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April 9, 2014

Lessons for 2015

Michael Jeh
New Zealand will always be competitive - especially given that they are one of the hosts for the next World Cup - but they will need one of their marquee players to stand up in a sudden-death game  © Getty Images
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As the dust settles and the much-talked-about dew continues to fall in Chittagong, there is much to dissect and even more to learn, looking forward to the ODI World Cup in early 2015.

While I am no fan of franchise-based T20 tournaments that pit mercenaries against each other for the singular purpose of entertainment with no higher motive, the World Cup T20 format remains appealing. The fact that no team has won it twice speaks for the value of the concept as a global tournament with an open field; despite T20's reputation as an unpredictable mistress, every team that has won the tournament has deserved to do so. I was initially curious as to whether the nature of T20 would lead to a shock result in its world championship but it must be said that the finalists each time have generally been the two best teams. Perhaps the only exception might have been when Pakistan were knocked out courtesy Mike Hussey's amazing innings in Gros Islet, but even that speaks to Pakistan's unpredictability and Australia's self-belief under pressure.

For the first time in many years, a team managed to execute a simple game plan with unerring accuracy. The prize? A World Cup, no less. Sri Lanka proved that there is no need for complicated plans, even when bowling to the very best finishers in the business. Just bowl yorkers, bowl them accurately, and even players of the calibre of India's formidable middle order are rendered impotent. No need for fancy slower balls and funky field placements. It's just a matter of having the skill to execute it on a big stage. Just ask Nepal's Jitendra Mukhiya - his death bowling was as impressive as that of any full-time professional, proving that it can be done by even amateur cricketers who don't clutter their minds with too many fancy theories.

Even in a shortened format, captaincy is a crucial element. Lasith Malinga (and friends!) almost made the biggest blunder when he positioned himself at midwicket and promptly dropped Virat Kohli. I believe MS Dhoni erred by leaving R Ashwin's spell too late in the final. For India to win, they needed early wickets, not a death bowler. Easy in hindsight, though.

Similarly, Faf du Plessis got it horribly wrong with his choice of opening bowlers when India chased 172 in the semi-final. In a sudden-death game, I've always believed that if you exert early pressure, you control the finish, even if Dale Steyn had bowled out. Darren Sammy miscalculated too when West Indies chased slowly in their semi against Sri Lanka, relying on the late kick that never came because of the rain. With the threat of storms in the air, Sri Lanka played smarter cricket by bowling Malinga early in the game, while Chris Gayle's bizarre innings went in the opposite direction.

It is ironic that England, arguably the poorest (major) team in the competition, were the only conquerors of the eventual champions. It could be argued that Australia had an equally poor tournament, only beating Bangladesh, but their pedigree was not in question, only their execution and selections. It was never going to be easy to win in Bangladesh with two mediocre spinners - and even then, never to play them in tandem. England too were unlikely to challenge in these conditions with just James Tredwell. It all seems so obvious now but I must confess to expecting Australia to go further, based on their batting depth and fielding.

No boundary is too big for the modern cricketer these days but the hitting zones may need to change. It's not as easy to slog- sweep in Australia with the extra bounce

What can we learn from this for the World Cup next year? Very little, I imagine. The pitches will definitely favour the two home teams and South Africa. Exponents of the doosra, like Sunil Narine, Saeed Ajmal and Ashwin, will be effective, but don't expect miracles from Samuel Badree and Amit Mishra on those pitches. West Indies will need to find some quicks to be considered a serious challenge - Krishmar Santokie's cutters won't cut it with the new ball in Australia and New Zealand. They might also need to invest in an opening batsman who is technically correct outside off stump. Dwayne Smith was barely able to hit anything that moved away from him, a serious problem when bowlers target the traditional corridor on fast pitches.

South Africa, so long as Imran Tahir can bowl quick through the air and retain the mystery of his wrong 'un, may prove to be a well-balanced outfit next year. They will need to find a replacement, though, for the likes of Albie Morkel, who is clearly a liability with the ball these days and cannot be carried as a batting allrounder. New Zealand will always be competitive but one wonders if their lack of depth will eventually count against them in a long tournament. Courage and scrapping can only take you so far - eventually you need one of your marquee players to stand up in a sudden-death game, unlike Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor's limp showing in that final innings against a very clever Rangana Herath.

The size of the outfields in Australia is no longer the disadvantage they used to be for Asian teams. No boundary is too big for the modern cricketer these days but the hitting zones may need to change. It's not as easy to slog sweep in Australia with the extra bounce. Hitting down the ground, pulling and upper-cutting may be the areas that are most productive when looking for boundaries.

Opening batsmen with traditional techniques may have to be found. It won't be easy against the new ball. Players like David Warner, Hashim Amla and even Alastair Cook may set themselves to bat 40 overs. Aaron Finch, devastating in T20 cricket, has had a much poorer time of it in ODIs. I'm not convinced that an ageing Tillakaratne Dilshan and a bottom-handed Kusal Perera will thrive, but if the "old men" of Sri Lanka return for one last swansong, their impeccable techniques will be useful templates for the next generation to follow. For that reason, I'm unconvinced about Pakistan's batting unless they discover new talent that is built on solid foundations. Let's not forget, though, that they won it last time it was held in this part of the world.

India's bowling is my main concern for them in 2015. Their batting pedigree is undoubted but when the ball doesn't swing, they are going to need to find some bowlers who offer more than the admirable Bhuvneshwar Kumar does. England won't find the conditions that daunting but I just can't see where their match-winners are going to come from. Ravi Bopara may become the finished article, Eoin Morgan is dangerous, and perhaps Jos Buttler can finish spectacularly, so don't write them off just yet.

I still think that the team with the best fast bowling attack, coupled with technically correct batsmen who can bat long into the innings and score heavily at the death will dominate next year's World Cup. The Mitchell Johnson factor keeps looming large in the rear-view mirror. A lot can happen in 12 months, of course, but I don't think anything that has happened in Bangladesh these last few weeks will be useful as a predictive tool.

And that's the beauty of cricket. When conditions change, different teams come into the reckoning. Home countries have rarely won World Cups but both hosts will be mightily disappointed if they don't feature in the last four.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and is a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Talalthegreat on (April 13, 2014, 6:21 GMT)

NZ, SA, Aus and SL in the semis. I bet AusvSL final. Also even tho teams havent won at home too often, India did it and so did Sl in 1996(It was in SL,Pak and Ind). I think aus have a very good chance of winning it. PS India, Pak, WI and Eng have absolutely no chance. India and pak batsmen will be found out. India's poor death bowling and obviously that as usual Ashwin will be toothless in these conditions. Just watch Ind in NZ 2014 or India in Aus 2012 to know that Ahswin is useless here. All these teams have unimaginative captains

Posted by Lion83 on (April 12, 2014, 11:57 GMT)

Conditions in Australia will be different to subcontinent but in recent times wickets in Australia lost some pace and bounce and most teams play around the world regularly these days. So Teams like SriLanka India and Pakistan back them selves to perform well alongside Hosts Australia, New zeland and South Africa. SL is always a team for big tournaments and they are far ahead than their asain counterparts and will reach semifinals with Aus , Other two semi final spots are up for grab.Eng AND WI have no chance.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (April 12, 2014, 3:57 GMT)

South Africa's World Cup curse began the last time it was held in Australia & NZ. SA were fresh out of isolation, & the ICC changed the schedule to include the Saffas, who caused much excitement & speculation.

SA's 1st played Cup holders, Aus, & 1st ball Allan Donald clearly found the edge of Geoff Marsh's bat. The whole world heard it - except the Kiwi ump! (Marsh did not walk.) It was immaterial as SA's bowling destroyed Aus - 170/9 before SA beat them by 9 wickets. But, it was a bad omen.

SA reached the semis in 3rd position on points, but in the most controversial finishes to a WC match, fell victim to the bizarre rain rule - so bad it was replaced by Duckworth Lewis! SA needed 23 off 13 balls, but after 3 raindrops Gooch insisted on leading England off. When they returned, 12 minutes later, SA then needed 23 off 6. That was changed to 22 off 6, and then changed again to 22 off 1 ball.

The crowd were furious, England embarrassed, & SA have never won a World Cup semi final since!

Posted by KingOwl on (April 12, 2014, 1:24 GMT)

It will be an Aus-SL final. I think next time, SL will win, despite Aus having the home advantage. In recent triangular tournaments in Aus, it has always been SL, which stretched Aus, but could not quite beat them in the finals. But, with the recent T20 WC win, SL will be up to it.

Posted by st_aubrun on (April 11, 2014, 6:54 GMT)

Pakistan's fast bowling willo be strengthened by Mohammad Irfan, who could be the surprise package of the 2015 event bowling in the high-140s from over 7 feet high on bouncy tracks. Mohammad Amir, history's youngest bowler to 50 test wickets, will also have served his ban (to be seen if he has lost or gained on the 150+ speed he had prior to the punishment). There are/will be other fast bowlers in the Pakistani production line and Ajmal and Afridi are well-suited to OZ tracks. The batting will remain suspect though, but if there is a patch of 3 or 4 games where the right Pakistan decides to turn up from a batting perspective, then the country will be a major contender to repeat their antipodean performance of 1992.

Posted by t20cric on (April 10, 2014, 16:48 GMT)

The other problem is that we toured Australia so long ago that most of the Pakistani players have never played there.When it comes to openers I have no idea who will pair with Ahmed Shehzad but it should be a left hander (maybe Nasir or even Sami Aslam/Imam-ul-haq). It might be a smart move to bring Younis back cuz of his experience. Pakistan also need a proper wicketkeeper cuz Umar only performs with the gloves or with the bat (never both) so M. Rizwan or Sarfraz could be wicketkeeper. Fawad should become permanent in the ODI side cuz his ability of rotating strike is very useful. There will be a tough choice between Sohaib & Umar as both play a similar type of innings & both are pretty inconsistent(both can play only if Umar is wk). Haris Sohail should be backup middle order batsman. So squad should be Ahmed, Nasir, Fawad, Younis, Misbah, Umar, Hammad, Afridi, Amir, Ajmal, Junaid, Irfan, Haris, Rizwan, Sami, Anwar, Raza. We will only play Aus in UAE between now & WC though.

Posted by t20cric on (April 10, 2014, 16:01 GMT)

I'm really worried for Pakistan in the upcoming 2015 wc. Our batting is just as good (or bad) as always but even bowling seems weak. Mohammad Akram, our bowling coach is really incompetent cuz he can't get the best out of the talented young bowlers (Junaid, Talha, Bhatti etc.). M. Amir will be back before the world cup but there is no guarantee that he will be selected & even if selected we don't know if he will be his regular self again. Irfan will likely be really good on those pitches but his fitness will be an issue & it would be safer to make him bowl 7-8 overs per game instead of all 10. With Junaid, Amir & Irfan we have strike pacers & maybe Anwar or Hammad Azam as allrounder. In spin department we have Ajmal (he will recover from world t20) & Afridi but we should also bring Raza Hassan cuz he is new & young spinner. When it comes to batting we have more problems like who will open & the fact that our batting is brittle, we also have a shortage of lefthanders. cont..

Posted by CricketPissek on (April 10, 2014, 10:46 GMT)

As with any World Cup, the question is - who will Sri Lanka face in the Final? :-D Good analytical article. India has this new bowler called Shami who I saw play in a Test match recently. He may play a key role if he stays fit and learns a lot about bowling during India's tour of England in the summer. SL v NZ Final for me, and SL to win it :)

Posted by 9ST9 on (April 10, 2014, 6:18 GMT)

SA vs Aus final anyone? i don't want to go beyond that but then again 2015's still a long way away - we will have a clearer idea in about 6~7 months time

Posted by   on (April 10, 2014, 2:17 GMT)

world cup winning contenders: Sri Lanka, Australia. NZ has always been a very good side outside Subcontinent, ODI winning series in England and SA, whilst drawing in Australia in 2008-09. But they are not ruthless enough to go beyond Semis. Same can be said about SA. England and Pakistan inconsistent. Without KP they have lost aggression and flair in batting. Bowling, broad and anderson good but what about the rest. Batting ordinary lower middle order especially after morgan gets out. WI also ordinary. Can be explosive but too many bits and pieces players and as a result weak middle order. India no chance. Dhawan out of form and rohit gets into his shell to easily. Poor death bowling and spinners failing to take wickets in middle overs. Like England captaincy lacks imagination. Often get a feeling that they use same tactics but expect different results.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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