants a piece of the IPL. Varun Chakravarthy went for $1.2 million, a millionaire overnight having not even played for his country.
Once again the Chennai Super Kings are the team to beat. Under MS Dhoni the powerhouses have won three titles — a record they share with the Mumbai Indians.
Here we give you the lowdown on cricket’s brashest format and take a peek into our crystal ball to tell you what we think is going to happen.

DELHI CAPITALS (8th last year)

Have only made the last four three times, finished rock bottom last year and decided something had to change. So they changed their name from the Daredevils to the Capitals, the new name as prosaic as their past cricket. They have added Shikhar Dhawan for power at the top of the order and to compliment the decent bowling attack of Trent Boult and Kagiso Rabada.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: The only way is up but will finish outside the top four.

RAJASTHAN ROYALS (4th)

The winners of the first IPL they have made the last four three times since. A look at their batting line-up — Steve Smith, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Ajinkya Rahane — will always trouble the opposition bowlers and with Jofra Archer and Jaydev Unadkat in the attack will always take wickets. Can they back up their impressive team sheet with equally impressive results?
ARAB NEWS SAYS: Will reach the last four but will miss the departing Stokes and Buttler who leave for a pre-World Cup training camp.

KINGS PUNJAB (7th)

An impressive spin attack of Ravi Ashwin, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Chakravarthy will once again prove that T20, once thought to be the graveyard for slow bowlers, is a game built just for them. They will look for West Indies legend Chris Gayle to find his big-hitting range early on to give them the totals to defend.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: Could prove to be the surprise package if, and it is a big if, their big names fire. We think they will just miss out on the last four.

Will Chris Gayle fire again this season? (AFP)

ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE (6th)

One look at their batting line-up is enough to give any bowler the dreaded yips. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers could have their very own “who is the greatest short-form batsman of all-time” competition. The addition of Marcus Stoinis will give the side more balance and a chance of winning their first title.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: A side with Kohli and De Villiers cannot go three years without a top-four finish.

MUMBAI INDIANS (5th)

The Manchester United of the IPL, they have won three titles and with Rohit Sharma as captain, and a settled side — Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga and Jasprit Bumrah just three of the retained stars — will always be a danger. But they finished outside the top four last year and perhaps miss a bit of fire power in the batting department.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: Another year outside the top four.

Virat Kohli is dangerous no matter what the format. (AFP) 

KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS (3)

Last year’s top-four finish was a surprise and there is the sense they will struggle to match that this time around. With Windies stars Carlos Brathwaite and Andre Russell in the side and spin king Sunil Narine they will always have a chance but it is perhaps expecting too much to repeat last season’s surge to the semis.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: They will not be able to repeat last year’s heroics and will finish in sixth.

CHENNAI SUPER KINGS (Champions)

The team to beat, they have kept most of their title-winning side from last year and still have MS Dhoni — will he ever retire? — at the helm. It is hard to make a case for them not reaching the final, harder still not making the last four. If there is one possible worry is it that they have not strengthened much over the winter.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: In the last four.

SUNRISERS HYDERABAD (2nd)

Will still be smarting from their heavy defeat in the final at the hands of Chennai last year. They look to have the strongest batting line-up with Kane Williamson, Martin Guptil, Jonny Bairstow and David Warner to share the big-hitting responsibilities and with spinner of the moment Rashid Khan they will always be able to take wickets.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: Champions