What you missed this weekend: 8/16-8/18

It’s only a matter of a few weeks before the NFL and NBA get underway as Europe’s La Liga and English Premier League have already started. We still have some pre-season domestic news though along with some UFC and MLB action and the Ashes between England and Australia witnessed a thrilling second test of cricket. 

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215-365 Today at the Ashes Test Match by John Garghan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

GOLF: BMW Championship

Tiger Woods’ season has come to a disappointing end. After 18 holes, Woods shot even-par 72, which was seven-under overall, and unfortunately, he doesn’t qualify for the next round.

UFC-241: Stipe Miocic

After just a little over four minutes into round four, Stipe Miocic won back his heavyweight title against Daniel Cormier. Although Cormier had 73 more strikes than his counterpart, all it took was just one knockout for Miocic to win his beloved prize. This is the fourth time a champion ended up losing in Anaheim.

NFL: 

Injury news

Los Angles Chargers have lost Derwin James for three to four months due to foot surgery. New Jersey Jets LB Avery Williams tore his ACL in a practice game against the Atlanta Falcons and will probably miss the whole season. The Arizona Cardinals starting cornerback, Robert Alford, broke his tibia bone and will have to sit out for half of the season. The Baltimore Ravens will have to do without Taven Young, who will miss the season due to a neck injury.

Josh McCown

The former Jets quarterback has done a U-turn on his decision to retire and has signed a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. He has signed just a one-year deal with the Eagles.

LA Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys had the edge against the Los Angeles Rams Saturday night in Hawaii, winning 14-10. Devin Smith and Tony Pollard both reached the endzone for Dallas while only JoJo Natson Jr. was able to convert for the Rams.

MLB: 

Gleyber Torres

Gleyber Torres makes his name with the New York Yankees by becoming the second-highest Home Run scorer in a season with the Yankees. He scored his 29th Home Run right before turning 23 years of age.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols brought light to his name by becoming the player born outside of the United States with the most hits. The Dominican-born player went to 3,168 hits on Saturday night for the Los Angeles Angels against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Soccer: 

Barcelona

Barcelona was welcomed to a shocking start in La Liga by losing 1-0 to Atletic Bilbao. The hero was Aritz Adruiz who scored in the 89th minute.

Cricket: 

The Ashes

Despite Steve Smith scoring 92(161), Australia ended up trailing England by 8 runs at the end of the first innings, being bowled out for 250. To Australia’s dismay, Smith was retired out first due to a concussion after being hit in the neck by a Jofra Archer bouncer. When he returned to bat, Chris Woakes caught him LBW after Smith mistakably left the ball. The second innings didn’t start well for England, especially when skipper Joe Root was caught behind the first ball but England found a hero at Lord’s once again in Ben Stokes, who scored his seventh test match century.

Australia needed 267 runs to win in just a few hours, so a draw was the most likely outcome, but for a good amount of time, the England bowlers excellently created doubt in the Australian batting ability. David Warner and Usman Khawaja were both dismissed caught off of Archer’s bowling, but substitute Marcus Labuschagne bravely got to 59 before being controversially being caught out by Joe Root at square leg. In the final hour, England needed four wickets to win and Australia wasn’t in reach of victory, but the likes of Archer, Joe Denly and Jack Leach were unable to find the wickets and the match was declared a draw.

Australia currently leads the five-match series 0-1 after two tests.

To: The Ashes

Edgebaston Cricket Ground,

Birmingham, England, U.K.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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Howzat – The Ashes Trent Bridge 2015 by Airwolfhound is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Dear cricket,

What reason do I have to constantly have faith in the beauty of this game? What is it about a leather ball being hit by a wooden bat which I love so much? Or is there more to this game of cricket?

Do you know how strong my love for this game is? And not just me, but for nearly every fan who fills his or her leisure time by involving themselves in this sport? Be it from playing to watching to talking about it, is it possible to ever stop loving cricket?

Love for cricket is universal with people from all walks of life able to find a passion for it, be it an old taxi driver in the Carribean, an English father or a poor child in Pakistan. It was this passion which also started a war in cricket, a war which has lasted since the 1880s.

From this war came ashes. Not the ashes of soldiers or gunfire. The ashes of passion. The Ashes. When the stumps at The Oval Cricket Ground in London were burned after Australia beat England on English soil for the first time, ashes were burnt, a newspaper reported “The Death of English Cricket” and war was born.

But after winter comes spring and spirits are reborn. Since “The Death of English Cricket”, every two years The Ashes take place, marking the summit of the cricketing calendar. I’m a Pakistani teenager who has nothing to do with either England or Australia, but what can I do? The Ashes is like a gem to behold, whom anyone would give anything to see at least once in their life. When England take on Australia, it’s as if the rest of the cricketing world disappears from the face of the Earth.

Despite not being English or Aussie, The Ashes have provided moments throughout history which just simply can’t be replicated. And the excitement never dies or ages. Be it in the early 20th century when Sir Donald Bradman walked out to bat for the last time at The Oval and was dismissed LBW for duck or in 2009 when Monty Panesar and Jimmy Anderson batted 11 overs to force a draw.

The Ashes is why I love cricket. Five test matches, five battles, one everlasting war. Will Australia recover and retain the Ashes or will England find success on their home soil and send the Aussie soldiers back home with their heads bowed? I’ve asked a lot of questions in this letter, but you know what? Ignore them. All of them. Just allow us cricket fans to enjoy and love cricket at it’s best. Allow this flame to burn forever, turning our hearts to ashes.

Love, no one special.

Cricket World Cup Round Five preview

After a weekend of exciting cricket, let’s change things up. Instead of reviewing what’s already happened, why not look forward and start asking some questions? But if want to catch up on what you may have missed this weekend, don’t worry, RahimAli Merchant and I have that ready for you. 

After Monday’s match between South Africa and the West Indies was abandoned due to rain at The Rose Bowl in Southampton, fans turn their heads towards Bristol, where South Asian sides Bangladesh take on Sri Lanka tomorrow. The following day, Pakistan will be looking to continue their winning form against Australia and on Thursday, first-place New Zealand clash with third-place India. Finally, on Friday, England travels to Southampton to meet the West Indies. 

Teams, of course, will have to change and adapt some of their strategies and also work with some important players being out. It’ll be interesting to see how these teams will face their upcoming challenges in the bid for a semi-finals spot. Also, read to see some predictions for these matches. 

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england v bangladesh, bristol by Synwell is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka @ Bristol on Tuesday, June 11:

Form: Bangladesh could be called favorites to win this match despite losing their last two. Although their batting has shined, it’s been the talented bowling which has failed the Bangladeshis so far. Bangladesh was two wickets short of beating New Zealand after setting the Black Caps a target of just 245 and conceded 386 vs England. But, Bangladesh does have a win against South Africa which will make opponents wary of them.

Sri Lanka has a batting lineup which could easily make Bangladesh suffer. If they work. Captain Dimuth Karunuratne has shown his skill so far in the tournament with a half-century against New Zealand, but Sri Lanka needs others like Angelo Matthews or Thisara Perera to step up and score if Sri Lanka is going to counter a hungry bowling attack like Bangladesh.

Key Players: Going into this match for Bangladesh, although Bangladesh fans will definitely want Shakib Al-Hasan to perform, Bangladesh’s best bowler, Mustafizur Rahman will be important. Bangladesh needs to put pressure on the Sri Lankan batsmen to win and no one better to do that than Rahman.

For Sri Lanka, like I said earlier, Perera needs to get going. When he starts to attack, it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to stop the flow of runs. If Perera can score 40 or more, Sri Lanka can set a target which they should be able to defend.

Question of the match: How many runs can Nuwan Pradeep and Lasith Malinga restrict Bangladesh to?

Prediction:

If Bangladesh bats first: Sri Lanka to win by four wickets

If Sri Lanka bats first: Bangladesh to win by three wickets.

Australia vs Pakistan @ Taunton on Wednesday, June 12:

Form: Although Australia is coming back from a loss against India and Pakistan are entering this match from a win against England, that isn’t the complete picture. Prior to, Australia was on a ten-match winning streak and Pakistan were on a ten-match losing streak. Therefore, both teams have the capability to win or lose.

Key players: Usman Khawaja was on fine form in his tours of the UAE & India, scoring a myriad of tons and half-tons, but since the World Cup started, the short ball has been his biggest fear. Khawaja’s been hit twice in the head from bouncers against the West Indies since the Australian team arrived in the British Isles, and the Pakistanis, especially Wahab Riaz, might know to use the short ball as a tactic against Khawaja. I suppose Australia can bat well overall, even if Khawaja’s poor form continues, but he can win Australia the match early on if he gets going.

For Pakistan, well, we’ve already mentioned his name, Riaz. Although he’s a bit expensive, against England, his fast, pacy, short balls picked up wickets at the right times. He can also bowl a nasty yorker which intimidates his opponents. Oh, and yeah, Riaz has beef with the Aussies going back to the 2015 World Cup after Riaz sledged Shane Watson in the Quarter-Finals.

Question of the match: Can Pakistan’s in-form batting survive Australia’s famed fast bowling?

Prediction:

If Australia bats first: Pakistan to win by five wickets.

If Pakistan bats first: Australia to win by four wickets.

India vs New Zealand @ Trent Bridge, Nottinghamshire on Thursday, June 13:

Form: This will be the biggest match of the week. Both teams have started the World Cup flawless, yet to lose a match. India beat a weakened South Africa, but more importantly, they put 352 past Australia. India’s batting is levels ahead of the other sides at the World Cup. Rohit Sharma stands on a century and a half-century in his two matches while Shikhar Dhawan also has a century to his name. The bowling attack is set up well too with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah trying the batsmen. The spinners know their roles too and take important middle overs wickets.

When it comes to New Zealand, their batting has been solid, though the opening could be of slight concern. However, more impressively is the fast bowling, as pacers took nine of New Zealand’s ten wickets against Afghanistan on Thursday. New Zealand’s fast bowlers will be the key to dismantling India.

Key players: At Trent Bridge, you will want a batsman who can strike the ball at a high strike rate. If there are any players on the Indian side which come into mind, it’s Hardik Pandya. Against Australia, he came in and smacked 48 off 27. Someone like Pandya in the side can give New Zealand a target too high to achieve.

For New Zealand, they will want to continue looking to their fast bowlers. Lockie Ferguson has taken the most wickets for his country so far with eight wickets in just three matches at an astonishing average of just 12.37. The last time these two sides met, in a warm-up match, India were bowled out for just 179, with New Zealand winning by six wickets.

Question of the match: How many wickets will Lockie Ferguson and co. be able to take against India?

Prediction: 

If India bat first: India to win by ten runs.

If New Zealand bats first: New Zealand to win by fifteen runs.

England vs the West Indies @ The Rose Bowl, Southampton on Friday, June 14:

Form: This goes for both teams: optimistic with some hiccups along the way. Both teams started in winning ways with England seeing past South Africa before losing to Pakistan and the West Indies beating Pakistan before losing to Australia (though you could argue poor umpiring costed the Windies the win). England, however, has had a chance to pick their form back up in Cardiff after beating Bangladesh by 106 runs, probably making them favorites in this match.

Key players: As per ex-England spinner Graeme Swann, England’s bowling hasn’t been strong enough. If the wicket is bowler friendly, like how the South Africa vs West Indies match should’ve been, then Chris Woakes will want some wickets, being the leader of the English bowling attack. For the West Indies, this man is on crazy form and this man can win the game for the Windies: Sheldon Cottrell. Against Australia, Cottrell had two wickets and catches each before pocketing two more wickets in the seven overs of play against South Africa.

Question of the match: Can the West Indies’ short bowling prevent England from crossing the 300-mark?

Prediction: 

If England bats first: England to win by 25 runs.

If the West Indies bats first: West Indies to win by 15 runs.

 

Cricket World Cup Round Three recap

In the third round of this year’s Cricket World Cup, we got to see some teams open their World Cup account, some fall behind others and of course close, thrilling encounters. India started their campaign late against a rather weakened, but fearless South Africa. Bangladesh came oh so close to worrying New Zealand. And Australia came back from 79-5 to beat the West Indies by 15 runs.

Unfortunately, fans were not able to see Sri Lanka fight Pakistan as that match was rained out in Bristol. Let’s which factors steered the three matches played in the directions they did. Also, stick around till the end to see my predictions for four matches: England v Bangladesh, Afghanistan v New Zealand, Australia v India and South Africa v West Indies. 

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Dharma Chandru Cric Ph (3) by Chubby Chandru is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

India vs South Africa

Winner: Jasprit Bumrah

The hype around Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling has been around for years, but Wednesday’s match against South Africa was actually his World Cup debut. And he did brilliantly. He got the two South African openers Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock out, but more importantly, his ten overs only yielded 35 runs.

Winner: Yuzvendra Chahal

India knew spin was the key to victory and Yuzvendra Chahal stepped up. He took four wickets at 51 runs from ten overs, bowling both Faf du Plessis and Russie van der Dussen, catching David Miller and stumping Andile Phelukwayo.

Loser: Shikhar Dhawan

Shikhar Dhawan has a reputation for performing well in international tournaments but since arriving in the UK, he hasn’t been able to strike gold yet. In India’s warm-up matches, Dhawan was only able to score 2(7) and 1(9). When it really mattered, against South Africa, Dhawan was caught behind for just eight runs.

Winner: Kagiso Rabada

Even though South Africa failed with the bat, their bowlers gave one hell of a fight. Especially fast bowler Kagiso Rabada. India shouldn’t need 43 overs to chase 228, but Rabada fought till the last ball. Rabada managed to find the two wickets of Dhawan and KL Rahul and conceded only 39 runs, including a maiden.

Winner: Rohit Sharma

Yup. That man again. Rohit Sharma alone has won matches for India and he did it again. While the rest of the Indian batsmen struggled against South Africa, Sharma ended up scoring a century and putting 13 fours and two sixes past the ropes along the way. His century awarded him Man of the Match.

 

Bangladesh vs New Zealand

Winner: Ross Taylor

Batting against Bangladeshi fast bowling and heavy spin isn’t easy by any means but Ross Taylor stayed at the crease, defending his wicket. Taylor scored 82(91). Taylor was also involved in a 105-run match-winning partnership with captain Kane Williamson, who scored 40.

Loser: Mushfiqur Rahim

After fairing just 19 with the bat, wicket-keeper Mushfiqur Rahim made an even bigger mistake in the second innings. After Tamim Iqbal had collected the ball at mid-on and threw it at the batting end, Taylor was set up to be run-out but Rahim’s arms came in the way, knocking the bails off the stumps before the ball, saving Taylor. Taylor then went on to score his 82, costing Bangladesh dearly.

 

Australia vs West Indies

Winner: Sheldon Cottrell

First with the ball, then in the field, Sheldon Cottrell impressed. His two wickets for 56 runs were a part of Australia’s dismal collapse, in the beginning, claiming the names of David Warner and Glenn Maxwell, saluting them back to the pavilion. But the craziest moment came when he helped dismiss Steve Smith by taking a catch on the boundary line. When Cottrell had grabbed onto the ball, he threw it back up in the air as his momentum took him past the boundary edge, then came back in as the ball was returning to secure the wicket.

Winner: Alex Carry

The Australian wicket-keeper knew exactly what to do when he came out to bat. He knew before runs, the Australians somehow had to prevent losing their wickets, so Alex Carey did exactly that. After defending for a few overs, Carey then leaked runs scoring 45 from just 55 before being caught behind by Shai Hope.

Winner: Steve Smith

It seems that Steve Smith might be one of the most consistent batsmen in this tournament, along with the likes of Sharma, Taylor or Babar Azam. Smith batted with such composure against the West Indies, it was as if the batting collapse prior to his innings never occurred or was never in the back of his mind. Smith, just like Carey, had defended for quite some time before going onto the attack. The result? A masterclass 73(103) by the Aussie.

Winner: Nathan Coulter-Nile

He’s in the side as a bowler, but when Australia needed someone to bat well, Nathan Coulter-Nile stepped up. The no. eight batsman nearly earned his maiden century, scoring 92 from just 60 deliveries, setting him up at a strike rate of 153.33! That match-turning innings fairly earned him Man of the Match.

Winner: Chris Gayle

If you were to check the scorecard, you’d ask how does someone call themselves a winner after scoring just 21? Well, you’d be surprised what occurred during Gayle’s 21. From ball one to 17, Gayle had crossed a personal achievement of 3000 World Cup runs! And in the innings prior to, Gayle in the fielding saw him become a hero to the crowd, saluting the crowd every time the ball just came in his hands. Hmm…is there a way to insert a laughing emoji in this article?

Winner: Shai Hope

After coming into this World Cup on impeccable form, Hope scored his maiden World Cup half-century. After taking four catches in the first innings, Hope went on to score 68(105), putting the West Indies in a winning position.

Losers: The Umpires

But the West Indies didn’t win, did they? Honestly, even though the Windies lost wickets late, I still feel like they deserved the win. And the umpiring stole it from them. By the time captain Jason Holder was dismissed in the 46th over, West Indies hadn’t lost a review despite using a review four times to that point. Meaning the umpires had been wrong multiple times. But the worst bit came in the fifth over, when Gayle was dismissed by an LBW from Mitchell Starc. Gayle shouldn’t have been dismissed as the ball prior to was a No-ball, but none of the umpires had caught it. As commentator Michael Holding puts it: “Umpiring in this game has been atrocious. Even when I was playing, when they weren’t as strict as now, you were allowed 1 appeal, you don’t appeal 2,3,4 times. If umpires are intimidated that means they’re weak – this has been atrocious by both umpires.”

Winner: Starc

Starc still bowled excellently, though. He earned his sixth five-for in One-Day Internationals, conceding just 46 runs in this match. Towards the end of the innings, Starc ended up getting the key wicket of Holder, who had crossed the fifty mark, threatening Australia’s winning chances. But Starc made sure that didn’t happen and Australia took the two points home.

 

Those were some action-packed matches, but I don’t suspect that’ll be the end of it. India will take on Australia next in a thrilling blockbuster for sure, as the rivalry between the two sides has heated up in the last few years. Bangladesh will look to beat England once again while England needs to get back to winning, after losing to Pakistan. New Zealand’s next encounter is against Afghanistan, who need a win, and South Africa will search for two points against the West Indies. Let’s see some of my predictions for a few of these matches:

 

England vs Bangladesh @ Sophia Gardens, Cardiff on Saturday, June 8:

If England bats first: Bangladesh to win by two wickets.

If Bangladesh bats first: England to win by six wickets.

 

Afghanistan vs New Zealand @ Taunton County Ground on Saturday, June 8:

If Afghanistan bats first: New Zealand to win by five wickets.

If New Zealand bats first: New Zealand to win by 100 runs.

 

Australia vs India @ The Oval, London on Sunday, June 9:

If Australia bats first: Australia to win by 20 runs.

If India bats first: India to win by 30 runs.

 

South Africa vs the West Indies @ The Rose Bowl, Southampton on Monday, June 10:

If South Africa bats first: West Indies to win by three wickets.

If West Indies bats first: South Africa to win by five wickets.

Cricket World Cup Round One Recap

The first four matches of the Cricket World Cup happened across three days and fans were treated to some interesting matches. On Thursday, England wiped out South Africa by beating them by 103 runs. The following day was a shocker. Pakistan slumped from 74-4 to 105 all out against the West Indies’ short deliveries and the Windies won comfortably, losing three wickets to fast-bowler Mohammad Amir. Two matches followed on Saturday, both being rather one-sided. New Zealand beat Sri Lanka by ten wickets after bowling the Sri Lankans out for just 136 and Australia lost only three wickets in their pursuit of Afghanistan’s 207. There were some stand-out performances from each side, swaying the results. Let’s take a look at which players performed the best throughout the weekend.

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P1074661 by Anthony Hawkins is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

England vs South Africa

Winner: Ben Stokes

When Andile Phelukwayo lofted the ball to deep square leg, it seemed like no fielder was present as South Africa would’ve been rewarded a six, but out of nowhere came Ben Stokes who jumps backward and grabs the ball with just one hand. “OH, YOU CAN’T DO THAT! YOU JUST CANNOT DO THAT BEN STOKES! THAT MAY BE ONE OF THE BEST CATCHES IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME!” said Nasser Hussain on commentary at the moment of the catch.

Along with that catch, what awarded Stokes Man of the Match was his total two catches, bowling figures of 2-12 and his innings of 89(79). All that in just one match? I know. Unreal.

Winner: Jofra Archer

Even though South Africa’s batting should’ve been capable of chasing down England’s 311-8, England can thank Jofra Archer that they didn’t. Playing his fourth ODI for England, Archer seems to have a liking of The Oval in London as he performed well twice there. In the World Cup’s opening match, Archer picked up the wickets of Aiden Markram, captain Faf du Plessis and half-centurion Rassie van de Dussen, while only giving away 27 runs in his seven overs.

Loser: Jonny Bairstow

Imagine. The first over of the World Cup, nerves are running rampant. You’re at the non-striker’s end and off of the first delivery, your partner plays the ball for a single and you have to face the second ball of the tournament. And you edge it, the keeper catches it. Well, your stay at the crease was rather short. Poor Jonny Bairstow edged Imran Tahir for a golden duck and had to depart on the second ball of the World Cup.

West Indies vs Pakistan

Winner: Oshane Thomas

Once West Indies fast-bowler Oshane Thomas learned that Andre Russell’s short ball was the way to attack Pakistan, he did just that. Thomas stepped up to the crease and rather being fearless, he planted fear in the eyes of the Pakistanis. His four wickets for 27 runs in 5.4 overs skittled Pakistan for 105, handing the West Indies the match.

Winner: Mohammad Amir

Pakistan literally had only one positive to take from this match: the return of Mohammad Amir. Since the Champions Trophy final vs India in 2017, Amir had taken just two wickets in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) before the encounter against the West Indies. However, he came back to pick up Pakistan’s three only wickets, that of Chris Gayle, Shai Hope and Darren Bravo.

New Zealand vs Sri Lanka

Winner: Dimuth Karunuratne

I’m sorry to say but very few would’ve expected Sri Lanka to do good. And they didn’t. But despite being bowled out for just 136, Sri Lanka’s only shining light was Dimuth Karunuratne, who scored 52(84)* on his captaincy debut.

Winners: Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson

Eight of Sri Lanka’s ten wickets fell to pace bowling with Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson collecting six of those wickets. Both picked up three with Henry bowling with an economy of 4.14 and Ferguson bowling impressively, giving away just 3.47 runs per over.

Australia vs Afghanistan

Loser: Mohammad Shahzad

Wicket-keeper and opening batsman Mohammad Shahzad was on fine form last year, especially in the Asia Cup. But since arriving in England, Afghanistan has failed to find stability up top through Shahzad. In their opening match of the World Cup against Australia, Shahzad was dismissed in the first over for duck after being bowled by none other than Mitchell Starc.

Winner: Rahmat Shah

When Afghanistan was 5-2 and the new batsmen were struggling to adapt to Australia’s bounce, Rahmat Shah stayed at the crease and fought a defensive battle. His fearless batting in the face of the short balls took Shah to 43(60), composed of six fours.

Winner: David Warner

Since David Warner and Steve Smith returned from being banned to the Australian sides, while Smith has hit several half-centuries, appearing as if he never left the side, Warner has struggled to score well. But that changed against Afghanistan as Warner led the Aussies to a winning start by his well-played 89(114)*.

 

In Round Two’s recap, which will come out in the following days, we’ll see how Bangladesh faired in their opener against South Africa, if Pakistan can turn things around against England and if Sri Lanka can find victory at last against Afghanistan. Meanwhile, here are my predictions for the latter two: England vs Pakistan and Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan:

England vs Pakistan

If England bats first: England to win by 110 runs.

If Pakistan bats first: England to win by six wickets.

Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan

If Sri Lanka bats first: Sri Lanka to win by 20 runs.

If Afghanistan bats first: Sri Lanka to win by two wickets.

Cricket World Cup preview part one: England, Australia and South Africa

Every four years, the Cricket World Cup takes place, but this year, thing’s are going to be different. The last World Cup was in Australia & New Zealand while this one will be all the way across the world at the home of cricket, England. The last World Cup had fourteen teams, this World Cup has ten teams. It seems that this World Cup should be even more exciting and dramatic as the format makes everything more competitive. Rather than the teams being divided into pools of two group, every team plays each other before the knockout stages.

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England team talk by Richard Hoare is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

For the next three days, we’ll be previewing all ten teams here at Fourth Quarter Sports starting with the hosts England, their rivals and last World Cup’s winners Australia and England’s opening opponent South Africa. All three of these sides are in form as of late, but two of them have unfortunate World Cup records. Will anything change for England or South Africa and can Australia fight to retain their title?

England

Last World Cup: Knocked out by Bangladesh in group stages. This wasn’t entirely a surprise as after the 1992 World Cup Finals, in which Graham Gooch’s England side lost to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan, England’s morale in World Cups have been rather dismal. Since ’92, the English haven’t been able to cross the quarter-finals, failing to qualify for the knockout stages on three occasions. England will be hoping to rewrite history, praying that their recent form from their 4-0 series win over Pakistan and having home advantage will work in their favor.

World Cup best: Runners up, three times. All 1992 and prior with the first being in the World Cup’s second edition in 1975, in which the West Indies lifted their second and their last title. Then again in 1987 in the subcontinent where Australia lifted their first of five titles. It’s about time England get their name written on the trophy and there’s no better chance than this year.

Strong point: Fearless batting. England’s batting lineup seems never-ending as we witnessed in the series against Pakistan. Everyone from Jason Roy at the top of the order to Adil Rashid at no. ten found runs, contributing to England’s large totals. Also, England’s surprisingly flat, batting pitches will only make opponents’ bowling sides fear them more.

Weak point: Fearless batting. Nope, that’s not a typo. Sometimes, England’s batsmen can get carried away, throwing away the match by losing unnecesary wickets. They also have a similar issue in test cricket of batting collapses which cost them the Ashes and a series against the West Indies. In One-Day (ODI) cricket, England’s openers don’t pose any worry, but rather the middle order. Moeen Ali has been low on runs and Ben Stokes is still trying to find form. But on days where England’s batting doesn’t falter, a win can feel almost guaranteed for the Lions.

Player to watch: He’s new into the side, has played only three ODIs, but he’s quick and he swings the ball: Jofra Archer. He’s taken five wickets in ODIs, but his domestic stats are even more impressive. In domestic One-Day matches, Archer has taken 24 wickets in 17 matches at an average of 31.37 and a blissful economy of 5.23.

Prediction: England’s going to go all the way to win their maiden World Cup title.

Australia

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Finch and Burns go out to bat for Australia by Richard Hoare is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Last World Cup: Australia didn’t just win that World Cup, they won their fifth title, the most by any side. Back then, their strength in fast bowling with the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc in their teams won them the Cup but this year, Australia will rely on their batting.

World Cup best: Champions in 1987, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2015. The era of Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting was the best ODI cricket’s ever seen. Although after the bans of Steve Smith and David Warner left Australia in a poor state, Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch have led the Kangaroos in back-to-back series wins against India and Pakistan, and Smith and Warner are set to return for the World Cup.

Strong point: The top order batting can win matches for the Aussies. Since Smith’s and Warner’s bans, Khawaja has risen to the occasion with three half-centuries against Pakistan and two centuries against India. Captain Finch also had two half-centuries and a century against Pakistan. Also, since his return, Smith has scores of 89* and 91* against New Zealand XI. There is a concern for Khawaja, however, as in a practice match on May 22 against the West Indies, Khawaja was struck on the head by a bouncer from Andre Russell and was taken to the hospital.

Weak point: In modern ODI cricket, spinners win matches. But Australia doesn’t have convincing spinners in their side, at least not in ODI cricket. Nathan Lyon’s good, but he’s weaker in limited-overs cricket compared to the test game. Compared to England’s Adil Rashid or Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, Lyon nor Adam Zampa are good wicket-taking options as Lyon averages 1.05 wickets and Zampa averages 1.36 wickets per inning.

Player to watch: This could be one hell of a summer for Finch. He bats quickly in the powerplay and him, along with Warner, could be a feared partnership. It’s likely that Australia’s batting will be key this time around as the pitches don’t have much in them for the fast bowlers.

Prediction: Semi-finalists. Australia’s batting will take them to a top-four spot but other teams look too established, firm and strong for a Finals’ spot.

 

South Africa

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Graeme Smith, South Africa at Rose Bown by Richard is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Last World Cup: Oh dear South Africa. Just like England, they have failed to win a World Cup but unlike England, the Proteas have actually come close in recent history. In the last World Cup, South Africa, led by AB De Villiers, had powered their way to the semi-finals, only to lose in the last over to the hands of New Zealand.

World Cup best: South Africa have played in the semi-finals four times. South Africa have lost all four times. South Africa first made the semis in ’92, where they lost to England, then again in ’99, where they famously tied to Australia. This time around, South Africa, of course, would hope to write their name on the trophy for the maiden time. But it will be much harder as South Africa faces injury concerns and will have to play every opponent before the knockout stages.

Strong point: South African fast bowling is one-of-a-kind. Record-breaking Dale Steyn leads the attack along with Kasigo Rabada and Adile Phehlukwayo while Chris Morris makes a comeback to the team. However, the pitches aren’t entirely in favor of the bowlers so South Africa will need to use the experience of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock to bat well. Hopefully, the leg spin of Imran Tahir will find success for South Africa as well.

Weak point: In South Africa’s last ODI series, in which they won 3-2 against Pakistan, in the two matches they lost, South Africa wasn’t able to bat particularly well. Without AB de Villiers, South Africa is limited on experience, leaving the younger and newer batsmen more vulnerable.

Player to watch: It will be interesting to see how de Kock fills the shoes of ex-captain de Villiers. Also, if he bats well in a match, it’s likely South Africa will win.

Prediction: This World Cup will be so tight. One win or loss can completely shift the table and it’s hard to predict who’s better than who. I feel like South Africa’s injury and lack of experience issues will hinder them and prevent them from making semi-finals. Therefore, my prediction is that South Africa will finish eighth at this World Cup.

 

England, Australia and South Africa will be three exciting teams to watch at this World Cup and either of these three could move on out of the group stage. England is heavy favorites, however, but Australia and South Africa will be looking to tune their fine form to ensure that changes. England and South Africa kick off their World Cup campaign in the first match on Thursday, May 30 at The Oval in London at 9:30 GMT while Australia will be playing their first match on Saturday, June 1 against Afghanistan in Bristol.

Stay tuned with as at Fourth Quarter Sports as tomorrow, we’ll be previewing four more teams: dark horses Pakistan, evergreen New Zealand, the Bangladesh Tigers and fiery Afghanistan.

 

What you missed this weekend: 3/29-3/31

As the Basketball season wraps up and looks to put an end to all the madness next weekend, things are just starting to swing off in the MLB.

This past Thursday was opening day of the Major League Baseball season and you can see what we at Fourth Quarter Sports thought about the divisions and playoffs here. 

Don’t forget about the NBA playoff picture and where we are entering the few games of the season. So let’s see what we missed?

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PNC Park – Pittsburgh, PA by Dan Gaken is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

NCAA Basketball

Two No. 1’s go down an ugly fashion:

Despite Auburn’s best player Chuma Okeke getting injured, Auburn still defeated North Carolina astoundedly 97-80. Malik Dunbar accumulated 13 points in this game while Bryce Brown and Daniel Purifoy won 12 points each. Jared Harper got nine points, but more importantly, 11 assists. This win is important as Auburn aim for their first Final Four in history.

While Auburn is aiming for Final Four, Texas Tech have made it with their 75-69 win over Gonzaga. Though close, throughout the last minute, it was even tighter. Josh Perkins of Gonzaga’s five points in the next half-minute wasn’t enough as Gonzaga stumbled in the hunt for a win.

Though Perkins is not perfect. In the last minute, when Gonzaga was just trailing by two points, Perkins stepped outside of bounds, allowing Texas Tech the free throws they needed to win.

Perhaps earlier Gonzaga could’ve used a window of opportunity to win. When Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens was caught out of bounds while defending the ball, when Gonzaga should’ve been awarded the ball, they fouled seconds later, allowing Texas Tech to score more. The stars of both teams did show up. For Gonzaga, Rui Hachimura scored 22 points, Brandon Clarke with 18 and Perkins with 16. But what cost Gonzaga were the 16 turnovers.

Along with the excess of free throws, Texas Tech’s Jarret Culver scored 19 points and Matt Mooney surprisingly scored 17 himself.

Virginia finally makes the Final Four:

For the first time since 1984, Virginia has made the Final Four! Tony and Dick Bennet become only the second father-son coaching duo in history to be coaching in the Final Four. In Bennet’s words, he described the sensation as, “I’ve always dreamed of coaching in a Final Four…This seems [easy]’ — I didn’t realize how hard it was.”

Auburn makes first ever Final Four with thrilling OT win (By RahimAli Merchant):

Coming into the tournament as the conference tournament champ, you should be one of the favorites to go far in the tournament. That was necessarily the case for Auburn as they reach their first ever Final Four.

Auburn was on the edge of an upset in the first round as they won by a point against New Mexico State. They used that to fuel them to two huge wins over Kansas and No. 1 North Carolina before finally taking down their conference rival Kentucky in overtime. I knew Auburn was a sleeper team in the tournament, but they proved a lot in the NCAA tournament and I think they could beat Virginia and fight the Spartans for the National Championship next Monday night!

Duke’s 17 turnovers cost them a Final Four berth:

The reason this was an upset was that Duke was the no. 1 seeded team. And Duke lost by one point. Michigan State won 68-67. R.J. Barrett had the chance to win the game for Duke, but only one of his free throws went in. And Michigan State move on to the Final Four.

Players declaring for NBA Draft:

UCLA’s small forward Kris Wilkes
Oregon’s center Bol Bol
San Diego State’s forward Jalen McDaniels

MLB

Bryce Harper’s first homer as a Phillies player:

Expectations on Phillies’ new signing Bryce Harper were high, but his maiden home run for the team shattered all of that. Harper’s home run went for 465 feet and the Phillies went on to beat the Atlanta Braves 8-6.

Yu Darvish’s big return:

For the first time in nearly 11 months, Yu Darvish stepped onto the grass to pitch. Unfortunately, it didn’t go to plan. Darvish’s only two innings saw seven batsmen walk. The two runs which Asdrubal Cabrera was able to score off of Darvish resulted in the Texas Rangers triumphing over the Chicago Cubs 8-6.

Yelich making history:

Christian Yelich is already such a good player, being the reigning MVP, but this season might just be even more fun to watch. In all of MLB history, Yelich is now the sixth player to be an MVP who opens the following season with a home run in each of his first four matches. The last one was truly special as in the ninth innings, Yelich won the game for the Milwaukee Brewers against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yankees SS Troy Tulowitzki homers for the first time since ’17:

It’s been a two-year wait for Tulowitzki, but he finally was able to score. After suffering through ankle and heel injuries, Tulowitzki was able to hit a homer in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles. However, the Yankees still went on to lose 5-3.

Goldschmidt hits 3 HRs in 2nd game with Cards:

It’s hard enough to score one home run, but Paul Goldschmidt hit three home runs in his second ever match for the Cardinals against the Brewers. His first came after facing nine pitches from Freddy Peralta before his tenth one was hit far enough. By the end of the game, Goldschmidt had accumulated three homers and five RBIs as the Cardinals won 9-5.

NBA:

Despite their poor effort in make the playoffs, Lakers Vets want to return next season: (By RahimAli Merchant)

With the arrival of LeBron James in LA, the Lakers expectations were huge! It was a playoff or bust type of season and as we can see from their 35-42 record. The Lakers will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season, but they are hopeful for a better run next season. With a lot of cap space and roster spots available, the Lakers front office has to decide what they want to do.

Two of the teams veteran players, Rajon Rondo and Javale McGee, have made it clear that they want to be back. McGee has an a career season offensively and Rondo has been the Rondo Lakers fans once hated when he was a member of the Boston Celtics. They have both managed to play a lot of minutes due to injuries to guys like Lonzo Ball and Tyson Chandler and when given the chance, they made the best of it.

As of now, the Lakers have been officially checked out as most then half the roster is injured and will sit the rest of the season. Can Rondo and Mcgee be apart of the 2019-20 Lakers and help lead them to a playoff?

Spurs retire the jersey of one of Argentina’s greatest athletes:

The Spurs’ most beloved player, Emanuel Ginobili was rewarded with the retirement of his no. 20 jersey. The ceremony was held at the AT&T Center after the Spurs beat the Cavaliers 116-110. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reflected on Ginobili’s career afterward. He noted that with him in the team, were Spurs able to win the championships they won. Ginobili was also accomplished with an Olympic gold which he won for Argentina in basketball in 2004. En la termina, gracias Manu. 

Wade-Dirk final battle:

Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki played their final game against each other when Miami Heat took on the Dallas Mavericks. Wade found success in the last chapter with his eleven points pushing Heat to a 105-99 win over their opponents. Though the rivalry between the two people at times did heat up, a public jersey swap earlier made things much more positive. In the loss, Nowitzki scored two more points than Wade, but the Heat’s win allowed them an eighth-place spot in their conference.

Thunder striking:

Oklahoma City Thunder’s 107-99 win over the Indiana Pacers including an amazing 24-0 run in favor of the Thunder. In total, Paul George scored 31 points that night. Steven Adams pitched in with 25 points and 12 rebounds while Russell Westbrook made his name in 17 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, being his 29th triple-double of the season.

Australia’s World Cup spin options

In the last few years of modern cricket history, spinners have been more important than ever before. By forcing the batsmen to make mistakes, teams, which at first would use spinners to reduce the batting team’s run rate, now see spinners as a wicket-taking option. Recently, stars like Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan and Pakistan’s Imad Wasim or Shadab Khan have seen themselves towards the top of ICC Rankings.

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www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia [CC BY 2.0]
For Australia, although they’ve had a weak One-Day International (ODI) year since the bans of Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Steve Smith, their fast bowling line has not been compromised and they recently came back from losing 2-0 against India to win the series 2-3 in India. There is faith in the batting with Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja up top and the bowling department won’t disappoint in England this summer during the World Cup. But are Australia lacking a match-winning spinner? Right now, sure.

But there may be some good options available. In Australia’s radar, there are definitely a few names in the likes of Ashton Agar, Nathon Lyon or Adam Zampa, but maybe Cricket Australia can consider someone else, like Fawad Ahmed for example.

On the plane to England, it’s likely the Aussies will take at least two spinners, but let’s take a look and see which of these four names would be the best fit for Australia.

Adam Zampa

Adam Zampa’s been around the Australian side for a while, but he just doesn’t seem convincing enough. In ODIs, Zampa’s played 39 matches, picking up 53 wickets, 1.36 per match, at an average of 35.2 runs. A lower average would be more preferred, but he doesn’t seem like a major wicket-taking option.

Nathan ‘Gary’ Lyon

Even if Nathan Lyon doesn’t start in the World Cup for Australia, he’ll definitely be on the plane to England. A player of his caliber and ability cannot be ignored. Even if he doesn’t start, he’s the most experienced currently-playing spinner in Australia, and can surely guide the other Australian spinners.

But here’s the catch. He’s the most experienced due to his test cricket. In ODIs, he only has 20 matches under his belt, 21 wickets to his name. That’s 1.05 wickets per match, a rate worse than Zampa. Though he does a good job of keeping the run scoring low, possessing an ODI economy of 4.83, he won’t be as effective in removing the batsmen with his average of 43.04.

So will he be finding himself in England this summer? Sure. Will he actually start matches for Australia? Probably not the big ones against the likes of England or South Africa.

Ashton Agar

Yeah, there’s a reason Agar hasn’t played that much for Australia, and it seems he won’t be playing much more for them this summer. In nine ODIs, Agar has just managed eight wickets, and his average is even more concerning: 51.75. Even if Australia decide to take three spinners over two, I highly doubt Agar will be one of them. Especially when there’s another name lurking around as of late.

Fawad Ahmed

He might not even be Australia’s best option, but I back Fawad Ahmed to have a successful World Cup. The 37-year old has only played three ODIs for Australia, but his T20 form as of late has been decent. In the Pakistan Super League, recently for Quetta Gladiators, Ahmed took 3-15 against Islamabad United and has been acclaimed by Damien Martin to be the best spinner in Australia since Shane Warne.

Despite all this, however, Fawad Ahmed can be expensive. His economy in ODIs so far has been 6.04 with a high average of 48.33. But if it were up to me, I’d back his performances for Melbourne Stars and Quetta Gladiators and capitalize of Ahmed while he’s in form. He turns the ball much more than Agar or Zampa and is better suited to play limited-overs cricket than Lyon.

Verdict: Australia should take only two spinners, Lyon and Ahmed, and rather focus on their batting. If they bat consistently like how they did against India, they should move far into the World Cup. Place faith in the fast bowling line of Australia. They rarely disappoint.