Friday, December 4, 2009

Series in sight for improving England

Stuart Broad has recovered from a shoulder strain that kept him out of the early part of the tour, South Africa, December 2, 2009
Preparing for the puddles: Stuart Broad warms up on Durban beach © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Kevin Pietersen | Graeme Smith | Andrew Strauss
Matches: South Africa v England at Durban
Series/Tournaments: England tour of South Africa
Teams: England | South Africa

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Somewhat astonishingly, England stand on the verge of their first ODI series victory in South Africa, and their second in consecutive rubbers against Graeme Smith's men following their 4-0 victory at home in 2008. After three fluctuating performances and a washout at the Wanderers, they have emerged with a 2-1 series lead - a scoreline that they have reached on merit thanks to two dominant performances at Centurion and Port Elizabeth. The fact that those games were punctuated by a record-breaking thumping at Newlands merely underlines the ongoing battle for consistency that is forever England's weakness.

Nevertheless, for the first time in a long time, England have displayed the makings of an impressive one-day outfit. Andrew Strauss's personal form and tactical acumen make it hard to imagine a world in which he was exiled from the ODI set-up for two years, as was the case from the 2007 World Cup onwards. Eoin Morgan and Jonathan Trott have performed like instant veterans, while the veteran, Paul Collingwood, has rediscovered some of his finest form, with both bat and ball. The young guns, Luke Wright and Tim Bresnan, have started to move on from being merely promising, and all that remains is for Kevin Pietersen to rediscover his touch, and the renaissance will be complete. Or at least until their next Cape Town-esque relapse.

South Africa, on the other hand, have got a few issues to resolve. Whereas England have had plenty practice at moulding a side in which Andrew Flintoff makes cameo appearances, the loss of Jacques Kallis has proven stupendously hard to overcome. At Newlands, the decision to trust five specialist batsmen paid handsome dividends when Smith won the toss and AB de Villiers blazed a 75-ball century; but at Port Elizabeth, the middle-order looked threadbare to say the least once James Anderson started to turn the screw.

On the plus side, the addition of Morne Morkel has provided an extra layer of menace to South Africa's attack, particularly when coming round the wicket to England's left-handers, but the likely loss of Dale Steyn to a hamstring strain will undermine their bid for a share of the series. Nothing, however, could undermine it as much as the Durban weather, which has been abysmal all week. A washout would suffice for England - and provide a neat symmetry to the results column - but Strauss wants more than that. "We're fully expecting to play tomorrow," he said, "and if we do we will make sure we're at the races and put South Africa under pressure again."

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

South Africa - LWLWW
England - WLWLL

Team news

South Africa's dilemma is whether to stick or twist ... do they recall Herschelle Gibbs to the middle order in an admission that their batting is vulnerable, or do they trust Ryan McLaren to knuckle down at No. 7 and put his consecutive ducks to the back of his mind? Given that Steyn's injury leaves them lacking in firepower, the likelihood is a reprieve for McLaren, whose medium-pacers have had their moments in the series, and a silent prayer that de Villiers comes as good as he did at Newlands.

South Africa (possible) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 AB de Villiers, 4 JP Duminy, 5 Alviro Petersen, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Ryan McLaren, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Johan Botha, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Charl Langeveldt

No such concerns for England, who have a settled first XI for arguably the first time since the 1992 World Cup final (when even then they had to decide between Allan Lamb and Robin Smith). James Anderson reported a knee injury in the build-up to the Port Elizabeth match, but figures of 5 for 23 in ten overs suggest he shook it off pretty effectively, meaning Graham Onions will once again be left carrying the drinks.

England (possible) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Jonathan Trott, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Luke Wright, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Tim Bresnan, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson.

Watch out for

Kevin Pietersen needs a score to settle him down, because it's not so much nerves as nervous energy that has been his problem so far in the tour. After a four-month lay-off, KP has been visibly rushing to pick up where he left off, never more so than at Port Elizabeth, when he could have been dismissed twice in a six-ball innings. More haste, less speed is the motto that springs to mind. If he allows himself a little longer to regain his timing, the entire squad could find themselves reaping the benefits as the Test series approaches.

It ought not to be a coincidence, but such is the hold that Graeme Smith has over his team these days, that his rare failure at Port Elizabeth - lbw for 2 - was the cue for South Africa to crumble to an ignominious defeat. Conversely, when his agenda-setting strokeplay has come off - never more so than during his 44-ball 88 in the second Twenty20 at Centurion - there's been no stopping the momentum he generates. If, as could happen amid the showers, the Durban game becomes a rain-reduced sprint, his 20-over prowess could well come to the fore again.

Stats and trivia

  • South Africa's overall record in ODIs against England since 2008 now reads seven defeats and a solitary win in eight completed games, which is their worst clutch of results since the two teams first met in 1992

  • Ominously, the last ODI match that England played in Durban, in 2005, was a washout. The match was abandoned with England uncomfortably placed on 7 for 2, chasing 213.


""We really want to come and win this series 3-1. When you start thinking about rain and things like that, it is going to affect your preparation."
Andrew Strauss is determined to keep his mind on the job, despite gloomy forecasts.

"For us the priority is the Test series and we would never compromise Dale's chances of being 100% fit for the first Test [at Centurion] by playing him on Friday."
Mickey Arthur hasn't abandoned the ODIs entirely, but it's clear he's already shifting his focus.

India lose wickets but lead crosses 200

Tea India 629 for 7 (Sehwag 293, Dravid 74, Laxman 62, Tendulkar 53) lead Sri Lanka 393 by 236 runs

In the fourth over of the day, Muttiah Muralitharan got one to dip on Virender Sehwag. For a change Sehwag ended up playing in front of his body and scooped it back to Murali, who took it after a juggling act. Having added nine to his overnight 284, Sehwag - the fourth man to be dismissed in the 290s - was given a standing ovation and the cricket came out of a trance. The ball started turning again, the bowlers bowled to a plan again, the scoring settled to a more human rate, and India moved - albeit slowly - towards a big first-innings lead. Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman scored fifties, but they and Rahul Dravid would feel they missed out on centuries.

When Sehwag got out he had put India 63 ahead. Dravid, after surviving an edge that the umpire missed, followed him, edging Chanaka Welegedara to the keeper having added 12 to his overnight 62. In between those wickets, though, Tendulkar played his shots, vertical-sweeping Murali twice just to the left of the keeper and pulling and driving against the turn for two other boundaries. By the time Dravid got out, Tendulkar had reached 22 off 26 but he slowed down after that, knowing he needed to make sure India batted just once.

The slowing down was also because Rangana Herath and Murali found some rhythm. Murali even bowled a maiden - his first in 75 overs from the second innings in Ahmedabad. He kept VVS Laxman quiet by bowling from round the stumps, with a strong leg-side field, and India scored 49 runs in 18 overs between Dravid's dismissal and lunch. In the last over before lunch, there was reason to cheer for Sri Lanka: the innings run-rate came below five.

Post lunch Tendulkar crossed 50 for the 97th time in Tests. Laxman opened up after a dry spell, taking 12 runs off one Welegedara over that included the Laxman drive from outside off to wide of mid-on. In the next over, though, Nuwan Kulasekara breached Tendulkar's defence with an offcutter.

Laxman continued punishing Welegedara and went from 27 in 64 balls to 50 in 79. But soon, looking for a big shot off Murali, he was done in by a doosra.

The story of the first two sessions, though, was Herath. Easily the pick of Sri Lankan bowlers, he had the batsmen guessing, mixing his offbreaks and straighter ones to good effect. The carrom ball stayed in the batsmen's minds too, but it seemed everyone - the umpires, his own keeper, his slip fielders - had conspired against Herath.

First he failed to convince the umpire of that edge off Dravid. Then he managed a close lbw shout against Tendulkar when the batsman was 35. The umpire thought it would have missed leg, Hawkeye said it would have just hit. Then he had Yuvraj Singh groping as if blindfolded. When Yuvraj finally stepped out and missed another arm ball, Prasanna Jayawardene, arguably the best keeper to spin, couldn't collect it. That miss cost them only 15 as Yuvraj sliced the same bowler to three-quarters mid-off. But that wasn't the end of Herath's rotten luck: two balls later he got MS Dhoni to edge one and Mahela and Dilshan - at slip and second slip - saw it go through that little gap.

Herath's misfortune was bad enough; that he got the odd delivery to turn and bounce was worse for Sri Lanka, who were 236 in arrears at tea.

Asif and Kaneria make it Pakistan's day

Pakistan 264 (Kamran Akmal 70, Vettori 4-58, Tuffey 4-64) and 64 for 2 lead New Zealand 99 (Asif 4-40, Kaneria 3-6) by 229 runs

It's a venue that Pakistan's bowlers have enjoyed more than those from any other side over the last two decades, and they celebrated the Basin Reserve's fiftieth Test in fitting style, destroying New Zealand's top order with another clinical performance that left them superbly placed to level the series. After extending their first innings to 264, thanks largely to Kamran Akmal's enterprising 70, the bowlers immediately got down to business, exploiting the conditions and the huge flaws in the techniques of the New Zealand batsmen, bundling them out for 99 and taking their overall lead to 229 by stumps.

Save for a brief four-over period when New Zealand took the last three Pakistan wickets and a spell just before close of play, the day belonged entirely to the visitors. Mohammad Aamer did his now customary trick of taking a wicket in his first over - is he the new first-over specialist after Daryl Tuffey? - and consistently bowled in the mid-140s, Mohammad Asif operated in his usual channel around off and seamed the ball both ways, Umar Gul was the perfect first-change bowler offering New Zealand no respite, while Danish Kaneria befuddled the lower order with his bag of tricks.

While the four-pronged bowling attack gave little away, New Zealand put in yet another shambolic batting display, as their poor defensive techniques and shot selection were ruthlessly exposed. None of their batsmen came to terms with the ball seaming around in both directions, and they made it worse for themselves with some poor strokeplay. None was more guilty than Brendon McCullum, who chased his first ball - a wide one - and edged to second slip when New Zealand had already lost five wickets with little on the board.

From the moment Aamer started his first over, it was clear New Zealand would have their hands full. His fourth ball to Guptill swung back and rapped him on the pads; the next one left him, clipped the edge, and New Zealand's opening pair had failed to last the first over for the third time in three innings.

That was one of two overs Pakistan bowled before lunch and the slide continued after the break. Asif flummoxed Tim McIntosh and forced an inside edge to short leg, and should have had Daniel Flynn in similar fashion had Salman Butt not dropped a regulation catch. Ross Taylor was the only batsman to play with confidence - he raced to 30 from 40 balls, showing decisive footwork and driving confidently through the off side off the fast bowlers. His judgement failed him, though, when Gul slipped in an indipper that took the off stump after Taylor left it alone.

Peter Fulton was a walking wicket once again, shuffling indecisively to a straight and full one on the stumps, but New Zealand really crumbled after tea, going from 85 for 4 to 99 all out in the space of six overs. It's a fate that has often befallen New Zealand sides of the past against Pakistan, and this time it was Asif who started the slide. Flynn's painstaking knock ended when he was trapped in front of off by one that straightened - the review failed to save him - and when McCullum fell next ball, Asif was on a hat-trick. Vettori averted it, but was, for once, unable to lead another rearguard effort as Kaneria snuffed out the tail in a trice. More than just the three wickets he got, what would have worried Vetorri was the amount of turn he extracted from the second-day pitch.

Apart from Taylor, the one batsman who was comfortable batting on the surface was Kamran Akmal, who showed plenty of skill and aggressive intent in his 70. His 64-run stand with Gul - the largest of the innings - kept New Zealand in the field much longer than they would have liked in the opening session. Both batsmen went after the bowling, with Kamran lacing drives confidently through the covers to bring up his second half-century of the series. When New Zealand did get Rudi Koertzen to raise the finger against Kamran, the lbw decision was overturned on review, with replays suggesting it would have gone over the top of the stumps.

Throughout the day, the bounce on the track kept the bowlers interested: the last 30 minutes was a huge test for Pakistan's batsmen, with O'Brien, who bowled an inspired spell, exceeding 140 kph, peppering the batsmen with plenty of short deliveries, and getting Butt with one such delivery that had him all tangled up and gloving to Taylor in the slips.

Imran Farhat was consumed by the pace and movement too but, despite that lion-hearted effort, the story of the day remained New Zealand's abject collapse. In their last two Tests at this ground, Pakistan have had one bowler winning them the match - it was Wasim Akram in 1994 and Shoaib Akhtar in 2003. The spoils were shared this time around, but the end result could be just as emphatic for Pakistan.

Bravo hundred cheers West Indies up

West Indies 6 for 336 (Bravo 104, Chanderpaul 62) v Australia

Bravo third Test century ensured a healthy total for West Indies but their fighting efforts were overshadowed by a controversial umpiring review that ended Shivnarine Chanderpaul's push for a hundred. West Indies must win to keep the series alive and Bravo's 104 gave them hope, although on a good batting surface six opening-day wickets wasn't a bad result for Australia.

At stumps, West Indies had moved to 6 for 336, which augured well for a better contest than in Brisbane. Darren Sammy provided some late-afternoon highlights with a pair of sixes down the ground off Nathan Hauritz and he was 44 not out at the close, with Brendan Nash also on 44, having earlier retired hurt.

Bravo rode his luck to reach triple figures after being dropped three times but Chanderpaul's fortune ran out when he was on 62. Chanderpaul was given out caught-behind off Shane Watson and was the victim of a successful review for Australia after Mark Benson initially denied Australia's appeal.

Hot Spot did not carry the right angle to show an edge but a camera view from the long-on region seemed to show a slight deflection as the ball passed the bat. It was far from conclusive evidence and nor was the decision a blatant shocker - those are the calls the review system is designed to eradicate - but the third umpire Asad Rauf was convinced and sent Chanderpaul on his way.

Chanderpaul had earlier survived a similar review off Doug Bollinger on 38, when again the evidence was inconclusive despite the Australians being utterly convinced that he had edged the ball. The eventual dismissal was a major blow for West Indies and things went from bad to worse when in the same over Denesh Ramdin played on to give Watson his second wicket.

Watson was pleased to redeem himself after his comical mishap gave Bravo a reprieve on 59. Bravo hooked Peter Siddle and Watson tried to snare the catch at deep square leg but stumbled back and lobbed the ball up as he realised he would step over the boundary. He tried to reclaim the catch after jumping back into the field of play but stumbled and parried the ball over for six.

Bravo had already been dropped twice on 46, though both were tough chances - a caught-and-bowled that rocketed back to Siddle and an edge off Hauritz that ricocheted off Brad Haddin and was missed by Michael Clarke at slip. Bravo wasn't about to be discouraged from playing his shots and brought up both his half-century and his hundred with drives that sailed over the bowler's head and away to the boundary.

But Bravo was being far from irresponsible in his strokeplay; he was patient and waited for his opportunities, and a crunching, classic cover-driven boundary off Watson was especially attractive. It was his first Test century in four years, since he made 113 in Hobart in 2005-06, and though he eventually missed a straight ball from Hauritz and was bowled, it was just the sort of innings that West Indies needed to lift their spirits after their innings loss at the Gabba.

He had the perfect ally in Chanderpaul, who had looked out of sorts in Brisbane but here compiled his first half-century in his past eight Test innings. As expected, Chanderpaul scored the majority of his 54 runs behind the wicket but also drove well and enjoyed a lovely clip off his toes for four through midwicket off Mitchell Johnson.

The 116-run stand was comfortably West Indies' best partnership of the series, which made it all the more frustrating for them that it was ended in such debatable style. The pair had come together after Nash retired hurt on 20 during the lunch break, having been struck on the arm by his former flat-mate Johnson in the final over before the interval.

It left West Indies in a spot of bother after they lost three wickets in the opening session, including Ramnaresh Sarwan, whose return from a back injury ended on 28 when he drove Johnson on the up to Clarke at point. The early damage came from Bollinger, who had been waiting 11 months for his second Test and picked up two wickets in his first five overs.

Bollinger's first two went for 18 as Chris Gayle, who had chosen to bat, launched an early assault. The bowler's confidence improved when Adrian Barath (3) pushed a catch to gully and the major prize followed when Gayle tried to cut too close to his body and was surprised by extra bounce, which was unusual for an Adelaide pitch, and was caught behind for 26.

There was no doubt about that decision. If only the same could have been said later in the day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

We won't let Proteas turn tide - Prior

Confident England are primed to withstand South Africa’s bid for a series-squaring fightback in the final one-day international in Durban.

England’s victory in Port Elizabeth last weekend means they are assured of a drawn series at worst after Friday’s day-nighter at Kingsmead.

But wicketkeeper Matt Prior today made it clear England’s intention is to attack, and prove they can win consecutive matches - something they have found difficult to achieve in the recent past.

“The way the team is building and moving forward is hugely positive,” said Prior. “We go into Friday full of confidence.

“It’s going to be a very, very exciting game. But we also know that the South Africans will come out fighting.

“They will be very, very determined, wanting to make sure we don’t win the series, so we have to be prepared for that.”

England have won seven out of their last eight completed ODIs against South Africa yet, against other opponents, have established a strange trend of failing to build on victories.

But Prior believes England's fresh approach under a new regime has given them their best chance yet of a concerted surge up the one-day international rankings.

The wicketkeeper-batsman, who made his debut five years ago under the captain-coach axis of Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, has 52 caps to his name.

But, in a developing team shorn, temporarily at least, of the talents of the injured Andrew Flintoff, Prior senses a telling new approach - with Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss at the helm.

Andy Flower & Andrew Strauss

Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have fostered a "really enjoyable" atmosphere within the squad, according to Prior

He cites honesty as one of the keys, under team director Flower, to a side he hopes are capable of becoming the best in the world.

"Andy's done a fantastic job since the day he came in," said Prior. "The team is just going from strength to strength and it's a pleasure to be part of it. It's great fun, just really enjoyable."

The atmosphere on tour in South Africa appears to be a far cry from some of Prior's previous experiences.

"I've been on tours before where it's been hard work, you've really missed home and each day's dragged," he recalled. "That is really not the case here."

Prior senses a true team ethos is at the heart of England's positive vibes, and seems to be relishing the variety as well as industry in training drills, which this morning involved a fitness test session on the beach and regularly entails imaginative middle practice with built-in specific match scenarios.

"When it's enjoyable that's often when you play your best cricket," he suggested. "You've got a squad of guys all pulling together in the same direction and wanting to win this series - and passionate about that.

"It's absolutely fantastic. Everything's just gone up three or four levels, and I think that's showing in our performance on the pitch."

The moment he thinks a 'new' England was born was once the squad realised how much hard work was required.

Kevin Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen is put through his paces during the sort of training session which is keeping the players stimulated

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"What has happened is there has been a huge amount of honesty in this team, individuals, senior players and coach and captain themselves," Prior revealed.

"'This is where we are in world cricket; this is what our stats say, black and white, where we're at'.

"That was such a great starting point to actually say, ‘Crikey, we're not actually as good as we think we are - we have to improve’.

"When you get that stark realisation it makes everyone very, very hungry and determined we do improve - because we want to be part of the best team in the world."

As for his own place in that team, Prior is content batting at six, although he reckons his talents would be better suited at four or five.

He is conscious nonetheless that a batsman of his Test pedigree – he averages in the mid-40s - must have the capability to help win one-day matches.

"I've not had a great deal to do this series, with the bat," he pointed out. "There was an opportunity at Newlands which unfortunately I didn't take.

"I feel very comfortable with the role I have in the team with the bat - and I'm just waiting for an opportunity, hoping I can put in that match-winning performance.

"The role I have at six will give me opportunities to win games of cricket down the bottom order and take responsibility to get this team over the line.”

Under-fire West Indies hope for change of fortune

Things couldn't have gone much worse for West Indies at the Gabba, where their innings loss within three days suggested a huge gap between the teams. To add to their problems, the strike bowler Jerome Taylor has been ruled out of the rest of the series with a back injury, leaving an already young and developing attack even greener. The only bright spot was the debut of the opener Adrian Barath, whose 104 in the second innings was a supremely positive sign for a team that otherwise was out of sorts. At 1-0 down, their chances of regaining the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy are very slim but at the very least the team must produce a more competitive effort in the second Test.

An Australian victory over the next five days will mean Ricky Ponting's men retain the trophy after winning it 2-0 in the Caribbean last year but as well as the result, there are several interesting sub-plots developing for the home side. Shane Watson's duck at the Gabba means if he fails again the pressure will build to drop him down the order. Michael Hussey's first Test half-century won't save him from questions over his future if he doesn't score decent runs in Adelaide. And in the absence of the Man of the Match from Brisbane, Ben Hilfenhaus, who is injured, the Australians will unleash a self-described "loud and obnoxious" Doug Bollinger for his second Test.

Another three-day result is extremely unlikely at Adelaide Oval, where runs in the middle flow as freely as the beer on the hill. The short boundaries square of the wicket give bowlers little room for error and the pitch doesn't tend to play serious tricks. Any sixes that land where the western grandstand used to be could result in a short delay - the stand has been largely demolished since last year's Test and is still a building site.

Form guide (last five Tests, most recent first)

Australia - WLWDL
West Indies - LLLLL

Watch out for

Brad Haddin stamped himself as a Test batsman at this venue last year when he brutalised New Zealand with 169. He looked in fine touch at the Gabba without going on to post a big score. He is the kind of player who can change a match a short space of time and West Indies' bowlers will need to be on target to keep him quiet.

Chris Gayle's supreme power square of the wicket makes him a dangerous proposition at Adelaide Oval. He will barely need to get hold of a pull or flick to see it sailing over the boundary. His record at the venue isn't great - his only two international innings there have brought him 11 runs in a pair of one-day internationals in 2004-05 - but Gayle will be extra keen to lead by example after his disappointing returns in Brisbane.

Team news

Hilfenhaus has been rested due to his ongoing knee problem and Bollinger will come into the XI. That is the only change to the successful side, with Victoria's Clint McKay preparing to carry the drinks.

Australia 1 Simon Katich, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Doug Bollinger.

Ramnaresh Sarwan batted at training on Thursday and is likely to return to the side having missed the Gabba Test due to a back injury. Despite providing some much-needed fight in Brisbane, Travis Dowlin is likely to be the man to miss out. Their other task is to find a replacement for Taylor and the selectors were deciding between Darren Sammy and Gavin Tonge, with Sammy's batting ability perhaps giving him the edge.

West Indies (possible) 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Adrian Barath, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 Brendan Nash, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Darren Sammy, 9 Sulieman Benn, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Ravi Rampaul.

Pitch and conditions

The Adelaide Oval surface holds few demons and good batsmen can play through the line with confidence in the bounce, and pounce on shorter balls knowing the square boundaries are in their favour. There is more grass on the pitch than usual, which pleased Ponting when he inspected the ground on Thursday. "It is always a good sign in Adelaide," Ponting said. "It generally means that there'll be a bit more pace and movement and carry early on in the game, which is always good." The weather throughout the Test is expected to be fine and partly cloudy, with temperatures hovering in the mid 20s.

Stats and Trivia

  • Australia have lost one Test at Adelaide Oval in the past 14 years - against India in 2003-04
  • Despite the Gabba result, don't expect another three-day encounter - not since West Indies beat Australia in 1951 has an Adelaide Test failed to reach a fourth day
  • Michael Clarke will be especially looking forward to the Test - three of his past four Test innings at Adelaide Oval have been centuries
  • Adrian Barath's 104 on debut at the Gabba made him the youngest West Indian to score a Test century - he was almost exactly a year younger than the next on the list, the great George Headley


"Everyone is going to be disappointed. We played terrible cricket. That's the scenario at this time. We're just trying not to listen to too much negativity."
Chris Gayle "One thing we didn't quite nail last week was the amount of guys that got off to starts and didn't go on and get the big hundred. We've spoken about that in our team meeting this morning and it's something that we want to improve on."

Vettori and Tuffey rattle Pakistan

Stumps Pakistan 161 for 6 (Umar Akmal 46, Vettori 3-42, Tuffey 2-32) vs New Zealand

The weather took time to clear up and New Zealand took time to wake up, but by the end of a shortened, disrupted first day at what was the Basin Reserve's 50th Test, both had taken firm hold of this match.

Incessant rains over the last few days had forced both sides to practice indoors in the run-in and a wet outfield delayed the start until lunch. Overcast conditions, a pitch only just uncovered and some bounce quickly lulled Daniel Vettori into sending Pakistan in after winning the toss. And after an unusual first bout of Pakistan control, New Zealand struck back to leave Pakistan at 161 for 6, bad light stopping play early.

Pakistan made two changes to their batting order after the limpness of their first Test display, bringing in Salman Butt and Misbah-ul-Haq to solidify their spine. But the inherent timidity in their senior players - and the ineptitude of some - surfaced again, as they lost the opportunity of a rare opening platform. A familiar story of uncertain prods outside off, awkward encounters with short balls, airy swishes and brain-dead shots unfolded thereafter, 60 for none dwindling to an inadequate first day total.

On balance New Zealand deserved their reward, if only because they came back so well after Butt and Imran Farhat had made Vettori's decision to bowl first look misguided early. Whether Vettori himself would have expected to end up with three wickets on a pitch offering as much turn as an ice-rink might to an early 90s Anil Kumble is open to question, but the spark for the revival was provided by the pacemen.

Things had looked difficult more than halfway into the afternoon session. First up, everyone seemed to agree that there would be mischief in the air and pitch. There wasn't. Chris Martin and Daryl Tuffey - looking every inch a man returning to Tests after nearly five years - had been tight, nothing more. Nothing moved off the pitch and the bounce was true and good. Not that it made much of a difference to the openers, as roused as two turtles on Valium.

Carefully, reluctantly, they battled through, the odd boundary signaling growing comfort, but they never broke away decisively. A nervy equilibrium had been reached by the time they put on a second fifty stand in six Tests as a combination; they have a century partnership as well, which in Pakistan's context makes them Haynes-Greenidge-esque. It had taken time - the first hour produced 32 runs and the 50 came up just before the second drinks break in the 24th over - but the situation was quite dory, if not entirely hunky.

It was only after that break, however, that New Zealand finally got with it. Martin, Tuffey and Iain O'Brien may not match Shane Bond for impact, but they are persevering, under-rated men. Having bowled either the wrong line or length initially, they returned to more basic plans. Tuffey went short, and O'Brien reaped the benefit, Butt pulling loosely straight up to the skies. Fear - and Vettori - now took hold, as the captain lodged himself at one end, and let the pacemen relish the right lengths at the other.

In one over came two realisations; Farhat remembered first that he is not perhaps, after all, an international batsman of any quality, lazily cutting to slip. And then, that Vettori's arm ball is deadly, as he trapped Mohammad Yousuf. As is the way, the ball suddenly began to swing and cut a little, though perhaps that was because both O'Brien and Tuffey hit proper lengths.

In a move that confirmed many sad things about Pakistan, bluntest among them that none of their senior batsmen had the guts to front up at that spot, Umar Akmal was thrown in at one-down. Reports from New Zealand yesterday suggested that all senior batsmen had refused to move there, so Umar, presumably, was offered for sacrifice. He was a changed man and O'Brien was just about to have him for brunch, leaving him rooted with movement and surprising him too often with bounce, before tea rudely intervened.

Umar sped along after tea, like some crazy, brave firefly glowing madly but always in danger of going out. Just when he seemed to be settling, however, Tuffey undid him with a peach that hit off. As the bowlers continued to probe, fear was replaced by stupidity, as two men supposedly more experienced holed out to shots that should condemn at least one of them. Faisal Iqbal will wonder which God he ever upset if Pakistan continues to think Shoaib Malik worthy of more Test opportunities than him; Malik's slap to mid-off should, ideally, put an end to that farce.

Just before bad light intervened, there was enough time for Misbah to prove again that all the world's MBAs and domestic experience cannot take iron out his tendency to getting out at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way. Vettori would have been smiling anyway at the way the day turned, but Misbah's ugly sweep would have left him laughing.

Sehwag and Vijay start aggressively

Lunch India 92 for 0 (Sehwag 53*, Vijay 38*) trail Sri Lanka 393 (Dilshan 109, Mathews 99, Paranavitana 53, Harbhajan 4-112) by 301 runs

India's opening combination had changed but the Kanpur story seemed to be repeating itself as M Vijay and Virender Sehwag launched into the Sri Lankan bowlers after India had taken 27 minutes to dismiss their batting on the second morning. Angelo Mathews raced from 86 to 98 in no time but, having endured anxious moments on that score, he ran himself out when coming back for the second run that would have got him a maiden hundred.

Vijay, playing his second Test, both because of Gautam Gambhir's unexpected absence, started positively, flicking Chanaka Welegedara over square leg in the first over. Vijay dominated the strike in the first three overs, and when Sehwag got a full over to face, he started with an on-drive off Nuwan Kulasekara, wide of mid-on.

Whatever little swing the new-ball bowlers got had disappeared by then, and Sehwag unleashed an array of cuts, cover-drives, on-drives and flicks. The only blip after that came when Welegedara got one to seam away from him in the ninth over. By then both openers had reached 20, and India 41. With Vijay batting sensibly, but not slowly, it hardly seemed Gambhir was missing.

Sehwag soon overtook Vijay and widened the gap between the scores. Rangana Herath, bowling before Muttiah Muralitharan, was not welcomed kindly. Sehwag lofted him for a six in the first over, chipped him over mid-off when he saw a long-on in place, and then Vijay cover-drove him for four in the next over.

Kulasekara came back for another spell but didn't have an impact. Herath, meanwhile, was hit for another six, and Sehwag reached his fifty off 54 balls. It was a sign of the times that when Murali came on to bowl, in the last over before lunch, he had a long-on in place. As if to reiterate his presence, Vijay drove the last ball before the interval, against the spin, for a four that took him to 38.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Anderson leads rout of South Africa

England 121 for 3 (Trott 52*) beat South Africa 119 (Petersen 51, Anderson 5-23) by seven wickets

South Africa's batsmen veered from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of three days, as England demonstrated the staggering extent of their inconsistency in one-day cricket by following one of their heaviest thumpings with arguably their most dominant display of the year.

Led by James Anderson, who overcame a knee complaint to produce the first five-wicket haul of his one-day career, England routed South Africa for 119, their lowest-ever total in a home ODI, before knocking off the required runs in 31.2 overs and for the loss of three wickets. In so doing, they claimed a 2-1 lead in the five-match series, and ensured at least a share of the spoils with the final match coming up in Durban next Friday.

Even by England's recent rollercoaster standards, this was quite a turnaround in fortunes. At Newlands on Friday, they had lost a vital toss in perfect batting conditions at Newlands, and looked on helplessly as South Africa rampaged to 354 for 6, the highest total in 43 matches between the countries.

At St George's Park this morning, however, their lack of balance in the absence of Jacques Kallis was ruthlessly exposed. Graeme Smith was very content to bat first after winning the toss once again, but Andrew Strauss admitted he had been tempted to bowl anyway, on a grassy pitch and under some appreciable cloud-cover. Sure enough, his seam bowlers, led by Anderson, made full use of the conditions.

As is so often the case, the early scalp of Smith was to prove critical to the momentum of both sides. After serving up a first-ball wide, Stuart Broad found a fuller length with his second legitimate delivery, and trapped Smith lbw for 2 as he fell across his stumps. Though Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers were subsequently served up a range of short balls to get their respective innings up and running, the need to pitch the ball up was soon drummed into the bowlers, with devastating effect.

Amla came into this game with a brace of half-centuries to his name, but he couldn't build on that record, as Anderson kept the ball right up to the bat, and Graeme Swann was perfectly positioned to intercept a wristy flick to short midwicket. Four overs later, JP Duminy gifted Anderson his second scalp, as he misjudged the pace of a slower-ball bouncer, and looped a gloved pull into the grateful hands of Matt Prior behind the stumps.

De Villiers, South Africa's form batsman following his scintillating 121 at Newlands, betrayed his team's uncertainty with a sketchy innings that might have ended on 9 from 19 balls when he drove loosely at Broad but bisected the two men lurking in the covers. Instead, he was nailed lbw in Tim Bresnan's first over of the match, a full-length delivery that Hawkeye suggested would have taken out leg stump.

Jonathan Trott anchored England's run-chase at Port Elizabeth, South Africa v England, 4th ODI, Port Elizabeth, November 29, 2009
Jonathan Trott's second half-century guided England home © Getty Images

Luke Wright, one of England's best bowlers of the series to date, loosened the shackles a fraction as Alviro Petersen and Mark Boucher clubbed him for two fours each in consecutive overs, en route to a 23-run stand for the fifth wicket that seemed to have steadied South Africa's jitters. But then, back came Anderson for another spell, and after a run of 15 consecutive dot-balls had been broken by a single to fine-leg, he struck with the fifth ball of his new spell, a beautiful full-length outswinger that took the edge of Boucher's off stump.

Ryan McLaren, struggling for form and smarting after a first-ball duck in the run-glut at Newlands, then deepened South Africa's gloom by taking on a hint of width from Anderson, and smearing a sharp chance straight to Paul Collingwood at backward point. Strauss, in the mood for wickets, sensibly allowed Anderson to complete his quota of overs, and he was rewarded with the scalp of Johan Botha, who flinched at a beautiful lifter outside off, and grazed an edge through to Prior.

Anderson's spell duly came to an end after 27 overs - 10-2-23-5 - and with South Africa reeling at 85 for 7, all that remained was the mopping-up of the tail. Petersen, who has cemented his place in South Africa's middle-order with scores of 64 and 51 not out in his previous two innings, demonstrated a cool head for a crisis with his third half-century in a row. But he couldn't bat at both ends at once, and Collingwood, whose bowling has been a revelation on this tour so far, duly claimed the 100th wicket of his career as Strauss pulled off a blinder at backward-point, before nailing Morne Morkel lbw from round the wicket four overs later - a marginal decision that Hawkeye nevertheless suggested was correct.

A mowed four through cow corner carried Petersen past fifty, but with just the dubious talents of Charl Langeveldt alongside him, he was obliged to chance his arm, and with one ball remaining of the 37th over, he advanced down the pitch to Broad and took on the long-on boundary. But Wright at mid-on timed his leap to perfection and plucked a stunning full-stretch chance with the fingertips of his right hand. It was an effort that summed up England's day.

The only way South Africa were going to get back into the contest was by claiming quick wickets, but Strauss and Jonathan Trott repelled them with a 74-run stand for the first wicket, with Trott in particular displaying some excellent timing as he anchored the chase with an unhurried half-century. England's response wasn't entirely plain-sailing, however, and in an interesting precursor to the Test series, Morkel troubled Strauss with some kicking bounce outside off from round the wicket. He could even have got his man for 12, but a huge appeal for caught-behind was turned down by umpire Jerling.

It was eventually left to the spinner Botha to make the breakthrough, as he cramped Strauss for room on the cut and pinned him lbw for 32, and Botha made it two in two overs when Kevin Pietersen ended a frantic mini-innings with a clip to midwicket, only moments after being badly dropped by Morkel at fine leg. Collingwood, for once, failed to make an impression as McLaren had him caught behind for 2, but Eoin Morgan joined Trott to guide England to the finish in an unbroken 38-run stand.

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'I'm not going anywhere' - Gayle

will not quit as West Indies captain but acknowledges the three-day defeat in Brisbane was "downright embarrassing". Gayle, writing a column in the Courier Mail, said he knows some critics think he is not right for the job.

"I've got a message for those people - I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I have been chosen as captain and it's a job I will continue to do to the best of my ability. My heart is in it and I feel really strongly that I am the right man to lead the West Indies through this challenging period."

West Indies were beaten by an innings and 65 runs at the Gabba after being dismissed for 228 and 187 in the opening game of the three-match series. The second Test starts in Adelaide on Friday and the tourists will be without the fast bowler Jerome Taylor, who is due to be sent home with a back injury sustained on the opening day.

''Jerome Taylor is not available for the rest of the series," the manager Joel Garner told the Age. We have spoken about it, and the selectors will make a determination [about a replacement]."

The problem adds to the issues for West Indies that include coming together after a long players' strike, which led to a Test series loss to Bangladesh, and an apparent preference in some of the big names for lucrative limited-overs tournaments instead of Tests. Gayle said this year he wouldn't be so sad if the five-day format died.

However, Gayle insists he has the support of his struggling squad. "A lot has been happening over the past eight months but I am not into negativity," Gayle said. "Negative energy is the last thing we need right now because we are just starting to try to regroup as a team. With my captaincy coming under fire, the really heartening thing for me is to see how I have respect from each and every one of the players in our squad. It makes my job easier to know that each individual supports me and it helps me get the best out of the players."

Gayle said the side had to be honest about its failures at the Gabba. "To lose 15 wickets in a day on a beautiful batting track is simply not good enough and there are no excuses for that," he said. "We all know where we went wrong and after thinking about it for a while and coming up with some answers we have to try to get it out of our system as quickly as possible. We can't afford to be too hard on ourselves, the Test series is still up for grabs and we have to be strong and positive if we are a chance of beating Australia."

Murali may quit before 2011 World Cup

the Sri Lankan spinner, has said he may quit international cricket before the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent.

Murali, on his fourth tour to India, his final overseas tour, is struggling to come to terms with the placid Indian pitches and a strong batting line-up which has treated him harshly in the series so far. In the second Test, in Kanpur, he went for over 100 runs for the second time in two Tests in the series, and so far his five wickets have cost him 396 runs, at an average of 79.20.

"I am 37 years old and I can't bowl as much as those days because I get tired after 15-16 overs. But I will try and play a little bit of one-day cricket - that's only 10 overs to bowl. If I find everything is not going well I might retire from both forms of the game before the World Cup," Murali said. "Everything depends on how much my body can take. In Test cricket it's a little bit harder because I have always been a threat to other sides [but] at the moment it's not looking like that because others are playing me well. I think I made the right decision to retire from Test cricket at the end of the West Indies series next year.

"Two to three years ago it was not like this. Now you have niggles here and there and my groin is not the same as it used to be. We got the worst bowling conditions in the last two Tests. We didn't have the bowlers, that was one of the factors. But that's the way cricket goes, everything won't work in your favour."

Sri Lanka are struggling in the series because Murali has not been able to give them the breakthroughs he usually does. "I've played only eight Tests this year: two against Bangladesh, two against Pakistan, and two against New Zealand when I really did well bowling in the second innings of the second Test with a groin injury," he said. "Whenever the side wanted a breakthrough I got it for them in the New Zealand series. I don't know why it's not happening here.

"You have to give credit to India also for playing well. Whatever we were expecting didn't happen. Even the spinners didn't do well in any Test because everyone was not up to the mark and the wicket was not assisting them."

Sri Lanka are yet to win a Test in India, but Murali said that he won't be too disappointed if he had to return home without a Test victory in India. "Every cricketer has to go through disappointments. Everything you want to happen in life won't happen; something will be missing. Looking back I can say what an amazing career I have gone through but if we can't win in India that's it. Life has to go on."

Already the leading wicket-taker in Tests, he needs 12 more wickets in a possible three Tests to reach 800, but he said he was not targetting personal milestones. "I am not really focussing on finishing off my career taking 800 Test wickets. My focus is on winning matches. I don't believe in numbers. Eight hundred is just a number everyone will forget once you retire. It's a number to have in your mind. It is good if I get it but if I don't, still I will be happy and go out knowing I had a great career."

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