Saturday, March 8, 2008

Harmison's central contract details add to pressure

Steve Harmison: £9657 for each of the 24 wickets he took in...

On the day England went down to one of the most comprehensive defeats in recent years in Hamilton, a report in The Sunday Times has revealed that Steve Harmison, who has been roundly criticised for his performance in the match, earned almost £250,000 last year from his central contract with England. In that period Harmison, who retired for one-day cricket in 2006, played seven Tests, taking 24 wickets at 35.66.

While details of central contracts have until now been kept confidential, the ECB has revealed the amounts paid to counter speculation that leading players are not paid enough to see off offers from the Indian Premier League and the Indian Cricket League. The figures do not include personal endorsements or income from county contracts.

England give three different levels of contract. Band A is for players who play both Test and ODIs and also for captains; Band B is for senior players who play one or the other; band C is for junior and up-and-coming players.

Paul Collingwood, who played in all but one of England's 53 fixtures and captained the one-day and Twenty20 sides, was the highest-paid player, earning £465,000. Michael Vaughan, the Test captain, earned around £375,000, and Andrew Flintoff, who was sidelined for long periods with injury, earned around £320,000.

However, it will be Harmison's remuneration that will attract the most attention, given concerns over his form and his late arrival in New Zealand for the Test series because he wanted to attend the birth of his fourth child. He is on Band B contract which means he earns £145,000 a year before he bowls a ball in anger. He then gets £6000 for each home Test and £8400 for ones abroad, as well as a percentage of revenue from match sponsors. On top of this, he was paid bonuses for the three Tests he played which England won.

The Sunday Times also estimated that his Durham contract is worth £80,000pa, and he also has a newspaper column with the Daily Mail. On top of that, he wrote an Ashes diary with Justin Langer.

The sums paid compare favourably with those from other leading countries, although the amounts earned in some regions from personal endorsements can be much higher, and in some instances the fees on offer from the IPL dwarfs what boards can afford.

Rampant New Zealand crush negative England

Kyle Mills celebrates the first of his four pre-lunch wickets. He finished with 4 for 16...

New Zealand completed an utterly comprehensive 189-run win in Hamilton with a session to spare to go one-up in this three-Test series. It was only their eighth win in 89 Tests against England, and only the most one-eyed spectator could possibly argue it was anything but deserved.

The day started with both sides talking up their chances, and yet by lunch England were on their way to defeat after Kyle Mills blew away their top order with four wickets in five overs of hostile seam bowling.

Daniel Vettori had batted on for half an hour this morning before declaring to set England a target of 300 in 81 overs. In the context of the way Test cricket is played these days, that was not the impossible ask it might have been a decade or two ago. But England had needed 11 hours, twice their allotted time for this innings, to grind along to their first innings 348, and their required run-rate of 3.70 was stratospheric in comparison. Even so, when Alastair Cook guided two streaky fours through third man in Chris Martin's first over, there was a suspicion that New Zealand's attacking fields might aid them in their quest.

Mills, however, soon exploded such a notion. With his ninth delivery, he tempted Cook to fence outside off stump for Brendon McCullum to claim a regulation edge, and at 19 for 1 in the fourth over, England's uncertainty began to surface. Michael Vaughan had already got off the mark with a streaky top-edged pull over the slip cordon, and he was the next to go as Mills produced a wicket-to-wicket delivery that kept low and struck him plumb in front of middle stump.

New Zealand were now pumped to the gunwales with adrenalin, with attacking fields looming as Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen attempted to pick up the pieces. Neither survived to the interval, however, as Mills again struck gold. Strauss hung his bat out limply to a delivery angled across his body, and McCullum, diving to his left, just kept hold of an excellent catch that might otherwise have flown past Stephen Fleming's shoulder at slip.

And in his very next over, Mills claimed the biggest scalp of the lot. Pietersen had been a subdued presence during England's plodding first innings, and his defensiveness once again got the better of him. Mills pitched just back of a length outside off stump, the ball seamed back in and flicked the top of Pietersen's back pad as he shouldered arms. Replays suggested the ball might have clipped the off bail, so the decision was marginal, but New Zealand's dominance was not. At 25 for 4 in the tenth over, Mills had the sensational figures of 5-1-7-4, and the real menace of the fourth innings, Vettori, hadn't even warmed up.

Paul Collingwood cuts and is bowled as the slide continues...

After lunch, Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell decided on a slowed-down version of their first-innings torpor, seeming to believe that they could block out almost 70 overs. Collingwood took almost an hour to get off the mark before playing on to Vettori from a half-hearted cut. Five balls later and the confusing tactics had been exposed as Tim Ambrose was squared up and cleaned up by a cracker from Chris Martin. With a tail starting at No. 8, England were never going to survive a session and a half.

Sidebottom, who two hours earlier had walked off to a standing ovation, nibbled at one angled across him, and then Matthew Hoggard reached for one that he should never have been playing to give McCullum his third and fourth catches.

Vettori, who captained well and led by example with both bat and ball, deserving his Man-of-the-Match award, kept prodding with field and bowling changes. Steve Harmison, whose match was as wretched as Vettori's was impressive, was well held in his midriff by a beached Stephen Fleming at slip.

With the end in sight and freed from pressure, Bell started playing his shots, lofting two straight-driven sixes, while Panesar dead batted with assuredness. The pitch remained true and the ease with which they put on 33 in almost an hour for the last-wicket made a mockery of what had gone before. They took England past three figures before Panesar nicked Jacob Oram to give McCullum his fifth catch. Bell trooped off, his unbeaten 54 almost half his team's total. He alone could hold his head high.

Vettori's first act of the day had been to chivvy an extra 30 runs from New Zealand's innings, just to put all thoughts of defeat to one side. He did so impressively, with a pair of aggressive sweeps for four off Panesar and a delicate late cut to third man off Ryan Sidebottom. He added one more boundary before Sidebottom cleaned him for 35 to complete his Test-best figures of 6 for 49, and his maiden ten-wicket haul. The final catch was a steepler in the covers to give Alastair Cook his sixth of the match.

Vettori declared soon afterwards, and his bowlers then ensured his aggressive approach reaped rich dividends. The reward for his positive approach was to be welcomed. England, who were on the back foot throughout, got exactly what their negativity deserved. At times, they looked petrified of failure and hopeless undercooked.

Rarely do sides come back from behind over three matches, and given their alarmingly negative outlook, it is hard to see how England, who have three days to try to regroup before the Wellington Test, can buck the trend.

New Zealand v England, 1st Test, Hamilton, 5th day

Stage set for ICL's second coming

Shane Bond, the ICL's latest star recruit, will turn out for the Delhi Jets...

With the ICC-backed IPL tournament scheduled to kick off in April, the Indian Cricket League (ICL) has plenty at stake as its second edition kicks off in Panchkula tomorrow. The organisers have ensured it's a grander affair than its inaugural version. The winning team stands to pocket Rs. 25 million (US$ 625,000 approx.), an increase of Rs 5 million from last year. There are two new teams, among which is an all Pakistani-outfit, the Lahore Badshahs, and many new international stars, among whom the star attraction is undoubtedly Shane Bond. The tournament will be held in three locations instead of one - Panchkula, Hyderabad and Gurgaon.

Fresh blood

The ICL has pulled off a huge coup by roping in Bond, who was among the best fast bowlers when fit. It has also signed on Damien Martyn, who will lead the other new team, the Ahmedabad Rockets, and a couple of batsmen with plenty of big-hitting ability, Justin Kemp and Lou Vincent. Besides the four, there are 20 other new overseas players in this year's tournament, including the 37-year-old Adam Parore, who has returned to the game after six years of retirement.

First-edition stand-outs

A few players who were impressive in the first edition of the tournament are back to try and repeat their act. Among those who impressed last year were:

Ian Harvey: The former Australia allrounder emerged as the top scorer of the tournament with 266 runs from seven matches at 44.33, and he also took his team, the Chandigarh Lions, to the summit clash, where they eventually lost to the Chennai Superstars.

Marvan Atapattu: His strike-rate in ODIs is an ordinary 67.72, but Atapattu changed his game to suit the Twenty20 format. He emerged as the second-highest scorer, with 235 runs from six matches at 58.75, at a highly impressive strike-rate of 128.41.

Abdul Razzaq: Razzaq continued from where he left off in international cricket, blasting 13 sixes, the most in the tournament, on his way to being the fifth-highest run-scorer with an aggregate of 181 at a strike-rate of 163.06.

T Kumaran: Kumaran, the Chennai-based right-arm seamer who made a couple of appearances in India's ODI team in the late 1990s, was the bowler of the tournament, taking 13 wickets from six matches at 11.76. That included a match-winning 6 for 21 against Mumbai Champs.

Shabbir Ahmed: Frustrated with the Pakistan board's dithering over his selection and the constant question-marks over his action, Shabbir left it all behind and joined the Chennai Superstars, where he played a big part in their title-triumph, claiming 10 wickets at 10.40, while taking the tournament's first hat-trick in the final.

Teams to watch out for

Defending champions Chennai Superstars are capable of performing a repeat act. They have Harvey to play the lead role with the bat, while Kumaran and Shabbir have shown themselves to be very capable with the ball.

Lahore Badshahs are the only team that comprise players from one country, and this fact alone could give them an edge. The Badshahs are led by Inzamam-ul-Haq, who has shifted base from the Hyderabad Heroes, and their bowling looks particularly strong, with the likes of Naved-ul-Hasan, Mohammad Sami, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq to choose from. They also have Imran Nazir, the attacking opener, to give their innings a boost at the start. Himanshu Mody, the ICL's business head, told Cricinfo that the Lahore Badshahs will "add a whole new dimension to the league".

Last year's finalist, the Chandigarh Lions, captained by the inspirational Chris Cairns, have been strengthened by arrivals of Matthew Elliott, the former Australian domestic run machine, and Vincent, while Andrew Hall and Daryl Tuffey will lead their bowling.


A total of 34 matches - including a best-of-three finals - are in store between March 9 to April 7: the eight teams will play each oher once, with the top four teams going through to the semi-finals. The inaugural match will feature a day-night encounter between the Ahmedabad Rockets and the Chandigarh Lions in Panchkula. There will be one match every evening, and two per day on most of the weekends. There will also be two more venues this time - the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad and the Teri Oval in Gurgaon.

In a move that will keep potential advertisers happy, the Zee network has capitalised on its recent tie-up with the Dubai-based Ten Sports channel, and will simultaneously show the matches on two channels, Zee Sports and Ten Sports, thereby guaranteeing a significant increase in viewership in India.

How this tournament pans out will indicate if the ICL can offer sustained competition to the more glamorous IPL, which will launch its first edition in April.

Indian Cricket League 2008

ODI omission hurts Ganguly

Sourav Ganguly is unclear whether a good showing in the Indian Premier League would help his case for a recall...

Still unable to come to terms with his omission from the Indian one-day side, Sourav Ganguly has said he doesn't know "what more" he must do to regain his spot.

Left out of the side prior to the CB Series in Australia, Ganguly felt he was dropped "despite being in good form" and is unclear whether a good showing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) would help his case for a recall.

"I was left out despite scoring close to 1300 runs (sic. 1240) in a year," Ganguly told Cricinfo. "I really don't know what more there is to do. The best bit was I was in good form. So if I was left out then..."

Did he think a fine showing in the Twenty20 matches in the IPL would strengthen his case? "I'm not really sure if there's a link between Twenty20 and one-day cricket. It's a completely different format. I've not really thought about it that way also."

Ganguly is set to play the Deodhar Trophy zonal one-day tournament, starting on March 14, but he didn't want to read too much into those performances too.

"I am looking at it as practice for the Tests against South Africa," he said. "I'm not viewing it in any other way. It's an important series and I'm gearing up for that. We've played some good Test cricket recently and it will be nice to do well against a good side like South Africa."

Ganguly returned to the one-day side in January last year, marking the end of 15 months in the wilderness. He enjoyed a fine year with the bat, scoring 1240 runs in 32 matches at an average of 44.28, including ten half-centuries. However, his performances in the last ten matches saw the average dipping to 25.66. The team management in Australia had reasoned that Ganguly was overlooked for the sake of blooding youth, with the added emphasis on fielding abilities.

He was excited about leading the Kolkata franchise, a power-packed line-up that includes star names like Ricky Ponting, Shoaib Akhtar, Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle.

"It's a new format, a new tournament, new concept, in fact. I'm looking forward to it. It's a great opportunity for young players to play alongside the greats. They can learn a lot from them."

Ganguly spent half a day at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore to undergo routine tests prior to the selection for the South Africa series. He went through a medical examination, bleep test, body strengthening and fielding practice and was passed fit at the end of it.

Tendulkar advised two weeks rest

A new injury for Tendulkar, this time in the hip...

India are feeling the effects of the three-month long tour to Australia with four of their players, including Sachin Tendulkar, advised rest ahead of the Test series against South Africa, starting in Chennai on March 26.

Tendulkar, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, and Yuvraj Singh are required to rest for a minimum of two to three weeks, according to John Gloster, the outgoing Indian team physio.

Sources in the Indian board confirmed the same but added that these injuries didn't necessarily translate into the players being ruled out of the Tests.

According to the report, Tendulkar is suffering from tendonitis in the right hip region and will require a minimum of two weeks rest. Ishant is troubled by injuries to his toe and finger, Harbhajan has pulled a left hamstring, and Yuvraj's knee continues to be a problem. Yuvraj and Harbhajan could even have to undergo surgeries.

Tendulkar, however, shrugged off concerns that he would miss a part of the series. "As far as I am concerned, I am fit," Tendulkar said at the launch of Mumbai Indians, the IPL franchise. "I have not said anything before on this. I will certainly play against South Africa. There is no doubt."

Ishant has been advised three weeks rest while Harbhajan could be out of action for a minimum of two weeks. All the players have been referred to Melbourne-based surgeon David Young. All the four injured players were part of both the Test and one-day squads and went through a gruelling tour that was not short of controversy.

Gloster, who recently signed up with Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals in IPL, had been facing criticism at the end of his tenure for the increasing number of injuries in the team. He mentions a few other worries as well: Irfan Pathan requires two weeks rest for his lower back, Sreesanth has an instability in the left ankle, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni has sprained his ring finger of his right hand.

India's kick off their first Test against South Africa in Chennai on March 26. The squad will be selected on March 17 in Bangalore.

Cricket Australia upset by Harbhajan's remarks

James Sutherland: "Despite assurances that you [the BCCI] have instructed him not to fuel this issue any more, Harbhajan Singh continues to say whatever he wants"...

Cricket Australia has taken objection to Harbhajan Singh's recent outburst, when he labelled the Australian team "arrogant", called Matthew Hayden a "big liar" and said Adam Gilchrist was "not a saint". The remarks, which Harbhajan later denied saying, have been taken up by the Australian board with its Indian counterparts.

The Sun-Herald reported that James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, wrote a letter to Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, indicating his displeasure over Harbhajan's conduct. "Enough is enough," Sutherland was quoted by the newspaper. "Despite assurances that you have instructed him not to fuel this issue any more, Harbhajan continues to say whatever he wants. When will it ever end? Could you please deal with your player in regard to these comments?"

Harbhajan was at the centre of controversy during the tour of Australia, with Andrew Symonds alleging the offspinner made racial remarks against him during the Sydney Test, charges that were later dismissed due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Later, with the teams involved in the CB Series, Hayden called Harbhajan a "little obnoxious weed" on a radio show, for which he was quickly reprimanded. Cricket Australia now believes the same standards should be applied by the BCCI with regard to its players.

"We've tried over the summer to get the balance right in the way controversial comment has been managed and we certainly, through our actions with Matthew Hayden, been firm with our own players in terms of where the tipping point is," a Cricket Australia spokesman told the paper."We believe it is possible to make intelligent, thoughtful and even provocative public comment without descending to personal abuse."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Selection for South Africa Tests postponed

Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble will have to undergo routine tests at the NCA...

The selection of India's squad for the first two Tests against South Africa has been postponed from March 9 to March 17. The selectors will now meet in Bangalore instead of Mumbai.

Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, had requested a postponement for picking a squad for the Tests starting March 26, so that players could take part in the Deodhar Trophy scheduled between March 14 and 26. "The Deodhar Trophy is a significant tournament on the domestic calendar and would have lost its value if we had announced the Test team on Sunday," Vengsarkar told Cricinfo. "We want those who returned immediately after the Test series in Australia to appear in this tournament. But those who stayed back for the CB one-day series deserve these 15 days of rest."

Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, and Wasim Jaffer are expected to turn out for their respective zones in the tournament that marks a close to the 2007-08 domestic season. Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ishant Sharma are among those who will get a break before the South Africa series.

In an earlier interview, Vengsarkar had pointed out that it was with the amount of international cricket being played, it was difficult to get players in the national side to play domestic cricket.

South Africa will arrive in Chennai on March 21 for three Tests, the first of which begins at the MA Chidambaram stadium on March 26. The next second and third Tests will be played in Ahmedabad and Kanpur between April 3-7 and 11-15.

Meanwhile India's Test specialists will have to undergo routine tests at the NCA over the next three days in accordance with a BCCI policy, which states that players who have been out of action must undergo periodic check-ups prior to all selections. Laxman, Jaffer, Ganguly, Dravid, VRV Singh, Pankaj Singh and Kumble haven't been part of the side since the Adelaide Test in January and will need to go through fitness tests before their names are cleared for selection. They will undergo tests under Paul Chapman, the trainer at the NCA, Paul Close, the physiotherapist, and Dav Whatmore. The NCA will in turn forward the reports to the board on Saturday.

South Africa in India 2007-08

'It was as if Harbhajan v Australia'

Harbhajan Singh: "I can understand the [Australian] public wanting to support their team but I made them realise that I also played cricket the tough way"...

Harbhajan Singh, embroiled in more than one controversy during India's tour of Australia, has no praise for the Australian team and has said the side is arrogant and not known to mingle with other teams.

"Only Gilly [Adam Gilchrist] and [Brett] Lee came to our dressing room after the Perth Test," Harbhajan told the Hindu. "Even Gilly has a facade of a friendly cricketer. But the Australians will never forget this Indian team. We matched their aggression and taught [them] some lessons in hard cricket."

Harbhajan said this trip was the most challenging of his career. "It was as if the series was Harbhajan Singh versus Australia." He also said the CB Series win was more satisfying than India's come-from-behind victory in the Test series against Australia at home in 2001.

"I had always wanted to do well against Australia. We were all proud of ourselves that we did well in Australia. They are a dominating team but I have had a good record against them. I had to match their aggression and that is what I did."

Harbhajan was charged for making an alleged racist remark to Andrew Symonds during the Sydney Test. The ruling was eventually in his favour but it left a lot of bitterness between the two sides, something which spilled over on the field during the CB Series.

"That charge was not against me but the whole of India. It was very serious and honestly I was very upset," Harbhajan said. "I can never forget the backing I received from the team and will always remember the support that Anil [Kumble] gave me. Anil bhai was outstanding in his handling of the situation."

According to Harbhajan, it wasn't just the Australian players, but also the public and the press, who were against the Indian team. "I can understand the public wanting to support their team but I made them realise that I also played cricket the tough way. I was not in Australia to make friends. I was there to play for my country and win. And win we did."

Pakistan bracing for Australia pull-out

Pakistan are concerned that there will be long-term implications if, as expected, Australia pull out of their scheduled tour there due to security issues. It has become increasingly unlikely the series will go ahead in Pakistan but Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, has continued to rule out playing the games at a neutral venue.

"Neutral venues are a dangerous option in terms of not benefiting the cricket of both the playing countries as there will not be a crowd from both the countries and such series are played for the sake of viewers of TV," Naghmi said in the Australian. "If we accept it [playing at neutral venues] then in future there will be no end to this practice and it can ruin cricket around the world.

"A cricket series not only involves two playing teams but also millions of fans from both sides. There are always huge crowds to witness such encounters and cricket series are not just for the sake of cricket's television viewers."

Naghmi was also confident that if the ICC was asked to assess safety in Pakistan it would find no reason teams should not tour. "All the countries have agreed to come here," Naghmi told the Age. "If it comes to that it would be nine countries versus one in the sense that other countries have been happy to tour Pakistan. It is only Australia that hasn't come here for many, many years now."

Cricket Australia was briefed by the Australian government this week following bomb blasts in Lahore on Tuesday. Australia's players are reluctant to play in Pakistan and the Australian Cricketers' Association will not send a representative with a pre-tour security delegation. Naghmi said Pakistan were ready for Australia to pull out, although they hoped that would not happen.

"If they think they cannot tour we will think about the steps to follow at that stage," he said. "We are bracing ourselves for all decisions. The worst is that they will not come. We will be disappointed, obviously."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

India team return to grand welcome

The Indian team was given a grand reception in Delhi...

The Indian one-day team returned from the CB Series in Australia to a rousing reception at the Delhi airport, where they were greeted by hundreds of fans and received by officials of the Indian board and the Delhi and District Cricket Association.

After a hard-fought series, where they won the finals 2-0, the team reached Mumbai in the morning and took a chartered flight to Delhi for a function at Feroz Shah Kotla. They were joined there by two members of the World Cup-winning under-19 side - Virat Kohli, the captain and Pradeep Sangwan - who play for Delhi.

Speaking at the function, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the team captain, praised his side, which became the first Indian team to win a triangular one-day series in Australia. The series was played out amid some controversy and Dhoni made special mention of the team's behaviour: "The conduct of my team on and off the field is responsible for our victory."

Sachin Tendulkar, who played match-winning knocks in both the finals, told news channel CNN-IBN that the team hadn't been distracted by the controversies - which originated in the Sydney Test - during the tour. "Plenty of things happened on the field, but we were focussed on the cricket."

Rohit Sharma, who made a vital 66 in the first final, echoed Tendulkar's sentiments. "We tried to enjoy our cricket as much as possible," he said. "All the controversies motivated us." The BCCI had initially planned an open-top bus parade from the airport, similar to the welcome the team had received after winning the World Twenty20, but decided against it later. "The players have been in Australia for more than two-and-a-half months and will also be tired after the two flights," BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla told PTI. "That's why we have not made any elaborate arrangements as the players will be eager to go home."

A reward of Rs 10 crore (US$2.5 million) had already been announced for the team.

Bond accuses boards of bowing to BCCI

Shane Bond has criticised NZC for going back on their word ...

Shane Bond, the former New Zealand fast bowler currently signed up with the Indian Cricket League (ICL), has accused international boards of succumbing to pressure from the Indian board to ban players believes players who join the unofficial Twenty20 league.
"I'm just disappointed that players are getting banned. I just don't think that is fair," Bond, 32, said. "All boards want to make money and they have been quick to jump in with the BCCI, basically doing what they told them.
"They [boards] are really the ones who are breaching contracts and probably aren't acting ethically very well."
The BCCI has refused to recognise the ICL and later launched a multi-million dollar official version, the Indian Premier League (IPL). International Cricket Council regulations prevent contracted players from taking part in any league or tournament not sanctioned by the home board where they are based. The popular belief is that the financially-powerful BCCI has pushed various boards to ban players who play in the ICL from appearing in international or domestic competition.
Bond believes these boards could have made a joint demand that the ICL pay a fee in return for each player, with the money going into facilities and grassroots development projects. "We're professional cricketers and we should be able to play anywhere and for anyone," Bond said, criticising NCZ for retracting their permission to allow him play in the ICL.
Bond, who took 79 wickets in 17 Tests and 125 wickets from 65 ODIs, will debut for Delhi in the ICL's new tournament starting on Sunday. "It is a job and we are trying to provide and look after families," he said. "We are forced into a situation where we are getting banned from a job we want to do."
Bond also warned that legal action could be taken if more players were prevented from competing in the ICL. "I think we are going to see it get a ruling in the high court or supreme court. Something like that will happen one day because it will get over the top ... people would have had enough."

Indian Cricket League.

Zaheer doubtful for first South Africa Test

While Rahul Dravid is expected to be fit for the first Test, Zaheer Khan might struggle to make it ...

Zaheer Khan, India's left-arm seamer who is currently recovering from injury, is unlikely to be fit for India's first Test against South Africa, starting on March 26 in Chennai.
India's Test specialists are set to undergo routine fitness tests over the next few days but Zaheer isn't part of the list, it's learnt. Sources have indicated that it's not clear yet if he would be available for any part of the series.
"He is currently in South Africa," board secretary Niranjan Shah told Cricinfo. "And we will know the status of the injury in a day or two." Zaheer is currently undergoing rehabilitation at the Centre for Sports Medicine in Johannesburg.
Zaheer injured his left heel on the eve of the Sydney Test in early January. It was the same injury that sustained during the third Test against Pakistan in Bangalore a month earlier.
Meanwhile RP Singh, the other injured left-arm seamer, will undergo a fitness test at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore on Friday and Saturday. He had injured his hamstring during the final Test in Adelaide and missed the entire CB Series. RP played a couple of Ranji one-day matches for Uttar Pradesh recently - taking two wickets in each and making good contributions with the bat too.
Rahul Dravid was the other injury concern - having damaged his finger during the Adelaide Test - but is expected to be fit for selection. He skipped the South zone Ranji ODI tournament (because he was still in pain) but began training a couple of days ago. He is expected to play a couple of Deodhar Trophy matches for South Zone before the first Test against South Africa in Chennai.
Meanwhile India's Test specialists are set to undergo routine tests at the NCA over the next three days. This follows a BCCI policy to have periodic check-ups prior to all selections for players who have been out of action. VVS Laxman, Wasim Jaffer, Sourav Ganguly, Dravid, VRV Singh, Pankaj Singh and Anil Kumble haven't been part of the side since the Adelaide Test and will need to go through the paces before their names are cleared for selection.
They will undergo tests under Paul Chapman, the trainer at the NCA, Paul Close, the physiotherapist, and Dav Whatmore. The NCA will in turn forward the reports to the board on Saturday.
The squad for the first Test will be picked on Sunday in Mumbai.

Cricket Australia close to decision on Pakistan

Officials hold security briefing with government over tour.

A decision on whether Australia takes the unlikely step of touring Pakistan could be made as early as next week following a meeting with government officials in Canberra on Wednesday. Representatives from Cricket Australia, the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade held talks on the security situation in the country, which was hit by bomb blasts in Lahore on Tuesday.
"It was a comprehensive briefing that adds greatly to the knowledge we and the ACA hold," the Cricket Australia spokesman Peter Young told the Age. "It is likely we will be forming a view on this within the next week."
Australia's players are not keen on the trip and the ACA will not send a representative on any pre-tour visit for the series, which has already been shortened following safety fears after the election on February 18. The Age reported the cricket officials were told the situation had not changed dramatically since the polling day.
An independent security report needs to be made before Australia can choose whether to cancel the abbreviated trip, which is scheduled for March 29 to April 27, and the Pakistan Cricket Board is believed to be softening its stance on switching the contest to a neutral venue. The Australian reported the Australian consulates in Karachi and Lahore, which are cities on the series itinerary, have been closed.
Australia's foreign affairs advice for Pakistan says: "We strongly advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Pakistan at this time due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, sectarian violence and the unpredictable security situation. If you do decide to travel to Pakistan, you should exercise extreme caution. If you are in Pakistan and concerned for your safety, you should consider leaving if it is safe to do so."

Gayle retained as West Indies captain

Chris Gayle will lead West Indies against Sri Lanka ...

Chris Gayle has been retained as West Indies captain for the upcoming home series against Sri Lanka in March, which involves two Tests and three one-day internationals. Gayle has recovered from a hamstring injury and broken thumb that he sustained in South Africa and the selectors decided to name him as captain ahead of Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Gayle was given the captaincy for the tour of South Africa in December 2007 because Sarwan was injured and he led West Indies to their first Test victory in South Africa in Port Elizabeth. However, he had to return home before the third Test because of a hamstring injury and a broken thumb and missed the one-day series that followed after the Tests.
Sri Lanka's tour of the West Indies will be their first since 2003 when they lost the Tests 0-1 but won the ODIs 2-1. Australia are scheduled to tour the Caribbean in May, after Sri Lanka complete their tour.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tendulkar No.1 ODI batsman in ICC rankings

Sachin Tendulkar has replaced Ricky Ponting as the top-ranked ODI batsman as per the latest ICC player rankings. His elevation comes on the back of successive match-winning knocks of 117 not out and 91 in the finals of the CB Series against Australia

Tendulkar, with 777 rating points, is seven points ahead of Ponting, who had a poor run in the CB Series, scoring 191 runs from 10 matches at 19.10. Graeme Smith the South Africa captain, is at third place. Meanwhile, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has climbed to 10th place, three points below the ninth-placed Herschelle Gibbs.

India's title-triumph has put them on fourth place in the ICC ODI Championship - New Zealand were ahead when the rankings were calculated beyond the decimal point, while Australia, with a rating of 127, are still the best one-day side, ahead of South Africa on decimal points.

South Africa can overtake Australia if they sweep their upcoming three-match ODI series against Bangladesh, but they will remain in second spot if Bangladesh manages a single win.

Top 10 ODI batsmen

Rank Name Rating
1 Sachin Tendulkar 777
2 Ricky Ponting 770
3 Graeme Smith 753
4 Mohammad Yousuf 752
5 Matthew Hayden 740
6 Adam Gilchrist 738
7 Michael Hussey 736
8 Kevin Pietersen 735
9 Herschelle Gibbs 731
10 Mahendra Singh Dhoni 728

Lawson fears Australia will cancel tour

'The PCB have been pretty disappointed by the comments. Everyone here knows there would be no problem with the tour, yet the more likely scenario seems to be that it won't happen' - Lawson.

Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, fears Australia will pull out of their scheduled tour of Pakistan, due to start at the end of the month over safety concerns but feels it would be the wrong decision.

Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian Cricketers' Association will meet foreign ministry officials in Canberra on Wednesday for the latest information on the security situation following a spate of bombings. CA is expected to send delegates to the nation in mid-March, although even that is now in doubt, and Lawson is already braced for a withdrawal.

"The (Pakistan Cricket Board) seems to be pretty negative about (the tour), only because the correspondence they've been receiving from Cricket Australia has been negative," Lawson told the Age. "Pretty much everything they've heard from CA has been a hedging of bets in case they decide not to come.

"The PCB have been pretty disappointed by the comments. Everyone here knows there would be no problem with the tour, yet the more likely scenario seems to be that it won't happen from what we're hearing."

Andrew Symonds has repeatedly said he is unlikely to make himself available if the tour went ahead. Lawson warned that cancelling the tour would have a disastrous effect on Pakistan cricket and create more ill feeling against the Australians. He also said the tour would offer average Pakistanis relief from the concerns of their daily lives.

He was particularly concerned that some Australian players were viewing a cancellation as an opportunity to grab some of the cash on offer in the Indian Premier League, which clashes with the tour.

"It would be a terrific coincidence," Lawson said. "You would like to think that wouldn't be what it was about, but the amounts of money being talked about are massive. To a certain degree, it's pretty embarrassing to be over here and hearing some of the stuff being said.

"When people here read what Symonds has had to say about touring Pakistan, there is a lot of shaking of the head. There is no knowledge behind those comments whatsoever. Australian players don't realise how important the game is to other countries. This decision is far bigger than just the fate of a few matches. It's the precedent it would set, it would give everybody an out from coming here because 'that's what Australia did'."

ICC holds talks with UK government

Zimbabwe tour under the spotlight...

ICC officials met with representatives of the ECB and British government officials in London last week to discuss the ongoing situation regarding Zimbabwe's tour to England in 2009.

It is reported that Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive, and Ray Mali, the president, met with Giles Clarke, the ECB's chairman, David Morgan, the ICC's president elect, and Andy Burnham, the minister for media, culture and sport.

It has been widely reported that the government will ban Zimbabwe from entering the UK to play a bilateral series in May and June 2009. If that is the case then the ECB will not be liable to pay damages to Zimbabwe Cricket. But both the ICC and ECB are keen to avoid any similar action for the ICC World Twenty20 which follows as that would have massive implications and could lead to the whole tournament being moved elsewhere.

It is thought that the issue of Peter Chingoka, the ZC chairman, was also discussed. Chingoka was barred from entering the UK last October because of what government sources said were close links between him and the ruling regime of Robert Mugabe. He is due in London to attend the annual ICC annual meeting in June and were he to be barred then that meeting might also be relocated. It is believed a compromise whereby he is allowed in just to attend the meeting might be acceptable to all parties.

However, even if Chingoka is permitted to enter in June, there is no assurance that he would be allowed in for the longer duration of the ICC World Twenty20. A source close to the government told Cricinfo that while is might be okay for him to attend a private meeting, it was "unacceptable that he might be seen enjoying corporate hospitality on an English ground".

The issue of Chingoka might be sorted before then. An independent report into allegations of serious financial mismanagement within Zimbabwe Cricket is expected to be presented at the ICC board meeting later this month.

Australia's identity crisis

If Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds had completed merely average returns things could have been different for Australia...

At the start of the season Australia were intent on retaining their world-beating status and by the end were just trying to limit damage. With much hindrance from a committed opponent, they failed with both aims. The No. 1 one-day ranking will be lost to South Africa if they beat Bangladesh 3-0 this month and the drop would be another dent for a team that has struggled with its identity since the fractious Sydney Test.

In the first week of the New Year Ricky Ponting won a world-record equalling 16th Test in a row and was preparing to head to Perth for what should have been the easiest contest of the series with India. Instead it became the most difficult due to a mix of public reaction to Sydney, a flat surface and a touring team that had been galvanised during their threats to take all bats, balls and briefcases home. Australia lost at the WACA and over the next two months were mostly unrecognisable from the all-conquering outfit of 2007.

How much Australians turned against their national team is hard to gauge exactly, but the players were shocked when large sections criticised their overall performance at the SCG. The Test ended in the most remarkable result but was instantly over-shadowed by a rash of controversies. Following team discussions covering behaviour and attitude, the side retained its spirit-of-cricket pledge and vowed to be "hard but fair" - the same way they believed they had always performed.

Australian players in the Perth contest said it was the quietest Test they had ever been part of due to the fear of offending. Australia lost in 4 days, the streak was over and the aura slowly diminished. Having shed a quartet of outstanding competitors the previous summer, Australia had actually done well to keep things together for so long. Adam Gilchrist's departure, which he revealed during the draw in Adelaide, will make things much harder as they try to recover ground and mojo.

While the Test series was a success despite the swing in the final two games, Australia's CB Series stumbled towards disaster even when they were winning. Four bonus points were collected by the home team, but the fringe benefits flattered an outfit that was struggling with fatigue, a range of issues that never seemed to disappear, a wobbling batting order and an underperforming captain and key allrounder. A more vibrant Indian side was not brought down by the various controversies, which seemed to act as spurs instead of weights.

If Ponting and Andrew Symonds had completed merely average returns things could have been different. Instead the pair, which was heavily involved in the Indian Premier League developments, combined for only 365 runs in ten matches and the bowlers could not sustain their miracle escapes in the two matches that mattered most. Nathan Bracken, who is now a one-day specialist, was incredible in capturing 21 wickets and the Man-of-the-Series award, while Brett Lee was inspirational until the finals, when he looked as tired as a new parent.

In a three-team tournament Australia needed more from than their batsmen than finishing fifth (Gilchrist), sixth (Michael Clarke), seventh (Matthew Hayden) and eighth (Michael Hussey) on the run list. It was the lack of output that resulted in the absence of the series trophy for the second year in a row. A 2-0 defeat was an appropriate outcome and something the players accepted.

India irritate Australia's senior men in a way no other team can manage and the uneasy relationship adds to the home side's confusion. Australia knew they should have been better than their eclectic opponents, but they were unable to remember the valid reasons why.

The age-old talk became nasty by modern standards and India's new breed had not been kicked around in previous series. Big-name reputations didn't matter and Australia's substance went missing. The future will be fascinating as the players wrestle with their outlooks while battling opposition sides that will now give themselves a serious chance of winning.

Second IPL auction on March 11

The Indian Premier League will hold a second players' auction in Mumbai on March 11, when players who were not part of the first auction will be offered to the eight franchises. There is a chance some English players not centrally contracted to the ECB will be involved, though a franchise representative said the teams were yet to get a list of players up for auction.

There have been reports suggesting a keen interest in the IPL among English players, who have so far been excluded from the tournament because the seasons overlap. Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, said last week though the league would stand by its informal arrangement with the ECB this season, it could become more difficult to do so in future.

The auction is within the scope of the IPL's rules, which specify that "if more than one franchise is interested in a particular player, the DLF IPL may hold a further auction to determine which franchise will sign that player."

However, the kind of money to be put up this time is unlikely to be anywhere near the first auction, on February 20, which raked in US$42 million. Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, confirmed to Cricinfo that franchises will have to follow the original purchase cap of US$5 million.

While most teams crossed that cap on paper in the first auction, the amount of money they actually spent was much less. The IPL rules say that if a player is expected to be either completely unavailable or available for less than four of the IPL matches in 2008, 25% of the player fee bid for that player in the auction will count against the $5m purse. So for a player who cost $400,000 and who is unavailable under the conditions above, there will be a deduction of $300,000 from the franchise's overall $5m purse. This is especially relevant to teams that have bought Australian players, who are unlikely to be available for all or part of the first season.

"Still, this will leave most of us with very little room for an additional purchase," said a franchise representative.

One team that would benefit most from the second option is Jaipur Royals, which spent under the minimum cap of $3.5 million in the first auction in Mumbai. "We always had an aggressive plan. It's just that no one else saw it coming. We were clear that the minimum cap was for the whole process and not just for the primary auction," said Fraser Castellino, the CEO of Jaipur Royals.

Indian Premier League

Tired Australia consider more breaks

Most of Australia's one-day players also took part in the Tests...

Australia will consider giving players operating in both the Test and one-day teams more in-season rest so they can be fresh for the most important contests. For the second time in two years the home side lost the CB Series finals after dominating the preliminary rounds and Ricky Ponting said the not-so-changing face of the squad had contributed to the fatigue created by a hectic campaign.

Ponting spoke with Tim Nielsen, the coach, and Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, over the past week about the issue and subsequent result trend. "We've only got a changeover of one or two players between the Test and one-day teams," Ponting said after the second final in Brisbane. "That's really unusual for us.

"In the past couple of years we've had probably up to five or six changing over. When you have that it gives a bit more life to the group."

Resting players during the series was a delicate exercise as many of them had signed for the lucrative Indian Premier League, eliminating the power of their complaints of overload. Ponting missed the Twenty20 internationals and Matthew Hayden had a couple of games off, but a core batting group was employed throughout the series. Adam Gilchrist, who usually has a break during the tournament, did not take one as he completed his farewell tour, but the bowlers were rotated and the area was Australia's main strength.

"Not having much changeover now, the guys have been playing international cricket for a long time and had no opportunity to be able to get away from the rigours of the game," Ponting said. "Maybe there's some sort of trend with us. We dominated last year and lost both finals, maybe we have to look at giving some of our guys who have played both forms a bit more of a rest so they're fresh when the finals come around."

One problem with this theory is the World Cup and Champions Trophy are the only one-day tournaments that will culminate in deciders as the life of the Australian tri-series has expired. However, the team will play two five-match series against New Zealand and South Africa next summer and the policy could be moulded to suit the format.

India's influx of young talent provided a considerable boost to their Test contingent and while they improved with more one-day games, Australia's performances tailed off. "What they've done gives us something to look at down the track," Ponting said.

Australia have two holes to fill with the retirements of Gilchrist and Brad Hogg and there will be a couple of new faces if the team goes to Pakistan at the end of the month. Brad Haddin, the wicketkeeper-batsman, was part of the squad for the CB Series and the selectors have a choice to make over who will fill the vacant spin position.

"With those guys going out, we bring in some newer, fresher guys," Ponting said. "That's the way we evolve. I'm not sure if age ever brings you back to the pack. Skills are what bring you back to the pack. A lot of our more senior players have still got all the skills required to be one-day players for Australia."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Quiet end to Gilchrist's long-lasting career

As the Indians celebrated their 2-0 success, Gilchrist hosted a party in the dressing room for family and friends to mark the end (file photo)...

Adam Gilchrist's final international batting performance was so short, the supporters who were a minute late returning from dinner missed it. Instead of going out with a bang, Gilchrist disappeared in three balls and the closest he got to an explosion was when he was crowded by photographers as he tried to exit the field.

Australia's nine-run loss in the second CB Series final marked Gilchrist's retirement at the age of 36. He contributed 2 before playing back and edging Praveen Kumar, finishing with 9619 runs in 287 one-day internationals. During a quiet game by his ultra-high standards, he did not add to his 472 dismissals.

As the Indians celebrated their 2-0 success, Gilchrist hosted a party in the dressing room for family and friends to mark the end. "To the team and all the support staff, it's been a magic ride," he said. "It's not a fairytale ending tonight, but it's been a fairytale career. To be involved with you guys is something I'll hold dear in my heart for the rest of my life."

Ricky Ponting was disappointed the side was unable to send Gilchrist off with a victory. "It's a really sad day as the day has come that I've played my last game with Gilly," he said. "That's a pretty sad moment, especially when it's a losing game as well. We've had so many good memories over the years and shared some amazing times."

With 322 runs in the series, Gilchrist was Australia's best-performed batsman and he left the spectators in Sydney and Melbourne, where he scored half-centuries, with lasting memories. In Perth his home fans were rewarded with an unforgettable 118 against Sri Lanka and it was the highlight of his final one-day campaign.

Gilchrist averaged 32.20 and operated at a strike-rate of 98.17, numbers which hovered near his career returns. Australia will miss his output even more following a summer of inconsistent batting performances and their life without him will begin either in Pakistan at the end of this month or the West Indies in May.

The loss of Brad Hogg, who took 156 wickets in 123 games, will also be significant even though he wasn't used in Brisbane. His final day with the squad was spent running drinks and supplying a pair of shoes for Brett Lee after four fast bowlers were preferred.

Tendulkar and Praveen inspire India to series triumph

Praveen Kumar is ecstatic after Ricky Ponting's wicket...

In the final installment of its 29-year existence, a series that has become a part of Australia's summer culture came to a climactic end with a fitting humdinger at the Gabba.

Twenty three years after India's last significant limited-overs title in Australia, Sachin Tendulkar helped script another memorable chapter with an innings of skill and determination. There was to be no repeat of his twin centuries against Australia in 1998, but his 91 set up a total which, backed by Praveen Kumar's subtle-swinging accuracy, proved nine runs too much for Australia.

In a game that ebbed and flowed wonderfully, James Hopes took Australia agonisingly close to victory with his maiden fifty after Praveen returned from an 11-run 45th over to snap a threatening eight-wicket stand. Back when Australia dominated this tournament regularly Steve Waugh earned the moniker 'Ice Man' and under starry skies Hopes and Praveen gave it a modern context.

Hopes battled on with comfortable sweeps against the spinners and some deft placement down the ground. There was not a trace of emotion on face as he raised his fifty. Similarly, having given up 11 runs in his penultimate over, Praveen displayed awesome composure to bowl a three-run 47th, cleaning up Brett Lee.

That left Australia needing 29 from 18 balls. Sreesanth picked up a second wicket but Hopes refused to bow down, flat-batting a six over wide long-on to ratchet up the tension. With 13 required off the final over, Pathan came back on. A single to third man exposed Nathan Bracken, who chipped a slower ball to midwicket. Hopes crossed and drove a manic couple to long-off but could only drive the fourth ball into midwicket's diving lap. Sinking to the ground as India whooped and cried around him, Hopes cut an endearing figure, a hero on a losing side, but the entire Brisbane crowd stood to applaud a pulse-setting, nerve-wracking game - and the deserving winners.

The contest was set up by yet another masterclass from Tendulkar. In nearly three hours of nimble-footed driving, mainly to the off side, interspersed with soft on-side strokes, Tendulkar treated an appreciative crowd to a fine innings. India were steady during the Powerplays, scoring 36, 30 and 26 in three blocks, but made their best opening of the tournament. The ball didn't speed away to the ropes when the openers leaned into their drives and so they smartly adjusted gears, keeping the outfielders busy through a mixture of full-faced dabs to third man and flicks to deep square leg.

Tendulkar had a life on 7 when Ricky Ponting dropped a hard reflex catch at short cover, and he made it count. An utterly mistimed pull attempt off Nathan Bracken was the first sign of frustration but he quickly regained composure and decided to target Stuart Clark. His fifty came up from his 70th delivery and India had successfully chipped out a good start.

At it again: Sachin Tendulkar continued his fine form in the second final...

Some needless shots, however, allowed Australia back in. India would have preferred even 280 after this but having seized the initiative they allowed it to slip in a flurry of impetuous shots. Hopes allowed just one run in the 45th over, Bracken was accurate with his crafty mix of yorkers and slower deliveries, taking two wickets in the 48th over, and Lee kept it full as well.

At the SCG Tendulkar backed the bowlers' efforts with a sublime century and today they returned the favour. Especially Praveen, who for the second time in two high-pressure matches justified his new-ball promotion with the wickets of Australia's three most dangerous batsmen. Adam Gilchrist's final innings came to end with an edge and a walk but it was Ponting's horrendous attempt at a pull shot that really set off the alarm bells.

Michael Clarke's ability to judge length has been his strength in the tournament but he lost his off stump, playing a crude swipe across the line, to one that stayed low. Hayden made the most of mess-up between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Tendulkar, at first slip, when he was on 5, to keep the asking rate in control. Irfan Pathan was again the target of Hayden's ire and went for 37 from his first five overs. Hayden put on 89 with Andrew Symonds, whose eventful season continued with him shoulder charging, and Australia looked to be in the game.

At this stage Australia required another 138 and Michael Hussey showed there was fire in Australia's belly. Paddling and sweeping his way energetically in a 76-run stand with Hopes, he threatened to take the series to Adelaide. Hunting a target at over eight an over finally got to him, and he under-edged Sreesanth for a cool 44 in the 42nd over.

The rest turned into a tension-filled rollercoaster ride, during which India held their nerve to triumph. After a long and controversial tour Down Under, India now head home with their heads held high. For Australia, the last time they surrendered back-to-back series was 1983-84 and 1984-85, against West Indies, and 23 years later this loss would come as a chastening blow.

Australia v India, CB Series, 2nd final, Brisbane.

Monday, March 3, 2008

South Africa wrap up 2-0 series win

Robin Peterson's five-wicket haul wrapped up a win..

Given how Bangladesh were terrorised by the short ball in this Test, it was entirely appropriate that South Africa wrapped up the match and series with one. And unlike the five-wicket defeat in Mirpur, there was nothing remotely heroic about the innings-and-205-run capitulation in Chittagong, with a world record partnership between Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie illustrating the huge chasm that still separates Bangladesh from the best practitioners of cricket's most demanding form.

When Mashrafe Mortaza couldn't avoid fending one to the left of McKenzie at gully, it was the final act of a match that once again didn't go into the fourth afternoon. With Aftab Ahmed unable to bat after a sickening injury on Sunday, South Africa needed only four more wickets to set the seal on a very satisfactory outing.

An eighth-wicket partnership of 56 between Abdur Razzak, who remained defiant on 33, and Shahadat Hossain briefly halted the victory charge, but with Robin Peterson scalping an unexpected five-for, the result was never in doubt. Bangladesh managed a few half-century partnerships during the course of the Test, but the fact remained that their tally over two innings didn't even come close to matching Smith and McKenzie.

The batting frailty was all too evident at the start of the fourth day. Razzak's periscope approach to batting resulted in a comical four over the wicketkeeper off Dale Steyn, and South Africa didn't have very long to wait for the breakthrough. Peterson was aiming at the cracks from the outset, and Mushfiqur Rahim edged his first ball of the morning to Jacques Kallis at slip.

Enter Mohammad Rafique to tremendous applause in his final Test innings. Two balls later, exit Rafique - a biff back to the bowler that Peterson was never going to drop. Shahadat, with a few sorties down the ground, and Razzak with his patented carves over slips added runs in a hurry, but the South Africans were amused rather than annoyed, and when Shahadat holed out to long-off to give Peterson number five, the Last Post could begin.

South Africa now look to India, and a series that will really be a test of their mettle in subcontinent conditions. As for Bangladesh, they have three one-dayers to look forward to. The format suits their hit-and-miss batsmen, and they did hammer South Africa at the World Cup last year. Jamie Siddons just won't be expecting any miracles in Tests, especially not with an FTP that barely gives them matches to iron out the many kinks that continue to bedevil their play at their highest level.

Bangladesh v South Africa, 2nd Test, Chittagong

'I had written permission from New Zealand board to join ICL' - Bond

Shane Bond: 'Once you sign up, you have to honour the contract. That's the way I do things. The ICL have been very nice to me and I intend to do the right thing by playing for them.'

Shane Bond, the New Zealand fast bowler, has expressed regret over the way his international career has come to a halt.

New Zealand Cricket banned Bond after he signed up with the Indian Cricket League but Bond told Cricinfo he sought the board's approval before he took up the offer and has a copy of the written permission.

"I have written permission from them, only then did I join ICL. It's sad that they turned around later," Bond, who is currently in India, said. "I could have gone to court - and I'm sure I would have won the case - but I feared the Indian board would jump in and force NZC to cough up money if I'd been allowed to play for New Zealand. I didn't want it to get that ugly and chose to let it go."

Asked whether he considered following the example of Mohammad Yousuf, who withdrew from his ICL contract and made himself available for the IPL, Bond demurred. "Once you sign up, you've got to honour the contract. That's the way I do things. The ICL have been very nice to me and I intend to do the right thing by playing for them."

Bond was also unsure of his status with the English county Hampshire, with whom he recently signed up. "My agent in New Zealand is looking after the issue. I really don't know what's happening there and whether I would be allowed to play."

Bond's decision to join the ICL prompted some to call him a traitor but he says he is grateful for the support he received from his New Zealand team-mates and the cricketing fraternity. "Everyone understands my position. I want to play for New Zealand but am not allowed to do so. And as I said, I had gone into this [ICL] with the permission of the board, so I don't feel like a traitor."

Bond found support from Michael Kasprowicz, the former Australian player, who will also be seen in action in the ICL. "New Zealand cricket will be the worst hit and it's sad that the player of Bond's calibre can't play for his country," Kasprowicz told Cricinfo. "I don't think banning players is the right way to go about it."

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Magnificent Tendulkar seals victory

Sachin Tendulkar's sublime 117 gave India a 1-0 lead in the finals...

In 38 previous ODI innings in Australia, Sachin Tendulkar had never scored a hundred; in 11 previous one-day internationals against Australia in Sydney, India had never won. Both those jinxes were wiped out in a memorable evening at the SCG, as Tendulkar scripted a magnificent unbeaten 117 and shared a 123-run fourth-wicket stand with Rohit Sharma to take India to an emphatic six-wicket win and a 1-0 lead in the CB Series finals.

The match was a story of sizeable contributions by two openers - Matthew Hayden scored a brisk 82 - and two century partnerships for the fourth wicket - Andrew Symonds shared a 100-run stand with Hayden. Those efforts lifted Australia to a challenging 8 for 239, which, given the Australian bowling strength, might have been enough on another day. Today, though, they ran into an in-form Tendulkar.

From the outset, Tendulkar's approach suggested he was in the mood. In the first ten overs he only found the boundary once, through a savage lofted square-cut off Nathan Bracken, but the evidence that he was in top form came in other ways: the footwork was precise and decisive right from the start, and the judgment of length was impeccable. With Robin Uthappa, he gave India the perfect start, as both ran hard between the wickets, placed the ball into gaps, and put together 50 an excellent rate with scarcely a risk - there were just three fours in the stand.

The innings wobbled briefly thereafter, though, as Michael Hussey pulled off a magnificent catch at deep midwicket - it will surely rank among the catches of the season - to get rid of Uthappa. Two more wickets fell quickly, as Gautam Gambhir failed to respond to an obvious call for a second run, and Yuvraj Singh continued to flounder abysmally against Brad Hogg's spin.

At 3 for 87, the match was perfectly in the balance, before Tendulkar found the perfect ally in Rohit, and their stand turned out to be the match-defining one. With Rohit secure in defence and attack, it allowed Tendulkar to play normally too, and what followed was a treat. After the early threat of Brett Lee had been negated, Tendulkar turned his attention to the others: Hogg was driven over extra-cover for two glorious fours while Mitchell Johnson was perfectly tipped over slip. All along, he pierced the infield, took the singles, and ensured the asking rate never got beyond control. A cramp towards the end of the innings restricted certain strokes, while a beamer from Lee - who apologised immediately - crashed into his shoulder when he was on 98, but today he was not to be denied. The century finally came with the dab to gully, and the celebrations indicated how special it was.

At the other end, Rohit showed why he is held in such high regard by the experts. He began with two glorious straight-drives off Bracken, and then continued in such serene fashion that Australia scarcely had a sniff. He finally fell immediately after Tendulkar's hundred, but by then the result was only a formality.

Matthew Hayden's belligerent 82 helped Australia post a challenging total...

The target eventually turned out to be inadequate, but at the halfway stage it seemed Australia had enough to offer a stern test to the Indians. Their innings was largely built around one partnership, which came after they had slumped 3 for 24. India's move to change things around paid off quite spectacularly as Praveen Kumar, who got the new ball ahead of Irfan Pathan, induced two poor pull shots from Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting. When Michael Clarke got a rough caught-behind decision off an indipper from Ishant Sharma which clipped pad, Australia were three down inside six overs and India were off to a dream start.

Obviously, it mattered not a jot to Hayden, who had got his innings going by bludgeoning Praveen over his head in the first over to get to 6000 ODI runs. Four balls after Clarke fell, Hayden announced his intent even more emphatically, taking two strides down the pitch and swatting Praveen over midwicket. From there, it was a run deluge for the next hour, as Hayden imposed his commanding presence on the game. Pathan, who had an entirely forgettable day, leaked three fours in an over on two separate occasions to Hayden as he pummelled boundaries through the off side to bring up his half-century off a mere 43 balls.

Hayden's blistering onslaught allowed the out-of-form Symonds to settle in, and Australia seemed to running away with it, before the spinners pulled it back for India. Chawla, who was drafted into the side instead of Sreesanth, got the ball as soon as the Powerplays were out of the way, and immediately dropped into an impeccable line, giving the batsmen few scoring opportunities. Harbhajan had gone for 17 in his first two overs, but with more protection in the outfield, the flight was more pronounced and caused fatal mishits from both Symonds and Hayden.

The two blows, within five overs of each other, caused a sharp decline in the scoring rate, as Hussey and James Hopes were forced to do the rebuilding act. The absence of Ishant, who injured a finger while bowling and didn't complete his ten overs, was a bit of a blow but Yuvraj slipped in with four tidy overs. Hussey batted sensibly, ensuring that Australia played the entire 50 overs and pushed towards what seemed like a challenging total, but that was before Sachin Tendulkar got into the act.

Australia v India, CB Series, 1st final, Sydney.

Tense win hands India trophy

You beauty: Sybrand Engelbrecht took a spectacular catch to get rid of Virat Kohli...

With rain reducing the Under-19 World Cup final to a battle of nerves, the Indian bowlers held theirs better than did the South African batsmen to win by a dozen runs, and with that their second U-19 World Cup. Set 99 to chase off 98 balls after the rain break, South Africa never got going and collapsed 13 runs short.

Bowled out for 159 following a stifling performance by South Africa's bowlers and fielders, India responded by blowing the South African top order away before rain intervened. Facing India's new-ball bowlers, Ajitesh Argal and Pradeep Sangwan, the South Africans batted like rabbits caught in headlights, showing no intent and failing to get the ball off the square. Argal made short work of Pieter Malan and Riley Rossouw, and a terrible misunderstanding between JJ Smuts and Reeza Hendricks reduced them to 17 for 3 off 8.4 overs before rain halted play. Argal's figures at that time read 4-2-3-2, two of those runs coming in wides.

South Africa lost a wicket soon after the resumption and though Hendricks and Wayne Parnell hung around - despite two dropped catches and a missed stumping, they weren't able to score too many boundaries on the damp outfield. Hendricks and Parnell added 50 for the fifth wicket in 57 balls, but Hendricks mis-hit a waist-high full toss from Ravindra Jadeja to fall for 35 off 43. South Africa, at that time, required 44 off five overs.

Iqbal Abdulla, the other left-arm spinner, struck immediately to reduce South Africa to 75 for 6, leaving it down to Parnell and Bradley Barnes. The two spinners kept it tight, giving a total of 12 runs in the penultimate two overs, leaving Siddarth Kaul 19 runs to defend in the final over. The first ball was paddled by Barnes past short fine-leg for four, but the next five deliveries yielded only two and the wickets of Parnell and Barnes, kicking off wild celebrations for the Indian side.

Parnell fought for his 29 but fell short of partners. With the ball, though, he found a perfect ally in Matthew Arnold. The two, coupled with electric all-round fielding, had restricted India.

South Africa's bowlers offered few loose deliveries, and even those had to clear the lively infielders. Frustrated, Virat Kohli and Tanmay Srivastava tried to go over the top, but both of them found Sybrand Engelbrecht, who pulled off screamers to break the back of India's middle order. Every time the ball went towards Engelbrecht, he came up with something spectacular, casting doubt in the minds of the batsmen. One of those resulted in the run-out of Iqbal Abdulla.

It was Srivastava who prevented a complete disaster as Parnell and Arnold found the Indian top order a notch below their class, dismissing the openers for next to nothing. After Parnell had won the toss and bravely put India in, it was just as well that the Indian openers, Taruwar Kohli and Shreevats Goswami, were dismissed cheaply, ending their painful existence at the wicket. Taruwar repeated his semi-final dismissal as he top-edged a lame pull from wide outside off stump. Goswami edged and prodded his way to 6 off 25 balls, showing his discomfort against anything not full, and then nicked Arnold to second slip, leaving India at 27 for 2 in the 10th over. Parnell and Arnold made a dangerous combination, left-arm in-swing being Parnell's main weapon, and raw pace Arnold's.

Parnell mixed the bouncers well with the swing, while Arnold bowled the fastest spell of the tournament, troubling the left-handers from round the stumps. Srivastava and Virat put India on the comeback track with a 47-run third-wicket partnership: Srivastava batted fluently, and Virat solidly. But just as Virat started to cut loose, hitting the medium-pace of Malan for a majestic six over extra cover, Engelbrecht came up with that blinder.

Srivastava, meanwhile, was playing a different game. The first ball he faced he punched through point for two. The early part of his innings was streaky as he was tested by Arnold, who got the ball to hold the line from round the stumps, and Srivastava almost played on when he was on 6. But he settled down soon to play a fine innings. Especially strong through point, he drove the fast bowlers with an open face for two boundaries, and lofted the medium-pace of Roy Adams for a four and a six, who he had picked as the weak link as soon as he came on in the 14th over. Srivatsava, too, fell to Engelbrecht's brilliance at point for 46 off 74 balls.

Not that Engelbrecht was the only spectacular fielder; he had Rossouw at cover to make scoring difficult through the off side. Barnes, the wicketkeeper, continued an impressive World Cup as he showed a tremendous mix of great work behind the stumps and presence of mind to run Saurabh Tiwary out after he and Manish Pandey had threatened to build a fightback. Tiwary, batting with Srivastava as his runner, missed a yorker from offspinner Yaseen Vallie, which Barnes collected cleanly and turned towards square leg to find Srivastava backing up, and whipped the bails off. That ended a 37-run fifth-wicket partnership. Barnes followed it up with two more difficult catches to finish the Indian tail off.

But after putting up a superb show for more than half the duration of the match, South Africa failed to bring their best game at a time when men are made out of boys.

India v South Africa, Under-19 World Cup 2008 final, Kuala Lumpur.