Specials – Australia v Pakistan at the World Twenty20

  One of the most crucial games of the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 will unfold tomorrow as Australia and Pakistan lock horns at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. Placed in the tight Group 2 of the Super 10 stage, both the teams need to win this clash in order to remain in contention for a semi-final berth.

  With New Zealand already having progressed to the final four, a three-way battle has arisen between Australia, Pakistan and hosts India for the remaining spot from the group. A loss for Pakistan tomorrow will put an end to their campaign, while a loss for Australia will still give them another chance when they face India at the same venue on Sunday.

  Pakistan, led by soon-to-be-retired Shahid Afridi, come into the match on the back of defeats against India and New Zealand whereas Australia notched a scratchy win over Bangladesh to keep themselves on track after having lost to New Zealand in their opening game. Both sides boast of the required firepower, with the likes of David Warner and Glenn Maxwell up against Mohammed Amir and Wahab Riaz.

  The previous editions of the World T20 have produced their share of gripping battles between these two sides. From Misbah-ul-Haq’s calmness in 2007 to Michael Hussey’s coup in 2010 to the run fest of 2014, this is one fixture which has rarely disappointed cricket fans. As the two sides gear up for their sixth World T20 match against each other, let us look back at the five instances gone by.

Johannesburg, 2007 – Super Eight

  A win for either side in this Super Eight match would have virtually guaranteed a place in the semifinals, and it was a rejuvenated Pakistan that came up trumps after staring down the barrel at one point. Australia posted 164/7 after being put in, with most of the batsmen chipping in – five of them crossed 24 but none beyond 37. Sohail Tanvir, of awkward action fame, took 3/31.

  Stuart Clark (3/27) then had Pakistan on the ropes as he took the first three wickets to reduce the score to 35/3 in the sixth over. It soon became 46/4 and Pakistan needed something special to come back in the game. It was the duo of captain Shoaib Malik (52* off 38 balls) and comeback man Misbah-ul-Haq (66* off 42) that stood up – they went on to stun the Aussies with a record stand of 119* in a little more than 12 overs to see their team to a six-wicket win with five balls to spare.

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     Misbah-ul-Haq during his unbeaten, match-winning innings of 66 against Australia at Johannesburg in the 2007 World T20 (source – gettyimages/espncricinfo.com)

 Gros Islet, 2010 – Group Stage

  Pakistan had seen off Bangladesh and were now facing Australia at St. Lucia’s Beausejour Stadium. After Michael Clarke elected to bat, opener Shane Watson set the tone with a blistering knock of 81 from 49 balls. He shared in a third-wicket partnership of 98 at nearly 12 runs an over with David Hussey, who smashed 53 in just 29 balls. Pakistan pulled things back by grabbing eight wickets in the last four overs as Australia were bowled out for 191. The promising Mohammad Amir bowled neatly in a spell of 3/23.

  Dirk Nannes removed Kamran Akmal off the first ball of the chase and soon Pakistan slipped to 34/3. Misbah-ul-Haq (41) and Shahid Afridi attempted a revival in the middle-order but the total was too tall to overhaul. Pakistan were always behind the asking rate and eventually folded for 157 off the final ball. Shaun Tait (3/20) and Nannes (3/41) were the pick of the bowlers.

Gros Islet, 2010 – Semifinal

  Twelve days later, the teams squared off yet again at the same venue for the second semifinal – the winner would face England in the summit clash. This time the stakes were much higher and the result was a humdinger of a finish. Pakistan were put into bat this time and openers Kamran Akmal (50) and Salman Butt responded with a 82-run stand within ten overs. Umar Akmal upped the ante with an unbeaten 56 from 35 balls as Pakistan reached a solid 191/6. The last three overs fetched 46 runs.

  Mohammed Amir (3/35) strengthened Pakistan’s position by removing openers David Warner and Shane Watson with only 26 runs on the board. The introduction of spin did not help Australia’s cause, as regular wickets fell with the asking rate rising. Cameron White crunched 43 after coming in at 62/4, but he too perished. A ball into the 17th over, the score read 144/7 and it seemed that the writing was on the wall for the Aussies.

  However, Pakistan had reckoned without Michael Hussey, who had come in at number seven in the 13th over. Facing a requirement of 33 in two overs, Hussey took 16 off Amir in the 19th. Saeed Ajmal was enrusted with the final over, 17 to defend. Hussey got back on strike for the second ball and duly smashed 6,6,4 and 6 off the next four balls to leave Pakistan in a daze. Australia had won by three wickets with a ball to spare and Hussey, who scored 60* from 38 balls including six sixes, had done the unthinkable.

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     Michael Hussey was the hero for Australia in their stunning three-wicket win over Pakistan in the 2010 semifinal (source – timesofindia.com)

Colombo, 2012 – Super Eight

  This Super Eight clash at the R. Premadasa Stadium was a must-win match for Pakistan in order to stay alive for the semfinals. Pakistan lost their openers early, but Nasir Jamshed (55) and Kamran Akmal put together a vital 79 for the third wicket before the former was out in the 15th over. Australia kept things tight at the death and restricted the total to 149/6. Mitchell Starc bowled economically, claiming 3/20.

  Pakistan had fielded a spin-heavy attack and only two out of the 20 overs were bowled with pace. Mohammed Hafeez and Raza Hasan jolted the Australians early, stifling them to 19/2 after five overs. Saeed Ajmal (3/17) then took over and save for Michael Hussey, the batsmen went into a shell. The score limped to 45/3 in ten overs and never really recovered. Thanks to Hussey’s unbeaten 54, Australia went past the mark of 112 needed for a semifinal spot. The innings drew to a close at 117/7, giving Pakistan an easy 32-run win.

Mirpur, 2014 – Super Ten

  Pakistan had lost their opening game against India and hence needed to beat Australia to remain safe. But the start was not exactly convincing as they slipped to 25/2 in the fifth over. Enter Umar Akmal at this stage, who proceeded to smash a game-changing innings. He and his brother Kamran put on 96 in just 8.3 overs for the third wicket. Umar was out only in the final over, after scoring a career-best 94 in 54 balls. His onslaught enabled Pakistan to post 191/5.

  In reply, Australia had a horror first over as David Warner and Shane Watson both fell to the left-arm spin of Zulfiqar Babar. What followed was a sensational display from Glenn Maxwell. Coming in at number four, he blitzed 74 in a mere 33 balls, clearing the ropes six times. When he was out after a 118-run alliance with Aaron Finch (65), Australia needed 66 from 50 balls, which became 45 from 30. It proved to be too much for the batsmen to follow and Australia lost 7 for 29 to finish at 175 after 20 overs.

Beyond Cricket – Lucknow set for a footballing boost

  Uttar Pradesh is a state that one would not usually associate with the sport of football. It has never won the inter-state Santosh Trophy and very few players from the state have represented India at the highest level.

  However, if all goes well, the state is all set to recieve a massive shot in the arm as far as the promotion of football is concerned. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is known to be a keen sports aficionando, unveiled late last year an ambitious plan to construct a world-class football stadium in the capital city of Lucknow.

  The stadium itself is part of a larger sporting blueprint, which has envisaged a top-notch sports city near Shaheed Path on Sultanpur Road. Yadav had broken the news in September 2015 at an event in Agra where he was present to launch the logo of the Delhi Dynamos football club. The Dynamos play in the Indian Super League, which was started in 2014.

  Yadav had then said that football is the most popular sport in the world and is played in some states of India; therefore it would not be good if Uttar Pradesh lagged behind in this respect. He assured full support to the spread of football in the state and was also hopeful that more players from the state would go on to represent the Dynamos in the future, adding that ‘its biggest advantage is that it is not an expensive game and can be played anywhere.’

  According to a government official, the initial plan was for a football field in the sports city. However, the Chief Minister made a brief visit to the project site in December and proclaimed that a first-rate, full-fledged football stadium should be built instead. The stadium is slated to be built on an area measuring 7.5 acres, out of the 137 acres allotted for the sports city.

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      Akhilesh Yadav during a Delhi Dynamos event in 2015. Standing to his right is Brazilian football legend Roberto Carlos (source – ani)

  The estimated cost of the stadium is pegged to be about Rs. 252 crore, of which Rs. 189 crore would be the cost of the stadium building and the remaining Rs. 63 crore would be for a covered underground parking facility big enough for 750 cars. The capacity of the stadium is expected to be 20,000 across a three-storied stand.

  The size of the field, visitors and corporate boxes and all other facilities and amenities would be as per the standards prescribed by the International Football Association. Currently, Lucknow does not have a full-fledged football ground; the K.D Singh Babu Stadium – predominantly a cricket stadium – is often used for football matches. But this development will gave the game a new identity in the city.

  There is probably no country on earth which has been untouched by the charm of football. Widely known as the ‘beautiful game’, football is by far the most global of sports and its World Cup is easily the most-watched team sporting event.

  Furthermore, the premier European club tournaments are followed passionately even in countries where football is largely treated as a secondary sport. India is no stranger to such footballing frenzy despite the national team’s perennial struggles.

  India are currently placed at the 160th position out of 204 nations in the FIFA rankings – a figure that certainly does not make for good reading. Given its huge population and the constant rise in the poularity of football across both urban and rural areas, it is hard to fathom why India have not been able to build a reasonably competitive football team. The Indian Super League has shown promise in its two years, but will it translate to stronger international displays?

  The traditional football strongholds in the country have been West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and the north-eastern states. Beyond these regions, football does evince interest but quality players are few and far in between. With a view to provide an impetus to the growth of the game in a highly promising market, FIFA has significantly allotted the 2017 Under-17 World Cup to India. This will be the first time that India will be hosting a FIFA event and it remains to be seen how effective it is for the football scene in the country.

  Considering the sporting revolution that the Uttar Pradesh government has pledged to bring about, there is optimism that the proposed stadium will have an impact on changing the footballing landscape of the state. Football is the second most-followed sport in the country and Uttar Pradesh has the most number of people – which augurs well for the game’s development.

  The road ahead may be arduous, but the Lucknow international stadium is clearly a step in the right direction.

In Focus – Five Irishmen to watch out for in the World T20

  Almost two years have passed since Ireland’s scarcely-believable ouster from the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, when they ran into a desperately hungry Dutch outfit at Sylhet. It would not be an overstatement to say that this knockout punch had, at least for a few moments, left the Irish players as well as fans shell-shocked.

  With the World T20 bandwagon now moving to India, a strong chance of redemption awaits the Irish and only they themselves can make or break their destiny.

  The challenge in the tournament’s qualifying round is admittedly tougher than what William Porterfield’s men faced in 2014, what with an ever-improving Bangladesh, a dangerous Netherlands and an unpredictable Oman all part of Ireland’s pool.

  The breathtaking Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala will be the scene for Ireland’s three first-round games. They begin their campaign against surprise package Oman on 9th March, before moving on to crunch matches against Bangladesh on the 11th and Netherlands on the 13th.

  With just one out of the four teams in the pool making it to the main round, every ball assumes importance. Ireland’s form in T20 internationals over the last year has been ordinary and has seen them slump to 15th place in the rankings.

  The boys in green went down to Scotland in a home series last season, which was followed by a patchy World T20 Qualifier (which they co-hosted along with Scotland) where they finished third. In away series in the past month, they produced a 2-1 win over Papua New Guinea but were held 1-1 by UAE.

  Ireland’s pre-tournament warm-ups have thrown mixed results so far, with a ten-wicket thrashing of Hong Kong offset by a six-wicket defeat to Zimbabwe. But T20 is a fickle beast and as proved on more than one occasion earlier, Ireland tend to reserve their best for major global events.

  Few may regard Ireland as favourites to top the group, but underestimate them at your own peril. The core of the squad is by and large the same as 2014 : twelve of the fifteen players played in Bangladesh two years ago. Star performers Ed Joyce and Alex Cusack have since retired, but the return of Boyd Rankin to his native team has been a big positive.

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        Young off-spinner Andy McBrine has gone on to become a highly dependable T20 bowler for Ireland (source – cricket-wallpapers.in)

  With just a few hours to go before Ireland take the field, we look at five members of the squad who have it in them to produce impactful performances that are so much needed in the shortest format.

Andrew Poynter

  The elder of the Poynter brothers can be a belligerent customer with the bat when on song. While his T20 international average of 21 does not exactly make for pretty reading, he has the capability to make an impact as a lower-order batsman in a line-up where natural big hitters are few.

  In the abovementioned 2014 game against the Netherlands, Poynter gave a glimpse of his hitting prowess by cracking an unbeaten 57 off 38 balls with four fours and as many sixes.

  His services could be best used at the number six or seven position and if he performs to his ability, we can look forward to some fireworks in the slog overs.

Andy McBrine

  22-year-old McBrine has quietly become one of Ireland’s most dependable T20 bowlers. The unassuming off-spinner made his debut in the 2014 World T20 – taking 2/26 against Zimbabwe – and since has largely impressed with his control and economy.

  McBrine has often given tough competition in the team to senior spinner George Dockrell, and there is a high chance that both will bowl in tandem. He recently starred in Ireland’s series win over Papua New Guinea, taking five wickets in three games at an average of just 8.2.

  He also brings his batting skills to the table and can be entrusted with batting at number eight. With age on his side, he can only improve and this tournament gives him a great chance to build on the promising start.

Boyd Rankin

  There will be a lot of interest in big Boyd Rankin, who late last year decided to abandon his hopes of being a regular in the England team. Now back with his native side, the 6’7 pace bowler will be one of the players to watch out for in the first round.

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    Boyd Rankin is back in the Irish fold and will provide a lot of impetus to the bowling attack (source – irishpost.co.uk/inpho)

  Rankin can extract great bounce due to his height and will be raring to prove a point. He has been warming up well for the tournament, having taken five wickets for just 33 runs in the two-match series against UAE.

  Along with seasoned pro Tim Murtagh and the exciting Craig Young, he makes for a pace bowling trio which cannot be taken lightly. A star of Ireland’s dream 2007 World Cup campaign, Rankin will bring experience and teeth to the Irish attack.

Kevin O’Brien

  No such list is complete without the mention of Ireland’s poster-boy Kevin O’Brien. A staple in the Irish side for more than a decade now, O’Brien has always provided immense value to the team and his teammates as fans alike will be hoping for more of the same as the World T20 beckons.

  His batting form may have dipped a bit over the past year, but there is no denying that he remains Ireland’s biggest game-changer in the shortest format.

  His brutal, clean strking of the ball – which was in its glory against England in the famous 2011 World Cup match – coupled with his effective medium pace makes him a prized asset.

Paul Stirling

  Much of Ireland’s fortunes will depend upon how the explosive Stirling kickstarts the innings. Opponents would do well to see the back of this portly opener as he tends to cause maximum damage in a short period of time.

  Stirling carries a Virender Sehwag-like aura around him and his strokeplay is as good as the former Indian swashbuckler. His inconsistency though has been a matter of concern; he cannot afford a string of failures if Ireland aim to break into the tournament proper.

  He forms a highly compatible opening partnership with captain Porterfield, but it would not be surprising to see him move down the order. The time is ripe for him to get back into groove and if he does, fans are in for a real treat.

Beyond Cricket – Promotion of sports a high priority for Uttar Pradesh government

  In recent times, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has often made clear his intentions to bring about a drastic improvement in sporting infrastructure in the state. Besides this, better recognition of athletes and quality training exposure is high on the agenda.

  Various ambitious plans of constructing stadiums and swimming pools in the state have been envisaged in the past year, and the government has aimed at concerted efforts to make Uttar Pradesh a world-class sporting destination. Yadav is of the opinion that better infrastructure would duly lead to the coming out of sporting talent from the state.

  Uttar Pradesh has over the years produced quite a few stellar sporting stars, with the legendary hockey wizard Dhyan Chand being the jewel in the state’s sporting crown. It is this legacy that Yadav’s Samajwadi Party wishes to take forward and with that end in view, he has taken it upon himself to promote the inculcation of sports culture among the aspiring youngsters in the state.

  The purposeful projects include major stadiums for both cricket and football in the capital city of Lucknow. The state-of-the-art cricket stadium on Sultanpur Road, to be christened as the Lucknow International Cricket Stadium, is currently under construction and Yadav believes that it will be complete in the first quarter of 2017.

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     Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav greets badminton players during the Indian Badminton League (source – IBL/ndtv.com)

  The announcement regarding the football stadium came last year, when Yadav broke the news during an event for launching the new logo of the Delhi Dynamos football club. Another significant development for Lucknow is slated to be the the large-scale cycling academy – the first of its kind in the state.

  Outside of Lucknow, Yadav’s native village of Saifai in the Etawah district has garnered attention because of its connection with the sporting revamp in the state. The plans for Saifai include a first-of-its-kind Sports University and sprucing up of several infrastructure facilities in the Saifai Kreeda Sankul (Sports Complex), spread over more than 80 acres of land.

  Furthermore, Saifai has also seen a gradual improvement in facilities for indoor sports such as wrestling, basketball and badminton. An all-weather swimming pool has also been confirmed. This project aims at creating an international-level swimming zone and will add to the existing pool at the Chandagi Ram Stadium. It will boast of a practice pool, a main pool and a diving pool all under one roof.

  The country’s national game is also being given due attention by Yadav’s government. A synthetic astroturf arena has been proposed in Saifai, which will cater to the requirements of international field hockey. Hockey has seen a revival in the state of late thanks to the U.P Wizards who ply their trade in the Hockey India League, and this bodes well for the future of the game.

  The government’s commitment to development of world-class sporting facilities in the state can be gauged from the fact that last year, the state’s Sports Department refused to part with the land reserved for the proposed sports complex to the Tourism Department, which was looking to build a guest house there.

  The proposed university is also expected to offer specialised courses in sport-related fields such as sports biomechanics, sports health and sports physics. Moreover, Yadav has also pledged to consider improved facilities for lawn tennis and has roped in India’s top-ranked tennis player Sania Mirza to encourage and guide the young talent in the state.

  While the projects cannot be expected to bear fruit overnight, one cannot deny that the state government’s efforts will ultimately benefit the nation. As the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state, Yadav has done well to realise that there is a huge amount of untapped sporting potential existing in Uttar Pradesh.