Monday, November 16, 2009

South Africa fretting over bowlers, says Donald

The West Indians will be able to forget their off-field worries when they open their tour with a four-day match against Queensland on Wednesday. The side has not played since the end of their costly player strike and has since been written off by the former coach John Dyson ahead of the three-Test series starting in Brisbane next week.

One of the new faces expected to be on show at Allan Border Field is Adrian Barath, an uncapped 19-year-old opener who stands at 5ft 4in. Barath is likely to open with Chris Gayle in what is effectively a trial for the opening Test at the Gabba on November 26.

Barath is from Trindad and Tobago and was part of that team's strong showing in the Champions League Twenty20, but he will have to lift his standards to cope against the Australians. In 22 first-class matches he averages 46.05 and has scored five centuries, including one for West Indies A against England in January.

"I'm confident, I have worked hard and I'm prepared," he said. "I performed well in the Champions League in India for Trinidad and Tobago and I'm looking to continue. All I want is the opportunity to get out there and show what I am made of.

"I am a player who can adapt to foreign conditions. I will play it as I see it." David Williams, the coach, wants to pick a full-strength line-up to allow his main men to settle ahead of the first Test.

West Indies squad Chris Gayle (capt), Adrian Barath, Sulieman Benn, Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Travis Dowlin, Brendan Nash, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Darren Sammy, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Jerome Taylor, Gavin Tonge.

Queensland Ryan Broad, Nick Kruger, Lee Carseldine, Wade Townsend, Chris Simpson (capt), Nathan Reardon, Chris Hartley (wk), Daniel Doran, Alister McDermott, Nathan Rimmington, Luke Feldman, Scott

Doubts creep in for aching Lee

Brett Lee at a training session ahead of the second one-dayer, Nagpur, October 27, 2009
Too much pain, no gain: Brett Lee is not in a rush to decide whether his career is over © AFP

Lee's latest setbacks

  • 2006-07
    Tears ankle ligaments in New Zealand, misses 2007 World Cup
    Suffers giardia during India tour
    Broken foot leads to more surgery
    Side strain rules him out of first three Tests of Ashes tour and not picked for final two
    Elbow problem sends him home from India one-day series and recurs in Sydney on Sunday

Self-belief has been one of Brett Lee's best assets along with extreme speed. Throughout his Test career, which began with a wicket in his first over, Lee has known what was going to happen next, whether it be achieving a milestone or pin-pointing a date for his return from a well-managed injury. This time, coming to the end of an awful year, he is unsure what his body will allow him to do next.

The bone spur problem in his right elbow means he will probably face surgery and be out for up to three months, ending his chances of appearing in a Test this summer. Previously he would have accepted the setback with a grimace and headed for the surgeon, physio and fitness trainer to plot a way back.

Following his recovery from foot surgery at the start of the year came a side strain that kept him out of the Ashes in the middle of it, and with this latest problem he is starting to doubt whether he will play a 77th Test or take a 311st wicket. His last appearance was at the MCG last December when he limped off to the surgeon.

"At this point in time I do not need to make a call," he said at the SCG. "I still want to play for Australia but that all depends on how the operation takes place and then how the fitness is and how much I want it." He finds the prospect of not playing Test cricket "scary and challenging", but as he accepts this injury his mind switches from being desperate to play on to thinking about signing off.

Desire has never been a problem before, not when he thought his career was over after breaking the same elbow in 2001, or when he was sitting behind Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Stuart Clark in the pecking order during the fourth Ashes Test in Leeds. He was fit, ready and shattered when the team was named, but he still wanted to field under a baggy green. Now he craves - and needs - a break.

"I have had setbacks before and I can't see why I cannot come back from this, but I also, to be honest, need to get away from the game for a little while to work out what my future holds," he said. "I want to have this forced rest and if surgery needs to happen that means anything from six to 12 to 14 weeks away from the game, which would be the perfect opportunity for me to get away from everything and work out what I want from cricket."

He sounded like Shaun Tait when he stepped off the international circuit due to mental and physical exhaustion caused by the depression of so many comebacks. It won't just be care for Lee's 33-year-old body that will be needed over the next couple of months.

Another issue pecking at him has been being away from his young son Preston for the long periods demanded of a player wanting to appear in all forms of the game. Since the start of last year's India tour Lee has been troubled by personal problems as well as fitness ones.

"The hardest things for me over the past 12 months were getting injured during the Ashes but, most importantly, being six months away from my little boy, that has been really tough," he said. "They are all things I need to weigh up." Don't expect him to be flying out of Sydney any time soon.

While any comeback will be subject to a number of fitness and family conditions, one thing is not negotiable. "If I can't bowl fast then I won't bowl," he said. His job has led his body to this rickety condition but he has always refused to follow the method of Dennis Lillee, who extended his career by slowing down and focussing on swing and seam.

For Lee it has always been about speed. "When you try to bowl 155kph for over 16 or 17 years, there is a lot of wear and tear on the body," he said. "I will try to get the elbow right.

"If I don't play another game for Australia or play another game of cricket again then yes, I am very pleased with what I have achieved. It's more than I would ever had expected at the age of 10. But I still think there is a lot of cricket left in me yet, which is why I am not making any call on my future."

First session goes to Sri Lanka again

Lunch Sri Lanka 37 for 0 (Dilshan 18*, Paranavitana 18*) trail India 426 (Dravid 177, Welegedara 4-87) by 389 runs

Like on the first day, Sri Lanka won the first session by a fair distance, getting Rahul Dravid for no addition to his overnight 177, taking four wickets for 41, and then batting out a testing 35 minutes before lunch circumspectly but without loss.

Chanaka Welegedara got the big wicket of Dravid early, and while the Indian tail threatened to run amok for a brief while, smart tactics and bowling from Sri Lanka will please them for having taken the last four wickets for 41 runs. India did close to the best comeback from a similar score: in 1998-99 West Indies went from 34 for 4 to score 431 against Australia in Jamaica.

The way Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan started against the pace of Welegedara and Dammika Prasad, driving, cutting, and upper-cutting with ease, it seemed they would get much more. Despite Dravid's played-on dismissal - fifth man out of seven to get out either lbw or bowled - the runs started coming at the same pace as yesterday.

Harbhajan hit both the pace bowlers for boundaries through covers before Zaheer upper-cut back-to-back deliveries from Prasad for fours. Twenty-one runs came in the first six overs, despite a maiden bowled to Dravid, and Kumar Sangakkara immediately went in for an in-and-out field, drying out easy boundaries, making the tailenders play normal cricketing shots.

Introduction of spin at both ends further stifled them, as even good shots would get them just ones. An arm ball from Rangana Herath, more a finger ball actually, breaking in sharply after pitching, got Zaheer although it did seem too close to missing the leg stump to be given. That capped off a quiet spell of 5.2 overs for eight runs, the quietest of the match.

Harbhajan looked stifled and started getting adventurous, his second attempt at a reverse-sweep off Muttiah Muralitharan making him the seventh man to get either bowled or lbw. Harbhajan scored 22, Zaheer 12. In the same over, Murali beat Ishant Sharma with a doosra and Prasanna Jayawardene ended the innings with a quick stumping.

Indian new-ball bowlers didn't get the kind of swing that Welegedara got, but they came out with a plan. Tillakaratne Dilshan's favourite scoring options were blocked, and Zaheer welcomed him with three consecutive bouncers first up, with deep point, deep fine leg and deep backward square leg all in place. Dilshan showed he had other aspects to his game too, cutting out aggressive shots and taking singles after hitting straight to Ishant Sharma at mid-on. Dilshan's partner, Tharanga Paranavitana, had a more uncertain start, slashing outside off when not given scoring opportunities.

Two of those slashes carried over the infield, and then when Harbhajan was introduced just before lunch, he square-cut confidently. Dilshan stepped out to Harbhajan immediately, looking to unsettle him. In the last over before lunch, Dilshan opened up, crashing Zaheer for two boundaries through cover, emphasising as to who was in control on the second morning.

ICC Cricket Updates