Thursday, September 17, 2009

Australia aim to climb up rankings

Big picture
It might have taken the better part of three months, but the Australians finally have something to smile about entering the final week of their long, and occasionally torturous, tour of the UK. Australia's successful pursuit of England's 299 in the fourth ODI in Nottingham provided them a 5-0 series lead and with it the chance to reclaim the No. 1 limited-overs ranking from South Africa. To do so, Ricky Ponting's men must win both their remaining matches at Trent Bridge and Chester-le-Street, providing at least one hemisphere a reason to tune into a series that was decided last weekend.
English viewers may need more convincing. As if a bumbling fielding performance and a fifth straight ODI defeat were not enough, England suffered the added ignominy of watching their all-time ODI win-loss record slipping into the red for just the second time since January, 2007. In a more practical, though equally depressing, development the hosts learned on Wednesday that Luke Wright's toe injury would rule him out of the final two matches against Australia, and possibly the Champions Trophy. Dimitri Mascarenhas bowled well in Wright's absence on Tuesday, although his uneasiness against the express pace of Mitchell Johnson will not have imbued Andrew Strauss with much confidence.
England at least managed their highest ODI total against Australia since 1980, and have something to build upon ahead of the Champions Trophy. Eoin Morgan produced his best performance since defecting from Ireland earlier this year, and Strauss was at his indomitable best before being incorrectly adjudged lbw.
Form guide(last five matches, most recent first)
England - LLLLL
Australia - WWWWW
Watch out for...
Ricky Ponting could move to third place on the ODI all-time run-scorers' list this week, and his form on Tuesday suggested many more are to come. Ponting showed the benefit of his fortnight's rest by blazing a sublime 126 from 109 deliveries at Trent Bridge - his highest ever one-day score against England - to lead Australia's ultimately successful run-chase. His driving and pulling were of the highest order, and with another match looming on the batting-friendly Trent Bridge strip, England will do well to contain him.
Eoin Morgan demonstrated just why England moved to poach him from Ireland this year with a cavalier innings of 58 from 41 deliveries that included all the strokes from the MCC coaching manual - and a few of his own making. The Australians struggled to contain the powerful left-hander, who appeared just as adept driving down the ground as he did reverse-sweeping the ever-probing Nathan Bracken. His innings made a pleasing change from England's Strauss-or-bust batting strategy, which had been employed with little effect throughout the series prior to Tuesday.
Team news
Mascarenhas' mixed-bag medium pacers frustrated the Australians in his first ODI match for England since the home series against West Indies. Wright's absence should ensure Mascarenhas retains his place in the starting XI for Thursday's match. Graham Onions is yet to be unleashed on the Australian batsmen in this ODI series and can expect his chance over the coming days.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Joe Denly, 3 Ravi Bopara, 4 Matt Prior (wk), Owais Shah, 6 Eoin Morgan, 7 Dimitri Mascarenhas, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Tim Bresnan, 11 Ryan Sidebottom.
Brett Lee's pleas to play on were ignored on Tuesday but, freed from the clutches of Australia's rigid resting policy, he will presumably return to action for the fifth ODI. Johnson or Bracken should be next in line for a breather, with Ben Hilfenhaus waiting in the wings.
Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Callum Ferguson, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Cameron White, 8 Nathan Hauritz, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Nathan Bracken.
Pitch and conditions
If the centre strip plays anything like it did on Tuesday, the Nottingham faithful can expect another high-scoring encounter. Australia always felt confident pursuing England's 299 on a true wicket and a fast outfield, and eventually accomplished the feat with 10 balls to spare.
Stats and trivia
Australia's victory on Tuesday took them level with India at second place on the ODI rankings. A win on Thursday will move them to first alongside South Africa, and another victory at Chester-le-Street will ensure they reclaim top spot in the rankings entering the Champions Trophy.
England's all-time ODI win-loss record slipped to 246-247 after Tuesday's defeat to Australia; just the second time since the start of 2007 they have entered negative territory.
Ponting requires 43 runs to usurp Inzamam-ul-Haq as the third highest all-time run-scorer in ODIs.
"I thought that was closer to our potential as a batting unit. It was a far better performance, so that was encouraging, but in tight games you don't want to let yourself down in the more elementary areas of the game." Andrew Strauss laments England's poor fielding after the fourth ODI against Australia on Tuesday.
"It was a really good run chase and another good team effort. It just goes to show that we're heading in the right direction with our one-day cricket leading into the Champions Trophy." Ricky Ponting sets his sights on South Africa.

End 'meaningless' tours - Graeme Smith

South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, believes that Andrew Flintoff's decision to turn down his ECB central contract in favour of a "freelance" career has set a precedent that the ICC cannot afford to ignore.
Speaking to Cricinfo on the eve of the Champions Trophy, the second-biggest event in the ODI calendar, Smith said that the international game was going to have to adapt to its changing environment and cut down on the current glut of "meaningless" contests, if more of the world's leading players are to be prevented from following Flintoff's example.
As tournament hosts and the No. 1 ODI nation in the world, South Africa start next week's Champions Trophy as favourites, and with a proper challenge to whet the appetite after a rare three-month break, Smith reiterated that international cricket remained his absolute and over-riding priority. But, he added, unless the ICC tackles the thorny issue of the Future Tours Programme head-on, the riches on offer in the IPL and beyond will prove an even more tempting alternative to many cricketers who, by the very nature of their careers, have a finite period of time in which to make the most of their talents.
"I don't think you can blame the individual, but it's an interesting time for cricket, and interesting to see where it goes now," Smith told Cricinfo. "The crucial aspect is the decisions the leadership makes in the future. The ICC needs to give cricket a good direction, and crucial to that is how they look at the Future Tours Programme, because the decisions they make around that are going to be so important for the future of the game.
"For me international cricket is still the pinnacle," he said. "But you can't hide the fact that huge financial rewards and benefits for players have come into the game in the last few years, and it's obviously such a short career, so you want to make as much money in that time as possible. But I think playing for your country is the best, and the most important thing for us is to carry on being as successful as possible and try not to be distracted by other things that are taking place."
The FTP is a six-year calendar during which all nations are required to play each of the others, home and away, in at least two Tests and three ODIs. However, it expires in 2012 and a replacement has yet to be agreed upon, with some nations favouring the implementation of a World Test Championship to replace the often haphazard bilateral arrangements that are currently in place. But whatever solution is reached, Smith believes that a greater importance has to be attached to future international matches, and cited the current seven-match ODI series between England and Australia as a classic example of poor scheduling.
"With the greatest respect, the seven ODIs taking place in England at the moment are more for financial benefit than meaningful cricket," he said. "People want to see strength for strength, they want to see international sides trying their best in competitive tours. I mean, the Ashes was great to watch, it was competitive down to the last Test match, and speaking for myself as a cricketer, that's how you want to see all cricket being played.
"But all these meaningless tours just sap your body, especially when you are playing away from home for a long time," he added. "I think the ICC needs to really look at the format going forward, and really take control of the international game."
In the absence of such leadership from above, Smith was sympathetic with Flintoff's reasons for taking his career into his own hands. "I don't think you can blame Fred for the decision that he's made," said Smith. "He's had a very successful career, and at this stage of his career, he wants to maximise his worth and really take control of things. He's had a number of injuries, and for his own good, he needs to take control of the few years he has left in him."
Smith's immediate priority, as South Africa's captain, is to lead his country to glory on home soil in the Champions Trophy, and he is determined to put all other thoughts about the future of the game out of his mind.
"It's a terrific time to be a sportsman in South Africa, and to be a role model," said Smith. "When you think about our readmission after the apartheid years, we've got a young country in many ways, and our sport is going from strength to strength at the moment. The opportunity is there to grow, and the better that South African teams can be, the more the youngsters will want to be the heroes of the future. The Champions Trophy is another opportunity for that."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ponting masterclass secures another win

Australia 302 for 6 (Ponting 126, Clarke 52) beat England 299 (Morgan 58) by four wickets
Ricky Ponting has already suffered the ignominy of surrendering the No. 1 Test ranking on this tour, but his final week in England may yet witness Australia's return to the summit of the 50-over game. Ponting produced his highest ever ODI total against England - a breathtaking innings of 126 from 109 deliveries - that provided the platform from which Australia launched a successful assault on England's intimidating 299.
Nothing short of a 7-0 series whitewash will allow Australia to usurp the top-ranked South Africans entering the Champions Trophy, and Ponting's 27th career ODI century delivered them to within two wins of the feat. Australia's fifth consecutive victory over England was sealed when Mitchell Johnson blasted Ryan Sidebottom for a straight six with four wickets in hand and 10 balls remaining, however it was the imperious batting of Ponting that will be remembered as the tide-turner.
The designated rest period has clearly done Ponting no harm. From the outset, his was an innings of sublime timing and intimidating power that England's bowlers could do little to repel. At one point, Ponting cuffed a Sidebottom delivery over the press box, but his most entertaining sequence came when he pounded consecutive sixes off Adil Rashid, who had the dubious honour of taking the second ball.
Ponting's only moment of trepidation came on 35 when, facing Dimitri Mascarenhas, Matt Prior removed the bails with his foot in motion behind the crease. The third umpire, Nigel Llong, found in his favour, however, allowing Ponting to resume his third-wicket stand with Michael Clarke, which produced 123-runs.
The Australians suffered a pair of setbacks when Tim Bresnan removed Tim Paine and Shane Watson, the latter for a well-struck 36 from 34 deliveries. But their exits drew Ponting and Clarke to the centre, and both appeared in an ominous mood from the outset. While Ponting powered out of the blocks, Clarke began his innings watchfully before steadily accelerating as the evening progressed. His penchant for scoring runs this series has not been in question, although his ability to do so quickly has emerged as a discussion point, particularly with the Twenty20 captaincy up for grabs. A return of 52 from 64 balls might not have ended the debate, but it did represent a higher gear than those which he has operated on thus far in the series.
England were left to rue a poor fielding display that undid much of their earlier work with the bat. Australia's final pair of Cameron White (24 not out from 15 balls) and Johnson (18 not out from 12) were too often allowed charity runs in the closing overs, turning a potentially tense finale into a relatively docile stroll.
Earlier, Eoin Morgan's flashing blade propelled England to their highest total of the series, and with it their best chance yet of ending Australia's fortnight of dominance. Morgan's frenetic innings of 58 from 41 deliveries featured an array of dazzling strokes, including powerful sixes to bring up England's 200 and his own half-century.
England seemed set for another middle order stammer when Owais Shah departed in the 39th over with the total at 192 for 5, however Morgan's late-innings partnerships with Mascarenhas and Stuart Broad provided the hosts first with ballast, and later authority. The Dublin-born left-hander made his move between the 38th and 42nd overs during England's batting Powerplay, at which time the hosts advanced their total by 45 runs, then proceeded to frustrate the Australians with powerful and occasionally improvised strokeplay, such as his stunning reverse sweep to the boundary off Nathan Bracken.
Bracken exacted revenge with his next delivery, though not before Morgan, who was dropped on 38 by juggling Michael Hussey at deep square-leg, had accelerated to his highest one-day international score since shifting allegiances from Ireland. At the time of his departure in the 48th over, England were well on course for a competitive total, and when Rashid blasted three boundaries from Johnson's final over, a intimidating score was in the books.
England's middle-order resurgence may not have come in time to save the series, but it will provide team management with a sense of optimism ahead of the Champions Trophy. Too often England's batsmen have been contained and subsequently dismissed by Australia's bowlers over the past few weeks, but on an ideal batting surface the hosts managed a display befitting of an international-standard limited-overs side

'One of my best innings' - Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar has rated his risk-free 138 against Sri Lanka in the final of the Compaq Cup as one of his best innings. His 44th one-day hundred propelled India to 319, which proved 46 runs too many for Sri Lanka.
"This is one of my best innings. I will rate this up considering the conditions and the ground, the humidity," Tendulkar said. His superbly paced innings fetched him his 59th Man-of-the-Match award besides helping him to yet another Man-of-the-Series award. It capped a successful return for Tendulkar, who had to miss the one-day series against West Indies earlier this year due to a finger injury.
Tendulkar said India's success was due to the current team having more match-winners than before. "I think in this lot we have got match-winners and more big hitters as such and you know the guys have delivered at the crunch moment. It could be with bat or ball. But they have been delivering pretty consistently and you know they are all talented guys. You need match-winners to win consistently. That is what this team is about."
Tendulkar said this team was among the top ones he had played for since debuting in 1989. "There have been so many great names. I would not want to run anyone down by making comparisons about teams. I would like to respect the fact that I was fortunate to be part of various generations. This is definitely one of the top teams I have been part of. We have always tried to win but we have been able to produce results in the last couple of years or so. We have been able to perform pretty consistently. There are going to be upsets in between but if you look at the larger picture, we have had better days."
India's victory was only their fourth in ODI finals in 21 attempts since 2000, and their first trophy in Sri Lanka since 1998. MS Dhoni played his part in setting up the win with a brisk 56 after promoting himself to No. 3. "The victory is special," Dhoni said, "It feels great to win a trophy in Sri Lanka after such a long time. Being the second-placed team in world rankings we have to keep performing well to sustain the quality."
Despite the big total, India had to endure some anxious moments as Sri Lanka's batsmen battled hard till the end (Tendulkar said he had "no nails left" after the match see-sawed its way to the finish). The home side were helped by some tardy Indian fielding; two catches were grassed and several run-out chances were missed. The fast bowlers were also off the boil early on, wilting in the face of an onslaught from the Sri Lankan openers. "We have got to learn from our mistakes," Dhoni said. "We did lack a bit in the fielding and bowling departments and both are very crucial. Thankfully, we ended on the winning side today."
Dhoni dedicated the win to the former BCCI president, Raj Singh Dungarpur, who died on Saturday. "He was the manager during our tour to Pakistan [in 2005-06]. He was a great man. We dedicate the victory to him."
India's next assignment is the Champions Trophy, which kicks off on September 22 in South Africa.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lee has a ball and makes his point

As Brett Lee made his way into the Lord's museum for his press conference, the ball he had used to claim a series-clinching 5 for 49 was already on display behind one of the glass cabinets. No doubt Lee would trade this five-wicket haul for one two months ago during Australia's first Test defeat on the ground for 75 years, but he could barely wipe the smile off his face as he contentedly reflected on a point made in no uncertain terms.
Lee was still suffering from his side injury when the Lord's Test came around, but remains adamant that he was ready to play in the final two Ashes matches. The selectors thought differently and Lee was left to stew on the sidelines. Now England's batsmen are being made to suffer the consequences.
"I was disappointed not to play in the Ashes to say the least, but that's behind me now. I can only perform the best I can when given the opportunity, and that's this one-day series," he said. "I don't think it makes up for what's happened in the Test series, it's a completely different series, but it certainly brings a smile to my face, put it that way. To take a five-for at Lord's is something that is a very, very special part of my cricketing life so far."
He has, in fact, taken one before at Lord's when he claimed 5 for 41 in the 2005 NatWest Series final and is the first bowler to take two in ODIs at the ground. At that stage, though, he was secure of his place in the team whereas now he is having to prove his worth all over again. After four matches, it seems incredible that worth was ever in doubt.
Throughout this series Lee's pace has been consistently quick, often entire overs have been above the 90mph mark. The yorker to remove Adil Rashid was clocked at 95.8mph, and he hopes this performance will help fight off the talk that age is catching up with him after a year on the sidelines with a series of injuries. He even has designs on pushing past the 100mph-mark, a level he once nudged against New Zealand, as he vies for the tag of fastest bowler in the world along with the likes of Dale Steyn and Shoaib Akhtar.
"I know I'm in the team to try and bowl fast, there's always talk about your age but I'm feeling really fit, probably the fittest I've ever felt. I'm only 32 and I want to keep bowling in excess of 90mph for a long time yet, but we'll wait and see what happens with the body.
"We all know from a medical and technical point of view that you don't reach your best speeds until you've played about two months of solid cricket. I want to keep increasing my speed as I have during this series. There's no reason I can't go faster, but at the end of the day if you bowl 98mph and spray them everywhere it's not very effective. There's a happy medium, but I'd like to see my pace keep increasing and pushing 100mph."
Andrew Strauss, while trying to explain another limp performance from his team, praised the performance of Lee for being too good. "If a guy's bowling 95mph yorkers, it's hard work, especially when you're looking to score in the Powerplays. I think you've got to give credit where it's due. I thought it was a sensational spell of bowling."
After the performances of Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus during the Ashes, along with the presence of Mitchell Johnson, Lee is facing a challenge to resume his Test career but it's one he relishes. "I've left the Ashes behind me now, I have dealt with that and moved on," he said. "I'm hoping to get the chance to play some Test cricket this Australian summer. The only thing I can try and do is take wickets in one-day matches to prove I can play Test cricket again.
"I've actually felt good throughout the whole series. I've been very lucky the body has been pulling up very well, and you have these days in your life when things just click. Today was one of those days, the yorker was landing where I wanted it to land, I felt pretty strong at the crease and walking away with a five-for is a special feeling."
When it was put to Lee that there may be a chance for him to take a rest now the series is sewn up - with the Champions Trophy to come before a tour of India - he almost had to stop himself laughing. "I've had about four months rest…I'm feeling good and ready to go," he said.
Lee, though, still wants his ball back. "I don't play for that factor of the game but when they asked for it straight away to be put on loan for 12 months, I said 'well if I can get it back after 12 months definitely'."

Flintoff mulls Twenty20 freelance role

Andrew Flintoff is giving serious consideration to becoming a freelancer cricketer according to his manager, Andrew Chandler, in a Sunday newspaper. Flintoff has already received a number of offers, but his recent knee surgery means he will be sidelined for at least six months. On Friday he was awarded an incremental contract by the ECB, but the option of lucrative Twenty20 deals will be very tempting.
Flintoff 's freelancing would have followed the route expected to be taken by Australian allrounder, Andrew Symonds, who is also eyeing several Twenty20 opportunities around the world after his national career stalled due to disciplinary issues.
"He'll play for Chennai [Super Kings in the IPL], he might play for an Australian team, a South African team, maybe one in the West Indies," Chandler told the Observer. "If he hadn't have been injured he would have probably played in December-January in Australia. And then at the end of January, early February in South Africa. I was already negotiating with them. We were negotiating with South Australia and the Durban team, the Nashua Dolphins. And there's been an offer from Northern Transvaal [Northerns] as well."
Flintoff is heading to Dubai for a three-month spell to aid his rehabilitation from a right knee surgery after was operated on a day after helping England regain the Ashes, his farewell Test series. He has targeted a return to full fitness before England's one-day leg on their tour of Bangladesh next February.
The ECB awarded an incremental contract to Flintoff as they hope will be key part of England's limited-over sides when fit and has stated he wants to play until the 2015 World Cup. But England coach Andy Flower had said his players could take part in only three weeks of the 45-day IPL next year if they toured Bangladesh. That means Flintoff, the joint highest-paid player in the IPL along with Kevin Pietersen, could stand to lose about half of his US$1.55m fee by going to Bangladesh.
Chandler said there was no clause in Flintoff's central contract preventing the allrounder from playing all IPL matches. "I'm not saying he's not going to play for England because he probably will do," Chandler said. "But he's definitely going to play for different teams during the year. The England contract does not state anything about not being able to play IPL or anything like that."
When the contract list was announced, Flower had warned that players' workload needs to be managed and that participation in lucrative leagues like the IPL will continue to be an issue over the next few years. The amount of time England players were available for the 2009 IPL season had been a major sticking point between the ECB and the Indian board earlier this year before a compromise was reached.

Chastened India seek quick turnaround

After seeing off New Zealand's timorous challenge, Sri Lanka and India will contest bragging rights in the Compaq Cup final. Sri Lanka hold the edge in the clash between two sides who generally don't do dull finals. The winners will go into the Champions Trophy in positive mood, leaving the loser to put salve on their injured pride.
While Kumar Sangakkara said a decision on Muttiah Muraliatharan's availability would be taken on Sunday evening, the bowler is fit and Sri Lanka should be fielding their strongest side - Thilan Samaraweera remains a doubt - and an Indian team missing the experience of three big-match players will have its work cut out to be competitive. Sri Lanka trounced India in the dress rehearsal on Saturday and again proved that once they have a score on the board at the Premadasa, they defend it resolutely.
Sri Lanka have all the weapons they need in two brisk new-ball operators, a vicious slinger, and two spinners with an assortment of tricks. Each of those bowlers is capable, more so under lights, of denying batsmen the space and time to score. The support cast is no less impressive, with the ever-improving Angelo Mathews and India would do well to be wary of Sanath Jayasuriya, who sorted out a couple of New Zealand batsmen with his variations last week. On Monday, India could face the world's most potent spin attack, with Murali and Ajantha Mendis possibly back in tandem. There will be a few flashes of the Asia Cup final last year.
India's concern is the batting, particularly at the top. Dinesh Karthik may have just played his way out of the XI, despite MS Dhoni having twice spoken of how wary he is to stick young Virat Kohli in as opener. Sachin Tendulkar has got starts on two occasions, but most worrying is the form of Yuvraj Singh, who has struggled to start against pace and spin. He scratched around dreadfully in both matches. India's fielding was also rather shabby in the previous game.
India's only real hope is to put up a big total and then pressure Sri Lanka's batsmen into committing errors. Chasing against the likes of Murali, Mendis and Lasith Malinga is a difficult task at the best of times, and as India found out yesterday, the anaconda grip gets you eventually.

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