Friday, April 29, 2011

The Cost of Watching Cricket in Comfort

During the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, television cameras zoomed in to capture the rare-but-fleeting expressions of Reliance Industries' Chairman Mukesh Ambani and his companions, including actor Aamir Khan, cheering from corporate boxes.

As images of Bollywood stars and CEOs of India's business houses become common during cricket matches, their comfortable perches have become a prized commodity for India's top-tier cricket stadiums and owners of league cricket franchises, selling for as much as $1.25 million per corporate box for a 10-year period.

These boxes or luxury suites carve out an enclosure with spacious and comfortable seating for those willing to pay a hefty premium. Typically, companies pick up a box, which has a dozen or more seats, and consider it a cost of doing business. Companies use the boxes to wine and dine clients and reward top-performing employees.

In India, the trend is taking off just now as India Inc. deepens its bonds with cricket via sponsorship of local teams and cricket matches, and contracts with players who become brand ambassadors.

An Indian asset-management company, for example, which asked not to be named, used box seats as a reward for top distributors of their products. Investment banks find it a great way to network. Several banks took at least one box, and some several boxes, at the recent cricket World Cup final in Mumbai that the Indian team won.

"Indian cricket is really the only thing that's gone well this year when you think about it," said one investment banker, reflecting on a year marred by volatile capital markets.

Cricket stadiums, including the famous Eden Gardens in Kolkata and Mumbai's Wankhede stadiums, have recently renovated these boxes into suites and swanky seating areas in a bid to cash in on the demand. For a long time, stadiums didn't have the infrastructure to accommodate many corporate boxes and the facilities to support them. These done-up boxes now offer everything from fine dining to a special welcome.

Eden Gardens -- the home ground of the Indian Premier League team Kolkata Knight Riders – recently, more than doubled its corporate boxes to 32 from 12, previously.

The Cricket Association of Bengal, which owns the stadium, auctioned 10-year leases on the boxes for national and international cricket tournaments. The cost can go up to seven million rupees ($158,445) per box for the entire period.

Some stadiums like Mumbai's Wankhede, which hosted the cricket World Cup final, charge a lot more. Each of the 57 boxes at that stadium were auctioned for up to 55 million rupees ($1.25 million) for a 10-year contract, the price of 24 of these boxes included that of the annual league games.

Companies, stadiums and team owners were unwilling to talk about who buys these corporate boxes.

But income for the stadiums doesn't stop there. The cricket league, which is playing its fourth season in April and May, has been a big draw to businesses, offering them a chance to get even more directly and closely linked to cricket as team owners and sponsors. Local franchises also pay the cricket associations, which own these stadiums, lease for the home ground during the season. In turn, the franchise owners sell stadium tickets and boxes to fans.

The Kolkata Knight Riders, for instance, sells passes for the Knights Pavilion, their special seating section, at prices starting from 200,000 rupees ($4,498) per box of 16 seats for a match to 1.8 million rupees ($40,743) for the entire season at its Platinum Lounge. The seats at the high-end Platinum Lounge, the owners claim, offer the best view and a visit from the team's owners, Hollywood actors Shah Ruche Khan and Judi Chula.

"We are getting a great response for these corporate boxes," said Joy Bhattacharya, a spokesman for the Kolkata Knight Riders.

The details of the pricing and process of buying tickets for corporate boxes at various stadiums differ, depending on how the state cricket associations decide to sell these seats during cricket tournaments. However, during the league matches, the owners of the franchises decide how the seats are sold in their respective home grounds. Each franchise prices tickets based on local demand.

A Rajasthan Royals league team official confirmed that corporate boxes are an important source of revenue and strategically benefits them as a business. The Delhi Daredevils, the local team of the National Capital Region, says corporate box sales make up 15% of their total revenue.

Other teams like the Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils have expanded the idea to include luxury suites for corporations willing to spare the extra dime. These boxes cost more than two times the regular corporate boxes. The Rajasthan Royals offers, as part of its package, passes for exclusive after parties that the players may attend.

The Delhi Daredevils prices its uber-hospitality areas up at 25,000 rupees ($564) per seat for a match. Each box can hold between 23 and 57 seats.

Banks, other financial institutions, consumer goods makers, and auto manufacturers have bought corporate boxes and super hospitality areas at Feroz Shah Kotla cricket stadium for this league season, said P. Phaneendra, general manager of marketing for the Delhi Daredevils, who didn't want to disclose any names.

"While there is no way to definitely know what is discussed inside the corporate boxes, we know people do talk beyond cricket, sometimes it is business, politics or something else," he said.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pune in dire need of a win against Chennai

Pune Warriors India would need to lift themselves up when they clash with Chennai Super Kings at their home venue, the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, on Wednesday, less than 48 hours after being beaten by them at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.

The Warriors, led by Yuvraj Singh, began their debut season on a high with back-to-back victories over Kings XI Punjab and Kochi Tuskers Kerala earlier this month, both at the DY Patil Stadium.

But the defeat against Delhi Daredevils at home, despite scoring an imposing 187 for five started the Warriors' slide and they lost successive ties to the Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium, and to the Super Kings.

On a sluggish pitch, Warriors allowed the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Super Kings to score 140-plus on Monday through less-than-perfect work on the field and their batsmen failed to get going in the run- chase.

Two big defeats in the space of five days would be a dampener and the task in front of Warriors is to put the past behind and regroup as a winning combination in home conditions which suit their style of play.

In fact, their home track has so far brought out the best in them as it helps the pacers get movement and allows batsmen like Yuvraj, Jesse Ryder and Robin Uthappa to play shots more freely because the ball comes on to the bat nicely.

The return to the DY Patil Stadium could result in a call-up for Wayne Parnell at the cost of Nathan McCullum, who played in Chennai. With Jerome Taylor performing very well, the new ball bowling looks meatier, but the same cannot be said about the slow bowling as Murali Kartik has been below par.

The Super Kings, on the other hand, would be happy to get their title hunt firmly back on track.

They have won all their three matches at home but are yet to win an away game.

Michael Hussey's form at the top of the order must be a very pleasing aspect for the team's think tank and though Murali Vijay has not converted his starts to big scores, he has done his bit.

But the indifferent form of key batsman Suresh Raina, who flopped in their last two games, must be a cause for some concern as he is an impact player for the defending champions with his flamboyant batting, outstanding fielding and effective bowling in this format.

Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming said his team's brilliant fielding performance made all the difference in Monday's win and the side would look to replicate the effort in the coming matches as well.

"We would look to replicate this standard of fielding in our coming matches.

Today, we were desperate to win. This kind of fielding helps the bowler to be a bit more confident and gives the skipper much more confidence to dictate the game. We need to keep improving in that area. We were embarrassed with our fielding in the last game and we were desperate to make the difference," Fleming said.

The former New Zealand captain is reportedly the leading contender to replace Gary Kirsten as India coach, but he did not want to discuss the prospect.

"I enjoy my relationship with all the Indian players and Dhoni is a special player I am involved with.

He is a captain with free space. I have been working with Suresh Raina and others as well. Just about time that I do not want to be talked about as a potential Indian coach," Fleming said.

Yuvraj's Warriors have lost three games in a row, including a defeat to Dhoni's Super Kings in Chennai on Monday, and need to build momentum to keep their hopes alive

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Daredevils keen to fire again

This season, things could have been better for Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Daredevils. Though the RCB has played one more game, the teams have just two wins to show ahead of their battle at the Ferozeshah Kotla on Tuesday.

RCB, parading one of the strongest batting line-ups in the Indian Premier League, is yet to play to its potential.

It started with an impressive win over Kochi Tuskers Kerala, lost three matches on the trot, managed a point from the rain-forced washout against Rajasthan Royals before riding on Chris Gayle's century to get past Kolkata Knight Riders.

Likewise, Daredevils, too, won its last outing after losing thrice in the previous four games.

Going by the league-performances in the last three seasons, a team needs a minimum of seven victories from 14 matches to be in contention for a place in the semifinals.

Last year, RCB and Daredevils tied at 14 points but the Bangalore team, based on superior net run-rate, was placed fourth, one above Delhi, after four teams finished with seven wins each.

If the past is any pointer to the future, at present, both the teams can afford to drop only a couple of games but win more.

RCB's quality comes from the presence of skipper Daniel Vettori, Tillakaratne Dilshan and AB de Villiers — all ex-Daredevils — apart from Delhi-based Virat Kohli and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan. They are all capable of turning the match on their own.

With Gayle marking his arrival with a bang, the RCB assumes the look of a team difficult to deal with. In fact, after Tuesday's match, RCB will be keen to make a statement through three successive home games — against Pune, Punjab and Kochi — and improve its prospects of making the semifinals.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cricket fraternity wish Sachin happy birthday

The cricket fraternity saluted Sachin Tendulkar, who turned 38 on Sunday, for the joy and happiness he gave to the countrymen with his achievements and wished him a long innings in his career and life.

His national teammates, colleagues from different IPL sides and former cricketers paid tribute to his longetivity and the passion for the game.

"As a kid, I have always looked up to him. I have grown up watching him play cricket. He is a great player and great human being. He always helps his teammates with his vast knowledge of the game. I want to wish him a very very happy birthday and hope he plays for a long long time to come," said Team India member Virat Kohli.

"You are the very very very best ... keep going strong paaji ... we all love u ... happy birthday ... may God be with u and ur family ... love always," tweeted fast bowler S Sreesanth, another Team India team-mate and member of the IPL franchise Kochi Tuskers Kerala.

Left-handed batsman Saurabh Tiwary, who plays for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, said, "I just hope that Sachin gets the Bharat Ratan award for all the hard work he has done for the country. I think an award should be named after him so that every young player gets it whenever he achieves some cricketing excellence."

Hard-hitting Australian and Tendulkar's Mumbai Indians teammate Andrew Symonds said, "I wish him a very happy birthday and all the success in future."

Kolkata Knight Riders' pacer Lakshmipathy Balaji wished the champion batsman achieve many more glorious fates in his career.

"Sachin Bhai, I wish you a very happy birthday and we are all proud of you for whatever you did for the country so far. It's magnanimous. You will definitely play for many many years to come," he said.

KKR's wicketkeeper-batsman Manvinder Bisla said, "He is an inspirational figure to me and I respect him a lot. He is a great player. I wish him all luck in the future."

Describing Tendulkar as legend, former India batsman Navjot Singh Sidhu said, "He has given so much to the country with the World Cup triumph being the most memorable high. Look at the piles of runs he has scored in both Tests and ODI cricket. He is a legend."

Tendulkar, who is leading Mumbai Indians against Deccan Chargers in an IPL match here on Sunday, did not celebrate his birthday because of the death of the spiritual guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba, of whom the champion batsman is a devotee.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lankan players to participate in IPL till May 18

The Sri Lankan Cricket (SLC) Board on Thursday relented to the request made by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and gave the nod to its players to participate in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament till May 18.

The Lankan players will now leave for London from here on May 18.

The BCCI earlier on Thursday termed the decision of the SLC Board to recall its players from the ongoing IPL tournament as inappropriate, saying it is making all attempts to sort out the crisis.

"England tour, most probably is going to start from May 28 or 29, so what we have suggested that even if you (Sri Lankan players) go on May 21, you can easily attend your England tour, but they are reluctant. So, we are trying to find out a solution and resolve the issue," said BCCI Vice President Rajiv Shukla.

"This matter needs a policy change. This matter can only be discussed at a governing council," he added.

Monday, April 18, 2011

SRK to show abs if KKR reaches IPL final

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan says he will take off his shirt, a'la Sourav Ganguly, to show his six-pack abs if his Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) team reaches the Indian Premier League (IPL) final this year.

"If we reach the final at Chennai, I will take off my shirt, fluff it in the air, and show off my six pack abs... or may be eight pack abs," Shah Rukh said at the Eden Gardens on Sunday, after KKR won their third match on the trot with an eight-wicket decimation of Rajasthan Royals.

The final is slated to be played at the Chepauk Ground in Chennai.

In 2002, after winning the Natwest Trophy final against England, then Indian skipper Ganguly had celebrated by taking off his shirt and waving it in the air from the Lords balcony.

Ganguly was criticised by the English, but he retorted saying he was only returning the same act performed by English all-rounder Andrew Flintoff during a series in India.

Ganguly, who has featured in the KKR side in all the past three editions of IPL, was not considered for the team this year.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

We are playing IPL not to compete, but to win

Kolkata Knight Riders ( KKR )) skipper Gautam Gambhir has said that his team is playing in the IPL to win matches with the combination of world-class players.

After beating Rajasthan Royals (RR) in the ongoing Indian Premier League , Gambhir said that the nine wicket win over the RR had been a moral boost up for the team and has brought a lot of positivity in the players.

"Look we are not here to compete, we are her to win. Honestly speaking we have got some world class players and once we are there we want to finish it off on a higher note and this kind of win only gives us more confidence.

"I think we will be high on confidence but hopefully we are not over confident and we want to take a lot of positive out of this win and then the mistakes which we made in this game I think we don't want to repeat that and hopefully we can learn a lot of things from this game and we can take a lot of confidence as well in the next one," he said.

Gambhir, who shared a blistering 152-run second wicket stand with teammate Jacques Kallis , praised the bowlers for their effort in restricting RR to 159 runs.

"I think we did a very good job by containing them to 160 and the bowlers bowled really well. They stuck to their task and we always that one good partnership and we can chase down this total. The wicket was pretty similar in both the innings because I don't think a lot changes in the 40 overs," added Gambhir.

Shane Warne , captain of the Rajasthan Royals team, said the team needed to work hard and was gearing up for the next match.

"20-20 as I say you can play well and still get beaten. I think we quite didn't quite get a couple of things right. We improve in those areas and in next game we can beat them in Eden Gardens," said Warne.

It was Rajasthan's first loss in three matches and KKR's second win in the three matches in the ongoing tournament.

Gambhir was named as the man of the match for his unbeaten 75 runs off 44 balls.

Friday, April 15, 2011

CSK, RCB keen to get back to winning ways

Defending champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK) will like to shrug off their disappointing loss against the Kings XI Punjab as they take on Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in their third IPL match.

After winning a thriller against Kolkata Knight Riders in the opening encounter of IPL by two runs, the CSK were in for a rude shock after having scored 188 when little known KXIP opener Paul Valthaty single-handedly guided his team to a six-wicket in Mohali last Wednesday.

Even their opponents RCB who started their campaign with convincing victory over Kochi Tuskers Kerala have somewhat lost the plot with back-to-back defeats against Mumbai Indians and Deccan Chargers respectively. Both teams will be desperate to get back on winning track in the match that will be played at the Chepauk.

While batting isn't concern for CSK as most of the top-order batsmen barring Suresh Raina have had one decent knock in the last two games, it's the bowling that will be a concern for the defending champions.

Skipper Dhoni will surely find it as a relief that Australian seamer Doug Bollinger who was nursing an ankle injury is back in the competitive circuit and is available for selection.

Bollinger's left-arm seamers have been one of the primary reason for CSK's success in the IPL. The fact that Dhoni missed a potent weapon at the death during the KXIP match makes Bollinger's case even stronger.

The addition of Michael Hussey who has joined the team after a successful ODI series in Bangladesh will be a bog boost for the 'Men in Yellow'.

Ravichandran Ashwin, inarguably CSK's best bowler in the shortest format was punished during the initial overs. The CSK team had a gruelling three-hour session at the Chepauk today.

The RCB on the otherhand have some catching upto do in both departments of the game. Against Mumbai Indians, there batsmen failed to up the ante even in the slog overs while against Chargers, their bowlers were taken to the cleaners by Bharath Chipli. Skipper Daniel Vettori will have to think seriously about their batting combination.

Their decision to promote Zaheer Khan up the order backfired badly against the Chargers and one would expect that the RCB team management doesn't take any frivolous decision against a formidable side like the CSK.

However it is Zaheer's bowling that has been a concern for the RCB during the first three matches as India's highest wicket-taker in the World Cup looks tired. Also the rhythm bowler that he is, Zaheer has been punished a bit by the likes Ambati Rayudu and Davy Jacobs.

India's pace spearhead will certainly be itching to get back with bang. It is still not clear whether Australian speedster Dirk Nannes, who missed the last match due to injury will be making a comeback for this tie.

RCB's biggest problem has been two of their star players in this format, Tillakaratne Dilshan and AB de Villiers haven't yet fired as they are expected to.

One thing is for sure though. Cameron White is all but certain to get a look-in as RCB will surely need someone who provides them a bit of momentum while batting. Virat Kohli's form however has been reassuring as the youngster scored 71 in the last match against Chargers.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Here come the Australian reinforcements

Australia's limited-overs tour of Bangladesh deprived the IPL of a handful of its brightest stars at the start of the tournament. However now most franchises will receive valuable reinforcements, two matches into the competition. Some, like Shane Watson, have brought themselves to peak explosiveness during the week in Dhaka. Others, like Cameron White, will hope the change of colours brings a change of fortunes.

Shane Watson (Rajasthan Royals): If Rajasthan needed any more reminders of Watson's value, a record tally of 15 sixes in an ODI duly arrived in boldface type during the Bangladesh series. Having been as much a part of Rajasthan's development as Shane Warne, Watson enthuses over the IPL as much as any Australia player, and seemed to use the preceding ODI series as a chance to find his range with the bat.

Brad Haddin (Kolkata Knight Riders): A debutant in the IPL, Haddin's recent knack for flashy starts will be useful if he is squeezed into the Kolkata top order. Less attractive are his two low scores against Bangladesh and a wicketkeeping technique that has seldom adapted well to the subcontinent's low bounce, meaning Haddin has a task ahead of him to provide genuine allrounder value to his franchise.

Michael Hussey (Chennai Super Kings): Having been a key player in Chennai's success in 2010 (both in the IPL and Champions League), Hussey was nonetheless miffed about being forced to stay with his franchise until the conclusion of the Champions League, rather than preparing for a Test series in India. With a pair of handy scores against Bangladesh to his name, Hussey appears in decent touch, and has avoided a relapse of the hamstring tear that almost kept him out of the World Cup.

Callum Ferguson (Pune Warriors): Ferguson has visited India numerous times, most recently as the reserve batsman in the Australia World Cup squad. His two most recent innings, in a World Cup warm-up against India and the third limited-overs match against Bangladesh, did not suggest subcontinental comfort however. He will need to find the right mindset for his time in the middle, after countless hours in the nets in between.

Cameron White (Deccan Chargers): A six-month struggle with the bat in the Australia ODI side eventually saw White left out of the XI after the first match against Bangladesh. And coach Tim Nielsen's view that he was not hitting the ball as hard as he should, would not make for pleasant reading at Deccan. However the time constraints of Twenty20 may be White's best path back to his big-hitting best, removing the mental barrier often created by having balls to spare.

Tim Paine (Pune): A neat batsman and tidy gloveman, Paine is among the most technically correct of Australia's young crop, and showcased his fierce determination during the 2010 Test series in India. He has gradually developed an ability to switch between the power-hitting mode of T20 and the poise required for longer formats, a quality that will aid his performance as much as blond locks push his marketability.

Shakib Al Hasan (Kolkata): Shakib bowled tightly against a rampant Australia batting line-up but found momentum less easy to come by with the bat, while juggling the captaincy of a team that looked a little lost after the World Cup. Still ranked the world's leading limited-overs allrounder - at least until Watson overtook him with his stunning efforts in Dhaka - Shakib's spin should prove awkward to manoeuvre at Eden Gardens.

Steven Smith (Kochi Tuskers Kerala): Smith did not make the most of a batting promotion in the third ODI against Bangladesh, but bowled some of his best deliveries in quite some time - including a sharp legbreak to bowl Shakib between bat and pad - in the second match. His unorthodox technique still needs work if he is to prosper in Tests, but it should be good enough to contribute handily for Kochi if his confidence and fitness are satisfactory.

John Hastings (Kochi): A hat-trick in Australia's warm-up match at Fatullah was perhaps the highlight of Hastings' tour of Bangladesh. He was frugal in the ODIs, but without the same success. A modest batting record for Australia does not quite convey the skill and hitting-power contained within his 6'5'' frame.

Brett Lee (Kolkata): Lee's best moments on a cricket field in India arrived during the Champions League in 2009, when he guided New South Wales to victory and was named Player of the Tournament. He will hope to be similarly influential with the consistently under-performing Kolkata, needing to mentor a bowling attack that lags behind the franchise's batting in both experience and accomplishment.

James Pattinson (Kolkata): Likened to Peter Siddle, but with a little more swing and subtlety, Pattinson made his international debut in the third match against Bangladesh. He likely to form a decent pace partnership with Lee, and can prosper if he maintains spotless lengths and lines.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

IPL 2011 Match Preview: Rajasthan Royals vs Kolkata Knight Riders

On 15 April, 2011 two teams with three years of contrasting IPL history will collide. While the Kolkatta Knight Riders entered the Indian Premier League's inaugural season as one of the favourites to go all the way, the Rajashthan Royals entered as one of the weakest teams in the tournament on paper. All the hype, all the sponsors seemed to be surrounding KKR, while RR could not earn even a fraction of the pie.

But gradually as the tournament progressed and results arrived, a drastic change in fortunes was witnessed with KKR not qualifying for the knock-out rounds and Rajastan Royals crowned champions. For the next two years the Royals have been battling the demon of exceeding expections and with the bar set so ridiculously high, they have struggled to keep up with themselves. Kolkata on the other hand is controversy's favourite child and has managed to continue to shy away from results and stay attracted to everything that is wrong with the IPL.

The Royals have started the season on a winning note picking up 2 straight wins to go top of the table where they are tied on points with the powerful Mumbai Indians. Kolkata on the other hand suffered a narrow defeat to defending champions Chennai Super Kings in the tournament opener, but have since bounced back to defeat the Deccan Chargers. The match between KKR and the Royals will take place in Sawai Mansingh stadium, Jaipur. Rajasthan enjoy a near flawless home record here and with the fan support behind them, it’ll be an uphill task for Kolkata.

Rajashtan Royals

The Royals made a fabulous start to their campaign by defeating the Chargers comfortably. Their batting looked solid but seemed to lack the firepower until Ross Taylor walked out in the middle. They kept the same batting unit for game 2 against the Delhi Daredevils and recorded a similar win with Rahul Dravid and Johan Botha playing steady hands while the rest of the strokemakers went in search of quick runs. The dilemma facing Shane Warne is who to drop in order to accomodate powerful Aussie allrounder Shane Watson. Ross Taylor is vital to the middle order, while Warne himself has been in spectacular bowling form. That leaves him the option of either axeing the expensive Shaun Tait or the man who has been winning him the matches Johan Botha. Tait's pace and ability to take wickets with the new ball should see him prevail, though Warne could well toss the new ball to Watson too and reward Botha for his performances with a place in the side.

The Indian talent has excelled for the Royals with both bat and ball. The young willow-wielders have not been scared to have a dash, while the bowling unit has been a revelation. In fact the meticulous planning that goes into knowing exactly where to bowl to each batsman has been a hallmark of the Shane Warne's leadership right through the IPL. It seems as if the very presence of Shane Warne in their ranks instigates bowlers like Siddharth Trivedi and Amit Singh to give their 100%. And when they do that, the success is theirs to reap as was evident in the first match when their 8 overs fetched 6 wickets at the expense of just 50 runs. Shane Warne has been the leading wicket taker for the Royals having picked up a total of 27 wickets in the last two seasons. And the veteran leggie, Trivedi and Singh with 4 wickets each are leading the wicket-taking charts at this early stage of the tournament.

Kolkatta Knight Riders

On paper, KKR is one of the strongest batting outfits in the IPL. If it weren’t for two disastrous run-outs in the match against Chennai, KKR was well on its way to victory. Jacques Kallis is in terrific form having hit superbly paced 50’s in the last two matches. Bisla has played a respectable helping hand, though his strike rate and his place will be under scrutiny with the arrival of Brad Haddin. Gambhir who would want to stay at no. 3 , might also give a thought to coming lower down the order if Warne starts his spell late. Pathan's form has been a worry, coming into this tournament, but someone with his brute force is always one hit away from a quick 30 or 40. Manoj Tiwary has outdone his image of a calm and composed campaigner, with the last two knocks at strike rates of 180 and 142. And even though Morgan hasn’t had too many opportunities to showcase his skills, he should retain his place in the team.

The bowling squad comprising largely of Indian players should feature the same faces. The only change will be the arrival of Brett Lee into the playing XI. He should replace Ryan ten Doeschate, thus giving a huge boost to the bowling line up of KKR. In their last match, Jaidev Unadkat bowled a superb final over to seal the victory for KKR, hence he should retain his place. Among the other bowlers, Iqbal Abdullah made good use of the conditions to once again become the standout bowler for his team with an economy rate hovering close to six in both the matches. Balaji has also maintained a decent economy rate with good spells with the new ball.

Having played only three foreigners in the last game, Kolkata could well bring in Brett Lee without toppling the applecart. Logically speaking though Brad Haddin should also replace Bisla at the top of the order despite the wicketkeeper batsman forging two half-century partnerships with Kallis and that could well mean some time on the bench for Dutch allrounder Ryan ten Doeschate.

Head to Head: Rajasthan Royals 4 – 2 Kolkata Knight Riders

May 1, 2008: Rajasthan won by 45 runs.
May 20, 2008: Rajasthan won by 6 wickets.
Apr 23, 2009: Rajasthan won in the superover.
May 20, 2009: Kolkata won by 4 wickets.
Mar 20, 2010: Rajasthan won by 34 runs.
Apr 17, 2010: Kolkata won by 8 wickets.

Playing XI:

Rajasthan Royals: Shane Watson, AG Paunikar(wk), R Dravid, AL Menaria, LRPL Taylor, AM Rahane, AS Raut, SK Warne(c), A Singh, SK Trivedi, SW Tait

Kolkata Knight Riders: B Haddin (wk), JH Kallis, G Gambhir(c), MK Tiwary, EJG Morgan, YK Pathan, Iqbal Abdulla, R Bhatia, Brett Lee, L Balaji, JD Unadkat

Watch out for

Shane Watson - An enthralling contest is in store for cricket fans when an in-form Watson will take on Brett Lee. After clobbering 15 sixes against Bangladesh early in the week, the Royals' will be salivating at the prospect of their favourite Australian son being unleashed on a semi-suspecting Kolkata attack.

Yusuf Pathan - In most matches, Pathan seems in a state of comatose; he’ll start slowly, hit an occasional six to justify his price and then depart. However, once in every three to four matches, he gets going and then it is a treat to watch him. The stage is set for him to prove his loyalty to his new team and he might have the support of the local fans too, having played for the Royals for 3 years. He’ll be aware of the weakness of bowlers like Trivedi and Singh and will be looking to exploit them to the fullest.

Prediction: The match should be a close affair with the better mentally prepared side emerging victorious. Both sides have their list of match winners with Kolkatta having an edge in this department. The higher scorer between Watson and Pathan may well turn the tide in his side’s favour. With the crowd support behind them and a shrewd leader like Warne backing his players, the Royals might just keep their unbeaten start to the season intact.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

'India, Pakistan working out for ODI series this year'

India and Pakistan may play a three-match ODI series this year as the cricket boards of both countries are trying to find a window in their tight international schedule in the wake of the resumption of the bilateral peace process.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who visited Mohali last month to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal, said the Boards of the two countries are holding negotiations for renewing cricket ties.

"We want to restart cricket ties with India. Negotiations are underway and nothing has been finalised as yet," Gilani told reporters on the sidelines of a reception he hosted on Monday for members of the Pakistani cricket team.

Pakistan Cricket Board chief operating officer Subhan Ahmad told 'The News' daily that efforts were on to arrange a three-match ODI series despite the hectic schedule of the two countries this year.

He said there was a possibility that the two boards might be able to arrange an ODI series sometime this year.

"Taking time out from the hectic ICC Future Tour Programme would not be easy. However, all efforts are being made to adjust the series this year," he said.

"We are working on it but I don't think we can manage more than 10-12 days and in such a case, only three ODIs can be arranged. However, all these talks are in an early stage," Ahmad said.

He was not sure when or where the series would be organised.

"That is a million dollar question," he said. India were scheduled to tour Pakistan in early 2009 but the visit was cancelled in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group.

Since then, the two countries have played against each other twice in One-Day Internationals -- at the Champions Trophy in South Africa and the World Cup last month.

Under the ICC's Future Tour Programme, Pakistan is scheduled to tour India for a Test series in March next year.

"Yes, Pakistan is scheduled to tour India early next year to play Test and One-Day series. That tour is part of the Future Tour Programme. Since we have announced the restart of bilateral series, the tour to India is a possibility," Ahmad said.

India and Pakistan recently agreed to resume their peace process, which was stalled in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

The cricket diplomacy initiated by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by inviting his Pakistani counterpart to watch the World Cup semifinal at Mohali has given a boost to the process to normalise relations.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Allow Pakistan players back into IPL: Afridi

Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan captain, has said called on the IPL to include Pakistan players with relations between the two countries steadily improving. Pakistan played India in the World Cup semi-final in Mohali, a game watched by Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani on the invitation of his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, who was also present.

"It is high time the Pakistani cricketers also get a place in the IPL. For three seasons, including the current one, we haven't been a part of the IPL. We have no problems playing in India as we have just played a World Cup semi-final there," Afridi told PTI.

Players from Pakistan featured in the inaugural version of the IPL but, following the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008 and its diplomatic fallout, they weren't picked by any of the franchises for the subsequent two editions, and will also not be part of the tournament that starts on Friday.

"I am not saying I want to play the IPL but it could be a great platform for youngsters. They could make a mark for themselves," Afridi said.

Afridi added the inclusion of Pakistan players in the IPL was an opportunity for both countries to improve relations. "Our PM responded positively to that invitation. Now IPL can be a platform to further ease the tension," he said. "We should play more against each other. This will not only ease the pressure but will also reduce the unwanted media hype surrounded with Indo-Pak matches."

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Yuvi and the rest bat for Sachin's Bharat Ratna

Yuvraj Singh on Tuesday advocated Bharat Ratna for Sachin Tendulkar. "Sachin Tendulkar should get Bharat Ratna for his services to the game. He deserves it the most," he said, after reaching Chandigarh, his hometown.

His captain MS Dhoni, teammate Harbhajan Singh and former hockey captain Dhanraj Pillay also joined the chorus for awarding the Bharat Ratna to Tendulkar.

On his Test form, the stylish southpaw said, "In two days time IPL is beginning. I really haven't found time to think about anything else. When Tests will come, we will see."

On his mature performance, he said, "I have always played according to the situation. Hitting sixes and taking singles is all part of the game."

When asked to pick the moment to cherish during this World Cup, he said, "It has to Dhoni's winning six."

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

What Afridi said was wrong: Adnan Sami

After Pakistan Cricket captain Shahid Afridi's tactless remark, where he stated that `Indians are not large hearted', there's a furore across.'

We spoke to Pakistan born singer Adnan Sami, who is `surprised' at such an uncalled for and wrong statement from a cultural ambassador of sports like Shahid Afridi.

"I would be really surprised if Afridi meant what he said. And if we have to take it on face value than I don't agree and support a thing of this sort. It's an extremely sensitive issue and this kind of statement is not needed. It's wrong", says the singer who feels he himself is a classic testimony of people's love and respect for a cultural ambassador in India.

"When people love you for your cultural contributions, geographical boundaries become non existent. I still find hard to believe that somebody like Afridi, especially who is a sports ambassador of a country and responsible for contributing to the ongoing Indo-Pak peace process, can make such a blatant statement. There's so much responsibility on them."

Adnan harps on the fact that negative statements are outcome of a confused mind. In case of the Pakistan's ODI cricket captain, Adnan attributes the statement to Afridi's frame of mind, "We do not know on what context he may have said, and how much of it is misinterpreted. However, cricket lovers will always love cricketers. They are loved for their art," concludes Adnan.

We too wonder what made Afridi sing an unpleasant tune in his home ground especially when Indians loved him here. You need a large heart Afridi!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Irish chief in Cricket World Cup rage

Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom has described the International Cricket Council’s decision to limit the next World Cup to the 10 Full Member countries as “disgraceful.”

The formal decision, taken just 33 days after Ireland stunned the cricket world with the greatest ever run chase in World Cup history to beat England in Bangalore, means there will be no chance of an upset in Australasia in 2015.

“There was an opportunity to do what was right for the sport and not to do something based purely on the satisfaction of the Full Members,” said Deutrom.

“The decision taken today satisfies no reasonable sporting principle. It is absolutely disgraceful and I’m ashamed to be part of the ICC mechanism today.

“I have already been in contact with my other Associate chief executives and it is not a question of if we are going to do something but what we are going to do.”

Against the might of the Full Members — who are only interested in money and not the promotion of the sport — it is certain to be a futile protest and the ICC’s ‘promise’ of a qualifying tournament ahead of the 2019 World Cup finals in England and 16-team World Twenty20 tournaments from next year onwards, will be little consolation.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Sonia Gandhi joins cricket revellers at midnight

It was something of a public relations coup for the Congress, when party president Sonia Gandhi, in a surprise appearance, joined revellers on the streets of the national capital a little after midnight on Saturday to celebrate India's magnificent World Cup victory. She was quite clearly in sync with the public mood.

Cheering cricket fans crowding Bahadurshah Zafar Marg couldn't believe their eyes when they spotted Ms. Gandhi, beaming and waving at them excitedly from her Tata Safari. Traffic came to a standstill and people surged up to her to shake hands, as she shouted out: “Congratulations to everybody. We have won!” And, surprisingly, the usually oppressive security that rings her was absent.

Ms. Gandhi has, as party colleagues stress, been known to break protocol and reach out spontaneously to people. But this has usually been when she has been out campaigning — as she did during her Jansampark yatras — or when she when visiting the victims of a calamity. “Spontaneity is very much a part of her make up,” Union Information Minister Ambika Soni tells The Hindu. “I have seen her during the Jansampark yatras reaching out, shaking hands with people, giving the security a scare. But this is also what recharges her batteries and gives her the energy to work for the people.”

But choosing the World Cup victory for a public appearance, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh says on the telephone from Assam, “shows that she has inculcated the sense of being part and parcel of this nation completely. She looked more excited than when we formed the government! She totally reflected the people's mood in the country.”

Spontaneity is a word that crops up again in party's media chairman Janardan Dwivedi description: “This must be the spontaneous reflection of her inner feelings on India winning the World Cup.” Ms. Gandhi was, of course, also captured on film, cheering when India defeated Pakistan in the World Cup semi finals at Mohali last Wednesday, and last year when she was witness to India's sporting triumphs during the Commonwealth Games.

For senior party leaders who have accompanied Ms. Gandhi on her travels, her capacity to reach out, mingle and identify with ordinary people is not surprising. It is just that in Delhi it is very rare — the most she has been known to do is to come up to the barrier outside her 10 Janpath residence.

“But yesterday,” Ms. Soni points out, “she let her inner instincts decide her course of action; she identified herself with more than a billion people watching cricket on wayside screens across the nation, not just those watching the game from VIP boxes in Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium. And the newspaper reports suggest it was very much appreciated. She was thrilled with the Indian victory and she wanted to share her joy.”

Party colleagues said they had no idea that Ms. Gandhi would venture out on the streets.

But whatever the case, instinctive or planned, Ms. Gandhi's gesture worked because it had an element of spontaneity in it.

Given the bad news the party and the government has been dealing with in the last few months — from corruption to food inflation — Ms. Gandhi's identifying with a moment of total national joy on Saturday night demonstrated that when the occasion demands, her instincts are very sure. Just as it was when she renounced the Prime Ministership offer in 2004.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Ind vs SL: India are favourites, but we are not underdogs: Sangakkara

While conceding that India were the favourites to lift the World Cup on Saturday, Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara refused to term his own band of men as the underdogs in the mega event's summit clash at the Wankhede Stadium.

"They (India) are a very good side and they have always been the favourites to win this tournament. They've got to the finals and everyone will be looking for them to keep going," he told a media conference on the eve of the match.

"We are very confident of the fact that we have been one of the best sides in the tournament. At the same time India are playing great cricket. As I said before, they have always been favourites. They have the best batting side in the world and everyone in the world expects them to turn up tomorrow and win the game.

"I don't think we are underdogs as such. We are a pretty good unit. We have to understand the fact that India for the last two years have been the favourites to win the World Cup. I am sure they will be looking at themselves as favourites too. We have just come here to play as well as we can tomorrow," said Sangakkara.

Admitting his team is battling injuries to key players - Muttiah Muralitharan and Angelo Mathews - Sangakkara, without mentioning their names, said a final decision on their availability for the winners-take-all clash would be taken on Friday night.

"We have got few injury worries. We have flown in people for those who are injured as cover. We will make assessments as the day goes along and then make a final decision this evening as to who is fit enough to play and what's our combination is going to be," he said.

The visitors have added Chaminda Vaas and Suraj Randiv as cover for the two injured players.

Murali, for whom the game is his Swan Song in international cricket, is struggling with a knee injury while Mathews has a quadriceps injury.

Sangakkara was happy with the track prepared for the match by curator Sudhir Naik.

"The wicket looks fantastic. It looks a great wicket. Conditions here are lot more different to conditions at home. Sri Lankan wickets are a bit tougher. Here the wickets are even throughout the game. We are going to try and adapt to the conditions. It looks a very decent wicket and it looks pretty flat and we need to adapt accordingly," he said.

Sangakkara hoped there would not be a repeat of the sort of assault that their bowling got from Australian swashbuckler Adam Gilchrist four years ago in the final at Bridgetown, Barbados.

"Well four years ago we were outdone by a fantastic innings by Adam Gilchrist. Hopefully we won't allow a repeat of that. Even if that does happen we've got to have the mental attitude to adjust and get back into the game."

According to Sangakkara it was important to produce controlled aggression.

"The World Cup brings the best out of players and sometimes the worst. For us tomorrow is going to be about controlled aggression. Not to be too emotional about anything. Being clinical and stay grounded. Take things as they come. You can plan as much as possible, but things can change out there in the middle.

"Everyone's excited. But it's nice to see that it's a controlled excitement. Everyone's relaxed and having a laugh. But also you can see that steely determination behind all that, knowing what a big job is at our hands tomorrow. World Cup finals are huge occasions, so it's pretty tough," he said.

The skipper said not playing at home had both advantage and disadvantage.

"It cuts both ways, I think. Playing in front of your home crowd adds to the excitement and passion and the pride that you feel. But it also adds to the weight of expectations when you feel that the entire crowd is looking at you to do everything right. That's also tough.

"We would have loved to play at home. But that's not the way it is. We have accepted that and we will take whatever the conditions are there for us and I am sure the Indian crowd is always appreciative of a good game of cricket," he remarked.

Sangakkara said winning the World Cup was a huge thing for his nation in the background of the lengthy internal conflict that has ended recently.

"It means everything for us. We have come through a very tough period. A lot of people have laid down their lives for our country. In this new future, hopefully we can take the World Cup home and it will be another occasion for celebrations," he said.

On Sachin Tendulkar's quest to reach the landmark of 100 international centuries, Sangakkara said his team's job was to curtail the Indian score and prevent them from lifting the coveted Cup for the second time in the tournament's history.

"I don't think we are here to spoil anything. I guess everyone knows the importance of scoring runs in a final whether it's Sachin or anyone else. He is going to be the first player to get there (100 international tons). It all adds to the expectations of a World Cup final. Our job is to ensure that the Indian team doesn't score too many runs," he said.