Friday, June 5, 2009

All set for the curtain-raiser

Match facts

Friday June 5
Start time 17.30 (16.30GMT)

Big Picture

The floodlights are in place, the snoozing MCC members have been piled up in a quiet corner, and after a soporific start to the summer, we are all set to get England's biggest-ever season of international cricket properly underway. The endless encounters with West Indies may been a drain on the patience of even the game's most stalwart fans, but the prospect of a major global tournament on home soil will lift the spirits as much as the glorious sunshine of the week just past.

The Netherlands are not the most formidable opponents that England will face this summer, but as Scotland demonstrated in a feisty friendly at Trent Bridge on Tuesday, 20-over contests play into the hands of ambitious underdogs. A couple of big performances are all that any team needs, and the Dutch have a squad with two kingpins in Dirk Nannes and Ryan ten Doeschate, as well as a glut of senior players with experience of two (and in one case, three) World Cups. They are no strangers to the big-match atmosphere.

England for their part just need a solid start. They come into the contest with a run of six victories in a row in all matches since the Lord's Test in May, but need to maintain that momentum if they are outdo their efforts in the 2007 event, when they bombed out of the contest with four defeats in a row.

Form guide

England LWWWL
Netherlands NWLW

Watch out for...

Chopping and changing between formats holds no fears for Ravi Bopara. From the IPL to the Test arena, through a one-day series against West Indies and now back to Twenty20 cricket, he has shown that a run of good form can be sustained with a positive attitude and barrow-loads of confidence. Back at Lord's, where he scored the second of his three consecutive Test hundreds, and reunited with the format in which he bashed 84 from 59 for King's XI Punjab, he can be guaranteed to open England's tournament with cultured aggression.

Associate nations cannot usually call upon express pacemen to aid their ambitions, but Dirk Nannes is a player with the skills to uproot a few early wickets. He knows the Lord's wicket well, having played here for Middlesex in 2008, and his speedy late-swinging left-armers will doubtless be exacerbated by the slope. With only four overs to make an impact, England would be wise to treat him with caution. But if he can create pressure from one end, his colleagues have the wherewithal to capitalise at the other.

Team news

England are set to use their 12th opening partnership in 16 Twenty20s when Luke Wright teams up with Bopara at the top of the order, having cemented his place with a matchwinning 75 not out against West Indies on Wednesday. Adil Rashid played in both warm-ups but is likely to miss out as the second spinner, as is Dimitri Mascarenhas who had been used as a new-ball option at Trent Bridge.

England (probable) 1 Luke Wright, 2 Ravi Bopara, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Owais Shah, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Eoin Morgan, 7 James Foster (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Ryan Sidebottom, 11 James Anderson

The hard-hitting Darron Reekers is likely to open up with Alex Kervezee, whose 62 from 59 balls saw off Scotland earlier in the week. Daan van Bunge, famous as the man who was hit for six sixes in an over by Herschelle Gibbs, slots in in the middle order. ten Doeschate, the Essex allrounder, is the kingpin of the middle order.

Netherlands (probable) 1 Darron Reekers, 2 Alexei Kervezee, 3 Bas Zuiderent, 4 Ryan ten Doeschate, 5 Daan van Bunge, 6 Jeroen Smits (capt), 7 Tom de Groothe, 8 Mudassar Bukhari, 9 Dirk Nannes, 10 Edgar Schiferli, 11 Pieter Seelaar

Pitch and conditions

The weather, so glorious all week, is set to give way to light showers, which will test the teams under the new Lord's floodlights. The legendary outfield, however, won't have any trouble coping if there is a downpour. The pitch has been slow for recent encounters, but expect another decent batting surface.

Stats and Trivia

  • England have faced Netherlands in two previous ICC tournaments, firstly in Peshawar, where they won by 49 runs at the 1996 World Cup, and then in East London in 2003, when the margin was six wickets.
  • Five players in the current squads featured in the 2003 fixture. One from England (James Anderson, who claimed 4 for 25) and four from Netherlands - Jeroen Smits, Edgar Schiferli and van Bunge, as well as Bas Zuiderent, who even played in the Peshawar match, scoring 54 to keep the run-chase alive.


"It is a big commitment but we love the game, we don't make a living out of it. Maybe if we do well in these kind of tournaments we will."
Jeroen Smits admits that the life of the Dutch international cricketer is not all glamour.
"We believe we can win it. I'm not saying we will win it because I don't want to put pressure on the boys by saying we'll win it."
Paul Collingwood doesn't quite hedge his bets.

Bringing the monster back home

When it comes to bringing its invented games back home in triumph, few countries could possibly boast a worse track record than England

Ryan Sidebottom celebrates his catch to remove Shivnarine Chanderpaul, England v West Indies, ICC World Twenty20 warm-up, Lord's, June 3, 2009
England need to put on a good show, as a team and a nation, as Twenty20 cricket comes home

Association Football to Eton Fives, no country in the world has proven more adept at inventing and exporting new sports than England. But when it comes to bringing those games back home in triumph, few countries could possibly boast a worse track record.

Twenty20 cricket is the latest in a long line of sports to "come home" to England this week, but it is being made to feel about as welcome as a cane toad in a Brisbane living-room. If you were to ask your average English fan to name this month's big sporting events, the Lions tour of South Africa would probably share top billing with Wimbledon, with an honourable mention for Royal Ascot and the British Grand Prix. Does the prospect of a three-week, 12-team global cricket festival really whet the nation's appetite? Worryingly, I think we already know the answer to that one.

England's attitude to a form of the game they devised in 2003 is as apologetic as Albert Einstein's attitude to the Atom Bomb. An exceptional invention, subverted beyond the imagination of its creator, and now apparently threatening the very thing it was designed to help save. England's failure to embrace the shortest format - in defiance of the crowd-pleasing evidence from the domestic Twenty20 Cup - stems from a deep-rooted suspicion of the monster they've created.

Put simply, Twenty20's combination of money and brevity is seen as a direct threat to everything that England holds dear about cricket, namely the rhythm and history of Test matches - or, put more simply still, the Ashes, which is the only contest that really counts in England this summer. Everything revolves around the recapturing of the urn, because there is a misguided assumption that only a glorious repeat of the 2005 series will suffice to hoist Test cricket back to the pinnacle upon which it once belonged.

It is a damaging fallacy and one, ironically, that England's own Ashes foes would never condone. Australia haven't failed to reach the final of the 50-over World Cup since 1992, and they've won the last three crowns in a row from 1999 onwards - a run of form that hasn't exactly detracted from their ability to win Test matches. Coincidentally, the first of those victories was achieved at Lord's, in a tournament that England disgraced on numerous levels, starting with quite possibly the worst opening ceremony ever witnessed at a top-level international event.

The ECB's plans this time round are a closely guarded secret, and little wonder. Back then, a host of soggy fireworks turned the Lord's outfield into a civil war re-enactment society, a loosely connected microphone fused midway through Tony Blair's curtain-raising speech, and the team bombed out in the first round, the day before the official tournament song had been released. In the course of the tournament, England showed a complacent indifference to the fact that the eyes of the world were upon them. A decade on, and have those lessons really be learnt?

Not if the words of the then-ECB chairman, Lord MacLaurin, are anything to go by. Writing in this month's Wisden Cricketer, he stated that "Twenty20 should be kept in its box", as if it was some uppity underling with too much ambition for the office senior to handle. "I should say that I count myself among the traditionalists who didn't want any lessening of the game of cricket," he said. "It mustn't be the be-all and end-all of cricket. That should be Test matches. I would hate to see Twenty20 become the biggest form of cricket."

It's such a misguided attitude. You can't maintainuality by suppressing competition. Toitness Lord's and Trent Bridge glowing under fully-functional, permanent floodlights, and to see The Oval bursting at the seams with 23,000 fanatical Indian and Pakistani supporters, was to be reminded that a major sporting event really has arrived on England's shores, and that surely has to be celebrated.

But why then, were there a mere 9200 punters at Lord's on Wednesday evening to watch Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara batter England to a nine-wicket win over West Indies? The choice of opponents clearly had something to do with the lack of interest - 17 encounters between the two sides in four months takes familiarity to contemptuous levels - but the admission price of £30 clearly didn't help the cause either. In 2007, the tournament organiser, Steve Elworthy, arranged for first-round tickets to be available for as little as £1.50. And there was scarcely a spare seat in any house.

Exchange rates aren't quite that favourable in England, but would it really have hurt to throw the gates open for a fiver, and encourage people to drum up enthusiasm for a competition that, in the words of Elworthy, is "a development product … for attracting new markets and new fans." England owes it to the sport it spawned to get with the programme and put together a tournament to remember, because the game is not going to stand still and wait for the old country to make its mind up.

Instead, the opportunity to capture a new audience is being allowed to drift by. Take the marketing for instance - about the only advertisement that has been remotely visible in the past weeks and months has been an ambiguous poster of an old buffer with St George's Crosses painted on his cheeks. What on earth is the message that that is trying to get across? Don't be afraid? Even old farts know how to barn-dance? Thanks for the hard sell, guys. Sadly, in this country, Twenty20 cricket is still being regarded as mutton dressed as lamb.

Trying suggesting that to Lalit Modi. The recently concluded Indian Premier League was not a competition without its faults, especially given the political problems that forced it to relocate to South Africa, but the successful exporting of one-year-old franchises such as Deccan Chargers and Chennai Super Kings gave the lie to Giles Clarke's assertion last summer that cricket fans are not interested in "made-up sides".

As global franchises such as Real Madrid and Manchester United have already shown, sporting allegiance does not have to be dictated by national boundaries. That may have been the formula that has worked for cricket until now, but let's be honest, the contests that have taken place in England so far this summer has been dire mismatches, thanks in no small part to a West Indies side that didn't even want to be here.

Even at full focus, West Indies struggle to match the game's big guns, just as the likes of Hull City and West Brom fail to keep up with Chelsea and Liverpool. And yet, West Indies aren't even the biggest stragglers on the international scene - Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Kenya exist in various shades of grey, while the up-and-coming Ireland feel their heads banging against a glass ceiling, as they lose their best players to England, time and time again.

The atmosphere of India's clash with Pakistan at The Oval demonstrated just what is possible when two fully-focussed nations go head to head - that very same visceral thrill turned England into Ashes junkies in 2005. But ever since that summer England have been as guilty as any nation of neglecting the form of the game that they profess to hold most dear, through a refusal to engage fully with any contest beneath the most glorious.

It's a sad fact that there are more viable IPL franchises than international outfits in the modern game. Old-school cricket needs a showcase like never before in the coming weeks, and the onus is on England to provide it. This month, it must finally be accepted that Twenty20 is not the enemy. It is the only realistic path to salvation.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rohit and Gambhir script emphatic win

India 159 for 1 (Rohit 80, Gambhir 52*) beat

Pakistan 158 for 6 (Misbah 37*, Younis 32, Ishant 1-11) by nine wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out

Rohit Sharma hooks, India v Pakistan, ICC World Twenty20 warm-up match, The Oval, June 3, 2009
Rohit Sharma never looked out of place as an opener

Finally India and Pakistan played out a one-sided Twenty20 game. Filling in for Virender Sehwag as opener, Rohit Sharma continued to give India a combination dilemma and made the chase seem like an afternoon walk in a London park. A target of 159, with extra bowlers available by the virtue of this being a 13-a-side game, was by no means an easy one, but Gautam Gambhir and Rohit managed with the ease that belies the tension an India-Pakistan match brings.

Nothing about this encounter suggested it was a warm-up game. The sell-out crowd, and the intensity in the first innings was something even the final of the actual tournament will be proud of. But in the second innings, Pakistan went into the experiment mode. They went in with an interesting strategy, interchanging the usual roles between Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir. Gul, who usually bowls in the last 10 overs, opened the bowling, and Tanvir came on to bowl in the 10th over - none of the moves worked.

Nothing about Rohit's innings suggested that he was a makeshift opener. Although Gambhir kickstarted things with three boundaries in the first three overs, including one off Gul's first ball, it was Rohit who took the match away from Pakistan. He got going with a heave over mid-on in the third over, but the slogs were conspicuous by absence in the rest of his innings.

Yasir Arafat, who bowled three overs at the top of the innings, went for a six in his second and two boundaries in his third. The 17-year-old prodigy Mohammad Aamer produced good pace in his first over, but he too was pulled for four by Rohit. By the end of the seventh over, when Pakistan threw the final roll of the dice - the spinners - India had already reached 65.

The batsmen played out Saeed Ajmal's first over quietly, but in Shahid Afridi's first over Gautam Gambhir joined the party, with a short-arm-pull over midwicket. Tanvir, in his first over, was hit for perhaps the shot of the day, a yorker flicked to fine leg. By the time captain Younis Khan called the spinners back, Rohit was in the mood for some fun, hitting Ajmal inside-out and pulling Afridi over midwicket. When he got out for a 53-ball 80, India needed only 19 runs in four overs.

Lack of discipline and a few big hits from MS Dhoni and Gambhir meant the game ended in the next over. Quite fittingly, Pakistan finished the match with a wide.

It wasn't as facile when the old sparring partners started off for the first time since last year's Asia Cup in Karachi. They wasted little time in going for punches and counter-punches during a frenetically-paced first innings. A wicket in the first over didn't deter Ahmed Shehzad and Kamran Akmal from counterattacking spectacularly with a 25-ball 43-run stand. They stumbled just as sensationally, losing the next three wickets on the same score before the two coolest heads in the team, Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq, rebuilt and took Pakistan to what seemed a fighting total.

Praveen Kumar and Shehzad set the agenda early. Praveen followed two bouncers with an outswinger to clean up Shahzaib Hasan. Akmal then crashed the first ball after the wicket through the covers for four. In the next over, Shehzad hit RP Singh for three boundaries, an over during which he was also dropped by Harbhajan Singh at short midwicket.

Dhoni quickly called on the raw pace of Ishant Sharma and the effect was immediate. First Suresh Raina ran out Akmal through superb work at cover, and Shehzad top-edged a pull in the same over. The panic set in when a promoted Shahid Afridi went boom first ball he faced from Irfan and managed just an outside edge to Dhoni - 45 for 1 had become 45 for 4.

Shoaib Malik counterattacked, but fell soon. Either side of Malik's dismissal, no boundary was hit for 42 balls until Misbah made room and lofted Ojha to wide long-on in the 13th over. By the time Younis fell for a run-a-ball 32, the two had been added 50 in 45 balls. Arafat and Misbah provided the final impetus, scoring 29 in the last two overs, but it proved to be way below-par on the night.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nervy Sri Lanka overcame scare to seal win

Sri Lanka 152 for 6 (Jayawardene 43, Shakib 2-18) beat Bangladesh 151 for 6 (Raqibul 38*, Mushfiqur 34) by four wicketsScorecard and ball-by-ball details
Sri Lanka were indebted to Mahela Jayawardene's 43 © Associated Press
Related Links
News: Subdued Jayasuriya has captain's backing
Player/Officials: Mahela Jayawardene Mushfiqur Rahim Raqibul Hasan Chamara Silva
Matches: Bangladesh v Sri Lanka at Nottingham
Series/Tournaments: ICC World Twenty20 Warm-up Matches
Teams: Bangladesh Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka threatened to squander what appeared an easy chase against a charged-up Bangladesh attack, but came through by four wickets with two balls to spare at Trent Bridge. Mahela Jayawardene, with a classy 43, kept his cool after Sri Lanka's openers failed to ignite but it was left to Chamara Silva and Angelo Mathews to steady the nerves before a wide sealed the match.
Bangladesh fought hard, but their efforts weren't enough to prevent Sri Lanka a win that will be a wake-up call for them. Batting first on a good track Bangladesh's top order failed to fire due to a kamikaze approach and that put plenty of pressure on Raqibul Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim. Bangladesh crossed 150 thanks to their partnership but the bowlers allowed too many runs early in the piece, with Jayawardene playing a big role, and Sri Lanka overcame a few late hiccups to clinch a tense game.
Sri Lanka's chase started eventfully. After Tillakaratne Dilshan slapped the first ball from Mashrafe Mortaza for four, Sanath Jayasuriya dumped Rubel Hossain for six over deep square leg and got four overthrows next ball. Mortaza came back well in his second over, allowing just one single, and Mahmudullah gave only two singles in his first over, the fourth. Dilshan clubbed Mortaza for two more fours but was yorked in the same over.
Jayawardene's controlled hitting kept Sri Lanka reach and then cross the asking rate. He reverse-swept, slogged and swept Mahmudullah for 15 in the eighth over even as Jayasuriya was bowled by Shakib Al Hasan for 29 next over. Joined by Kumar Sangakkara, Jayawardene strengthened matters. When Mohammad Ashraful called on Naeem Islam, Jayawardene weighed in immediately, sweeping past short fine leg before pulling wide of midwicket for four more. Another firm cut to third man followed off Abdur Razzak and when Rubel over-ran the ball at deep square leg the equation became 52 from 54 balls.
Bangladesh rallied to ensure it wasn't easy. Sangakkara fell trying to go over extra cover, and Jayawardene carelessly edged Rubel to Mushfiqur in a stellar wicket-maiden 14th over. Shakib allowed just one run in the 15th and suddenly Sri Lanka had gone backwards, losing their captain in the space of two runs. Jehan Mubarak and Silva prodded and swept uncertainly in the air and away through the covers as the run-rate inched ahead. With wickets in hand the pair was still content to deal in ones and twos but after three overs of such measured tactics Mubarak signalled the charge by launching Mortaza for consecutive fours. Mortaza got Mubarak and Shakib cleaned up Indika de Saram in the 19th over, but Silva and Mathews hung on.
Bangladesh, having been dealt a loss by Australia at this same venue yesterday, elected to bat on a hard batting track under sunny skies. Unfortunately for them, their top order failed to fire due to a kamikaze approach and that put plenty of pressure on Raqibul and Mushfiqur.
Farveez Maharoof's first over cost 15 - Tamim Iqbal welcomed him with a trio of forceful boundaries - but also accounted for Junaid Siddique with a slow legcutter. Then Ashraful turned the ball just wide of Nuwan Kulasekara, who collected with ease and whipped off the bails with both batsmen at the other end.
Batting was easy on this track and all that was needed was partnerships. Bangladesh knew this track from yesterday but when they failed to perforate the field for a couple of overs, Ashraful and Mahmuddulah tried too much instead of setting a platform. Both fell to left-arm seamer Isuru Udana in the seventh over playing away from the body and nicking to Sangakkara, standing up to the stumps. Ajantha Mendis kept Shakib in check and frustrated him into an ugly cross-batted heave.
Attempting quick runs Bangladesh's top order fell apart but a thrifty 70-run association between Mushfiqur and Raqibul helped them to a competitive score. Raqibul bided his time and didn't collect his first boundary until he'd faced 27 deliveries. He then opened up with some handy reverse sweeps and paddle shots. Mushfiqur hit 34 from 28 balls, including two clean sixes early into his arrival that cleared the stands over midwicket. Having picked out the deep midwicket boundary effortlessly in the penultimate over, Mushfiqur fell trying another in the last. Raqibul never threatened to run away with the innings but his unbeaten presence at the end of a wobbly innings ensured Bangladesh crossed 150.
In the final reckoning it hadn't quite given them enough to play with, but if they show the same courage in the actual tournament they will worry other sides.

ODI champions eye Twenty20 crown

Ben Laughlin celebrates with Nathan Bracken, South Africa v Australia, 1st ODI, Durban, April 3, 2009

Australia weren't interested in treating Twenty20 seriously until it morphed into a World Cup event and since being knocked out in the semi-finals in South Africa two years ago they have discovered they aren't so good at it. Talk has intensified about their desire to hold the trophy alongside the one-day World Cup, but there is no real expectation they will be at Lord's for the final on June 21. Ricky Ponting could promise only a "bold showing" in the lead-up, which is a significant downgrade of their traditional outlook.

They are in a tough group by Twenty20 standards and must finish ahead of either West Indies and Sri Lanka to progress to the last eight. Getting into the second phase could represent a successful trip, which is a strange thought when judging the side that has dominated the other forms of the game this decade.

In 21 of these matches Australia have won 11 and their form leading into the tournament was poor. They lost to Pakistan in Dubai last month when dismissed for 108 and were also defeated in the two-game series in South Africa.

While there has been a push to treat the format more seriously, especially since the explosion of prize money in the domestic leagues, the team's major players have often had a rest while the international Twenty20 engagements were staged. This has resulted in Brad Haddin captaining the side twice this year, including their last fully-fledged match before the World Twenty20. For Australia, Tests and the traditional World Cups are what matter most and they would swap an Ashes win for all of the World Twenty20's glory.


Some of the game's biggest names are sprinkled throughout the line-up, but Ponting, Clarke, Hussey and Lee carry some doubts despite their high standing. The safety and security of the elite will help the younger players fit in, but in such a short tournament the stars must shine or their tilt could be over in three days.


Overall international experience is impressive, but Ponting (15 matches), Clarke (16), Hussey (16), Symonds (9) and Lee (14) are light in Twenty20 knowledge, mainly because they rarely play at the domestic level. At stages over the past couple of years they have had to ask their more qualified state team-mates for tips. This could be telling under pressure.


With the batsmen attracting all the focus in this genre, the bowlers have a challenge to get noticed. Nathan Bracken is Australia's most accomplished Twenty20 wicket-taker with 19 at an almost miserly 6.75 an over. Bowlers might not win many of these games on their own, but Bracken is capable of providing a significant early shove.

Key player(s)

Unlike many of his colleagues, David Hussey knows the game intimately. There were times of tentativeness over the summer in the one-day side, but in this format Hussey can shelve his fears and release his brutal, fence clearing swings. Andrew Symonds will want to explode to show he remains an asset to the national squad.

T20 form guide

Middle of the road. In six Twenty20s this year they have won the first three and lost the next three.

Squad: Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Nathan Bracken, Brad Haddin (wk), Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Hopes, David Hussey, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Peter Siddle, Andrew Symonds, David Warner, Shane Watson.

Taylor and Vettori star in New Zealand win

New Zealand 170 for 7 (Taylor 41, McCullum 31, Franklin 27*, Ishant 4-25) beat India 161 for 6 (Raina 45, Jadeja 41*, Vettori 3-24) by nine runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out

Daniel Vettori celebrates Rohit Sharma's wicket with team-mates, India v New Zealand, ICC World Twenty20 warm-up match, Lord's, June 1, 2009

ew Zealand's unbeaten record against India in Twenty20s continued today by beating the world champions by nine runs in their warm-up outing at Lord's. Several New Zealand batsmen chipped in with aggressive contributions to post an imposing total which their bowlers, led by the reliable Daniel Vettori, defended tenaciously against a powerful Indian batting line-up.

The India team had faced questions regarding fatigue and fitness because of their players' involvement in the lengthy IPL and they took the field without Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan. Yuvraj Singh also did not play a part in the match although he was on the team sheet. However, it was because of the batsmen that performed in the IPL - Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja - that India challenged New Zealand's total of 170.

Sharma, who opened with Gautam Gambhir, slotted seamlessly into his new role and attacked from the outset against Iain O'Brien. With an extravagant follow through, Sharma deposited the ball into the stands at midwicket, pierced the in-field at point again, and launched the ball over long-off to take 18 runs off O'Brien's second over. The Indian fans had been gathering from the latter stages of the Ireland-Netherlands match, making themselves heard whenever the players were shown on the giant screen and now were shouting themselves hoarse.

Through all the excitement, though, Gambhir remained almost unnoticed, catching the attention only when he spooned Ian Butler to Martin Guptill at extra cover. India, however, raced to 55 in six overs and New Zealand needed more to curb the momentum. Vettori duly did the needful. He slipped one down the leg side as MS Dhoni advanced and had him stumped, despite a fumble from Brendon McCullum, before bowling Sharma a few balls later as the ball bobbled off the pads.

India suddenly had two new batsmen at the crease and New Zealand had an opening, but for a while it seemed Raina had slammed it shut. He plundered 19 runs off Vettori's second over, slog-sweeping twice over the midwicket boundary and drilling the ball straight down the ground.

He and Jadeja produced an impressive stand, adding 69 off 48 balls for the fourth wicket. It was only Raina's dismissal - caught by a diving Jesse Ryder off Jacob Oram for 45 - that turned the match in New Zealand's favour. Vettori bounced back strongly to dismiss Yusuf Pathan in another miserly over to finish with 3 for 24 and left India with too much to do in the last three overs.

That the New Zealand bowlers had enough to defend was due to a collective performance from their batsmen. While no one went on to make fifty, New Zealand always had a well set batsman at the crease to keep the momentum going. Brendon McCullum provided the impetus at the start, while Ross Taylor continued his good form from the latter stages of the IPL during the middle overs. Scott Styris chipped in with a useful innings and Franklin enhanced his newly-developed status as a batting allrounder with massive strikes towards the ends of the innings.

Most of the New Zealand batsmen favoured the leg-side boundary and some perished while trying to clear it. McCullum eventually skied a catch to midwicket, while Ryder, who failed to get out of his IPL rut, was bowled trying to swing across the line. Ishant Sharma was the bowler who dismissed both, making up for the void created by the shoulder injury to Zaheer.

Taylor carted Pragyan Ojha for two consecutive sixes over deep-square leg and dispatched the left-arm spinner to the deep midwicket boundary as well. Ishant returned to peg New Zealand back by inducing a top-edged pull from Oram, which was held by Harbhajan.

Taylor, too, fell in the 16th over when one slog-sweep against Harbhajan did not clear RP Singh. Styris kept the momentum going with a breezy 29 off 19 balls but it was Franklin who hurt India in the end. He laid into RP in the 20th over and deposited the ball beyond the straight boundary twice before pulling to midwicket for four. New Zealand managed 50 runs off their last four overs and that acceleration proved to be the difference.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Injured Zaheer to miss warm-ups

Virender Sehwag too is down with a shoulder injury and he may miss India's opening warm-up game on Monday against New Zealand © Getty Images
Related Links
Player/Officials: MS Dhoni | Zaheer Khan | Virender Sehwag
Series/Tournaments: ICC World Twenty20
Teams: India

The biggest challenge for defending champions India at the World Twenty20 is maintaining the fitness of their players. For the moment India are sweating on the fitness of Zaheer Khan, their strike bowler, who is yet to recover completely from the injury to his bowling arm, picked mid-way into the IPL recently. Indian captain MS Dhoni said Zaheer will not be seen in the two warm-up games in the lead-up to the main event, which starts on June 5. A day later, India play their opening game against Bangladesh at Trent Bridge.

"Zaheer is going to miss the warm-ups and we are hoping he will be fit for the first game," Dhoni said during the captains' media conference at Lord's. In another likely setback, Virender Sehwag is recovering from a shoulder injury he picked after the IPL. Team sources revealed to Cricinfo that Sehwag, too, will miss tomorrow's practice match against New Zealand at Lord's.

"Keeping every player fit and maintaining their fitness is going to be our challenge," a senior member from the team management said.

India arrived on Friday evening and have already had two optional net sessions. On Saturday, Harbhajan Singh was the only one missing while today, Zaheer, Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma decided to opt out.

Despite the injury concerns, Dhoni is still quietly confident about India defending the crown, which they won in a fairytale fashion in 2007 after being the last to embrace the Twenty20 format. It was also Dhoni's first captaincy stint. He has pleasant memories, no doubt, but is not getting carried away this time.

Though the majority of his players were in prime form in the recently concluded IPL in South Africa, Dhoni is still wary of the dangers of complacency and injury in the fast-paced Twenty20 environment. He is also not getting bogged down by the pressure of defending the crown. "We are not thinking about the results," he said. "We have just come into the tournament and will take on one team at a time. This will help us rather than thinking what we will look like at the end of the tournament."

India have played five games after their 2007 triumph, winning two and losing three - the last two ending in defeats to New Zealand. Dhoni is unperturbed about the twin losses though. "By the second game, we had got the hang of the local conditions and it ended in a close finish, customary in Twenty20. But now, we are fresh from IPL."

During the IPL, Gary Kirsten, the India coach, had told Cricinfo that mental fatigue could affect the Indians, a view echoed by both Sachin Tendulkar and Dilip Vengsarkar recently.

But Dhoni disagreed, saying the players are now used to the itinerant lifestyle. "Personally I don't think it hampers us too much because we are used to it. We play throughout the year. If you look at the plus point, we are the most experienced side when it comes to the Twenty20 format.

"In the last three years there have been less changes in the side, so we gel well as a team. Almost each individual has played around 80 to 90 games and they come up with ideas. If you have 50 ideas you can pick and choose. We have made loads of difference but we have to keep improving."

Dhoni added that the highlight of India's campaign in 2007 was the positive attitude which helped script the improbable after the first game was washed out. "From then on we were in a do-or-die situation. I think the aggression we showed was particularly important and we backed each other very well. Hopefully it will work for us this time also."

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