Saturday, February 9, 2008

New Zealand thrash dismal England

Alastair Cook was bowled for 11 as England struggled against a top-notch seam attack...

New Zealand bounced back from the disappointment of losing both Twenty20s against England, with an emphatic six-wicket win in the first one-dayer in Wellington. England were put on the back foot right from the outset, limping to a feeble 130 which New Zealand knocked off with 20 overs to spare.

The contrast between the two sides couldn't have been greater following the Twenty20s. Gone were Dimitri Mascarenhas and Luke Wright; in came Ravi Bopara and Alastair Cook. Both are perfectly decent replacements, but why did England change a winning side? The Wellington pitch was stodgy, the New Zealand bowling miserly and accurate, and England simply couldn't force the pace, perfectly illustrated by their boundary count of seven fours. Poor running and a trio of run-outs completed a dismal effort.

New Zealand were proficient from the word go. Chasing such a meagre total can often play tricks with batting sides, but Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder ensured there were no hiccups with a dominant opening stand of 61. In the past week Ryder has attracted a lot of media attention for his expansive waistline, but today he went some way to dispelling the theory that chubbiness is a barrier to success with an invigorating 31 from 50 balls. His first boundary was flicked nonchalantly over midwicket for six; his first two fours flayed with immense power past point and through the leg side.

But there is more to Ryder than his obvious power, with deft glances to leg and a solid defensive technique to the seamers. Meanwhile McCullum was almost too aggressive for his own good - charging the bowlers and upper-cutting without care to third man - and took a while to settle down before lofting Ryan Sidebottom for the shot of the day, a lovely lofted six over long-on. The pair's fifty partnership took 64 balls; in contrast, England's took 95.

Ryder's confidence spilled over when he tried to pull Stuart Broad into the midwicket stand and was easily caught by Wright, while McCullum was strangled down the leg side. New Zealand, though, were never in any serious danger. England had already lost the match with the bat.

England were utterly unable to force the pace or time the ball, and New Zealand's bowlers - in particular Scott Styris and Chris Martin - capitalised impressively, taking full advantage of a helpful pitch.

England hit just seven fours in their innings - testament to the excellence of New Zealand's ability to adapt to the conditions. Martin and Kyle Mills both bowled immaculate opening spells - Martin exclusively around the wicket - and from very early on, it was obvious this wasn't a pitch for extravagant strokeplay. However, Phil Mustard couldn't always rein in his attacking instincts, twice inside-edging Martin with ugly leg-side swings. Just when England looked to have adapted to the conditions, Cook was bowled by Martin with the penultimate ball of the 10th over, by which time England were 34 for 1.

Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen both inside-edged onto the stumps, while Mustard crept further into his shell before Styris bowled him for a laborious 31. The pitch was tailor-made for Styris, in particular, who bowled a perfect line and length, mixing up his off-cutters with slower balls and a medley of other variations to pick up his most economical figures in one-dayers.

And then came the run-outs, to further compound England's woes. New Zealand were electric in the field from the outset - that much is true - but England didn't help their cause one little bit, with Owais Shah involved in all three. The first was a particularly playground effort, ball-watching to leave Paul Collingwood stranded. Graeme Swann was also run out, before Shah's dozy running cost him his own wicket - and England's innings was as good as finished.

New Zealand marshalled the game from the outset - remarkable, really, given how emphatically they were outplayed in the last week. It has enlivened what was being billed as a potentially one-sided series.

Kaneria faces disciplinary action

Danish Kaneria has landed in hot water after speaking out against his demotion in the central contracts...

Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan legspinner, may land in trouble after criticising the Pakistan Cricket Board's policy on central contracts and the board's top officials have referred his case to the disciplinary committee.

Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, said the board has taken notice of Kaneria's column on a website in which he questioned the central contracts policy after being demoted to Category C in the new list announced last month.

"We have a clear Code of Conduct and if Kaneria is found guilty of violating it then he will face strict punishment," Ashraf told the News. Kaneria, who has played 51 Tests, wrote in his column that he was frustrated at being bracketed with players who have played fewer matches than him, like newcomer Fawad Alam.

"I have played 51 Tests now and once I pass Abdul Qadir's 236 Test wickets, hopefully this year, I will then only have the fast bowlers ahead of me - Waqar Younis, Imran Khan and Wasim Akram," he wrote. "I just feel that achievement deserves a bit more respect. I am respected more when I play at Essex."

Ashraf said the board cannot overlook public criticism of its policies by players contracted by it. Kaneria's case would be discussed by the disciplinary committee later this month.

"We devised a transparent formula to evaluate the players," he said. "The players were promoted, demoted, dropped or inducted (in the central contracts list) on the basis of that formula."

He did speak on the Shoaib Akhtar saga, making it clear that the fast bowler will only be able to win back his place for the home series against Australia if he proves his fitness in this month's Pentangular Cup.

"We don't care about stars or their celebrity status. For us, the best player is one who is fit, in form and gives his best for the team," Ashraf said. "As far as Shoaib is concerned, he should know the only way to get back to the team is by justifying his place and he can only do that by proving his form and fitness in the Pentangular Cup."

Ashraf rejected the impression that Shoaib'srefusal to sign a retainership contract would block his re-entry to the Pakistan team.

"If he doesn't want to take the retainer, it's his decision. We won't stop him from playing for Pakistan on that ground."

Tendulkar offers batting tips to youngsters

Sachin Tendulkar has offered valuable technical tips to the younger members of the Indian team in the training sessions in Melbourne ahead of the ODI against Australia on February 10.

Tendulkar advised Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina on techniques to adapt to the conditions and the pitches in Australia, suggested tips to Rohit Sharma to improve his front-foot drives and counselled Gautam Gambhir and Manoj Tiwary on their stance.

Gambhir was told not to have a completely side-on position at the crease, and instead open up his stance for a slightly two-eyed look at the bowler. This would allow him to offer the full face of the bat, and help him play through the on side more effectively.

"The plan is simple, see the ball, hit the ball and play in the 'V," Gambhir had earlier revealed his theory of batting in Australia. "The conditions here give a batsman full value for his strokes, though you need a lot of courage and determination. It's difficult to get on to the front foot when you are facing genuine quick bowlers like Brett Lee or Mitchell Johnson but there is very little chance when you are sitting on the back foot." Tendulkar's tips are designed to enable Gambhir score more freely in his preferred area down the ground.

It is learnt that Tendulkar, while praising Rohit for his back-foot play, was keen that he leans more on to his strokes while driving through the off side to add more power and punch. After his session with Tendulkar, Rohit had his batting video taped by the team's computer analyst Dhananjay.

Rohit considers Tendulkar his favourite player and has sought his advice in the past too. In an earlier interview with Rediff, Rohit said, "It [Tendulkar's advice] was very different from what you always hear from coaches. I mean what he said was practical, based on his own vast experience. He also told me when to take singles and twos and also when and how to accelerate, and so on and so forth. Believe me, it was very, very different from what we juniors hear from others almost every day."

Tendulkar worked with Uthappa and Manoj Tiwary too. Uthappa's tendency to commit himself to the front foot came in for scrutiny, and Tendulkar suggested a slight sideways trigger movement instead of a big stride forward.

Tendulkar noted that Tiwary places his feet too close to each other in his stance, which inhibits his movement either forward or back. Like he did with Gambhir, Tendulkar suggested that Tiwary open up in his stance which would help him drive towards mid-off and mid-on rather than committing himself to a cover drive.

Tendulkar has also advised the youngsters to opt for lighter bats on the bouncier pitches of Australia as it would allow them to move more quickly into position.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bracken slides Sri Lanka to 128-run defeat

Brett Lee jumps for joy after knocking over Sanath Jayasuriya for 7 early in Sri Lanka's failed chase...

It was a rematch between last year's World Cup finalists that turned into a mismatch. Nathan Bracken earned career-best figures as he bowled Australia to a comfortable 128-run win, exploiting the slow SCG pitch to perfection after Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist set up an imposing target of 6 for 253.

Kumar Sangakkara looked like carrying on from his last international innings in Australia - he made 192 in the Hobart Test in November - as he cracked 16 off a Brett Lee over. However, when Bracken trapped him lbw with a delivery that angled in towards middle stump and kept low, Sri Lanka's hopes quickly slipped away.

Bracken finished with 5 for 47 when he collected the final wicket as Muttiah Muralitharan skied a catch to the outfield and the CB Series had its first result following a pair of wash-outs in Brisbane. The rot began with Sangakkara's dismissal, which sparked a disastrous spell in which they lost 7 for 51.

As if to prove it simply wasn't Sri Lanka's night, Lasith Malinga was run out in unlucky circumstances when he took a single and grounded his bat past the crease, but in the process it knocked out of his hands moments before Andrew Symonds' throw hit the stumps. His feet were in the air and Sri Lanka were on the ground.

At that point it had not seemed long since Sangakkara brightened Sri Lanka's prospects with a series of vicious strokes off Lee. He top edged an attempted pull to third man for four but instead of putting the shot away, Sangakkara simply decided that practice makes perfect. Two further pulls from on and outside off stump raced to the boundary before he finished the over with a cracking cover drive that just evaded the diving Symonds.

But one over of joy does not make a 50-over victory. Bracken led a strong bowling effort, having Chamara Kapugedera caught sharply by Matthew Hayden at first slip before Tillakaratne Dilshan thrashed a chance to long-off. Sri Lanka had needed almost the highest successful ODI chase at the SCG - the record is Australia's 260 set in 1998-99 - but they never got close.

The slow-and-low pitch was not easy to bat on but the visitors made much harder work of it than Australia. There was also the matter of the different mindsets; Sri Lanka took a defensive approach that allowed Clarke to to finish unbeaten on 77 after Gilchrist set up the total with 61.

Clarke poked, prodded and sprinted his way to a half-century as he batted to fields that seemed designed just to stop boundaries. That part of Sri Lanka's plan worked as Clarke struck only two fours and one six, but he was content to bat himself in with hurried singles and twos.

Apart from a six lofted over long-on against Muralitharan early in his innings, Clarke was not foced to take many risks. His first four was an unconvincing bottom edge that flew to third man and took him to 45 but his second - and last - was a more orthodox drive through cover that brought him his fifty from 63 balls.

Jayawardene's tactics had been defensive from the start and there was no cordon in the third over when Hayden edged Chaminda Vaas to the vacant first-slip position. That allowed the 65-run opening stand that Australia used as a platform for their solid effort.

The Sydney crowd was denied a Gilchrist century and settled for a sensible knock from the hometown hero Clarke. Gilchrist's record playing Sri Lanka - five of his 15 ODI centuries came against them - suggested a big innings but there was no repeat of the last time the two sides met, when he made 149 in the World Cup final.

Although he was more guarded than usual on the unhelpful pitch, Gilchrist gave the fans a couple of flashbacks to his powerful prime. He rocked back to pull Malinga viciously over midwicket for six and sent Ishara Amerasinghe through and over cover for boundaries.

His half-century took more than half the innings, which is almost unheard of for Gilchrist, and his 81-ball effort ended on when Tony Hill ruled him lbw trying to slog-sweep Kapugedera. Gilchrist departed to a standing ovation and it will become a familiar feeling for him over the next month as he completes his farewell. Triple-figures or not, his final series is beginning on a high note.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Focussed England complete emphatic win

Paul Collingwood lofts a six over midwicket during his 54...

A proficient and professional allround display from England took them to an emphatic 50-run win over New Zealand in the second and final Twenty20 in Christchurch. With the one-day series two days away, England are bristling with confidence and New Zealand have it all to do.

England were in control from the outset, with Phil Mustard and Luke Wright launching an exuberant attack at the top of the order before Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah steered them to 193 for 8, in an excellent fifth-wicket stand of 102 - England's highest in Twenty20s. Impressively, all their bowlers played a part with Ryan Sidebottom particularly accurate while Dimitri Mascarenhas's underrated dobblers accounted for Jamie How and Scott Styris. New Zealand were never in the hunt and particularly missed Jacob Oram, their standout player in the first Twenty20 two days ago.

New Zealand's chase of a demanding target began badly, Jesse Ryder falling with the score on 14 before Brendon McCullum, the stand-in captain in Daniel Vettori's absence, was bowled by a fine yorker from Sidebottom and New Zealand were reduced to 19 for 2. There are doubts over Vettori's involvement in next week's one-day series - he has an ankle injury - and today's loss has piled the pressure on McCullum, who is struggling to manage the three roles.

Ross Taylor briefly threatened to make a fist of things with a brutal 21, lifting James Anderson for a six over midwicket and a rocketed four through the same leg-side region. And when he smashed Stuart Broad for the biggest six of the night over midwicket, there were tentative signs that New Zealand could yet chase down 194. It wasn't to be, however, and Taylor was well caught by Bell jogging backwards at cover.

How cracked 31 from 25 before he was bowled around his legs by the canny Mascarenhas - an awful shot in the circumstances - and Daniel Flynn, flown in to replace Oram, lasted two balls to leave New Zealand limping on 94 for 7. Kyle Mills, with 30 off 22 balls, briefly threatened a revival but when Sidebottom bowled Paul Hitchcock for 13 - finishing with impressive figures of 2 for 19 from his four overs - it was as good as over.

England were livewires in the field and accurate with the ball, but neither adjective could be used to describe New Zealand's effort earlier in the evening. Mills and Chris Martin both began tidily, but Wright and Mustard took advantage of the very short leg-side boundary to immediately levy the balance putting on 65 inside six overs. Mustard got off the mark with a fortuitous outside edge for six, over point, following it up with an ugly clubbed six over long-off.

Meanwhile, Wright - who before today hadn't taken to international Twenty20s - was less assured but soon capitalised on a wayward comeback from Hitchcock, replacing Jeetan Patel. Like Patel, who was pummelled in the first Twenty20 two days ago, Hitchcock was treated with disdain by Wright, who whistled a ferocious four through the covers before lifting him over the top for six. After five overs, England were 57 without loss and motoring.

However, Wright's dismissal in the next over brought about a mid-order slump that gave the home crowd something to cheer about. Kevin Pietersen went for 3 and Ian Bell - who ran himself out with a brainless single to mid-on - for 1. England's hopes of passing 200 were fading and, when Mustard was superbly held by Mills on the long-on boundary, New Zealand had the visitors at 76 for 4.

In came Shah and Collingwood and they immediately turned England's fortunes around with a fine stand of 102 in just 10.2 overs. Shah got off the mark with a neat pull off Styris, but he spared the punishment for Ryder who was carved for 16 in one particularly drab over - the highlight, a flat and fiercely struck six over long-off. Collingwood was even more urgent than Shah, favouring the leg-side to smack Tim Southee over the top for six before driving the same bowler past extra cover.

England were suddenly on the charge again and Collingwood brought up a 24-ball fifty with his third six, flinging Mills over the square leg boundary and also registering his and Shah's hundred stand. Hitchcock, after being lambasted for 37 from a couple of overs, found redemption when Shah smacked him straight to long-off. The very next ball, Collingwood mistimed another leg-side heave and found How lurking at long-on.

Mascarenhas survived the hat-trick delivery in his own inimitable style, upper-cutting him over backward point - but although he couldn't replicate his six-hitting furore of two days ago, England's 194 was more than enough.

Board interference would be 'unfair' - Ponting

Ricky Ponting wants the IPL to go ahead...

Ricky Ponting says Cricket Australia should not attempt to make its sponsorship deals globally recognised if such a move would stop current Australian players joining the Indian Premier League (IPL). The Australian board is concerned that its players might endorse products that clash with its own deals, as part of their IPL agreements.

However, the IPL chairman Lalit Modi said the league would press on without Ponting and his men if Cricket Australia pursued worldwide sponsorship protection, and Ponting was not keen on that possibility. "There are already some globally-protected sponsors of Cricket Australia, there are a couple of them," Ponting said.

"I don't think Cricket Australia would be able to make any of their other sponsors global sponsors ... If they tried to do that I'm sure the players' association would have something to say about it. It would be a little bit unfair if that was the case."

Ponting and his team-mates stand to earn significant pay cheques for joining the IPL and they would be understandably frustrated if their agreements fell through. He saw no reason for Cricket Australia not to clear players to take part in the league.

"It's a domestic competition, as county cricket is," Ponting said. "There's never been any worry about Cricket Australia releasing guys to go and play county cricket. That's the reason Cricket Australia backed it all in the first place, because it was a domestic tournament and it wouldn't be actually taking Australian players away from their domestic competitions or the Australian team."

However, the chances of seeing Ponting and his men representing IPL franchises this year depend largely on whether Australia's scheduled tour of Pakistan goes ahead, as the trip would clash with the Indian tournament. Ponting said with the exception of the retiring Adam Gilchrist, who looks set to play, the Australians had shelved all thoughts about the league for the time being.

"I haven't even thought about the IPL," Ponting said. "We've had a lot on our plate over the last few weeks. The likelihood of us Australian players being able to play this year anyway was pretty minimal. We'll worry about all those other outside distractions, if you like, once this summer is over and done with."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pakistan finalise venues for Australia series

Karachi's National Stadium is all set to host the Australians...

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have finalised Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan as venues for all matches during Australia's tour, due to start next month. The tour, though still dependent upon a security assessment, includes three Tests, five one-dayers and a Twenty20 international.

Nasim Ashraf, chairman PCB, held a meeting with his Australian counterpart, Creagh O'Connor in Dubai to discuss the security arrangements for the tour, assuring him that the players will be provided security similar to those for visiting heads of states. Some Australian players have expressed concerns over touring Pakistan against a backdrop of escalating violence and tension, first with the imposition of emergency, and then with the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"I think it was very worthwhile to meet with them," Ashraf told PTI. "I informed him [O'Connor] about the proposed tour itinerary and venues where the matches will be held. I also briefed him about the security arrangements being made for the Australians which are similar to those made for visiting head of states."

Ashraf said that Pakistan would rather scrap the tour if Australia didn't agree to tour than agree to shift the series to a neutral country. Australia last toured Pakistan in 1998 and their next visit, in 2002, was played in neutral venues, in Colombo and Sharjah.

"Our stance is very clear," Ashraf said. "We want the Australians to come and play in Pakistan as planned. Our people want to see them play as they have not toured Pakistan since 1998."

Zimbabwe's recent tour of Pakistan, which included five one-dayers, went off without any security glitches or untoward incidents. Hamilton Masakadza, the captain, said after the series that the team was well-looked after and that served as an encouraging sign for all future tours to the country.

Cricket Australia will send their security delegation to inspect the venues and facilities after general elections in Pakistan, to be held on February 18. A final decision on the tour will only be taken after that.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rain forces another Gabba washout

India, thanks in no small part to Gautam Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, escaped from a hole but it was rain again that had the final word...

For the second match running, a faithful Brisbane crowd was denied a full day of cricket as further inclement weather washed out the second match of the CB Series, this time between India and Sri Lanka. What they were treated to, in India's uninterrupted innings, was the prototype of the perfectly-paced ODI century from Gautam Gambhir in only the second battle between these two teams on Australian soil.

It was all happening during a compelling 50 overs of cricket, where Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni breathed life back into an innings that looked to have suffered a coronary attack by the halfway mark, putting on 184 for the fifth wicket to take India to a commanding 267 for 4. The average score at the Gabba in the last five ODIs has been 233 and India would have fancied their chances at recording a record 50th win over Sri Lanka, but the rain had other ideas.

After a steady start, Tendulkar, who became the first batsman to go past 16,000 ODI runs, dragged one from Lasith Malinga back onto his stumps for 35. Virender Sehwag fell to a mistimed pull shot soon after, while Muttiah Muralitharan nailed two in his first over - he snapped up an out-of-sorts Yuvraj Singh for 2 in his comeback match and an unlucky Rohit Sharma for 0, after replays showed he didn't edge to the wicketkeeper. The repair work began when India slipped to 83 for 4.

However, there was little swing for Chaminda Vaas and Gambhir signalled his intent, straight-driving and pulling the veteran bowler for boundaries in the first over of a third spell. He should have been caught on 11, after opening the face of the bat off Ishara Amerasinghe, but Kumar Sangakkara dropped a left-handed take. Gambhir showed his hunger for runs and took the fight back to Sri Lanka.

Arguably the best player of spin in the side after Tendulkar, he relied on his ability to flick, nudge and sweep Muralitharan. It worked very well, and an unflustered Gambhir negated Muralitharan's mid-innings spell confidently. The spinners, with the field especially spread between overs 33 and 39, were quietly squirted into the gaps before Gambhir accelerated. It was a good exhibition of building an innings under pressure.

Dhoni, on the back of a poor Test series, helped the partnership gain momentum with soft-handed pushes to the off side and hard, trademark paddles down the leg side. Perhaps most critically, the running between the wickets was top-drawer stuff; in fact, rarely has it been better, against one of the best fielding units around. The right-left combination ticked runs along at about four-and-a-half an over and as the conditions turned overcast, the 50-run stand came up in 78 deliveries.

Gambhir welcomed the hard ball - following a mandatory change after 34 overs - with an even harder cut for four. With rain in the air, he began to target the shorter areas of the Gabba. Muralitharan came back on before the slog overs and Gambhir wasn't afraid to use his feet in an attempt to lift the run rate. A thumping extra-cover-drive raised his ninth fifty in the 41st over and Gambhir rounded off the over with a firm pulled four. Singularly, Gambhir's handling of Muralitharan was the stand-out feature of his innings. The same bowler who was so threatening initially was handled with utmost ease in the latter stage of the innings, and went for 51 from ten. For good measure, Malinga was welcomed back with an effortless six over extra-cover and India had scored 40 runs in four overs. Gambhir's second fifty needed a mere 28 balls.

Dhoni brought his fifty up with a six down the ground and despite cramping up after that shot, picked up boundaries down the leg side. India successfully picked up at least one four in each of the last ten overs, bar the 43rd, and they had Dhoni to thank for much of this as they added 105 during that period. Unflustered for his entire stay in the middle, Dhoni played a captain's innings, an unbeaten 95-ball 88, highlighted with punchy shots and superb running. Shot by shot, run by run, he and Gambhir had turned damage control into coruscating counter-aggression.

The drizzle began towards the end of the Indian innings, and only gained in intensity during the break. It soon turned into an annoying shower, engulfing the Gabba. With further thunderstorms predicted later in the evening both sides were left to play the waiting game inside the dressing room, while plenty of others began to furiously hit their calculators to see what Messrs Duckworth and Lewis would have to say, but play was finally called off at 7.55 pm local time.

During the 1992 World Cup, these two sides met in Australia but the match lasted just two deliveries owing to rain. Sixteen years on from that washout the two most-capped players in the game, Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya, were the only survivors but once again, they couldn't get out of the way of a storm.

Mascarenhas sets up England victory

Dimitri Mascarenhas launches one of four consecutive sixes off Jeetan Patel...

Dimitri Mascarenhas pummelled Jeetan Patel for four consecutive sixes in an over, to set England on their way to a comfortable 32-run victory in the first Twenty20 at Auckland. On an excellent batting track, Mascarenhas's intervention in the 16th over transformed an attainable total into an imposing one, and when Ryan Sidebottom removed the dangermen Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor in his second over, New Zealand's challenge fell away. Jacob Oram, with 61 from 40 balls, kept their hopes alive until the final over, but it was Sidebottom, fittingly, who sealed the win with figures of 3 for 16.

New Zealand won the only previous Twenty20 encounter between these two sides, in the ICC tournament in Cape Town last September, but the boot today was very much on the other foot. Kevin Pietersen showed signs of his best form as he muscled his way to 43 from 23 balls, Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah played attractive cameos, and aside from Luke Wright, who was dismissed before he got going, each of England's top-order reached double figures at more than a run a ball.

England's dominance began from the moment the match got underway. England lost the toss and were inserted, but Phil Mustard started with real intent, slashing two fours in Kyle Mills' first over, closely followed by a violent six over midwicket off Chris Martin. Mustard fell in the same manner one over later, as Jesse Ryder took a comfortable catch in the deep to calm his nerves to calm his nerves on debut, but Pietersen clipped his first ball through square leg for four to maintain England's tempo.

Pietersen, strangely, has managed just one half-century in 12 Twenty20s - and that came against Zimbabwe to boot. But today he seemed set to add to that tally. He clobbered six fours in his first 14 balls, then launched Martin for a vast six down the ground, but New Zealand's fielders lived up to their reputations throughout the innings. With Pietersen on cruise control, Ross Taylor at short midwicket intercepted a screaming on-drive in Patel's first over.

Ian Bell by this stage had been and gone, bowled for 12 from 10 balls by Oram's slower-ball yorker, but Collingwood and Shah kept the total ticking along. Collingwood played one expansive stroke, a mighty flick for six off Patel, and later clobbered a Mills full-toss for four, while Shah saved his most savage strokes for the 19-year-old debutant, Tim Southee, whom he clipped for two fours and a sweet six over midwicket.

It was the other debutant, however, who did for Shah. Ryder entered the attack in the 14th over and with his second ball he beat an attempted sweep and claimed the plumbest of lbw decisions. That was his only over, however. Instead McCullum tossed the ball to his senior spinner, Patel, whom Mascarenhas bludgeoned four times in a row over deep midwicket. Patel did have his revenge when Mascarenhas picked him out with an uppercut to third man, but with 31 from 14 balls, he had made the difference to England's total.

New Zealand's tough task was made all the tougher when Sidebottom got hold of the new ball. Finding prodigious swing, and good pace and accuracy, he cut McCullum off in his prime with a surprise short ball that was gloved to Shah at short cover, before trapping Taylor plumb lbw for a second-ball duck.

Ryder responded with a series of brusque boundaries to keep New Zealand in touch with a spiralling run-rate, but wickets kept falling to peg their ambitions back. Jamie How picked out Pietersen at long-on with a slog down the ground, Ryder himself was run out two balls later as he backed up to a drive into the covers, and when Scott Styris and Peter Fulton were bowled in consecutive overs by Mascarenhas and Stuart Broad respectively, New Zealand had slumped to 70 for 6.

New Zealand weren't finished just yet. Mills smacked a massive six over the covers off Broad, only then to fall victim to the catch of the match, as James Anderson parried another exocet just inside the rope, and braced himself for the rebound before he toppled over.

Oram took up the cudgels with a brace of fours off Graeme Swann and a six and a four off Collingwood, but he had also to farm the strike to protect his tail - and that's not exactly easy in Twenty20 cricket. Patel and Martin helped New Zealand attain respectability, as the last two wickets added 50 runs in five overs, and the match was sealed with four balls to spare as Bell at long-off clung on to a sizzling drive.

Contracts hurdle for Australia's IPL players

Adam Gilchrist: still contracted to Australia, even in retirement...

The participation of Australia's star cricketers in the forthcoming Indian Premier League could be in doubt, after Cricket Australia warned that it could still exercise the power of veto over its contracted players if competing sponsorship issues arise.

The IPL burst into life last month when Sony Television paid US$1 billion for the ten-year rights to the competition, and 11 contracted Australian cricketers, including the recently retired Adam Gilchrist, have put themselves forward for selection for one of eight city-based franchises.

The players are expected to be auctioned off to the highest bidders in a matter of weeks, although anyone who competes in the IPL will require a non-objection certificate from their home board. CA are understandably keen to maintain contractual control of their greatest assets, and the Federation of International Cricketers Association (FICA) has instructed its players not to negotiate until they see a proper contract.

"There's still a couple of issues," the ACA chief executive, Paul Marsh, told The Australian newspaper. "I'm talking to Tim May [the chief executive of FICA], who is part of this process for our players and all the other international players involved, and whilst it's not there yet, it's not too far away."

Marsh added that Cricket Australia were looking to negotiate a pre-existing agreement clause before giving their go-ahead to the IPL. "Cricket Australia has an issue with players playing for a team that clashes with their sponsors," said Marsh. "I'm not sure where that is all going to go - it's probably the major sticking point that we need to work through."

Another potential spanner in the works is Australia's forthcoming tour of Pakistan, which is scheduled for April, the same month as the IPL. There is a growing suspicion that the tour could be cancelled because of security fears in the wake of the general election, in which case the players would be free to compete, but failing that, the franchises could still be allowed to bid for the Australian players on a long-term contract.

"They are pressing for the players to confirm their involvement by the end of next week," Neil Maxwell, a player agent, told The Australian. "That could be difficult, seeing the Australians haven't seen the long-form agreement, but it could be shortly after that. It is important the franchises know what they are agreeing to over a long period, even if the Australian players are not involved in year one or year two - from a promotional or budgeting sense, they need to know what players are available."

Lord's nominated to host Twenty20 final

Lord's has been nominated to host the final of the ICC World Twenty20 in 2009...

Lord's and The Oval have been nominated as two of the main venues to host next year's ICC World Twenty20, with the ECB also recommending Lord's to host the final.

After being chosen as the hosts of the tournament, England have spent the past few months deciding on the venues to be used. The Oval has been chosen as a "preferred bidder" for the warm-ups, group and Super Eight matches and a semi-final.

"I am delighted that Lord's, a world-class venue with a famous history and tradition, has agreed to be recommended hosts," Steve Elworthy, the tournament director, said yesterday in Auckland. "I was privileged to be director for [the] ICC World Twenty20 2007 and thrilled at the success of the event which generated record crowds and also made broadcasting history in India with 1.4 billion viewers tuning in for the final.

"Now I am looking forward to the challenge of raising the standard of Twenty20 cricket even higher here in England and with Lord's as a nominated venue and The Oval as a preferred bidder - as well as a third world class ground yet to be chosen - we have already got off to a great start."

Keith Bradshaw, the MCC secretary and chief executive, added: "The MCC committee is extremely pleased, and I am personally delighted, at the ECB's decision to recommend that the final and other matches in the ICC World Twenty20 in 2009 be staged at Lord's. It is bound to be an exciting and major global event, and MCC looks forward to contributing to its success.

"MCC has supported Twenty20 cricket - a form of the game which virtually every cricketer has played - since the county competition started a few years ago. At Lord's, these matches have regularly attracted crowds of over 20,000, and I am looking forward to seeing the home of cricket full for the 2009 matches."

The ECB will recommend Lord's to the ICC at their meeting in Dubai on March 18.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Collingwood wary of wounded Kiwis

Brendon McCullum: leading a new-look New Zealand side...

England's tour of New Zealand begins in earnest on Tuesday, when Paul Collingwood leads his side out for their opening Twenty20 fixture at Auckland, against a Kiwi opposition that has been severely depleted by injuries and unavailability.

Three of New Zealand's most accomplished limited-overs batsmen - Nathan Astle, Stephen Fleming and Craig McMillan - are all unavailable, while their captain Daniel Vettori, who was rated as the most valuable bowler at last September's ICC World Twenty20, is missing with an ankle injury. In addition, they will have to make do without the services of their spearhead, Shane Bond, whose contract has been terminated after he signed for the rebel Indian Cricket League.

Collingwood, however, is guarding against complacency. New Zealand were, after all, semi-finalists in the World Twenty20 while England failed to beat a single senior nation in their brief campaign. "We're not going to take them lightly," he said. "They've lost a couple of their more experienced players but they are a dangerous side and they always have been.

"We expect them to be as tough and competitive as ever and we'll be telling the players that," said Collingwood. "It's the start of our tour and we need to go out there and set our standards from ball one. It's a long tour for all of us and hopefully we'll set off on the right note. It will set the tone for the tour if we play well in this match with good, aggressive cricket."

England have yet to finalise their side, largely because of the complication provided by the early-tour form of Alastair Cook. He made 51 and 138 not out in England's two warm-up matches, and though he was initially being bracketed as a Test specialist, all that may now have to change. "There are a few tough decisions to make," said Collingwood. "We've got quite a few players in good form and it's going to be hard to get it down to the final XI."

New Zealand, meanwhile, will be led by their explosive wicketkeeper-batsman, Brendon McCullum, who last month scored an incredible 80 not out from 28 balls to destroy single-handedly Bangladesh at Queenstown. "Tomorrow presents a tremendous opportunity for a couple of players to stand up and see what they've got at international level," said McCullum. "The team we do have is young, it's fresh and I see it as pretty exciting. If all goes well I think we've got the make-up to thrill a lot of people."

McCullum's opening partner could be a potential star of the future. Jesse Ryder is a 23-year-old left-hander whose spats with New Zealand Cricket have been as explosive as his batting. But circumstance has forced the hands of the selectors, and McCullum for one is delighted his team-mate has been given the chance. "He's an amazing talent," he said. "This guy hits the ball as hard as anyone going around the country and you can't keep talent like that on the sidelines for too long."

The 19-year-old seamer, Tim Southee, could also make his debut as a replacement for Bond. He had originally been preparing for the forthcoming Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia, but was promoted to the senior squad after impressing the chairman of selectors, Sir Richard Hadlee. "It's going to be a great series," said McCullum. "We've got two evenly-matched teams and I guess whichever team can hit their straps and get hot will probably be the team that comes out on top."

New Zealand (probable) 1 Brendon McCullum (capt, wk), 2 Jesse Ryder, 3 Peter Fulton, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Scott Styris. 6 Jacob Oram, 7 Kyle Mills, 8 Paul Hitchcock, 9 Chris Martin, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Jeetan Patel.

England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Phil Mustard (wk), 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Owais Shah, 7 Luke Wright, 8 Graeme Swann, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson.

Rotten egg prank could have turned bad

According to Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan would have pursued the egg throwers if not for a traffic signal...

A Tasmanian car containing a batch of egg throwers was fortunate to escape after pelting a small group of Sri Lankans in Hobart last week. Muttiah Muralitharan would have been in hot pursuit of the drive-by yolkers if he and his fellow tourists were not so shocked by the flying object, which hit a selector in the back, but they laughed it off as a random act.

While the Sri Lankans reported the incident on Friday, Mahela Jayawardene, their captain, said a green light saved the car's passengers, who were "probably drunk", from being chased by the men in the group.

"If Murali had a stone or something near him he would've thrown it back," Jayawardene said in Brisbane. "By the time they had realised what had happened the car had raced down the road. It was lucky for the guys in the car that the traffic light was green, otherwise Murali said he would have chased them."

Jayawardene joked it would have been funny if the egg had hit Murali instead of a selector. "It was a just a random thing and not a big deal," he said. "We all had a good laugh about it. We didn't want the matter to escalate so we lodged the complaint and left it at that. Murali was part of the group and the only recognisable person, but we all are fine with the matter."

Muralitharan has received a lot of poor treatment in Australia and even though it was unlikely the occupants of the car recognised him, the fact that a group of Sri Lankan tourists was singled out is a poor reflection on the host country.

Another spinner, India's Harbhajan Singh, has also been targeted following his part in the race controversy involving Andrew Symonds at the SCG, and Symonds' home crowd chanted "Harbhajan's a w***er" during the opening ODI of the CB Series.

Jayawardene said it was important to "block everything" out during tours of Australia. "When you come here it's not just the players who are aggressive, it's also the crowd who are as aggressive as their team," he said. "Everyone wants to win here in any sport, so teams need to prepare for that.

"We should block everything else apart from what needs to be done in the middle. The Indians showed that with the way they bounced back in the Test series recently after what all happened in Sydney."

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

South Africa complete 5-0 whitewash

Herschelle Gibbs smashed 102 from just 84 balls as South Africa swept the series against West Indies 5-0...

Herschelle Gibbs' bristling 102 and a classy 74 from Jacques Kallis took South Africa to their fifth win of the series, whitewashing West Indies who were soundly beaten by eight wickets in Johannesburg. With 26 runs needed from 34 balls, out marched Shaun Pollock to carry his side home for the last time and, with a flay past point for two, the fairytale was complete.

Initially set 296 before two rain interruptions, South Africa found the going tough in their first five overs. In dank conditions, the ball nibbled around for Daren Powell and his opening partner, Ravi Rampaul, and Graeme Smith, for the umpteenth time, edged one onto his stumps as he played across the line. Gibbs continued to look out of sorts, as he has done all series, scratching around unconvincingly to the disciplined lines of West Indies' opening attack.

And then the rains came. After an hour's break, the players resumed for six balls before a more sustained torrent forced them off for longer, while also reducing South Africa's target to 211 from 31 overs. Out came the sun, and in the next five overs Gibbs took the attack to West Indies in a breathtaking display of power-hitting.

Up until that moment he had made 10 runs from 23 balls, but two consecutive fours off Powell got his feet moving before he laid into Dwayne Bravo, lofting him over long-off for a huge six and flaying another past point. In five overs, South Africa mowed 66 runs and West Indies were falling apart. Their bowling was ill-disciplined and nervy; their fielding, at times, a shambles, especially Runako Morton, who twice let the ball through his legs for fours. These are the factors which have ultimately cost them the series.

Quite by contrast, West Indies' batting has steadily improved with each match and today's effort was particularly impressive, tinged with end-of-term frolicking. Devon Smith fell nine short of his maiden one-day hundred and batted fearlessly throughout, cracking 10 fours and lofting three huge sixes. When he and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were together, West Indies had every hope of setting South Africa a total well in excess of 300.

West Indies' 100 was brought up in the 16th over, as Chanderpaul busied himself rather anonymously in contrast to Smith, with a selection of nudges and well judged singles. And as the pair's hundred partnership was brought up from just 87 balls, West Indies were in control.

With distinct inevitability, it didn't last. Eyeing his maiden one-day hundred, Smith edged Charl Langeveldt to Boucher for a bristling 91. And two overs later, Langeveldt trapped Chanderpaul leg-before with a fine, inswinging delivery to leave West Indies' frail middle-order with work to do. South Africa - a bowler short when Andre Nel limped off with a hamstring injury after three overs - worked their way through the middle-order before Rawl Lewis carved 28 from 18 balls, including three massive sixes off the sub-par Dale Steyn, to set the hosts a testing total.

It wasn't enough, though, and in spite of the earlier rain, a near-to-capacity Bullring cheered on Pollock for one last time. After creaming Rampaul for four through the covers, he flayed him for two down to third man to seal the win, complete a 5-0 whitewash for his team and conclude an outstanding career.