Daily Archives: November 5, 2014

100 days to 2015 Cricket World Cup: State of the nations

Thursday marks 100 days to go to the start of the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Here is a look at the current strengths and weaknesses of the 14 finalists:

POOL A

ENGLAND

– As English cricket returns to a state of relative calm following the fall-out from Kevin Pietersen`s autobiography, the three-time losing finalists (1979, 1987 and 1992), can concentrate on their World Cup preparations. Unusually, England won`t play any Test cricket between now and the World Cup, instead taking part in a one-day tour of Sri Lanka and a tri-series staged by Australia in a bid to give themselves the best possible chance of winning the tournament for the first time. But given a lack of proven hard-hitting ODI batsmen — England are pinning a lot of hope on Alex Hales and Jos Buttler — as well as bowlers who can run through, rather than, at best, contain, an opposition top-order, it would be a major surprise if Alastair Cook`s men made it all the way to the final, let alone won the tournament. However, their fans won`t mind too much if they regain the Ashes next year.

AUSTRALIA

– The pressure will be on Australia as hosts and as the tournament`s most successful team with four titles. India ended the Australians` 12-year reign as champions with victory in the quarter-finals of the last 2011 event in Ahmedabad. The Michael Clarke-led Aussies are third ranked, just a rating point behind South Africa and recently completed a 3-0 clean sweep over Pakistan in the UAE before suffering a two-Test whitewash. The hosts` chances hinge on the fitness of skipper Clarke and the explosive and improvised batting of Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, while Mitchell Johnson is the most lethal paceman in world cricket. Australia will have a thorough lead-in to the World Cup with a five-game ODI home series against South Africa in November followed by a tri-series involving India and England in January.

SRI LANKA

– The 1996 champions, who were beaten by Australia in the 2007 final and lost out to India four years later, have been one of the most consistent teams in recent years. Angelo Mathews` men should have no complaints about the build-up to the tournament. After a hurriedly-arranged ODI series in India this month, Sri Lanka host England for seven matches and then tour New Zealand over the New Year for two Tests and another seven one-dayers. The veteran trio of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan comprise a formidable top-order while sling-arm fast bowler Lasith Malinga remains a devastating wicket-taker despite recent injuries.

BANGLADESH

– Gone are the heady days when Bangladesh stunned Australia in a one-dayer in England and knocked India out of the 2007 World Cup. Victories are so rare these days that Mushfiqur Rahim`s team has lost all 12 one-dayers they have played this year. Tamim Iqbal is almost unrecognisable as the flamboyant opener who tore apart the best of attacks. Off-spinner Sohag Gazi has been suspended for an illegal bowling action, leaving Shakib Al Hasan and the gutsy Rahim to carry the team`s fortunes. Bangladesh will be considered to have done well if they qualify for the knock-out rounds.

NEW ZEALAND

– New Zealand have reached the World Cup semi-finals six times (1975, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2007, 2011) and are desperate to shed the tag of perennial also-rans as they co-host the tournament. They have become a disciplined, aggressive unit under captain Brendon McCullum, capable of beating anyone when fit and firing, as ODI series wins against South Africa, India and the West Indies in the past two years have shown. But two heavy losses to the Proteas last month exposed a lack of depth, particularly in batting, and they may have to recall the talented but troubled Jesse Ryder. The return of Daniel Vettori adds a world-class spinner to a promising attack boasting the new-ball combination of Tim Southee and Trent Boult.

AFGHANISTAN

– Twenty-two years after they were inspired by Pakistan`s World Cup win, Afghanistan`s cricketers gear up for their maiden appearance in the mega event. From learning the game in refugee camps on the Pakistan-Afghan border after the Russian invasion of their country in 1979, Afghanistan cricket has progressed by leaps and bounds. Captain Mohammad Nabi believes the World Cup will be a big learning curve for his team and if they beat any one of the top teams — with Bangladesh as their main target — it will be an achievement. They were buoyed by beating Zimbabwe twice to share a four-match series earlier this year. Afghanistan will be coached by Englishman Andy Moles after Kabir Khan stepped down.

SCOTLAND

– Have plenty of high-level backroom assistance in former Test batsmen Paul Collingwood and Matthew Maynard, the World Cup highlight for a team whose head coach is New Zealander Grant Bradburn is likely to be the pool clash with England in Christchurch on February 23. Scotland have fallen behind the likes of Ireland in terms of the pecking order among non-Test nations during recent years and this World Cup sees them returning to the showpiece tournament for the first time since a disappointing showing in the West Indies in 2007 where they lost all their group matches. County batsman Kyle Coetzer made 128 in their recent warm-up match against Otago but Scotland still suffered a 67-run defeat by the New Zealand provincial side, suggesting their bowlers in particular could be in for a tough time.

POOL B

SOUTH AFRICA

– AB de Villiers got off to a rocky start as South Africa one-day captain in 2013, losing at home against New Zealand and being suspended for two matches because of a woefully slow over rate. The Proteas were well beaten by hosts England in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy semi-final and then lost 4-1 in a series in Sri Lanka. Since then, though, South Africa — under an increasingly confident and capable De Villiers — have climbed up the rankings, reaching number one when they won a recent series in New Zealand. Next up is a series in Australia, the other World Cup co-hosts. De Villiers and Hashim Amla are the top two batsmen in the ICC one-day rankings, while Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and leg-spinner Imran Tahir lead a strong bowling attack. But South Africa lack a world-class all-rounder and have a poor record in global knock-out games.

INDIA

– Mahendra Singh Dhoni`s defending champions have endured a tough 12 months with a 12-12 win/loss record in one-day internationals so far. What will worry Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher is that seven of those losses have come away from home, in New Zealand, South Africa and England. But with four Tests in Australia and a one-day tri-series with England coming up, India should be in the right groove when they launch their World Cup campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan in Adelaide on February 15. A power-packed batting unit, India will always be considered strong contenders to defend the title — provided the bowlers can stem the flow of runs.

PAKISTAN

– The 1992 champions are unsure whether they will have the services of ace spinner Saeed Ajmal who has been suspended for an illegal bowling action while the tussle between Misbah-ul Haq and mercurial all-rounder Shahid Afridi over the captaincy has further hurt Pakistan who lost 3-0 to Australia in a recent one-day series. But despite the usual off-field problems, no one can underestimate Pakistan`s chances. They have some talented players who can match Imran Khan`s cornered tigers who lifted the Cup from nowhere in Australia and New Zealand in 1992.

WEST INDIES

– Winners of the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979, the West Indies` hopes of reaching a final for the first time since 1983 were already slim before their recent implosion in India. The cancellation of their tour amidst a bitter row between players, union and the WICB highlighted the steady decline of the sport in the Caribbean. Frustratingly for fans, there had been small signs of life in recent months with a 3-0 sweep of Bangladesh on home ground in the one-dayers followed by a 124-run win against world champions India in Kochi four weeks ago in the first of five planned games. Doubts exist over the West Indies` ability to even send a full-strength team to the World Cup. Much rests on Chris Gayle`s ability to add significantly to his 8,755 career runs.

ZIMBABWE

– On an emotion-charged day in Harare in August, Zimbabwe beat Australia by three wickets and showed why none of the big guns in Pool B can afford to take them lightly during the World Cup. Such triumphs may be rare but Zimbabwe will be outside contenders to reach the knock-out stage. Since the 2011 World Cup, Zimbabwe have won ten of 39 matches, but only two wins were against top tier teams, with Pakistan losing one of three matches in Zimbabwe in 2013. Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza are mainstays of a sometimes fragile batting line-up but Zimbabwe can rely on good fielding and steady if not especially penetrative bowling. Stalwart off-spinner Prosper Utseya is suspended because of an illegal bowling action and left-arm spinner and useful batsman Sean Williams was not selected for the current tour of Bangladesh after reportedly falling out with coach Stephen Mangongo.

IRELAND

– It is a measure of Ireland`s success at the last two World Cups, where they have beaten the likes of Pakistan — a 2015 pool opponent — Bangladesh and England, that it will no longer be regarded as a colossal shock should they see off another Test nation in 2015.Several of their players have been hardened by the experience of playing English county cricket, while the squad is set to include Kevin O`Brien, who hit the fastest World Cup hundred of all-time, off just 50 balls, in their stunning victory over England at Bangalore in 2011. Coached by former West Indies batsman Phil Simmons, Ireland will also look to get one over the Caribbean side — who they`ve beaten in other matches — in the pool phase. But whether any success at this World Cup takes Ireland nearer to their goal of playing Test cricket remains to be seen.

UAE

– Back at the World Cup for the first time since 1996 — where they beat the Netherlands for their only win — the United Arab Emirates team is made up of mostly Indian and Pakistan expatriate talent and boast former Pakistan seamer Aqib Javed, part of his country`s 1992 World Cup winning side, as their coach. “I think that in 1996, no-one took the UAE as seriously as they do today. There was only limited exposure to the world. People weren`t sure how good UAE cricket was. But now, people have seen UAE playing at different levels, and I think we can surprise a few people and a few teams,” said Aqib. The UAE, who have only had ODI status since this year, were narrowly beaten 3-2 by a Pakistan `A` team in a five-match series.

ZN

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James Anderson out of England`s Sri Lanka tour

London: England spearhead seamer James Anderson has been ruled out of the forthcoming one-day series in Sri Lanka because of a knee injury, it was announced Tuesday.

However, England said they hoped to have the Lancashire swing bowler fit in time for next year`s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“James Anderson has been ruled out of the upcoming one day tour to Sri Lanka to continue his rehabilitation on a pre-existing left knee injury,” said an England and Wales Cricket Board statement issued Tuesday.

The statement added Anderson had experienced “some knee discomfort” during the recent English season and that he would spend some time in South Africa in December with England`s Performance Programme squad in preparation for the tri-series against Australia and India and the World Cup.

The ECB added that “at present” Anderson would not be replaced in the Sri Lanka tour squad.

Anderson`s absence follows that of new-ball partner Stuart Broad, who had long since been ruled out of the Sri Lanka series with a knee problem of his own.

The pair have taken more than 400 ODI wickets between them but England will now look to the likes of Steven Finn, Harry Gurney, Chris Jordan, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes to fill the gap.

England are due to play seven one-day internationals in Sri Lanka, the first in Colombo on November 26.

Alastair Cook`s men, bidding to give England a first World Cup title in what will be 40 years of trying, begin their bid to lift the trophy with a pool match against co-hosts Australia in Melbourne on February 14.

ZN

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Big Screen Battle: Apple iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Smartphone battles won’t get bigger than this. At least for now! Samsung’s successful premium phablet Galaxy Note’s latest iteration Galaxy Note 4 this time faces an all-new, mighty competitor in Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus.

For three years, Samsung’s Galaxy Note series virtually ruled the top-end phablet segment. But with Apple (rather belatedly) entering the segment, Samsung finally may have to worry about retaining its monopoly. In our detailed comparison of the two giant screen phones, we pitted them against each other. Here are the results…

Design Apple and Samsung have taken contrasting approach to design with their respective phablets. While iPhone 6 Plus is all about curves, Galaxy Note 4 is characterized by sharper lines and edges. Neither phablet will, however, win the award for best-designed device of the year.

Like the last two years’ iPhones, iPhone 6 Plus is also made of aluminium and glass which exudes a premium feel. However, there are more misses than hits with its design.

iPhone 6 Plus’s curved body makes it convenient to operate with one hand, but also makes it susceptible to frequent drops. During the time we spent with the Apple phablet, we found that despite the matte-finish back, it is rather slippery and we had to be extra careful during one-hand usage. The curved glass around the screen makes it quite easy to swipe the thumb from the left of the screen to go one step back in apps.

The rear camera of iPhone 6 Plus protrudes a little so it does not rest flat. This design choice, of course, is to keep iPhone 6 Plus as thin as possible, but loses more than a few points for the Apple phablet.

Then there are the awkward plastic inserts on the back for the antenna, which is more of a functionality decision than a design one. In our gold-coloured unit, the white stripes looked like a mistake. On the other hand, the grey inserts in the Space Grey version and white inserts in the Silver model look much better and not as awkward.

Apple has also not made the bezels thin enough, which leads to iPhone 6 Plus (5.5-inch screen) being much bigger in size than Galaxy Note 4 (5.7-inch). It is, however, not as wide as the Samsung phablet, thus making one-hand operation easier.

Samsung has used a mix of plastic and metal in Galaxy Note 4. The aluminium frame on the sides has chamfered edges and sports a white paint job in our white-coloured review unit. The back has a plastic covering featuring faux leather texture, which gives pretty good grip. The back panel is curved ever-so-slightly, to make it fit the curve of the palm a little better.

As we said, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is shorter than iPhone 6 Plus. However, it is wider than the Apple iPhone 6 Plus by a few millimetres, which makes a lot of difference when the phablet is being operated via one hand. Indeed, we found iPhone 6 Plus slightly easier to operate with one hand during our review period.

After placing the speaker at the bottom with last year’s Note 4, Samsung has again moved it to the back, which leads to muffled sound when it is kept face-up on the bed or any similar surface.

Though Galaxy Note 4 looks good, we still can’t say that Samsung has nailed the design part. Plus, it is much thicker and slightly heavier than iPhone 6 Plus.

Despite its (few) flaws, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a better fit for those looking at functionality as well as design compared to iPhone 6 Plus.

Display

iPhone 6 Plus sports a sweet 5.5-inch Full HD (1080x1920p) IPS display, but Galaxy Note 4 tops that with a 5.7-inch QHD (1440x2560p) Super AMOLED screen. While the Apple phablet has colder tones, the Samsung phablet shows rather warmer and vibrant colours (that even seem a little oversaturated at times).

Both high-resolution displays are great, offering panels that never concede a single pixel to the naked eye. As we have said before, a QHD display on a smartphone screen is not necessary as the pixel density is high enough with Full HD resolution, and the same holds true for Samsung Galaxy Note 4. We noticed the effect of the QHD panel only in a few apps and games, where textures appear more detailed, but such instances were few and far between.

Both Apple iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 are top-end phablets and offer the best displays despite the widely varying colour tones. The viewing angles are great, so looking at the display from the sides does not distort colours at all. However, Galaxy Note 4’s sunlight legibility is slightly less than that of iPhone 6 Plus when compared side by side at full brightness.

With both Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus sporting excellent display, it is a personal decision to go for the more vivid Samsung display or the relatively colder Apple panel.

Phablet-optimized software Samsung has a definite edge over Apple when it comes to phablet-optimized features. With the Note series in its fourth edition, it is not a surprise that the Samsung model is much ahead of the first Apple phablet in dishing out software and features meant to do more with the big screen.

First there’s the S Pen, a stylus that has become the trademark of the Note series. You can write on the screen; select and save details on display to use later; copy web pages, images etc with a few swipes and share with others via email, among other features. If you write contact details (like email ID, phone number, name etc) on the screen, the phone will save it in your address book (or call/message the number, open the email app to send a mail). You can even take a photo of a business card to save the details automatically.

Then there’s the capability to open multiple apps simultaneously. This is definitely one of the best features we have used on Android devices, and boosts productivity significantly. You can, for example, search the web on one window while writing an email on the other. Samsung’s custom software also lets you minimize an active app so that you can use it later.

There are several other features you can use on the Android 4.4 (KitKat)-powered Galaxy Note 4 to make full use of the big screen, such as moving the keyboard to one side of the screen to operate it more easily using one hand.

In comparison, iPhone 6 Plus’s phablet-specific software feels very undercooked. There are two features to make use of the big screen easier – landscape mode view and Reachability. Frankly, we did not find ourselves using the landscape view at all to make it easier to operate during the time we spent with the device.

Reachability, on the other hand, is something we used quite frequently. What this feature does is that it hides the bottom half of the screen so that you can access the content at the top half with your thumb; you can active this mode by lightly tapping the Home button twice in quick succession.

It is a decent feature, but every time you select an option on the screen in Reachability mode, the display reverts to full screen view, and you need to again double tap the Home button to bring the screen’s content within reach. Of course, it makes sense to go back to the full screen view to show its full content, but can be irritating while operating some apps.

This round, quite obviously, goes to Samsung Galaxy Note 4 due to its full suite of phablet-specific features.

Performance Both Apple and Samsung have brought out their big guns with iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4, respectively.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 runs on the 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor with 3GB RAM, the best combination available for Android phones in the market right now. In comparison, iPhone 6 Plus’s 1.4GHz dual-core A8 processor and 1GB RAM look like child’s play. But numbers don’t tell the real picture and Apple has never relied on high-end specifications to give great performance.

The hardware-software amalgamation is better in iPhone 6 Plus than Galaxy Note 4. Performing any operation feels more natural and has a fluid feel on the Apple phablet, a result of the closed Apple ecosystem. There is no denying the fact that it is among the fastest devices in the market today, and gives a user experience like none other.

That’s not to say Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a slouch. It is easily the fastest Android device, and easily matches up to iPhone 6 Plus. In fact, switching between apps and swiping across screen feels faster on the Samsung model; it’s just that apps launch faster on the Apple phablet.

Then there’s the difference between the implementation of the software.

With iOS 8, you can and make phone calls and send messages using your Mac, and use Twitter in Safari browser so that opening links is easier. Plus, opening the Control Centre with an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen feels more natural than the downward swipe you need to make from the top of the Note 4’s screen to access similar controls.

The TouchWiz UI of Samsung is easily the most-derided feature in the tech world. Though it has improved since the company unveiled a flatter and less bloated version of its proprietary skin with Galaxy S5 this year, it still feels a little clunky. The software and hardware don’t work as cohesively on Galaxy Note 4 as they do on iPhone 6 Plus, but we did not come across any lag during our usage.

Playing graphics-intensive, resource-consuming games on both phablets delivered a similar experience. All games were just as fast on either device, but Samsung Galaxy Note 4 showed a few more details that iPhone 6 Plus masked due to more available pixels.

Multimedia is a mixed bag on both devices, though iPhone 6 Plus’s experience seems a bit more balanced. Watching videos on the big screens of both phablets is a treat. All popular file formats were supported by the two devices and videos appeared crisp, with the main variation being the colour temperature that we discussed above.

The real difference while playing media content is in terms of sound quality. Though the audio output of both models is similar, the sound quality delivered by Galaxy Note 4 at high volumes is relatively inferior.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s connectivity suite is noticeably bigger than that of iPhone 6 Plus. It lets users share files via NFC as well as Bluetooth, while infrared can be used to control the TV like a remote. On the other hand, Apple has limited its devices to only AirDrop and iTunes, a major limitation in transferring files to devices to other platforms. The relative difficulty of its Bluetooth throwing a fit hooking up to non-Apple devices too remains.

Both iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is really up to the buyer to select a winner in this segment.

Camera Both Apple and Samsung make great cameras, and this holds true for iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 too. In fact, these phablets actually have the best cameras that the two companies have made till date.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a 16MP rear camera with LED flash, while iPhone 6 Plus has an 8MP camera with dual-LED flash.

In daylight, the Samsung camera takes shots that appear a little too vibrant and don’t have accurate white balance. On the other hand, photos captured via iPhone 6 Plus’s camera show colder but more accurate colours. White balance is relatively better here too.

In terms of details, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is ahead of iPhone 6 Plus. The photos taken with Galaxy Note 4 are full of details and there is nearly no graininess to speak of due to Samsung’s noise suppressing technology. Even when you zoom in, Galaxy Note 4’s photos do not show any loss of details.

Similarly, iPhone 6 Plus’s 8MP sensor does pretty well in capturing details, but it’s just not as good as Galaxy Note 4’s in this aspect. Noise level is pretty low here too.

Photos taken in the dark are better in iPhone 6 Plus as it keeps a balance in the dark and bright tones while keeping the noise down. On the other hand, objects under light appear a little too bright in photos taken using Galaxy Note 4’s camera, while the other effects are similar to that of iPhone 6 Plus’s.

Then there’s the front (or as everyone calls it now… selfie) camera. Samsung’s 3.7MP selfie camera can take photos in three modes – normal, panorama and wide-angle. The photos taken using the selfie camera are pretty detailed, but shots taken in the dark show a little noise. On the other hand, iPhone 6 Plus’s 1.2MP front camera shows decent level of detail, but is better than Galaxy Note 4 in suppressing noise.

Overall, the iPhone 6 Plus camera is a tad better in terms of overall camera performance than that of Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s camera. The difference is not too much, but it’s still there.

Battery Galaxy Note 4 sports a 3,220mAh battery versus iPhone 6 Plus’s 2,915mAh powerhouse. While the latter lasts a little over a day on full charge with moderate to heavy usage, the former tops it by delivering battery life of a day and a half once it is fully charged. The usage patterns includes making 30 minutes of calls (with the SIM on 3G network) and playing YouTube videos as well as games each, couple of hours of web browsing and using Facebook and Twitter. Two email accounts with push notifications were used on both devices and GPS was active at all times.

While Apple does not have any special software to improve battery life, Samsung has several ways to eke out extra juice. The best way is to activate the ultra power-saving mode, which really helps the Galaxy Note 4 last over half a day on 5-10% battery by cutting off various radios and turning the device into a feature phone.

Special features

Apart from S Pen, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a fingerprint scanner, heart rate monitor, pedometer, UV and blood oxygen sensor etc. The health sensors are pretty accurate and let you keep track of your activity levels and alert you when the UV radiation around you is too high or your blood oxygen level is too low or high. The fingerprint sensor can be used to lock the phone as well as authorize PayPal payments.

On the other hand, iPhone 6 Plus has a fingerprint sensor and integrated health sensors. The fingerprint sensor unlocks the phone and authenticates contactless payments via Apple Pay (which is not yet available in India). The health sensors track not only how many steps you have walked but can also distinguish how many flights of stairs you have climbed or how much you have run.

Apple’s Healthkit app tracks data from other apps to give you a full view of your health and activity levels, which Samsung’s S Health does not. In this sense, iPhone 6 Plus is a better fit for health nuts.

Verdict iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 are quite different yet very similar. Both have big screens, fast processors, great battery life, excellent cameras, fingerprint scanners and a bunch of health sensors. But the implementation of these features is what sets them apart from each other, as well as other phablets in the market.

In our view, the feature-rich Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a device meant for those who demand the ultimate productivity gadget. On the other hand, iPhone 6 Plus is a device that is made for people who want a big-screen smartphone that works beautifully but is devoid of bells and whistles. It would suit the Apple aficionados more. Between the two, we would go with Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

TG

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