South Africa Need to Breathe

27/09/2007

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As South Africa once again managed to find a way not to win a major tournament they have once again weakened the case against them being chokers. Even South African fans are finding it difficult to defend against and, more worryingly, are starting to believe it.

!996 at the World Cup in Pakistan and India the Proteas breeze through the  group stage easily disposing of the likes of Pakistan, England and New Zealand, and are looking firm favourites for the trophy. They lose in the quarter final to the West Indies, who had earlier lost to Kenya. One game lost and they’re out.

In England at the 1999 World Cup there was the famous. infamous for South Africans, tie against Australia that knocked the South Africans out at the semi final stage, after all the hard work had been done, and victory seemed certain.

In 2003 in their home World Cup South Africa made a mess of basic math and were eliminated at the group stage thanks to a rain interrupted match against Sri Lanka. If they’d scored one more run they would have been through to the next phase.

This year in the West Indies South Africa completely succumbed to pressure and were blown away by the Aussies.

And last week in the T20 World Cup they meekly bowed out after a tame batting performance against India. They had won their 4 previous matches against the West Indies, where they chased a record score down easily, Bangladesh, England and New Zealand, and had looked like the strongest team in the competition. When it mattered most they came up short. Not only did they capitulate so tamely in that match against India, but they knew that they only needed 126 to make it through to the semi’s and not the target to win the match of 154. They failed to reach either, and just like in 1996 one defeat saw them knocked out.

Of course South Africa are not the only team that seems to find it hard to cross over to a winning team, New Zealand regularly make the semi finals of World Cups, and manage to lose that important game. But the consistency that South Africa manage to shoot themselves in the foot is alarming. They have the talent and ability to be the best in the world, but whether or not they believe it is another matter. They need the self confidence to get over this vital flaw in their make up if they are to realistically hope to win a major title. Over the years they have been ranked number one in ODI’s a number of occasions, raking up the necessary wins to get to that point, yet in a World Cup they always fall short. The 438 game against Australia should have been the moment they buried the choker tag once and for all and launch themselves as the top team in ODI cricket. Sadly nothing changed from there. It should have been the confidence booster they needed, they know they are good enough, even in pressure situations. Yet Australia once again dominated them at the 2007 World Cup.

The coming season will be an important one for South African cricket. They have a good young crop of players coming through, and tours of England and Australia in the not to distant future to test themselves. Firstly they have a confident  and well lead Pakistan to contend with in Pakistan.

The young players need experience and exposure, and that will come over the next 18 months, but they also need to free themselves of the mental hold Australia and the fear of choking has over them. Once they get over that there is no reason why they can not dominate world cricket like Australia have. And love him or hate him, Graeme Smith is the strong character needed to lead them inn this fight.


The Best and the Worst of the T20 World Cup

26/09/2007

Chris Gayle and the West Indies

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A tournament billed as the grave yard of bowlers, a batsman’s paradise, got off to exactly that start when Chris Gayle shrugged off his poor form of recent times and smashed the first T20 international hundred, scoring his 100 off just 51 balls, and finishing with 117 off 57 balls, including 10 sixes and 7 fours. However, once again the West Indies managed to disappoint, allowing South Africa to claim a record chase, over hauling the total of 205 with 8 wickets and 14 balls to spare. In so doing the West Indies provided a best moment and a worst moment of the T20 World Cup. Gayles scintillating performance was the best show of brute force and timing, and the West Indies general performance, they followed up this loss by losing to Bangladesh and being eliminated in the first round, was the biggest disappointment.

The New Guys on the Block

Every big tournament tends to offer the chance for the spotlight to be stolen by a new or previously unheralded star. The last few tournaments have sadly not offered us to much in this case, but rather just highlighted the gulf that existed between Australia and the rest. However this World Cup did throw out a few names for us to remember, none more so than Pakistans Sohail Tanvir, and South Africa’s Morne Morkel.

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Tanvir was called up to the Pakistan squad as a late replacement for the yet again disgraced Shoaib Akhtar, as a relative unknown to those outside of Pakistan. The left handed all rounder, with the unorthodox front on bowling style, has only played 19 first class games in 3 years and in domestic T20 games had yet to take a single wicket. Despite this he was a revelation with the ball throughout the tournament, taking 6 wickets at an economy rate of 7,00. While many have suggested that his success was due to his unusual action, and once batsman get used to him they will be able to play him better, for now he has undoubtedly been one of the stars of this World Cup.

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Morne Morkel. the tall fast bowler from the Titans in Pretoria, looks set to have a major influence on South African cricket in the near future. He has played one Test and a handful of ODI’s, and his inexperience was said to be a weakness in the South African bowling attack. However the young fast bowler proved to be one of the leading bowlers in the competition, and one that looks to have a very bright career ahead of him, with controlled aggression, wicket taking, and economical bowling, he is truly Shaun Pollocks successor. Was robbed of the chance to become the first bowler in T20 internationals to claim a 5 wicket haul when he was wrongfully called for a front foot no ball after bowling New Zealands Mark Gillespie. Finished with 9 wickets in 5 games at an average of just 13,33 at an economy rate of just 6,00.

Biggest Upset

While Bangladesh’s victory over West Indies was an upset, it was hardly a surprise. The West Indies are perhaps the most inconsistent side in cricket, and Bangladesh, having progressed to the Super 8 phase of the last two international competitions, have earned the right to not be called minnows any more. The biggest upset was Zimbabwe defeating the mighty Australians in their opening game. Australia may have arrived rusty and not quite sure how serious this World Cup was, but they should have still been strong enough to get past a young Zimbabwean team that had been the whipping boys of international cricket over the last few years. Zimbabwe played with a lot of guts and determination, and although they lost to England the next day, to be eliminated on run rate, they showed enough in this one match to suggest that a few more wins may give them the confidence to become a good cricket team, there is enough talent in the squad for this to happen.

Most Refreshing

The most refreshing aspect of the tournament was the captaincy of Shoib Malik and MS Dhoni. Captaining two of the most unpredictable, talented, and fickle teams in World Cricket is a daunting one, yet these two young players brought a sense of calmness and togetherness to the job. They never shied from responsibility, lead from the front, and managed to unite their teams in a way that was seldom been seen. The success of their teams, both reached the final and both beat Australia, was undoubtedly primarily due to their leadership, and the confidence it inspired in their young squads. If they build on this there is no reason why India and Pakistan can once again become a force to be reckoned with in international cricket, bringing a sense of justice to perhaps the most talented individuals in world cricket.

Biggest Surprise

The match winning performances of the bowlers was a surprise to many, who had expected this to be a batsman game, with the bowlers making up the numbers. However, with that in mind, and short boundaries, perhaps the biggest surprise was the success of the spin bowlers. Shahid Afridi and Daniel Vettori both finished amongst the top wicket takers and best economy rates, proving the quality spin bowling will always be a match winner, no matter what form of the game. Afridi was named player of the tournament.

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Most Predictable Outcome

Generally in the last few years the easiest thing to predict would be the eventual winners – Australia. Thankfully this time the holders of the last 3 World Cups, the ICC Championship winners, the current Test table toppers, and the team vying to hold all ICC title’s together, did not win this time. However, sadly for them these two teams, perhaps the most predictable outcome was the failure of South Africa when it mattered most, and of New Zealand to get past the semi finals. South Africa had looked the strongest and most balanced team in the World Cup, but it only took one loss, to India, to knock them out before the semi finals, and ensure their search for a first major trophy continues. New Zealand seem to get to the semi finals of every major competition, and then collapse. Although they didn’t look as strong as South Africa, they had looked dangerous throughout the tournament, even beating India in the Super 8’s. Yet again they reached the semi finals, and yet again they failed to reach the final.

Perhaps another predictable outcome was that Shoaib Akhtar would arrive, tell everyone how focused he was on ensuring Pakistan won, tell everyone he has put all the scandals behind him and is looking forward to helping Pakistan over the next few years, and then finding himself on the plane home the following day after hitting a teammate with a cricket bat.


T20 Stats

25/09/2007

With the conclusion of the very successful inaugural ICC T20 World Championships it’s time to look at the best performers over the two weeks of action.

The Batsmen

The top run getters in the competition were lead by Matthew Hayden of Australia, completing a fine double after leading the runs table at the ICC World Cup earlier in the year. Hayden scored 265 runs in 6 matches with a highest score of 73* and an average of 88,33 and striking at 144,8.
India’s Gambhir with 227 runs and Misbah-ul-Haq of Pakistan with 218 were the other batsmen to score over 200 runs.

Zimbabwe’s Taylor had the best average, with 107, but he only played 2 games. He was followed by Hayden with 88,33 from 6 innings and Justin Kemp of South Africa with 86,5 from 5 knocks.

The batsman with the best strike rate was predictably Pakistans Shahid Afridi with 197,82. He was followed by Chris Gayle of the West Indies with 195,0 and India’s Yuvraj Singh with 194,73.


The best individual scores were posted by Gayle with 117, and South Africans Herschelle Gibbs with 90* and Kemp with 89*.

The 6 hitting table was topped by New Zealands Craig McMillan with 13, Yuvraj Sing with 12 and Gayle, Kemp, Hayden and Imran Nazir of Pakistan with 11 each.

The Bowlers


Umar Gul of Pakistan was the competitions leading wicket taker, claiming 13 wickets, at an average of 11,92 and an exceptional economy rate of 5,60. Australia’s Stuart Clarke, India’s Rudra Pratap Singh and Pakistans Shahid Afridi, were all close behind with 12 scalps each.

The best bowling figures were claimed by New Zealands Mark Gillespie with 4/7 against Kenya. RP Singh took 4/13 for India against South Africa and South Africa’s Morne Morkel took 4/17 against New Zealand. (Morkel was robbed of the chance to become the first bowler to claim 5 wickets in an International T20 match when he bowled a New Zealander but was called for a no ball with replays showing his foot was well behind the line)

The most economical bowler was New Zealand captain Vettori with an economy rate of 5,33. He was followed by Vaas of Sri Lanka with 5,55, Gul with 5,60 and Clarke and Morkel with 6,00.


INDIA WIN T20 WORLD CUP

24/09/2007

An inspired bowling performance by India saw them clinch the first T20 World Cup against arch rivals Pakistan in one of the most exciting finals of a major trophy ever.

The two teams that had limped out of the ICC World Cup in the initial group stage have been the best and most exciting teams during the two week tourniment in South Africa. Both teams, lead by new young captains, have played a fearless brand of cricket worthy of the tourniment, and exactly what the ICC had invisioned for the format.

Ten days earlier, in Durban, India and Pakistan played out a tie, and were involved in the first ever international bowl out, the equivalent of a soccer penalty shoot out, which India won 3-0. This match, the final, threatened to treat the capasity Johannesburg crowd to the same tension filled, nail biting finale, but in the end India’s bowlers held their nerve, and were crowned the first ever T20 world champions.

Wining the toss and deciding to bat, India scrapped their way to 157-7 on a pitch where 180 was considered par and 200 a good score, Pakistan must have fancied their chances of getting the runs. However finals bring with them added pressure, and Pakistan v India even more so, and so runs on the board would always have suited Dhoni. The pitch didn’t seem to play as well as many thought, with batsman struggling to time and force the ball, but a superb inings of 75 from Gambhir and a cameo knock of 30 from Rohit Sharma, got India to a below par total, but one that good bowling could defend. For Pakistan Umar Gul was once again the star, taking 3-28.

Pakistan, who would have been confident of chasing down the target, having only lost the bowl out against India in the 2 weeks, lost wickets at regular intervals, and with 54 needed from just 24 balls and with only 3 wickets in hand were well and truely out of it. Misbah Ul-Haq had other plans and attempted to rescue Pakistan again, just as he had with a 50 in that tie in Durban, and got Pakistan to within 5 runs of the total in the last over, when he was the last man out for 43. India’s bowling was lead by opening bowler RP Singh with 3-23 and a superb middle innings burst from Irfan Pathan, who claimed 3-16.

In the end a successful championship got the match it deserved, and the winners it deserved, and most importantly perhaps, for world cricket, that winner was not Australia.


English Papers

24/09/2007

THE SUN

  • Michael Owen is almost certainly out of England’s crunch Euro 2008 clashes with Estonia and Russia.
  • New Chelsea boss Avram Grant is being investigated over his coaching qualifications.
  • Ronaldinho wants talks over a move to Chelsea after a fall-out with Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard.
  • DAILY STAR
  • Reading boss Steve Coppell hopes to take advantage of the chaos at Chelsea by re-signing Steve Sidwell.
  • Michael Owen is a major doubt for England’s Euro 2008 qualifiers.
  • DAILY MIRROR
  • Michael Owen is a massive doubt for England’s Euro 2008 qualifiers against Russia and Estonia.
  • Chelsea’s bid to sign Ronaldinho received a boost after his brother claimed the Brazil star was being driven out of Barcelona.
  • Steve Coppell admits he would love to take Steve Sidwell back to Reading.
  • Blackburn boss Mark Hughes is hoping to sign highly-rated Costa Ricans Celso Borges and Kendall Watson.
  • Stoke chairman Peter Coates is ready to hand manager Tony Pulis a massive transfer kitty.
  • DAILY EXPRESS
  • Chelsea are ready to make another controversial move to lure Sven-Goran Eriksson to Stamford Bridge.
  • John Terry texted Jose Mourinho three times in the 24 hours before Chelsea played Manchester United to reassure him he did not betray him.
  • Michael Owen is set to see a specialist to discover if he needs groin surgery which would rule him out of England’s critical Euro 2008 qualifiers.
  • DAILY MAIL
  • Jose Mourinho left Chelsea last week taking all his scouting reports with him.
  • DAILY TELEGRAPH
  • Chelsea captain John Terry is to take legal action over accusations he played a significant role in the dismissal of Jose Mourinho.
  • THE TIMES
  • Michael Owen is set for a second scan on his groin with Newcastle boss Sam Allardyce admitting he is “worried”.
  • THE INDEPENDENT
  • The Premier League are being asked to investigate Avram Grant’s credentials.
  •  THE GUARDIAN
  • Michael Owen is facing the possibility of hernia surgery this week and so missing England’s Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia and Russia.
  • NEWS OF THE WORLD

    Jose Mourinho last night sensationally admitted he’d love to make a dramatic return to Stamford Bridge as Chelsea boss.

    Roman Abramovich has handed Avram Grant a £100million war chest to bring Ronaldinho and Kaka to Stamford Bridge.

    Chelsea chief-executive Peter Kenyon has confessed he gave up trying to save pal Jose Mourinho after 12 months of bitter in-fighting.

    Real Madrid have offered heartbroken Didier Drogba a way out of Stamford Bridge.

    Everton want David Moyes to create a Sir Alex Ferguson-style dynasty at Goodison Park.

    Sam Allardyce wants to team up Emile Heskey with Michael Owen at Newcastle.

    Sammy Lee is battling to quell dressing-room unrest at Bolton after a bizarre snub to first-team coach Ricky Sbragia.

    Jermaine Defoe must quit Tottenham to further his career according to old pal Fredi Kanoute.

    THE PEOPLE

    Chelsea are ready to appoint Marcello Lippi as their new boss before Christmas after an amazing cock-up over Avram Grant’s coaching badges.

    Cursed Michael Owen needs another operation but will wait until AFTER England’s Euro 2008 campaign which ends in November.

    Real Madrid boss Bernd Schuster will use the Chelsea feel-bad factor to snap up Didier Drogba.

    Manchester United are set to put one over on Chelsea by winning a £1million-plus battle to sign Burnley superkid John Kofi.

    Manchester City’s Michael Johnson will be targeted by Liverpool and Arsenal in January.

    THE SUNDAY MIRROR

    Ruud Gullit has called on Chelsea fans not to turn on Roman Abramovich – and to give Avram Grant a chance.

    Avram Grant has denied plotting to replace Jose Mourinho as Chelsea boss.

    Bolton boss Sammy Lee has a week to save his job at the Reebok Stadium.

    Xabi Alonso has revealed that Pako Ayesteran’s departure from Liverpool as Rafa Benitez’s number two has left the club in turmoil.

    DAILY STAR SUNDAY

    Barcelona are set to make a shock swoop for Jose Mourinho.

    Chelsea will turn to Guus Hiddink if Avram Grant fails to continue the success story penned by Jose Mourinho.

    Atletico Madrid want to strike another deal with Liverpool – for keeper Pepe Reina.

    Mark Bresciano still hopes to join Manchester City in January.

    THE MAIL ON SUNDAY

    Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich will back new manager Avram Grant to bring in multi-million-pound talent in the New Year, with Ronaldinho the principal target.

    Ronald Koeman ruled himself out of the Tottenham job because he is expecting an offer from Barcelona to take over from Frank Rijkaard in the summer.

    Former Hull chief Adam Pearson is leading a £90million takeover bid for Premier League strugglers Derby County.

    THE SUNDAY EXPRESS

    Chelsea have sent Jose Mourinho into exile. They have blocked their former boss from managing another English club – for this season at least – as part of his enormous £25 million pay-off.


    In the Tabloids

    17/09/2007

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    THE SUNDAY TIMES

    Emile Heskey will undergo surgery today after being struck by the curse of the broken metatarsal which has plagued England…

    THE OBSERVER

    Didier Drogba will refuse to play against Manchester United in next Sunday’s key Premier League fixture unless a troublesome injury to his right knee is completely healed.

    Peter Taylor’s Crystal Palace future is in doubt after chairman Simon Jordan spoke of his admiration for Neil Warnock.

    Guus Hiddink has agreed in principle to extend his contract with Russia until 2010.

    THE MAIL ON SUNDAY

    Sir Alex Ferguson has called on Manchester United to deliver a third European Cup as a fitting commemoration of the Munich Disaster that robbed the club of arguably their brightest crop of young players.

    Rafael Benitez believes Steven Gerrard’s performances in England’s back-to-back victories over Israel and Russia have settled the debate surrounding the Liverpool captain’s role in the England set-up.

    Two more Premier League stars are in line to be arrested by City of London Police probing corruption in football.

    DAILY STAR SUNDAY

    Cristiano Ronaldo faced a police quiz last night after being accused of attacking a rival fan.

    Liverpool face a fight to keep Peter Crouch – with both Man City and Juventus both ready to make a move for the England striker in January.

    Chelsea’s bid for Euro glory has been snubbed by their own fans – with Tuesday’s Champions League opener against Rosenborg set to be played in front of 12,000 empty seats.

    German clubs are queueing to offer Jens Lehmann an escape route from Arsenal.

    Bolton will let Ivan Campo tear up his contract and end his career in the Middle East.

    NEWS OF THE WORLD

    Manchester United’s war with Liverpool over the Gabriel Heinze affair will erupt again this week amid a tap-up storm.

    Galatasaray will make a £4million bid for Emre in January after he admitted he wants to leave Newcastle.

    Chelsea’s top hitman Didier Drogba says he may not be fully fit for up to a month.

    Sven Goran Eriksson is setting up a January transfer-window move for Chelsea defender Wayne Bridge.

    THE SUNDAY MIRROR

    Sven Goran Eriksson will be handed an amazing £150 million transfer fund to fast track Manchester City into the Champions League.

    Stan Kroenke is poised to spark a new war over the control of Arsenal by selling his stake in the club to Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov.

    DAILY MIRROR

    Martin Jol has been given a month to turn his Spurs side around – but still faces the sack.

    Everton boss David Moyes is trying to snatch Barcelona’s Mexican starlet Efrain Juarez Valdez.

    Chelsea new-boy Mike Forde is the unlikely central character in a new row between Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho.

    THE SUN

    Spurs boss Martin Jol has told Jermain Defoe: Sign a new deal or I will let you rot in the reserves. But Jol has only a month to save his job.

    DAILY STAR

    Under-pressure Martin Jol has a month to save his Tottenham job.

    DAILY MAIL

    Martin Jol has six games to save his job at Tottenham – but even if he steers his side up the table it may not be enough to stop Sevilla’s Juande Ramos from replacing him during next month’s international break.

    Willie McKay has revealed he gave Pascal Chimbonda an £18,000 loan shortly after he joined Tottenham from Wigan.

    DAILY EXPRESS

    Martin Jol has three weeks to save his job after Spurs slumped to defeat against Arsenal.

    Police will question four high-profile names in British football this week as part of their investigation into corruption.

    DAILY TELEGRAPH

    Tottenham boss Martin Jol has three weeks to save his job at White Hart Lane.

    Gillingham chairman Paul Scally is “generally speaking to unemployed managers” as he looks to replace Ronnie Jepson.

    THE TIMES

    Martin Jol has been given five games to save his job as Tottenham manager.

    THE GUARDIAN

    Tottenham believe they can still entice Sevilla’s Juande Ramos to become their new manager – and Daniel Levy will review Martin Jol’s position in the international break next month.

    Agent Willie McKay has admitted giving a cheque for £18,000 to Pascal Chimbonda, but says the payment was legitimate.

    THE INDEPENDENT

    Spurs boss Martin Jol has been told he needs to “turn things around” before the international break next month


    Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Surprised?

    14/09/2007

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    Bangladesh sent the West Indies home, inflicting on them their second group match defeat and ensuring their trip to South Africa only lasted days, and Zimbabwe, backed by a loud South African and Zimbabwean crowd, beat the mighty Australians, in their first T20 World Cup match, much as they did in their first ODI World Cup match back in 1983. But were these really surprises, upsets, the minnows getting one over the big boys? And is this what can be expected in the lottery of T20 cricket?

    Anyone looking for any excuse to knock the new popular form of the game will point to these games as proof that real cricket does not exists in this smack around game and that the joke is that world cricket will actual feel that the smaller teams have made progress, and are closing the gap on the bigger teams. Anyone who feels this way is a fool themselves. T20 cricket may not be the purest form of cricket, it may take away from the grind and endurance of Test cricket, and may even remove the threat of bowlers in ODI cricket, but make no mistake, this is real cricket. While there are many T20 specialists in a lot of the squads, South Africa, England and even India for example, it is the real crickets who will always come out on top. Chris Gayle’s magnificent innings on the opening night, Gibb’s reply, Kevin Pieterson’s knock on Thursday, these were all batting masterclasses from players who have done it at Test, ODI and now T20 level, and all were exhibitions of batting superiority, and not slogging, and swing and hope stuff. The condensed version of the game means that risks have to be taken, but that flair and expression come out. But timing of an innings is still prevalent. Look at Taylor’s innings on against Australia. The Zimbabwean opening batsman carried his bat through the chase and allowed Sibanda to take on the bowlers upfront, and made sure he was there to take them home. The measured innings still has a place in the T20 format.

    Does T20 make it easier for the smaller teams to upset the stronger nations? On the evidence of results alone in this World Cup, maybe. But a clearly understanding will help to rectify this  simplistic view of events. Because the games are only 20 overs a side there is the chance that it only takes one person to swing a game either way. In a 50 over game, a team like Zimbabwe can get off to a great start chasing a total set by an Australia, but then lose a couple of quick wickets, and collapse to another defeat. In this format one great partnership can take you home. So the likely hood of an underdog winning increases. But before you jump to the conclusion that I am in fact arguing against the case I am making, it still needs good cricket to get you in that position. The Zimbabwean bowling was good, and their fielding was amazing, they held catches, stopped runs, and restricted Australia to a gettable total. When they came out to bat they had a plan and stuck to it. Rain interruptions, a slight stutter, and some good bowling near the end could have seen them fall just short and been the maybe men, but they came through because they had the skills and more importantly the belief to win the match. Ashraful’s innings against the West Indies was everything good about Sub Continental cricket, the timing, he extravagance, and the flair, was a masterful display of hitting, and the type of innings he is capable of. His partnership with Aftab Ahmed took the game away from the West Indies, and in so doing insured that they would be joining South Africa in the next round. In the ODI World Cup they defeated India to go through to the next round, and beat South Africa in the Super 8’s. On their day they are capable of sublime cricket, and their most memorable matches, the defeat of Australia a few years back in England, the win against South Africa, and this victory against the West Indies, all had Ashraful innings to set up the wins. They may at the time be upsets and surprises, but good cricket is the reason they have happened.

    The scenes at the end of the matches will not be forgotten, and its important for teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to remember how it feels to win, and what it takes to get there. These two teams, packed with young cricketers, may have a few surprises left in the yet.