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ICC World Cup Semi-Finals Preview

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The semi-finalists for the ICC World Cup have now been decided and, as many predicted before the tournament kicked off way back on February 19th, there are three sides from the sub-continent still in with a chance of being crowned world champions. More of a surprise is the presence of New Zealand in the semi-finals following an inexplicable collapse by South Africa. Tomorrow (29th March) sees Sri Lanka take on the Kiwis in Colombo, before Wednesday (30th March) gives us cricket’s greatest rivalry, India vs. Pakistan, in Mohali. Prior to the big games, Sport Report takes a look at the four teams aiming to become world champions.

New Zealand

The Blackcaps came through Group A unconvincingly with four wins and two losses from their six matches. It is perhaps telling that the defeats came against top test-playing sides (Australia and Sri Lanka) and were, quite frankly drubbings. One should not forget however that they did defeat a very talented Pakistan side thanks to Ross Taylor’s fireworks in the last five overs in Pallekele, thus proving that on their day, they can be a match for anyone. The question is whether that was a one-off.

In tomorrow’s semi-final at the R Premadasa Stadium, Daniel Vettori’s men will need a much better performance against Sri Lanka than they did in the group stage if they are to progress. In that game, Sri Lanka hammered the Kiwis by 112 runs and everything points to them winning comfortably again in Colombo, but then again, everything suggested a South African victory in the quarter-finals. New Zealand do not possess the star names that India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka do, but they are a solid team unit. In Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum they do have batsmen capable of scoring big runs quickly and their fielding is as good as anything in cricket. Perhaps the most surprising element of their play during this World Cup has been their ability to take wickets as they have bowled out the opposition in four of their seven matches so far and taken nine wickets in two of the remaining three games. If they can be this dangerous with the ball in Colombo, they will give themselves a chance.

Key Players

Brendon McCullum: Wicket Keeper and opening batsman who is capable of fireworks as we have seen in the past. As an opener, he will look to exploit the fielding restrictions early on and get the Blackcaps off to a good start. He is however, prone to giving away his wicket and will need to avoid this against the pace of Lasith Malinga in the first few overs.

Daniel Vettori: New Zealand’s ever-reliable captain who is capable with both bat and ball. Vettori has been far from a prolific wicket taker in this World Cup, but is very capable of stifling attacks and creating scoreboard pressure which other bowlers can then exploit. He has underperformed with the bat in this tournament but is always capable of a vital lower-order knock.

Tim Southee: Southee has been something of a surprise package with the new ball taking 15 wickets (joint 3rd highest) at an economy rate of 4.94. Sri Lanka’s openers are arguably the best on show and so Southee’s spell will be key to the outcome of the game.

Sri Lanka

The joint hosts were one of the favourites going in to the tournament and have lived up to the billing. They finished second in Group A behind Pakistan with a record of four wins, one loss and one no result. Sri Lanka have a very balanced team and one which is capable with both the bat and the ball. They possess a blend of young talented cricketers such as Ajantha Mendis and Angelo Mathews and reliable, seasoned campaigners like Muttiah Muralidaran, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. They opted for three spinners against England on Saturday and may well do so again on a spin-friendly pitch. The Sri Lankans will benefit from fervent home support in Colombo and hold a convincing group stage win over New Zealand. Their resounding 10 wicket victory over England was highly impressive and they are favourites for this game.

Key Players

Tillakaratne Dilshan: Dilshan is a devastating batsman who forms a brilliant opening partnership with Upul Tharanga. The two did the job alone against England with Dilshan unbeaten on 108 off 115 balls. He has also proved more than useful with the ball as his miserly six overs and wicket against Andrew Strauss’s men showed. On a spin-friendly track in Colombo he may once again be given the new ball.

Kumar Sangakkara: Sangakkara is undoubtedly the best wicket keeper/batsman in the game and is also a first-rate captain. His bowling changes against England were imaginative and his field settings were very effective. He is the fourth highest run scorer in this World Cup with 363 and has been pretty much flawless behind the stumps.

Muttiah Muralidaran: What can one say about a man who has taken 1319 wickets in international cricket? The fact that Murali still gets as excited as a child in a sweet shop when he takes a wicket shows what kind of competitor he is. He is capable of ripping through batting orders with a mindboggling array of deliveries and of restricting batsmen to few runs off his bowling. He is still very much a key player at the age of 38 and Sri Lanka will be hoping the hamstring injury which has caused him problems in the last two games does not keep him out of this game.

Sport Report Prediction: Sri Lanka to win

India

India were the pre-tournament favourites thanks to home support and a formidable batting line-up that includes Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. The question marks related to their ability to handle the pressure of one billion expectant Indians and their slightly weak bowling attack. In truth, this World Cup has been something of a mixed bag for India as they lost to South Africa, drew a game they should have won against England, but impressively knocked out defending champions Australia in the quarter-finals. They have had issues with certain batsmen not performing as well as they should have and one such culprit, Yusuf Pathan, was dropped for the Australia match in favour of Suresh Raina who came in and steered India to victory with 34 off just 28 balls. The Indians have failed to bat out 50 overs too often in this tournament and cannot afford to do so again if they are to beat arch rivals Pakistan.

Key Players

Sachin Tendulkar: The Little Master scored his 18,000th ODI run in the quarter-final victory over Australia and is the third highest run scorer in the tournament with 379 runs, which have been scored at an average of 54.14. Tendulkar is very much in form at the moment and is searching for century 100, no doubt a milestone he would love to achieve against Pakistan on a batter’s track in Mohali. Tendulkar will open the batting with the explosive Virender Sehwag and will look to take it to Pakistan’s opening bowlers.

Yuvraj Singh: Yuvi has turned out to be India’s star performer in this competition. He showed his worth in the quarter-final with a match winning 57 not out and two wickets. That performance bagged Yuvraj the Man of the Match award for the fourth time in seven games. Many questioned his inclusion in the squad before the tournament, but he is a key player with bat and ball and has performed when others have failed. He will no doubt be a big factor in the outcome of the game against Pakistan.

Zaheer Khan: India’s bowling attack has, at times, looked slightly impotent with Munaf Patel offering very little and Harbhajan Singh struggling for wickets. Zaheer however, never lets India down, swinging the ball this way and then that. He will be key in the semi-final as Pakistan’s biggest weakness lies in its unconvincing opening pair. If Zaheer can account for one or both of them quickly, Pakistan’s underperforming middle-order will be exposed earlier than they would like.

Pakistan

Aside from five mad overs against New Zealand and a lacklustre but winning performance against Canada, Pakistan have probably been the most impressive team on show in a tournament they were originally supposed to host. They surprisingly topped Group A ahead of Sri Lanka and Australia which set up their rout of West Indies in the quarter-finals. Captain Shahid Afridi has been on fire with the ball and is the leading wicket taker with 21. Asad Shafiq has come in to the team at the expense of Ahmed Shahzad and has put in some excellent, mature performances which belie his inexperience at this level. Umar Gul looks to have found his accuracy with the ball and Pakistan’s varied bowling attack will provide India’s much-vaunted batting lineup with a stern test. They will, however, need improved batting performances from the likes of Afridi and Abdur Razzaq, as well as an error-free day behind the stumps from Kamran Akmal if they are to make an appearance in the final for the first time in 12 years.

Key Players

Shahid Afridi: Pakistan’s talismanic captain inspires those around even if he is not tactically the best. He has been the tournament’s stand-out bowler restricting opposition batsmen to very few runs and taking more wickets than any other bowler. Afridi has undoubtedly underperformed with the bat and played some frankly stupid shots. He will look to put that right against India and if he does, he could take the game away from India in the blink of an eye.

Umar Gul: Gul has really found his form in the last two games, although he was not exactly struggling prior to that. Pakistan’s premier quick bowler can swing the ball both ways and bowls a mean Yorker. He will be crucial early on in India’s innings as Sehwag and Tendulkar look to take advantage of the fielding restrictions. If he can induce an edge early on, Pakistan will be well set.

Kamran Akmal: The elder of the two Akmals is a key player as much for his ability to make massive errors as he is for his ability. He is a highly erratic performer behind the stumps and with the bat, capable of brilliance and ineptitude with equal measure. If he has a good day on Wednesday, he can keep as well as anybody and put runs on the board quickly. The problem from Pakistan’s point of view is that this is a big if.

Sport Report Prediction: India to win (just!)

Categories: Cricket

Spotlight on… Mario Götze

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

In the latest edition of the ‘Spotlight on…’ series, Sport Report makes the first of several trips to Germany and runs the rule over one of European football’s most talked-about young talents, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Mario Götze.

A product of Dortmund’s much vaunted youth academy having been at the club since the age of 9, Götze broke into the first team last season and has ensured that his name is one of the first on manager Jürgen Klopp’s team sheet with a string of highly impressive and mature performances at the heart of the Bundesliga leaders’ midfield.

The 18 year old is not the archetypal modern footballer in that he stands only 5’9 (176 cm) and is very slight in build, but what he lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up for in ability. Like so many players to come out of German academies, Götze is technically excellent. His close control is exemplary, as is the range and accuracy of his passing. Comparisons to Arsenal and England youngster Jack Wilshere are not without basis, but it should be noted that Götze is much more willing than his English counterpart to run with the ball at his feet and look to beat defenders.

The German’s true gift however, lies in his ability to spot passes and, more importantly, choose the right one. He is very much a team player and one who often prefers providing goals for teammates to scoring them. These attributes have helped make Götze the leading assist maker in the Bundesliga this season with 10, something from which teammates Lucas Barrios and Shinji Kagawa have benefitted most. The ability to make the right decisions in the pressured environment of a Bundesliga match is very rare for one so young and marks him out as truly special. So precocious is the 18 year old’s talent that DFB Technical Director Matthias Sammer lauded him as ‘eines der größten Talente, das wir hatten,’ “one of the biggest talents we (Germany) have ever had,” big praise when one considers he comes from a country which has produced the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Wolfgang Overath, Günther Netzer, Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann, Gerd Müller and Paul Breitner, and one which has won three World Cups.

Mario Götze in action for Borussia Dortmund (This image is the property of Goal.com)

Götze’s exceptional form this season has helped propel Dortmund to the top of the Bundesliga and with a seven point lead with only seven games left to play, few would bet against the starlet ending the season with a winner’s medal. He has also broken in to the senior national team this season, making his debut against Sweden in November of last year. In doing so, he became the first player (along with fellow substitute André Schürrle) born in the newly unified Germany to represent the country. He added a second cap when he played against Italy last month and will surely be a fixture for years to come.

The wunderkind’s remarkable performances have not gone unnoticed in the footballing world and a string of top clubs continue to be linked with Dortmund’s prized asset, most notably and persistently Manchester United. It remains to be seen if Die Schwarzgelben can keep hold of their star man, but one feels Götze may be best served staying put for a while and playing regular football in a young, highly gifted team.

Much like the previous Spotlight on… subject, Neymar, Götze appears to have the good fortune of belonging to a golden generation of players from his home country. Along with players like Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil, Kevin Großkreutz, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer, the Dortmund midfielder should help Germany challenge for major honours for years to come.

Mario Götze

Name: Mario Götze

Place of Birth: Memmingen, Germany

Nationality: German

Date of Birth: 3rd June 1992

Career League Appearances: 31

Career League Goals: 4

Total Career Appearances: 39

Total Career Goals: 6

International Caps: 2

International Goals: 0

Key attributes: vision, excellent passer of the ball, technically superb, ability to operate in tight spaces

Categories: Football

Spotlight on…Neymar

March 19, 2011 2 comments

For the latest instalment of the ‘Spotlight on…’ series, Sport Report travels across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil to give you the lowdown on Brazilian football’s hottest property, Santos forward Neymar.

 

Whilst many people may not have seen the young Brazilian forward play, most will have read Neymar’s name in the newspaper on more than one occasion, usually in the same sentence as a string of top European clubs. The 19 year-old has created something of a buzz amongst those in the know and is regarded as one of world football’s brightest young talents, not without reason. His slight build, relative lack of height and style of play have drawn predictable comparisons with another product of the Santos youth system, Robinho. Much like the aforementioned AC Milan forward, Neymar is exceptionally skilful, capable of dazzling opposition defenders and delighting spectators in equal measure. He naturally favours his right foot, but is as two-footed a player as you will find in the modern game. Consequently, he is able to beat defenders on either side and then deliver quality crosses for strikers or go for goal himself. As is the case with so many Brazilians, his close control is exceptional and he loves nothing more than to terrorise defenders by running at them at pace with the ball seemingly glued to his boot. Much like established Brazilian superstars Robinho and Ronaldinho, Neymar is comfortable playing out wide or through the middle, although he is most effective when given a free roaming role in the way Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are at their respective clubs. Furthermore, he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. When asked last season about the possibility of a move to Real Madrid, he stated that he did not feel it was the right time to leave Santos as he felt he could still develop his game in Brazil. His job as the team’s penalty taker also paints a picture of a young man with great faith in his abilities and who does not shirk responsibility.

 

Such has been the youngster’s impact at Santos since making his debut aged 17 in March 2009, that comparisons with the club’s greatest ever player, Pelé, are already commonplace. Whilst such comparisons are premature and something we have heard time and time again (anybody remember Denilson?), 43 goals in his second season and the award for the best player in the Campeonato Paulista are testament to his undoubted natural talent. Indeed following that phenomenal season, Romario and Pelé reportedly implored Dunga to include him in Brazil’s World Cup Squad for South Africa. Dunga, whilst acknowledging Neymar’s ability, refused, citing a lack of experience at the highest level. In August 2010 however, he did receive his first call-up for the senior national team when new manager Mano Menezes included him in the squad for the friendly against the USA. The forward made his debut in the game, scoring a header from an André Santos corner.

 

Neymar in action on his debut for Brazil (This image is the property of The Independent)

 

Along with fellow Santos youngster Paulo Ganso, Neymar has attracted a raft of admirers from Europe’s top leagues, He reportedly favours a move to Italian giants Juventus, but given their financial situation and dismal run of form, Chelsea or Real Madrid seem like more likely destinations. Although he has a contract which ties him to Santos until December 2014, it seems inevitable that he will follow in the footsteps of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Robinho and move to Europe at a young age. Wherever he may be paraded as a marquee signing in the future, it seems a good bet that fans of that fortunate club will have the privilege of watching one of football’s top stars for years to come. The future also looks bright for Brazil with young players like Neymar, Paulo Ganso, Alexandre Pato and David Luiz making waves across Europe. If the team can fulfil its potential, the young forward will be afforded even more publicity, most probably as a World Cup winner.

 

 

Neymar

 

Name: Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior

 

Place of Birth: Mogi das Cruzes, Brazil

 

Nationality: Brazilian

 

Date of Birth: 5th February 1992

 

Career League Appearances: 64

 

Career League Goals: 27

 

Total Career Appearances: 119

 

Total Career Goals: 60

 

International Caps: 2

 

International Goals: 1

 

Key Attributes: pace, very skilful, two-footed, excellent dribbler

Categories: Football

Spotlight on…Mario Balotelli

March 17, 2011 2 comments

Last week, Sport Report took a look at Manchester United and Mexico striker Javier Hernandez in the first instalment of the ‘Spotlight On…’ series. Next up is a young man playing for the blue side of the same city, Mario Balotelli.

 

Ever since Mario Balotelli broke in to the Inter Milan first team at the age of 17, it has been obvious that he has everything it takes to be a genuine world-class star. Gifted with natural attributes and sound technical ability, the young Italian international has the footballing world at his feet.

 

Balotelli’s Inter debut came in December 2007 against Cagliari and was followed by impressive Coppa Italia appearances against Reggina and Juventus, against whom he scored twice as the Nerazzurri won 3-2. His first league goal came in April 2008 and Super Mario finished his first season with a very respectable return of seven goals in 15 appearances in all competitions. In this short space of time, Balotelli demonstrated that he possessed fantastic pace, a stingingly powerful shot, excellent close control and superb physical strength. Italian football felt it had found its next star and Balotelli provided further evidence in his second season as he netted 10 times in 31 appearances. By the end of his second season, Balotelli already had two Scudetti to his name and had caught the eye of clubs across Europe.

 

As one of Europe’s leading clubs itself, Inter had no trouble holding on to their prized starlet, but Balotelli’s third, and as it transpired final, season in the blue back of Inter showed the good, the bad and the ugly of both Balotelli’s game and character.

 

Once again, the youngster displayed excellent pace, shooting ability and awareness and he relished the opportunity to showcase his talents on the biggest stage as Inter won the Champions League. Balotelli finished the season with a third Serie A winners’ medal, a Coppa Italia title and as a Champions League winner. He found the net 11 times in 40 appearances and demonstrated his willingness to work for the team with seven assists. On the surface this seems like a fantastic season, both on a personal and team level, but it was in fact one which presented a plethora of problems for Balotelli and raised serious questions about his temperament.

 

Balotelli had crossed swords with Jose Mourinho the previous season as the Portuguese accused him of a lack of effort in training, but after omission from the team for a couple of weeks, the rift appeared to be healed. It was however, a sign of things to come. Following a 1-1 draw against Roma, Mourinho singled out Balotelli for criticism and after another row between the two, the striker was left out of Inter’s Champions League match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Balotelli was subsequently condemned by senior teammates Javier Zanetti and Marco Materazzi. His days at Inter seemed numbered, particularly after he pulled on an AC Milan jersey on a popular Italian television show. Shortly after being restored to the team, Balotelli once again displayed his petulant side. Following Inter’s 3-1 victory over Barcelona at the San Siro, Balotelli became involved in a spat with fans who had booed him. He threw his shirt on the floor and made a gesture which Inter Managing Director Ernesto Paolillo described as ‘appalling, absolutely appalling.’

 

Balotelli in action for Manchester City (This image is the property of Zimbio)

 

It should be noted that Balotelli has been subjected to completely unacceptable taunts from Italian football fans, even when representing the national side. There are those who sadly refuse to accept him as Italian and he has had to endure monkey chanting, racist chanting and fascist banners being unfurled at grounds. Under these circumstances, it is difficult for anybody to remain composed, particularly one so young. Whilst there is undoubtedly a hardcore right-wing element at work in Italian football, journalists such as Gabriele Marcotti have argued that the taunts are a result of Balotelli’s unpopularity. He is viewed as arrogant and moody and the likes of Marcotti cite the fact that other black Italian players such as Stefano Okaka and Angelo Ogbonna are not subjected to the same treatment.

 

This is a weak argument and anyone who saw the banners and heard the sounds aimed at the young striker when Italy played Romania in Klagenfurt last November will testify so. However, there is no doubt that Balotelli is an enigma, often seen sulking and stropping and this is an element of his character that he will need to get under control if he is to fulfil his vast potential.

 

Balotelli’s unhappy time at Inter was brought to an end last summer when Manchester City paid £24 million to reunite him with Roberto Mancini. Despite a first season in English football disrupted by injury and a sudden, rather bizarre allergic reaction to grass, Balotelli has again shown that he has the ability to become a world-class player. He has scored 10 goals in 18 appearances and received the prestigious Golden Boy award given to the best player in Europe aged 21 or under. Once again, his pace, power and technical ability have been there for all to see and his recent goal against Aston Villa in the FA Cup was a first time finish of the highest order. If Mancini is able to keep Balotelli happy and curb his naturally petulant temperament, he may just have one of world football’s elite strikers for years to come.

 

Mario Balotelli

 

Name: Mario Barwuah Balotelli

 

Place of Birth: Palermo, Italy

 

Nationality: Italian

 

Date of Birth: 12th August 1990

 

Career League Appearances: 70

 

Career League Goals: 26

 

Total Career Appearances: 103

 

Total Career Goals: 38

 

International Caps: 2

 

International Goals: 0

 

Key Attributes: pace, physically strong, excellent finisher and has an excellent, powerful shot

Categories: Football

Spotlight on…Javier Hernandez

March 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Over the next 6 weeks, Sport Report will be taking a look at some of the world’s top up-and-coming footballing talents. First up is Manchester United and Mexico striker Javier Hernandez.

A few eyebrows were raised in April 2010 when it was announced that Manchester United had signed a little known Mexican striker named Javier Hernandez for a fee reportedly in the region of £7 million. Fans of the Premiership club had long been complaining that club owner Malcolm Glazer had burdened the club with so much debt that they were unable to compete with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City in the transfer market. Hernandez, or Chicharito (little pea) as he is better known was not quite the big signing the fans had wished for and added fuel to the fire.

The World Cup in South Africa sowed seeds of hope at the Old Trafford club as the 22 year old impressed with a string of top level performances and netted goals against France and Argentina. It seemed that United had signed a star in the making.

During his first season in England, Hernandez has justified both the faith shown by Sir Alex Ferguson in signing him, and the transfer fee. He has forced his way in to first team reckoning and helped ease the scoring burden on Wayne Rooney. In just 20 Premiership appearances, the striker has scored 10 goals and in all competitions, has netted 14 times in 31 games, particularly impressive when one considers that many of these appearances have been from the bench. The youngster has shown pace in abundance and the fact that his 10 league goals have come from just 14 shots on target demonstrates his eye for goal, something which has drawn comparisons with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Hernandez celebrates scoring the winner versus Valencia (This image is the property of The Sun)

He has carried his club form on to the international stage too, becoming a key player for Mexico. Chicharito has amassed 21 caps and scored 12 times, including goals against the likes of Argentina, France, the Netherlands and Spain.

If his first season in English football is a sign of things to come, Hernandez has a bright future ahead of him and looks set to continue the tradition of great goal scorers at Manchester United.

Javier Hernandez

Name: Javier Hernández Balcázar

Place of Birth: Guadalajara, Mexico

Nationality: Mexican

Date of Birth: 1st June 1988

Career League Appearances: 84

Career League Goals: 36

Total Career Appearances: 111

Total Career Goals: 43

International Caps: 21

International Goals: 12

Key Attributes: searing pace, excellent finisher and for a small player, exceptional in the air

Categories: Football

Is the ICC right to exclude Associate teams from the next World Cup?

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Since the ICC Cricket World Cup began on the 19th February, nine matches have taken place in which a test playing nation has faced a so-called Associate team. For the most part, the matches have resulted in one-sided drubbings: Sri Lanka defeated Canada by 210 wins, New Zealand bowled Kenya all out for just 69 en route to a ten wicket victory, England defeated the Netherlands by six wickets with eight balls to spare, Pakistan hammered Kenya by 205 runs, the West Indies crushed the Netherlands by 215 runs, Zimbabwe put Canada to the sword in a 175 run victory and Sri Lanka beat Kenya by nine wickets.

Looking at these results, it easy to jump to the conclusion that the likes of Canada, Kenya and the Netherlands, are simply not fit to share the same field as the Tendulkars, Sangakkaras and Afridis of the world, and that they should be left to their own devices away from cricket’s biggest spectacle. In the abovementioned games, it was apparent that most of the batsmen were simply not good enough to deal with the devilish yorkers of Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga, or the searing pace of West Indian Kemar Roach and their bowlers were taken to the proverbial cleaners, most noticeably by West Indies man mountain Kieron Pollard.

Prior to the World Cup, there was much talk (and it is very much ongoing) as to whether the Associates should be allowed to play in the World Cup, or whether they should at least have their number reduced to two, as this would avoid such uncompetitive thrashings. The ICC has taken the decision to reduce the number of participating teams to ten for the 2015 edition of the tournament, effectively ruling out the Associates. It is unclear why this decision has been taken, although many have complained about the duration of the tournament (6 weeks), most noticeably England captain Andrew Strauss. Reducing the number of teams would allow for a shorter format. Another possibility is a pure business decision following the commercial disaster that was the elimination of both Pakistan and India in the group stage four years ago, the sport’s two largest TV markets.

Whilst it is true that the Associates’ record against test playing nations is, well, poor, it is not as straight forward as their detractors would have us believe. At the last tournament in 2007, Pakistan lost to Ireland in a remarkable upset and just last week, the Netherlands made England look very poor as they pushed Andrew Strauss’s men close. Then today, Ireland shocked the world for the second World Cup in a row as they chased down a World Cup record total of 328 to defeat the model of inconsistency that is England. Furthermore, Ireland’s incredible chase provided us with one of the all-time great one day innings as all-rounder Kevin O’Brien smashed 113 from just 63 balls, setting a World Cup record for the fastest century in the process (50 balls). There have been other moments too, who can forget Dwayne Leverock’s athletic diving catch to dismiss India’s Robin Uthappa in 2007? Who did not enjoy seeing Kenya reach the semi-finals in 2003? If the ICC’s main aim in holding a World Cup is to entertain, then what is more entertaining than a good old-fashioned cupset?

How can the Associate teams be expected to improve if they are not given the opportunity to test themselves against the best? Sri Lanka is a case in point. The Sri Lankan team was not granted test status until 1982, just 14 years later, they were world champions and they are now frequently amongst the favourites for all major tournaments. Moreover, if the likes of Kenya and Ireland are to progress, there surely needs to be a revision of the rules that allow players who have played for an associate side to switch to a test side if the test side comes knocking. This is particularly pertinent in the case of Ireland who have lost several players to England in the recent past, most noticeably star man Eoin Morgan.

However, the real issue was addressed by Pakistani bowling legend Wasim Akram as he spoke of the need for a quality first-class cricket structure in these countries, starting with getting the game in to schools. Akram has pressed this issue in his native Pakistan and is spot on in his observations regarding the Associates. This may not be possible however in countries in which cricket is a minor sport so the key is to get Associate players playing in English county cricket, Sheffield Shield matches in Australia and first class games in South Africa. This will allow associate players to test their mettle against genuine world class operators in a highly competitive environment.

The ICC has long stated that its mission is to make cricket a worldwide game and to involve more than just the traditional test nations. To Haroon Lorgat I ask: ‘how does excluding the Associates achieve this goal?’

Categories: Cricket