Thursday, July 9, 2009

The importance of Sunny

Sunil Gavaskar plays the flick, England v India, The Oval, September 1979
At The Oval in 1979, during the innings that prompted Len Hutton to call him the best opening batsman in the game © Getty Images
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Talking Cricket : 'I speak from the heart, not the head'
Player/Officials: Sunil Gavaskar
Teams: India

A few weeks ago, shortly after Sunil Gavaskar had delivered the first Dilip Sardesai Memorial lecture at the Cricket Club of India, a twentysomething man asked me if Gavaskar had been a better batsman than Sachin Tendulkar, reducing me to a hum-and-haw wreck. I could understand the legitimacy of his curiosity, but was there a legitimate answer?

I must here confess to being a Gavaskarphile. Who from my vintage isn't? The passage of time sometimes tends to either exaggerate or diminish the value of the past, but the Gavaskar phenomenon, all things considered, makes for one of the great stories of not just modern sport, but also Indian life.

I was 15 when he exploded into the Indian consciousness with his record-breaking exploits in the West Indies in 1970-71, and since then have followed his amazing journey, largely for professional purposes, sometimes with deep personal flourishes, mostly with awe and admiration, but sometimes also with despair and anguish.

On my first few tours as a cricket writer I got to know first-hand not only of Gavaskar's supreme batting skills, but also the different facets to his persona. In Pakistan in 1982-83, he scored in excess of 400 runs, but became increasingly moody as the series started going awry and his captaincy came under threat. Despite that, his innate sense of humour never deserted him. In Hyderabad (Sind), after India had lost a third Test and the series, I remember Gavaskar being asked by a journalist how he would have liked India's batsmen to play the rampaging Imran Khan. "The best way would be to put a sightscreen between him and us," he replied with a straight face.

This humour could, of course, move from being self-deprecatory to caustic in the matter of minutes - or a few tours. In 1985, when India went to Sri Lanka, Gavaskar was still determined to bat in the middle order, much to the chagrin of the captain, Kapil Dev. Soon after arrival, asked informally by the press corps if he had given up opening, Gavaskar was vehement in denial. "I will open doors and bottles, but opening the innings is another matter," he said with a smile.

Our paths have criss-crossed several times over 30 years, and we even worked together at the same publication, Sportsweek, for a while, but I can't claim to know Gavaskar intimately. Apart from his immediate family and a few close friends, I doubt anybody does. Like most virtuosos - in any walk of life - he can be aloof to the world around him, living out his personal convictions with an inner strength that makes him almost immune to what people think.

This was more pronounced in his playing days, when he could stubborn, obstinate, tantrum-prone and sanctimonious - apart from being a record-breaking batsman. Sometimes it would appear that he was at war with the world, sometimes with himself; both were probably true. He fought furiously for pride and self-respect at a time when Indian cricket was easily dismissed; he also raged for perfection as a batsman because he wanted to be the best, no less. Not all the time was he in the right. At times he could be easily riled by trifles or be seduced into petty-fogging to prove a minor point. In his time he has had a few memorable altercations with umpires, opponents, fellow players and administrators, which he would see as silly now. As captain, he sometimes stretched defensive tactics to bizarre levels (with active help from rival captain Keith Fletcher in 1981, it must be added), which accentuated his "mean" image. More infamously, he once batted 60 overs for 36 runs in the 1975 World Cup, and in 1981almost conceded a Test match after getting into a spat with Australian umpires.

But over a long career and life these prickly facets must be balanced by several other sanguine ones, not all known, for a more balanced picture of the man. Gavaskar's general disposition is usually sunny, as his nickname goes. He has a sense of fun that can oscillate between the droll and the ribald, depending on the company he is in.

He is also a terrific after-dinner speaker because he is a splendid raconteur. In an informal setting he can be a great mimic, bringing to the fore the tremendous powers of observation that helped him read the game so well. He can hold his own in any company, be it Nelson Mandela or a Bollywood starlet. His world view is large, his knowledge vast, and he can be an engaging conversationalist.

He has been Indian cricket's strongest minder. Few mess with him when he has a cause to fight. He was in the forefront of championing players' rights and was instrumental (along with Bishan Bedi) in giving the cricketers' association voice and meaning. It must be a cause of some regret to him that the current players don't see the Players' Association as important anymore.

After he retired, when we worked together at Sportsweek, there was not a week in which I didn't see him try to help out cricketers less fortunate than him with their benefit matches or some other financial assistance. "These guys have given everything for the game, and deserve support," he would say.

Some years later he started the Champs Foundation - without too much fanfare or publicity - to provide financial help to needy and ailing sportspersons across disciplines. Also, during the 1993 riots in Mumbai, as is famously known, he went and rescued a Muslim family from a mob near his residence.

Like Tendulkar, Gavaskar was for India not just another cricketer, but a metaphor of the country's aspirations and hopes. His very presence provided emotional and psychological security far beyond the parameters of a cricket field. He left an indelible impact on not just scorebooks, but on the Indian psyche

Students of psychology might see contradictions here, and they might not be entirely wrong; but then again, they wouldn't quite be completely right either. For, at his core, Gavaskar is no different from any of us: highly complex, but essentially human.

It is as cricketer that Gavaskar emerges unique and as one of the most towering personalities in the game. In a broader context, like Tendulkar, he was not just another cricketer but a metaphor for the country's aspirations and hopes.

In his tribute in Gavaskar: Portrait of a Hero, Peter Roebuck, writes, "[…] Such were his powers that he'd have been productive 50 years earlier or 50 years later; even in this hurrying world, some things do not change, the principles of batsmanship not least amongst them." But this is only half the saga. Gavaskar's very presence provided emotional and psychological security far beyond the parameters of a cricket field. He left an indelible impact on not just scorebooks but on the Indian psyche.

It intrigues me that not till his magnificent 221 in the heart-breaking run-chase at the Oval in 1979, which compelled Sir Len Hutton to call him the best opening batsman in the game, was Gavaskar's genius acknowledged worldwide, and he was rated alongside Viv Richards and Greg Chappell. By then, he had been playing for eight years and had scored more than 5000 runs! Sir Len, of course, had greater reason for empathy with Gavaskar, having been an opener himself.

There are several analyses and tributes that I can cite, but an anecdote involving another great player of the 80s, Javed Miandad, and a couple of his colleagues, perhaps puts things in the best perspective.

We were at Miandad's house in Lahore in 1989, celebrating his 100th Test match and in between the partying I asked the Pakistani maestro his opinion about Gavaskar. ''Many have played this game brilliantly but few have understood it as well as this man," said Miandad pointing in Gavaskar's direction. "He knows cricket like the back of his hand. Did you see his innings against us at Bangalore two years back?''

Sunil Gavaskar and Niranjan Shah, the board secretary, at the BCCI technical committee meeting, Bangalore, June 4, 2007
Would there have been a Tendulkar as we know him if there was no Gavaskar? © AFP

I had, and consider it perhaps the most skilful and poignant knock in Indian cricket history. Only one batsman in three innings of that Test match had crossed the 50-run mark. The ball turned square from day one, and India were to bat fourth chasing a little over 200 for victory. This was like climbing Mount Everest in a snowstorm. But Gavaskar was not to be fazed. With sublime technique and dogged determination, he mastered the conditions to keep India in the hunt even as wickets fell around him like nine pins.

On the rest day of the Test I went to interview Tauseef Ahmed, the offspinner, and his room-mate Iqbal Qasim, the left-arm spinner. The spin twins had reduced the Indian innings to rubble. Now only one man stood between them and victory: Gavaskar, unbeaten on 50-something. Tauseef and Qasim were usually chirpy souls, but on this day appeared so high-strung that they wouldn't even talk to each other.

"Woh Baba Adam ab tak khel raha hai [that old man is still batting],'' said Qasim, breaking the silence. ''Bat hain ya deewar? (does he have a bat or a wall?)'' Tauseef chipped in. ''We've not been able to sleep because of the tension."

The next day, just when it appeared that Gavaskar would win the match single-handed, he fell for 96. Imran Khan called it the best innings he had seen. India eventually lost that Test match by a small margin of 16 runs, and Gavaskar bowed out of Test cricket a forlorn, but never to be forgotten, hero.

It's almost 22 years since he retired, but memories of his exploits are still fresh. He arrived with a bang in 1970-71, scoring 774 runs in his debut Test series (still a record), and finished with a flourish, scoring 96 in his last Test innings, a century in his last first-class match, and a maiden hundred in his penultimate one-day game - all in 1987, at age 38. He retired as he always wanted to: when people asked why, not why not.

Which, of course, brings me back to the original query of the twentysomething lad at the CCI about Gavaskar and Tendulkar. I still don't have an answer, but I have a counter-query: Would there have been a Tendulkar as we know him if there was no Gavaskar?

Openers solid on rain-affected day

Bangladesh 42 for 0 (Tamim 14*, Imrul 26*) v West Indies
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

On a rainy day on a sluggish pitch after a delayed start, Bangladesh reached a comfortable 42 for 0 before rains returned to terminate the proceedings.

Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes, the left-handed openers, carefully negotiated a pretty good opening spell from Tino Best and the aggressive Kemar Roach as they eased themselves in the middle.

Tamim had a rush of blood in the first over when he slashed a full delivery over second slip. It was the only error from him, though. He put his head down and started to play the ball on its merit. Kayes was tested by a few bouncers from Roach and Best before he started to find his timing. He got off the mark on the 11th ball he faced before he unfurled couple of square-driven boundaries to get going. His best shot, and the shot of the morning, came against Roach when he stepped forward to square drive aerially over point.

For their part, the second-string West Indies team started off well with Best and Roach managing to squeeze some bounce on this slow track. The pitch didn't offer any help to the seamers but they bent their back, hit the right areas and used the bouncers intelligently to test the batsmen.

However, once the two were finished, the attack started to look pedestrian with the medium-pacers Darren Sammy and Dave Bernard in operation. The pitch started to look increasingly benign when rain intervened again to force an early tea.

Once the game resumed Sammy started to used the moisture-laden track to seam the ball around and pose couple of uncomfortable moments to the batsmen before torrential downpour prevented the game from continuing further on day one.

Katich and Ponting take control with tons

Australia 249 for 1 (Katich 104*, Ponting 100*) trail England 435 (Pietersen 69, Collingwood 64, Prior 56, Johnson 3-87, Hauritz 3-95) by 186 runs

Ricky Ponting went past 11,000 Test runs, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 2nd day, July 9, 2009
Ricky Ponting produced a chanceless hundred as Australia set themselves for a huge first innings © Getty Images
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Australia's bowling has lost its aura in recent times, but the batting order remains a powerful line-up led by one of the greatest to play the game. Ricky Ponting continued his prolific Ashes record with his 38th Test century, passing 11,000 runs in the process, while Simon Katich continued his rebirth as an opener with his first ton against England to lead Australia to an impressive 249 for 1 in reply to the home side's 435 on the second day in Cardiff.

If it was honours even at the end of the opening exchanges, it is now Australia who hold the advantage and will have designs on batting well past England's total to remove the danger of batting last. It was quite a turnaround for the tourists, who were given the run-around during the first session with England adding 99 in 16.5 overs of sparkling batting from the lower order, in particular Graeme Swann.

However, Australia's progress from the moment Ponting and Katich joined forces was methodical, attritional and thoroughly professional as they added 189. It was a lesson to England's batsmen who, despite collectively managing a very respectable total, individually wasted numerous starts. The pitch held few demons for batsmen who were set, which highlighted the value of Australia's two top-order players building on their foundations.

Katich could have departed for 10 when Andrew Flintoff, in the middle of a hostile spell that accounted for Phillip Hughes, couldn't hold a low return chance but Ponting didn't offer a chance in his 155-ball hundred that arrived off the penultimate ball of the day. Katich had brought up his own century moments earlier from 214 balls when he pulled Flintoff to fine leg. He is far removed from the batsman who was bemused by reverse swing in 2005 and it's one of cricket's great comeback stories.

Ponting already has a record that stands up with the legends and became the fourth batsman to pass 11,000 Test runs when he moved to 41, joining Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Allan Border with enough time in his career to finish top of the pile. He has also scored hundreds in four Ashes series, a record matched by only Don Bradman and Steve Waugh.

Top Curve
Prime Numbers

  • 8

    The number of centuries Ricky Ponting has scored against England. Only six batsmen have scored more hundreds in Ashes contests.
  • 50.68

    Ponting's average against England, at the end of the second day's play. The only country against whom he averages less than 50 is India (47.02).
  • 48.07

    The average partnership between Ponting and Simon Katich. It's their fifth century stand, and the highest, in 28 innings.
  • 57.42

    Katich's Test average in the last 14 months. In 29 innings he has scored six centuries and seven fifties.
  • 31.49

    Katich's strike rate against Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in his unbeaten 104. Against the fast bowlers his strike rate was 69.56.
Bottom Curve

And he'll have his mind set on doubling this innings before he's finished on a surface that may yet make the fourth innings a testing proposition. There was turn for Swann and Monty Panesar, especially from the footmarks, but it was slow and the batsmen had time to adjust. Katich often waited on the back foot to clip Panesar with the spin through the leg side, while Ponting cashed in whenever Swann over pitched. Swann sent down six maidens in his first 11 overs, ripped a couple past Katich's outside edge and could have had him leg before on 56, but when he started to force the issue there were more loose deliveries to be picked off.

Andrew Strauss tried various combinations, but found it difficult to build pressure as the batsmen found release through well-run singles and deft placement. James Anderson wasn't at his best while Stuart Broad was forced to leave the field for some treatment on his calf during the final session. As Ravi Bopara found yesterday success against a poor West Indies team needs to be put into context.

It was no surprise that the most hostile pace force was Flintoff, playing his first Test since Antigua in February, and as with his brief innings his first spell rekindled memories of Ashes contests past. He'd been held back from the attack during the half hour Australia batted before lunch and Hughes raced into his innings with a series of crisp off-side boundaries.

There was a plan to target Hughes with the short ball, but both Anderson and Broad offered too much width and allowed Hughes to free his arms. After the interval, though, the challenge went up a few levels as Flintoff was immediately thrown the ball. He began with three rapid bouncers to Hughes from around the wicket, probing the middle-and-leg line that Steve Harmison utilised for England Lions, throwing in a few verbals for good measure, then beat the left-hander with one that cut away off the seam.

It was a marvellous duel between a seasoned campaigner and a young, cocky batsman with Flintoff coming out on top. Switching to over the wicket he cramped Hughes for room as he tried another cut and Matt Prior held a sharp, low chance to his right as Flintoff stood in the middle of the pitch, arms aloft in celebration but it proved England's only moment of joy.

Australia began the day hoping to restrict England to well below 400 and that looked on the cards when Mitchell Johnson removed Broad with the aid of some thigh pad. However, Swann was immediately at his busy, cheeky best and the fifty stand with Anderson came up off 38 balls.

The introduction of Nathan Hauritz brought even greater acceleration as Swann immediately made a statement against his fellow offspinner. He lofted him over wide mid-on then slammed him straight down the ground for another boundary as Peter Siddle lost sight of the ball on the rope. The best of the lot, however, was his impish reverse sweep to complete an over that left the crowd in raptures. By the close, though, the English fans were more subdued and it was the Australians waving their flags.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Honours even in see-saw battle

England and Australia line up for the 65th time on Wednesday as the 2009 Ashes begins in Cardiff.

Australia hold the diminutive urn after a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing in 2006/07, but have since lost a number of iconic players including the greatest leg-spinner in Test history, Shane Warne.

Chastened by their last experience down under, England will aim to evoke the spirit of 2005, when they broke Australia's stranglehold with a brilliant 2-1 series win on home soil.

Honours even in see-saw battle

England 336 for 7 (Pietersen 69, Collingwood 64, Prior 56) v Australia

Matt Prior lifts an elegant pull, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 1st day, July 8, 2009
Matt Prior hit a sparkling half-century but his departure shortly before the close gave Australia a boost © Getty Images

There was little to choose between these two teams in the lead-up to this eagerly anticipated Ashes series and hardly anything to split them at the end of an engrossing opening day at Cardiff. England were twice pulling away from Australia, but a hard-working attack grabbed wickets at crucial times. Kevin Pietersen gave his innings away for 69 and Peter Siddle took a vital brace with the second new ball, after Matt Prior and Andrew Flintoff had launched a stirring sixth-wicket partnership, as the hosts ended on 336 for 7.

That final scoreline gives a fair reflection of the entertainment on offer. The early exchanges had the sense of two slightly uncertain sides sizing each other up, but soon the blows were being traded. It was the Australian quicks who settled first with Mitchell Johnson striking twice before lunch, however as Pietersen - who passed 1000 runs against Australia - and Paul Collingwood added 138 in 41 overs there was a window in Ricky Ponting's new world minus the great bowlers of the past.

However, the final session showed that this current Australian team will fight for everything when firstly Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Hauritz made their mark before Siddle's late intervention after Prior and Flintoff added 86. In 31 overs 144 runs flowed and four wickets fell during a spell of Test cricket near its best.

Most frustrating from the England batting perspective was that the top order had done the hard work. Three thirties, a fifty and two in the sixties smacked of a wasted opportunity to make a strong statement. Especially galling was Pietersen's x-rated sweep against Hauritz which looped to short leg, five runs after Michael Clarke dropped a stinging catch at short cover, and it continued the trait of him falling to spinners who are not perceived a major threat.

His departure left England on 241 for 5, yet 16 overs later the momentum was back with the home side as Flintoff revived memories of his 2005 alliance with Geraint Jones alongside England's latest wicketkeeper. It was a thrilling stand, but Siddle had kept pounding in all day and was rewarded with Flintoff's inside edge and a fine inswinger to castle Prior.

Top Curve
The Pietersen-Collingwood show

  • 63

    The average partnership between Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood in 39 Test innings.
  • 2394

    The number of partnership runs added by Pietersen and Collingwood. It's the highest for both players with a single partner. The next best for Pietersen is 1599, with Alastair Cook, while Collingwood's added 997 with Ian Bell.
  • 1598

    The number of runs added by this pair for the fourth wicket, which is the England's highest for this wicket. Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe are next with 1448.
  • 54.31

    Pietersen's Test average against Australia. In 21 innings he has two hundreds and seven half-centuries. Australia is also the first opposition against whom Pietersen has passed 1000 runs.
  • 42.83

    Collingwood's Test average against Australia, which is only marginally below his career average of 44.46.
Bottom Curve

Still, the sight of Hauritz turning a couple off straight during the second session won't have gone unnoticed in the England dressing room and if the lower order can edge the total towards 400 the spinners will have something to work with. The management clearly rate the batting skills of Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann because they sent in James Anderson as a nightwatchman at No. 8.

Australia sprang something of a surprise when they named Hilfenhaus and Hauritz in their eleven ahead of Stuart Clark. Hilfenhaus justified his inclusion with the first wicket of the series when he drew Alastair Cook into a loose prod outside off and Mike Hussey held a blinding catch at gully. Andrew Strauss played compactly for 30 but got into a tangle against a sharp bouncer from Johnson and gloved in the slips, unsure whether to attack to leave the short ball.

Ravi Bopara was given a working over at No. 3 - reminding him this is a significant step up from helping himself against West Indies earlier in the summer - and was twice hit, firstly in the throat by Siddle, and later on the shoulder by Johnson. He also kept the slips interested with a few flashy drives and, although he also pulled out a few elegant shots, there was no sense of permanency. He fell to a clever piece of deception by Johnson who used the slower ball to good effect and Bopara spooned a catch to cover. Johnson, as against England Lions, didn't find much swing but showed he had more tricks up his sleeve

England lunched on an uneasy 97 for 3 but a steady afternoon of accumulation ensured Ponting had plenty to ponder as he tried to juggle his bowling options. Pietersen made a nervy start, and moved with a limp that was blamed on his calf rather than achilles, but after the interval he twice drove full out-swingers from Hilfenhaus through the covers. When Haurtiz was introduced early in the session the temptation will have been huge to dominate the under-pressure offspinner, but instead Pietersen opted for dabbed sweeps and gentle nudges during a 20-over period where there wasn't a boundary off the bat.

The shackles were cast off when Collingwood twice cut Hauritz to the cover boundary before Pietersen danced down the pitch and drove Clarke sweetly wide of mid-off. Australia came hard at the start of the final session and Collingwood edged behind where Brad Haddin took a fine catch to his right, an important moment for the keeper who had dropped two similar chances against England Lions. Then, with Pietersen set for something substantial, he went to sweep a delivery from Hauritz wide outside off to leave the innings in the balance.

England have picked Prior on the strength of his batting and he showed his class through the off side, while Flintoff looked as comfortable in the middle than at any time in recent memory. Both were helped by some overs from Hauritz and Simon Katich which meant their eye was in before the second new ball. Runs came quickly - some off the middle and some the edge - as Prior went to a 54-ball half-century, but back came Australia again. If the rest of the series can match the opening this will be a fascinating contest.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Test of character for both teams

Kevin Pietersen pulls at the nets, Cardiff, July 6, 2006
Kevin Pietersen, the player Australia most fear © Getty Images

England's turn to host the Ashes always results in an extended build-up and after 31 months the talk stops on Wednesday and a pair of teams with many fresh faces continue a 122-year rivalry. Both sides have changed line-ups considerably since the past two series and the chest injury to Brett Lee, who is out of the Cardiff and Lord's games, takes further experience away from Australia while increasing the comfort of the local batsmen.

The home side has a new Ashes captain in Andrew Strauss and two match-winners in Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. All three have beaten Australia and lost heavily to them. In the baggy green corner sits Ricky Ponting, a leader on his fourth tour of England, and he is in charge of an outfit that can no longer rely on Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist et al. After losing to India and South Africa, they crossed the Indian Ocean and beat the Proteas to retain the game's top spot earlier this year, but doubt remains over their status.

On the rankings page this is a battle between No. 1 and No. 5, but for Australia and England it is much more than that. The history of the competition is so detailed that the players will be told to break it down to a simple, clutter-free contest. It will be impossible for the Ashes debutants and how they cope with the initial stages could determine the result of the first Test.

Instead of Lord's or Edgbaston or Old Trafford staging the opening game, the players have stepped into Wales for the series welcome in Cardiff. It is the city's first Test match and there are still rumblings that it has been given a chapter of Ashes history. Australian supporters have tried to move on from the gripping 2005 defeat and England fans seem to have slept through the 2006-07 whitewash. Both sides want this version to be unforgettable.

Form guide

(last five matches, most recent first)

England - WWDDD
Australia - LWWWL

Watch out for ...

Kevin Pietersen is the player Australia feared most when they had Warne and McGrath, a world-beating pair which could not stop him from taking 963 runs at 53.50 in the two previous series. An Achilles injury threatens to be Pietersen's Achilles and he has only started running in the past week. A hobbling Pietersen could derail England's hopes, but his swagger is the most pronounced during the biggest contests and he will do anything to make it through to The Oval.

In South Africa Mitchell Johnson turned from a sometimes meek and wayward operator into the most frightening bowler in the game. He forced Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis to retire hurt while taking two wickets in the same opening spell in Durban, his potent short deliveries backed up by a new-found ability to swing the ball in as well as moving it away. Throw in his silky yet powerful batting and his performances could determine the series.

Team news

All of England's players are fit so they have to trim two men from their squad. Ian Bell has returned to play for Warwickshire so the final choice will be between Monty Panesar and Graham Onions. Panesar had a much longer workout in the nets than Onions on Tuesday.

England (possible) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ravi Bopara, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Graham Onions.

Lee's stomach injury has seriously disrupted Australia's plans and leaves a delicate choice for the tourists. Picking Nathan Hauritz alongside Johnson, Siddle and Clark is the most orthodox option, even though the offspinner has found county batsmen a challenge in the two warm-ups. Ben Hilfenhaus and Andrew McDonald will also have their cases pushed and all the combinations carry an element of risk.

Australia (possible) 1 Simon Katich, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Stuart Clark, 11 Peter Siddle.

Pitch and conditions

Ponting expects the pitch to have some moisture at the start, providing "slow-ish seam and trampoline" bounce, but he believes it will turn. The pitch spent most of Monday morning under the covers and when it was revealed in the afternoon there was not much green on the strip. Less colour was on show on Tuesday.

Andrew Strauss said it looked like a good pitch, but one that would not offer much pace or bounce. "There will be a little bit in it for everyone," he said, "and that's the sort of wicket we were hoping to see." The weather has been unpredictable, with rain and sun fighting for attention, and more wet conditions are predicted for the end of the week.

Stats and trivia

  • In 300 Ashes Tests England have won 95; Australia have been successful in 121
  • It is 1410 days since England won their last Ashes Test, at Trent Bridge in 2005
  • None of Australia's fast bowlers have played a Test in England
  • Allan Border was the last Australian captain to lose two Ashes series when his sides were beaten in 1985 and 1986-87
  • Australia must win the contest to keep the No. 1 Test rating


"We know the type of cricket we need to play to win this series and we've got good ideas as to the type Australia are going to play too. We have to keep nice and calm and controlled."
Andrew Strauss

"Their side reads pretty good and I think if you matched both sides up on paper it would be pretty hard to pick the winner."

The biggest day in Welsh cricket

Andy Flower, Ottis Gibson and Andrew Strauss deep in discussion, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, July 7, 2009
If the pitch turns, an indecent amount of humble pie will have to be consumed by all those who would deny Cardiff its week in the sun © Getty Images

"Come Wednesday morning everybody will be cheering the British cricket team." So bristled Robert Croft last weekend with a relish you could almost taste, the "British" a prickly, pointed deviation from the norm. Coming in the wake of some typically provocative needling from his Sky Sports colleague Charles Colvile, it was a comment entirely in keeping with this proud Welsh offspinner, who during the 1997 Ashes series told me that he celebrated his selection for the England team as the equivalent of being picked for the British Lions.

Yet make no mistake: today is the biggest day in the history of Welsh cricket, and you would need a degree in curmudgeonry to begrudge the Principality its moment in the sun. Sadly, to judge by the whingeing of the past few months, tens of thousands, it seems, including the England captain, are eminently qualified.

Yes, Katherine Jenkins will sing the Welsh national anthem before play. Yes, the majority of spectators would rather give up their first-born than see their national team lose to England at rugby union. And yes, you could be forgiven for wondering, as Andrew Strauss has done, whether a match played in Cardiff can bestow any home advantage on the ostensible host nation.

But no, you would not be mistaken for imagining, as so many of my students do, that the acronym ECB stands for the England Cricket Board. And yes, you would be wrong to believe that there have been no official efforts, however futile, to squeeze a W between the E and the C. And yes, lest we forget, the current ICC president, David Morgan, is Welsh, as is Hugh Morris, managing director of the England team. Glamorgan, furthermore, have won more County Championships (three) than the combined might of Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Somerset (one).

Seven years ago, gene scientists at London's University College claimed to have found proof that the Welsh are the only "true" Britons, adding substance to the oft-rubbished notion that Celtic Britain underwent a form of ethnic cleansing by Anglo-Saxon invaders following the Roman withdrawal in the fifth century. Between 50% and 100% of the indigenous population of what was to become England was purportedly wiped out, with Offa's Dyke acting as a "genetic barrier" protecting those on the Welsh side.

Which may well explain why pride is so integral to the Welsh character, a pride symbolised by a renascent language and finding its collective identity in support of a rugby union team that unites the rival communities of East and West Wales while consistently battering and bettering the vastly more affluent English. As John Winterson Richards puts it in his wittily provocative yet insightful book The Xenophobe's Guide to the Welsh : "Welsh pride is real pride - the sort of mindless, instinctive, animal pride that requires no justification or excuse. It is simply pride for the sake of pride. Such pride is the only thing one has left when one has been stripped of everything else."


Let's stop all the sniping and carping. The "England" cricket team has always been a misnomer. Scots have captained it; Celts of all hues have decorated its ranks. Now, finally, a Test match is going to be played in another corner of Britain

Welshmen have done duty for England but not all that many and not terribly often - and none will be on duty today, nor in this series, though the allrounder James Harris could be an outside bet for the 2010-11 Ashes. Croft's 21 Tests make him the most-capped Glamorgan player, although another offspinner, Bangor-born Pat Pocock, won 25 while playing for Surrey. The most fondly remembered cricketing Taff, for all that, is Don Shepherd, who in a career that endured from 1950 to 1972 harvested more first-class wickets (2218) than Trevor Bailey, Ray Illingworth or Hedley Verity, yet never once found favour with the England selectors. The justification most commonly given was that his modus operandi was not all that different from that of Derek Underwood, with whom the latter part of his career had the misfortune to coincide.

Greatness came closest to touching Cyril Walters, the first of two men born in the Principality to captain England (Tony Lewis being the other) and the only one to do so against Australia. On the opening day of the 1934 Lord's Test the elegant Worcestershire opener stroked his silky way to 82, drawing the highest praise from the Manchester Guardian's correspondent. "It was by MacLaren out of F. S. Jackson," raved Neville Cardus, who had worshipped MacLaren as a boy. "His strokes were aglow with style; he made them swiftly and late. His wrists gave lustre to every movement of his bat." Walters made over 400 runs in that series at 50 but quit the international arena the following year, having won just 11 caps, at the request, it is said, of a new wife who didn't like the game and, more to the point, wanted him at her side at all times.

Coitus interruptus of a rather different order befell the lone Welshman to play a significant role in an Ashes victory (if we discount Stuart MacGill, whose mother was born in Bridgend), namely Simon Jones, whose combination of hwyl, high pace and reverse swing brought him 18 scalps in 2005 before knee trouble cut him down. He has not added to his 18 Test outings since the decisive Trent Bridge Test, and probably never will. Such is the curse of the Joneses: his father, Jeff, a rapid left-armer, toured Australia in 1965-66, and helped win the 1968 Wisden Trophy series in the Caribbean, but also had his career foreshortened by injury.

Had Jones the Younger not been so coldly deserted by Dame Fortune, England's prospects in this series would have been considerably enhanced, such was the spell he cast over the Australian batsmen four summers ago. Still, the Welsh influence on this series may yet be catalytic if the SWALEC Stadium pitch turns as anticipated, in which case an indecent amount of humble pie will have to be consumed by all those who would deny Cardiff its week in the sun.

Simon Jones displays the Ashes at half time at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, November 29, 2008
Simon Jones: the only Welshman to play a significant role in an England Ashes win © Getty Images

Treachery can surely be discounted. The last time a British ground broke its Test virginity during an Ashes series was 1902, when both Edgbaston and Bramall Lane entered the ranks. Neither yielded a home win - the weather saved Australia in Birmingham after Wilfred Rhodes bowled them out for 36, and they won in Sheffield. The latter paid a heavy price for such treason, never being entrusted with another major international. Given that Glamorgan bid a cool £3.2m to host this game, it is hard to envisage such a faux pas being repeated.


So let's stop all the sniping and carping. The "England" cricket team has always been a misnomer. Scots have captained it; Celts of all hues have decorated its ranks. Now, finally, a Test match is going to be played in another corner of Britain. In the words of the Principality's finest rock band, Man, "Get up, come on!"

AND SO TO OMENS. Not since the 1980s, and only twice since the 19th century, have England taken consecutive Ashes series at home. Both triumphs, instructively, owed an inordinate amount to one outstanding individual. In 1953 and 1956, Jim Laker harvested a total of 55 wickets at 11.89, including 35 at 8.91 in England's three victories. In 1977, 1981 and 1985 - which saw back-to-back-to-back series wins - Ian Botham tallied 75 victims at 23.43 in addition to two match-winning hundreds and countless gravity-mocking catches. In Kevin Pietersen, and perhaps Andrew Flintoff, England have one, maybe two chaps capable of such derring-doings.

That both those periods of domination occurred under the auspices of Conservative governments may or may not be purely coincidental. Likewise the fact that, since 1956, England have twice regained the Ashes at home under Labour and just once under the Tories. Indeed, the Australians have greater cause to draw comfort from history. The last time they came here in the midst of a recession, in 1989, they did so as marginal underdogs, yet retrieved the urn with ease. Never, moreover, have they lost a series here in the final year of a decade. Shane or no Shane, England can consider themselves well and truly warned.

Vaughan expects more Flintoff fireworks

CARDIFF (AFP) — Michael Vaughan believes Andrew Flintoff's latest brush with authority can work in England's favour when they begin their bid to regain the Ashes when the first Test starts here Wednesday.

Vaughan was England's captain when they regained the Ashes in 2005, with all-rounder Flintoff playing a starring role as they won their first Test series against Australia since 1986/87.

But injuries have seen Flintoff, England's captain when they were thrashed 5-0 in Australia in 2006/07, fail to recapture that form while he has blotted his copybook with several off-field incidents.

The most recent was during England's pre-Ashes camp to Belgium when he missed the team bus for a trip to World War I battlefield sites, but Vaughan, who retired from all cricket last week, said he believed the hosts could turn that to their advantage.

"In a funny kind of way, what happened last week would have been a positive thing for him and the team," said Vaughan, speaking at the launch of Virgin's 'fifty50' charity initiative on Tuesday.

"Freddie (Flintoff) is very motivated and I'm really looking forward to him emulating what he achieved in 2005.

"He hasn't played that much cricket of late but of the cricket I've seen he's definitely bowling with that intensity and that pace and he's going to be a real threat.

"I just want to see him get five-fors (five wickets in an innings), I want to see him really rip through the Australians and get big wicket hauls and if he does that his batting will look after itself because he will be going into bat with a lot of confidence."

Vaughan, who has yet to decide on his post-cricket career despite being widely tipped to become a broadcaster on the sport, said he would have no problems being a spectator in Cardiff.

"I think this is going to be the easy one (to watch)," he said. "The last one was the most difficult because I'd missed it with injury and I'd had nine months previously in the gym and tried my hardest to get fit and it didn't come off.

"This is probably the first Ashes series for four that I will be able to sit back and enjoy because the other two I either played in or I was injured for, so there's no real pressure on me at all."

Meanwhile Vaughan backed current England captain Andrew Strauss, who played four years ago, to match his 2005 achievement.

"Winning the Ashes is almost like winning a major in golf, it's the pinnacle of being an England cricket captain," said Vaughan. "There's the World Cup and then there's the Ashes, it really is that big.

"As a captain you always get remembered for what you do against Australia and that's just the way it is.

"I'm hoping Straussy has a great time and the team play very well because I do think we've got a great chance of beating Australia."

Follow the npower Ashes Series 2009 with us

Strauss believes in England

Captain Andrew Strauss is confident he will lead an England side into the first npower Test tomorrow with the character to handle the pressure and expectation of playing in the Ashes.

It's England v Australia for the npower Ashes Series 2009 as England look to regain the Ashes in cricket's most hard-fought and historic contest.

Follow all the action throughout July and August here on with Ashes news, Ashes scores and all the background information you need on both teams - coming over the next few days in this section.

And the latest video from the England and Australia camps, and all the matches throughout the npower Ashes can be watched on the player on this page.

npower encourages businesses to bat for England

npower, official sponsor of the Ashes Test Series, has conducted new research to find out how businesses and their employees across the UK are going to follow the Ashes series while at work.

Kind-hearted bosses are planning to let employees get behind the England cricket team this summer, according to npower, with one in 16 UK employees saying that their boss was letting them follow the hotly-contested npower Ashes series between England and Australia during the working day, with many installing TVs and radios to make sure they don’t miss a minute of the action.

npower surveyed over 1300 UK workers to see if they would be getting behind Kevin Pietersen and the rest of the England cricket team this summer, with nearly one third (28 per cent) of workers planning to follow the Ashes while at work. While the majority (37 per cent) said it was because they are cricket fans and wouldn’t miss it, over one in 10 (11 per cent) said it would be good for staff morale during difficult economic times. However, one in 30 bosses admitted it was because they feared employees would take sick days if they weren’t allowed to watch the cricket at work.

While applauding patriotic bosses, npower is urging businesses planning to install extra TVs and radios to consider switching other appliances off on order to keep energy consumption to a minimum.

Julia Lynch Williams, director of energy services at npower, said: "It is great that UK businesses are planning to get behind the team and follow them during the Ashes. However, just installing one extra appliance, such as a TV or radio, and keeping it on for the duration of the working-day will increase a businesses’ energy consumption. All we are asking is that if you are getting behind Strauss, Pietersen, Collingwood and co, that you adopt a ’switch on switch off’ policy during the test series. Fingers crossed it’s going to be 2005 all over again"

Former England cricket captain Alec Stewart is also backing npower’s campaign, commenting: "The Ashes is the test series that all English, and Australian, cricket fans look forward to and it is great that npower has been such a huge part of English cricket for so many years. It is also fantastic that the nation’s workforce is planning to get behind the team, whether that is via TV, radio or online.

"Since hanging my bat up I have been involved in a business venture myself, so I know how important it is to save energy, both in terms of cost and carbon emissions, which is why I am backing npower’s ’switch on switch off’ initiative - get behind the lads but just turn off a printer or photocopier instead"

Julia Lynch Williams continued: "Many people don’t realise that many local businesses are integral to the success of the Ashes series. As part of our commitment to providing energy advice to SMEs, we want to showcase some of those businesses that are working so hard behind the scenes, whether it’s at the grounds or entertaining the fans"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Harmison misses out on Test squad

First Ashes Test: England v Australia
Venue: The Swalec Stadium, Cardiff Date: 8-12 July
Coverage: Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live sports extra, BBC Radio 4 Long Wave, Red Button and BBC Sport website, plus live text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles. Live on Sky Sports

Steve Harmison
Harmison took six wickets against Australia for England Lions

Steve Harmison has failed to make the 13-man England squad for the first Ashes Test against Australia, which starts in Cardiff on Wednesday.

The paceman put himself in contention after taking six wickets for the England Lions against the tourists in a warm-up game but he has been left out.

England have picked the same 11 that played Warwickshire, with Ian Bell and Graham Onions being added to the side.

Spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar have been picked ahead of Adil Rashid.

Swann, the leading Test wicket taker in 2009, was certain to feature, while Yorkshireman leg spinner Rashid was hoping to be selected ahead of Panesar.

"It's an incredible feeling to be picked, I can't believe it," Swann told BBC Sport.

"I feel like a kid at Christmas and it's going to be absolutely brilliant. I'm very excited.

"I'm like a child when it comes to anything exciting and I'm bouncing off the walls."

The pitch at Cardiff is expected to take spin and England face the selection poser of whether to go for two spinners in their bowling attack.

Panesar took 3-10 in 7.4 overs in the drawn match against Warwickshire and, although he has been lacking form recently, England have gone for his experience against the younger Rashid.

All-rounder Andrew Flintoff will also return to the Test arena after recovering from a knee injury, which forced him to miss the 2-0 series victory over West indies.

He is expected to bat at number seven with keeper Matt Prior set for the number six slot.


"We were delighted with the way in which the team performed in the warm-up match at Edgbaston and it was very encouraging to see Andrew Flintoff bowl so well on his return to the side," said national selector Geoff Miller.

"We were keen to show consistency in selection and retain the nucleus of the side that performed so well against West Indies in the Test series earlier this summer.

"Graham Onions has made an excellent start to his Test career and gives us a different option when we consider the make-up of our bowling attack and the type of conditions we will encounter."

Onions took 10 wickets against West Indies earlier this summer and has been picked in the 13 ahead of not only Harmison but also left-arm seamer Ryan Sidebottom.

"There is healthy competition for places in our starting line-up at present," added Miller.

"The strong performance by the England Lions against Australia at Worcester demonstrated that we are starting to develop a larger squad of players who can compete effectively with international class players."

He bowls at over 90mph and, with his height, it's a pretty handy package
Aussie captain Ricky Ponting on Harmison

Harmison's inclusion was discussed by England selectors after his impressive display for the England Lions.

The Durham seamer took four wickets in Australia's first innings and then dismissed opener Phillip Hughes and skipper Ricky Ponting in the tourists' second innings on Friday.

He claimed the scalp of Hughes in both innings and exposed the opener's vulnerability against short-pitched bowling.

Harmison had played down his chances ahead of the squad announcement as he expected England to play with two spinners, while the form of his England rivals Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Onions put them ahead of him in the pecking order.

But Miller did give Harmison hope of a recall later in the series if the pitches suit his attributes of pace and steepling bounce.

"It's a long series, we've got five Test matches in all kinds of conditions. We need strength in depth," said Miller.

"We did talk about Steve and one or two others. We are in a nice position where we have got people who can come in at one or two minutes notice."

Australia captain Ponting is fully aware of the threat Harmison carries and hailed the bowler after the draw against the England Lions.

"Anyone who can bowl that sort of pace, with his height and the ability to swing the odd one away from the right-hander, you've got all the makings of one of the all-time great fast bowlers there's no doubt about that," said Ponting.

"He bowls at over 90mph and, with his height, it's a pretty handy package.

"I think we've known for a long time that he can be a quality bowler on his day and I think at different times during this game he's shown that."

England squad: Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior, Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Jimmy Anderson, Monty Panesar, Ian Bell, Graham Onions.

England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff

Katich backs Hughes in bouncer battle

Phillip Hughes falls to the bouncer for the second time in the match, England Lions v Australians, New Road, July 3, 2009
Phillip Hughes was worked over by Steve Harmison, but his opener partner Simon Katich believes he can respond when the Test series begins © Getty Images
Related Links
Player/Officials: Phillip Hughes | Simon Katich
Teams: Australia

Phillip Hughes' success against the short-pitched bowling of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel has convinced his opening partner, Simon Katich, of his readiness to combat a bumper barrage from England's pacemen from Wednesday. Like South Africa, England have signalled their intention to test Hughes' unorthodox technique with a series of bouncers, but Katich is adamant the 20-year-old is worthy of the challenge.

Hughes appeared vulnerable in the extreme during Australia's recent tour match against England Lions, during which Steve Harmison dismissed him for scores of seven and eight with short-pitched offerings delivered from around the wicket. England's selectors opted against tapping into Harmison's momentum - he was omitted from the 13-man squad for the first Test - but the hosts will almost certainly look to replicate his tactic of denying Hughes width outside off-stump and peppering him with bouncers.

The noises emanating from the England camp are similar to those aired by the South Africans in March. After Hughes' streaky debut performance in Johannesburg, Mickey Arthur told reporters the opener "wasn't comfortable under the short ball" and ordered the likes of Steyn and Morkel to shorten their length to him. Hughes responded with sparkling innings of 115 and 160 in the ensuing match in Durban; performances Katich believes will serve him well throughout the Ashes.

"The South Africans [targeted Hughes] and he had a lot of success there," Katich said. "Unfortunately he got a couple of good balls and that happens at the top of the order. He didn't do a huge amount wrong in the second innings, it just kept coming back at him.

"I think he will go away in the next few days anyway and sort out what he is going to do to counter that. There's no doubt England will come at him with those plans after seeing it happen last week at Worcester, but I am sure his temperament is good enough to withstand that battle."

Hughes has displayed a remarkable capacity to deal with expectation in his fledgling international career, but the prospect of opening the batting in the highly-pressurised atmosphere of an Ashes series represents another step up for the rookie left-hander. The Australians are optimistic he will build on his opening partnership with Katich, which has averaged 65.33 to date, however England will be equally encouraged by the apparent short-comings exposed by Harmision during the tour match in Worcester.

Certainly, the prospect of a pre-Ashes phoney war is not fazing Hughes. Targeted by Arthur and AB de Villiers in the press in his maiden Test series, he is adamant he will not be distracted by the public comments of his adversaries.

"When the Steyns and the Morkels are coming at you and trying to rip your head off, I was very pumped and very excited," Hughes recalled. "I take that as a massive challenge. It was a big contest. At the end of the day it's bat versus ball in the middle. You don't want to play the bowler. It's bat versus ball."

Katich might not be under the immediate pressure of Hughes entering the Ashes series - his 221 runs at 55.25 in the two tour matches have steadied a nervous top order - but the senior half of Australia's opening combination feels he has much to prove.

After posting a modest 15 on debut at Headingley in 2001, Katich was dropped from the Australian side for more than two years. His 2005 campaign proved similarly disheartening - he scored 248 runs at 27.55 in the middle order - and resulted in a further 30 months in Test exile and a demotion from Cricket Australia's central contract list.

Having now reinvented himself as a dependable opener, Katich views this series as a chance at Ashes redemption. "I didn't think I was going to be here, so to be here for me, I'm very proud of that," he said. "To be able to fight back from when I was out of the team with most people thinking I was no chance of getting back on this tour, I want to make the most of it.

"Not that I wasn't grateful for the opportunity last time, but I think this time with a younger group I'm really looking forward to trying to get us off to good starts and help us out at the top of the order. For me it's about enjoying the contest, that's what this Ashes is all about. I feel really relaxed about it because I know I've done the work and I'm playing as well as I've played in the past."

Yousuf century gives Pakistan lead

Mohammad Yousuf marked his return to official cricket with his first century in Sri Lanka, a serene innings that lifted Pakistan from a precarious 80 for 4, and put them two runs ahead of Sri Lanka's total by the time he finally got out. Consequently Pakistan were in considerable control of a match that see-sawed for the first four sessions, with neither team claiming clear ascendance.

Yousuf got solid support from Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik, with whom he added 139 and 75 respectively. Those partnerships were the first time in the match that batsmen played with assurance for long periods. To be fair to Sri Lanka, the pitch had eased a bit from yesterday, but the wicketless Ajantha Mendis proved to be a crucial factor on the second day.

As they are so far reputed to, Pakistan negotiated Mendis well, reading him early on most occasions and taking 89 runs from his 25 overs, which meant Mendis couldn't create enough pressure with scoreless periods.

It wasn't always that easy, though. When Yousuf came in to bat, Pakistan had just lost nightwatchman Abdur Rauf for a nightwatchman-like 31, and were about to lose captain Younis Khan, who had never looked comfortable, soon.

Nevertheless the overnight batsmen had managed to frustrate Sri Lanka for one hour. Playing and missing, prodding and nudging, they survived and put together a 50-run partnership, 31 of which Rauf contributed. Their wickets were the last bit of joy Sri Lanka were to have in a long time.

Both Yousuf and Misbah calmly blunted the attack. Yousuf took the lead in scoring runs, although Misbah looked the more solid partner. Yousuf had three shouts against him early in the innings, but none of them looked decidedly out. Thilan Thushara troubled him with the inwards movement, but he countered it by getting outside the line of the off. A couple of flashy shots there got Yousuf boundaries too.

Neither of the batsmen looked hurried, they felt no need to hit the bowlers off the rhythm. Instead they played normal cricketing shots, kept rotating the strike, and it was always going to be tough for the bowlers in hot and humid conditions.

Which is what made Mendis' role even more crucial. He didn't look like he had settled into any sort of rhythm, also bowling four no-balls. He was hit for back-to-back boundaries to usher in Yousuf's fifty. By then Misbah had reached just 26 off 83. A crucial moment followed when Rangana Herath finally came on to bowl in the 48th over of the innings. In his second over, a bat-pad escaped the umpire's eye, and Yousuf was let off on 57. Quite similar to how Tharanga Paranavitana got a life when on 60, but it was clear as to which team accepted the gift better.

Misbah, who had looked the most comfortable batsman on this pitch, was slow nonetheless. Post a 38-minute rain break in the middle session, though, he targeted Herath, lofting him twice to cow corner. A swivel pull off the same bowler brought Misbah his half-century, but Herath got his aggressor seven minutes before tea, making sure Pakistan still had some way to go before they could impose themselves.

Yousuf, though, looked set to take Pakistan there, getting his second fifty as calmly as he got his first. The late-cuts, the drives, the pulls were all back. So was the sajda, when he cut Mendis past cover in the 74th over to get to his century. Yousuf might have been on his knees then, metaphorically, though, the bowlers would have felt the same.

Sangakkara took the new ball as soon as it became due, and two overs later Yousuf get out in the only matter that seemed possible, especially if umpires missed the rare edge. Caught in two minds, whether to cover his stumps, or whether to run when he had dabbed a Nuwan Kulasekara delivery, he started off too late and was beaten by a direct-hit from Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Kulasekara had been the pick of the bowlers, and with the new ball he got his movement back. A set Malik was beaten by one that pitched on middle and off, and moved away just enough to beat the bat but not enough to miss the off stump. Sri Lanka were clawing their way back again, and Pakistan needed a sizeable lead, considering they were to bat last.

Akmal rose to the occasion, playing some gorgeous cover-drives in his 35-ball 31. Despite Umar Gul'as falling in a similar fashion as Malik to the same bowler, Akmal was fast taking the game away from Sri Lanka. But there was another final twist left, in the penultimate over of the day: Mathews' fast, flat, direct-hit from fine leg to run Akmal out. Pakistan's last four added 48, the corresponding figure for Sri Lanka was 98.

Rain ensures series win for India

7.3 overs West Indies 27 for 1 v India Match abandoned
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

India won the series 2-1 after torrential downpour terminated the fourth ODI. With this victory, India have won their fifth straight ODI series.

The game got off to a delayed start and Dhoni made the obvious decision to bowl on a damp pitch that offered some help to the seamers. Ishant Sharma, bowling a fuller length here, removed Chris Gayle and along with Ashish Nehra, didn't allow West Indies to get off to a breezy start. Ishant hit the good length and pinged the off-stump line and Nehra got some seam movement into the right-handed batsmen. Sarwan hit a gorgeous on-the-up square drive against Ishant in the sixth over to break free but just as he started to find his rhythm, the rains came down again to kill the contest.

ICC Cricket Updates