Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jittery chase takes New Zealand to semi-finals

New Zealand 147 for 6 (Guptill 53, Broad 4-39) beat England 146 (Collingwood 40, Elliott 4-31, Bond 3-21) by four wickets
New Zealand survived a late scare to book their place in another global semi-final with a four-wicket victory after exploiting a lively Wanderers pitch to skittle England for 146. Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill took out more than half the target in little more than 12 overs, but England's quicks claimed 5 for 27 to ensure New Zealand had to work hard to cross the line. Ultimately, though, the success of New Zealand's bowlers was the deciding factor with Grant Elliott claiming a career-best 4 for 31 alongside Shane Bond's return to form with 3 for 21.

New Zealand knew they were better going hard at the target than waiting for the unplayable balls to come along and the value of that approach came to the fore later. Guptill, following from his 66 against Sri Lanka, collected the early boundaries, but McCullum was soon catching up as he launched sixes off England's three frontline pacemen. The opening partnership barely missed the injured Jesse Ryder as the pair gathered nine fours and three sixes until McCullum carved a catch to cover. Guptill completed a run-a-ball half century, but when he edged James Anderson to slip it sparked some nerves.

Ross Taylor was brilliantly held at second slip as Graeme Swann dived full stretch to his right. Stuart Broad then bounced out Elliott and Gareth Hopkins, while Ryan Sidebottom returned to have Neil Broom caught behind, a third catch to stand-in keep Eoin Morgan. It put in context the effort of the openers - the only time all match that bat dominated - and that England's bowlers took too long to find their lines. In the end, Daniel Vettori sealed the chase with a thumping pull through midwicket and with so many overs to spare New Zealand finish top of the group, which means a semi-final back at the Wanderers.

However, the talking point of the match came when Vettori reversed an appeal against Paul Collingwood, the second such incident in the tournament. Collingwood reared his head out of the line of a short ball from Kyle Mills and immediately walked out of the crease thinking the over was complete. McCullum threw down the stumps and the appeal was referred to the third umpire who gave it out. By then, New Zealand were in a huddle discussing their options and eventually Vettori and Collingwood shook hands.

If Collingwood had gone onto make a big score - and it didn't look out of the question as he peppered the leg-side boundary - Vettori would have had second thoughts about his decision, especially with New Zealand's tournament hopes hanging on this result but, like with Andrew Strauss when he recalled Angelo Mathews against Sri Lanka, Vettori ended with his reputation enhanced and a vital victory.

For once, Strauss hadn't been lucky with the toss and the day went downhill rapidly for England on a surface that produced some spiteful deliveries. The captain received one that climbed off a length second ball, taking a thin edge through to McCullum, and Bond was soon in on the action when he ripped one through the defences of Joe Denly, uprooting the off stump. The ball didn't bounce as Denly expected and the batsman was caught on the back foot.

Uneven bounce was a regular feature of the innings, but Owais Shah's dismissal had nothing to do with the pitch. Coming off his breathtaking 89-ball 98 against South Africa, Shah clearly felt in supreme touch but he tried to dominate too early when he heaved across the line. Bond has had a slow start to the tournament, but came good when New Zealand needed him most with plenty of deliveries proving unplayable off a lively surface.

At 13 for 3, it was purely a case of survival for Collingwood and Morgan. Collingwood broke the shackles with a thumping pull over deep square-leg and also punched Mills down the ground before his run-out reprieve. But just as the fourth-wicket pair had begun to set a platform, Ian Butler provided the breakthrough when a top-edged cut from Morgan was parried by McCullum and taken on the rebound by an alert Taylor from first slip.

If England hoped life would get easier with the change bowlers in operation they were given a rude surprise as Elliott proved nearly as difficult as Bond. To begin with, Elliott sprayed the ball too wide, but was soon among the wickets. His first owed a little to luck and a lot to superb catch at midwicket by Taylor, as another short ball that should have gone for four was plucked out of the air.

Elliott then found the edge of Luke Wright's bat with one that shaped away and clung onto a sharp, low caught-and-bowled to remove Broad. Swann gave Elliott his career-best fourth scalp with a top-edged pull that looped to McCullum. Ravi Bopara, playing due to Matt Prior's ongoing health issues, gathered what he could without ever looking settled against the moving ball and was eventually undone by a shooter from Bond that would have taken leg stump.

There was enough life in the pitch for England to cause New Zealand a host of problems if they bowled well, but it soon became clear who were the side that were desperate to win. New Zealand have been in knockout phases since their second match, when defeat would have sent them home, and have come through each challenge, while England will hope this defeat hasn't burst their unexpected bubble of success.

Seamers put Australia in charge

An unpredictable pitch and disciplined Australian bowling limited Pakistan to 91 for 3 at the halfway mark of their innings in the penultimate Group A match at Centurion. Kamran Akmal led Pakistan's charge with a patient innings of 44 but his dismissal off Shane Watson in the 19th over prompted a slowing of the run-rate as Pakistan struggled to contend with Australia's medium-pacers.

Akmal and Shahid Afridi, promoted in place of Imran Nazir, began the innings on a positive footing, pouncing on the short-pitched offerings of Peter Siddle and weathering the early storm of Brett Lee. Lee exploited the variable bounce to good effect but much of the pressure generated at his end was undone by Siddle, who conceded 22 runs from three loose overs.

The introduction of Mitchell Johnson into the attack prompted a reversal of Australia's fortunes. Johnson's first delivery surprised Afridi for pace and bounce, resulting in a top-edge and a diving catch for James Hopes at backward-square. The Australians might have capitalised soon after but for Nathan Hauritz's fumble of an Akmal mis-hit at deep cover, leaving Akmal and Younis Khan to reel off a methodical second-wicket partnership of 45.

With a half-century in sight, Akmal chopped a shorter delivery from Watson onto his stumps to signal the start of Australia's counter-attack. Younis, in particular, struggled to adapt to the pace of the Centurion wicket and Australia's slower seamers, and it came as little surprise when he fell attempting to push the pace off Hopes for 18 (from 49 deliveries).

Shoaib Malik appeared more assured than his captain at the crease and signalled his intent early with a sublime six over long-on off the bowling of Hopes. Yousuf, meanwhile, began his innings cautiously, requiring eight deliveries before contributing his first run to the Pakistani total.

Pakistan's middle-over struggles appeared to justify Ricky Ponting's decision to send the Group A front-runners in to bat on Wednesday. Australia generally fancy themselves as total defenders rather than pursuers but recent heavy rain convinced Ponting to allow his seamers first use of the pitch.

India look for a perfect day in Jo'burg and Centurion

India need the reverse of Murphy's Law. If they are to make it to the semi-final, everything that can go right needs to go right, and then some. They need Australia to lose to Pakistan, then they need to beat West Indies, and by such a margin that their net run-rate goes over Australia's. If any of these doesn't happen, they are out.

If Pakistan's match against Australia is even as much as washed out, India can kiss their campaign goodbye. The saving grace for them is that by half time during their match they'll know what exactly they need to do - if Australia lose, that is.

A difference of 2.08 in India and Australia's net run-rates looks huge on paper, but since it is based on the results of one match each it is not impossible to wipe out. It will be mighty difficult, though. Pakistan and Australia will make for a tight contest either way, so even if Australia lose India will need a huge win over West Indies. A perfect day is difficult to define, but India fans will know what it is if their team makes it to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy.

West Indies have been no pushovers in this tournament, giving Pakistan and Australia a scare. They would love nothing better than to spoil a party on their way out. It won't be a surprise if they even wish for Australia to lose to Pakistan, so that they have a chance to actively contribute in sending a team out. September 30 will be one complex day.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

India - LWLWW
Mathematics and permutations aside, India will need a big improvement in their form to entertain any hopes of progressing in this tournament. In the first match they played four bowlers and gave away over 300. In the second they played five and were threatening to leak 300-plus when rain intervened - fuelling the belief in some quarters that the rain actually saved India by giving them a point and keeping them alive in the tournament, as opposed to jeopardising their chances.

West Indies - LLLLL
Those who were of the view that their invitation should have been revoked will definitely revisit their stance after their creditable fights, albeit both losses, against Pakistan and Australia. If they can combine both their performances, good bowling in the first match and good batting in the second, West Indies could unsettle India.

Team news

India have a 6' 5" problem going into what could be their last match of the tournament. Ishant Sharma's 15.3 overs for 92 runs tell just a part of the story: he has looked low on confidence and just seems to be putting the ball in, as opposed to putting real effort in it. The pace has been low too. But India also know that he can be a handful if they are playing on a green top at the Wanderers. It's a difficult decision to make, and they have duly delayed it to see the pitch and trends in the Pakistan-Australia match.

India: (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 6 Virat Kohli, 7 Yusuf Pathan/Amit Mishra, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Praveen Kumar, 11 Ashish Nehra.

Dale Richards, who dislocated his shoulder during the Australia match, is definitely out. Either Keiran Powell or Royston Crandon could get a game in his place.

West Indies: (probable) 1 Devon Smith, 2 Andre Fletcher, 3 Keiran Powell/Royston Crandon, 4 Travis Dowlin, 5 Floyd Reifer (capt), 6 David Bernard, 7 Darren Sammy, 8 Chadwick Walton (wk), 9 Nikita Miller, 10 Tino Best, 11 Gavin Tonge.

Pitch and conditions

India will be playing at the Wanderers for the first time in this competition, and there will definitely be extra bounce on offer. West Indies have the advantage of having played both their matches there.

Watch out for...

Pakistan v Australia Keep an eye on Centurion because what happens there will influence what happens in the second innings of this match.

Kemar Roach is one of the positives to have come out of the players-board saga in the Caribbean. Against Australia at the same venue, the Wanderers, he bowled with pace and hostility, something India can do without in their current state of mind.

Stats and trivia

West Indies have played India twice in the Champions Trophy, and won on both occasions: the semi-final in Dhaka in 1998, and a league match in Ahmedabad in 2006. In World Cups the head-to-head is three wins each.

In 59 ODI innings Suresh Raina has scored two centuries, against Bangladesh and Hong Kong. It has to do in part with fluctuating batting order, because he has maintained a decent average of 35-plus.

The Wanderers has been a tough ground to chase on during this competition: Pakistan and England sweated chasing 134 and 213 respectively, West Indies and Sri Lanka failed chasing bigger totals.


"From the first game to this one we have gotten better, as a team and as individuals. Looking at the two games we've played, against Pakistan if we had 40 more runs, things could have been different. And against Australia we were in the game into the 40th over. It's been a great effort."
Floyd Reifer seeks a natural progression.

"We are cheering for Pakistan as they play a day game. We will know where we stand when we go out. Hopefully Pakistan will win."
MS Dhoni will be wearing green until the toss.

Asif in line for comeback as Pakistan ring the changes

With so many intertwining fortunes, the penultimate Group A match between Pakistan and Australia is shaping as the most absorbing of the tournament to date. Pakistan's victories over West Indies and India have ensured the World Twenty20 champions safe passage through to the semi-finals, and Australia will join them with victory in Centurion.

A Pakistan win, on the other hand, would throw the race for the semis wide open. Monday's wash-out in Centurion may have allowed India to avoid a mountainous run-chase against Australia, but it also placed them in the precarious position of having to rely on other results to advance to the next round. A resounding Pakistan victory over Australia will keep alive the hopes of MS Dhoni's men, but only if India can inflict a heavy defeat on the West Indians at the Wanderers the same day.

Weighing heavily on the Indians' minds will be Australia's recent 3-2 victory over Pakistan in an attritional one-day series played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. On that occasion, the superior discipline of the Australians proved too much for an out-of-practice Pakistan side although, as punters the world over are aware, form guides are seldom of use when trying to assess Younis Khan's team. That logic is all the more applicable with Pakistan likely to rest a number of first-choice players ahead of the semi-finals, clearing the way for Mohammad Asif to make his return to international cricket after a 19-month absence.

There will presumably be little love lost between Asif and the Australians who, prior to the 2007 World Cup, vented their anger at the PCB for recalling the controversial paceman barely a year after he tested positive to nandrolone. Asif has courted controversy ever since, and will be determined to make the most of what may be his last chance in the international game. A fascinating subplot to an intriguing match.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

Australia - WLWWW
Pakistan - WWWWL

Team news

Australia's Champions Trophy plans are covered in liquid paper, with mainstays Nathan Bracken and Michael Clarke sent home with injury. Clarke's chronic back condition will be causing angst among team medical staff, given the frequency with which it has flared this year (the Twenty20 international against New Zealand in Australia, the lead-up to the Test series in South Africa and now the Champions Trophy). His bowling days may well be numbered as he attempts to manage the injury.

Australia: (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Callum Ferguson, 6 Cameron White, 7 James Hopes, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Nathan Hauritz, 11 Peter Siddle.

Younis Khan is expected to take the field against the Australians on Wednesday, however Imran Nazir, who is also nursing a broken finger, is less likely to play. Younis foreshadowed that Pakistan would seek to give game time to several fringe squad members ahead of the semi-final, singling out Fawad Alam, Iftikhar Anjum and Asif. Asif has not represented Pakistan since he was detained at Dubai airport in June, 2008.

Pakistan: (probable): 1 Shoaib Malik, 2 Kamran Akmal, 3 Younis Khan (capt), 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Umar Akmal, 8 Umar Gul, 9 Mohammad Aamer, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Mohammad Asif.

Watch out for...

Shoaib Malik's century against India was the perfect cricketing crescendo. The 183-game veteran managed just a solitary run from his first 13 deliveries, before hitting something near light-speed in the closing stages to effectively bat India out of the contest. Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh might still not know what hit them.

Brett Lee managed express pace and steepling bounce in his sole outing against West Indies, but wickets proved hard to come by. Should he find the right trajectory, Australia's senior fast bowler could prove more than a handful on a Centurion pitch enlivened by recent heavy rain.

Pitch and conditions

Centurion has been considered the more spin-friendly of the Champions Trophy surfaces thus far, although it remains to be seen whether those characteristics will remain after Monday's match-cancelling deluge. Pakistan will be hoping for a resumption of normal programming, given the difficulty encountered by Australia's batsmen in scoring off the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi during the recent series in the UAE. The Pakistan spin combination have taken a combined seven wickets at the Champions Trophy to date at barely four runs-per-over, and are again looming as potent strike weapons.

Stats and trivia

Australia have won nine of their last 12 ODIs against Pakistan, including a 3-2 series victory in their most recent series in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

As of Tuesday morning, Saeed Ajmal was the best-performed spinner at the Champions Trophy with four wickets at 11.75. His economy rate is 3.66.

Ricky Ponting has been in imposing form since arriving in South Africa. He has scored half-centuries in both of Australia's pool matches against West Indies and India at an average of 72.


"This Trophy was originally scheduled to be held in Pakistan. We were the real hosts. My nation wants it back and we are ready to give our hundred percent to get it back for the country."
Younis Khan after Pakistan's emphatic victory over India.

"Our batsmen played well [against India] so that's really good going into the Pakistan match, where there will surely be two spinners playing. [Michael] Hussey and [Tim] Paine played the spinners very well against India and that augers well for the upcoming match. [Saeed] Ajmal and [Shahid] Afridi are quality spinners. Yes they did well against us in Abu Dhabi and Dubai but we are up for it."

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