Sunday, December 20, 2009

Key players ruled out as teams start afresh

The build-up to this game has been dominated by the two-match ban handed down to MS Dhoni for India's appallingly slow over-rate in Nagpur. With Dhoni out of the fray, Sri Lanka's own woes have been obscured. Angelo Mathews, who clinched victory in Nagpur, is the latest to join the incapacitated list, with Thissara Perera flying in to take his place, and it's still uncertain whether Lasith Malinga will be risked after missing the first two games. The missing-in-action theme has affected India too, though Yuvraj Singh is expected to be fit to shore up a middle order that will sorely miss Dhoni's remarkable consistency.

The bigger concern for India is the fielding, or lack of it. The number of catches dropped has gone into double-figures, and the ground-fielding was equally dismal in the last game. Both seniors and juniors have been equally culpable, and Mike Young would have watched with some horror from the dressing room as even the basics were ignored.

Sri Lanka haven't been exceptional in the field either, but they do have two batsmen, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, in prime form. There was also a fine debut for Suraj Randiv, and a moderately successful return to the limelight for Ajantha Mendis, whose dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar set India back in Nagpur. India's bowling woes are more focussed on the opening overs, where not one man has been able to put the slightest pressure on Upul Tharanga or Dilshan. Old-ball mastery won them the game in Rajkot, but raggedness with the new one left them with too much to do in the second match.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

India - LWLLL
Sri Lanka - WLLLW

Watch out for...

Yuvraj Singh: Ever since he established himself as one of the bulwarks of India's one-day batting, rarely has a series gone by without Yuvraj playing at least one defining innings. An injured finger and flu kept him out of the opening two games, but if his Twenty20 blitz in Mohali was any guide, he certainly isn't lacking form. Against an attack missing Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan and Mathews, his nonchalant heaves over midwicket could well prove decisive.

Spinners: The slow blowers have traditionally enjoyed Cuttack. When India beat West Indies in the run-up to the last World Cup, India's contingent took six wickets in a low-scoring encounter, and last year it was Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj that were the difference in a free-scoring match with England.

Team news

Dinesh Karthik will take Dhoni's place, while Virat Kohli, despite a sprightly 54 in the last game, will have to make way if Yuvraj recovers fully. There could also be a rejigging of the pace attack, with Zaheer and Ashish Nehra both far more comfortable with the old ball. Praveen Kumar lacks the pace to hustle batsmen early on, especially in conditions where there's little or no movement, and that could see Ishant Sharma take his place.

India: (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag (capt), 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Yuvraj Singh/Virat Kohli, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Ashish Nehra.

Given their injury concerns, it's hard to predict Sri Lanka's line-up. But Mathews' absence does pave the way for Sanath Jayasuriya's return, especially in low and slow conditions where his left-arm spin could be a big factor. Suranga Lakmal didn't impress much on debut, and there could be a recall for Nuwan Kulasekara. The big plus though would be Malinga's return. In Fernando's absence, Sri Lanka have lacked a bowler who can hurry the batsmen.

Sri Lanka: (probable) 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilina Kandamby, 6 Sanath Jayasuriya, 7 Suraj Randiv, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara/Suranga Lakmal, 9 Ajantha Mendis, 10 Chanaka Welegedara, 11 Lasith Malinga.

Pitch and conditions

A bright, sunny day is predicted, and it won't be excessively cold at night either. Teams only one score in excess of 300, and the conditions could make for a tight game with moderate scores rather than Rajkot-like ones.

Stats and Trivia

Teams average 33.65 runs per wicket at the Barabati Stadium, the sixth-highest for grounds in India that have hosted more than ten ODIs.

However, the scoring rate in Cuttack is among the lowest in the country with 4.72 per over.


"There is no extra pressure as a captain with everybody contributing for the team."
Virender Sehwag isn't losing any sleep over his new role for the next two games.

"We made a lot of mistakes on the field and picked up more injuries but still gave the opposition a hard run."
Kumar Sangakkara applauds his troops for rising above the mess.

England escape in grandstand finale

England 356 (Swann 81, Harris 5-123) and 228 for 9 (Pietersen 81, Trott 69) drew with South Africa 418 (Kallis 120, Swann 5-110) and 301 for 6 dec (Amla 100)

Paul Collingwood completed the job he had begun at Cardiff in the opening Test of the Ashes, and the No. 11 Graham Onions repelled a fiery final over from Makhaya Ntini, as England survived a massive collapse against the second new ball to cling onto a draw and move onto the second Test in Durban with the series still level.

In a sensational finale to the match, England had been coasting to the draw at 172 for 3 after tea, following a restorative 145-run stand between Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen that spanned the entire second session, and settled England's nerves after they had been dicily placed at 27 for 3 inside the first hour of an eventful day.

But neither man was able to see out the job. Pietersen produced a total brain-freeze to run himself out for 81 in the second over of the final session, but it was the debutant seamer, Friedel de Wet, who transformed a meandering finale and set South Africa up for a sensational new-ball heist. In seven overs of unplayable intensity, he claimed 3 for 11 including the key scalp of Trott for 69, and after a collapse of 5 for 13 in 11.1 overs, only Collingwood's determination and Onions' unexpectedly watchful technique stood between England and the abyss.

While Trott and Pietersen had been in situ throughout a docile afternoon, such a sensational denouement was seemingly out of the question. South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, was so bereft of ideas that even the injured Jacques Kallis was brought out of mothballs for an exploratory spell. But then, in the second over after the break and with a century there for the taking after four months out of the side following Achilles surgery, Pietersen launched into a suicidal quick single into the covers, and kept running straight into the dressing-room as his motionless partner, Trott, blinked incredulously from the non-striker's end.

Pietersen has a penchant for daft dismissals when well set, and given what had happened to England during three of his most memorable giveaways - at Edgbaston in 2008, and Sabina Park and Cardiff earlier this year - those of a superstitious disposition were advised to look away.

Graeme Smith salutes his team but regrets a missed opportunity

At first, however, his rush of blood had little impact on the contest. Trott, with his feet rooted in his crease and with not even half an eye on his slowly mounting score, found in Collingwood the perfect partner to mimic such methods, and for 20 further overs they withstood all attempts at further breakthroughs. But all throughout the day, there had been one final opportunity lying in wait for South Africa, and when Smith called for the new ball with 16 overs of the day remaining, de Wet and his fielders responded with pure inspiration.

Ntini was given first use, and he served notice of the jitters to follow when he called for a third-ball review as Collingwood padded up to a ball that was just skimming past off stump. It was de Wet's skiddy bounce, however, that opened the floodgates, as he speared a vicious lifter into Trott's right thumb, for AB de Villiers at third slip to pull off an outrageous one-handed take as he dived full-length to his left.

Trott was gone for 69 from 212 balls of grit and guts stretched across more than five hours, but de Villiers' brilliance sent a jolt of adrenalin through his team-mates. Of all the pressure situations into which he could have been pitched, the scenario facing Ian Bell was the last thing he needed after his first-innings humiliation. De Wet sensed his unease and tormented his outside edge, and Mark Boucher behind the stumps pulled off South Africa's second blinder in the space of four overs - this time low to his right.

The sight of Matt Prior at No. 8 was far more reassuring to England's anxious fans on Centurion's grassy banks, but de Wet by now was unstoppable. With low bounce presumed to be the deadliest weapon on this surface, the debutant instead startled Prior with a fizzing lifter off the seam to hand Boucher his second catch of the spell, and de Wet his third scalp in 20 balls. Stuart Broad was the next to go, caught behind for a fifth-ball duck as Paul Harris was cannily introduced to mix up the pace, and not even the last of England's reviews could save Graeme Swann as Morne Morkel slid another unplayable grubber into his front pad.

Andrew Strauss is a relieved man at the end of a tense day

At 218 for 9, the runs on the board were utterly irrelevant - all that mattered were the 19 deliveries that remained to be negotiated in the match. That tally was 50 fewer than England's last pair had negotiated at Cardiff, but Onions, with a career average of 6.33 in five Tests, inspired barely any more confidence than Monty Panesar had done on that incredible final day in July.

And yet, Onions did what he had to do - he got determinedly behind the line of the ball after Collingwood flicked a four through midwicket when all he'd been seeking was a single to keep the strike, and he even jammed his bat down on another grubber from Ntini this time, who was handed the final over of the match on a whim from his captain, Graeme Smith, but could not produce the killer delivery to wrap up his 100th Test in style. The final delivery of the game was blocked solidly outside off stump, as Onions pumped his fist in quiet celebration and Collingwood - almost forgotten at the other end despite an invaluable 26 not out from 99 balls - permitted himself a wry grin of satisfaction.

At Cardiff, Collingwood had been the tortured soul in the changing room, unable to influence the closing stages of the game having battled so hard to set up the rearguard with his doggedly brilliant 74. Today, that role belonged to Trott, who had arrived at the crease in the third over of the day following the extraction of the nightwatchman, James Anderson, and launched his innings with such introspection that he took 63 deliveries to reach double figures.

Trott's initial cageyness was understandable, given that the first hour of each innings had been the business period for wicket-taking, and when Alastair Cook was caught at leg slip from the first delivery he faced from the spin of Harris, England were 27 for 3 and reeling. With his nerves more apparent than had been the case at any stage of his Ashes debut last August, Trott struggled to stamp his authority on the proceedings, and showed a particular reluctance to commit to the front foot, a tactic he had used to such good effect during his century on debut.

Instead, it was Pietersen who took the initiative and injected some urgency to England's innings. He had one big let-off on 39 when de Wet overstepped for a plumb lbw appeal, but by taking on the drive, he released the pressure of the close-catchers at his end, and enabled Trott to focus on his more gritty approach to survival, which rarely involved fewer than five men round the bat. For three hours and 43 overs, their blend of passivity and aggression drew the sting clean out of the contest. But then came Pietersen's Red Bull run, and suddenly a meandering finale mutated into a thriller for the ages.

Hughes and Siddle in Boxing Day squad

has won a recall to the Australian squad and is on standby for Ricky Ponting while Peter Siddle has also been included in the 13-man outfit for the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan. Hughes has not played a Test since being dropped after two games in the Ashes series, but the opening batsman has convinced Andrew Hilditch's panel he is the man to replace Ponting if he does not recover in time from the left elbow problem he suffered in Perth.

Ponting, who was struck trying to duck a Kemar Roach short ball, hopes to play but the selectors are being cautious after a run of injures. The physiotherapist Alex Kountouris said Ponting, who has been in a hyperbaric chamber to speed up the healing, was having on-going treatment for the problem. "We'll need to wait until he bats at training later in the week to determine his fitness for the Test," Kountouris said.

Siddle missed the Perth win with a hamstring strain but will play a domestic one-dayer for Victoria on Wednesday to build up his fitness. Clint McKay, who debuted at the WACA, holds his place while Ben Hilfenhaus misses out again following a knee problem that ruled him out of the final two Tests against West Indies.

"Ben bowled eight overs in club cricket on Saturday," Kountouris said. "However, after bowling again at training on Sunday, he reported knee pain once again." Kountouris predicted Hilfenhaus would need a "more extensive rehabilitation" before he overcame the problem.

Phillip Hughes Hughes scored 122 in the first innings of New South Wales' Sheffield Shield game on Saturday, but fell for 7 today in an innings that didn't change the thoughts of the selectors. He has scored 403 runs in nine Shield innings and re-found his form this month following a difficult period when it seemed he was unsure whether to follow his natural instincts or conform.

After scoring two centuries in his second Test, Hughes was set for a long stay in the side, but he was removed following troubles with the short ball and Andrew Flintoff in England. Shane Watson came into the team and if Hughes plays at the MCG there is likely to be some serious reshuffling to the order. Some of the options include Hughes, Simon Katich or Michael Clarke batting at three, while Watson could move down to the middle order.

Australia squad Shane Watson, Simon Katich, Phillip Hughes, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz, Peter Siddle, Clint McKay, Doug

Monday, December 14, 2009

Siddle out, Chanderpaul, Barath and Hauritz in doubt

Australia and West Indies have both been hit by a series of injuries the day before the third Test in Perth, with Peter Siddle ruled out, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Adrian Barath unlikely, and Nathan Hauritz also in doubt. The problems have left Australia with one confirmed debutant, the Victoria fast bowler Clint McKay, who will replace his state team-mate Siddle.

Siddle was under a cloud during the week after suffering a strain to his left hamstring in Adelaide and on Tuesday he woke up with some soreness following a lengthy spell in the WACA nets the previous day. It was enough for the Australians to err on the side of caution and Siddle, who will fly home to Melbourne, will aim to be available for the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.

"The deal was that for him to come up here and play this game it would have to be a seamless period and have no pain, no stiffness, no feeling at all of anything wrong," Australia's physio Alex Kountouris said. "He bowled yesterday and this morning he woke up and it's a little bit stiff."

It means a definite debut for McKay, while the Tasmania fast bowler Brett Geeves, who was added as a 13th man in the squad, is also a chance to play if Hauritz fails to recover from a finger injury. Hauritz took a blow to the finger while fielding at training on Tuesday and although he did bowl afterwards, he suffered some soreness and will not know his fate until the morning of the match.

The selectors are considering flying in an extra spinner as cover, and their options will include Jason Krejza, who last year struggled against South Africa at the WACA and duly lost his place. However, Ricky Ponting said such a replacement would not necessarily step straight into the starting line-up.

"There'll be a chance of that," Ponting said of a four-man pace attack. "Geeves flew in last night and trained with us this morning. There'll be that possibility but I've said for a while it's always my preference to go into a Test match with a specialist spin bowler but we'll wait and see what happens."

West Indies are likely to have two changes with the key batsmen Chanderpaul and Barath both in serious doubt. Chanderpaul is still struggling with a finger problem after being struck on the hand in Adelaide, while Barath hurt his hamstring during the second Test. Travis Dowlin is expected to come in and open with Chris Gayle in place of Barath, while Chanderpaul's spot is likely to be taken by Narsingh Deonarine.

"It's not looking too good but we'll see what happens tomorrow," Gayle said. "Those two guys are the worry for us right now. It's a big blow going into the final Test match but having said that whoever gets that opportunity, hopefully they will make the best use of it."

Sri Lanka bowl without Murali and Malinga

Sri Lanka won the toss and decided to have a bowl on a lightly-grassed pitch in Rajkot. Without the flu-stricken Lasith Malinga and with Muttiah Muralitharan not deemed fit enough, it was a gamble of sorts, especially against an Indian side strengthened by the return of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, who were rested for the two Twenty20 games.

There was also a recall for Praveen Kumar, who played no part in the Twenty20 games. Sri Lanka also tinkered with their batting line-up, opting to open with Upul Tharanga and leaving Sanath Jayasuriya to bat in middle order, where he first started nearly 20 years ago.

Yuvraj Singh missed out with a finger injury sustained in the last Twenty20 game, and there was an opportunity for Virat Kohli to press his claims. The onus though was clearly on India's top order to combat the early movement and prevent the sort of batting debacle that cost them the recent series against Australia in Guwahati.

India had a formidable recent record against Sri Lanka in recent times, but with a 9am start, Chanaka Welegedara, Nuwan Kulasekara and Dilhara Fernando had a chance to even the scores.

India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashish Nehra.

Sri Lanka: 1 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Thilina Kandamby, 7 Sanath Jayasuriya, 8 Angelo Mathews, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11Chanaka Welegedara.

NZ openers steady chasing 208

Tea New Zealand 46 for 0 (Watling 27*, McIntosh 13*) and 471 need 162 runs to beat Pakistan 223 and 455 (Yousuf 89, Umar 77)

Chasing a target of 208 from a minimum of 43 overs, New Zealand took the safety-first route and sent in the regular openers who eased them to 46 without loss at tea on the final day in Napier. Kamran Akmal had earlier led Pakistan's resistance after the departure of Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal to stretch the lead to 207.

It was an enthralling day's play; Pakistan were nervous and edgy in defence, New Zealand were patient and did not over attack. Pakistan adopted the go-slow approach but since it's not a game that comes naturally to their players, it was absorbing to watch. The moment that captured their dilemma came when Akmal hit a four and shook his head, seemingly unhappy about his shot selection. It was a stunning hit over extra cover; he knifed through the line of a length delivery from Chris Martin and as the camera panned on him, he was shaking his head and admonishing himself. It was a risky shot in the context of the game, with the team trying to secure a safe lead before thinking of anything beyond and he knew it. However, the shot was a natural, almost reflexive, reaction from an attacking batsman and it was that kind of a battle that Umar and Misbah too fought without success.

Misbah's failing was greater than that of Umar for he was not only the more experienced but also some one who can, in theory, play the patient game more easily. And he had started well, nudging, pushing and leaving anything that he didn't have to play. However New Zealand kept closing in on him with their relentless discipline and you could sense a feeling of claustrophobia setting in. And the brain freeze eventually came when he faced up to Daniel Vettori for the first time in the day. He went for an almighty heave - his critics would call it a dirty old slog - missed it completely, and was done in by a quick stumping from Brendon McCullum with his back foot still on the line.

Unlike yesterday, Umar was more sedate this morning. Iain O'Brien and the close-in fielders teased him to have a go but he carried on with his defensive approach. Occasionally, though, the impishness in him threatened to crack open the lid of self-control. There was a hoick against O'Brien and a couple of plays and misses but no damage was done till he came up against the new ball, when he feathered an edge to McCullum. A brain freeze by Mohammad Aamer at the stroke of lunch threw open all possibilities yet again. It was the third ball of the last over before the break and with several close-in men hovering around him, an under-pressure Aamer, who had played out 52 balls with caution until then, went for the big shot against Vettori and holed out at deep midwicket. Kamran tried his best to ensure that a Pakistan loss was taken out of the equation but he was eventually left stranded and at tea, anything was still possible.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The umpire is right (even when he’s wrong)

UDRS! It sounds like the cry of a Bulgarian shot-putter as he lets fly. Or perhaps the first word that David Boon uttered as he disembarked at Heathrow airport in 1989.

In fact, this collection of letters stands for Umpire Demoralising Review System, an entirely new method of making cricket more complicated that is completely unrelated to the previous Player Review System, which everyone hated. You can tell it’s different because it has a completely different name, apart from the last bit.

Lots of intelligent and learned cricket folk are asking questions about UDRS. Questions such as: How does it work? Come again? Run that by me one more time? No, still not got it, could you write it down? But the only question I want to ask is: does it enhance the sofa-dweller’s viewing pleasure? Sadly, I have to say that the answer is no.

First, the details. As far as I can make out, this is how it goes. Umpire A makes a decision. Players may challenge this decision by screaming, pouting, or stamping their feet on the ground. If Umpire A remains unconvinced, a captain may, by indicating inverted commas with his forefingers, initiate the referral process.

Umpire A will then talk to Umpire C. Umpire B may also talk to Umpire C, but not without being introduced. Umpire C will watch his television. He is not allowed to tell Umpire A what he sees there, but may pass on information by implication, insinuation or cryptic clues. After a short half-hour delay, Umpire A will then shrug his shoulders to signal that the referral process has been successfully completed.

Naturally the ICC thinks it works. Apparently the correctness of decisions has gone up by 6% since it was introduced. They know this thanks to the Deciderator 2000, a calculator the size of Jesse Ryder housed in a disused storage closet in downtown Dubai. But the ICC aren’t the only ones with access to the latest technology. Thanks to the Hughes Confusometer, I have measured a staggering 350% increase in bafflement and bewilderment since UDRS was introduced.

It has also subtly altered our relationship with gadgets. Once they enhanced our experience, getting us closer to the game than the mosquito perched on Shane Watson’s faceguard. But since it has been officially sanctioned, technology has become omnipresent. The current series in Australia has featured a heart-rate monitor, a traffic-light themed lbw wizard, Hotspot, slow-mos, Snicko, Hawk-Eye, and a special device to warn us when Bill Lawry has nodded off. You have to stay on top of it all because it has become part of the game. As a result, watching a Test match these days is like sitting in the NASA control room during a space-shuttle launch.

I’ll be honest. I like the simplicity of the chap on the field being right. Even when he’s wrong. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t always fair, but then life isn’t fair, and unlike life, a game of cricket really doesn’t matter all that much. At this point I could go on about taking the rough with the smooth, suffering slings and arrows, greeting triumph and disaster and so on. But I can picture the tapping of thousands of fingers on thousands of keyboards, typing words like “old” and “fashioned” and “Who is this Neanderthal?”

So if this is the future of cricket, let’s dive in head first, rather than timidly dipping our toes in Lake Technology. For a start, why involve players in the messy business of making decisions? They aren’t cut out for it. It is tricky enough for some of them to arrive at the right ground at the right time wearing the right trousers. Let them concentrate on dropping catches, bowling wides and styling their hair.

The umpires should retain control of the means of adjudication and should be tooled up with all the latest gear. I propose that the ICC commission full-metal body suits for arbiters. These should feature state of the art Hawk-Eye-enabled visors, Snickometer antennae, and heat-detecting scanners. Optional extras to include a no-ball sensor, a tea-maker, and a hook upon which players can hang their sweaters and caps. Once they’re suited up like Judge Dredd, there would be no doubt where the authority lay.

Faisal falls after erasing deficit

Pakistan 223 and 278 for 3 (Yousuf 75*, Umar 0*) lead New Zealand 471 by 30 runs

Pakistan threatened to shoot themselves in the foot by gifting wickets to Martin Guptill - yes, you read that name right - before they rallied through a 128-run stand between Mohammad Yousuf and Faisal Iqbal. If the morning belonged to Guptill, the afternoon session, interrupted by rain, saw Pakistan making slow but steady progress.

Iain O'Brien and Daniel Vettori bowled as well as they could on a flat pitch but Yousuf and Iqbal stood firm. It looked almost inevitable that Yousuf, who missed out in the first innings, will collect some handy runs on this flat track. Vettori used the crease well, varied his pace cleverly and utilized the arm-ball intelligently but Yousuf handled him with aplomb. He moved forward or back as the length demanded of him and picked the arm ball on most occasions.

There was one piece of action which perfectly caught the spirit of the contest between the two: Yousuf came down the track but Vettori cleverly slowed up the pace and shortened the length. However, Yousuf waited to adjust to the lack of pace and though he couldn't reach the pitch of the ball, he didn't panic or lunge out; instead he almost nonchalantly wafted through the line and found enough power and timing to lift it over long-on. And barring an edge off Chris Martin that flew between the keeper and wide first slip, he was pretty comfortable against the seamers. He unfurled his square and cover drives and rotated the strike with wristy dabs.

Faisal wasn't as solid as Yousuf but he fought on to score a valuable fifty. His iffy footwork meant he was caught at the crease a few times and forward when he should have been back but he soldiered on. He was even dropped on 48 when he edged O'Brien straight to Ross Taylor but he punctuated his nervy shots with a few extravagant cover drives. It was that kind of knock where he delighted and frustrated you equally before he fell, guiding Martin to Taylor, who held on this time. The afternoon was a calm affair if you compare it with the events that preceded it.

If that late great English fast bowler Fred Trueman were alive and commentating on this game this morning, we would surely have heard his legendary phrase: "I just don't know what's going off out there". Nothing Pakistan do shocks anyone anymore but even their die-hard followers would have raised their eyebrows when Guptill, who has not bowled a ball before this game in Test cricket and has just a solitary first-class wicket, removed the openers in quick succession to leave Pakistan wobbling in Napier.

It was a bizarre, fascinating, and hence funny, little first session of play. What made Vettori to open the bowling with Guptill? More importantly, what were Pakistan openers thinking? Not much if you go with the evidence. When Guptill tossed the third delivery of the day outside off stump, there wasn't anything in its trajectory that made you feel, 'hold on we are on to something here'. It was a gentle, perhaps a bit loopy, delivery that floated ever so harmlessly outside off but Salman Butt scooped it back to the bowler. The bottom-hand had kicked in too much and he couldn't keep his off drive down.

Batsmen do make mistakes and irregular bowlers have from time immemorial picked up lucky wickets like this but surely Guptill can't do it again. Wrong. He flighted, nay floated, a full toss in the seventh over of the day. Farhat, who seemed muddled after Butt's dismissal, moved down the track to try snap out of the nightmarish start to the day but ended up patting the full toss straight back to Guptill. Surprisingly, there was no visible surprise from Guptill when he took the catch. Perhaps he was too shocked to be merely surprised. It was that kind of a day.

Injured Yuvraj Singh likely to miss first ODI

Indian batsman Yuvraj Singh's participation in the opening match of the ODI series against Sri Lanka is in doubt after he complained of pain in his little finger on the left hand while fielding during the second Twenty20 in Mohali on Saturday. A final decision will be taken on Monday, the eve of the match in Rajkot.

"The team management will give every possible opportunity to Yuvraj play the first ODI but the final call would be taken only tomorrow," a team source said, adding that it could take upto three weeks for him to recover, effectively ruling him out of the five-match series.

Yuvraj, who took 3 for 23 in Mohali, didn't bowl his full quota of overs and bowled only three before he was taken off after the 17th over. However, the injury didn't affect his batting as he slammed an unbeaten 60 off 25 balls, hitting five sixes, to help India comfortably chase down 207 with five balls to spare.

He was taken to a clinic in Rajkot late on Sunday evening after complaining of pain and later took an X-ray. Niranjan Shah, the president of the Saurashtra Cricket Association, told PTI that a final decision will be taken after examining the report submitted by the orthopedic surgeon.

He could be replaced by batsman Virat Kohli, who was called-up a cover for Gautam Gambhir, who was suspected to have been struck with swine flu on the eve of the Mohali game, which was later diagnosed as negative.

Geeves called as Siddle's standby

the Tasmania fast bowler, has been added to the third Test squad as cover for Peter Siddle and will join the team in Perth on Monday night. Siddle had a strong workout in the nets at the WACA today but will have to wait to see how his hamstring injury responds before his spot in the side is secured.

Geeves, a 27-year-old right armer, will join Clint McKay as the second uncapped bowler in the squad for the series-deciding third game, but Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, expects Siddle will be cleared. "[But] in order to ensure there is sufficient cover, a decision has been made to have Brett Geeves available as a standby player in Perth," Hilditch said. "Brett gets his opportunity on the back of his recent strong performances in Sheffield Shield cricket and because the panel feels he will be well-suited to the conditions at the WACA should an opportunity present itself."

Geeves toured with the limited-overs team to South Africa earlier in the year, and has appeared in two ODIs and a Twenty20 international. However, his prospects seemed to suffer when he was not called up for the injury-hit visit to India in October and November.

Five wickets in Tasmania's Sheffield Shield win over Western Australia last week helped remind the selectors of his worth. In 39 first-class games he has taken 134 wickets at 34.41 and is well-known in Australian cricket circles for his lively blog. The country's fast-bowling stocks are being tested with the contract holders Ben Hilfenhaus, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark on the injured list.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Urgent Kallis turns to oxygen aid

A relaxed Jacques Kallis after nets at the Wanderers, Johannesburg, February 24, 2009
Jacques Kallis is facing an uphill battle

Jacques Kallis is using an oxygen chamber to try and speed his recovery from the fractured rib that has threatened his participation in the opening Test against England at Centurion Park.

Kallis suffered the injury during the Champions League Twenty20 in October and was ruled out of the recent one-day series. It is a race against time to get him fit for the opening five-day encounter, with some suggestions that he may struggle to make the starting XI in any capacity or be unable to bowl during the four-match series.

However, South Africa coach Mickey Arthur was not ruling out one of his key players and was still holding onto hope that he can play a part with the ball. He echoed Mike Proctor's view after the convenor of selectors said Kallis was 50-50 to appear at Centurion Park, although Arthur was more positive about Kallis' prospects as a batsman.

"We certainly haven't ruled him out of bowling during the series and we are still working hard with him ahead of the first Test," Arthur told Cricinfo. "He has been using an oxygen chamber to try and speed the recovery and is doing extensive rehab every day.

"At the moment the best-case scenario is that he bats and bowls at Centurion which is probably 50-50, the next best is that he just bats which is probably around 60-40 and the worst case scenario is that he is only fit for Durban."

Kallis would not be the first player to use oxygen therapy to aid recovery from injury. Simon Jones underwent similar treatment in 2005 when he was trying to be fit for the final Ashes Test although the process was ultimately unsuccessful for him. The benefit of the chambers is that they can supply 100% pure oxygen which helps the body fight injury compared with the normal air which contains only about 20% oxygen.

Kallis played in the second Twenty20 international against England before the extent of the rib injury was confirmed. He will be fully assessed when the South African squad meets up in Potchefstroom on Friday for a three-day training camp. "Our priority was the Test series which is why he was pulled from the one-dayers so he didn't do further damage," Arthur said. "We will have a far better idea of where we stand on Sunday."

Arthur also confirmed that Dale Steyn was progressing well after his hamstring injury and that the paceman bowled six overs in the nets on Wednesday. Steyn was ruled out of the final two ODIs but now looks set to lead the pace attack alongside Makhaya Ntini, who will reach 100 caps, and probably Morne Morkel.

New Bingo Games

Non-contracted players face tight deadline

Non-contracted Pakistan players hoping to be in the next IPL auction will have to contact the league directly to be put into the pool for the next edition of the league. Four Pakistan players already have contracts with franchises but they stand suspended for now, after failing to obtain the relevant paperwork and clearances in time. They can only play if their franchises choose to cut another foreign player from the squad, but for any other player hoping to line up a spot, the process appears more straightforward.

"Suspended players need only go to their franchises," Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, told Cricinfo. "All others just write to me and I will then put their names into the auction."

The auction is due to take place on January 19 next year, but all requests and paperwork will have to be handed in by December 31. Theoretically, a number of Pakistan players would make for attractive acquisitions after their stirring run to win the World Twenty20 in June this year.

Besides the four on suspended contracts - Kamran Akmal, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul and Misbah-ul-Haq - seven others played in the IPL during the first season; Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt, Shoaib Akhtar and Younis Khan. New players who have impressed since, such as Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Aamer and Umar Akmal, might also be in the running.

But in practical terms it may not be so easy, even if the IPL says it is "excited" by the prospects of Pakistani participation next season. Franchises may well be put off by the uncertainty of acquiring a Pakistan player during a period where relations between India and Pakistan are particularly turbulent. And in any case, the cream of the squad is currently on a tour of New Zealand and Australia, making the process of applications that much more difficult.

After Pakistan players were not allowed to participate in the second IPL earlier this year by their own government, the door to their return was left a little ajar yesterday. That too was only after all parties negotiated their way through a serious bureaucratic tangle, which culminated in the Indian ministry of external affairs clearing visas for the four suspended players. "We are excited that they can participate," Modi said. "They need to write individually and not through agents by end of the month. The sooner the better."

O'Brien and openers lift New Zealand

New Zealand 47 for 0 trail Pakistan 223 (Farhat 117*, O'Brien 4-35, Tuffey 4-52) by 176 runs

Don't be fooled by the score. It was indeed a flat track in Napier but Iain O'Brien was on a mission to make his last Test memorable and Pakistan's top order, as ever, was in a self-destructive mood. Imran Farhat, though, lifted Pakistan from the depths of 59 for 5 and resuscitated his career with a fighting century but New Zealand will be more than pleased with their efforts, especially after a dogged batting display from the openers, on the first day of the final Test.

Until Farhat produced his hundred, and Tim McIntosh and BJ Watling stitched together New Zealand's highest opening partnership of the series, it was all O'Brien. At one point his figures read: 4.2-4-3-3. He was hostile throughout his spell, consistently bowling over 140 kmph, and was always accurate but, even so, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that even he would have been slightly surprised by the results.

On a flat pitch, Pakistan's top order contrived to implode yet again by playing poor cricket. Only one batsman, Misbah-ul-Haq, was taken out by a difficult delivery; the rest were simply not good enough. Tim Southee claimed the initial breakthrough when Salman Butt left a gaping gap between bat and pad to lose his middle stump, after which O'Brien took over. And how.

O'Brien sussed out quickly that Faisal Iqbal was a sitting target because of his awkward feet movement and aimed one at his throat, forcing an ugly fend to the slip cordon. He tied up Yousuf with his disciplined lines and lengths before hurling one short of a length outside off stump. Yousuf thought it would be the ideal chance to break the shackles but was done in by the extra bounce and edged it to second slip.

It was the recurring theme of a bizarre morning. O'Brien tied up edgy batsmen with his discipline before delivering the knock-out blow with some thing extra. Misbah got a gem early in his innings: The ball held its line outside off and Misbah couldn't help edging it behind.

Pakistan's debacle was exemplified by Umar Akmal's dismissal. It was a short-of-length delivery that straightened well outside off stump. It could have been left alone or cut to the point boundary but Umar, the best of the Pakistan batsman in this series, just hung his bat out and guided it straight to gully.

Fortunately for Pakistan, though, Farhat couldn't have chosen a better moment to resuscitate his career. It would be churlish to dismiss Farhat's effort as streaky, though there were several play and misses and a couple of curious slogs which would have raised blood-pressure levels in the dressing room, but that's how he seems to play. There were spurts where Farhat seemed to lose concentration and went for pressure-reliving big hits and there were phases where he looked to be in control. Or something resembling it at least.

The fact that the last century by a Pakistan opener outside the subcontinent was Salman Butt's effort in Sydney way back in 2005 would make fans overlook Farhat's iffy patches and remember the good things from the knock. Amid nervous slashes, Farhat played a couple of off drives - the one in the seventh over against Chris Martin being the shot of the day - and a few well-timed cover drives. There was a flamboyant square drive too, on a bent knee for added effect, a crunchy pull shot and he definitely got better in the second session, during which he seemed surer of where his off stump was. He grew increasingly bolder and played big shots against Daniel Vettori to reach his hundred. Farhat found support in Mohammad Aamer in the afternoon and proceeded to lead Pakistan out of shambles.

Farhat's knock, and perhaps more importantly Aamer's defiance, revealed two truths: The pitch was a true, firm surface that did offer bounce but not much movement, and the other Pakistan batsmen didn't apply themselves. Luckily for them, Farhat refused to fade away without a fight. He added 69 runs with Aamer and 35 with Umar Gul before Daryl Tuffey hastened the end with a triple strike post tea. Tuffey terminated Gul's defiance and removed Mohammad Asif for a first-ball duck before he took out the enterprising Danish Kaneria. However, till Farhat did his thing, it was O'Brien who owned the morning and Ian Smith was moved enough to say on air: "Someone offer his wife a job here ... we don't wanna miss this fella!"

The icing on the cake for New Zealand was the performance from their openers; McIntosh, who has been lbw a few times in this series, took care not to get the front leg in line and BJ Watling didn't embarrass himself on debut. Their 47-run stand capped a near-perfect day for the hosts.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

No home-and-away for new FTP

New details of the proposed post-2012 Future Tours Programme have emerged with David Morgan, the ICC president, stating the home-and-away component of the current model could be scrapped. All teams at present must play each other twice in Test and one-day series over a six-year cycle, but Morgan said the new FTP could reduce the mandatory requirement to one series.

Such a move would allow national boards greater flexibility in arranging bilateral "icon" series, and could lead to an over all reduction in scheduling depending on their maneuverings. Morgan was hopeful the relaxation of the home-and-away requirement would appease player unions, who have been outspoken in their criticism of the demands currently placed on elite cricketers.

"The process is similar but the results will be different," Morgan told Cricinfo of the draft FTP. "I can't elaborate, but at the moment it's a requirement that in any six year cycle each full member has to play the other home and away in a minimum of two Tests and three one-day internationals. I believe there will be a relaxation of that. Perhaps not in the number of games, but there's the possibility of instead having to play everybody home and away in a fixed cycle, you may either play them away or home.

"The FTP essentially is a basket of bilateral agreements between the ten full members with some consideration given to the more proficient associate countries like Ireland and the Netherlands. That set of bilateral arrangements is continuing. I firmly believe that it is very important to consult with the players. Where FICA [Federation of International Cricketers' Associations] is recognised, which is in the majority of countries, we are very happy to liaise and discuss things with Tim May and his team. I find them a responsible body."

FICA last month called on the ICC to scrap the FTP in its current format and enlist the services of independent consultants to devise a new scheduling system. In a letter addressed to the chief executives of cricket's ten full-voting countries, which has been obtained by Cricinfo, May, the union's chief executive, proposed an annual Test and one-day championship he believed would add context and attract renewed interest in the game.

The notion of a Test championship model has been supported by a number of cricketing bodies, Cricket Australia and the Marylebone Cricket Club among them. FICA's proposal would see the top eight nations split into two four-team conferences, with semi-finals and finals to be played every three years. The fourth and final year of the proposed cycle would be referred to as an "icon year", and include the World Cup as well as high-profile bilateral series such as India-Pakistan and the Ashes.

"We believe that the model of bi lateral ad hoc series that have been cricket's structure for the past century (and again from 2012-2020) is fast becoming an outdated model, and will be unable to cater for the changing cricket landscape," May wrote. "It is unusual for FICA to request the ICC and its member boards to review a decision of the ICC board, however, we are of the firm opinion that there are serious flaws in the proposed 2012-2020 FTP that will severely threaten the primacy of international cricket in future years."

The likelihood of such a model being adopted appears remote, however, with chief executives gravitating toward an FTP similar to that currently in operation, with the exception of the home-and-away requirement. Following a two-day board meeting in Johannesburg in October, the ICC issued a release stating an in principle agreement had been reached on the draft FTP.

Sri Lanka aim to put Test thrashing behind them

It would be easy, in the immediate aftermath of India's comprehensive Test series victory, to bill the hosts as favourites to win the two Twenty20 internationals against Sri Lanka. It would also be presumptuous because there are significant changes in personnel and the format is one in which India have struggled since the delirious high of World Twenty20 glory in 2007.

The Indian players are stars in their respective IPL teams but their results have been ordinary when playing together as an international side: in nine Twenty20 internationals since 2008, they have lost six and won three. The first victory was a remarkable come-from-behind effort inspired by the Pathan brothers in Sri Lanka, the other two were against Bangladesh and Ireland during a woeful World Twenty20 campaign in England this year.

The two significant problems India had in England, however, will be missing from these two games. Virender Sehwag, who had an injured shoulder during the World Twenty20, is back and in frightening form, and the other batsmen's weaknesses against the rising delivery are unlikely to be exposed on the flat and true pitches in India.

Gary Kirsten, the India coach, had said after they were eliminated from the World Twenty20 that there were holes in the Twenty20 set-up and teams had worked out strategies to effectively negate India's strengths. The next World Twenty20 is in May 2010 and the opportunities to formulate, fine-tune and effect plans are limited.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had a terrific World Twenty20 and were unbeaten until the final, which they lost to Pakistan. They were the tournament's most vibrant team: the evergreen Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan's daring improvisations gave them fast starts, while the combination of Murali, Mendis and Malinga was simply too much for most opponents to handle. Since then, however, Sri Lanka have lost three matches on the trot - one to Pakistan and two to New Zealand, that too at home.

Their Test bowlers were battered by the Indian batsmen and Sri Lanka will welcome the addition of Lasith Malinga's pace and yorker-bowling skills to their attack. Jayasuriya will join Dilshan to form a destructive, match-winning opening combination. The question, though, is whether Ajantha Mendis will be able to exercise any control over a batting line-up that treated him with disdain over the last month.

Form guide

(most recent first)

India - LLLWW
Sri Lanka - LLLLW

Watch out for

Lasith Malinga: When he's bowling well, Malinga can unleash yorkers at will and his low point of release makes it extremely hard for batsmen to get under his deliveries. In the World Twenty20, he developed a slower full-toss and, while the delivery sounds rather harmless, it foxed several batsmen and left stumps flattened.

India's middle-order: The middle-order was shuffled frequently during the World Twenty20 and their performances were disappointing. Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Yusuf Pathan struggled against the short ball.

Team news

India have rested Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh from the Twenty20 internationals which means the bowling line-up is likely to be Ashish Nehra, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha. There's is a doubt over Sreesanth, though, because the bowler has an upset stomach. If he is unfit one of the rookies - Sudeep Tyagi, R Ashwin and Ashok Dinda - could get a look in.

India (possible): 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Yusuf Pathan, 8 Pragyan Ojha, 9 Sreesanth, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Ashish Nehra.

Murali injured ligaments in a couple of fingers while training during the third Test and is likely to be rested from the Twenty20 matches.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Chamara Kapugedera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Kaushalya Weeraratne, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Ajantha Mendis, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Chanaka Welegedara.

Pitch and conditions

There's no rain forecast in Nagpur but the difference between day and night temperatures are significant which means dew could be a factor in the evening. The pitch is the same as the one on which India scored 354 in an ODI against Australia in October so expect more runs.

"It's a late evening start. We may see dew come into effect," MS Dhoni said. "But by the time dew comes in the game may be over. It won't be that big a factor. Overall it [pitch] will be good for batting, but in Twenty20 its very tough to predict. All of a sudden you look to go aggressive and lose quite a few wickets at quick intervals and you are not able to get big runs."

Stats and Trivia

  • Both teams will be coming into this game on losing streaks - Sri Lanka have lost their last four (before which they had won six in a row) while India have lost their last three. Overall, Sri Lanka have a slightly better win-loss record, 14-9 in 23 games, compared to India's 9-7 in 18 matches.

  • India have played only once at home and once against Sri Lanka, and have won both games - they beat Australia by seven wickets at the Brabourne Stadium in 2007, and Sri Lanka by three wickets in Colombo earlier this year.

  • Sri Lanka have preferred batting first in Twenty20 games, winning nine and losing five. When batting second, they've won five and lost four. For India the numbers are almost the same - 5-4 when batting first, and 4-3 when chasing.

  • Tillakaratne Dilshan is the leading run-scorer in Twenty20 internationals among batsmen from these two teams, with Sanath Jayasuriya in second place.


"We have to try and put the Test series behind us. We have a lot of hard work to do all around to keep improving and we have a good opportunity in these two Twenty20 games. The motivation is always there, but we need to start from scratch."
Kumar Sangakkara wants his team to get over the 2-0 defeat in the Test series.

"Considering we are playing in India, it would be a bit different for the bowlers, as the batsmen would go after them from the very first ball. It looks to be a small game, just four overs, but the amount of effort that's needed, that's what it is all about."
Dhoni says his bowlers might have more trouble making the transition from Tests to Twenty20.

Ponting wary of dangerous Roach

Any bowler who can regularly send down six consecutive 150kph rockets is a man to respect. Kemar Roach did exactly that at the Adelaide Oval, where his speed was as impressive as Sulieman Benn's bounce. Although he finished up with slightly disappointing match figures of 3 for 159, Roach gave the Australians plenty to think about as they battled out a draw.

Had he converted a couple of his tricky second-innings deliveries into wickets, Australia might not have escaped a defeat that ensured they will hold the Frank Worrell Trophy at the end of the series. As it stands, Australia head to Perth for the third Test with a 1-0 advantage but the captain Ricky Ponting said Roach would be a serious challenge on what is traditionally Australia's quickest surface.

"He'll be a handful in Perth," Ponting said. "As you can see, every spell he's bowled, almost every ball he's bowled, is hovering around 150kph. We knew that he was capable of that. He's hit his areas really well. He hasn't sprayed the ball around too much. He's bowling well for them at the moment."

Roach doesn't have the height of the great West Indies fast men of yesteryear like Curtly Ambrose and Joel Garner, but his skiddy action is still tough to face. Ponting had trouble against him in the first innings and was hurried up by a quick delivery that he tried to pull, but only managed to send a catch to Dwayne Bravo at midwicket.

"Someone who is pretty short at that pace can get the ball to skid onto you pretty quickly off the wicket with not much bounce," Ponting said. "We've played him pretty well here [in Adelaide]. The ball reverse-swung for them in both innings. He's a handful, there's no doubt about that. He's someone who could play a fair bit of Test cricket for them in the future."

The WACA might not be the fast-bowling paradise it once was, but Roach stands out as the most fearsome of the seamers in an attack otherwise made up of medium pacers like Bravo and Darren Sammy, and the medium-fast Ravi Rampaul. Roach is only 21 and is still learning his craft, but Ponting said the Australians would need to continue to show him plenty of respect.

"Anyone that's bowling that sort of pace will trouble any batter, especially later in the game when the bounce gets a bit variable," Ponting said. "That's when you're at your most vulnerable against guys who bowl at that sort of pace."

Monday, December 7, 2009

India's spell at the top not in their hands

The lack of Tests in India's upcoming schedule could limit the duration of their No. 1 ranking

Ironically, India have risen to the top in a format some would accuse them of neglecting - and their low frequency of Tests could cause them to lose their crown sooner rather than later. They are only the third team, after Australia and South Africa, to reach the summit of the ICC's Test rankings since they were introduced in 2001 but their time there could be brief because of a schedule that contains only two Tests in the next 11 months.

Which means the duration of their reign will be determined by how their closest rivals, South Africa and Australia, fare in the next few months. "It is a bit of a concern, as we play only two Test matches in the next six months, so it will be tough for us to maintain the position," MS Dhoni said after India's victory in Mumbai. "I can't do anything about the schedule. It is good to play Test cricket, at the same time we are here to play whatever cricket we are asked to play."

Before their 2-0 victory, India were ranked third with 119 points after Sri Lanka and chart-toppers South Africa (122). The two consecutive innings victories in Kanpur and Mumbai earned India five points, taking them two clear of South Africa, while Sri Lanka slipped below Australia to fourth place.

During the period in which India have only two Tests - against Bangladesh - to maintain a hold on their No. 1 position, South Africa play at least four and Australia eight. A 2-0 win against Bangladesh isn't likely to give India too many ratings points either, so they could be overtaken depending on how South Africa do against England, and how Australia go against West Indies and Pakistan at home, and in the away series in New Zealand and against Pakistan in England.

What is certain is that India will end 2009 as the No. 1 Test side because even a 3-0 victory for Australia in the ongoing series against eighth-ranked West Indies will give them only one point, taking their tally to 117, and no improvement in position.

India's immediate threat is South Africa, but they will have to beat England by a 2-0 margin or better to reclaim the No. 1 spot. A 2-0 or 3-1 victory for South Africa will take them marginally ahead of India, 3-0 will given them 126 points, and 4-0 will extend their lead over India by three. However, if England win 1-0 or 2-1, South Africa's tally will reduce to 117, increasing India's lead by seven points.

If South Africa fail to recapture the top spot against England, India's reign will receive an extension because even if Australia blank Pakistan 3-0 at home, following a 3-0 win against West Indies, their ratings points will increase only by three to 119. They will then need to win in New Zealand and beat Pakistan in England - an away series for Australia - to move up the ladder.

Gayle century swings game West Indies' way

West Indies 451 and 8 for 284 (Gayle 155*, Johnson 4-85) lead Australia 438 by 296 runs

Chris Gayle has more than his share of critics, often due to an impassive appearance that is sometimes taken for apathy, but he proved how much he cares about his team's results with a patient century in Adelaide. Gayle's first Test hundred against Australia gave West Indies a 296-run lead with a day to play and on a turning pitch Australia will have their work cut out against the spin and bounce of Sulieman Benn.

In the past century, no team has made more than 239 in the fourth innings to win an Adelaide Test and if Gayle doesn't declare overnight, Australia might need to beat the all-time record of 315. West Indies finished at 8 for 284 with Gayle, who batted throughout the day, on 155 and Ravi Rampaul yet to score after Benn skied a catch in the final over off Mitchell Johnson.

A draw remains the most likely result, especially with the possibility of some final-day showers, but Gayle at least significantly slashed the odds of West Indies going 2-0 down with one match to play. Following Australia's innings victory inside three days in Brisbane, Gayle and the team management kept their players in the dressing rooms for a long discussion, during which they resolved that the same result could not be allowed to happen again.

Dwayne Bravo, Brendan Nash, Benn and Kemar Roach have all stood up in Adelaide and on the fourth day it was the captain's turn to lead from the front. A late challenge from Johnson, who snared Bravo and Denesh Ramdin in one over on the way to 4 for 85, couldn't mask the fact that for most of the day Australia's bowling lacked bite. West Indies could have accelerated quicker in the final session to increase the pressure on the hosts but they remain in a strong position thanks to their captain.

It was an innings of uncharacteristic restraint from Gayle, who for most of the day resisted his urges to hit over the top, and instead scored most of his boundaries along the ground with well-timed straight drives or clips through the leg-side. Australia tried to tempt him early in the day with Marcus North and Nathan Hauritz bowling an outside off-stump line but he was happy to leave, and apart from trying to force a couple of shots into the turf and back past Hauritz, his patience held up.

His century came from 179 deliveries and it prompted a display of clear emotion from the usually poker-faced Gayle, who beamed towards the dressing rooms and swung his bat in joy, having never before passed 71 against Australia. Late in the day he began to suffer cramps but was still willing to sprint for singles and keep his team moving, and it wasn't until his 257th delivery that he registered a six, with a pull over midwicket off North.

Wickets gradually fell around him but nowhere near regularly enough for Australia's liking. They thought they had Gayle on 26 when they asked for a review of a leg-side take by Brad Haddin off Johnson but replays showed the ball had come off Gayle's leg. Australia had already burned a review on a caught-behind appeal against Adrian Barath and were left to rue their poor judgment when Nash later padded up to Doug Bollinger, who kicked the turf in disgust when Asad Rauf turned down a strong appeal. The action led to Bollinger being reported by the match referee Chris Broad.

It was that sort of day for Australia, frustration upon frustration, as they felt decisions went against them and their spinners failed to have the same impact Benn had enjoyed on the third day. There was turn and bounce for both slow men and one Hauritz delivery that ripped back viciously to Bravo suggested that Benn will be a handful on Tuesday.

Peter Siddle was clearly not at full fitness due to hamstring tightness and bowled only eight overs, while Bollinger, Johnson and Shane Watson battled hard with little success for most of the day. Watson delivered a searing, swinging yorker that clipped the leg stump of Nash (24), after Bollinger trapped Shivnarine Chanderpaul directly in front for 27.

Ramnaresh Sarwan fell for 7 when he sent a leg-side catch to Haddin off Johnson and Barath (17) was unfortunate to be run out at the non-striker's end when Gayle's straight drive was adjudged to have touched the bowler Hauritz before crashing into the stumps. It was the only thing Gayle did wrong all day.

Watling called to boost struggling New Zealand

The in-form BJ Watling is in line for his Test debut after replacing Peter Fulton for the series-deciding third Test against Pakistan in Napier from Friday. New Zealand's selectors avoided wholesale changes after they were dismissed for 99 and 263 in the loss in Wellington on Sunday, with Watling the only new face in the 13-man outfit.

"I had a fair idea I was in the mix but you are always shocked and excited when you get the call-up," said Watling, who played two Twenty20 internationals in the UAE last month. He has performed well in the State Shield and scored 90 and 136 in the most recent rounds of the Plunket Shield. The selector Mark Greatbatch said Watling showed outstanding potential as a developing batsman.

"He's a quality young player with good technique," Greatbatch said. "With the series at one-all we need to regroup and we believe Watling can add strength at the top.

"There was a lot of discussion about the batting line-up, but this was not a time for wholesale change. We are aiming to give guys the opportunity to succeed."

Fulton managed 42 runs in the opening two games, which was only marginally worse than the return of Grant Elliott and slightly better than Tim McIntosh. Ross Taylor has been the key local batsman in the series, scoring 280 runs, including 97 in the second innings in Wellington.

Greatbatch added that New Zealand might make some changes to their batting order, pushing Flynn - who batted at No.3 in Wellington - down the order, and Guptill to No.3 from his opening slot.

New Zealand squad Tim McIntosh, Martin Guptill, Daniel Flynn, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Grant Elliott, Brendon McCullum (wk), Daniel Vettori (capt), Daryl Tuffey, Iain O'Brien, Chris Martin, Jeetan Patel, Tim Southee.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Series in sight for improving England

Stuart Broad has recovered from a shoulder strain that kept him out of the early part of the tour, South Africa, December 2, 2009
Preparing for the puddles: Stuart Broad warms up on Durban beach © Getty Images
Related Links
Players/Officials: Kevin Pietersen | Graeme Smith | Andrew Strauss
Matches: South Africa v England at Durban
Series/Tournaments: England tour of South Africa
Teams: England | South Africa

Big picture

Somewhat astonishingly, England stand on the verge of their first ODI series victory in South Africa, and their second in consecutive rubbers against Graeme Smith's men following their 4-0 victory at home in 2008. After three fluctuating performances and a washout at the Wanderers, they have emerged with a 2-1 series lead - a scoreline that they have reached on merit thanks to two dominant performances at Centurion and Port Elizabeth. The fact that those games were punctuated by a record-breaking thumping at Newlands merely underlines the ongoing battle for consistency that is forever England's weakness.

Nevertheless, for the first time in a long time, England have displayed the makings of an impressive one-day outfit. Andrew Strauss's personal form and tactical acumen make it hard to imagine a world in which he was exiled from the ODI set-up for two years, as was the case from the 2007 World Cup onwards. Eoin Morgan and Jonathan Trott have performed like instant veterans, while the veteran, Paul Collingwood, has rediscovered some of his finest form, with both bat and ball. The young guns, Luke Wright and Tim Bresnan, have started to move on from being merely promising, and all that remains is for Kevin Pietersen to rediscover his touch, and the renaissance will be complete. Or at least until their next Cape Town-esque relapse.

South Africa, on the other hand, have got a few issues to resolve. Whereas England have had plenty practice at moulding a side in which Andrew Flintoff makes cameo appearances, the loss of Jacques Kallis has proven stupendously hard to overcome. At Newlands, the decision to trust five specialist batsmen paid handsome dividends when Smith won the toss and AB de Villiers blazed a 75-ball century; but at Port Elizabeth, the middle-order looked threadbare to say the least once James Anderson started to turn the screw.

On the plus side, the addition of Morne Morkel has provided an extra layer of menace to South Africa's attack, particularly when coming round the wicket to England's left-handers, but the likely loss of Dale Steyn to a hamstring strain will undermine their bid for a share of the series. Nothing, however, could undermine it as much as the Durban weather, which has been abysmal all week. A washout would suffice for England - and provide a neat symmetry to the results column - but Strauss wants more than that. "We're fully expecting to play tomorrow," he said, "and if we do we will make sure we're at the races and put South Africa under pressure again."

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

South Africa - LWLWW
England - WLWLL

Team news

South Africa's dilemma is whether to stick or twist ... do they recall Herschelle Gibbs to the middle order in an admission that their batting is vulnerable, or do they trust Ryan McLaren to knuckle down at No. 7 and put his consecutive ducks to the back of his mind? Given that Steyn's injury leaves them lacking in firepower, the likelihood is a reprieve for McLaren, whose medium-pacers have had their moments in the series, and a silent prayer that de Villiers comes as good as he did at Newlands.

South Africa (possible) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 AB de Villiers, 4 JP Duminy, 5 Alviro Petersen, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Ryan McLaren, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Johan Botha, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Charl Langeveldt

No such concerns for England, who have a settled first XI for arguably the first time since the 1992 World Cup final (when even then they had to decide between Allan Lamb and Robin Smith). James Anderson reported a knee injury in the build-up to the Port Elizabeth match, but figures of 5 for 23 in ten overs suggest he shook it off pretty effectively, meaning Graham Onions will once again be left carrying the drinks.

England (possible) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Jonathan Trott, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Luke Wright, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Tim Bresnan, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson.

Watch out for

Kevin Pietersen needs a score to settle him down, because it's not so much nerves as nervous energy that has been his problem so far in the tour. After a four-month lay-off, KP has been visibly rushing to pick up where he left off, never more so than at Port Elizabeth, when he could have been dismissed twice in a six-ball innings. More haste, less speed is the motto that springs to mind. If he allows himself a little longer to regain his timing, the entire squad could find themselves reaping the benefits as the Test series approaches.

It ought not to be a coincidence, but such is the hold that Graeme Smith has over his team these days, that his rare failure at Port Elizabeth - lbw for 2 - was the cue for South Africa to crumble to an ignominious defeat. Conversely, when his agenda-setting strokeplay has come off - never more so than during his 44-ball 88 in the second Twenty20 at Centurion - there's been no stopping the momentum he generates. If, as could happen amid the showers, the Durban game becomes a rain-reduced sprint, his 20-over prowess could well come to the fore again.

Stats and trivia

  • South Africa's overall record in ODIs against England since 2008 now reads seven defeats and a solitary win in eight completed games, which is their worst clutch of results since the two teams first met in 1992

  • Ominously, the last ODI match that England played in Durban, in 2005, was a washout. The match was abandoned with England uncomfortably placed on 7 for 2, chasing 213.


""We really want to come and win this series 3-1. When you start thinking about rain and things like that, it is going to affect your preparation."
Andrew Strauss is determined to keep his mind on the job, despite gloomy forecasts.

"For us the priority is the Test series and we would never compromise Dale's chances of being 100% fit for the first Test [at Centurion] by playing him on Friday."
Mickey Arthur hasn't abandoned the ODIs entirely, but it's clear he's already shifting his focus.

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