Oh-Dee-Eye

Those of you that have been reading this blog for a while know that I first started following cricket during the 2007 World Cup. Every time I tell a dedicated cricket follower that fact, they respond with something along the lines of “and you didn’t run screaming back to baseball!?”

And, no, I didn’t.

In fact, I loved every second of it.

That probably had something to do with the fact that I didn’t know any better.

But I also think it has something to with the format itself.

As I mentioned briefly in a post from a couple days ago, the One Day International was my first format and it is how I learned the game.

I fell in love with cricket because of the ODI.

This morning as I was watching the overs tick over via the ball by ball on Cricinfo, I was reminded of those first few glorious mornings during the 2007 World Cup. It was a grand feeling then, and it was wonderful to be reminded of it again this morning. (By contrast, the 2011 World Cup did not make sense, timezone wise, which is why the memories did not come flooding back then.)

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But my feelings for the ODI are not simply nostalgia based, I really do think it is a phenomenal sporting contest. The strategies are endless and interesting: be aggressive but not too aggressive; play defensively but also offensively; and don’t forget about that net run rate.

It takes all day to get a winner, from late morning until late afternoon; and so it is a real test of endurance and stamina.

The problem, however, is that cricket is far too reliant on the format to fill out the schedule during longer tours.

Those endless 18 match tri-series are truly interminable, for instance – to the point where the matches lose all of their color, all of their character, all of their magic.

I love ODI cricket during a tournament, even if it is just the Champions Trophy (more on that in a second) but I find the format terribly boring outside of tournaments.

My recommendation, based on a Tweet from earlier today: play 50 over cricket at the domestic level, but only play it at the international level during the World Cup.

The obvious problem there is that players will not be conditioned to the format at the highest level and the games might not therefore be as entertaining, but I don’t think that would be the case.

Or maybe, during tours, just play one ODI and one T20 and five Tests.

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Someone else Tweeted, and I forget who, about how the Champions Trophy, while a bit of a joke in cricketing circles, mostly for how the ICC pimps it as the greatest thing since sliced bread, really is the perfect format for an ODI tournament. The eight best teams in the world, and it’s over in two and a half weeks.

And, I don’t know, I think I agree with that.

Of course, the Twitterer went on to mention that the ICC has indefinitely cancelled future Champions Trophies, which of course is par for the course: cancelling the one thing they are doing right.

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A bit of a rambling post, but here’s the gist: this should be a fun tournament; especially if today’s match was any indication of future play.

See everyone on Twitter.

#ct13

The Champions Trophy Starts tomorrow and will be carried live here in the states over on ESPN3. I must admit, I am kind of excited.

If you missed it on Twitter, here is a link to ESPN3’s official press release regarding their coverage. You can also go check out my cricket viewing guide for the full schedule.

My prediction is as follows:

And for a proper preview, I turn the site over to occasional guest writer, JP Daughtery:

ICC Champions Trophy Preview 2013

Group A

England

The hosts of the tournament, usually good in their home conditions but they just lost a home series to New Zealand.

Captain: Alastair Cook
Wicketkeeper: Jos Buttler/Jonny Bairstow
Best batsman: Alastair Cook; England’s captain has had a prolific last couple of years, especially in Test cricket, where he recently became England’s all-time leading century-maker. Can he transfer that form into the 50-over game?
Best bowler: James Anderson; One of the best classical swing bowlers in the world. Uses his great gift of being able to swing the ball late to pick up early wickets with the new ball.
X-Factor: Eoin Morgan; Morgan’s outrageously inventive stroke play has earned him a reputation as one of the best finishers in world cricket. Is possibly the only player in world cricket to play more ‘reverse’ shots than conventional shots.

Australia

Always one of the favorites, even though they are in a rebuilding phase and just got bowled out for 65.

Captain: Michael Clarke
Wicketkeeper: Matthew Wade
Best batsman: Michael Clarke; The Australian captain had the year of his life last year, scoring two double centuries against South Africa. Can he lead the Aussies to Champions Trophy 3-peat?
Best bowler: Mitchell Starc; The young Starc has wowed people the world over with his pace and bounce, and his ability to not be erratic like that other Mitchell. Expect the English conditions to be to his liking.
X-Factor: David Warner; This dynamite opener can give Australia a fast start, although he has not been in the best of form lately. Can he deliver when Australia needs him most?

Sri Lanka

A young and exciting team, bolstered with some veterans who are legends of the game.

Captain: Angelo Mathews
Wicketkeeper: Kumar Sangakkara
Best batsman: Mahela Jayawardene; A classical batsmen, uses more of placement than power in his shots. One of the few players to get 10,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs.
Best bowler: Lasith Malinga; ‘The Slinga’ had a relatively quiet IPL season until the final, when he demolished the Chennai top order. Expect him to be confident after that performance.
X-Factor: Dinesh Chandimal; This exciting young prospect is one of the new stars of the Sri Lankan batting order. He will be expected to play a big role, probably batting at number 3.

New Zealand

On a hot streak entering this Champions Trophy, having just beaten England in an ODI series.

Captain: Brendon McCullum
Wicketkeeper: Luke Ronchi
Best batsman: Martin Guptill; One of New Zealand’s brightest talents, he just made a scintillating match-winning 189 against England.
Best bowler: Tim Southee; One of the most underrated bowlers in world cricket, expect him to be near the top of the wickets chart in helpful English conditions.
X-Factor: Brendon McCullum; One of the most dangerous batsmen in world cricket, especially towards the end. Has terrific six-hitting ability.

Group B

South Africa

The favorites for the tournament, can they finally win a major trophy?

Captain/Wicketkeeper: AB de Villiers
Best batsman: Hashim Amla; Possibly the best batsman in world cricket at the moment. Uses exceptional touch in order to find the gaps and plays with an elegance matched only by a late 90s-early 2000s Tendulkar or Laxman.
Best bowler: Dale Steyn*; The best fast bowler in world cricket is ably supported by his partner in crime, Morné Morkel. Uses overwhelming speed and late swing to defeat batsmen.
X-Factor: David Miller; Stole the show in the IPL with some eye-catching displays of power, including a 38-ball 101.

*Editor’s noted: story was filed before Steyn’s injury was reported.

India

It is unknown how the world’s most supported team will fare after news of the spot-fixing scandal. Based in the evidence from the warm-up games, they will go far.

Captain/Wicketkeeper: MS Dhoni
Best batsman: MS Dhoni; Dhoni is quickly becoming the best ODI finisher of all-time, and with good reason. He uses his supple wrists to create incredible bat speed to hit sixes. Example: 2011 World Cup Final, over 48.2.
Best bowler: Umesh Yadav; Umesh is back in international cricket after recovering from a stress fracture in his back. Uses his good pace and seam movement to get wickets.
X-Factor: Dinesh Karthik; Karthik was Mumbai’s best batsmen during the IPL and has shown great form in the warm-up matches. Expect him to have a great tournament.

Pakistan

The most unpredictable team in world cricket. One day they tie Ireland, the next they beat South Africa. You never know quite what you’re going to get.

Captain: Misbah-ul-Haq
Wicketkeeper: Kamran Akmal
Best batsman: Mohammad Hafeez; Hafeez has been Pakistan’s most consistent performer over the past few years. Expect him to be the anchor against the two new balls.
Best bowler: Saeed Ajmal; The best spinner in world cricket, he possesses both a great off spinner and a well-disguised doosra.
X-Factor: Mohammad Irfan; The 7-foot-1 Irfan is a tough customer to handle as he gets lots of bounce. Expect him to be a handful for opposition openers.

West Indies

The winners of the most recent ICC tournament, the 2012 World T20, they are less comfortable on the ODI stage.

Captain: Dwayne Bravo
Wicketkeeper: Denesh Ramdin
Best batsman: Chris Gayle; The six-hitting behemoth was at his best in the IPL. Can he be a bit more patient in a longer format?
Best bowler: Sunil Narine; On his first visit to England, Narine struggled. He has come back a better bowler than he was and expect him to have success.
X-Factor: Kieron Pollard; This hard-hitting death-over specialist proved his worth in the IPL final, smashing 60 off 32 deliveries. He will hope to replicate that performance and go on to make more runs.

Predictions:

Group A:

1. New Zealand
2. Sri Lanka
3. Australia
4. England

Group B:

1. South Africa
2. India
3. West Indies
4. Pakistan

Semi-finals:

India over New Zealand
South Africa over Sri Lanka

Final:

India over SA.

You read right. Call me crazy, but remember, you heard it here first.

Confessions

1. Despite continuing to give the impression that I think Test cricket is the only format worth a damn, I have a real soft spot for the One Day International. It was my first format; it is how I learned the game.

2. And despite continuing to say that I have no allegiance to any particular cricketing nation, I have had always had a secret sports crush on New Zealand’s cricket team.

And because of these two skeletons in my closet, New Zealand’s ODI series win over England, in England, was just simply a joy to watch happen. And now with the Champions Trophy set to start on Thursday, they are going to go into that tournament on a real high, and I think with a definite chance of reaching the knockout stage.

I think this because they didn’t just beat the fourth best ODI team in the world, they positively routed the fourth best ODI team in the world. A team that has not lost an ODI series at home since 2009.

New Zealand’s run rate was a run an over better than England’s and they only lost three wickets in 50 overs, while England was bowled out in just 44 overs.

It was a shellacking.

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Some might say that the win at Southampton and to a lesser extent the win at Lord’s, were all down to the blistering performances of Martin Guptill. Those same people will say it is dangerous to rely on one man in a team sport – and I will agree with those people. However, the Champions Trophy is not a season – it’s two and a half weeks and at most five matches. If Guptill can stay hot, and if the Kiwi attack can continue to hold teams to 250 or less, then that’s enough to win in a short tournament such as the Champions Trophy.

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The West Indies winning the T20 World Championship was a really big deal, and New Zealand winning the Champions Trophy, while it would not be as sexy, would be equally a big deal. World cricket desperately needs a strong bottom half of the table.

But even if they lose all three matches in the group stage, their series win over England is still a massive accomplishment – and really great for cricket.

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New Zealand’s first Champions Trophy match is Sunday against Sri Lanka in Wales. A winnable match, but not an easy one. First ball is at 04:30am Minneapolis time, which I think is around ten-thirty in the evening in Wellington. Not exactly prime viewing hours, but here’s hoping some of my pals on Twitter from New Zealand are up and watching at least part of it.

I bring up the time zone issue because I love how BIG the sport of cricket is. A team from an island in the Southwest Pacific Ocean and a team from an island in the Indian Ocean, playing each on an island in the North Atlantic.

Sri Lanka: 7,700 miles from home. New Zealand: 11,000 miles from home. First ball is 10:30am local time, 04:30am in Minneapolis, 10:30pm in Wellington, three in the afternoon in Colombo…

It’s a global game.

And while it is not the biggest trophy in cricket by any means, I will still watch. Because I like being a part of such a global undertaking…and because I secretly love the ODI; and because I secretly love New Zealand.

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