Ireland and Bangladesh shake it up

Update (March 19): Bob Woolmer is dead. For anyone involved with cricket, this is shattering news. It puts the word ‘tragedy’, so loosely used sometimes with reference to mere cricket matches, in perspective. It will be hard to enjoy the cricket in the World Cup now. (Original post below. News via email from reader Jayakamal Balasubramani.)

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I’ve been up all night watching cricket, as I’m sure have many of you, and I can’t remember watching such a stirring day’s cricket. In one match, Ireland knocked Pakistan out of the World Cup on St Patrick’s day; in another, Bangladesh beat India with a superlative performance. Minnows or sharks?

I was particularly impressed by Bangladesh. All their past upsets have been caused by the side opposite them getting a bit complacent, and the wins have seemed like flukes, a judgement backed up by how rare those wins have been. But today they outplayed India in every department of the game: their bowling was exceptional, their fielding was the sharpest of the subcontinental teams, and their batting was positive and purposeful. They didn’t look like a weaker team playing out of their skins, but like one that belonged at this level. What was most remarkable was that many of them, including their three half-centurions today (1, 2, 3), are teenagers.

Bangladesh’s age-group cricket is exceptionally well-organised, and they seem to be getting the fruits of that now. Besides Habibul Bashar, whose captaincy has actually been lacklustre, and Mohammad Rafique, all their key players are young: Mashrafe Mortaza looks a positive veteran at 23. Their coach, Dav Whatmore, has surely had a lot to do with making them believe in themselves and concentrate in doing the basics well. He coached Sri Lanka when they were considered a second-rung side, and took them to a World Cup win. I’d keep a close eye on Bangladesh in 2011. (Or even 2007? Who knows? Remember 1983?)

And what about India then? Well, we can still make it through by winning the next two games comprehensively, and this rough start might just have been immensely valuable in making the side play with greater intensity, as happened to Pakistan in 1992. But Sri Lanka’s a fine team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they manage to stop us. That will be the end of Greg Chappell as Indian coach, of course, though I feel much more sorry for Bob Woolmer, a fine coach who was always working against the odds within the Pakistan system. And consider the irony that he recently wrote the following words:

Ireland, in particular, have shown a rapid improvement, captained by an Australian, Trent Johnston, a medium-fast seamer and, with a number of players who have county experience in England, they have a very good team. Any side underestimating them will be doing themselves few favours.

Ah well, what to say now?

By the way, Comments are open on this post, feel free to express your feelings about these two games. Did India screw up or did Bangladesh just play too well? Will India qualify? What do you feel about Pakistan’s early exit?