2015 Cricket World Cup Blog 1 – Top 10 batsmen

With a little over three weeks until the 2015 Cricket World Cup begins, Australia and New Zealand are preparing to host what has the potential to be the best World Cup in cricketing history.

World cricket is flush with batting innovators, big-hitters and majestic shotmakers.

To some spectators, the World Cup and its 50-over format is seen as antiquated and endangered when compared to the vibrant universe of Twenty20 cricket.

However, ODI cricket is not being given the credit it deserves, and here’s why. Watch out for the following ten batsmen who are set to light up the 2015 World Cup.

  1. Joe Root – England – middle order
  • Key stat: Scored three ODI centuries in 2014

Many see Joe Root as a future England Test captain, but at the moment he’s quite content plundering runs for England in every format of the game. Root has become so important for England that he very often finds himself to be England’s saviour when his colleagues have faltered. Root is a steady accumulator of runs, and the antipodean pitches will suit him in February.

  1. Chris Gayle – West Indies – opener
  • Key stat: Hit more sixes than fours in ODIs last year

Perhaps the most destructive opening batsman in the world, Gayle is back in the West Indies side after their recent pay dispute. His presence looks sure to lift a side controversially shorn of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo at this World Cup. Gayle will continually look to make a fast start but is in danger of being caught out by the fast and bouncy pitches Down Under, with his main weakness being the short ball. If he can survive that, he will score both quickly and colossally.

  1. Steve Smith – Australia – middle order
  • Key stat: Boasts a 49.18 average in 12 ODIs last season

Steve Smith has taken well to Test captaincy, scoring four centuries at an average of 128.16 in the recent series against India. He should be confident of transferring that form into the World Cup when he will have the chance to score big runs on home soil. For Australia, the problem lies in where to place Smith in a middle order that is brimming with runs, which is a nice problem to have.

  1. Kane Williamson – New Zealand – number three
  • Key stat: Compiled a 70.00 average in 12 ODIs during 2014

New Zealand’s latest batting talent has finally broken through, for good. Kane Williamson enjoyed a superb 2014 in ODI cricket, striking seven half-centuries in just 12 innings. He forms a profitable partnership with Ross Taylor in the top order and can also send down some useful off-spin. Williamson has carried his 2014 form into 2015, having scored 103 off 107 balls against Sri Lanka this week.

  1. Hashim Amla – South Africa – opener
  • Key stat: Hit 892 runs in ODI cricket in 2014

In normal circumstances, Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 153 against the West Indies would have made all the headlines, but he was upstaged by AB de Villiers’ record-braking innings. His 2014 form, where he recorded five centuries and a 52.47 average, has progressed into 2015 and he will look to create a solid base for the South African innings before AB, David Miller and co light the bonfires.

  1. Virat Kohli – India – top order
  • Key stat: Scored 1,054 runs off 1,058 balls in ODIs last season

Ignoring a lippy attitude and some questionable on-field manners, Virat Kohli has emerged as India’s ‘Mr Reliable’. His run-a-ball record in ODI cricket during 2014 is a by-product of some devastating T20 displays, and the pin-up boy of Indian cricket is now churning out the runs in all forms of the game. His excellent fielding adds another string to his bow – and it is in that department where India need to focus on most if they are to retain their title.

  1. Angelo Mathews – Sri Lanka – middle order
  • Key stat: Second-highest ODI runscorer in 2014 with 1,244 runs

One of the most underrated cricketers in modern times, Mathews has quickly established himself as the leading middle order batsman in ODI cricket. His ability to accelerate an innings in both clinical and efficient style is a skill keenly sought when ambitions of World Cup glory are harboured. His place in the team is as an all-rounder, but if he can replicate the form which saw him amass a tally of 1,244 runs last season he could finally gain the recognition he deserves.

  1. Rohit Sharma – India – opener
  • Key stat: Registered the world-record innings in ODIs with 264 against Sri Lanka last November

When a batsman possesses the elegance and talent to emulate the great Sachin Tendulkar, huge expectation comes with it, and Rohit Sharma has finally lived up to it. His mammoth total of 264 against Sri Lanka was a world-record in 50-over cricket, and a recent knock of 138 has confirmed the Indian opener’s super form ahead of the World Cup.

  1. Kumar Sangakkara – Sri Lanka – number three
  • Key stat: Top ODI runscorer in 2014 with 1,256 runs

Ever-dependable, rock-solid and almost impossible to dismiss, Sangakkara has confirmed his presence in the pantheon of all-time cricket greats. Having scored four centuries and eight fifties in 2014, he arrives at the World Cup in excellent knick and will again be the cornerstone of the Sri Lankan innings. Can he finally add a World Cup title to his illustrious career?

  1. AB de Villiers – South Africa – number three
  • Key stat: Scored the fastest ODI 50 and 100 in history, making 149 off 44 balls last Sunday.

There is no batsman more mesmeric than AB de Villiers when he swings at full cry. A master innovator, creating shots that previously seemed impossible, he has crafted a new way of hitting; a new way of scoring big totals quickly. That was best evidenced by his thunderous 149 from 44 balls against the West Indies this week, scoring the fastest 50 and the fastest 100 in ODI history along the way. I reckon he’s seeing the ball well, don’t you?

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89
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The Cricketing Enigma

How many cricket fans in England know that the biggest (supposedly) domestic Twenty20 cricket tournament is currently being played in India? Not many.

The Champions League Twenty20 brings the winning teams from various Twenty20 tournaments across the globe together in a clash worthy of its name.

Yet, unbeknownst to English cricket fans, MS Dhoni plundered one of the fastest fifties in history yesterday when his 16-ball half-century helped Chennai Super Kings to a 12-run victory over fellow IPL graduates Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Dhoni’s innings went largely unnoticed in England, partly due to the fact that the BBC rarely covers the IPL and other Twenty20 tournaments, and also due to Eurosport winning the contract for the televised rights.

Truthfully, viewership was always likely to suffer in the UK once Eurosport got their hands on the deal. They are not Sky Sports, or BT Sport for that matter, and consequently advertisement for the CLT20 was so scarce it was almost ghostly.

This isn’t Eurosport’s fault though, they won the rights to the tournament fairly and their dedicated following will have been treated to some quality cricket as the tournament edges towards its second half, with the final being played a week on Sunday (Oct 6).

It is perhaps the fault of ITV4, though. Logically, as they hold broadcasting rights for the IPL, they should have done more to secure the rights for what is technically a bigger tournament.

However, the absence of any English teams in the competition provides some idea as to why Eurosport were effectively unchallenged for the screening rights.

Being held in mid-September, the CLT20 clashes with the conclusion of the County Championship in England. This means that county sides are reluctant to participate in the tournament when promotion or relegation is on the line.

This is particularly true of Northamptonshire who, after winning the Friends Life T20 this summer, couldn’t travel to India because of their four-day commitments.

Promotion to Division One was their objective and, after taking the necessary points during a 115-run defeat to Worcestershire, they achieved that goal by finishing second in the table to Lancashire.

Another reason for the lack of mainstream coverage in the UK is that India is currently plagued by the end of the monsoon season.

Several games in this year’s CLT20 have been rain-affected, while the forecast for the remaining fixtures looks equally bleak.

So, it seems the main terrestrial UK broadcasters have taken the calculated gamble to save money on acquiring the TV rights.

That aside, it means that UK viewers will continue to miss innings of the majesty of Dhoni’s unless they have Eurosport – subscription for which, of course, would make a serious dent in anyone’s wallet.

For that reason, the CLT20 will continue to assume its role as the definitive cricketing enigma. Until the rights are secured by a terrestrial broadcaster, the majority of fans in the UK will be starved of watching a tournament as opulent, but also tragically mysterious, as the Champions League Twenty20.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

India set to ignite world cricket as IPL 6 begins

With its glamour, packed stadiums, superb atmospheres and a sprinkling of the best players in world cricket, what’s not to like about the Indian Premier League?

The money-spinning Twenty20 tournament, in its sixth year, will officially start tomorrow with the grand opening ceremony, but most cricket fans will be looking forward to Wednesday and the first match between defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Delhi Daredevils (DD).

KKR, owned by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan, boast a very strong side once more with South African limited overs specialists Jacques Kallis and Ryan McLaren set to feature prominently alongside the mysterious off-spin of Sunil Narine.

Big-hitting wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, who famously smashed 158 in the inaugural IPL match, will hope to transfer his recent good form for New Zealand into another superb IPL season, while Brett Lee, skipper Gautam Gambhir and England’s Eoin Morgan join Yusuf Pathan and Brad Haddin in a squad that should be in contention for a second successive title.

KKR’s roster would have been further boosted by the addition of world number one-ranked all-rounder Shakib al-Hasan, but the Bangladeshi cricket board wanted their star international players available for their tour of Zimbabwe, and so al-Hasan misses out alongside compatriot Tamim Iqbal, who had signed a contract with Pune Warriors.

In fact, the political controversy surrounding IPL 6 has threatened to overshadow the build-up to this great tournament.

The usual political hostilities between Pakistan and India persist, but until the various differences between Pakistan and India both on and off the field can be resolved, the IPL will not develop as fast as it might otherwise have done.

More recently, due to ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese people on India’s eastern coast and Sri Lankan rebels from Tamil Nadu, no Sri Lankan players will be allowed to play at Chennai.

This affects IPL heavyweights the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) the least as seamer Nuwan Kulasekara and spinner Akila Dananjaya are the only Sri Lankans in their squad and will likely play only bit-part roles throughout the IPL campaign.

Critics of the ban have pointed out that this favours Chennai, particularly as world-class players such as Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, Lasith Malinga and Tillakaratne Dilshan will not be allowed to play for their respective teams.

Politics aside, Chennai have an excellent group of players to count upon as they look to regain a title that they have won twice in the past three seasons.

Indian talisman MS Dhoni continues to skipper the side, with fellow Indian superstars Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin providing exciting reinforcement.

Added to that quartet are the explosive talents of South African stars Francois du Plessis, Chris Morris and Albie Morkel, while Australian seamers Dirk Nannes and Ben Hilfenhaus will look to bowl tightly in a formidable attack which is enhanced by the tricky variation of West Indian all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.

Bravo’s international team-mate Chris Gayle continues his contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore, and the Jamaican is capable of scoring rapidly with his unrivalled big-hitting.

Gayle has shown in previous IPLs that no stadium is big enough for his gargantuan six-hitting, and he is ably assisted by fellow fast-scorers AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Dilshan.

Muralitharan and Daniel Vettori will supply their usual guile for a relatively fragile bowling attack, which is spearheaded by swing bowlers Zaheer Khan and Ravi Rampaul.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Chennai in this tournament will be Mumbai Indians, who are traditionally strong and are fortunate to have a plethora of international stars in their ranks.

Home favourites Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma are joined by compatriots Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha, while Malinga, Ricky Ponting, Munaf Patel, Mitchell Johnson and Kieron Pollard complete the Indians’ strong squad.

Delhi Daredevils will be without the influential Jesse Ryder and Kevin Pietersen, the former after suffering a fractured skull in a disgusting attack in Christchurch, but they will have the big-hitting Virender Sehwag and David Warner at their disposal, together with IPL 5’s purple-cap (leading wicket taker) winner Morne Morkel.

England players are scarce finds in the IPL though, as the tournament clashes with the Test series against New Zealand. Consequently, limited overs experts Eoin Morgan (KKR), Dimi Mascarenhas (Kings XI Punjab), Owais Shah (Rajasthan Royals) and Luke Wright (Pune) are the only notable inclusions.

Other international stars set to appear include the fiery Dale Steyn and Cameron White for newly-formed outsiders Sunrisers Hyderabad, formerly known as Deccan Chargers.

Pune, meanwhile, have the brutal Yuvraj Singh, Ross Taylor and Marlon Samuels alongside the crafty Steve Smith and Robin Uthappa and will be seeking an improvement on last season when they could only manage to finish last of the nine teams.

The bookies have Kings XI Punjab as the rank underdogs, but the team based on the foothills of the Himalayas includes Australian legend Adam Gilchrist, Mascarenhas and the reliable Shaun Marsh and David Hussey in their team.

Kings XI Punjab’s weakness has historically been their bowling and they have seemingly done little to address that problem with Ryan Harris, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla the leading internationals in their attack.

Rajasthan Royals, owned by Bollywood darling Shilpa Shetty, complete the 2013 line-up and could prove to be dark horses after assembling an intriguing squad for IPL 6 which includes the exquisite yet orthodox shotmaking of Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Dravid.

Firepower is provided in the shape of Shane Watson and Shah, while the world’s fastest bowler Shaun Tait is joined by Fidel Edwards and Australian veterans Brad Hogg and Brad Hodge.

Despite the controversy hindering the build-up to the tournament, IPL 6 has the potential to be the best so far – and with the likes of Tendulkar, Dhoni, Gayle and Steyn on show it should prove an irresistible attraction to cricket fans across the globe.

  • ITV 4 will screen every match of the IPL live in the UK.

Skiing is back on our TV screens!

Did you grow up glued to the TV on a Sunday teatime?

If you weren’t, what else could you have been doing? Ski Sunday was on!

Yes, it’s that time of year where Ski Sunday makes a welcome return to our TV screens.

A quick burst of that famous music and I’m transported back to my childhood. Memories of watching legends of the sport across the 1990s and 2000s such as Hermann Maier, Alberto Tomba and of course Michael Walchhofer flood back to me.

After going through a period where the likes of Bode Miller and Didier Cuche swept aside the competition in the late 2000s, skiing has been taken over by another Austrian – Marcel Hirscher.

Currently top of the overall FIS World Cup standings, the Austrian has proved to be almost unbeatable in the Slalom discipline and his placing of second behind the USA’s Ted Ligety in the Giant Slalom confirms his status as the number one skier in the world right now.

This week’s Parallel Slalom in Moscow perfectly evidenced his lofty position within the sport.

The Parallel Slalom is held on a 56 metre-high ramp in the middle of Moscow (there is also one in Munich earlier in the season), providing a left-right course of 175 metres which racers navigate in around 20 seconds. It is to skiing what Twenty20 is to cricket – and it’s every bit as exciting.

Racers ski head-to-head over two runs in a knockout system, but there was no stopping Hirscher as he blew the competition away, crushing the likes of Ivica Kostelic and Andre Myhrer on his way to an emphatic win.

With the World Championships beginning next week in the revered host resort of Schladming, Austria, Hirscher will be hot favourite to scoop gold in the slalom in front of his vociferous home support.

In the women’s competition, Slovenia’s Tina Maze is the dominant force. In the overall standings, she has more than double the points of her nearest rival, Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, and leads the Super G and Giant Slalom competitions while also occupying podium positions in the Downhill and Slalom events.

Thanks to Ski Sunday’s excellent coverage we get to see all the great drama of this fantastic sport.

From wincing at the horrific crashes on the icy slopes of some of Europe’s most feared courses, to watching racers launch themselves off infamous jumps like the Hundschopf (Dog’s Head) at Wengen, Switzerland.

Great Britain’s most famous skier, Graham Bell, now retired, takes hand-held cameras down the terrifying courses, giving viewers an amazing insight into the speed and danger of a world-class Downhill course.

His entertaining co-presenter Ed Leigh adds great value to one of the BBC’s most famous shows, and the cast was recently enriched further when Olympic skeleton-bob gold medallist Amy Williams joined the show.

Ski Sunday gives this addictive, breathtaking sport the coverage it deserves, and I will continue to be glued to my TV for as long as it endures on our screens.