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Fruitpicker

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Joined October 2023

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I'm a former career journalist who is feeding his fix for words. My articles always look outside the square. Sports should never be about talking heads. Hey, what do you think they're going to say? Try telling readers what they may not have realised, even after having watched the game. That's where the challenge is.

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I’m sorry. I am not too familiar with the Aussie wickets and the politics surrounding it. Again, it basically boils down to what curators consider to be their idea of an ideal pitch and what the team requires in the face of any given opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.

Mind you, I do see your point in ensuring a test match drags out to five days but nowadays ICC’s preoccupation is with ensuring there’s a result, rather than a rash of stalemates. That must also be a factor in the mind of curators preparing pitches.

Either way, all of that reinforces the importance of how curators have all the power to dictate the pace and tempo of any match, no matter what the format is.

The other thing I’ve noticed over the years is how prominent smaller venues are becoming to accentuate the need for T20 matches that yield countless sixes. In a false economy, you now have batsmen who keep nudging the record for how few balls are required to rack up 50s and tons. It’s not my idea of cricket at all but, it seems, T20s are there to cater for non-purists wanting to tank up to watch balls whizzing around the stadium.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Brett, your wickets have retained their characteristics because your players know no one will be more accustomed to its mannerisms better than the hosts.
You just don’t have tourists whingeing about it. They’ll turn up, give it their best shot, and catch their flights home. India did something about it and walloped Aussies at home a couple of times.
Let’s not go down the path of what curators do, mate. Curators always keep their trade secrets close to their chests. Ever seen a test under way while the curator and his groundsmen are sitting on the sidelines with their cuppas, grinning, exchanging words and, occasionally, laughing?
It’s a pretty closeted culture. Not everyone is privy to it. I was extremely lucky to have a few good sources. The curators love to see their handiwork play out. You’re entitled to your opinions of what my views are. Good day!

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Fair enough, Brett. When we co-hosted it in 2015, Australia and NZ both made the final where the hosts had prevailed with what had been the worst final I have ever seen.
You see, we didn’t just make the final by some statistical permutations. with the sun, moon and stars coming into alignment. We had jetted teams between the two nations to unsettle any potential threats. NZ had procured strips that had taken out any spin threat. Bounce and carry it had been, including against England.
At a media a scrum in NZ, Pakistan was livid with its treatment between the two hos nations and wickets. The side’s spokesmen had bitten their bottom lips but I had hung around to listen to their vernacular with Pakistani scribes. I knew enough Urdu to make out they got it off their chests.
I had reported it. The rest of the English-speaking didn’t for obvious reasons by my publication’s sister and flagship banners didn;t go down that path at all. That’s mainstream media in a nutshell. There’s always more to it than meets the eye. Transparency is critical.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Point taken but 2/, as it reads, ICC is taking a hands-off approach on how hosting venues go about their business. Hats off to it despite suggestions from paranoid fans that the BCCI is in bed with the ICC.

It goes with saying, Brett, if the ICC so much as burp, the national body is obligated to come down on its local venues to toe the line or else. That is the chain of command.

To be frank, I can’t see ICC interfering with that process. The semifinal pitch will never be a source of consternation for ICC. I concur. The wicket was so unlike an Indian one. I’m expecting a spin-hugger in the final. Let’s see what transpires.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

No team is ever happy to have to realign itself in the face of insurmounting tasks it isn;t accustomed to. It’s bad enough to be on foreign soil. To be seen to be whingeing is like asking the rules of cricket to be changed.

Maybe the solution would be to stage ICC World Cups in nations that fail to qualify. For example, West Indies using their scattered wickets over numerous islands would have been a spectacle of sorts.

If one starts collating all the grizzles from nations over the decades, it should make for some compelling TV/online series. Monkeygate aside, Australia, like other nations, are fast learners. The game will live on.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

You conveniently ignore my point 2/. Here it is for your benefit again:

2/. ICC has no requirement which states playoffs must be played on fresh pitches. The only caveat in its “Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process” outlines: “It is expected that venues that are allocated the responsibility of hosting a match will present the best possible pitch and outfield conditions for that match.” Amen to specific guidelines.

That’s how much leeway the ICC gives any host nations’ venues in pitch preps. Please don’t split hairs. It speaks volumes. The ICC wants nothing. The home umbrella associations, BCCI, ECB, CA, etc, have every right to tell their affiliates what to do or not. And, invariably, they all do.

That the BCCI and the host venue curators chose to “doctor” a wicket that had rendered spinners impotent is remarkable. It had penalised India’s potent spin attack. That explains why the India team wasn’t doing cartwheels on hearing of the change.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

My advice — Aussies should invite Indian curators to help them prepare kitty litter. When they learn how to play on them, there won’t be any whingeing when on tour.
Guess what? The Aussie spinners will be beaming from ear to ear. They’ll be considered with a lot more respect to form the spearhead of attacks not only to the subcontinent but at home.
India has never had to “doctor” wickets (the very essence of my article). Its curators are adept at doing what they do best. I find it interesting that you can accept Australia’s qualities of pitches but struggle to recognise that India also know their wickets like the back of their hands and go down that avenue to prepare them as it suits them.
I have seen wickets in Australia (Gabba for example) that seamed so much that Ashes matches were often demoted to mismatches. It’s a pointless exercise but no one moans. The poms just go back to try to do the same. Not that I rate the Ashes much. It’s just a two-nation series hype. Fans matter.
You need to take off your blinkers. It’s just as easy to say Aussies invite ridicule because of their own acts. I trust I’ve made my points. Thanks for engaging.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Love your punchline, Brett. Australia “doctors”, “cooks”, “prepares” pitches like every part of the world. You just can’t see the forest for the trees. Australia’s guilt is on record.

CA is involved in every facet of preparations for any events with the ICC overseeing it. BCCI is doing exactly the same and the ICC, as it did for the semifinal wicket, had given its blessings despite some “independent inspector from Essex” having a hissy fit about feeling left out. Note, the ICC said he had been included and, consequently, agreed the strip was fine.

I suggest you read the ICC rules on preparing of pitches. The clauses enable the local body to do everything it wishes to ensure that quality of the strip isn’t compromised. Feel free to read other aspects of the feedback on this article for your enlightenment.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Read all the other exchange of threads here, mate. It adds insight to your assertions and reveals others. That Australia uses “drop-in” pitches after AFL means those blocks are prepared in nursery-like laboratories. Have you ever seen one? If the opportunity arises, go have a nosey.

The curators “doctor” , “create”, “prepare” strips. I don’t think they have all lost their characteristics. The Gabba still seams more than any other ones I had seen, albeit several years ago.

The question you have to ask is why ICC insists on nations creating blocks, rather than relying on the home associations banking on their natural elements and curators’ prowess? Who will benefit most from “level playing fields”?

If what you say is right, then why do teams struggle on Aussie wickets. NZ collapses in a heap there. Ditto England. The point is other nations don’t gang up on Australia. They do against India because they don’t belong to the cricketing clique in this part of the world. Thus my reference to the political cricket divide.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Your naivety is what strikes me most here, DaveJ. Imagine had no one caught the sandpaper-gate scandal, no one would see Australia in a different, right? Just because a country isn’t renowned for doing something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

The term “cooked” and “doctored”, etc, is what fans use to denote some of dodgy practice. In continuing to use such terms, I’m trying to desensitise it. As my article states, every nation “prepares” or “manufactures” (take your pick of terms out there) that will suit its players the best and make life hell for tourists.

There’s nothing sinister about it and, yes, it’s been around since the game entered the realm of global significance. That other nations have not been “accused” of it but Australia “rarely” and “one country in particular” has come under intense scrutiny says more about everyone else.

I saw the England ICC WC in 2019 and predicted after a couple of matches the curators would be the “men of the matches”. Most WCs have prepared “good batting surfaces in a pretty even way”, again, says more about your prejudices.

That’s not what I want at all, FYI. I want an even battle between bat and ball. I want a wicket that offers seamers some traction, offers medium pacers a stint, and starts breaking down in the final 2 days or so for tweakers.

Now why have all the nations’ curators failed to do that? Simple. Every country prepares pitches to their advantage. Use whatever emotional term suits you to denounce any other rival nation that threatens your team. It’s a given to parochial fans.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Brett, I have used the word “doctoring” with intent in the hope that people stop using it like it’s “toxic”. “Preparing”, “creating”, “curating”, “manufacturing” are among all the terms one can use to describe the development of wickets.

Now “preparing” removes any suggestions that it’s “natural”. The process of creating injects manufacturing, so “mutation” is a given. What you’re saying, If I’m reading you right, is that the elements to put together a strip are natural.

How a curator and his groundsmen craft the layers and in which amounts of desired elements will determine the characteristics of the wicket. Even elements like the species of grass, the preference for a type of soil, how much water, how much the top surface should be hammered in or rolled, how long should the covers be allowed to stay on to extract “juiciness”, etc, all dictate how the pitches will play.

How many nations invest in jetting in curators, akin to India, to create simulator-type strips for their players to become accustomed to in preparation for tours? I have yet to read about it. It isn’t unusual for a curator to import different soils types within a province/state in the hope of making a wicket that is “unique” within the country to give domestic associations an advantage, never mind the challenges it’ll pose touring tourists.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

That India won a series or two in Australia says more about the tourists than your pitches. India has invested serious dosh in preparing pitches at home for simulation to prepare for tours to Australia. Sharma and Punter’s prowess aside, I’m a firm believer prevailing in cricket is about a team that has cohesiveness from the XI on the park.

Every team will dispute decisions in just about any match. I’d like to think Symonds’ one didn;t define the test or series. We have a classic case of non-India and non-Kiwis having an opinion on this semifinal.

Every curator in the world “doctors” wickets. They actually derive immense pleasure out of creating their little darling, only to watch those players/teams who don’t do their due diligence collapse like dominoes. “It’s not my wicket, ” a curator used to tell me. “It’s their inability to adapt and play.” Amen.

The creation of wickets is an art, albeit a dying one now because ICC is enforcing nations to manufacture drop-in ones. Nothing compares to each district/state preparing pitches from soils characteristics unique to its region. How curators layer their strips and how much lushness they allow for on the top define their qualities.

Consequently has a marked advantage on knowing to bat and bowl on their home turfs. To reiterate, that’s why the hallmark of a team in an era isn’t primarily based on how it rules the roost at home, but how it fares on tour, way outside its comfort zone. India of the yesteryear roared like lions but purred like pussycats on tour.

I’ve noted India has improved significantly in that aspect by finding an equilibrium in terms of adapting to pitches between home and abroad over the years. It it wins the final. all it’ll prove is the trend will continue with the past four ICC World Cup hosts claiming the title. Is that a good or bad thing?

I’m afraid when the ICC had opted for drop-in wickets, that challenge of procuring pitches to pose challenges to locals and tourists was always going to come under threat. Again, I take off my hat to Australia for taking a stance of “que sera sera” (whatever will be, will be) in the final.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

So you have nothing of substance to add, Cricnuff? Your assertions of me aside, you sound angry and frustrated. What I suspect you’re trying to say, between the lines, is that other nations are doing it but “not as bad as India”.
To which I say, India had the intestinal fortitude to push the perimeters of engagement. In other words, the subcontinent country seems to be prepared to flirt with the rules and have come through successful. Is there a bit of neviousness that other nations didn’t do it first?
I take heart from the Aussie team’s attitude. It’s comfortable with India doing what it wishes to as host. Australia seems more preoccupied with what it needs to do to win. I wish it all the best.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

That is a correct assumption but I hasten to add NZ also produces similar wickets. The ones that come to mind are McLean Park, Napier, and the Basin Reserve, Wellington. I would say Australia has the propensity to raise the bar on the bounce-and-carry element to unsettle Kiwis but it’s also do with the latter’s prowess in adapting to changes.
Where NZ wickets leave tourists on their knees is the spring-like summers and bowlers running into a howling southerly, especially in Wellington.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Yes, so? Thus my remark that if anything, the wicket favoured the Black Caps.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

It’s called cynicism, jammel, and you’ve missed it. I’d rather not go down that rabbit hole. It’s a cricket post. FYI, visiting coes add value but that doesn’t mean the world is oblivious to what may unfold in a country — give and take the error of misinformation and disinformation.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Pertinent points, DTM. Having covered club premier, domestic and international matches, I must confess the politics on pitches, umpires, sledging, etc, never change. That’s the essence of the game and those who play it, as well as purist followers, live for it.
One tweak to your assessment of Kiwi wickets. They are more like bounce-and-carry rather than “seaming” decks. That’s why Black Caps “seamers” froth around the mouth at the thought of touring England. They end up on the wall at Lords.
Consequently, that’s why Kohli had played NZ in the inaugural test final under “protest” because he didn’t consider English wickets “neutral”. They heavily favoured NZ, never mind the one-off match reduced to a farcical 2-day affair owing to persistent rain.
Even Kiwi batsmen, such as Taylor and Guptill, would be going through a lean patch but end up in Napier looking like superstars. Of course, it was a false economy on the driveway or tennis-ball wickets. It was a great come down to earth when they were skittled for loose change on tour on numerous occasions.
You’re right in that ODIs can become a lucky dip. But that’s why India looks formidable. When host curators can create a spinner-unfriendly pitch but their batsmen can score just shy of 400 runs, you’re facing an opposition that’ll make you earn your stripes.
I agree also that teams that have toured India (subcontinent) to even win a test match or two but have lost the series, have done remarkably well. The same applies to subcontinent sides touring Australia/NZ/England, as well as as the Windies of the yesteryear.
Cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar, if my memory serves me well, had stated in his book that on arriving in NZ, the first thing he and teammates used to contemplate was jetting back home. They used to freeze in our spring/iffy summers, struggle with food, and not accustomed to playing on our bouncy-and-carry wickets. They days couldn’t go fast enough.
India became better over the years in investing handsomely on foreign curators to help it prepare wickets at home in preparation for tours to the Southern Hemisphere. I trust they had felt more at home in England with the resident Asian population.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Huh? I think I know where you’re coming from, Blink, character assassination aside. I’m not going to stoop to your level to make my points.

Firstly, it’s not “cheating”. It’s gamesmanship (not to be confused with sportsmanship). That’s because no nation is naive enough to tour another in the belief it will be served what its accustomed to at home.

Even when covering cricket at some venues, I found the local district associations saddled with the responsibility of preparing meals at their stadium were very mindful of how much “chillies” were in the food. It’s not unusual for them here to make roast beef/pork when India, Pakistan etc tour.

Remember Warney talking of taking baked beans on tour? Well, they’re all dying to secure IPL contracts nowadays. Make it good enough sweetener and the most patriotic player will start humming a different tune.

One association in NZ had, unwittingly, served Afghanistan players during a male age-group world cup ham-and-bacon muffins/scones about a decade ago. It had led to global disbelief. I had a few acquaintances from Australia phoning me to ask if it was “fake” news.

No, mate, I’m not simple. I’ve been in the thick of collating and disseminating news during my writing career. Ask any scribe worth his/her salt, and they’ll tell you reports must be “balanced”. That is, ensure, both parties have a right of say. Note how when the ABs/Wallabies win/lose, mainstream media are quick to bundle, especially British media report snippets, of “how they saw the match”.

I once went to watch NZ v Pakistan In Dunedin. The sports editor returned to write his lead on embankment gossip that the tourists were tampering with the ball as NZ collapsed like dominoes. That’s when Wasim and Waqar used to run riot globally.

I love Ukraine as much as I do Australia, although I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Eastern bloc nation. Perceived assumptions of “human rights abuses”, etc, cut both ways. If we take off our blinkers, we’re bound to see more. It could well be happening in our backyards.

Hey, that rings true of our parochial fans’ views in any sport. Cricket isn’t exempt.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Great analysis, Whymuds. You’ve nailed it in that cricket is never cut and dry. It’s the imperfections in the summer code that make it a perfect recipe for paranoia. Hey, no one ever said that should be considered a bad thing.

It’s always about fan engagement. Imagine how boring it must be to watch any sport that falls snugly within the parameters of perfection. Professionalism screams of a sprinkle of controversy to add umami to the finished product.

No doubt, I agree with you that accountability and transparency musn’t be abused to the extent where fans start losing faith in the product. As parochial spectators, we’re forever guilty of employing selected senses. We only see and hear what fuels our narrative.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Thank you or your brutal honesty, Jeff, and the adroit manner in which you made me chuckle reading it. Curators, no matter where they reside, jealously guard their trade secrets akin to mortgage brokers.
I’m afraid, we smack of hypocrisy when we start pointing fingers at other host nations. How many times do our mainstream media ever publish controversial foreign counterparts that question our practices in any facet of cricket, never mind pitch preparations?
I love Cummings’ attitude of not caring what India do with the wicket. The reality is you have to beat the best (India’s undefeated) to make it a memorable victory. Having lost by 6 wickets in their pool encounter, how have the Aussie batsmen prepared to face spinners?
I’m expecting India to have a loaded tweaker’s track. Smith & Co heard the death rattle loud and clear. To ask for middle and leg in the subcontinent and not expect prodigious turn on the wicket has never been a credible insurance cover. May the best team win.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Please read this from the Sydney Morning Herald before posting any more feedback. It’s just an Aussie viewpoint and quite liberating. It echoes some of my sentiments.
https://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/brilliant-india-prove-they-don-t-need-doctored-pitches-to-dominate-20231116-p5ekbz.html

I find it peculiar that India comes under huge scrutiny for dodgy bookmakers, Delhi belly, etc, but one its mainstream media should be considered “respected”. FYI, I write because I find 98% of mainstream media lack substance in their reports. Good scribes never care about swimming up into head currents.

They tend to be one-eyed group of cheerleaders, seeking “like” emojis. I just want some accountability and transparency rather than spin-doctored material.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

What a man! Did Tony succeed in shutting down the racecourse to save horses from cruelty? But the burning question is in all of this, why the heck weren’t you watching cricket, mate? Or focusing when reading this article and the impending feedback?

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Okay, here are some of my takeaways from your feedback:

1/. A fresh, unused pitch No. 7 had made way for a two-match (ICC WC) one. It would be suicidal for the host to give NZ a virgin strip to swing and seam, especially if it had won the toss.

2/. ICC has no requirement which states playoffs must be played on fresh pitches. The only caveat in its “Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process” outlines: “It is expected that venues that are allocated the responsibility of hosting a match will present the best possible pitch and outfield conditions for that match.” Amen to specific guidelines.

3/. Independent pitch consultant Andy Atkins (Essex born) had expressed doubts in an email of the preparation process. ICC’s response to Atkinson’s concern to the media: He was informed “of the change and has no reason to believe the pitch won’t play well”.

4/. I’d love to see reserve days for every crucial match. Nothing douses fans’ flames more than weather. Thus, my punchline on covered stadium. Cricket lovers want closure. Let’s do that.

5/. Why is BCCI coming under more scrutiny than any other host nation from non-subcontinent nations? With Aust v NZ final in 2015, why didn’t the ACB come under scrutiny for a pitch that saw the Kiwis’ top order capitulate in just a few overs? (Brendon McCullum;s stupidity is a given).

I’m at a loss to see how the Wankhede wicket isn’t part of the playing conditions. As I had alluded to, if anything, it had done the Black Caps a huge favour. The batting guns in India just had too much firepower and the elder statesman, Shami, upstaged every spinner on a strip that just didn’t give the latter any purchase. It had penalised India more than NZ.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Anytime I see “facts are simple”, I go uh-oh. Cricket is anything but simple. Facts? Whose?
Having read it twice you didn’t understand it but yet felt compelled to make comments based on “your assumptions”. Let me simplify that sentence. The Proteas and Windies support the subcontinent when push comes to shove for votes on pivotal matters. Yes, cricket politics.
Here’s why facts are never “simple”. Nowhere in my article do I suggest host nations influence tourneys. That’d be silly. ICC is the guardian of the code. End of story. Curators work with ICC pitch inspectors. Again, no great revelations. What will never be clear, as the article states, is how much the host nation can tinker with wickets to suits its needs.
Any other suggestion is naive. It’s like saying World Rugby is in charge, therefore, every other nation has no say in it. In a Utopian world yes, but in rugby union we all know it’s wishful thinking. A nuclear cluster of countries runs the show. thus the belching and bellyaching at the France RWC.
Despite the ICC running the show, behind the scenes the host nation’s parent body is up to its eyeballs in making sure it meets the ICC requirements. For a more comprehensive understanding and variables, please read my response to Tony Taylor.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

Here’s the trend of the last three ICC World Cups with (hosts in brackets): 2011 India (India & Bangladesh); 2015 Australia (Aust/NZ and both made the final); 2019 England (England & Wales with the latter not a cricketing force at all).

Whether India beats Australia or not, the finality of how the host nation has paved its way to the final is a no-brainer. Ditto England in 2019, which I had followed like a hawk. I had written an article on how the English curators would be the architects of the host nation’s success and, by default, the demise of the other arch-rival contenders. India and Australia had made way for the England v NZ final.

To say how long one can wait to prepare a pitch is splitting hairs. Curators are often at the mercy of the elements. I used to pick the brains of head curator Phil Stoyanoff at McLean Park, Napier, for decades. He had the ultimate say on, for example, how much greenish tinge should be on the strip through to the eve of a match.

Again, Stoyanoff, who India/IPL organisers had jetted to the subcontinent to help prepare NZ type of bounce-and-carry wickets, decided how much water should be applied and what intensity of rolling on morning of match. With a grin, he would disclose “home advantage” was always a given.

Do note that which of the three strips in the India semifinal match had come with the blessings of ICC moderators/inspectors. I had even noted the apprehension from the India team of the sudden change. It had offered spinners scant assistance, so how did that actually favour India? If anything, one can argue it would have worked in NZ’s favour.

Both sides had to be patient on a pitch that provided boundaries/sixes, albeit with timing and minimum swing or seam. If Shami can take seven wickets then what was stopping Boult and Southee from emulating him? With a slow track, one would have expected tweakers to come into play. India’s didn’t, so had the hosts lost I would have expected a few curators’ heads to roll. I believe that’s where the catchphrase of “building highways” comes from.

A more cynical observation is how slick the outfields are in India. I have never come across ones that run to the boundary with consistency. The subcontinent isn’t renowned for dirtying its whites or sure hands, so slick outfields negate the need for the best part of fielding. Hit a solid, well-timed stroke and you’ll find the boundary. Go aerial but it’s always your risk.

The logical assumption is India’s batting lineup is in a class of its own. Veteran Shami shows how bowling isn’t always about pace but more to do with line and length. Is winning the toss that much of a done deal? I’m not sold on it.

Cooked wicket paranoia has gone too far - why should World Cup hosts lose a key privilege?

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