Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pietersen raring to go

Kevin Pietersen spoke to ECBtv after arriving in South Africa

Kevin Pietersen has arrived in South Africa feeling physically and mentally refreshed, but England's star batsman will not be rushed back into action as he takes his final steps towards full fitness.

The 29-year-old has spent a large part of the last three months recuperating from surgery to his right Achilles tendon – an injury that forced him to miss the last three Tests of this summer's npower Ashes series.

But today Pietersen, who sported customised trainers made specially to protect the injury, looked more than comfortable during an hour-long net session at the Wanderers.

The Hampshire batsman faced several net bowlers as well as ECB spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed, and also ran between the wickets, while there was even time to rehearse his now prominent switch-hit.

It was his first outdoor net session since July and after arriving for the two-and-a-half-month tour yesterday, he says he is raring to go.

Kevin Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen admitted to feeling "really good and excited" at the Wanderers, in his first England net session since July

Pietersen will not feature in two Twenty20 international matches against South Africa this weekend, but has set his sights on a return to action in the 50-over warm-up match with South Africa A on Tuesday ahead of the one-day international series.

“I’m excited to see the guys again today, to go down to the Wanderers and have my first outdoor net since July – I feel really good and really excited,” he said.

“The fitness is not too bad. I’ve done some rigorous training over the last six weeks, I’ve done a lot of work at Lord’s in the last week before I flew out yesterday and I’m feeling good, I’m feeling fresh mentally.

“I had a bad day on my Achilles yesterday, but I think that was just purely down to the flight. I’ve woken up feeling really good today.

“I’m certainly not going to rush things, I tried that a while back. I got an infection in the wound.

“I enjoyed the break to refresh my batteries, to get myself right and ready to know that I can compete again and want to compete again.

“But I hated getting injured because I wanted to continue playing to be a part of what was a successful summer. So that was where I was at, but now to be back in an England tracksuit is great.”

First Pietersen had to endure the Achilles problem that forced him to miss out on over half Ashes, before an infection caused further complications and saw him forego the ICC Champions Trophy.

“I’ve just treated this break as something to get my head right, to get myself back in love with the game, ready, fit and raring to go again. I feel good now.”

“I hated missing fixtures for England, I really wanted to be part of a successful Ashes campaign. I wanted to be part of the one-dayers and try to affect that in a hopefully positive manner against Australia.

“I thought that guys were brilliant here in South Africa (during the Champions Trophy), so I missed out on a lot of cricket that I would have been playing."

Kevin Pietersen & Simon Katich

Pietersen hopes for time in the middle against South Africa A on Tuesday, which would be his first since the Lord's Ashes Test

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England impressed in their first two 50-over practice matches, but completed their warm-up programme with a disappointing four-wicket loss to South Africa A in a Twenty20 match last night.

The tourists play the first of two Twenty20 internationals against the Proteas on Friday, followed by a five-match one-day series and four Tests.

Pietersen is hoping England can continue with the momentum of the Ashes, unlike their post-2005 lull, which saw them lose in Pakistan.

He added: “I think the team looks like they’re really on fire to do some good things out here in South Africa and to be really competitive.

“I’m very encouraged to hear all the positive things that have been said to me by the players over what’s happened in the past couple of weeks.

“I just don’t want us to make the same mistake we made in 2005 where we sort of went on a downhill slope after what was a fantastic summer.

“I think we’re all encouraged and all really keen to make sure that this is a really successful campaign post such a successful Ashes as well.”

SCG in fight to retain Ashes Test

The famous Sydney Cricket Ground could lose its Ashes Test in 2011 as doubts resurface about venues in the city.

Test cricket has been played at the SCG since 1882 but the ground's capacity is 44,000, compared to the 80,000-seat ANZ Stadium, home to the 2000 Olympics.

Cricket NSW considered switching to the bigger venue in 2004 before settling on a new deal with the SCG, but that ends in September and new talks are planned.

"It's about finding the best deal going forward," NSW boss Dave Gilbert said.

"I know Test cricket will be a difficult one to do at this stage - and you have to weigh up tradition and history and the drama at the SCG - but when I was a kid growing up at the SCG, rugby league Test matches and union Test matches were only ever at the SCG, but not anymore.

"If you're a 15-year-old kid, you've only ever known big sport events to be played at ANZ Stadium - that's not meant to be an inflammatory comment, it's a fact.

"ANZ is focused on getting a major cricket match to its venue. If you take the heat and emotion out of it, as CEO of Cricket NSW, I have to do what is best for cricket to generate revenue to keep this game going, and this is what this process is about."

The Olympic stadium is situated in Homebush Bay in the western suburbs of Sydney, with the SCG more centrally located, some two miles from the Central Business District.


NSW have played Twenty20 matches at the Olympic stadium for the last two years, but Australia batsman Simon Katich was unsure about the possibility of an Ashes Test being held there.

"It would be a surprise if there wasn't an Ashes Test at the SCG but who knows?" he said. "The game's changing all the time, so you never know which direction it could head."

However, the SCG Trust, which looks after the ground and also the adjacent Sydney Football Stadium, remains confident of keeping major internationals at the historic ground.

"There has been no discussion with Cricket NSW at this stage so we're not sure what they're bringing to the table, but we look forward to all international cricket remaining at the SCG," spokesman Greg Campbell said.

Younis quits, says he's lost command

has given up the captaincy of Pakistan once again, and taken a temporary break from the game altogether, after failing to overcome a long-running rift with a group of players. Effectively, after Younis informed the Pakistan board chairman Ijaz Butt of his decision, it signaled a victory for player power over an unpopular captain.

"I met the chairman today and told him I needed to rest," Younis told Cricinfo. "I told him I feel as If I have no command over this team. And if a leadership has no command over its players, what is the point of continuing to lead? I also told him that the last 3-4 months have been very trying times for me, not just with the cricket but all that has happened outside it. I need time to get myself together now."

At least eight or nine players in the current squad have been unhappy with Younis as captain for a while and had made their concerns clear to Butt immediately after the Champions Trophy. The loss to New Zealand in the three-match ODI series, in which Younis failed with the bat, cranked up the pressure, with a number of voices in Pakistan calling for his ouster. Today Younis decided that he had lost "command" over the team and carrying on was not an option.

The PCB immediately named Mohammad Yousuf, senior batsman and one-time stand-in captain, as the man to lead the side in a three-Test series in New Zealand beginning later this month. Kamran Akmal, the wicketkeeper, will be his deputy.

The PCB's no-frills press release stated simply that Younis had asked for a rest and Butt is reported to have said that they did not object to the decision. "We did appoint Younis captain until the 2011 World Cup, subject to his performance and fitness, but we have no objection to him asking for a rest, and I don't think it's turmoil in Pakistan cricket," he said.

Revolt within the ranks

  • Pakistan's history is no stranger to such player revolts. In 1981-82, almost the entire XI decided they were not going to play under Javed Miandad's captaincy. A second XI was picked, Miandad stayed on but soon stepped down of his own accord, paving the way for the start of Imran Khan's captaincy.
  • In 1992-93, Miandad was again sidelined by his own players during the ODI series in Australia, which led to Wasim Akram taking over. And not long after, Akram was pulled down by a group of players led by his own vice-captain and fellow fast bowler Waqar Younis.

Younis' tenure, which began earlier this year, has been crippled by a lack of support from his players. Ostensibly his resignation last month, after the Champions Trophy, was over the match-fixing allegations leveled against his side, but as the affair progressed it became increasingly clear that Younis was trying to outmanoeuvre a group of players who were not with him. It worked briefly, as the board made him captain till the 2011 World Cup, with enhanced powers over selection, but the players' support has clearly not been forthcoming.

Younis refused to go into further detail over which players had revolted but it is believed the group is led by Shoaib Malik and includes other seniors such as Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal. Sources close to Younis say that he was particularly disappointed in the manner in which some players were dismissed in the last ODI against New Zealand.

Though Pakistan ultimately lost by seven runs, their batting had collapsed to 101 for 9 - effectively losing those nine wickets for 54 runs - until a miraculous last-wicket stand took them nearly all the way. But the way established batsmen were dismissed - in a rash of pull shots - on a placid pitch has led Younis to conclude that it was done to undermine him.

"He was really unhappy with the shots some of the batsmen played and he feels as if they did it deliberately to undermine him," one source told Cricinfo. "He just feels as if he is knocking his head against a brick wall, telling batsmen, senior guys, how to play and them just not listening. He is tired of the constant fighting within the team, especially when it is not clear what they are all fighting or upset about. Nobody has gone to him directly to say anything and that has upset him the most. It isn't so much the pressure of his own failures that has brought him down as this."

Younis's immediate future is unclear. It is believed that he wants to continue playing international cricket and will return to Pakistan and play some domestic cricket to set himself up for the Australia tour, beginning at the end of December. A return to captaincy seems highly improbable; neither is the PCB likely to offer it to him, having been burnt so many times, nor is he likely to take it up, given his experience this time round.

As a result, Yousuf's elevation marks a remarkable comeback for the batsman, who only recently was in exile from the national team for his involvement with the ICL. He has led Pakistan in the past, twice in Tests in Australia - both lost - and once at home against South Africa in 2003-04, which Pakistan won. Incidentally, he was also a replacement captain for Younis once before, for all of a day, when Younis walked away from the post ahead of the 2006 Champions Trophy, only to be convinced to come back.

The buzz in Pakistan suggests that former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq has also played a hand; in recent days, Inzamam has been publicly vocal about the need to dispose of Younis, openly pushing the candidacy of Shahid Afridi as ODI captain. According to some reports, Yousuf contacted Inzamam - the pair are very close - before accepting the job. Some are even touting Inzamam as the next coach for Pakistan.

Pakistan look to make amends for ODI debacle

After a riveting end to the ODI series, which New Zealand won 2-1, the focus turns to the Twenty20s, which Pakistan will feel they are better placed to trump. Pakistan conceded the ODI series in typically erratic fashion, making a meal of a chase of 212 before a phenomenal fightback staged by Mohammad Aamer and Saeed Ajmal ensured the game was settled in the final over. They will be disappointed by a fifth consecutive ODI series defeat, especially one they were well poised to win, but the Twenty20 games in Dubai present an opportunity to redress that.

Pakistan have a far superior record in Twenty20s this year - they won the World Twenty20 and overall have seven wins in nine games. New Zealand are no slouches themselves - they beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in what was their only highlight of a disappointing tour in September- but their success in Abu Dhabi couldn't hide their struggle against spin. Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi, with their wily variations, nibbled away at New Zealand while proving economical. With the pair, and possibly Shoaib Malik, likely to gobble a major share of the 20 overs, the New Zealand batsmen, who gave up 12 wickets at 22.42, face a serious challenge.

Pakistan face their own demons with the bat; the terrible shot selection that brought their downfall in the ODI decider prompted Afridi to liken his batsmen to "club cricketers", and the comparison will only be reinforced in the event of a repeat.

Form Guide

(most recent first)

New Zealand - WLLWW

Pakistan - WWWWW

Watch out for

Ross Taylor has proved destructive in the death overs in this format. His exploits in the IPL and the Champions League Twenty20 are well known but his performances on the international circuit - he averages 23.68 in Twenty20 internationals against 34.31 overall - have been less successful. He'll want to change that.

Mohammad Aamer staged one of the great comebacks in limited-overs cricket with his unbeaten 73. His ability to clear the ropes matched with a sound technique represented a talent more deserving that a No.10 position in the batting order.

Team news

Imran Nazir, Fawad Alam and Sohail Tanvir have joined the squad for the Twenty20 series. Mohammad Yousuf, who stands in for Younis Khan as captain for the Test series, sits out along with Salman Butt and Wahab Riaz.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Kamran Akmal (wk), 2 Imran Nazir, 3 Shoaib Malik, 4 Shahid Afridi (capt), 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Fawad Alam, 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Mohammad Aamer, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Iftikhar Anjum/Sohail Tanvir, 11 Saeed Ajmal.

New Zealand will be without Kyle Mills and James Franklin, nursing shoulder and back injuries respectively. Jacob Oram is also unavailable - he's flown back home to attend the birth of his child. With only 12 players to choose from, they are likely to draft in Ian Butler and Nathan McCullum.

New Zealand (possible): 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Aaron Redmond, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Scott Styris, 6 Daniel Vettori (capt), 7 Neil Broom/BJ Watling, 8 Nathan McCullum, 9 Ian Butler, 10 Shane Bond, 11 Tim Southee.


"We didn't play well in the one-day series but it's gone, it's history, it's a new day now and tomorrow (Thursday) will be a new day too."
Shahid Afridi has moved on from the ODI debacle

"Pakistan have proved they're a great Twenty20 outfit - they're the world champions - and they've got the wood over us in the last few outings."

Vijay and Karthik lead strong Tamil Nadu reply

Tamil Nadu 198 for 2 (Vijay 91*, Arun Karthik 87) trail Gujarat 343 (Parthiv 166, Balaji 4-51, Srinivas 4-75) by 145 runs

Tamil Nadu dictated terms on the second day in Ahmedabad with a strong batting performance, led by half-centuries by M Vijay and Arun Karthik. Tamil Nadu ended the day 145 adrift of Gujarat's 343, but lost only two wickets, with Vijay going strong with an unbeaten 91. Earlier, Aushik Srinivas and L Balaji took four wickets each to keep Gujarat from piling on a massive score. Resuming on 275 for 5, the overnight pair of Parthiv Patel and Timil Patel progressed steadily to 316 before a lower order collapse gave Tamil Nadu the initiative. Srinivas and Balaji bowled well in tandem as Gujarat lost their last five wickets for 27 runs. Parthiv went on to score 166. Tamil Nadu got off to a bad start when they lost S Anirudha for a duck in the second over but it was smooth sailing from there on as Vijay and Karthik played positively. Karthik progressed at more than a run a ball at one stage and looked set to score a century but was stumped on 87 off Niraj Patel. Vijay, who was named in the Indian Test squad against Sri Lanka, was particularly strong against the spinners and his innings included nine fours and a six. With this start, Tamil Nadu look well placed to take a first-innings lead.

Punjab 221 and 59 for 3 (Khader 2-17) lead Hyderabad 193 (Quadri 73*, Ablish 4-70, Harmeet 3-52, Gony 3-58) by 87 runs

Punjab's seam trio of Harmeet Singh, Luv Ablish and Manpreet Gony combined to bowl out Hyderabad for 193 and secure a first-innings lead of 28 against Hyderabad in Mohali. Harmeet and Ablish's early strikes had Hyderabad tottering at 54 for 5, and there was further trouble for the visitors when they lost the experienced VVS Laxman for 26. The score at that stage read 89 for 7, but a fighting unbeaten 73 by Syed Quadri helped Hyderabad fight back. Quadri added 52 with MP Arjun and 47 with Ashwin Yadav. Gony took three lower order wickets to bowl Hyderabad out before they could get closer to his team's total of 221. The Punjab top order however faltered in the second innings and ended the day with an overall lead of 87. Mohammed Khader, the left-arm seamer, got rid of the openers. Pankaj Dharmani was unbeaten at stumps on 10, but it was a significant day for his career as he crossed the 7000-run mark in the Ranji Trophy.

Himachal Pradesh 34 for 0 trail Railways 419 (Sanyal 92, Goud 58, Sarandeep 7-120) by 385 runs

Sanjib Sanyal led Railways' lower order effort with 92 to post a strong 419 against Himachal Pradesh at the Karnail Singh Stadium. Sarandeep Singh, the offspinner, was rewarded with seven wickets after sending down close to 57 overs. Railways lost Yere Goud early for 58 but that's when Sanyal came in and took control, supported by Akshay Girap and Karan Sharma. Sanyal hit eight fours and a six before he was the eighth wicket to fall, caught behind off Sarandeep. The Himachal openers began cautiously, adding 34 in 20 overs before stumps

Heavy showers ensured no play was possible for the second consecutive day between Mumbai and Orissa at the Brabourne Stadium.

Group B

Delhi 154 and 93 for 2 (Dhawan 43*) trail Karnataka 260 (Dravid 78, Narwal 4-71, Suyal 4-67) 13 runs

Rahul Dravid led the way for Karnataka with a half-century to secure a first-innings lead of 106 against Delhi at the Roshanara Club Ground. Delhi only managed 154 on the opening day so it was a question of how long Karnataka could extend their lead. Dravid was the cornerstone of Karnataka's effort with 78, an innings which included 11 fours. The lower order then continued to frustrate Delhi, with the last-wicket pair of Abhimanyu Mithun and S Aravind adding 47. The seam-bowling pair of Sumit Narwal and Pawan Suyal took four wickets apiece. The Delhi batsmen put in a much better effort in their second innings, ending the day with a deficit of 13.

Saurashtra 125 for 3 (Mehta 44*) trail Uttar Pradesh 395 (Parvinder 122, Dhurv 5-107, Jobanputra 4-82) by 270 runs

Saurashtra's Rakesh Dhurv and Sandeep Jobanputra took nine wickets between them but Uttar Pradesh held the upper hand in Rajkot as they posted 395 and halted Saurashtra's effort with three wickets. Parvinder Singh added only two to his overnight score when he was dismissed by Jobanputra. The lower order then put together partnerships to frustrate the home side. Dhurv, the left-arm spinner, took his fifth five-wicket haul. Saurashtra didn't get off to the best of starts, losing three wickets for 59, but Pratik Mehta and Shitanshu Kotak steadied the innings with a stand of 66.

Bengal 102 for 3 (Arindam 52*) trail Baroda 307 (Pinal 63, Swapnil 43*, Lahiri 3-29) by 205 runs

A decent effort by Baroda's lower order - led by Pinal Shah - lifted the score to 307 against Bengal at the Eden Gardens. Shah hit 63 and he was supported by Swapnil Singh, who made an unbeaten 43. Sourav Sarkar, Saurasish Lahiri and Laxmi Ratan Shukla all took three wickets apiece. Bengal were under a bit of pressure when Irfan Pathan struck to leave them at 73 for 3. But Arindam Das held firm till stumps with an unbeaten 52, with Sourav Ganguly on 15 for company.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Denly acknowledges Strauss influence

Joe Denly hailed the effect of captain Andrew Strauss on his own batting form after getting amongst the runs in England’s second tour match in South Africa, against the Warriors at the De Beers Diamond Oval.
The Kent opener hit 82, with his skipper carrying his bat for an unbeaten 117 as the pair put on a match-winning 175-run partnership.
Together they dominated the home side's bowling as England chased down a 255-run victory target with 9.1 overs to spare.
It was welcome time in the middle for Denly - whose last half-century for his country came during the NatWest Series against Australia - on the back of an inauspicious ICC Champions Trophy campaign.
“It was brilliant to get ourselves off to a good start like that and the more I bat with Straussy the more I enjoy it,” Denly said. “He is great to bat with and he is a very experienced player.
“He is in great touch at the moment and that makes life easier for me when he is batting that well. I think the right and left-hand combination works well at the top too.”
Competition for batting places is currently intense, with Jonathan Trott staking his claim in the opening game with a man-of-the-match display – he hit 85 – and the inclusion of Test opener Alastair Cook in the one-day set-up.
The impending return of Kevin Pietersen this week is also likely to up the ante, but Denly was just pleased to finally get back amongst the runs.
He continued: “It was nice to get out there and spend some time in the middle.
“It is important to get some runs under your belt before the international games start and just have as much time out there as you can.”
Denly, whose 85-ball innings included seven fours and two sixes, also revealed that batting in Kimberley was not as easy as it looked.
He added: “It was quite tricky to begin with because the pitch is a bit slow and they were bowling cutters which were hard to get away.
“It was really about getting used to the pace of the pitch.
“Once I did that I felt the more time I spent out there the easier it became for me to time the ball and in the end I was feeling very comfortable.”
Want to play Jackpot Games

Beefy to the max

Odds of 500-1... Lillee had a tenner... the golf clubs were already in the boot... a few booming edges... pure village green... into the confectionery stall and out again ...
Botham's Ashes: the images and the yarns are as well-worn as the pages of a boy's first mucky book: the blind fury of those hook shots that nearly launched him off his feet, that square cut through point off Lillee, the irresistible force of his bowling action, enormously strong but still lithe. It is all as vivid as any childhood memory.
So, too, that famous picture of him in the Headingley dressing room, shirt off, the grinning man of the match raising a bottle: the king of the world. Or the more brooding shot taken the night before (145 not out overnight), about to light an atypically modest, slim cigar. He looks distant, solitary: perhaps he is reflecting on the magnitude of his achievements and what they could mean. Maybe he is just working out what his first pint will be. What a summer: 149 not out, 5 for 1, 118: the numbers need no elucidation to any cricket fan, for our memories will never fade.
But it must be an illusion. I was five in 1981, too young to understand follow-ons or 500-1 shots or square cuts or cigars. I fancy I watched it on the telly and sensed the thrilling mood. But even this might just be the false memory of endless replays throughout rain breaks since, and documentaries at lunch, the anecdotes as comfortingly over-familiar as the events themselves.
Beefy's glory days might have been 1981 but Botham's Ashes, for me, were 1985. Hitting Craig McDermott for a straight six first ball at Edgbaston, a four, a block and another straight six: it was just so daring, so glorious. By now I understood the game enough to know that McDermott was Australia's danger man - he already had 25 wickets in the series - and that it was our champion against theirs. And I suppose I grasped that England were pushing for quick runs before a declaration, but Botham's down-and-dirty 18 dwarfed David Gower's regal 215 in my view.
Botham the Batsman initially captivated me before Botham the Bowler, although his 31 wickets outshone his 250 runs (no ton) in the six Tests. But playing cricket in the park, it seemed absurd to be anything other than an allrounder: why would anyone choose half a sport? The other England players, redundant in one or other discipline, seemed mere water carriers.
I became a supporter of his Somerset and, as a nerdy cricket writer, I am now contractually obliged to describe how I assiduously searched Ceefax / the newspapers / in the entrails of pigeons for tales of my idol's derring-do. Actually the media, other than the TV, that most fuelled my hero worship were the Ian Botham Sports Annuals, hardbacked treasure troves of exquisite mid-'80s Wallydom. Beefy with an electric guitar - close personal friend Eric Clapton giving a few tips; Beefy at the golf - close personal friend Seve Ballesteros, etc; driving a car round Brands Hatch, grinning in an aquamarine shell-suit, flying a plane, mullet flapping like a giant Shredded Wheat.

In a restaurant I remember asking my dad about the mysterious adult protocol of tipping and needing to calibrate his answer only by checking: "How much would Ian Botham tip?" Botham would, my dad said, be attended by the head waiter himself, and might be expected to tip perhaps £50

In the 1985 edition the cover pictures of Botham did not even feature him in cricket gear: he had transcended that particular sport. Certainly to me he represented much more than just cricket; he seemed to symbolise all-round achievement in any area of life. He was the benchmark by which almost all forms of success were measured. In a restaurant I remember asking my dad about the mysterious adult protocol of tipping and needing to calibrate his answer only by checking: "How much would Ian Botham tip?" Botham would, my dad said, be attended by the head waiter himself, and might be expected to tip perhaps £50.
The power vacuum created by football's wretchedness meant he was the biggest sports star of the day, and his antics were sweet meat to the news desk as well as the sports. But it was more than just very high profile that ensured he defined the era: if Botham did not exist, it would have been necessary for Margaret Thatcher to invent him. From the doldrums of 1980 or so - recession, union excess, the Loony Left, Argentina - a new hero emerged. He was self-propelled, utterly determined, without fear or remorse, he would drag England with him whether we bloody well liked it or not.
And as the '80s wore on, sure enough, the crash: Maggie had her Black Monday, Beefy his romps, punch-ups and pot. What had seemed buccaneering self-belief was now interpreted as boorishness. By the end of the decade, he was a (very large) shadow of his former self: the 1989 Ashes brought 62 runs at 15 and three wickets at 80.
Yet we believed, kind of, that he was still capable of the odd good day even into the 90s, his mere presence keeping the dark ages at bay for a while. The undeserved irony was that the promise of Beefy magic contributed to the hopelessness, by drawing the eye from the yawning systemic cracks, while the futile search for a replacement muddied the selectorial waters for a generation.
Even when he was ineffectual - even when he had actually retired - he was still the most important English cricketer. He was inspirational - and not just on the sports field - and his faults made him human. As for his superhuman deeds, well, we will always have our memories. And everyone else's too, of course.

The rise of the English South Africans

In the middle of October I saw this thread on the 606 message boards: "Not a wind-up attempt, but as your side is half full of South Africans, if you had to choose an English XI, who would be in it?
"I was about to do my own XI but when I checked Stephen Moore for Strauss's spot I found out he's from Jo'burg. So I thought about Ed Joyce, and he's born in Dublin! Can't find an opener."
Of course this might simply be light-hearted banter, but there remains an undercurrent of xenophobia from some England fans directed at certain England players, and in my view it is very much misplaced.
Surely, the rich history of English cricket has been enriched by the foreign imports. And in the case of South Africans, the trickle began a long time ago, with Basil D'Oliveira in 1966, continued with Tony Greig six years later, moved through the aggressive middle-order pairing of Allan Lamb and Robin Smith, and finally arrived at Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott.
And it's not just been South Africans. Andy Caddick, whose New Zealand twang is still just about detectable, was the hero last time England won a Test in Australia, Graeme Hick was a Zimbabwean, the Hollioake brothers Australian, while Gladstone Small, Phil DeFreitas and Devon Malcolm all came from the Caribbean. England's captain at the start of this decade, Nasser Hussain, was born in Chennai, India.
Go back further in time, and there are many other instances. Surely, to attach too much significance to any perceived recent trend, to get too worked up about the dwindling numbers of English-born players in the England dressing-room, is to attach too much nationalism to the simple pleasure of supporting the English team.
It is, in any case, an exaggeration to say England's probable starting XI for the first Test in Port Elizabeth is "half full of South Africans". The focus is on four players - in other words barely a third - and two of them can be swiftly exonerated.
Skipper Andrew Strauss was born in Johannesburg, but left South Africa at the age of six. He first learnt the game in Australia, as it happens. Matt Prior was 11 when he left South Africa, and proudly claims to have lost his accent "within a week".
Pietersen and the new man in the squad, Trott, clearly have stronger links with proteas, braais and springboks. So let's home in on them.
Pietersen made a brave decision as a young man to emigrate after KwaZulu-Natal had told him they could not guarantee him a place in their side. Trott was born in Cape Town and played for South Africa at both under-15 and under-19 level before using his British ancestry to gain a place in Warwickshire squad.
This graph shows the rising value of the runs provided by South African-born players
Respected cricket writer Neil Manthorp - who has emigrated the opposite way, from England to South Africa - says there will inevitably be plenty of mention of certain players' roots in the coming weeks.
"There will be jokes about how Trott and Pietersen won't need to be in their hotels, that they can stay with their parents. We might get a bit bored of the jokes but it will be a lot more humorous than four years ago. There was genuine anger then."
Indeed. Pietersen, the 2005 model, with upturned skunk hairdo and comments freely distributed about the perceived iniquities of racial quotas, was easy prey for some rough barracking on his first tour four and a half years ago.
But he has matured since then, and Manthorp confirms Pietersen's own suspicions, that South Africans are ready to shed much of their animosity towards him. Besides, the jeering did not work - the boy from Pietermaritzburg took three one-day centuries off the Proteas on his first tour.
When he left Cape Town, Trott was "not the most popular sort of guy, difficult to get on with," says Manthorp - and feels the 28-year-old may be something of a target from the crowd at the third Test, if not in the way the more vocal Pietersen was in 2005.
It is already becoming hard to work out just who Trott's friends are. He was targeted for criticism from Michael Vaughan in the ex-England skipper's new book. Why? Trott was spotted by Vaughan celebrating with the South Africans who had beaten England in the 2008 series. Inevitably, Strauss has already been forced to defend Trott's corner.
But if there is a certain type of English fan who bridles at the presence of Trott and Pietersen in the side, then is there a certain type of South African worried about the talent drain towards the English shires?
It's doubtful. Pietersen, who famously struggled to get into his school's first XI, is regarded as something of a freak, a player whose talent did not blossom until he had abandoned KwaZulu-Natal for Nottinghamshire.
And of the current crop of South African youngsters who have done the maths and realised how much easier it is to break into one of 18 county sides as opposed to the six franchise teams in their own country, only one - the Somerset wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter - looks like a probable international prospect. The 21-year-old was recently parachuted into England's winter performance programme, and qualifies to play for the national side in February.
Somerset's 21-year-old wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter qualifies for England next February
Around two years ago South African followers did get a bit concerned, with the Kolpak loophole making it even easier for counties to register an almost limitless supply of their countrymen, but that fear has been eased by the Proteas' ascent to the top of the Test rankings ladder.
And as it happens, Kolpak contracts are becoming a distinct rarity, with most South Africans in future summers probably having to unearth a European grandparent or two to gain a county contract.
Furthermore, South Africa's under-19 side is performing well and the academy is well regarded.
Manthorp is unequivocal: "Proponents of positive discrimination will say there are a hell of a lot more kids coming through. It's a hard world, if you're white and don't like it go play in England.
"The reality is cricket at school and club level in South Africa is still active and strong, whereas every time I come to England I see more and more clubs close, and more schools where the game is no longer played. The game there is certainly in decline."
It is a depressing view which the England and Wales Cricket Board will dispute, as they continue to talk of their commitment to delivering funds to the grass-roots of the game.
But the irony is that because of the apparent lack of high-class homegrown players, there are more places at the counties for immigrant South Africans - or imports from anywhere else, provided they meet the increasingly complicated entry criteria.
These players, in turn, help raise the standard of county cricket - despite the ECB's reservations - and as a result the counties should eventually deliver better-prepared candidates for the international game.
So just remember that when Pietersen, Trott and Kieswetter celebrate winning the World Cup in 2015.
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Bollinger and Johnson seal series

Australia. 172 for 4 (Watson 49, Hussey 35*) beat India 170 (Jadeja 57, Praveen 54*, Bollinger 5-35) by six wickets
All odds seemed against them - four key players were missing before the trip and they lost four more during the series - but Australia showed admirable spirit and skill to clinch the series with a game to spare. On a slightly damp pitch in Guwahati, Mitchell Johnson found his mojo and combined with Doug Bollinger to bundle out India for 170 before Shane Watson gave a solid start to the chase to ensure Australia cantered to a series win.
Bollinger was at the top of his game today on a track conducive to his style and found his mark immediately, nipping out two wickets early and snapping twin dangerous partnerships later en route to 5 for 35. Johnson - back in the side after missing the last game - scythed through the top order to leave India, who chose to bat, tottering at 27 for 5 before Ravindra Jadeja featured in two fighting partnerships. First was a slow repairing job with MS Dhoni, then a violent one with Praveen Kumar to raise hopes of a revival, but Bollinger returned to remove both batsmen to ensure that Australia wouldn't have too many to chase.
Were the conditions so English that the ball was swinging wildly? No. Was the pitch aiding alarming movement? No. There was just a bit of movement, in the air and off the pitch, and Australia exploited it superbly to bundle India out.
Johnson, whose inability to swing the ball into the right-handers had blunted his threat in the recent times, found that inswing today and immediately looked a different bowler. With a slightly round-armish action which helped him to tilt the ball back in, Johnson gnawed away at the batsmen at disconcerting pace.
The start wasn't flattering - his second delivery was whiplashed for six over point by Virender Sehwag - but Johnson bounced back in the same over to start the demolition job. It was a full delivery, Sehwag shaped for his big drive but the ball curved in to thread the gap and splayed the stumps.
Egged on, Johnson went from strength to strength and unfurled his full repertoire: rapid pace, extra bounce, a slinging round-arm, and consistent line and length. He removed Gautam Gambhir with a delivery on middle and off, to which the batsman shaped to work it to the on side as if he expected it to angle in to his pads. But, to his horror, the ball straightened to hit off stump.
Johnson went on to trouble Yuvraj Singh in the corridor before he dismissed Suresh Raina after harassing him with his bounce. The set-up was obvious - bowl a few short balls and push him back before slipping in that fatal full delivery - but Raina fell for it again. Perhaps the ball stopped on him a bit, but he was late in getting forward to a full delivery and ended up flicking it straight to short mid-on.
If Johnson created an opening with his incisive bowling, Bollinger ensured India didn't come back into the game with consistent seam bowling. There is nothing flashy about Bollinger and you know what you will get from him: a steady line and length, changes in pace, and an ability to bowl to his fields. Today it was enough to get him the big wickets of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj and Dhoni.
He induced Tendulkar into pushing one straight back to him and bowled Yuvraj with a slightly freaky dismissal. The ball ricocheted off Yuvraj's pad over his right shoulder and as Yuvraj, clueless about where the ball went, turned behind to place the bat back inside the crease he pushed it back to the stumps. Then he returned for a second spell and got Dhoni and Harbhajan in one over, before terminating Jadeja's resistance with the first ball of a third spell.
Dhoni, who was fortunate to survive a caught-behind decision against Bollinger when he was 0, was given out lbw to the same bowler to a delivery that was missing off stump. The final margin would have been far bigger as India were wobbling at 75 for 7 but Jadeja and Praveen, who caned Clint McKay for 28 runs with several audacious hits over mid-off and mid-on, played the best knocks of their respective careers to increase the target. Ultimately, however, they could only save India from total embarrassment.
The chase could have been tricky on a pitch that was increasingly aiding turn but Watson stole the show with positive batting. He stretched forward to the spinners, ensured he kept his pads away from the line and played several skillful shots. There were two fours in particular that stood out, both against Jadeja. They were arm-balls, fizzing towards the top of off, and Watson brought his bat down at the last minute to crunch them past first slip.
Harbhajan created a minor scare by removing both Watson and Ricky Ponting in quick succession but in the absence of a big target and with India possessing only one quality spinner, Mike Hussey and Cameron White slowly but surely pushed Australia to a worthy series win.

Taibu ton saves face in defeat

South Africa 295 for 5 (Amla 80, de Villiers 51, Morkel 50*, Price 3-44) beat Zimbabwe 250 for 5 (Taibu 103*, Matsikenyeri 86, McLaren 3-51) by 45 runs
South Africa began their season with a 45-run victory over neighbours, Zimbabwe, at Benoni yet were left with plenty to ponder after a battling century from Tatenda Taibu in a record sixth-wicket stand of 188. The game was done as a contest when Zimbabwe fell to 48 for 5, but Taibu and Stuart Matsikenyeri refused to roll over and plundered the home attack with Taibu reaching his second ODI hundred in the final over.
In their first outing since making an early exit from the Champions Trophy, South Africa's reshaped batting unit produced a solid effort as they piled up 295 for 5 after Hashim Amla top-scored with 80 alongside a fluent run-a-ball 51 from AB de Villiers and a powerful 39-ball fifty by Albie Morkel. With Ryan McLaren striking twice on debut and Dale Steyn claiming two in four balls the game was heading for swift end, but South Africa lost their intensity.
Taibu and Matsikenyeri exposed the bowling attack with Zimbabwe's highest sixth-wicket stand and their second largest partnership in ODIs. South Africa's bowling was a concern for them during the Champions Trophy and this performance will have done little to alleviate those worries ahead of the England series.
Wayne Parnell's return can't come soon enough with Dale Steyn still appearing short of a gallop. Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Charl Langeveldt are vying for spots against England, but neither made an outstanding case in this outing while, despite a lively innings, Morkel continued to look unthreatening with the ball at this level.
After struggling with the bat in Bangladesh - and slumping for an embarrassing 44 all out on one occasion - Zimbabwe will take great heart from their fighting effort and it could well encourage a shuffle of the order for the next game with Taibu and Matsikenyeri both making strong cases for promotion.
Unlike the bowlers, South Africa's batsmen appeared in reasonable fettle. There was a hint of early-season rustiness about some of the top-order dismissals as deep fielders were picked out, but it meant that others benefited from time in the middle. The finish to the innings will have pleased Mickey Arthur and Graeme Smith as Morkel exploited the batting Powerplay alongside the recalled Alvrio Petersen to the tune of 58 runs.
After Smith had picked out deep midwicket, Amla and de Villiers both moved along comfortably against the slow bowlers in significant innings for the second-wicket pair. Amla is currently Kallis' understudy alongside Smith and is expected to make way against England so runs here makes the selectors' job a little harder.
de Villiers, meanwhile, has been moved up the order to No. 3, with Arthur wanting to give him more time to build an innings and improve on a slightly disappointing return of three centuries in 89 ODIs. He certainly had time today to register hundred No. 4, moving effortlessly to a 48-ball half-century, before picking out long-off where Mark Vermeulen held a well-judged catch. Amla was set to bat through the innings when, much to his disgust, he deposited a long hop from Graeme Cremer down deep midwicket, and three overs later Mark Boucher's laboured effort ended with a miscued drive to long-off.
Morkel gave himself a few overs to settle then the Powerplay was taken. The first two over went for just five each, but then the boundaries started to flow with the next three costing 48. Morkel collected three sixes, including a tracer-bullet blow flat over long-on during his second ODI half-century to go alongside the 97 he made in the previous meeting between these two sides. Petersen, playing his first ODI since March 2008, supported well with a sprightly effort in a stand worth 86 from 10 overs.
Having struggled on the slow, low pitches of Bangladesh, it was little surprise that Zimbabwe slumped and the top order was soon in tatters. Vermeulen picked out mid off and McLaren made an almost immediate impact with the ball as he trapped Chibhabha leg before with his third delivery. McLaren soon had his second courtesy of a fine, low catch by Boucher to his right and Steyn collected two in four balls as his pace prove too much for Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura.
Then came the unexpected reply from Zimbabwe's middle order as South Africa were made to toil. Taibu, who swung a six off Tsotsobe, reached fifty off 71 balls and Matsikenyeri took 68 balls as he climbed into Johan Botha with a over costing 16. McLaren also came in for some punishment as his ninth over cost 17 and although it was all academic in terms of the result South Africa left the fielding knowing there is plenty of room for improvement.

Kumar Sangakkara targets 'last frontier'

Sri Lanka have made six tours to India over the last 27 years, played 14 Tests, and are yet to win one. It's a record Kumar Sangakkara is keen to rectify as his team arrived in Mumbai for a three-Test series beginning on November 16, followed by two Twenty20 internationals and five one-dayers.
Sangakkara, however, said his side, No. 2 in the Test rankings, was "under no pressure" to scratch India off the list of countries (South Africa and Australia are the others) where Sri Lanka have never won a Test. "We know we haven't won here and for us we need to try and change that," a sleepy-eyed Sangakkara said, in his first interaction with the media in India on Sunday afternoon. "We are here to relax, enjoy and not worry about history, and try and put as much pressure on the Indians as possible."
The pressure, Sangakkara felt, would be on India after the defeat against Australia in the ongoing home one-day series. He said it would be interesting to see how India reacted from the defeat against an under-strength side, saying that "some react positively while some don't".
Sangakkara, who took over the captaincy from Mahela Jayawardene at the ICC World Twenty20 in June, is building a cohesive unit capable of performing in all conditions. Sri Lanka are formidable at home but their overseas record is mediocre. Their lack of success in India is strange, especially since the conditions here are similar to those in Sri Lanka.
Posting large totals is critical to winning Tests in India, and Sri Lanka's batsmen have been unable to do so in the past, with 420 in Kanpur in 1986 being their best effort. Their present batting line-up could be challenged to surpass that score as only three players - Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sangakkara - have Test experience in India.
Things are not bright on the bowling front either. Even Muttiah Muralitharan has taken only 31 wickets in eight Tests and his average of nearly 40 in India is his worst in any country after Australia. And in Lasith Malinga's absence, their fast-bowling attack comprising Nuwan Kulasekara, Thilan Thushara, Dammika Prasad and Chanaka Welegedara lacks menace and experience. Sangakkara, though, was of the opinion that his relatively inexperienced attack could be at an advantage.
"Inexperience is sometimes a good thing as the Indian batsmen have not played our fast bowlers regularly in the longer form of the game which can work to our advantage." He said sometimes a "fresh perspective, attitude and enthusiasm could be an added bonus".
Sangakkara is banking on 22-year old allrounder Angelo Mathews to give the team flexibility and balance. "We have a great option in Angelo Mathews who gives us the flexibility of playing three spinners on a spin-friendly wicket because of him being a frontline fast bowler and a batsman," Sangakkara said. "We could even go into the game with three out-and-out fast bowlers, with Mathews in support, and one spinner or even two fast bowlers and two spinners."
It will be interesting, however, to see which two spinners Sri Lanka field in the first Test against India in Ahmedabad beginning on November 16, especially with Sangakkara stressing the importance of "performance and current form". Murali is likely to be a certainty for one spot, and Ajantha Mendis had spectacular success against the Indian batsmen in Sri Lanka. It is the left-arm spinner, Rangana Herath, though, who has been Sri Lanka's most successful slow bowler in recent matches.
In his last four Tests at home, Herath took 23 wickets against Pakistan and New Zealand. Murali did not play against Pakistan while Mendis proved expensive - his five wickets cost 43 each. Against New Zealand, Murali's returns were 13 wickets at 24 apiece while Mendis' three victims came at an average of 45. Sangakkara said that Herath having to play "third fiddle to the other spinners made him hungrier to do well". Sri Lanka could do with more healthy competition in India during the coming weeks.
This series, from November 8 to December 27, begins with a three-day warm-up game against the Board President's XI at Mumbai's Bandra-Kurla Complex before the first Test. The second Test will be in Kanpur before the teams head back to Mumbai for the third game.

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