Monday, December 14, 2009

Siddle out, Chanderpaul, Barath and Hauritz in doubt

Australia and West Indies have both been hit by a series of injuries the day before the third Test in Perth, with Peter Siddle ruled out, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Adrian Barath unlikely, and Nathan Hauritz also in doubt. The problems have left Australia with one confirmed debutant, the Victoria fast bowler Clint McKay, who will replace his state team-mate Siddle.

Siddle was under a cloud during the week after suffering a strain to his left hamstring in Adelaide and on Tuesday he woke up with some soreness following a lengthy spell in the WACA nets the previous day. It was enough for the Australians to err on the side of caution and Siddle, who will fly home to Melbourne, will aim to be available for the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.

"The deal was that for him to come up here and play this game it would have to be a seamless period and have no pain, no stiffness, no feeling at all of anything wrong," Australia's physio Alex Kountouris said. "He bowled yesterday and this morning he woke up and it's a little bit stiff."

It means a definite debut for McKay, while the Tasmania fast bowler Brett Geeves, who was added as a 13th man in the squad, is also a chance to play if Hauritz fails to recover from a finger injury. Hauritz took a blow to the finger while fielding at training on Tuesday and although he did bowl afterwards, he suffered some soreness and will not know his fate until the morning of the match.

The selectors are considering flying in an extra spinner as cover, and their options will include Jason Krejza, who last year struggled against South Africa at the WACA and duly lost his place. However, Ricky Ponting said such a replacement would not necessarily step straight into the starting line-up.

"There'll be a chance of that," Ponting said of a four-man pace attack. "Geeves flew in last night and trained with us this morning. There'll be that possibility but I've said for a while it's always my preference to go into a Test match with a specialist spin bowler but we'll wait and see what happens."

West Indies are likely to have two changes with the key batsmen Chanderpaul and Barath both in serious doubt. Chanderpaul is still struggling with a finger problem after being struck on the hand in Adelaide, while Barath hurt his hamstring during the second Test. Travis Dowlin is expected to come in and open with Chris Gayle in place of Barath, while Chanderpaul's spot is likely to be taken by Narsingh Deonarine.

"It's not looking too good but we'll see what happens tomorrow," Gayle said. "Those two guys are the worry for us right now. It's a big blow going into the final Test match but having said that whoever gets that opportunity, hopefully they will make the best use of it."

Sri Lanka bowl without Murali and Malinga

Sri Lanka won the toss and decided to have a bowl on a lightly-grassed pitch in Rajkot. Without the flu-stricken Lasith Malinga and with Muttiah Muralitharan not deemed fit enough, it was a gamble of sorts, especially against an Indian side strengthened by the return of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, who were rested for the two Twenty20 games.

There was also a recall for Praveen Kumar, who played no part in the Twenty20 games. Sri Lanka also tinkered with their batting line-up, opting to open with Upul Tharanga and leaving Sanath Jayasuriya to bat in middle order, where he first started nearly 20 years ago.

Yuvraj Singh missed out with a finger injury sustained in the last Twenty20 game, and there was an opportunity for Virat Kohli to press his claims. The onus though was clearly on India's top order to combat the early movement and prevent the sort of batting debacle that cost them the recent series against Australia in Guwahati.

India had a formidable recent record against Sri Lanka in recent times, but with a 9am start, Chanaka Welegedara, Nuwan Kulasekara and Dilhara Fernando had a chance to even the scores.

India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashish Nehra.

Sri Lanka: 1 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Thilina Kandamby, 7 Sanath Jayasuriya, 8 Angelo Mathews, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11Chanaka Welegedara.

NZ openers steady chasing 208

Tea New Zealand 46 for 0 (Watling 27*, McIntosh 13*) and 471 need 162 runs to beat Pakistan 223 and 455 (Yousuf 89, Umar 77)

Chasing a target of 208 from a minimum of 43 overs, New Zealand took the safety-first route and sent in the regular openers who eased them to 46 without loss at tea on the final day in Napier. Kamran Akmal had earlier led Pakistan's resistance after the departure of Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal to stretch the lead to 207.

It was an enthralling day's play; Pakistan were nervous and edgy in defence, New Zealand were patient and did not over attack. Pakistan adopted the go-slow approach but since it's not a game that comes naturally to their players, it was absorbing to watch. The moment that captured their dilemma came when Akmal hit a four and shook his head, seemingly unhappy about his shot selection. It was a stunning hit over extra cover; he knifed through the line of a length delivery from Chris Martin and as the camera panned on him, he was shaking his head and admonishing himself. It was a risky shot in the context of the game, with the team trying to secure a safe lead before thinking of anything beyond and he knew it. However, the shot was a natural, almost reflexive, reaction from an attacking batsman and it was that kind of a battle that Umar and Misbah too fought without success.

Misbah's failing was greater than that of Umar for he was not only the more experienced but also some one who can, in theory, play the patient game more easily. And he had started well, nudging, pushing and leaving anything that he didn't have to play. However New Zealand kept closing in on him with their relentless discipline and you could sense a feeling of claustrophobia setting in. And the brain freeze eventually came when he faced up to Daniel Vettori for the first time in the day. He went for an almighty heave - his critics would call it a dirty old slog - missed it completely, and was done in by a quick stumping from Brendon McCullum with his back foot still on the line.

Unlike yesterday, Umar was more sedate this morning. Iain O'Brien and the close-in fielders teased him to have a go but he carried on with his defensive approach. Occasionally, though, the impishness in him threatened to crack open the lid of self-control. There was a hoick against O'Brien and a couple of plays and misses but no damage was done till he came up against the new ball, when he feathered an edge to McCullum. A brain freeze by Mohammad Aamer at the stroke of lunch threw open all possibilities yet again. It was the third ball of the last over before the break and with several close-in men hovering around him, an under-pressure Aamer, who had played out 52 balls with caution until then, went for the big shot against Vettori and holed out at deep midwicket. Kamran tried his best to ensure that a Pakistan loss was taken out of the equation but he was eventually left stranded and at tea, anything was still possible.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The umpire is right (even when he’s wrong)

UDRS! It sounds like the cry of a Bulgarian shot-putter as he lets fly. Or perhaps the first word that David Boon uttered as he disembarked at Heathrow airport in 1989.

In fact, this collection of letters stands for Umpire Demoralising Review System, an entirely new method of making cricket more complicated that is completely unrelated to the previous Player Review System, which everyone hated. You can tell it’s different because it has a completely different name, apart from the last bit.

Lots of intelligent and learned cricket folk are asking questions about UDRS. Questions such as: How does it work? Come again? Run that by me one more time? No, still not got it, could you write it down? But the only question I want to ask is: does it enhance the sofa-dweller’s viewing pleasure? Sadly, I have to say that the answer is no.

First, the details. As far as I can make out, this is how it goes. Umpire A makes a decision. Players may challenge this decision by screaming, pouting, or stamping their feet on the ground. If Umpire A remains unconvinced, a captain may, by indicating inverted commas with his forefingers, initiate the referral process.

Umpire A will then talk to Umpire C. Umpire B may also talk to Umpire C, but not without being introduced. Umpire C will watch his television. He is not allowed to tell Umpire A what he sees there, but may pass on information by implication, insinuation or cryptic clues. After a short half-hour delay, Umpire A will then shrug his shoulders to signal that the referral process has been successfully completed.

Naturally the ICC thinks it works. Apparently the correctness of decisions has gone up by 6% since it was introduced. They know this thanks to the Deciderator 2000, a calculator the size of Jesse Ryder housed in a disused storage closet in downtown Dubai. But the ICC aren’t the only ones with access to the latest technology. Thanks to the Hughes Confusometer, I have measured a staggering 350% increase in bafflement and bewilderment since UDRS was introduced.

It has also subtly altered our relationship with gadgets. Once they enhanced our experience, getting us closer to the game than the mosquito perched on Shane Watson’s faceguard. But since it has been officially sanctioned, technology has become omnipresent. The current series in Australia has featured a heart-rate monitor, a traffic-light themed lbw wizard, Hotspot, slow-mos, Snicko, Hawk-Eye, and a special device to warn us when Bill Lawry has nodded off. You have to stay on top of it all because it has become part of the game. As a result, watching a Test match these days is like sitting in the NASA control room during a space-shuttle launch.

I’ll be honest. I like the simplicity of the chap on the field being right. Even when he’s wrong. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t always fair, but then life isn’t fair, and unlike life, a game of cricket really doesn’t matter all that much. At this point I could go on about taking the rough with the smooth, suffering slings and arrows, greeting triumph and disaster and so on. But I can picture the tapping of thousands of fingers on thousands of keyboards, typing words like “old” and “fashioned” and “Who is this Neanderthal?”

So if this is the future of cricket, let’s dive in head first, rather than timidly dipping our toes in Lake Technology. For a start, why involve players in the messy business of making decisions? They aren’t cut out for it. It is tricky enough for some of them to arrive at the right ground at the right time wearing the right trousers. Let them concentrate on dropping catches, bowling wides and styling their hair.

The umpires should retain control of the means of adjudication and should be tooled up with all the latest gear. I propose that the ICC commission full-metal body suits for arbiters. These should feature state of the art Hawk-Eye-enabled visors, Snickometer antennae, and heat-detecting scanners. Optional extras to include a no-ball sensor, a tea-maker, and a hook upon which players can hang their sweaters and caps. Once they’re suited up like Judge Dredd, there would be no doubt where the authority lay.

Faisal falls after erasing deficit

Pakistan 223 and 278 for 3 (Yousuf 75*, Umar 0*) lead New Zealand 471 by 30 runs

Pakistan threatened to shoot themselves in the foot by gifting wickets to Martin Guptill - yes, you read that name right - before they rallied through a 128-run stand between Mohammad Yousuf and Faisal Iqbal. If the morning belonged to Guptill, the afternoon session, interrupted by rain, saw Pakistan making slow but steady progress.

Iain O'Brien and Daniel Vettori bowled as well as they could on a flat pitch but Yousuf and Iqbal stood firm. It looked almost inevitable that Yousuf, who missed out in the first innings, will collect some handy runs on this flat track. Vettori used the crease well, varied his pace cleverly and utilized the arm-ball intelligently but Yousuf handled him with aplomb. He moved forward or back as the length demanded of him and picked the arm ball on most occasions.

There was one piece of action which perfectly caught the spirit of the contest between the two: Yousuf came down the track but Vettori cleverly slowed up the pace and shortened the length. However, Yousuf waited to adjust to the lack of pace and though he couldn't reach the pitch of the ball, he didn't panic or lunge out; instead he almost nonchalantly wafted through the line and found enough power and timing to lift it over long-on. And barring an edge off Chris Martin that flew between the keeper and wide first slip, he was pretty comfortable against the seamers. He unfurled his square and cover drives and rotated the strike with wristy dabs.

Faisal wasn't as solid as Yousuf but he fought on to score a valuable fifty. His iffy footwork meant he was caught at the crease a few times and forward when he should have been back but he soldiered on. He was even dropped on 48 when he edged O'Brien straight to Ross Taylor but he punctuated his nervy shots with a few extravagant cover drives. It was that kind of knock where he delighted and frustrated you equally before he fell, guiding Martin to Taylor, who held on this time. The afternoon was a calm affair if you compare it with the events that preceded it.

If that late great English fast bowler Fred Trueman were alive and commentating on this game this morning, we would surely have heard his legendary phrase: "I just don't know what's going off out there". Nothing Pakistan do shocks anyone anymore but even their die-hard followers would have raised their eyebrows when Guptill, who has not bowled a ball before this game in Test cricket and has just a solitary first-class wicket, removed the openers in quick succession to leave Pakistan wobbling in Napier.

It was a bizarre, fascinating, and hence funny, little first session of play. What made Vettori to open the bowling with Guptill? More importantly, what were Pakistan openers thinking? Not much if you go with the evidence. When Guptill tossed the third delivery of the day outside off stump, there wasn't anything in its trajectory that made you feel, 'hold on we are on to something here'. It was a gentle, perhaps a bit loopy, delivery that floated ever so harmlessly outside off but Salman Butt scooped it back to the bowler. The bottom-hand had kicked in too much and he couldn't keep his off drive down.

Batsmen do make mistakes and irregular bowlers have from time immemorial picked up lucky wickets like this but surely Guptill can't do it again. Wrong. He flighted, nay floated, a full toss in the seventh over of the day. Farhat, who seemed muddled after Butt's dismissal, moved down the track to try snap out of the nightmarish start to the day but ended up patting the full toss straight back to Guptill. Surprisingly, there was no visible surprise from Guptill when he took the catch. Perhaps he was too shocked to be merely surprised. It was that kind of a day.

Injured Yuvraj Singh likely to miss first ODI

Indian batsman Yuvraj Singh's participation in the opening match of the ODI series against Sri Lanka is in doubt after he complained of pain in his little finger on the left hand while fielding during the second Twenty20 in Mohali on Saturday. A final decision will be taken on Monday, the eve of the match in Rajkot.

"The team management will give every possible opportunity to Yuvraj play the first ODI but the final call would be taken only tomorrow," a team source said, adding that it could take upto three weeks for him to recover, effectively ruling him out of the five-match series.

Yuvraj, who took 3 for 23 in Mohali, didn't bowl his full quota of overs and bowled only three before he was taken off after the 17th over. However, the injury didn't affect his batting as he slammed an unbeaten 60 off 25 balls, hitting five sixes, to help India comfortably chase down 207 with five balls to spare.

He was taken to a clinic in Rajkot late on Sunday evening after complaining of pain and later took an X-ray. Niranjan Shah, the president of the Saurashtra Cricket Association, told PTI that a final decision will be taken after examining the report submitted by the orthopedic surgeon.

He could be replaced by batsman Virat Kohli, who was called-up a cover for Gautam Gambhir, who was suspected to have been struck with swine flu on the eve of the Mohali game, which was later diagnosed as negative.

Geeves called as Siddle's standby

the Tasmania fast bowler, has been added to the third Test squad as cover for Peter Siddle and will join the team in Perth on Monday night. Siddle had a strong workout in the nets at the WACA today but will have to wait to see how his hamstring injury responds before his spot in the side is secured.

Geeves, a 27-year-old right armer, will join Clint McKay as the second uncapped bowler in the squad for the series-deciding third game, but Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, expects Siddle will be cleared. "[But] in order to ensure there is sufficient cover, a decision has been made to have Brett Geeves available as a standby player in Perth," Hilditch said. "Brett gets his opportunity on the back of his recent strong performances in Sheffield Shield cricket and because the panel feels he will be well-suited to the conditions at the WACA should an opportunity present itself."

Geeves toured with the limited-overs team to South Africa earlier in the year, and has appeared in two ODIs and a Twenty20 international. However, his prospects seemed to suffer when he was not called up for the injury-hit visit to India in October and November.

Five wickets in Tasmania's Sheffield Shield win over Western Australia last week helped remind the selectors of his worth. In 39 first-class games he has taken 134 wickets at 34.41 and is well-known in Australian cricket circles for his lively blog. The country's fast-bowling stocks are being tested with the contract holders Ben Hilfenhaus, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark on the injured list.

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