Mohammad Tauqir: UAE excited about opportunity to play ‘big boys’ Australia

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Excited bunch: UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir admits playing in the World Cup is a dream come true for the entire UAE squad.

UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir is relishing the opportunity of facing Australia on Wednesday and insists victory over the co-hosts or Afghanistan in their final warm-up games will be a perfect boost for the team ahead of the World Cup.

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– Cricket World Cup 2015 – Team India group stage predictions

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The UAE head into this week’s warm-up games full of confidence having beaten New Zealand’s Central Districts by six wickets on Thursday, and winning the ODI series 3-1 against Afghanistan earlier in November.

Given that Australia will be strong favourites when they meet in UAE’s first official warm-up match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Tauqir believes his players won’t be daunted by taking on the big boys.

“We are very positive now that we are in Australia,” said the 43-year-old yesterday, speaking in  a press conference in Melbourne yesterday.

“We will be rubbing shoulders with all these big boys and it will definitely help us enhance our exposure. If we can get one more win before we start the tournament it will be definitely helpful.”

He added: “We’ve been practising and training hard over the last six months and we are looking forward to play Australia at the MCG. 

“All the boys are very excited and confident and playing at the MCG will make our dreams come true for all of us.”

The Australia match will be the first official warm-up for Tauqir as captain, since replacing Khurram Khan last month.

With the latter now vice-captain, Tauqir is looking forward to leading his side out for the matches in Australia and New Zealand.

“I’m honoured to be captain of this team. It’s a privilege to be leading a country in a World Cup, and it gives me a lot of sense of pride and motivation,” he said.

After their final warm-up encounter against Afghanistan on Friday, the UAE will begin their first World Cup campaign since 1996 with matches against Zimbabwe on February 19 in Nelson, followed by Ireland in Brisbane. 

And the off-spinner stressed the importance of getting off to a good start.

He said: “We are looking to do well in these two games.

“We have played a couple of warm-up games in New Zealand and it definitely gave us a good exposure of the conditions. I would like us to start on a good note and make an impact.

“We’ll play every game well and we’re looking to have at least one or two wins from this tournament.” 

While cricket is overshadowed by football in the UAE, the Emirati captain is confident the team, which includes Indian and Pakistani nationalities, won’t be short of home support. 

“We’re very lucky that we’re a team that have a few nationalities so it’s a very diversified culture back home, and yes, we will have a lot of support back home in the UAE.”

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Cricket World Cup 2015 – Team India group stage predictions

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Firm favourites: Expectations are as high as ever for India.

As Team India rejuvenate and recuperate in the Australian wilderness, let’s take a look at how the defending champions will perform against their opponents in Pool B at the 2015 Cricket World Cup. But firstly, three important players who could all feature in the playing XI namely – Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (ankle), R Jadeja (shoulder) and Rohit Sharma (hamstring) are nursing injuries at the moment. The team management has set a deadline on February 7 when these players will undergo a rigorous fitness test, a day before their practice match against Australia.

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The recent tour of Australia was India’s worst ever overseas and it could only get worse with injury concerns, negativity amongs the ranks and added pressure that usually follows the Indians wherever they go. Luckily, India won’t be tormented by Mitchell Johnson or James Anderson but still need to face the menacing Dale Steyn in the Group stage. Moreover, they have enough time between each fixture to rest, practice and prepare.

India vs Pakistan – Adelaide Oval – February 15 – Winner – India

According to reports, tickets for this nail-biting clash were sold out within 20 minutes. The rivalry goes way beyond the cricket fields and fans won’t bother if their team crashes out early as long as they beat their fiercest rivals; such is the meaning of this match. India will be confident having never lost a World Cup game to Pakistan, but this particular clash between the two neighbors can throw up many surprises. The last time these two sides met at the Adelaide Oval in January 2000, India won by 48 runs thanks to Sourav Ganguly’s 141 and Anil Kumble’s 4/40. Overall, India has won 4 out of the 7 games against Pakistan in Australia since February 1985. Currently, teams have been struggling with Pakistan losing 2-0 against co-hosts New Zealand after series defeats to the Kiwis and Australia in the UAE. Form and figures regularly mean little in the cauldron of a India vs Pakistan derby, however.

South Africa vs India – MCG – February 22 – Winner – South Africa

Considering their recent form and familiarity with conditions in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa are clear favourites to top the Group. In fact, The Proteas are tipped to reach the last-four alongside Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. India’s batsmen tend to struggle while facing the new ball and that was obvious when they toured South Africa in December 2013. In both ODIs played, India’s top order collapsed and ended up losing by huge margins. South Africa recently thrashed the West Indies at home but they too suffered a 4-1 ODI series loss Down Under in November 2014. Meanwhile, India can avoid defeat if they fend off early blows from Steyn and restrict AB de Villiers.

India vs UAE – Perth – February 28 – Winner – India

With one win and a loss, India travel to Perth to face minnows UAE, who make their second appearance at the mega event after a gap of 19 years. For India, this should be a walk in the park and a great chance to test the bench and also recover from the loss to South Africa. These two sides have met only twice before, India coming out on top in both occasions. For the UAE, the World Cup is the best platform for the future development of cricket in the country and having lost only a single game to Scotland in the Qualifiers, the team will be buzzing with confidence.

India vs West Indies –Perth – March 6 – Winner – India

With the respective cricketing boards going through several legal issues, the respective players will be geared up to win at all costs. West Indies have left out key players Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard and the odds are against them when they face the defending champions. Since February 2012, West Indies have lost 6 out of the last 9 matches against India. During that same period, the Caribbean giants have failed to make any sort of an impact against top-ranked teams, losing to England, India and, most recently, South Africa. The last time India faced the Windies at the WACA was back in December 1991, when the match ended in a thrilling draw. Overall, India lead with 2 wins in 3 matches played in Australia.

India vs Ireland – Hamilton – March 10 – Winner – India

By now India should have sealed qualification into the quarter-finals having won 3 games already. Their clash against surprise package Ireland should guarantee their passage if not, as team management determines the perfect starting XI and combination for the rest of the tournament. This match won’t be straightforward, however, with Ireland taking names at previous World Cups. The first team to fall prey was Pakistan during the 2007 tournament, while rivals England were well beaten in the previous edition. India, too, played Ireland in 2011 but comfortably won by 5 wickets. In their first and only other game, India won by 9 wickets in June 2007 at Belfast.

India vs Zimbabwe – Auckland – March 14 – Winner – India

Having sealed qualification, India will have plenty of time to ponder about their next opponent. But a win against Zimbabwe will be their utmost priority to carry forward the positive mentality onto the next stage. India played their first ever match against Zimbabwe during the triumphant 1983 World Cup in England. The first was a comfortable chase but the second game has certainly gone down in history books after skipper Kapil Dev (175*) single handedly carried India to a challenging target of 266 having lost 5 wickets for just 17 runs. Overall, Zimbabwe has won 10 out of 56 games (2 draws) against India and also won 10 out of 51World Cup matches, mostly against the non-Test playing nations.

India Pool B Prediction – P6 W5 D0 L1 – 10 pts – Potential opponents in quarter-finals – Sri Lanka or England. 

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Shahid Afridi hits out at Pakistan’s 2015 Cricket World Cup doubters

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On the attack: Shahid Afridi.

Pakistan’s flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Afridi reminded the critics that though they are not rating the side as favourites for the World Cup, the team can cause an upset down under if they remain a united front.

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The team has been plagued by injuries and suspensions and is low on confidence after losing back to back ODI series against Australia and New Zealand in UAE, followed by another two-match defeat to the Kiwis.

However, the former skipper feels that the right attitude and important individual contributions can lead to a good campaign.

“We know that people are not rating us but Pakistan has the ability to do well in the World Cup if we play well as a unit,” said Afridi.

“As far as bowling is concerned we have Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan and I’m not expecting them to get five-wicket hauls in every game, but even if they can give us a good start by picking up two or three wickets up front, then the spinners can do the job.

“The coaches have done well in improving Haris Sohail and Ahmed Shahzad as bowlers and small performances from everyone will be important because that will win us matches.”

Afridi said that for him it has always been a joy to play in Australia and the knowledge of local conditions through Big Bash would me a major asset for ‘Boom Boom’ and his team-mates.

The 34-year-old also recalled how 23 years ago he was waking up at 4am in order to see his countrymen lift the 1992 trophy, their only triumph to date.

“I was very young but I still remember getting up early at 4am and it was the holy month of Ramadan. We didn’t start well in the beginning but finished strongly courtesy of the great leadership of Imran Khan so that is a great memory with me,” Afridi mused.

“Now senior players have a big responsibility to do something similar because we’ve played so much cricket. It’s time to give something back to our country with our performances and it isn’t the time to cement my place. So I will go out and enjoy my cricket.”

Afridi added that that, although the current squad resembles the victorious 1992 side’s mix of experience and youth, the two teams can never be compared.

“If you look at the 1992 bowling attack it had Wasim Akram, Aqib Javed, Mushtaq Ahmed and Imran Khan. Even the youngsters in that squad were highly talented, so we can’t compare us with 1992 side,” Afridi explained.

Afridi’s comments come on the day that Mohammed Hafeez saw his hopes of playing in a World Cup dashed and team-mate Saeed Ajmal cleared to bowl again.

“With [Ajmal’s] new bowling action you can’t say how effective he is right now,” said Afridi on talks of a dramatic recall for the spinner. “The ideal thing for him would is to be playing his cricket at domestic level and later we can see where he is standing.” 

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