What was captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni trying to say when he hinted that the Indian team was not motivated enough during the warm-up matches? While he later retracted his statement, it is becoming very clear that most international players are becoming totally fed up of the packed schedules. The BCCI has received enough hints in the past but has not really thought of a long-term solution.
But if you look at the current warm-up matches, they do seem pretty silly. The format of this world cup is such that the top 8 teams make it to quarter-finals. The 1996 version, which saw a similar format, saw no upsets. The job of minnows for upsets has become much tougher.
They have to beat 2-3 strong teams to make it to the next stage.
World Cup: Sreesanth is India's lucky charm
In fact the format is such that the group stages could in a way be called a warm-up stage. So what matches have the teams been playing before February 19? A warm-up for the virtual warm-ups? No wonder players sound so cheesed.
How do you approach these matches anyway? If a batsman takes it lightly and gets out cheaply a couple of times, that might start a run of bad form. What if he goes all out and gets injured? It would all be for nothing. Pacers especially would not want to strain themselves.
So in the end a very motivated Dhoni hit India's second fastest ODI century to power India to a record 360 against New Zealand. The running between the wickets was pretty hectic. But wait a minute! All that is not going to enter the record books as it's just a warm-up game!
Howzzat for motivation!
A very good omen..
A quick quiz question: When's the last Australia lost a world cup match? That happened way back on 23 May 1999, when Pakistan beat them by 10 runs in Headingley. Such a long time! They were unbeaten in the 2000-10 decade. So the 2011 edition has given a great start for non-Australians. The Baggy Greens lost both their matches against India and South Africa, the two teams which Ricky Ponting mentioned as favourites in a press conference.
India, on the other hand, couldn't have asked for a better start. Australia was cruising at 118-1, but still crashed to 176 all down. That doesn't look good. South Africa then beat Australia by seven wickets. Australia: 0/2.
In their second warm-up game against the Kiwis, India hit an imposing 360. What's more, the spinners looked good and tight in both matches. Indian batsmen are the best players of spin and Indian spinners are making most of the conditions.
Odds favour Asian giants
So bring on the spinning tracks, India is raring to go!
When in doubt, commentate!
The trend of retired cricketers turning commentators started some time back. Australian Ian Chappell remarked that he got more for a few hours of commentary than his fees for an entire match. Then there was someone like Indian spinner Murli Kartik who jumped on the bandwagon the moment he was dropped, even though there was an outside chance that he might play again.
Now the resourcefulness of Salman Butt has stumped the ICC. Within days of being banned in the match-fixing controversy, he signed up to become a commentator with a Pakistani channel! While the ICC is livid, Butt is hoping to exploit a loophole. His new employers Channel 5 is not a rights holder with the ICC.
Wonder how the discussion will go if the Channel 5 expert team decides to discuss match-fixing!
Don't take the minnows lightly
Time was when teams thought of doing batting practice against the minnows. 2007 changed that a lot. Of course Zimbabwe shocked Australia in 1983 and Kenya managed to reach the semis in 2003. But in 2007, in a double whammy, both India and Pakistan were kicked out by Bangladesh and Ireland respectively. Also, the last time Netherlands and Bangaldesh met, it was Netherlands that won the match.
Interestingly, in our first four matches, we are meeting the above mentioned teams: Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands. So there's no way Gary Kirstein and Co. will take these matches lightly. India will want to give its best in a bid to top the table and get an easy draw for the quarters.
Then there's the only tough match of the group with South Africa and finally an easier one with the West Indies.
(The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger)