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New Zealand Clinch Series after another Eden Park Thriller

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20 overs to go, India need 131 with 4 wickets in hand. Though this may seem like a one-sided equation in favour of the defending home team, but this Indian team had other ideas. Jadeja playing a “Dhoni-esque” innings took this game to the very end with the support of the tail enders but just ran out of steam as New Zealand won the 2nd ODI by 22 runs.

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With constant highs and low for both teams, no one could place a bet on where this contest would be heading. Ground dimensions become irrelevant, specially at Eden Park which continues to provide games with nail biting finishes.

Being put into bat, the home side began with a steady start from their openers. With 93 runs in 17 overs they had laid the platform for setting up a big target, just how they did in the 1st ODI. Nicholls though soon departed with 41 to his name of 59 balls. A partnership was built again between Guptill and Blundell followed with Guptill scoring a run a ball 79.

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At the 30th over mark, the home side were 157 for 3 and in a strong position to set a 300+ target with the in-form Ross Taylor and captain Tom Latham in the middle. Though one did not see a dramatic collapse which was to follow. In the 1st ODI where New Zealand with these two scored 117 runs between overs 30 to 40, scored only 32 runs and lost 4 wickets in the same phase of the innings.

Indians here rectifying the errors with Jadeja, Thakur and Chahal all contributing with wickets heading into the death overs. With the dismissal of Tim Southee, with the score on 197 and 9 overs to go, all seemed to be going in India’s favour. Amongst all the carnage Ross Taylor held his nerve and continued to bat steadily trying to ensure his side bats out the allotted 50 overs.

With the help of the debutant, Kyle Jamieson the home side defied the odds of an improved death bowling Indian attack and built a strong partnership scoring 76 runs taking the team to a par score of 273.

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For India, after a strong middle overs bowling performance, they struggled to dismiss the tail. Also it does seem that New Zealand have found the answer to tackle Jasprit Bumrah. They deny him wickets upfront and then are aware of his bag of tricks towards the death overs which is Bumrah’s speciality.

Taylor in both ODIs along with Latham and Williamson in the T20s have decoded the lines, lengths and pace variation of Bumrah and have made similar adjustments to be able to counter this world class bowler. Taylor’s overall form and steady performance has also been the key for New Zealand to be consistent and complete even in the absence of Kane Williamson.

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Heading into the second innings, crisis struck New Zealand, not in the form of the Indian batsman but their own fitness and health issues. With an already depleted squad and illness to the remaining members outside the playing eleven, it was their one remaining experienced bowler in Tim Southee who was also not his 100%.

Despite this he put out a lion-hearted effort and bowled out his quota of overs within 25 overs. With speed not up to the mark, he stuck to the basics of bowling consistent line and length and this ensured that he was both containing and took crucial wickets of Kohli and Jhadav.

With no other member in the squad in healthy playing condition, New Zealand had to bring out their assistant coach in Luke Ronchi to take the field after Southee had completed his overs and went back in to get some well earned rest. Considering the depleted Kiwi side, the lesser bowlers in Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme had to step up and bowl the more critical overs and defend a modest total.

The Indian batting effort was also not up to the high standards which they have been reputed for. Shaw started the innings in his usual aggressive style dealing only in boundaries getting to 24 of 19 balls before being the maiden wicket of debutant, Kyle Jamieson.

New Zealand continued with an aggressive approach making the most of the swinging conditions, applying pressure on Agarwal and Kohli, and were successfully able to dismiss them cheaply. Kedhar Jhadav too was unable to play in his natural counter-attacking instinct due to the consistent pressure put on him by the Kiwis. Iyre though did hold up one end but could not capitalize and bat India to victory, falling soon after getting to his 50.

Without the regular top order, India’s middle order were exposed while chasing a modest target. Iyre, Rahul and Kedhar all failed to capitalize on the occasion on offer and bat their team to victory. India were 129 for 6 at 28th over with Jadeja and the bowlers to follow requiring 145 more runs to win. With all looking very slim for India, Eden park decides to provide cricket lovers another twist in the tale.

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Jadeja, first with the help of Shardul Thakur provided some resistance to take India closer. The major partnership of the innings then came with an ever lesser of a batsman in Saini who struck a partnership of 76 runs with Jadeja.

Saini who seemed to be struggling in the initial stages then let out a flurry of boundaries in the 44th over against Colin de Grandhomme when the game was just drifting away from India with the climbing required rate. He also went on the clear the ropes with proper cricketing shots, outshining Jadeja and scoring 45 off 49 balls brining India close to victory.

With India needing 45 off 33 balls at Saini’s dismissal, it was now all on to Jadeja to take his team through. Jadeja, who had until then played a sedated innings ensuring he is there till the end just like the countless times we have seen MS Dhoni doing it. With Chalal, Jadeja struck 22 runs but just did not have enough to take India over the line.

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Another thrilling contest that went down to the final few overs where both teams had their moments. New Zealand just managing to hold their nerve despite the limitations with fitness issues in their squad.

A truly team effort by them making sure they did just enough to get them over the line and securing the series win as well.

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Future of the Cricket-ing Calendar

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Lockdown around the world has brought global sports to a stand still. There is no specific time given to when one can assume things to fall back to normal proceedings. With the uncertainty in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, the future of a busy sporting calendar is in great doubts.

Cricket has a number of ongoing and shortly upcoming world tournaments in progress. The world Test Championship, initiated post 2019 world cup is currently on going and midway as teams tussle for points heading into the final next year in June. The world T20 tournament is also scheduled in Australia later this year along with the new ODI league which would be the pathway for teams to qualify for the men’s 2023 ODI world cup – scheduled to start from May. All of these should be under re-scheduling considering the current crisis the world is facing.

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World Test Championship (WTC)

India currently occupy the top spot on the points table for the WTC. However, their 2-0 series loss to New Zealand, and with more away tours scheduled, a number of teams stand in contention to make it to the top two spots. With a large number of series cancelled or deferred, there will not be adequate time to accommodate all games in time for the finals scheduled for June 2021.

One possible option is to play the final with current WTC points table leaders, else a revised schedule needs to be considered to allow for some form of parity. Another consideration would be defer the final to ensure all teams play equal number of series to stand an equal chance to top the points table. Either solution would require careful consideration considering other tournament schedules and the second edition of the Test Championship.

2020 T20 World Cup Down under

Though ICC is not considering any change in the current scheduling of T20 World Cup in Australia and are optimistic in their approach, one would need to consider the worst-case scenario. A reschedule to hold the tournament later in the Australian summer would be difficult with a full length series against India scheduled between November to January 2021. Another option is to postpone the tournament to next year, which would also push the next edition of the tournament scheduled in India to be held in 2022. This could be a viable option considering there are no global tournaments scheduled for in 2022.

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Cricket World Cup Super League

Scheduled to begin in May this year and expected to go until March 2022, the ODI Super League would serve as a qualification pathway for the 2023 World Cup. With all top 13 teams participating in it, each team would play eight series over a two-year cycle on a home-and-away basis and gain rankings similar to the World Test Championship. This would add context to the stand alone bilateral ODI series. As a number of tours are cancelled, it is highly unlikely for the cycle to commence from May which could either result in the reduction in the total number or series between teams or to completely rule out the Super League. In such a scenario, the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup would need to be reworked.

Currently with no cut-off date set for the final verdict on the future schedules of these major tournaments, these will certainly be the major points of discussion in the ICC’s quarterly meeting scheduled in May. As we await optimistic news in our fight against COVID-19, the future of cricket is currently as fluid and uncertain as one can image it to be.  

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Grey Areas in Cricket: Front foot No-Ball

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A “Front foot No-ball” is in general terms referred to as the crossing of the line by the bowlers front foot at the point of release of the ball. If the bowler does not comply to the above, the umpire can rule the ball to be illegal and reward the batting team with an extra run and an extra delivery. Though this is not the only way in which an umpire rules a delivery illegal, the front foot no-ball has raised a number of arguments in recent times with the difficulty the rule causes. As cricket takes a pause in response to COVID-19, let us look into the No-Ball rule (front foot no-ball), the arguments it presents and some possible alternatives to overcome and provide a fair means to resolve this grey area in the sport.

Law 21.5 of the MCC rule book for “Fair delivery – the feet” describes No ball in the following manner:
21.5 For a delivery to be fair in respect of the feet, in the delivery stride
21.5.1 the bowler’s back foot must land within and not touching the return crease appertaining to his/her stated mode of delivery.
21.5.2 the bowler’s front foot must land with some part of the foot, whether grounded or raised
–       on the same side of the imaginary line joining the two middle stumps as the return crease described in 21.5.1, and
–       behind the popping crease.
If the bowler’s end umpire is not satisfied that all of these three conditions have been met, he/she shall call and signal No ball.”

The above law clearly reveals the complications and attention to detail an umpire needs to give prior to the ball reaching the batsman’s end. A result of which is the umpires often referring a no-ball decision much later after the outcome of the delivery has been dictated. This is mostly taken into consideration on the fall of a wicket which on a number of occasions has resulted in overturning of the decision as the bowler has overstepped the popping crease. A result of this is frustration of the bowler and fielding side who have done much of the hard work in dismissing the batsman.

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So why is it that only at a dismissal is a no-ball being referred to the TV umpire? Perhaps one can argue that the front foot no-ball is a major factor determining the dismissal of the batsman. On the contrary, if the clarity of the no-ball was provided earlier on any regular delivery, the bowler could make the necessary adjustment prior to any dismissals being taken place. This instance was recently used in the limited overs series in India by the BCCI where every delivery was being supervised by the TV umpire in judging the front foot call. Certainly, proving to be a fair means to conclude, this method can certainly be adopted in the long run particularly with technology becoming a vital part of the game and its decision making.

Some traditionalist of the game argue regarding the use of this technology and taking the power away from the on-field umpire. They also state that additional time will be taken from the game in making this call on the front foot by the TV umpire. These arguments though do not make a strong case for themselves. Technology here is being used to aid the umpire and relieve them of certain duties to help them make better calls and decision at the striker’s end. Additionally, although the regular check by the TV umpires may cause a marginally longer time between deliveries, all playing teams and fans would certainly agree to this approach.

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Furthermore, there is also the argument that the on-field calls on no-balls allows the batsman the decision to change their shot as there is no fear of a dismissal. Most current batsman would contradict it as there is very little time for them to make a change in their shot after an on-field call. This is certainly true for a fast bowler but the adjustment is possible to be made for a slower bowler. However, with a free hit on offer on the next delivery, a batsman would care less to focus on an on-field call to change the shot in a split second.

Technology clearly providing a number of benefits that can be put into practice without any change in the law. For the sake of the argument, even if we do consider prioritizing the on-field call, the practical solution in that case would be an amendment in the law.

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In all of the above instance, we certainly are forgetting the position of the backfoot in the no-ball decision. With bowlers making use of the angle to create opportunities to dismiss batsman, they often do violate and get very close to the sideline on their delivery stride, which is often neglected. Also, the front foot is not clearly visible on most occasions to the umpires with the bowlers body blocking their vision. The amendment in this case to control both the above factors is to dictate the no-ball with regards to the back foot of the bowler. A number of experts have given this suggestion which clearly has a number of positives. At a delivery stride, the bowlers back foot lands first and is also clearly visible to the umpire. Though just a fraction of a second, it would give the umpire that little time to shift his attention from the no-ball call to see what happens at the strikers end. By allowing the call to be made early, the change also gives batsman that little advantage to capitalize on the no ball.

The change in law of the backfoot no-ball call certainly aids the decision making in several ways. This along with the available technology should certainly be used to make the playing field fair and balance the competition between bat and ball. With technology already in use for front foot calls, and with IPL dedicating a separate TV umpire for this in its 2020 season (currently on hold due to COVID-19 pandemic), cricket is certainly finding ways to address this Grey area in the sport. 

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Hurt India brace for upbeat South Africa

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India will host South Africa for a 3 match ODI series starting at Dharamsala. Both teams come on the back of contrasting performances in the format. With a young South African side winning three consecutive games against Australia at home, they certainly have the confidence to compete a strong Indian side at home. India, on the back of three consecutive losses away to New Zealand will seek respite in the comback of their more regular stars to the side.

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South Africa had a nightmare-ish last 12 months, particularly in the white ball formats. With retirement, injury and management shakeup, the side they have put together now shows promise. The clean sweep series victory to a strong Aussie set up will certainly assure that they belong at the international stage. Though for this young side, these Indian conditions will certainly be foreign. With Faf back in the side and form of the more experienced players in Klaasen and Miller will be cruitial for them to stage dominance over a strong Indian side at home. The young members will need to be led well, not just by the experienced players but also their captain who has certainly enjoyed facing the Indian attack in his career.

For India, the return of Hardik Pandya seems to be the center of focus with the balance he provides to the team. With strong batting performances in a domestic T20 series, he has not obtained enough game time particularly with the ball and how the body will take to bowling longer spells. Jadeja’s presence as the spin all rounder will aid India and lift the load of a full 10 over spell from Pandya. The other major return for India is at the top of the order in Shikhar Dhawan. The lack of top order performances in the New Zealand series certainly hurt India. Shikhar’s presence will add some experience and India will be hoping for him to pick up from the form he left off prior to injury. Bhuvaneshawar Kumar also makes it to the side post injury and should most likely be featuring in all games. He will be in need for match practice who with Bumrah need to rise to the performance they were producing nearly a year ago.

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The return of Pandya puts a number of questions on the team selection for India. Though a happy headace to have, India will be looking to achieve a form on consistency in the playing combination to ensure clarity of roles. With the side backing Iyre and Rahul at 4 and 5, Shaw will retain his place along with Shikhar at the top of the line-up. Pandya will be coming in at the expense of Manish Pandey who once again will need to site out despite strong performances and showing maturity to finish games. Jadeja will also keep his place in the side adding to valuable overs and batting depth coming in at 7. Bhuvaneshwar, Bumrah, Saini and Chahl should form the last 4 members in the first game.

South Africa on the other hand do not have as many headaces. Both Maharaj and Shamsi have bowled well to be in the side as lead spinners. Ngigi’s form with the ball will certainly make him the leader of the attack along with the pace of Nortje and all round capabilities of Phehlukwayo. The middle order will be where the bulk of the exprience lies for the Proteas with Faf, Klaasen and Miller. Bavuma’s injury scare could result in Malan parterning his captain at the top with Smut’s part time spin edging him in the side over van der Dussen.

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