Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sussex grant request for Prior rest

The ECB has announced that Sussex have agreed to a request from the England team management for England wicketkeeper Matt Prior to be rested from Saturday's Twenty20 finals day at Edgbaston.
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Dyson sacked as West Indies coach

West Indies cricket lurches from one precipitous state to another, with the news that the board (WICB) has sacked the coach, John Dyson, ahead of the forthcoming Champions Trophy.

Dyson departs after West Indies' calamitous Test and one-day series defeats to Bangladesh. The Windies fielded a severely depleted team following a dispute between the WICB and the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) over contracts, during which the majority of leading players declined to nominate for selection.

"At the moment I don't wish to talk," Dyson said when contacted by Cricinfo on Thursday.

Dyson will be temporarily replaced by David Williams, the assistant coach. Williams has never hid his ambition to become the side's full-time mentor, having previously expressed his dissatisfaction at the appointment of Dyson, the former Australia batsman and Sri Lanka coach, over a West Indian candidate.

Dyson assumed the post in 2007 from another Australian, Bennett King, but was almost immediately in the bad books of West Indies fans when he couldn't attend their series against Zimbabwe. His appointment came hot on the heels of Jeff Dujon's less than ringing endorsement of cricket in the region, when he said "no coach in the world can help West Indies".

Nevertheless, Dyson made a positive start when West Indies beat South Africa at Port Elizabeth - their first Test victory since May 2005, and first outside of the Caribbean in seven years. The Windies amassed a Test record of three wins, seven draws and nine defeats during his tenure - culminating in four straight losses to England and Bangladesh - and a 9-25 win-loss ratio in the one-day international arena. They lost nine of their final 10 completed 50-over matches against England, India and Bangladesh.

The West Indians fared better in the 20-over format, advancing to the semi-final of the World Twenty20 in June. But perhaps their greatest achievement under Dyson was their 1-0 Test series victory over England in February; a result that secured them the Wisden Trophy for the first time since 1998.

The feel-good factor did not last. After the ECB and WICB hastily arranged a Test and ODI series in England, Dyson was left with a disgruntled squad, several of whom yearned to be playing in the lucrative IPL. Chris Gayle prolonged his stay with Kolkata Knight Riders until the eve of the Lord's Test, while Dwayne Bravo was absent from both Test matches while plying his trade for Mumbai Indians.

In addition to Dyson's sacking, the manager, Omar Khan, has been replaced by Lance Gibbs for the Champions Trophy due to the "special circumstances" of the tour. West Indies are also sending a shadow side to South Africa in September despite the main players saying they were available for selection.

Younis not about to resign

Younis Khan has taken responsibility for Pakistan's Test and ODI series defeats in Sri Lanka but has refused to resign from the captaincy. He had come under widespread criticism from the domestic media and former players, who also demanded major changes in the Pakistan Cricket Board's setup and asked the senior team management to take responsibility for the defeats. Younis has instead hit back at those who suggested he should step down.

"I accept the responsibility of defeat, but will not apologise to anyone nor will I resign as captain because it's part of the game to lose and win," Younis was quoted as saying by the Pakistan daily Jang. "I am trying my level best to lead the team and achieve the best results but some people want me to relinquish the captaincy, which I won't. Am I not a good captain or do I lack leadership qualities?"

Pakistan lost the three-Test series 0-2 and surrendered the ODI series with their third consecutive loss in the five-match series before saving face with wins in the last two ODIs. Younis singled out those two wins as proof that Pakistan could do well in Sri Lanka. "We won the last two one-day matches by huge margins, and it proved that the team had the capacity and the talent to win the Tests and one-day matches," he said. "But due to the batsmen's inconsistency, we failed to finish properly."

Younis, who returned to Pakistan after the ODI series, had earlier blamed a weak domestic setup as the reason for below-par performances in Sri Lanka. Reiterating that 'groupism' within the team had nothing to do with the team's poor showing on tour, Younis defended Pakistan's unity. "There were no differences in the team. In fact I can say that the team was never as united as it was during the Sri Lanka tour," he said.

Responding to accusations of match-fixing, Younis said: "Baseless allegations are affecting the team's performances. No one should doubt my integrity. I can never resort to any wrongdoing."

BCCI turns to top legal brains for help on WADA issue

The Indian board has sought the opinion of two top legal authorities in the country to firm up its stand against the contentious 'whereabouts' clause in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. The BCCI confirmed it has requested Goolam Vahanvati, India's attorney-general, and AS Anand, a former chief justice, to clarify whether the clause infringed on players' rights and had the potential to be legally challenged.

The ICC, meanwhile, has decided to hold a meeting of its working group on September 5-6 in Dubai to discuss India's objections to the clause, which the BCCI said violates players' privacy and posed a security threat. The decision was taken at a teleconference of the group on Wednesday night. The ICC has also informed its members that no player in its testing pool will be penalised for missing the August 1 deadline for supplying 'whereabouts' information until the BCCI has had a chance to address its concerns.

All players in the ICC's International Registered Testing Pool (IRTP), except the 11 from India, have agreed to submit to the new code. The code's 'whereabouts' clause requires players in the pool to supply information in advance on their location for an hour each day for the forthcoming quarter (three months) to facilitate testing during and outside competitions.

The BCCI has backed its players and their opposition to the clause led the ICC to form a working group to resolve the issue. This group is headed by Tim Kerr, chairman of ICC anti-doping panel, and including ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat, BCCI secretary N Srinivasan, ICC principal advisor IS Bindra and former India captain Anil Kumble, who sits on WADA's Athletes Committee.

WADA has agreed to assist in the process and David Howman, its director-general, said the agency had been involved in discussions with the ICC on the code for the last five years. "We have been engaged with the ICC for five years now," Howman told the Hindu. "The discussions started with the ICC when Malcolm Speed was the CEO. I have had occasions to be engaged at ICC meetings and certainly my answer [whether ICC was involved in the process of revising the code] is yes. The ICC has been part of what we have been trying to do for some time."

The ICC became a WADA signatory in 2006 and adopted the amended code from January 1 this year. The Indian board has suggested that they will push for a cricket-specific code and ask the ICC to negotiate with WADA to amend the testing pool selection method to include only players who are injured or have a history of doping violations. WADA has agreed to a similar amendment for FIFA, the world football body.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ramprakash would "cherish" England call-up

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Mark Ramprakash has yet to be contacted by Geoff Miller's selection panel, but said he would "cherish and savour" the opportunity to make a dramatic comeback for the Ashes decider at The Oval. A day after Miller told Cricinfo Ramprakash was firmly in the frame for the contentious No. 3 position after a seven-year absence from Test cricket, the Surrey batsman declared himself available for a call-up that would fall a fortnight shy of his 40th birthday.

"I just think that mentally, in terms of approaching a Test match, I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been," Ramprakash told the Surrey website. "I'd be thrilled like any player selected to play for England in what is now a fantastic occasion. It's been a fascinating series, and now at the Brit Oval it's going to be a showpiece occasion. That's why you play the game. For any player that is selected, it's the sort of occasion that they will savour and cherish for the rest of their careers.

"I suppose (the publicity) is all a result of what happened at Headingley and not only the defeat but the manner of defeat. Of course, as England supporters we're all disappointed with the fact that having a 1-0 lead we've let the Aussies back in. The speculation has probably been whipped up really through that performance. I'm no stranger to this situation. I've had it before when my name has been linked strongly with trips to Australia - in fact the last two trips to Australia - and also the last tour to Sri Lanka. I've always tried to let my performances do the talking and I believe that I've presented a very strong case for all those occasions and again this year. I'm happy within myself, I'm batting well and playing good cricket."

Ramprakash insists he is a far superior cricketer now to that which made a tentative Test debut against the West Indies in 1991 alongside the likes of Graham Gooch, Allan Lamb and Graeme Hick. The 39-year-old has scored 1,209 runs at 100.75 for Surrey in the Championship's second division this season, including scores of 80 and 130 not out in his most recent match against Derbyshire. He has averaged in excess of 90 over the last four first-class seasons, and has been a dominant force at his home ground, The Oval, which will host the Ashes decider from August 20.

"I've seen some comments and articles and I think I have to respond because people sometimes still talk like it's 1995," he said. "I had a very difficult start in Test cricket, there's no doubt about that. I've had two careers - 1991-1997 and from 1998-onwards, where I have performed a lot better. My last Test match was in 2002 at the age of 32 and I had a difficult tour of New Zealand along with several other batsmen on some juicy pitches. But over the last few years I've worked very hard at my game.

"I still enjoy playing with Surrey. I think as a player and a person you just keep evolving, improving and developing. I've completed the ECB level four coaching course, which is aimed at professional coaching and has benefited me tremendously - just knowing myself as a person and communicating with other players. I was involved for 14 weeks in a very highly pressurised reality TV show, which was something totally out of my bubble. That's a life experience. I think if you ask anyone if they had know ten years ago what they know now then they'd all say it would have helped them a great deal."

Alec Stewart, the former England captain and current Surrey consultant, insisted Ramprakash would be a stronger candidate for the England No. 3 position than incumbent Ravi Bopara and contenders Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Rob Key and Marcus Trescothick.

"You have to move all sentiment to one side," Stewart said. "England's selectors I hope will pick the best side to regain to the Ashes. Forget anything about sentiment, forget anything about looking to the future, forget anything about consistency or continuity. Go and pick the best XI that gives England an opportunity to win the Ashes.

"Ramps is in my best XI. The last Test he played was seven years ago, and people are allowed to change and mature. We don't know what Jonathan Trott will do, we don't know what Robert Key will do. All I'm saying is that if we don't know about people, is it not better to pick the very, very best player that we're not sure about.

"He's a mature person. He's comfortable. Just look at his record: he averages 91 over the last four years. It's never been technical, he did struggle to cope with everything that was thrown at him, but he's seven years older and he knows what a great player he is. I have no doubt that if Ramprakash is picked, he will perform."
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Four new venues announced for IPL's third season

Four new venues have been introduced for the third edition of the IPL, which will run from March 12 to April 25 next year. The 60-game tournament will feature a third-place playoff between the losing semi-finalists as a qualifier for the Champions League and could also see the induction of ICL players. The IPL governing council, which met in Mumbai on Tuesday, has also decided to include two new teams from the fourth edition in 2011.

Nagpur, Visakhapatnam, Ahmedabad and Dharamsala are the new venues, hosting some games of the Mumbai Indians, Deccan Chargers, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, respectively. Hyderabad will stage the opening fixture between defending champions Deccan Chargers and Kolkata Knight Riders, while both semi-finals will be held in Bangalore. The venue of the final hasn't been fixed but the season will end five days before the World Twenty20 opens in West Indies.

Today's decisions brought good news for the former ICL players, though their participation is subject to the BCCI's formal approval. They will now join the gravy train, though their payout could be considerably less than many of their peers. They will be valued in two categories; Indian domestic players will be paid Rs 8-20 lakh ($18,000-45,000) while foreign players will be made available through auction, depending on their demand.

Top Curve
Key dates

* December 15, 2009: Transfer window for IPL 3 opens
* January 5, 2010: Transfer window for IPL 3 closes
* March 12, 2010: IPL 3's opening fixture between Deccan Chargers and Kolkata Knight Riders in Hyderabad
* April 25, 2010: IPL 3 final to be played at a yet-to-be-decided venue
* January 2010: Auctions for the two new franchises to be included in the fourth season of the IPL
* Summer 2010: Player auctions for IPL 4

Bottom Curve

The IPL will also make use of the services of the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) for the third season. The BCCI had agreed to draft in ACSU for the upcoming Champions League in October as well, at the ICC board's annual conference in London last month.

Another development for the new season was the reduction in the 'strategic timeout' from seven-and-a-half minutes to five. The timeout - which will be mandatory for both sides - will be split into two breaks of equal length with the bowling team opting for it between overs 6-10, and the batting team allowed to choose between overs 11-16.

At his press conference following the meeting, IPL commissioner Lalit Modi also outlined plans for Season 4 onwards. Two franchises will be added to the league, through an auction to be held next January, and the tournament will expand from 60 games to 94. The player auction for the fourth season, with a new salary cap, will be held in the summer of 2010 to allow squads to integrate. The 'icon player' concept will be done away with but there will be no change in the number of international players - ten in the squad and four on the field.

The second season was held in South Africa in April-May this year after the Indian government declined to provide security because the tournament overlapped with general elections in the country.

Afridi stars in comprehensive win

Pakistan 172 for 5 (Afridi 50, Nazir 40) beat Sri Lanka 120 (Sangakkara 38, Ajmal 3-18, Naved 3-19) by 52 runs
Pakistan will want to take the Premadasa Stadium with them wherever they go. After groping in the dark for the better part of the tour, they finally struck gold when they landed here for the last two one-dayers and tonight they signed off in style with a comprehensive 52-run win in the one-off Twenty20 game. It was touted as a rematch of the World Twenty20 final in June but Sri Lanka failed to even the score. Their nemesis at Lord's - Shahid Afridi - stood in their way again with an exact 50, a tight spell and a run-out on his debut as Pakistan captain.

Though Afridi deserved a large portion of credit, the win was sealed by a collective effort from his team. After losing a wicket off the first ball, Imran Nazir gave the early impetus with an aggressive 40, Umar Akmal and Afridi put on a steady 66 in the middle overs and Naved-ul-Hasan and Saeed Ajmal derailed Sri Lanka's chase.

Pakistan's strategy was clear from the outset - step out and whack. The difficulties the home batsmen faced under lights in the two ODIs didn't deter Pakistan's top order as they regularly went down the track to smother the slightest hint of seam movement. Kamran Akmal's first-ball dismissal turned out to be no more than a scare as Pakistan stuck to their gameplan.

Afridi wasn't very convincing at the start of his innings, slashing and swishing at deliveries far too early. He also survived a very confident shout for lbw off Muttiah Muralitharan, with the ball appearing to turn enough to clip the leg stump. As he got his eye in, though, the shots flew off his bat. He chipped down the track to Murali and carved them inside out over extra cover but the shot of the evening was a stylish one-legged whip off Malinga that cleared the deep midwicket boundary.

There was a bit of drama in between when he claimed an overthrow after the throw from Mahela Jayawardene deflected off his body. Tempers flared for a few seconds but, unlike what happened between Younis Khan and Kumar Sangakkara in the fifth ODI, the issue was quickly settled.

Umar too carried on from where he left off in the one-dayers, using his feet to clear the infield. His stand with Afridi yielded 66 in a little more than seven overs but he fell off a tame top edge while attempting a cheeky paddle off Angelo Mathews.

Afridi fell shortly after getting to his third consecutive fifty in Twenty20s, failing to clear Kulasekara at long-off. Abdul Razzaq then finished the innings with a cameo and Pakistan appeared at that stage that they had enough to push the Sri Lankans once more.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Udawatte began the chase at a rate of nearly ten an over. Jayasuriya entertained in typical fashion with his trademark flicks but failed to put away a short delivery off Mohammad Aamer, miscuing him to fine leg. Udawatte failed to make the most of his recall, trapped lbw off Naved-ul-Hasan though he was a trifle unlucky as the ball pitched fractionally outside leg.

The middle order's failure to contribute hurt them once more. Sangakkara and Jayawardene entertained, albeit briefly, with almost nonchalant shots over the ropes but they failed to put together that one big partnership to nail the chase. The pressure was on because the boundaries were few and far between. Sri Lanka managed just six fours, while Pakistan hit 19.

Afridi rushed through his overs, denying the batsmen too much room. When Jayawardene backed away to push the ball into the gaps, Afridi slipped in the googly and cramped him up. He conceded 21 runs and bagged the wicket of Chamara Kapugedera, well caught at midwicket by Naved.

The most incisive bowler was Ajmal, who bagged three wickets. In contrast to Afridi, he was much slower through the air, making the batsmen reach out for their strokes. Their attempts to take out their frustrations on him led to tame dismissals, like Sangakkara's, sweeping against the turn.

With the specialists gone, Sri Lanka's last hopes rested on Angelo Mathews but he too was sent scampering back by a direct hit from Afridi.

In the end, Sri Lanka's defeat will be analysed through one critical statistic. While Pakistan's fourth wicket added 66, Sri Lanka's last eight managed only 49.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clark no certainty for The Oval

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Stuart Clark's first innings burst may have been the pivotal moment in Australia's thunderous victory at Headingley, but Andrew Hilditch, Australia's chairman of selectors, insists the veteran paceman will not be guaranteed a starting berth for the fifth Test.

Hilditch, speaking at Australia's limited-overs squad announcement on Tuesday, was adamant Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus remained Australia's first-choice Test fast bowlers, with Clark set to duel with Nathan Hauritz for the final bowling berth ahead of the Ashes decider at The Oval.

Clark dismissed Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood and Stuart Broad in a sublime first innings performance which yielded figures of 3 for 18 from ten overs. His unwavering accuracy and unnerving bounce provided the Australian attack with the pressure-building intensity it sorely lacked at Lord's and Edgbaston, and his outswing perfectly complemented Johnson's movement back into England's right-handers on a torrid first morning.

It was no coincidence Clark's first call-up of the series coincided with Australia's first victory, however Hilditch refused to concede that his panel had erred in not picking him earlier in the tour. Moreover, Hilditch predicted Clark's involvement in the fifth Test would be more dependant on conditions than form, with a dry pitch to tip the selection balance back in Hauritz's favour.

"[South Africa] was one of the best series victories I've been involved in and we had three strong fast bowlers in Johnson, Siddle and Hilfenhaus which took us through that series," Hilditch told reporters in Adelaide. "It was always going to be very tough for someone to knock them out.

"Although they've probably taken a bit of time to hit their straps, the reality is all three are now the leading wicket-takers in the Ashes, so I think all those selections have been absolutely spot-on. We've also played on very dry wickets and Nathan Hauritz has had a very important role to play, probably the first opportunity really to consider playing four quicks was at Headingley.

"Stuart Clark got the nod and he did a good job, but the other three bowled exceptionally well as well and took more wickets. So I think we go into the final Test with those three fast bowlers as our leading bowlers at the moment."

Australia's selections have generated much debate since the start of the Ashes series. The move to omit the reliable Clark appeared to haunt the tourists at Sophia Garden, Lord's and, to a lesser extent, Edgbaston, as Johnson and Siddle leaked runs at an alarming rate. The decision to replace Phillip Hughes with the relatively untried Shane Watson after the second Test also invited controversy, however Watson's three half-centuries at the top of the order have gone far to vindicating the move.

"I've got to say from a selection point of view I've been thrilled with the Ashes, I think it's gone particularly well," Hilditch said. "Every decision's been tough because we did have a strong squad we thought coming over from South Africa.

"We were disappointed in Cardiff. If we'd won in Cardiff, which we obviously should have, the whole series would have been very different, so we've taken a while to come back from that. The Oval will be a tough Test. We're going to have tough selections. Stuart Clark played well, Brett Lee's going to be fully fit and ready to go, so it's a good position to be in, but it's not going to be an easy decision."
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ShareThis Share Email Email Feedback Feedback Print Print The Flintoff factor

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England's totemic allrounder has been more about competence, stout-hearted service and some irresistible performances, rather than out-and-out greatness
Somewhat to the amusement of observers, England seems to dwell upon and to equate The Battle of Agincourt, the repelling of the Spanish armada and the Battle of Britain with the 2005 Ashes series. In this age of reality television, cooking and home improvement shows, and talent tests, it is possible to spend an entire evening without coming across any of them, but it is not easy. And now comes another eagerly anticipated moment, Flintoff's Last Stand. If the bluff Lancastrian pulls it off, if he can rise from his bed and conquer the Australians at The Oval then he will join a list of local heroes whose deeds of derring-do have long since entered folklore, become a cricketing version of Robin Hood and Richard The Lionheart.

English cricket's enduring focus on 2005 helps to sustain interest in the game in a country that is also staging the most compelling and widely followed sporting drama in the world, namely the Premier League. That is hot competition. And 2005 was an exceptional series, the most thrilling ever played, in most opinions. Whatever its outcome, the 2009 edition cannot stand beside it. Four years ago the combatants were the top two sides around. Australia fielded two of the greatest and most charismatic bowlers the game has known. England had an astute captain, a growling coach, a pair of mighty warriors, and an abundance of spirit. Every day, every hour was enthralling.

Now, too, the campaign has defied prediction but there has been one significant difference. Throughout the epic, the play was pitched at a high level. By way of contrast, a lot of humdrum cricket has been produced this time around. Arguably the sides belong in the middle of the rankings. Still, England expects and Flintoff awaits.

Several factors lie behind England's obsession with Flintoff. Partly it is a nation's need for heroes. Partly it is the manner in which he plays his cricket, with generosity and adventure. Partly it is the way he takes on the Australians. After all, he was Man of the Series in that famous victory. Partly it is the way he lifts a crowd, responds to its roars, goes into battle on its behalf, captures the imagination. He has an ability to communicate with spectators. Hope has been his calling card. And he has the common touch as well - likes ale and darts and so forth. People sense that he belongs to them, and so forgive his foibles.

As his Test career seeks its last glory, so the obsession becomes almost a craze. Before the Headingley Test, Andrew Strauss, a worthy man, captain and cricketer, spent most of his press conference fending off questions about Flintoff, who had scored a fifty but not taken a wicket in the previous match. It must be exasperating. Flintoff was deemed unfit to play, and afterwards that became a story, when it emerged that his entreaties had been ignored.

Batting together in a charity match once, Botham and I decided to imitate each other. For 10 minutes he blocked furiously with left elbow high. For 10 minutes I swiped hugely at everything in reach. Both interpretations had merit

Now the question arises as to his standing in the game. Provided he passes muster, he has five more days of Test cricket to play. If he is to be hailed as a great cricketer then it will be in a special category. In every other case in the last 100 years this recognition has been reserved for those with exceptional records: batting averages over 50 (maybe 55 these days), hundreds of wickets taken with due economy and so forth. Flintoff does not quite meet those standards. His record tells of high competence, stout-hearted service, numerous injuries and some irresistible performances at critical moments.

Admittedly allrounders are not required to average as much with the bat or as little with the ball as specialists. After all, it's impossible for them to focus on one skill to the same degree. Moreover it is no small thing to be amongst the best six in one discipline, batting or bowling, let alone both. Among them Garfield Sobers stands head and shoulders above the rest, with Imran Khan his closest rival, not least because he was also a fine captain. It is high company and Flintoff is not diminished because he cannot quite keep it. Perhaps it is best to regard him not so much as one of the greatest allrounders but as an inspirational figure able once in a while to answer his country's call.

Certainly the periods of domination have been fleeting and his career has been sporadic. His body and to some extent his native caution have held him back. Flintoff is not a natural extrovert, not by nature a swashbuckler. Comparisons with Ian Botham are unavoidable. From the outset the Somerset man embraced his destiny, sought his glory. To him technique was a means to an end. As a boy he clouted the ball around without inhibition. Nothing could stop him. He had an inner drive, a strength of will that lurked beneath a jovial exterior. He is amongst the darkest of cricketers. Flintoff is a more down-to-earth type. Lacking his predecessor's inner force, he relied on the crowd and the moment to lift him. Otherwise he was inclined towards introspection. Botham did not take technique seriously. Batting together in a charity match once, we decided to imitate each other. For 10 minutes he blocked furiously with left elbow high. For 10 minutes I swiped hugely at everything in reach. Both interpretations had merit.

In times of trouble Botham tended to advance. Contrastingly, Flintoff has been inclined to close ranks. At the crease he has been content to proceed carefully, using his solid technique to collect runs even as his physical threat intimidated bowlers. At times he resembled a Gulliver trapped by the Lilliputians in his brain. With the ball he tended to bowl a containing length, denying the drive, slowing the scoring, perhaps picking up a wicket or two along the way. In both cases economy was taken into account. After Lord's, Duncan Fletcher pointed out that Flintoff had only taken five wickets in an innings on a handful of occasions. And it was true. Yet there was also another reason, besides temperament. Flintoff does not swing the ball and so tends to pitch a foot further back. Mostly, though, it has simply not been in his nature to risk all on the roll of a dice. Lord's showed what had been missed - with raw pace he breached several well-constructed defences.

Andrew Flintoff reaches his half-century, England v Australia, 3rd Test, Edgbaston, 4th day, August 2, 2009
At times a Gulliver trapped by the Lilliputians in his brain © Getty Images

Flintoff wanted to contribute, not dictate. The contrast with Kevin Pietersen is equally illuminating. The South African decided to be great, took the necessary steps, trained himself to think the right way, surprised people with the way he made the transition. Flintoff wanted it to come to him. He was not the gambler or the killer or the egoist. Rather he was a populist, a team member. Isolation made him feel uncomfortable. Again the comparison with Botham is instructive. Botham did not like to be alone, did not even like to have a room to himself, but he did not fear it. Fishing counted among his recreations.

Much could be told about Flintoff's hesitation from his early appearances. After all he turned up for one of his first representative tours several curries over par and was unsurprisingly in the bad books. Here was a northern lad, the same as everyone else, blessed with ability but not ready to pursue it with commitment. Who could tell where it might lead? Although it tends nowadays to be forgotten, Flintoff was doubted for many years, dismissed as an overrated and overweight player plucked from the pack mainly due to some passing resemblances to previous champions. Yet he seemed have something to offer. Mostly he relied on the public to back him up. Perhaps the truth about his cricket, and his character, lay between the legend and the myth. Neither the highest hopes nor the worst fears have been confirmed.

In some respects Flintoff never did completely mature as a cricketer. He took the team to Australia but was unable to control himself, let alone his side. Marcus Trescothick withdrew, stories of drinking circulated, and in Adelaide the side, including its captain, played a dead-batted game in the critical hour and so squandered a powerful position. Flintoff was blamed for the debacle, and not without reason. Like Botham he had not been able to convey the forthright spirit detected in his game. He could not overcome his fears, had no one to order him to attack.

Hard-headed historians examining Flintoff's career may conclude that he did not quite fulfill his promise. It is a truth that cannot be avoided, yet it does not tell the entire story. Flintoff has played some wonderful cricket, has subdued the mighty Australians a few times, has never been cheap on the field. Ken Barrington, they say, walked on to the field with the Union flag on his back. Flintoff has brought an entire nation together in a cricket spectacle. If he has not quite counted among the elite, he has performed great feats in an otherwise barren period. In short, he will be missed. Hereafter he will make his millions, and miss his millions.
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Miller rules out Trescothick call

England's national selector, Geoff Miller, has ruled out the possibility of a shock comeback for Marcus Trescothick, but has admitted that Mark Ramprakash is being seriously considered in a one-off capacity for the crucial fifth Test at The Oval, as England attempt to bounce back from their Headingley humiliation, and reclaim the Ashes for only the second time in 20 years.

Speaking to Cricinfo's Switch Hit podcast, Miller said that the squad selection, which will be announced at 9.30 on Sunday morning, would have to strike a balance between the long-term requirement to build the tight and cohesive unit essential for future England success, and the short-term desire to win the world's most prestigious Test series. And that means that Ramprakash, who turns 40 next month but has averaged 100 in each of his last three seasons for Surrey, cannot be discounted.

"Mark has not stated he's not available for international cricket, so we will discuss that," Miller told Cricinfo. "It's not just my decision, it's a team decision, and we'll sit down as a unit. We have a consistency and continuity angle as far as selection policy is concerned and we try to stick to that as much as possible. But we do want to win this series, which is a matter of winning this game in a one-match situation, so it's a very difficult equation as [is the case with] all selection policies."

At the same time, Miller defended the players he selected for the fateful fourth Test at Headingley, and reiterated that there would not be a kneejerk reaction ahead of the Oval showdown, regardless of how much speculation is going on in the media.

"I don't think anyone has ever said being a selector is an easy job, and one bad performance like that spotlights it," said Miller. "A selector is there to be shot at - if we do well the players have done well, if we do badly it's the selectors' fault - and that goes with the territory. We fully understand that, but the job now is to rectify the performance and win at The Oval, and that's what our minds are on.

"What's happened is that the press have jumped on one mediocre performance - which it was, and there's no getting away from that, it was very much an under-performance, and that has got to be rectified - but it's not as though we are three or four-nil down, it's 1-1. If we win this Test match we regain the Ashes, and that's what we intend to do.

"We as an England team tend to do well with our backs to the wall so we are hoping we can bounce back mentally and technically, and I'm sure the players can, because they are international quality players."

In particular Miller defended his No. 3 batsman, Ravi Bopara, who entered the series on the back of three consecutive hundreds against West Indies but who has since managed 105 runs at 15 in four Tests. At Headingley he looked like a man in need of a break from the front line as part of a middle order that contributed 16 runs for six dismissals, but Miller disagreed.

"Not necessarily," he said. "It's an option, certainly, and we'll strongly look at it, but you don't become a bad player overnight, just because you're in a bad trot. It also depends what you are like mentally as well as technically. We'll look at it in discussion with the captain and coach, see what he's like in the changing room, and if it's necessary we'll go down that line.

"But we don't just make changes for the sake of making changes," he said. "Our meetings are not two-minute affairs, never have been, never will be. We'll look at every aspect of each game separately, and hopefully make the right decisions because this Test decides the series."

Those decisions will also include the role that Andrew Flintoff may or may not make in what will be his final Test before retirement. On Monday a leading specialist, Andy Williams, concluded that the swelling in his right knee had reduced significantly, but though he welcomed the news, Miller said that Flintoff would ultimately be judged by how he performed in the nets, just as he was prior to his omission at Headingley.

"It looks very favourable at the moment, but we'll wait and see what's happened in a couple of days," he said. "If it looks as though he can be selected in the squad then we will probably do that because the England side with Freddie playing in it at his best is a quality side, but we'll have to monitor it day by day and see how he performs in the nets, because he's got to do the workload required by the captain to justify his selection."

However, barring a dramatic volte face from the West Country, one player who will not enter into the selectors' discussions, is Trescothick, who this week confirmed to a local newspaper he did not intend to come out of his international retirement, despite being the leading run-scorer in first-class cricket this summer. With a hint of regret, Miller said he would not attempt to change the player's mind.

"Marcus has many times said he's retired from international cricket, and until I hear contrary to that, he will not be a part of the selection process. He knows where he is, he's really comfortable and playing really, really well, but he's retired from Test cricket so he's not a part of our thoughts at this moment in time."

Shakib scripts convincing win

Bangladesh 320 for 8 ( Shakib 104, Tamim 79) beat Zimbabwe 271 (Williams 71, Coventry 61) by 49 runs
Shakib Al Hasan starred with a delightfully aggressive ton as Bangladesh recorded their second straight win in the five-match series against Zimbabwe. Tamim Iqbal laid the platform with a patient half-century before Shakib took over to propel Bangladesh to their highest ODI score. Zimbabwe put up a fight, courtesy fine half-centuries from Charles Coventry and Sean Williams, but the target proved beyond their reach.

Bangladesh's strategy in the field was simple: keep a tight line and wait for the pressure of the steep target to start telling on the batsmen. And it worked. Coventry provided some momentum to the chase by counterattacking after the early wickets. There was a very skillful hit over extra-cover against Syed Rasel and a couple of big sixes against the offspinner Naeem Islam but he fell trying to keep pace with the asking rate.

Post Coventry's exit, Williams played a gem of a cameo, filled with improvisations, but he too became a victim of the run-rate. He notched up his highest ODI score and not only used his feet well against the spinners but also repeatedly put the reverse sweep to good effect to upset the rhythm of the bowlers. He ran hard between the wickets and kept picking singles and twos to keep the scorecard moving. Near the end of the chase, he took more risks, charging out to the seamers as well. He sashayed down the track and heaved Nazmul Hossain to the cowcorner and slapped him over covers but fell while failing to clear long-on. Elton Chigumbura biffed around in the end to raise the home side's hopes but could only succeed in reducing the margin of the loss.

Bangladesh's win was set up by their batsmen led by Shakib, who provided momentum with an imposing knock. Bangladesh were 108 for 1 in 25 overs but Shakib ensured that they finished strongly.

The feature of his innings was his skill in repeatedly picking the gaps: there were quite a few hits over extra cover, a few to the straight boundary and many swings to midwicket. He started carefully, dealing in singles and twos to reach 15, before breaking free with two pulled boundaries. The explosion started in the 38th over, bowled by the part-time spinner Williams, with Shakib, who was denied the services of a runner just prior to the over, swinging twice over midwicket boundary. He went on to crash Ray Price to the straight boundary before lifting Prosper Utseya over long-off and twice over extra-cover as he made full use of the batting Powerplay.

He was aided by some poor fielding and was dropped twice in the inner circle: when he was on 59, Stuart Matsikenyeri spilled a sitter at midwicket off an attempted reverse-sweep against Utseya and when he was on 71, Price dropped another off a top-edged paddle-sweep.

Shakib went on the rampage after the twin drops. He looted 19 runs, with the help of three boundaries that included a stunning six over long-off, off the 44th over bowled by Chamu Chibhaba. He brought up the hundred in 63 balls and celebrated it with a cheeky scoop shot off Ed Rainsford before he was run out going for the third run after Mushfiqur Rahim had slashed to deep point. Rahim sought to make amends for his mistake with some big hitting in the end to push Bangladesh well past 300.

The platform was laid earlier in the day by Tamim, who forged a more staid partnership with Junaid Siddique at the top of the order. Only four fours came in the first fifteen overs and only one boundary was hit in the air. It not only reflected the intent of the batsmen but also the disciplined lines and length of the new-ball bowlers Elton Chigumbura and Rainsford. If there was to be any criticism, it has to be said that they perhaps strayed to the middle and leg line a touch too often against Tamim, which shows up in his wagon wheel: Tamim picked 48 runs on the on side.

For their part, the batsmen were absolutely focused on playing themselves in before going for their shots. Things were looking good when Siddique was run out. He pushed Utseya, who brought himself on in the 11th over, to the left of short midwicket, was caught in a yes-no situation with Tamim and couldn't get back to his crease in time. Tamim, himself, was run out soon in a comical fashion. He had missed to connect a leg-side delivery but was stranded in the middle due to a faulty call from Shakib and was easily run out by the keeper. However, it didn't prove to be a major set back as Shakib set the stadium ablaze with his power-hitting.
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Four new venues announced for IPL's third season

Four new venues have been introduced for the third edition of the IPL, which will run from March 12 to April 25 next year. The 60-game tournament will feature a third-place playoff between the losing semi-finalists as a qualifier for the Champions League and could also see the induction of ICL players. The IPL governing council, which met in Mumbai on Tuesday, has also decided to include two new teams from the fourth edition in 2011.

Nagpur, Visakhapatnam, Ahmedabad and Dharamsala are the new venues, hosting some games of the Mumbai Indians, Deccan Chargers, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, respectively. Hyderabad will stage the opening fixture between defending champions Deccan Chargers and Kolkata Knight Riders, while both semi-finals will be held in Bangalore. The venue of the final hasn't been fixed but the season will end five days before the World Twenty20 opens in West Indies.

Today's decisions brought good news for the former ICL players, though their participation is subject to the BCCI's formal approval. They will now join the gravy train, though their payout could be considerably less than many of their peers. They will be valued in two categories; Indian domestic players will be paid Rs 8-20 lakh ($18,000-45,000) while international players, both Indian and foreign, will be made available through auction.

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Key dates

* December 15, 2009: Transfer window for IPL 3 opens
* January 5, 2010: Transfer window for IPL 3 closes
* March 12, 2010: IPL 3's opening fixture between Deccan Chargers and Kolkata Knight Riders in Hyderabad
* April 25, 2010: IPL 3 final to be played at a yet-to-be-decided venue
* January 2010: Auctions for the two new franchises to be included in the fourth season of the IPL
* Summer 2010: Player auctions for IPL 4

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The IPL will also make use of the services of the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) for the third season. The BCCI had agreed to draft in ACSU for the upcoming Champions League in October as well, at the ICC board's annual conference in London last month.

Another development for the new season was the reduction in the 'strategic timeout' from seven-and-a-half minutes to five. The timeout - which will be mandatory for both sides - will be split into two breaks of equal length with the bowling team opting for it between overs 6-10, and the batting team allowed to choose between overs 11-16.

At his press conference following the meeting, IPL commissioner Lalit Modi also outlined plans for Season 4 onwards. Two franchises will be added to the league, through an auction to be held next January, and the tournament will expand from 60 games to 94. The player auction for the fourth season, with a new salary cap, will be held in the summer of 2010 to allow squads to integrate. The 'icon player' concept will be done away with but there will be no change in the number of international players - ten in the squad and four on the field.

The second season was held in South Africa in April-May this year after the Indian government declined to provide security because the tournament overlapped with general elections in the country.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Flintoff to play Ashes decider

The England & Wales Cricket Board are confident Andrew Flintoff will be available for the Ashes finale at The Oval following a positive diagnosis from his knee specialist, Andy Williams. With England facing a must-win encounter at The Oval next week following their humiliating defeat in Leeds, a return to match fitness for Flintoff - in what would be his final Test match appearance before retirement - looms as a massive boost to their prospects of regaining the Ashes.

"The advice received was that the swelling in his knee has significantly eased following the decision by the England management team to rest him from the last Test Match and that subject to further rest and intensive treatment, he will be available for selection for the 5th npower Ashes Test at The Brit Oval," the ECB said in a statement

The assessment tallies with Flintoff's own take on events, because he himself believed he could have taken part in the Headingley debacle. In his absence, England lost by an innings and 80 runs inside two-and-a-half days, but Flintoff later claimed that his participation was vetoed by the captain Andrew Strauss and the coach, Andy Flower. "He told them that he was fit enough to get through," his agent, Chubby Chandler, told The Times, "but they didn't want him."

News of Flintoff's return to fitness will buoy Flower, who on Sunday warned that England could not afford another repeat of Headingley. Flintoff was only informed of his omission on the eve of the match, and the official announcement was held back until an hour before the toss, disrupting team selection. "I think we'd like to know before that," he said. "I don't think we'd want to leave it very late.

"He wanted to play, he was desperate to play but he acknowledged that he wasn't fully fit and he was struggling a bit, so we couldn't play him under those circumstances," said Flower. "If the advice is that he will be fit enough to take part as an allrounder at The Oval, then we will listen to that advice and listen to Fred's information about his own body as well."

A fully fit Flintoff would be the perfect tonic for a beleaguered team, but Flower denied that his fitness battle was having a destabilising effect on the team, as they attempt to mount a comeback in the series, and seal the Ashes for only the second time in the past 20 years. "We've gone whole series waiting on his fitness, so this match is no different," he said. "I would think we'll get some good information back from the specialist, and also some information from him on how he feels, because there's a good chunk of time between now and The Oval, so we'll have a better indication."

Either way, Flower and the England think-tank are already braced for life after Flintoff, and the selection dilemmas inherent therein. "The balance of the side when you haven't got an allrounder at 6 or 7 is always the problem, and it's one we're going to have to face up to because Flintoff is retiring from Test cricket," he said. "That is a problem, because [without him] we seem light either on the batting or the bowling side. If he's not fit for The Oval, we'll have to make a decision on where we settle for our strong point."

England received further positive news on Monday, with James Anderson cleared of a serious hamstring injury. Anderson suffered a slight strain while running between the wickets in the first innings at Headingley, but is expected to play at The Oval.

"As there is no evidence of a significant tear, it is anticipated that (Anderson) will also be available for selection for next week's final Test," the ECB released stated.

Johnson rediscovers himself

Mitchell Johnson is looking people in the eye again off the field. Before the Test in Leeds he avoided returning stares in the city's centre but after his second-innings breakthrough of 5 for 69 he has started to feel comfortable about his bowling and position in the team. It doesn't mean he's cured.

Johnson is not a blokey fast bowler who swears, shouts and bumps shoulders when he meets people. Away from the middle his voice is soft and uncertain, like he's willing himself to believe what he's saying. As he explained the troughs on his Ashes tour he sighed a lot, sucked in deep breaths and paused, not for dramatic effect but to plan the right words. It was easy to feel sorry for him, an unfamiliar emotion for someone who can be so brutal with a cricket ball. Nobody offered him a hug.

The team had celebrated levelling the series the previous night, which slowed his thoughts, but he brightened when talking about his bowling improvements. Then he shifted uneasily back to dealing with the problems that derailed the first half of his tour: losing his accuracy, having his place under threat and a family dispute which became public.

"It's been a bit different than normal," he said. "The first two Tests especially, I felt a bit more pressure than I have in the past. I've started to handle it a lot more now."

Troy Cooley, an assistant coach, helped with the bowling rebuild and Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin were the most supportive team-mates. Messages arrived from home as he struggled through the opening games and also had to deal with his mum saying his girlfriend had snatched him from the family.

"It's been different for me, having not been in this situation before in personal matters," he said in between some long breaks to reconsider the severity of the past five weeks. He continues to insist his family wasn't the reason for his bowling slide, but the episode had to affect him. When he was running in at Lord's he was thinking about his wrist position, front-arm pull-down and "everything that I could".

Top Curve
How Johnson has fared in the Ashes

* Cardiff
3 for 87 off 22 overs
2 for 44 off 22

* Lord's
3 for 132 off 21.4
0 for 68 off 17

* Birmingham
2 for 92 off 21

* Leeds
1 for 30 off 7
5 for 69 off 19.3

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That second Test, when he sprayed 3 for 132 off 21.4 overs, was the lowest point of his trip. "I didn't really know where they were going, to be honest," he said. "I bowled a lot of wide, short balls. That was a pretty tough moment for me. To be copping it from the English crowd, I didn't know how to deal with it at the time, it was the most I've copped it."

He was bowling so badly he thought he could be dropped, a scenario which was unthinkable when he blasted through Graeme Smith and South Africa earlier in the year. "It was in the back of my mind," he said. "Obviously, you're not going well and you start thinking a lot of things, that [being left out] was one of the things that was popping into my mind."

Outside the team hotel he was under threat and suddenly a target for ridicule. During the third game at Edgbaston, where he slowly improved, the England supporters sang "Super Mitchell Johnson" when he got the ball. He kept them quiet in Leeds in the second innings, starting with three wickets on the second afternoon and another two the following day.

When Johnson ended the match by bowling Graham Onions, Ponting, the compassionate captain, ran to the boundary to collect the match ball and presented it to his bowler. "It's great to have that support when you're not at your best," he said. "Now it's great to have a little bit of form and go into the last Test with some confidence." He will enter the game at The Oval on August 20 with 16 wickets at 32.62.

Johnson was used at first-change in Leeds and it allowed him to feel his way into the game instead of being forced to perform straight away. Rather than worrying why the ball wasn't swinging in the first over of the match he was able to field for half an hour while planning ways to embarrass Ian Bell. England's middle order was run through quickly on both occasions and in the second innings he mixed searing short balls with clever inswingers to the right-handers. Bell was a victim on both occasions.

He wants to play the tour game against England Lions at the weekend to continue to fine-tune before The Oval. "I've been on a few tours when it takes me a couple of games to get going," he said. "I'd like to keep the ball rolling."

The next time things go bad he will consult the checklist he made during the games in Cardiff and London and stop reading the papers. He will limit his technical thoughts to the nets and focus on running in and bowling fast. "And keeping puffing my chest out," he said, "getting in the contest with a stare here and there."

That approach doesn't suit the kind Johnson even though he looks like a mid-weight kickboxer when his hair is cropped and cheeks are stubbled. "I don't normally say too much," he said at the end. He was talking about his on-field persona but it reflected his overall personality. By manufacturing this new, part-time character he has eliminated some of his troubles.
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Ramprakash recall 'unlikely' - Surrey CEO

Paul Sheldon, the Surrey chief executive, has tempered speculation of a Mark Ramprakash recall and suggestions the ECB could influence the character of The Oval pitch for the Ashes decider. Reports that Ramprakash could make a return to the Test arena after a seven-year absence gathered momentum on Monday after Geoff Miller, England's chairman of selectors, refused to rule out the 39-year-old batsman.

Ramprakash, ever the model of first-class consistency, has scored 1,209 runs at 100.75 for Surrey in the county second division this season, including scores of 80 and 130 not out in his most recent match against Derbyshire. As of Monday evening, more than 47 percent of readers surveyed by Cricinfo rated Ramprakash a superior option at No. 3 to Ravi Bopara (19 percent), Rob Key (18 percent) and Ian Bell (14 percent), however Sheldon was not confident of a one-off call-up for the 52-Test veteran.

"I think it's very unlikely that the selectors will turn in that direction," Sheldon told Cricinfo. "Mark has probably been the most complete county player on the circuit for the past two or three seasons, and this year he is in the form of his life. He would do England proud if they picked him, but I think it is unlikely it will work out that way and Mark would probably agree with that assessment. If it were to happen, I'm sure he would so his country, his county and himself proud. But I think Mark would be reluctant to comment on speculate on what might happen."

From August 20, The Oval will play host to the most talked about 22-yard stretch of real estate in the greater London area. Nothing short of a victory will do for England in their bid to wrest back the Ashes from Australia, and recent history bodes well for them in their task. Only three draws have been recorded in the past 13 Test matches at The Oval, and England's record at the venue since 2000 stands at six wins and three draws.

Results of Cricinfo's survey as of Monday evening © Getty Images

Of some concern is Surrey's home record this year - four draws from as many first class matches - moving Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain to comment on the likelihood of England's authorities pressing for a "result wicket". Atherton, writing in The Times, said the "call must be made" to produce a pitch that will assist England in their pursuit victory, while Hussain noted "England would want an absolute dustbowl that turns from day one if they want a result."

Sheldon, however, insisted neither he nor his head groundsman, Bill Gordon, would be swayed by the requirements of the England team in producing the pitch for the fifth Test.

"Before a Test we always have a good chat with the ECB, and their pitch inspector has a look at the wicket," he said. "This has been a pitch that favours the bat for the first few days and takes spin later. I am not sure if the ECB have anything in mind, but we will do what we always do. I expect The Oval will play host to another fine contest of bat versus ball.

"You can't compare a Test strip with a four-day one. There is more time and less interruptions to prepare a Test strip. There have been difficulties in getting results here in Championship matches this season, but I believe that is irrelevant to what the Test strip will play like."
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Langer 'shattered' by leaked dossier

Justin Langer has told Cricinfo that he bitterly regrets the fact that a dossier he compiled on the England team has been leaked to the press. The document, originally emailed to Australia's coach Tim Nielsen and distributed among the team, was published in the Sunday Telegraph and contained a number of critical insights into England's players and the county system.

"I'm shattered and really upset," said Langer. "That was an email meant only for Tim Nielsen. It was private correspondence and has now found its way into the public domain. It's a joke. Everyone who knows me knows it's not my go to bag anyone. But behind closed doors everyone is going to have an opinion and this was a message that was meant for behind closed doors. It's disappointing."

In the document, which was printed in full in the Sunday Telegraph, Langer said that James Anderson was "a bit of a pussy" when placed under pressure, and described the captaincy of Andrew Strauss as "conservative". He also claimed England's players "rarely believe in themselves,'' variously describing them as "flat", "shallow" and "lazy". Michael Vaughan, also writing in the Sunday Telegraph, concurred with many of Langer's conclusions.

"If I had have known that this would end up in the public domain I would have put things differently," Langer said. "I definitely wouldn't have used a word like pussy, but it was only to describe James Anderson's body language. If you read it all the way through, you would see that a lot of what I said about guys like Anderson, Strauss and Bopara was complimentary. They're excellent players, and I was just trying to offer up a few ideas as to how Australia might get under their skins."

Although Langer did state that Anderson was "hugely improved" as a cricketer, and that Strauss was "a very solid character and good bloke", he also said that he expected a negative reaction from some quarters after the publication of his comments, particularly seeing as he currently lives in England while acting as Somerset's captain. "I guess it will [make life harder in England]," he said. "I just spoke to Tim and he was disappointed that it came out like this. But I'm the one who has got to live here. What backlash there is, I guess time will tell."

Both Strauss and Ricky Ponting downplayed the significance of the dossier. "We're not in the habit of reading the press as a general rule, so I don't think we're going to change that right now," Strauss said. "As a team you're always looking for outside people to give you a view on the players you're playing against. The Aussies have obviously got him to do that. It's not of great interest to do that. When you cross that white line anything that's written on paper is pretty irrelevant.

"If you look at the cricket we've played over the last nine months or so I would [dispute Langer's dossier] and it's certainly not something we want to see from an England team. If that's something that's happened in the past it's something we intend to iron out. I think there's a lot of strength or character in the side and we're going to need it next week. It's as simple as that."

Ponting confirmed his squad had read Langer's email, but denied it had been a central element to their plan-making ahead of the Ashes series. "I've played as much against these guys as Justin has so I pretty much knew a lot of the personalities and the way a lot of the guys play," Ponting said.

"I'll admit I got given a copy of it and I had a brief read through it all, but I knew most of it anyway. It was probably more for the younger guys in the group to get a bit of a feel for some of their players. I'm sure they all read every single word of the document, but that was it. We haven't sat down in meetings after that and talked about it."
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Aamer and Naved earn Pakistan easy consolation win

Pakistan 279 for 8 (Younis 76, Misbah 73*) beat Sri Lanka 147 (Aamer 4-28, Naved 4-44) by 132 runs
A hostile Mohammad Aamer and an inconsistent-but-smart Naved-ul-Hasan sent Sri Lanka crashing to what was very nearly their worst-ever ODI defeat at home. Naved earlier gave Pakistan's total a boost with hefty hitting in the final overs, after Pakistan had threatened to let half-centuries from Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq go to waste. Sri Lanka however, took the series having already won the first three matches.

This was also the 10th straight time that a side batting first won at the R Premadasa Stadium. It can't be ascertained if it was just the conditions, but the Pakistan pace bowlers were way better than their Sri Lankan counterparts. Aamer and Naved got more movement, and demonstrated better control and variation.

Aamer set the agenda with the first ball, a brute that injured Upul Tharanga's middle finger. Even if the finger wasn't broken, the spirit was as he played and missed at an away-swinger next. The third ball, short and climbing into Tharanga, duly produced the edge. Even before the returning Sanath Jayasuriya could cause any damage, Naved flummoxed him with a superb slower delivery, putting the onus squarely on Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

They added 35 in 37 deliveries, targeting Naved, before the veteran bowler fooled Sangakkara too with a slower one. Even before Sri Lanka could recover from that blow, Jayawardene edged an angling delivery from Aamer, finishing the match - at 58 for 4 - for all practical purposes.

Aamer and Naved, though, proceeded to take out whatever life remained in the contest. Aamer did away with Chamara Kapugedera and Angelo Mathews in his next two overs, while Naved came back to take out Nuwan Kaulasekara and Dammika Prasad. Kulasekara's dismissal was a splendid effort by Misbah, diving forward at first slip, giving him his third catch of the innings. Aamer finished with a career-best effort and Naved reached 100 wickets in ODIs.

Thilina Kandamby and Malinga Bandara delayed the inevitable, but the record for the highest successful chase at the Premadasa Stadium never really came under threat. That Pakistan got to that total was largely due to the responsible fifties from Younis and Misbah.

After an 83-run stand between Younis and Misbah for the fourth wicket, Pakistan lost three quick wickets, making them reassess the total they aimed for, but Naved's late hitting made sure they felt confident going into the defence.

Throughout their disastrous tour Younis has spoken about the importance of partnerships. Today he was involved in three valuable ones. The first one started after the first ball of the match, when umpire Gamini Silva welcomed back Nuwan Kulasekara by missing a thick inside edge from Kamran Akmal, and giving Sri Lanka a bonus wicket.

Younis was sedate to begin with, enjoying a ferocious start from Iman Nazir from the other end. Nazir, playing his second match since his comeback from the ICL, raced to 35 from 21 balls in the first seven overs, as Prasad's first three overs went for 30. Sangakkara then took a gamble, bringing on Mendis in the eighth over. The Pakistan batsmen have been exceptional in playing Mendis, looking to play him straight as often as possible, but Nazir went to turn the second ball he faced from him to midwicket, paying the price as he was trapped plumb in front.

Younis found the perfect partner in Mohammad Yousuf, who did the majority of the scoring in the 68-run third-wicket partnership. But by the time Yousuf fell for 43, Younis looked set to convert the slow start.

Younis, 13 off 39 at one stage, had started accelerating and along with Misbah, who also started fluently, Younis threatened to take Pakistan past 300. It was a typical Younis knock - a slow start, an increase in the number of singles and doubles in the middle portions, and only a few boundaries. Without a flurry of hits to the fence, Younis got 37 off the next 32 balls he faced, to reach his second fifty in a row.

If Younis was playing an ideal middle-order ODI innings, Misbah at the other end started to mirror him, rotating the strike with ease. His first boundary came off the 25th ball, but he had reached 19 by then. He looked to dominate against the spinners, Jayasuriya and Bandara, getting three boundaries, and by the time the ball was changed after 34 overs, Pakistan had reached 186 for 3. With the slightly newer ball, Sangakkara brought back Prasad.

Younis' fall to a yorker from Prasad was followed by two more quick wickets, at which point Misbah took control and set himself to bat through the innings. He got good support from Naved, who hit two huge sixes and a boundary in the batting Powerplay, also the last five overs of the innings. Naved scored 33 off 29, Pakistan got 46 in the last five, and Misbah finished with an unbeaten 73.
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Australia level with crushing win

Australia 445 (North 110, Clarke 93, Ponting 78, Broad 6-91) beat England 102 and 263 (Swann 62, Broad 61, Johnson 5-69, Hilfenhaus 4-60) by an innings and 80 runs

Australia required a session and six overs on the third day at Headingley to wrap up a thumping innings-and-80-run victory against England, and so draw level at 1-1 in the Ashes with just the fifth Test at The Oval to come in a fortnight's time. Mitchell Johnson had the honour of sewing up the contest with his fifth wicket of a resurgent performance, when he bowled Graham Onions for a duck to confirm his return to his best and most hostile form, and underline the fact that Australia have suddenly emerged as firm favourites to complete their 10th Ashes victory in their last 11 contests.

It was not, however, a day that went entirely to plan for Australia, who were frustrated - not for the first time in the series - by England's tail, not least Stuart Broad, who added a boundary-laden 61 from 49 balls to his earlier six-wicket haul, as he became the first England cricketer to achieve such an Ashes double since Darren Gough at Sydney in 1994-95.

On Saturday evening, Board had promised to provide late-innings resistance for England's beleaguered cricketers, and he was true to his word as he and Graeme Swann compiled a spirited and thrilling eighth-wicket stand of 108 in just 12.3 overs. The tempo of the stand, at more than eight-and-a-half runs per over, was the second fastest for any partnership over 100 in Test cricket, behind Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns at Christchurch in 2001-02, and then as now, it was glorious in its futility. It could not save England from a hefty defeat, but it might just preserve a modicum of their self-respect.

Such a prospect didn't seem to be remotely on the cards when James Anderson fell meekly to the third ball of the morning, immediately after cutting Hilfenhaus to the boundary, thus extending his "duckless" streak to 54 Test innings. Anderson hung out his bat limply to a shorter delivery and edged to Ricky Ponting at second slip. Head down, shoulders slumped, and reeking of the bad body language for which Justin Langer has taken him to task in today's leaked dossier, Anderson took an eternity to trudge from the playing surface. It was an image that summed up England's match.

Matt Prior did what he could to stem the tide, slashing Mitchell Johnson behind square three times in two overs to rattle along at the run-a-ball tempo that makes him most comfortable. But no sooner had Broad nudged a leg-bye to take England past their heaviest home defeat of all time (an innings and 226 runs against West Indies in 1973), Hilfenhaus lured Prior with a perfectly pitched outswinger, which Brad Haddin scooped one-handed in front of first slip, to leave his team just three wickets from victory.

That, however, was the cue for England to raise their game, somewhat belatedly given the match situation. Initially Swann endured a torrid time at the crease, inside-edging Hilfenhaus millimetres past his leg stump, then wearing a Peter Siddle bouncer on the point of his elbow before pulling him inelegantly, and with eyes wide shut, through midwicket for another chancy boundary. But at the other end, Broad grew into his role of chief resistor, and four fours in a single over from Stuart Clark - three intended, one fortuitous - saved England from another unwanted notch in the record books, their heaviest home Ashes defeat, an innings and 180 runs at Trent Bridge in 1989.

Siddle responded to Clark's indignity with a hot-headed over that went for 17, including back-to-back bouncers that soared away for five wides each, and was concluded with a larruped four straight back down the ground, as Broad - who by now had exceeded his father's highest score in a home Ashes Test (37 on this very ground in 1989) - motored towards his second half-century in consecutive matches.

Now it was Swann's turn to get properly stuck into the action. For the second over running, Clark was clobbered for 16 in an over with three more fours, including a perfect pull shot that bisected the field at midwicket. A flat-batted smear off Siddle followed three balls later, whereupon Broad climbed into the biggest and most extravagant thwack of the day, a full-blooded swing that climbed high and handsomely towards Johnson on the long-off boundary, who could only parry a tough chance over the ropes for four.

Six balls later, and Broad once again took the aerial route, straight through the fielder's hands, as he connected with a pull off Clark and left Simon Katich sprawling as he sprinted round to intercept at backward square leg. But the fun could not last forever, and Siddle was the man to make the breakthrough, as Broad failed to get on top of another energetic swipe, and Shane Watson clung on gratefully at deep midwicket. He departed to a standing ovation from a newly invigorated Barmy Army, who had been understandably subdued for much of the morning, but found their voice as the run-rate climbed.

With the duck-happy Steve Harmison now joining him at the crease, Swann decided it was not the time to stand on ceremony, and an effortlessly timed pull through backward square sailed all the way for six to bring up a richly deserved half-century, from only 53 balls. Harmison chimed in with a slashed four over the slip cordon to get his innings up and running, as England went to the break still trailing by 98 runs, but with their morale lifted for the first time in the game.

After the resumption, however, the end came swiftly. Swann's uncompromising performance came to an end when he swished outside off to Johnson and was adjudged caught-behind for 62 from 72 balls, whereupon Onions - on a king pair after his first-innings extraction - was struck on the gloves first-up by a ball that very nearly dribbled onto his stumps. In the event, he survived just seven deliveries as Johnson nipped one off the seam to peg back his off stump, and Australia march south to London with their morale sky-high.

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