Monday, April 04, 2011

Post-Mortem on World Cup Final

This blog is getting increasingly like a cricket blog, which was not my intention at all. So for all those who are not much into Cricket, I do apologize a bit and promise that there won't be a cricket post for a while AFTER THIS. Really and seriously....

At the same time, I do hope it will be OK by all to bare with me for one last cricket post. After all, a world cup comes only once in 4 years and a world cup with our team in the finals has happened only twice for the whole 10 000 or so history of "modern" human civilization! Surely, no harm giving some coverage to such a rare event ?

Now then, back to the finals.... As so many people in this country keep asking, "what happened to SL team? why did Sri Lanka loose ?" Well, first of all, India and SL both teams were at least equally likely to win and India was the tournament favorites and the final was played there under conditions which are more suitable and familiar to them. In that light, even the very question "why SL lost ?" become less important as it shouldn't be a much of a surprise to many. It just was one of 2 equally likely out comes to happen. So, cool down......... Nothing wrong in an Indian victory. They were a good team too and certainly the better team on that night.

However, SL did win the toss. Courageously (after loosing the way early) posted a imposing target of 275 . What's more, SL bowlers (Malinga) dismissed both high profile Indian openers early. Therefore we can ask the same question little bit more specifically. Why (and how) SL lost after getting India into 31 for 2 wickets ? Now, that's an interesting question indeed! We have heard so many cricket pundits voiced their opinion on this and heard many theories, so much so that this topic already sounds like old news.

Surely, everything which need to be discussed is already discussed and done with, right ? Since all experts have already given their verdicts and we have already made up our minds and are happy with runners up, not much point going over this again right ? What more can laymen like us add new into this discussion ?

Well, all those are very valid points and I don't have a convincing argument to even to make you read rest of the article (or for me to write the rest in the first place!). Yet, I do think some of verdicts people have given and some of expert comments on this are utterly non sense. Some real issues and reasons were never discussed in my mind. So here we go .........

First of all, few off the mark (according to me) reasons as to why SL lost.

1) SL could have taken at least 350 to stop the strong Indian batting line up. (275 was not enough)

This argument really came only after Sanga did his diplomatic and sporty comments to the press after the game. (hats off to that speech, he had to say something graceful like that in front of the press after losing the world cup final. One has to praise the winning team and give the due credit to their batters, thats the sensible way of handling the press after all, and Sanga being a skillful lawyer himself, knows it better than you and me!) However, during the first 3 quarters of the game I heard no one saying 275 is not enough! This was a world cup final, Indians were playing under pressure in front of their crowd. They were playing under lights. If all those were not enough, consider this : Tendulkar and Sehvag both were already back in the pavilion well before even the start of bowling power play!

Do you really believe SL batters haven't put a decent score to defend ? SL was considered to be possessing the strongest bowling attack in the tournament. 275 was enough to win! (it was only made to look smaller, ore on that later) that was not the reason why SL lost. At least it alone can not explain the SL defeat after putting India on 31 for 2 at one stage!

2) Choosing Kapugedara over Chamara Silva and/or Kulasekara over Rangana Herath.

This is not it either. After injury to Matthews, SL was forced to pick the other all rounder Thisara Perera. But he was not enough replacement for Matthews' batting for SL has already having a issue with middle order batting strength, so they have decided to include Kula as well to bolster batting and to get something out of the wicket which was offering some bounce. A totally justifiable option! The fact that Kapugedara didn't perform with the bat was a non issue here. (It is actually a sub argument of point 1 above. SL did make a good score even without Kapugedara scoring, so how can it explain the loss ?) I think selectors were spot on on all those decisions. Selecting Thisara, Kula and Kapugedara and omiting Chamara Silva and Rangana Herath was OK.

3) Angelo Mathews got injured.
This again is a sub argument of point 1 above. SL did score enough even without Mathews! Unless someone is saying Matthews was one of our strike bowlers, this argument doesn't make much sense. For those who say Matthews could have made a difference as a fielder and a bowler. I simply do not agree. He may have done a little difference but not enough to change the result! Mathews was not among top Sri Lankan strike bowlers whom they depended on taking wickets.

4) Dew.
It set only in final 20 overs or so, the game was already starting to go Indian way by then. Besides, Sri Lankan spinners did perform well even with the dew against NZ in the group stages. We heard the stories those days about how they practiced with wet balls etc.. Once again, total absence of dew might have made some impact but not enough to change the result of the game.

Now then. What really made them loose then ? 275 on board, India were 31/2 and without Tendulkar and Sehvag. What really happened from there....

1) Choosing Randiv against Mendis.
To me this is it! Mendis was the most economical bowler in the Sri Lankan team throughout the tournament. He was considered a top strike bowler as well. One who can take wickets! Why dropping him and bringing Randiv whom wasn't even on the squad and haven't played a game for months is simply beyond me. I heard Arnold making the comment that India can pick Mendis well and so he was not in. This is poor reasoning in my mind. When was the last time India played against Mendis ? When we had his recent bowling figures to back him, (the real evidence) why worry over how Indians handled him in the past ? Mendis's recent figures suggested he has done his home work and improved as a bowler and was performing well in the competition. If that's not enough, what is ? If SL had Mendis bowling at Indians with all his variations on an assisting pitch with turn and bounce both, that would have been some sight to watch. Since there was a sizable score on board, Mendis could have bowled with lot of freedom, concentrating on wickets.

To back it further, look at following statistics of top SL bowlers, first figure is runs per wickets, second is runs given per over :
Murali 19.40, 4.09
Malinga 20.74, 5.54
Dilshan 15.75, 4.06
Mendis 19.14, 3.14

Mendis is not only the most economical, no other bowler is even near him on runs per over! As a short note, one also get the feeling whether Sri Lanka has under used Dilshan. He has the best average and second best economy rate, yet has bowled very few. Shouldn't they have used Dilshan more in the power-plays instead of Thisara and Nuwan Kulasekara ?

2) Bad fielding
This is the most obvious one and almost all have got this one right. SL fielding was not worthy for a international game let alone for a world cup final! A drop catch, a missed run out, several over throws, misses at the boundary line etc. This is one big reason why the good score 275 was made to look like a smaller total and a one which is hard to defend. Of course you can not defend even 300 if you are dropping catches and mis fielding resulting in additional runs!

3) Seemers (except the slinger) Giving it away.
This need some statistics to prove :
Muralitharan : 39 off 8 overs (rate under 5)
Randiv : 43 off 9 (rate under 5)
Malinga : Malinga 42 off 9 with two wickets (rate under 5)
Dilshan : 27 off 5 with a wicket (rate under 5.5)

We used to say spinner didn't deliver on that day, yet the chart shows they havn't done that badly either. True, they couldn't take wickets but yet they managed to keep the run rate checked. India needed a rate of 5.5, All the bowlers listed above managed that while taken 3 top wickets among them.

In total, Murali, Malinga, randiv and part timer Dilshan has bowled total of 31 overs between them and given away 151 runs for 3 wickets. Not only they have given below 5 runs per over, the 3 huge wickets they have got all came at an early stage of the match! making maximum impact. Malinga was also the one who had bowled most balls in power plays. Rest of specialized bowlers had to bowl 19 overs and only had to give something below 6.5 per over!

So we could afford to be little specific and say Kulasekara and Thisara Perera were the actual ones who failed with the bowl that day. (not to mention the missed catch) Between them they had bowled 18 and gave away 119 for just a single witket! Even that wicket came too late to make any impact on the match.

True, spinners didn't win Sri Lanka the match but they haven't lost it for them either. Rather than saying the entire SL bowling line up was a total disaster, I think we can safely say that only 2 bowlers had issues that night.

4) Indians batted really well.
This I think is the main reason above all the rest! specially M.S Dhoni batted brilliantly and easily smothered any Sri Lankan come back at it's inception. His brave decision to bat up in the order paid up nicely.

In summary, If SL had Mendis bowling at Indians, Sharp fielding instead of sloppy nut pickings and dozen loose deliveries less, we could have see a much tense struggle than that.

Congratulations India, you were the deserved winners!