Monday, November 28, 2011

Bangladesh look to break Pakistan's momentum

Pakistan begins its first full tour of Bangladesh with a one-off T20 International against the home side at Dhaka on Tuesday. Pakistan are riding high on their impressive win against Sri Lanka across all formats. On the other hand, Bangladesh have shown glimpses of talent but are a side struggling to make a lasting impression, often falling away at crucial times.

An unusual serenity and calmness surrounded the Pakistan team when it arrived in Dhaka. Usually embroiled in controversies, Misbah’s men have looked a calm and collected unit off late. The fans alike have started believing in the team, even more so after coming out on top of difficult situations in the recent series win against Sri Lanka.

The team flew directly from UAE, and only injuries have brought changes to the squad. All-rounder Abdul Razzaq and left-arm pacer Junaid Khan will both miss the tour due to injuries. Fast bowler Mohammed Khalil has come in the side. Skipper Misbah has indicated that they will field a full-strength side, rubbishing any impressions that they are taking Bangladesh lightly. The task will not be easy for their opposition, with Pakistan boasting of the three highest wicket-takers in T20 International history.

Bangladesh have made improvements through leaps and bounds in recent years. At times they take the world by a storm, while at others, even their staunchest supporters are left saving face. The team should use the recent win against West Indies in the T20 as a morale-boosting example and continue to believe that they can, on their given day, overcome even the best sides in the world. And realistically, the T20 format presents their best chance at achieving so.

In terms of their squad, former captain and experienced batsman Mohammad Ashraful has been axed owing to consistently poor performances. All-rounder Farhad Reza returns to the national side after three years, during which he signed with the breakaway Indian Cricket League and was thus banned by the BCB. Wicket-keeper Mushfiqur Rahim will lead the side, and Shakib al Hassan will pose the greatest threat to the opposition.

The two sides have met four times in the shortest format of the game, with Pakistan winning each time.

Young India still favorites against West Indies

India, the world champions, enter the one-day series against West Indies as firm favorites and one should expect little surprises, if any, in terms of results. West Indies have only upward to look to as their form in the 50-over format of the game has not been any impressive either.

India will be led by the explosive Virender Sehwag, with the selectors deciding to rest regular skipper MS Dhoni ahead of the tough Australian tour. For them it is a matter of continuing their winning run as well as testing their bench strength. Sachin Tendulkar has also been rested while Yuvraj Singh is unavailable as he battles lung tumor.

India have fared reasonably well off late, clean-sweeping England at home to add to the World Cup glory earlier in the year. In addition, they beat West Indies in West Indies as well, winning the first three ODIs before falling away in the last two inconsequential matches. The only glitch in an otherwise perfect year has come in the form of the abysmal tour to England where they lost 3-0.

West Indies will yet again be looking for answers to their miseries that surround them. Since crashing out in the quarter-final at the World Cup, the team has lost home series against Pakistan and India. While they won the ODI series in Bangladesh, the victory came through the tough route having lost the first match before bouncing back in the following two matches.

The absence of Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo has proven costly in recent times, and the young side will be looking to silence the critics with impressive performances. Darren Bravo has been a revelation on the tour and his teammates will look to draw inspiration from him.

Barabati Stadium in Cuttack hosts the day/night encounter. India have lost only two ODIs in two decades at this ground. With the match being played late in November, dew factor could be important and may affect the captain’s decision after winning the toss.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sri Lanka look to end tour on a high note

After comprehensively outplaying Sri Lanka throughout the tour, Pakistan will look to reign supreme in the shortest format of the game as well when the teams clash in Abu Dhabi for their one-off Twenty20 International. Surprising as it may sound, Pakistan are ranked seventh in ICC T20 rankings – a format they seem best suited for. On the other hand, Sri Lanka are ranked second on the table, and the only notable success they have had since World Cup has come in T20s only.

Sri Lanka look extremely out of ideas to arrest their woeful slide. While the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket gives them their best chance on tour to rectify it, their chances of doing so look slim against a Pakistan side gaining momentum with each win. Pakistan, on the other hand, are hungry for more wins, not only to put aside their off-field controversies behind them, but also to improve their seventh-placed ICC T20 ranking – something that took Misbah ul Haq by a shock. Of the last 10 T20 matches, Pakistan have won only three, two of them against the minnows Zimbabwe.

Injuries have depleted both sides with valuable talent, though Sri Lanka’s loss is more damaging on two counts. First, injuries to key players hamper the team’s hopes of change in fortunes. Secondly, their bench strength does not possess the same firepower and abundance in talent as Pakistan’s.

Mahela Jayawardene, who missed the last ODI as well, will be missed at the top of the order. In addition, skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan will wait on his fitness to decide whether he plays or not. For Pakistan, Abdul Razzaq had already been ruled out. In addition, Junaid Khan also suffered an abdominal tear during the last ODI and has been ruled out for six weeks. Such injuries will allow both sides to blood more youngsters into the side. Sri Lanka are likely to give Kosala Kulasekara and the experienced Ajantha Mendis a go. For Pakistan, Umar Akmal is likely to keep wickets again.

The match is scheduled for a late evening start on the weekly holiday of Friday. Therefore, a packed house should not be surprising. Interestingly, Pakistan have lost both their previous T20 games at this ground and will be hoping to set that record straight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pakistan favorites against embattled Sri Lanka in dead encounter

Rallying on their impressive run, Pakistan will be keen to dent Sri Lanka further as the two sides meet in the inconsequential final one-day match at Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Sri Lanka started the series at No. 2 on ICC ODI rankings and have already slipped to number four. Pakistan, on the other hand, edged past England and will be looking to solidify their fifth slot further.

After back-to-back wins, Pakistan’s confidence is sky high. From the lows of failure to a come-from-behind win in the fourth match, all masterminded by flamboyant Shahid Afridi, the team has continued its unbeaten run in bilateral series this year. And the team knows that to put all the controversies behind them, they need to keep winning irrespective of the series result, and that will keep Pakistan hungry for a win in the final game.

Pakistan may fiddle around a bit with their line-up, to try different combinations and test their bench strength. Umar Gul has looked out of sorts in the last two matches and may be rested to give Sohail Tanvir another chance. Another surprising omission has been that of Junaid Khan who impressed in the test matches as well. Shoaib Malik who looked out of sorts in the previous game is likely to retain his place as all-rounder Abdul Razzaq has been sent home due to injury.

For Sri Lanka, their abysmal tour keeps getting worse. Their experienced players have failed to carry the team over the line, and the youngsters have been unsuccessful in translating their immense potential into on-field results. On Sunday the team failed to chase 201, their last seven wickets collapsing for 19 runs. To make matters worse, Sri Lanka have injury concerns that may hamper their performance even further. Skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan is expected to lead the side despite injury. Mahela Jayawardene though has been ruled out of the remainder of the tour and has flown back home.

Given the unpredictable nature of performances on both sides, another close encounter cannot be ruled out on the slow, low pitches of Abu Dhabi. The match will be crucial not only for the teams’ viewpoints, but also for individual players to stand up and be counted with both teams looking to score psychological points ahead of the Twenty20 international.