Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tamim's maiden ton charges Bangladesh to series win

Tamim Iqbal's 129 was the second-highest ODI score by a Bangladesh batsman...

Tamim Iqbal's maiden ODI century allowed Bangladesh to complete a clean sweep against Ireland. Tamim's 129, the second-highest score by a Bangladeshi in ODIs, was complemented by breezy knocks from opener Shariar Nafees and Mahmudullah as the hosts galloped to 293. For Ireland, Niall O'Brien offered the lone resistance with a 73-ball 70 but it only delayed the inevitable.

Choosing to bat, Bangladesh were off to a flier with Nafees being the early aggressor, taking four fours off Kevin O'Brien's first two overs. Tamim soon cut loose as well and was given a life in the 12th over when Andre Botha shelled a return catch. Ireland pulled things back as medium-pacer Alex Cusack bowled a double-wicket maiden and Bangladesh soon found themselves at 179 for 5 after 37 overs, having slipped from 105 without loss.

With wickets tumbling at the other end, Tamim soldiered on, moving smoothly towards his century. Mahmudullah played a superb hand, clobbering 49 off 44, and the pair put on 82 from just 10.5 overs. Tamim was finally dismissed with the score at 260, after an excellent knock which featured 15 fours and a six. Mashrafe Mortaza also swung his bat around to push Bangladesh to their second-highest score in one-dayers and virtually shut Ireland out of the match.

Ireland got off to a promising start, reaching 34 in a little more than seven overs before a series of run-outs derailed the chase. William Porterfield, the opener, was the first to be dismissed, stranded by a sharp effort from Abdur Razzak before Reinhardt Strydom joined hands with Niall to provide momentum to the chase. But at 126 for 3, Strydom fell and Bangladesh tightened the noose with three more run-outs as Ireland slumped to 154 for 7.

Bangladesh v Ireland, 3rd ODI, Mirpur

Trescothick retires from international cricket

Marcus Trescothick in his pomp...

Marcus Trescothick, the England and Somerset batsman, has announced his retirement from international cricket. Having suffered from a stress-related illness since 2006 Trescothick, 32, doesn't feel able to return to the high-pressure world of international cricket.

"I have tried on numerous occasions to make it back to the international stage and it has proved a lot more difficult than I expected," he told the Somerset website. "I want to extend my playing career for as long as possible and I no longer want to put myself through the questions and demands that go with trying to return to the England team."

It cuts short his career on 76 Test matches, in which he made 5825 runs and struck 14 hundreds, including a top score of 219. He was just as valuable, if not more effective, in one-day cricket where he was able to capitalise on his natural power and timing. In 123 one-dayers, he cracked 4335 runs at 37.37 - second only to Alec Stewart as England's leading one-day run-scorer.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time playing for England, and I am very proud of having been selected for 76 Test matches and over 120 ODIs. It has been great privilege to represent my country and I am grateful to the game of cricket for giving me the opportunity to excel at a sport that I enjoy so much.

"My desire to play cricket is as strong as it ever was. But, due to the problems that I have experienced, travelling abroad has become extremely stressful for me. I now think that it is in the best interests of all concerned that the issue is put to rest so that the England team can concentrate on moving forward, and I can concentrate all my efforts on playing well for Somerset."

Trescothick's problems first came to light, albeit under a shroud of secrecy, in February 2006 when he pulled out of England's tour of India, days before the first Test. Weeks later, he dispelled the rumours by admitting he had been suffering from a viral infection, though doubts lingered as to whether something more sinister - or long-term - persisted.

And so it did. He pulled out of the Champions Trophy in India later that year, pledging to get himself fit for the Ashes in November, but that was a tour too far. After flying home from Australia, the news emerged that Trescothick had broken down in the dressing room with a recurrence of the stress-related illness. It was clear by this stage that any return to the international fold would not happen overnight, if at all.

Despite a promising season with Somerset in 2007, and occasional signs of encouragement - "I'm desperate to play for England again" he admitted midway through the season - he eventually publicly conceded his depressive illness to his friend and former team-mate, Iain Fletcher. It was increasingly evident that no amount of time away from the game would help cure this particular illness. When he pulled out of Somerset's pre-season tour to the UAE a few weeks ago, not even the cheeriest of optimists could deny that his England career was probably over.

Trescothick's England captain, Michael Vaughan, on tour in New Zealand, paid tribute to his former opening partner. "On behalf of all the England players, I would like to thank Marcus for his contribution to the team. He has been an outstanding player for England in both forms of the game, a pleasure to captain, and a terrific influence on our dressing room.

"This is a tough decision for any international cricketer to make," said Vaughan, "but I believe it is the right one for him and he has my full support as he now embarks on the next stage of his cricketing career. I know how much Somerset County Cricket Club means to him and I'm sure he will now be devoting all his energies to helping the club achieve further success in the future."

IPL shadow over Sri Lanka's Pakistan tour

Have the Sri Lanka and Pakistan boards bowed to pressure from the IPL?...

Pakistan's proposed series of ODIs with Sri Lanka has hit the rocks before even properly setting sail because of a probable clash of dates with the Indian Premier League (IPL). Though the PCB said it will ensure the best side available for the series - tacitly acknowledging there might be a clash - it appears likely the series will be postponed to protect the IPL, which will raise further questions about whether a window needs to be found in the international calendar for the league.

The bilateral series was hurriedly agreed upon a couple of days ago with Arjuna Ranatunga, chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), accepting an invitation from his Pakistan counterpart Nasim Ashraf in Lahore, as Pakistan rushed to fill the gaps in their calendar left by Australia's pull-out from a full tour in March-April.

Though dates were not decided, reports suggested that the series would go ahead between April 23 and May 5, after Sri Lanka complete their tour of the Caribbean. However, the IPL begins on April 18 and a number of players from both sides are involved.

The IPL has told heads of various franchises that players from both sides will be available for the tournament and has urged them to work according to plan. Franchise heads have been assured that the IPL has the cooperation of both boards, who plan to schedule the series after the IPL ends on June 1.

Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, strenuously denied the IPL had come in the way of the series, but admitted a window was yet to be found. "You will have to ask the IPL [about whether assurances had been given], because I have no knowledge of that at all," Ashraf told Cricinfo. "This is our schedule and it has nothing to do with the IPL."

But no dates for the series could be pinpointed and the April-May window was not mentioned. "In principle, SLC have accepted our invitation. The question is of finding dates," Ashraf said. "Tentatively, June is an option, but essentially sorting out dates is up to us."

Duleep Mendis, the SLC chief executive, says the board is not even aware of the series. "It was just a suggestion, I believe, from Pakistan," he told Cricinfo. "But nothing has been discussed yet, and there has been no confirmation in this regard. Officially, such a tour is not on the cards yet. We don't know anything about this tour."

Despite assurances, some franchises remain concerned at the prospect of losing out on star players, if only for a couple of weeks. Deccan Chargers, the Hyderabad IPL team who have Shahid Afridi, Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa and Chamara Silva, are worried about the proposed series and hope that it will be rescheduled. But Vijay Mohan Raj, the franchise's chief executive, says they have not taken up the issue with the IPL council.

"Of course, the series would be a huge worry for us," Raj told Cricinfo. "It's not fair. We were informed clearly about who would be available during the first auction, and we bought our players depending on that. This series, if it happens, will change everything. We are hoping that it is rescheduled."

When it can be rescheduled to is another matter. The only window is between June 1, when the IPL concludes, and June 24, when the Asia Cup - also to be held in Pakistan - begins. But the extreme summer temperatures in most of Pakistan during June seemingly rule out that period, unless the entire series consists of day-night matches in Karachi.

After the Asia Cup, Sri Lanka are due to host India for a series of three Tests and five ODIs, which will take them to the end of August. In September Pakistan is scheduled to host the ICC Champions Trophy.

Indian Premier League

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tendulkar recommended Dhoni for captaincy - Pawar

Sharad Pawar: "He [Tendulkar] said 'give Dhoni the opportunity. He has excellent relations with the team-mates'"

Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, has revealed that Sachin Tendulkar had recommended Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the captaincy and suggested that youngsters should be included in the World Cup-winning Twenty20 squad instead of "players of his generation".

Pawar also told PTI in an interview that Rahul Dravid had dropped hints during the England series last year that he did not wish to remain as India captain, a decision that he finally announced after the series.

"Rahul had told me he could not concentrate on his game and requested me to find someone else. Some of the selectors wanted Sachin to lead and I conveyed it to him," Pawar said. "But Sachin said, 'please don't do this'. I asked then who should lead the side and he said 'give it to someone like Dhoni'. He said 'give Dhoni the opportunity. He has excellent relations with the team-mates'. I told him I would not interfere but would definitely convey it to the selectors."

Pawar said that it was on Tendulkar's advice that youngsters were given an opportunity in the Twenty20 squad, which went on to win the World Cup in South Africa last September.

"I was in England when we were playing them. Sachin met me and suggested 'I know you don't interfere with the team selection but you please tell the selectors not to include players of my generation in the Twenty20 squad'. He said 'my generation is not fit for Twenty20, so give opportunity to the youngsters'," Pawar said.

"Now who would come and say 'don't induct us', when that means losing a few lakh rupees? I think we are fortunate to have players like Rahul [Dravid], Sourav [Ganguly] and Anil [Kumble]. Their commitment is unquestionable," Pawar said.

Pawar also praised the leadership skills of Kumble, during the racism row involving Harbhajan Singh in Australia, and Dhoni, during the Twenty20 World Cup and the CB Series.

"Dhoni as a captain has done extremely good. He can motivate and has a good equation with other players. He is also cool [under pressure]," Pawar said.

Kumble, Pawar, said, displayed great maturity during the controversial Test series in Australia. "I would say Anil Kumble has been remarkable as captain. He is a good motivator and his behaviour was impeccable both on and off the field. In true sense of the term, he was an ambassador of the country and we are proud of the way he handled the entire issue," Pawar said.

Indian cricket

ECB braced for legal action

Justin Kemp could be heading for the courts...

Lawyers working for the Indian Cricket League are believed to be preparing the ground to file lawsuits against the ECB, following yesterday's news that five ICL players were refused registration by the England board.

The five players - Justin Kemp, Hamish Marshall, Johan van der Wath, Wavell Hinds and Andrew Hall - were all refused by a rule which requires non-England players not to have played for their home countries in the past 12 months. The ECB seem confident that they are on a firm legal footing but, privately, the ICL believe they have a very strong case for a 'restraint of trade' suit.

"Our clients are taking this extremely seriously," a lawyer representing the ICL told the Daily Telegraph, "and we will be supporting them. They find themselves in a nightmare situation where they have signed a contract with the counties in good faith and now they are not allowed to play."

The counties themselves are unlikely to take action against the ECB; most have seen this situation coming for months. The worst situation for all, though, is if the players take action against the counties themselves; if the counties lose, the ECB would have to bail them out. Where this leaves the likes of Marshall, who turned his back on New Zealand and is now effectively unemployed, is unclear.

These five players won't be the last; the ECB are expecting another raft of applications which will only intensify the pressure on both the counties and the board, not to mention increase the ICL's belief that their legal case for action is solid. The Professional Cricketers Assocation (PCA) announced two weeks ago that it would step in to help the players better understand the muddle, and would conduct meetings with all the counties before the start of the season.

"Our position hasn't changed from two weeks ago when we made our last statement," Jason Ratcliffe, the PCA's assistant chief executive, told Cricinfo today, adding that the meetings had yet to be concluded.

ICL lawyers prepare case for 'restraint of trade'

Thursday, March 20, 2008

India and Pakistan grouped together in Asia Cup

Marvan Atapattu poses with the Asia Cup in 2004...

India and Pakistan have been placed in the same group for this year's Asia Cup, the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) have announced.

The tournament - the ninth to be held - will be staged in Pakistan in June and July, and all teams have confirmed their availability and satisfaction of touring the country, in spite of the recent violence. Two weeks ago Australia had decided to postpone their scheduled tour of Pakistan, to begin later this month, owing to security concerns.

"All the participating nations have confirmed their participation and we hope to have a safe and highly competitive Asia Cup in three months' time," Ashraful Huq, the ACC chief executive, told reporters at the Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore. "Australians are unaware of our culture and they don't have an idea that no sporting activity has ever been hurt in Asia. All the teams are going to take part barring any major disaster."

The three sides in each group play each other once, with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the second phase, where they will again play each other once.

"Karachi will host ten of the thirteen matches, while Lahore will host three and since the event is played in the summer season all matches will be day-night, starting late in the afternoon," Huq said. "I have always felt that this was one of the most important tournaments," Arjuna Ranatanga, the ACC chairman, added. "I am delighted to see Pakistan hosting it and everyone has agreed to send their best teams for it.

"The PCB has been like an elder brother to Sri Lanka and always helped us out."

The first Asia Cup was held in 1984 in the UAE. India have won the event four times, while Sri Lanka have lifted the Cup three times and Pakistan once.

Asia Cup 2008

Hair wants to work on better communication

Darrell Hair, who umpired in Nairobi last year, will be back in the big league after being reinstated by the ICC...

Darrell Hair has admitted he can be "stand-offish" and has vowed to improve his communication skills after being reinstated as a Test and one-day international umpire. Hair is back after being demoted following his role in the forfeited Pakistan-England Test in 2006, but he believes it is time to "move on".

"Well it caused me a lot of stress, I suppose it caused a lot of people some stress along the way," Hair told Sydney radio 2KY. "The laws now have been changed to take those decisions out of the hands of the umpires and I fully support the way that that's going to happen in future. So, it's time to move on.

The ICC ruled Hair's "rehabilitation", which included a course at Sydney University, has been completed and he remains contracted for another 12 months. "Every day in life you like to pick up something and move forward," he said. "So I won't say my whole attitude to umpiring has changed but I think I have picked up a few things that are going to be very helpful to me in the future.

"Probably just ... having a broader understanding of what everybody else is thinking and the old communication issue of making sure that what you say and what you want is understood by the other people. I've always been a little bit ... stand-offish in that I've always preferred to let them play the game themselves and only get involved when things go overboard but maybe there's a case to be made for a little bit more work in that area."

The ICC will keep Hair away from games involving Pakistan, who are upset with the official's elevation. "I've got no comment on anyone else's reaction really," he said. "I'm just going to look after my own patch and go out there and umpire the matches that I'm appointed to and do that to the best of my ability, which is what I've always done."

Reza bowls Bangladesh to series win

A five-wicket haul by the right-arm medium pacer Farhad Reza, backed by restrictive spells by the left-arm spinners, shot out Ireland for 162 as Bangladesh claimed an 84-run victory in the second one-dayer at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium and sealed the series 2-0 with one left to play. Set a target of 247, Andre Botha and Alex Cusack stabilised the chase with a half-century stand before a sudden burst of wickets by Reza saw Ireland crashing from 144 for 5 to 147 for 9. It was a complete all-round performance by the home side, fashioned by half-centuries by Shahriar Nafees and Aftab Ahmed before the bowlers sent Ireland crashing.

Ireland's openers Reinhardt Strydom and William Porterfield began steadily, adding 42 before Reza and the left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak struck with three quick wickets. After Razzak trapped Strydom in front, Reza sent back Eoin Morgan and Porterfield - both caught while trying to clear the infield on the offside - off successive deliveries. A stand of 36 by the O'Brien brothers - Kevin and Niall - lifted the visitors before the pair succumbed to the left-arm spin of Shakib Al Hasan.

Ireland had lost half their side for 92, but Cusack and Botha presided over their side's best passage of play, adding 52 in just over ten overs. Botha set the pace with a quick 34 off 36 balls before spooning a full toss back to Reza. Trent Johnston fell soon after, bowled by Razzak, before Cusack fell in the next over, trapped in front by Reza. Bangladesh moved in for the kill as Reza picked up his first five-wicket haul in ODIs, bowling Greg Thompson. Razzak claimed the final wicket of Dave Langford-Smith to finish with figures of 3 for 27 to complement Reza's demolition job.

A significant factor in Bangladesh's thumping victory was the fact that the batsmen managed to bat out 50 overs, something they have struggled to do recently. Nafees and Aftab set the tone with half-centuries before a late-innings surge by Mashrafe Mortaza propelled the score close to the 250-mark.

The openers, Tamim Iqbal and Nafees, dropped anchor with a 94-run stand and ensured against early setbacks. Tamim, a naturally aggressive player, played out 85 balls for his 46 and looked set for a half-century: he took on Dave Langford-Smith in the 26th over and launched him over the deep midwicket boundary, but the bowler had the last laugh the next ball as Tamim holed out to Kevin. Ireland had waited a long time for their first breakthrough, and the hard work continued as Nafees and Aftab added 41 for the second wicket.

Aftab made up for his failure in the first ODI with a half-century, coming off 51 balls, which included a six off Botha over midwicket. He then launched legspinner Thompson for another six over long-on before falling to a mis-timed pull to Johnston at square leg. His 61 came off 57 balls and set the platform for a sizeable score.

Nafees followed up his half-century from the first game with another, this time compiling a patient 60 off 92 balls before he was run-out, attempting a risky second run. Aftab and Mohammad Ashraful propped the innings with the highest partnership of the match, 64, for the third wicket, before Ireland clawed back with quick wickets.

Langford-Smith accounted for Reza and Shakib in quick succession to set Bangladesh back at 211 for 5, before Ashraful fell for a run-a-ball 38 to Botha with the score at 223. Mortaza's cameo of 26 from 15 balls, which included three fours and a six, pushed his side close to the 250-mark. Langford-Smith, who finished with 3 for 43, was Ireland's most successful bowler.

The third one-dayer on Saturday, also in Mirpur, gives Ashraful the ideal opportunity to claim a series sweep and bring more smiles to his supporters who've seen nothing but defeat in all forms of the game in the last few months.

Bangladesh v Ireland, 2nd ODI, Mirpur

Fleming set for final salvo

Stephen Fleming in a cheerful mood as he practises ahead of his last Test appearance...

Regrets? He'll have a few. After a 14-year Test career in which he's broken pretty much every New Zealand record going, Stephen Fleming is preparing to bow out of the game. His final press call took place in a rugby locker-room at Napier's McLean Park, a far cry from the grander stages that he has graced since making his debut against India in Hamilton in March 1994.

With one match to go before he calls it quits, Fleming is already New Zealand's most-capped player with 110 appearances and the country's highest run-scorer (7047). His tally of 171 catches is exactly 100 more than the next most reliable pair of hands, Martin Crowe, while his highest score of 274 not out, against Sri Lanka in 2003, is second only to Crowe's 299, against the same opponents a decade earlier. And yet, Fleming is fully aware that his statistics are not what they could, or perhaps should, have been. Which makes him all the more eager to apply a gloss finish at Napier this week.

"I'm trying to be deadpan about my retirement," Fleming said. "The emotions will creep in from the people around me, but I'm trying to be very statistically motivated in the goals that I've set. I'm not always that good at following them, but I've tried to really get into them. One of them was 7000 runs, another was 10 hundreds. It's a focus to get away from the emotions of Test cricket. And the other thing is we're in a hell of a good battle with an England side. Being at 1-1, it's a good series to finish with."

Fleming chalked up his 7000th run in his farewell appearance in Wellington last week, but the tenth century still eludes him. His scores so far this series are 41, 66, 34 and 31 - a microcosm of a career that, in purely numerical terms, promised more than it delivered. He now needs a further 113 runs at Napier to guarantee himself an average of 40 when he retires - and though he seems slavishly focused on that figure, he is realistic enough to realise that, when all is said and done, the numbers won't count for much.

"If I can get it up over 40, it means I've scored another hundred and we've got a score that enables us to put pressure on England," he said. "If I'd averaged 45 the team might have won more games. You can bust a gut and get wound up by statistical goals, but I don't think that they are important. It's not about me averaging 40 as a badge of honour to wear on my chest all my life.

"I guess that's the way I've played my cricket. I'll have a lot of regrets, most of them statistical, because I haven't been able to gear myself up as a player who achieves statistically great things. I've tried but I've loved the thrill of the battle and the competition [too much]. At times it's left me a little short, but it's given me great exhilaration and great reward.

"I'm proud as a cricketer, but I'll put these things in perspective once I leave the game," Fleming said. "I'll reflect on them fondly, but just how much they mean, only time will tell. I've given everything and tried to be as good as I can be, but I'm an achiever rather than a good player or a great player. I've managed to achieve through longevity, and I'd love to finish with a hundred, or rather a substantial score that helps us win the Test match."

It is, and will remain, a travesty that a player as combative and stylish as Fleming should finish with so few hundreds. Might things have been different had he not had the captaincy thrust upon him at the tender age of 23? It was a post he held for the next 10 years and 80 Tests, and Fleming has had plenty time to ponder what might have been.

"I reflected on that when I lost the stripes, and the answer is I don't know," he said. "I may not have been half the player. I may have averaged 29, rather than 39 or 40. It would have been easier at times - there are some challenges that get put in front of you as captain that you just don't see, and you learn to deal with that. But I'm a better person for having captained the side. There are skills you learn, and some of those situations I wouldn't have been put in as a player, and I may not have had the experiences to fall back on that the game has given me."

An England Test is an appropriate series for Fleming to bow out in, for his proudest moment will always remain the 1999 tour of England, in which New Zealand reached the semi-final of the World Cup, before beating England 2-1 in the four-match series, having lost the first Test in Edgbaston. "It was the moment we started to realise we could compete, overseas in particular," Fleming said. "We'd been a spasmodic side, and the expectation of an England tour was probably already exceeded by winning the [second] Test at Lord's.

"We then had a chance at Old Trafford, only to be interrupted by rain, and then we won the series and that gave us belief and set us on a nice period. We crushed the West Indies when we got back home, and we were competitive in everything we did. It was certainly one of most enjoyable periods because the belief for the first time was prevalent in the side."

That belief, despite the odd set-back here and there, is still flowing through the side to this day, in Fleming's opinion. "We're always looked on as a side that's dangerous, but we've been dangerous too many times just to be that," he said. "In World Cups we are always there or thereabouts, and in Tests we can compete with most teams. We'll not always get across the line, but we are genuine contenders. That black beauty, dark horse tag has gone, and that's been a long process, which is by no means finished. It's a gradual development, but even in this series, to be 1-1 having won the ODIs, it's not a great surprise anymore."

And so Fleming faces the final curtain. With regrets yes, but with an eye firmly fixed to the future. "I can believe it's nearly over, which is another good indicator that the time is right," he said. "I'm looking forward to finishing, rather than regretting it. When you first put yourself in that situation, you ask the questions - do I want to keep going and play for two or three more years, in a game I love and from which I earn great money? But sometimes for the wrong reasons it's right. For the other people in my life it's important to move on."

New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Napier

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

'It's important to send the message across' - Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni: "I was pretty clear about the players I wanted in the side"...

Mahendra Singh Dhoni hopes India's "significant" victory in the CB Series will silence those who criticised the youth-oriented squad selection for the tournament. Asserting his role in the selection of the young one-day side - he is India's ODI captain - he said it was "sometimes very important to send the message across".

"I was pretty clear about the players I wanted in the side," Dhoni told Cricinfo in a revealing interview where he spoke about the selection controversy for the first time. "That's what I said to the selectors as well. You can see the kind of team I got."

The team's selection became controversial after Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid were left out. While some criticised the decision to drop the seniors, others questioned the timing of the selection, a day after the historic win in the Perth Test. The selection also created a few ripples in the dressing room, it was learnt then.

Dhoni, though, is clear the time had come for a tough decision to be taken and felt vindicated after the final triumph. "It's very important because the process and the timing were criticised a lot," he said. "But sometimes it is very important to send the message across, because sometimes people neglect the answer."

He said he pointed out to the ODI team the questions that were being raised about the players and told them to perform.

It's evident that the criticism rankles even after winning the tournament. "What now? Why are people not asking the same questions now? Because if the result was not in our favour, what would have happened? Would the people have been really behind this side or behind individuals?"

A majority of the team had not played in Australia earlier and certain sections raised questions about their ability to handle demanding conditions. India's pathetic display in the one-off Twenty20 was seen as a sign of things to come but Dhoni was happy his side had overcome the odds.

"You [the critics] questioned this side but now that it's performed you need to back it," he said of India's first one-day series win in Australia in 23 years. "We all knew, and you all knew, what would have happened if this side didn't do well in Australia. Now that it has done well, why don't you appreciate the performance?

"We had one of the worst flops in Twenty20 and one of the best wins in the ODI series. Beating Australia is tough. That's why they have the best-of-three finals. You can have one good day and beat them but beating them in two consecutive matches is a significant achievement."

We had set the standards back in India, when we played [the ODI series] against Australia. We knew what we really wanted to do on the field. If we were not up to the mark in Australia, people would have said it was fake aggression, something just for the public when playing at home

Dhoni made it clear that the aggressive tactics against Australia were premeditated, going so far as to ensure that a few individuals made life difficult for the opposition. "In the CB Series you hardly saw any conflict between India and Sri Lanka," he said. "We had set the standards back in India, when we played [the ODI series] against Australia. We knew what we really wanted to do on the field. If we were not up to the mark in Australia, people would have said it was fake aggression, something just for the public when playing at home. We were with the same set of standards even when we played against Australia in Australia. It was not fake aggression, that's how this team can play."

Did he think the best way to beat Australia was by playing their brand of cricket? "If your playing against an aggressive side, you need to play an aggressive game," he said. "Especially against Australia, you can't just look to play and win - it's batting, bowling, fielding, aggression, everything. Fortunately this side has got a few players who can speak and do well at the same time and won't get disturbed by it. And there are others who don't speak that much.

"But you need to identify those who can be pepped up and do well while they're speaking. In a way I'm fortunate to have those players in the side, rather than ask those who are not comfortable doing it. If you have a guy who is able to do it and who should do it, I make it a point that he is doing it. I won't name names but there were individuals who were saying things, within the boundaries."

Despite all the elation over the win, Dhoni said it was important not to get carried away with this victory and urged his players to cultivate the winning habit. "Of course you can't live by it," he said of the recent win. "You need to perform consistently and if you're raising the standard you have to stand by it. You have to keep on doing well."

India's ODI captain defends dropping seniors

England at risk of ICC shutout

Heath Streak and Peter Chingoka face the media in London at the start of Zimbabwe's 2003 tour. Neither Chingoka or his team appear to be welcome back...

The ECB faces a nervous wait after the ICC executive board made preparations to move their annual meeting in June from London to Dubai in the event that Peter Chingoka, the Zimbabwe Cricket chairman, is refused a visa to enter the UK.

Despite all the recent debate on the subject, Cricinfo has learned that Chingoka has not actually applied for a visa, and until he does the UK government has refused to give a definite answer on whether he is likely to be granted one. It is expected that he will submit an application to the British Embassy in Harare on his return from Dubai.

If it is refused, as it was last October, then the ICC will immediately scrap plans to hold its conference at Lord's and switch it to its headquarters in the UAE. "The meeting is scheduled to take place at Lord's as usual," an ICC spokesman said. "If Mr Chingoka's visa application is denied, we will cross that bridge when we get to it. I don't want to speculate."

While that will be an embarrassment for the ECB, the knock-on consequences are far more serious. Cricinfo has learned that the ICC executive will also reconsider plans for its lavish centenary celebrations, which were to be centred on Lord's.

And while the UK government seems likely to block the bilateral series between England and Zimbabwe in 2009 from going ahead, if Chingoka is not allowed to attend the ICC World Twenty20 which follows on in June, then, again, the ICC executive board made clear that the tournament would not be allowed to go ahead with one of their Full Member chairmen absent. There is speculation that South Africa could be used as an alternative venue.

This puts the ECB in an almost impossible position, and all it can do is lobby the government and try to persuade it that the damage to the English game by keeping one man out of the UK will be disproportionate to the political fallout resulting from allowing him in.

The government is in an equal quandary. Since Gordon Brown became prime minister, it has taken an increasingly hard line on Zimbabwe, and the foreign office decision to bar Chingoka last year was taken after advice from Harare which flagged his close links with the Mugabe regime. If it now climbs down then it is sure to face a grilling in parliament and the media over double standards.

Privately, many inside Westminster had been hoping that the ICC's independent forensic audit would see the removal of Chingoka and his replacement by a figure with less baggage and no discernable political links.

It now seems that Chingoka, who many Zimbabweans hold accountable for the rapid decline of the game inside the country, could cause far more damage to English cricket than he has ever been accused of in his homeland. Little could give more pleasure to ZC's patron, Robert Mugabe.

Quarter-finals return at 2011 World Cup

Although the ICC announced that the format for the 2011 World Cup has yet to be agreed, Cricinfo has learned that a proposal submitted by the hosts has been approved. It consists of two groups of seven with the top four in each group progressing to a knock-out stage.

In a letter dated December 18, 2007 and written on behalf of the four CEOs of the Asian countries, Shafqat Naghmi, the chief operations officer of the Pakistan Cricket Board, put forward three alternative proposals, of which their preferred option was the one approved by the ICC executive board on Tuesday.

The 14-team format will consist of two groups of seven teams - each group containing two of the four qualifying Associates - who would play each other. The top four sides would then progress into the quarter-finals.

It was estimated that the competition length could be reduced from 47 days to around 38 by using this format. The total number of games - 49 - would also meet the requirements of the television deal with ESPN-Star, which stipulates a minimum of 47 matches. There would also be more of what the letter referred to as "A-team games", defined as those involving the top eight Full Member countries.

The letter unanimously recommended this option to Campbell Jamieson, the ICC's general manager - commercial. It was subsequently presented to the ICC chief executives' committee in February where, so some Associates insist, it was treated as a done deal.

Revised format includes two groups of seven

Sri Lanka an alternate venue for Champions Trophy

Sri Lanka last hosted the tournament in 2002 and the hosting rights in this edition would depend a lot on Australia's apprehensions of touring Pakistan...

The ICC has confirmed Sri Lanka will be an alternate venue to host the ICC Champions Trophy in September this year. This decision comes in the wake of Australia postponing their tour to Pakistan on the grounds of security reasons.

If Australia's apprehensions about the security situation in Pakistan don't change in the next few months, the ICC could be faced with a situation where they will have to decide on switching venues. Australia and New Zealand have raised the most concerns, sources said.

"We have named Sri Lanka an alternative venue," an ICC spokesperson told Cricinfo. "As of now, Pakistan will host the tournament and we don't intend to take it away from them."

Sri Lanka last hosted the tournament in 2002 and the ICC expressed satisfaction with regard to all the arrangements and support they received from Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).

In a new development, the board is likely to be caught in a Catch 22 situation whether to oblige the Pakistan Cricket Board and play a series of three to five ODIs in Pakistan next month, a decision which may upset the Indian board because it will clash with the much anticipated Indian Premier League (IPL) which is due to start on April 18. Several of Sri Lanka's top cricketers have signed for the tournament. If Sri Lanka agree to Pakistan's request, their one-day squad will fly directly from the West Indies to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the selection committee is due to meet the Cricket Committee headed by former Sri Lankan batsman Aravinda de Silva today to finalise the tour and player contracts for the next 12 months. Among the clauses that are due to be included in the contracts are for players to be accompanied by their wives on tour, and also to make it compulsory for the cricketers to play domestic cricket to be eligible for national selection.

The latter clause could jeopardise the players from signing up to play for English counties and for the IPL, both of which would require sanction from SLC. It is learnt that the Sri Lankan players, currently touring the Caribbean, are not happy with this clause, but highly-placed sources said the Cricket Committee is strongly pressing for its inclusion.

Australia, New Zealand concerned with security in Pakistan

Ramnarine confident players will play Aussie Tests

Players' association chief Dinanath Ramnarine is confident Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul will play the first two Tests against Australia instead of going for the IPL...

Dinanath Ramnarine, the president of the West Indies Players Association (WIPA), is confident that Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul will make themselves available for selection for the first two Tests against against Australia in May.

Before the ICC meeting in Dubai, Dr Donald Peters, the chief executive of the West Indies board, raised the possibility of all three players missing the start of the Australia series because of their Indian Premier League (IPL) commitments. Earlier in the week board president Julian Hunte had made
similar statements
but Ramnarine allayed those fears.

"I would say there is no doubt in my mind that we would have our best team," Ramnarine said at the annual WIPA awards ceremony in Port of Spain. "I feel fairly confident that our players will play against Australia. It was never a doubt in my mind.

"The ICC is aware of what is taking place and I think there needs to be meaningful discussion and some level of compromise where both parties are particularly happy. But certainly from our perspective, we are going to continue to have discussions with our board, at the FICA level with the ICC, to make sure that there is some sort of compromise. Common sense must prevail."

The ICC executive board met in Dubai on Tuesday and decided that every ICC member had the right to object to a player from its country taking part in the IPL. It also emerged from the meeting that the ICC's Future Tours Programme will not be altered to suit the IPL, a measure Peters had said the WICB would have been pushing for.

Peters had earlier said: "Cricket administrators around the world are worried about the IPL, particularly New Zealand and West Indies because the IPL takes place in the middle of when our seasons occur. But all of us stand to lose a significant amount of players."

All players participating in the IPL must have the consent of their national boards as a result of a No Objection Clause in the contracts. But, Peters said on Friday: "I am not going to not release the players because they would go anyway. Given the amount of money involved, it certainly destabilises the infrastructure of cricket. It's not fair to the players, and it's not fair to the national teams."

However, Ramnarine said discussions with the WICB on the matter had only started the next day because the chief executive had been out of the country.

Asked whether he felt the emergence of the IPL was a threat to world cricket, Ramnarine said: "The ICC has a monopoly on the game, the boards have a monopoly on the game and at some point in time, somebody is going to try to break that monopoly and that is what is taking place right now. It's something that you have to pay close attention to."

In a related issue, Ramnarine said that the contractual negotiations with the WICB for the imminent home series were almost at a conclusion.

"In principle there is an agreement which is great," Ramnarine said. "The tour will be going on. Players are actually on their way to Guyana. We are still working out a few things in the contract. I would say in principle, 99% of the things have been agreed. I don't foresee any difficulty."

West Indies IPL players

Hair will be 'kept away' from Pakistan matches

Dave Richardson said that the ICC did not 'want to put umpires in an almost impossible position where any mistake they might make would be under such scrutiny that the pressure becomes impossible'...

As expected, the ICC has confirmed that Darrell Hair will not be asked to stand in any international matches involving Pakistan.

The ICC announced yesterday that Hair would be available to umpire major matches again after completing a mutually-agreed rehabilitation period. It followed his effective removal from big-time cricket in the aftermath of the forfeited Oval Test in 2006.

"We will probably keep him away from Pakistan matches where we can," Dave Richardson, the ICC's general manager cricket, told the BBC. "We don't want to put umpires in an almost impossible position where any mistake they might make would be under such scrutiny that the pressure becomes impossible."

Hair's reinstatement has sparked outrage in the country, with Inzamam-ul-Haq, who captained Pakistan in the Oval Test, saying he was "shocked and disgusted" by the news. Shaharyar Khan, the Pakistan board chairman during the Oval Test, also expressed similar sentiments.

An ICC spokesman told Cricinfo there was no condition attached to Hair's return. "However, in making umpires' appointments a certain amount of common sense is applied," he added. "There is enough pressure on umpires without us contributing to it by appointing them to inappropriate matches or games that will heap undue attention on them."

Before Richardson's statement, Cricinfo asked Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, whether Pakistan would object if Hair was appointed to any of their matches. Ashraf's reply underscored the feeling that the decision was part of an understanding with the PCB: "All I can say is that we, the PCB, have full confidence and faith in the ICC management that they will exercise wise judgment in assigning Mr Hair in international matches."

Shafqat Naghmi, the chief operating officer, was more definite: "I don't think he will ever be officiating in matches in which Pakistan is a party," he told Geo English, a Pakistani TV channel, earlier on Wednesday.

Richardson dismissed suggestions, though, that Hair would be kept away from games involving other Asian countries. "It's pointless having an umpire on the Elite panel who is excluded from umpiring certain teams. There are always going to be stages in an umpire's career when he is not flavour of the month, but he will come up against an Asian team at some stage.

"Darrell Hair over time seems to polarise opinion, but a lot of his supporters will feel it is justified to bring him back and that he was unjustly kept on the sidelines in the first place. He's good to talk to on the pitch, he's very good with the player and gets the majority of the decisions right."

ICC clarifies situation

Pakistan disappointed by Hair's return

Darrell Hair's return to international cricket is not being viewed kindly in Pakistan...

Darrell Hair's reinstatement to Tests and ODIs is being viewed with understandable caution by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). Nasim Ashraf, chairman of the PCB, said Pakistan had made its position on the matter clear at the ICC board meeting; he also indicated that Hair might not stand in Pakistan matches over the next year, until his contract with the ICC ends.

"The PCB's position, views and opinions were clearly reiterated at the meeting with regard to this issue," Ashraf told Cricinfo.

Ashraf's countrymen were more forcible in their reactions. Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was banned for four matches for refusing to take his side back on to the field during the Oval Test in August 2006 after Hair accused them of ball-tampering, said he was "shocked and disgusted" by the news.

"I would blame the Pakistan board for bowing down in Hair's case and no player will now stand against injustices at the international level," Inzamam said. "Hair was at fault but he is reinstated like a hero. The PCB needs to learn a lesson from the Indian board. See how they backed their players in Australia recently on contentious issues."

Pakistan did not return to the field after tea on day four at The Oval, in protest against Hair's decision to dock them five penalty runs for ball-tampering. Hair subsequently declared the match forfeited by Pakistan, handing the win to England. It was the first time a Test had ever been forfeited.

Shaharyar Khan, Ashraf's predecessor and chairman during The Oval Test, shared Inzamam's sentiments. "He [Hair] should never have been reinstated after committing so many gross irregularities during the [2006] Oval Test," Shaharyar told Reuters.

"The ICC board decided beyond doubt Hair's conduct was not up to the mark. This man violated his responsibilities as a senior umpire. How the ICC can restore him is hard to comprehend."

Ramiz Raja, former captain and widely-respected commentator, said the decision highlighted Pakistan's weak hand at international level. "The decision of Hair's recall shows Pakistan's lack of presence at international forums. It is surprising that Hair was reinstated without being tried and tested. It shows that the international community is ready to walk over Pakistan whenever they want."

A satisfactory compromise

Darrell Hair arrives at the tribunal last October...

Darrell Hair's lawyers, Robert Griffiths QC and Paul Gilbert, decided to terminate his tribunal hearing against the ICC in London last October because a point of no return had been reached after six days in court. The next witness Griffiths would have cross-examined would have been Nasim Ashraf, the Pakistani delegate, and he would not have concerned himself with any sensitivities.

Hence there was a compromise: Hair would undergo six months 'rehabilitation' and the ICC would then reconsider whether he should be allowed to officiate in Test cricket once more. Had he not been allowed back, Hair would have consulted his lawyers once more and there can be little doubting that both parties would have been back in court.

There has been no collusion between the respective legal teams since then, but this is an outcome that suits both camps. Hair's lawyers anticipate that the forthcoming series between England and New Zealand will be the obvious one for his return, since neither country will object to his presence. The ICC, for its part, needs only employ him for the next 12 months until his contract expires, and it can pick and choose his matches to everyone's satisfaction. It is not as if he has to stand on the subcontinent.

Hair is fortunate in one sense, for this verdict comes at a time of poor officiating by umpires in world cricket, notably in the recent acrimonious series between Australia and India. Never has there been greater need of an experienced, resolute official who can make correct decisions in terms of the contest between batsman and bowler, to say nothing of dealing with the increasing amount of sledging in the game.

The ICC was always going to present the termination of the tribunal hearing as its own victory and Hair is well aware that there is nothing further he will be able to do if his contract is not renewed in a year's time. He will, though, have resumed officiating at the highest level and will be able to write his memoirs, which should reap better sales than those by any umpire bar Dickie Bird.

Above all, Hair realised he would miss Test match umpiring, and his lawyers were always mindful of that. Although Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the ICC, claimed afterwards not to have paid any attention to the coverage of the tribunal hearing, the governing body of the game would not have wanted its representatives to be exposed again to the probings of Griffiths, whose knowledge of the Laws of Cricket is due in part to sitting on the committee of MCC, which still has responsibility for them.

Hair, through his lawyers, expressed his delight at the prospect of returning to the Test arena, although he was never actually demoted from the ICC's Elite panel. His 'rehabilitation' has consisted of standing in a number of low-key matches, for there was little he did not know about the Laws. His interpretation of them, the sticking point at The Oval in 2006, is not likely to change now.

Otherwise, Hair has been living quietly with his wife, Amanda, at their home in Australia while relying on the good sense of the ICC. He will have to contend, inevitably, with a hefty media presence when he resumes his duties but he is unlikely to court controversy so long as he is not engaged with any country that objected to his return to the international game.

Darrell Hair

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Darrell Hair reinstated by ICC

Darrell Hair: once more set to umpire in major matches...

Darrell Hair will return to umpiring in Tests and ODIs after the ICC decided that he had successfully completed a six-month rehabilitation period. Hair has not stood in a major match since the Oval Test between England and Pakistan in 2006 when he and Billy Doctrove penalised Pakistan for ball-tampering.

Hair withdrew his allegations of racial discrimination against the ICC - with whom he is contracted till March 2009 - seven days into a tribunal in London last October. It was then recommended that he enter a period of rehabilitation. While he was never removed from the ICC's Elite panel, he was in effect isolated as it was made clear he would not be appointed to any game involving a Full Member.

Since he was suspended from standing in major cricket, Hair, has officiated in a few ODIs involving Associate countries as well as umpiring in three ICC Intercontinental Cup matches.

The ICC maintained that the decision was unanimous but it seems that a deal has been done behind the scenes as only yesterday a senior Pakistan board official said that the PCB would never countenance Hair standing in any of their matches.

The wording of the statement from the ICC gave every indication that Hair's contract would not be extended and it stated he was free to umpire any match "in the next 12 months".

Umpire returns after six-month rehabilitation

ICC formalises guidelines for IPL

The ICC executive board has formalised its stand on the Indian Premier League (IPL), saying international cricket was its top priority and laying out guidelines to ensure it stayed that way. It also emerged from the meeting, in Dubai, that the ICC's Future Tours Programme will not be altered to suit the IPL as neither the league nor the Indian board, which runs it, made such a request.

"The ICC board and BCCI agreed that the BCCI, as the owner of IPL, would sign a standard-form contract with all ICC Members," David Morgan, the president-elect of the ICC, said. The ICC board said the agreement was made to ensure the concept of 'nation-versus-nation cricket' was given the highest priority.

Among the principles mentioned in the agreement were that every ICC member had the right to object to a player from its country taking part in the IPL, and that such an objection can be made up to two years after that player's retirement. If such an objection is made, the various franchises of the IPL will not be able to select the player in question. It was also agreed that bilateral commitments between the boards will take precedence over IPL fixtures and that the IPL would introduce its own code of conduct regulations, draft an anti-corruption code and have an anti-doping policy in compliance with ICC regulations.

Zimbabwe Cricket's audit
The ICC board reviewed a report of the ICC audit committee, which looked at the findings of the forensic report of Zimbabwe Cricket's 2005-06 accounts conducted by KPMG South Africa. While saying the report "highlighted serious financial irregularities,", it agreed with the audit committee's assessment that the KPMG report had "found no evidence of criminality and that no individuals had gained financially."

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Cricket said that it had "taken substantial remedial action to correct these irregularities and would continue to do so."

Player referrals to be tested
In a significant development, the board has decided to trial player referrals, in which on-field decisions will be reviewed by the TV umpire once a player makes such a request. If the ECB and Cricket South Africa agree, the trial will be conducted during the Test series between England and South Africa later this year.

2011 World Cup
The 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent will feature 14 teams, two less than the number in the 2007 World Cup. Though the detailed schedule of the tournament has not yet been drawn, the board said the event "will be held over a significantly shorter period than the previous one." While the ten Full Member nations automatically book their place in the event, the remaining four places will go to the semi-finalists of the World Cup qualifiers, to be held in Dubai in 2009.

2008 Champions Trophy
The 2008 Champions Trophy, scheduled to be held in Pakistan from September 11 to 28, will go ahead as planned. A final decision will be taken after an independent security assessment of the situation in Pakistan, which will be conducted in June.

Nafees and Ashraful seal big win

Mohammad Ashraful scored an unbeaten 64 as he picked up his first ODI win as Bangladesh captain...

Shahriar Nafees struck a fluent unbeaten 90 while Mohammad Ashraful signalled his return to form with 64 not out as Bangladesh avenged their 2007 World Cup loss to Ireland with a convincing eight-wicket win in Mirpur. More importantly for Bangladesh, it was their first ODI victory after a run of 14 losses and the under-fire Ashraful's first as captain.

Bangladesh were off to a blazing start with Tamim Iqbal blasting two successive boundaries through the covers off seamer Kevin O'Brien. Nafees, after picking a couple of runs off the first delivery that he faced, cut Dave Langford-Smith past point to get his innings going. Langford-Smith drew first blood for Ireland in the fifth over, as Tamim sliced the ball to Greg Thompson at point. Nafees did not let that affect his intent, striking three fours in a single over bowled by Langford-Smith, who, despite an early wicket, struggled to maintain a consistent line.

Trent Johnson, the Ireland captain, found success in his first over when Aftab Ahmed drove straight to Reinhardt Strydom at mid-on. The Bangladesh batsmen were once again showing signs of ineptitude, similar to their performance against South Africa, but the arrival of Ashraful brought calm to the proceedings. Ashraful, having made 45 runs in five innings, took 13 balls to get off the mark with a cut through backward point as Andre Botha pitched one wide. He then cut Johnston through the covers first ball off the next over.

In the mean time, Nafees, who was looking solid at the crease, brought up his fifty off 75 balls when he glanced Kyle McCallan down the leg side for two. Nafees and Ashraful adopted a steady approach against the spin combine of McCallan and Thompson, and were content with the singles and twos. Ashraful reached fifty with a quick single off Thompson, and four balls later, Nafees rocked back and cut the same bowler past the covers to bring up the century stand.

With a win all but inevitable, the pair opened out against Langford-Smith in the 37th over: Ashraful played two identical cover drives and Nafees followed suit with a superb off-drive. Nafees then whipped Alex Cusack through midwicket to seal victory with 61 balls to spare.

Earlier, the Bangladesh bowlers, led by three wickets from Mashrafe Mortaza, who received the Man-of-the-Match award, restricted Ireland to 185 for 7. The spin quartet did well to keep Ireland down to 115 for 6 till the 35th over before a lower-order revival by Cusack and Johnston gave the visitors a more respectable total.

Mortaza, the lone seamer, set Ireland back by dismissing the openers - both edged to the 'keeper, Dhiman Ghosh. Niall O'Brien, Ireland's in-form player, began in earnest with two fours and a six but failed to carry on after making a start, driving straight to Farhad Reza at cover. Eoin Morgan and Kevin staged a recovery of sorts with a stand of 38 for the fourth wicket before Morgan played all over a yorker from Reza. Kevin fell soon after - trapped on the sweep to Shakib Al Hasan - and Ireland were in trouble at 97 for 5.

Following Botha's run-out four overs later, Johnston and Cusack added 65 to prop Ireland. Cusack played a patient knock of 38 off 61 balls before falling victim to Mortaza in the final over, who finished with an impressive 3 for 22, including four maidens. Johnston remained unbeaten on 31.

angladesh v Ireland, 1st ODI, Mirpur

Langeveldt pulls out of India tour

Charl Langeveldt won't be on the three-Test tour of India...

Charl Langeveldt, the South Africa fast bowler, has opted out of the Test series in India beginning next week, saying the controversy over the selection of the squad so upset him he feels he won't be in the right frame of mind for the matches.

Langeveldt was picked ahead of Andre Nel in the 14-man squad for the three-Test series, a move seen by many as pandering to Cricket South Africa's transformation policy. Nel was reportedly disappointed after his exclusion, and there was speculation over his future with South Africa.

Gerald Majola, the CSA chief executive, said Joubert Strydom, the convenor of selectors, had accepted Langeveldt's request to withdraw from the touring party, and that the selectors were considering a replacement.

"Charl Langeveldt called me today in an emotional state saying he wanted to withdraw from the tour of India so that he can consider his international future in the right frame of mind," Majola said. "He said that the public controversy over the selection of the Proteas team to tour India had upset him to the extent that he would not be in the right frame of mind to tour India and do his best."

"Charl said he wanted to use this time instead to consider his future in international cricket in a cool and calm manner.

"I have assured Charl that he is very much in the plans, and is regarded as one of our best fast bowlers in both ODI and Test cricket.

"We will have in-depth discussions with him, and hopefully he will continue to be available for international selection."

No replacement has been named as yet for Langeveldt in the squad, which arrives in India later this week.

South Africa in India 2007-08

Monday, March 17, 2008

Imtiaz Patel to succeed Speed as ICC chief

ICC president Ray Mali and the chief executive Malcolm Speed preside over the ICC executive meeting in Dubai...

Imtiaz Patel, chief executive of Supersport, the South African broadcast network, will succeed Malcolm Speed as the ICC's chief executive when he steps down in June. The ICC executive board, which met in Dubai on Monday, also named IS Bindra, the former president of the Indian board, as principal advisor, a new role.

Patel and Bindra were shortlisted by a four-man ICC sub-committee comprising the ICC president, Ray Mali, the president-elect, David Morgan, the Cricket Australia chairman Creagh O'Connor, and the president of the BCCI, Sharad Pawar.

Patel, a South African of Indian origin, is seen as a compromise candidate after concern among other ICC member nations over an Indian stranglehold on world cricket affairs had Bindra become the chief executive. A teacher before becoming development director at the United Cricket Board of SA - the forerunner of the current national body - in 1991, he joined SuperSport in 1999 and rose through the ranks to be its chief executive.

It is understood that the Bindra-Patel arrangement was worked out over the last "two or three days" between the Indian board and other ICC members. The BCCI had initially pushed hard for Bindra and the prospect of an age bar ruling out its candidate saw its president, Sharad Pawar, writing a letter to the ICC pointing out flaws in the argument.

The appointment bypasses concerns over a possible Indian stranglehold with Sharad Pawar in line to take over the top job from Morgan in two years. At the same time, the BCCI will have a key man in the top levels of the ICC keeping a tab on, and influencing, major decisions.

Bindra himself was reportedly not to keen to relocate to, and work in, Dubai on a full-time basis, especially since he is on the governing council of the Indian Premier League (IPL). He recently told Cricinfo that he would also have to take into account his daughter's education, and his position as head of the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA), the local association for the Mohali franchise.

An ICC official said Bindra will be based in India and will be available to it whenever necessary to provide guidance.

"We are delighted that Imtiaz is the board's choice for the post of the next chief executive," Mali said. "I have no doubt that if he accepts the position he will do a great job."

Morgan, who also takes over his post in June, said: "We are now negotiating the details of Mr Patel's engagement. In anticipation of an early completion to that negotiation, I do look forward to working closely with him during my presidency. These are exciting and busy times for world cricket and I know that Mr Patel will bring his wide range of skills and broad knowledge of the game to the table in a way that will benefit cricket as a whole.

"This has been a rigorous selection process and I am satisfied that we have exhausted every avenue to find the best person for the job. We are now in the process of negotiating the details with Mr Patel before he can be officially appointed."

The BCCI secretary, Niranjan Shah, told Cricinfo Bindra's appointment was "an honour for a major cricket nation like India ... Bindra is a man with great experience in cricket administration and his contribution at the highest level will be valuable."

ICC executive meeting

Ishant ruled out of first Test

Anil Kumble and Gary Kirsten arrive for the selection meeting in Bangalore...

Ishant Sharma has been ruled out of the first Test against South Africa but the two Singhs - Yuvraj and Harbhajan - have been retained after the selectors named an expected 14-member squad in Bangalore.

Murali Kartik was brought in as the third spinner, but an ankle sprain, sustained during the Deodhar Trophy game in Bangalore, has ruled him out for three weeks. Piyush Chawla, who was named as a back-up, thus finds himself in the squad. There are also question marks over Harbhajan Singh, the offspinner. He didn't undergo the fitness test he was scheduled to undergo today and will have to do so on March 21.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who suffered a sprain to a finger, will also have to clear a test on the same day, failing which Dinesh Karthik will take over the wicketkeeping duties.

Ishant had suffered an inflammation to his big toe during India's recent tour to Australia, apart from a finger injury, and was advised complete rest for three weeks. His selection for the second Test, starting in Ahmedabad on April 3, is subject to another fitness test.

Yuvraj, who had a problem with his knee, underwent a fitness test at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. He had a poor run in the Tests in Australia, scoring just 17 in two matches, but retained his spot. Wasim Jaffer, another player who was dropped during the Australia series, also held on to his place.

Sreesanth comes back into the side after recovering from a shoulder problem. RP Singh, who suffered a hamstring strain in Adelaide, also made the cut and showed his fine form with a five-wicket haul against North Zone in the Deodhar Trophy match in Bangalore. Zaheer Khan, who had said he needs more time to recover, wasn't picked and Niranjan Shah, the board secretary, felt "he may miss the series".

Virender Sehwag, who made a match-saving hundred in the Adelaide Test, was retained and celebrated with a rollicking 81 in the Deodhar Trophy in Bangalore. The middle order has a familiar look to it.

Anil Kumble will spearhead the spin department but it remains to be seen who his partner will be in the first Test in Chennai, which starts on March 26. The meeting, chaired by Dilip Vengsarkar, lasted an hour and a half. Kumble and Gary Kirsten, the newly-appointed coach, were present as well.

Squad for the first two Tests Wasim Jaffer, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble (capt), Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Sreesanth, RP Singh.

Back-up: Dinesh Karthik

Bill Brown dies aged 95

Bill Brown (right) walks out to bat with Don Bradman...

Bill Brown, who was the only remaining link to Australia's pre-World War Two Test era, died in Brisbane on Sunday at the age of 95. Brown was the country's oldest living Test cricketer and the third oldest in the world, and his death leaves only four surviving members of the 1948 Invincibles squad - Arthur Morris, Sam Loxton, Neil Harvey and Ron Hamence.

Although Brown's career was often overshadowed by his better-known contemporaries - he played with the likes of Don Bradman, Bill Ponsford, Bill Woodfull and Stan McCabe - he was without doubt a first-rate opening batsman. His 22 Tests brought 1592 runs at 46.82 and he was given the honour of captaining Australia for their first Test after the war.

He formed a prolific combination with Jack Fingleton and the pair averaged 63.75 in their opening stands in ten Tests. They were at their most damaging on the 1935-36 tour of South Africa, when they compiled three century partnerships including 233 in Cape Town, which remains a record for the first wicket in Australia-South Africa Tests.

Brown's personal pinnacle came at Lord's on the 1938 Ashes tour, when carried his bat for an unbeaten 206 in the first televised Test, a match that was also memorable for Wally Hammond's 240. He had already scored 133 at Trent Bridge and he had such a successful tour that he was second only to Bradman in Australia's list of aggregates and averages, and his 512 Test runs at 73.14 earned him a Wisden Cricketer of the Year award for 1939.

A cautious opener, Brown took seriously the job description, which he later summarised as: "Stay there until lunch-time on the first day. The pace you scored at didn't matter a darn." His adherence to the team request might not have pleased all the fans, who were often left waiting for the appearance of Bradman at No. 3, but it did satisfy his team-mates and Australia won 14 of the 22 Tests in which Brown played.

His three tours to England were all memorable for different reasons - he made his Test debut in 1934 in Nottingham and scored 73, which was followed by his maiden century in the next match at Lord's. The 1938 visit earned him the Wisden honour, and ten years later he returned and at the age of 35 played two Tests during the Invincibles trip.

By then his best days were behind him but he went on to play one more Australian summer as the captain of Queensland, his home state. Although he was born in Toowoomba in 1912, Brown had learned his cricket in New South Wales and made his first-class debut there in 1932-33.

That was the season of Bodyline and in the lead-up to the fourth Test Brown got a taste of his international future when he played against the tourists for a New South Wales side. Brown, who was only 20, enjoyed the occasion by making 69 when Bradman, Fingleton and Alan Kippax all failed. "The grass looks greener, it's a lovely day, the sun's shining, I wouldn't be anywhere else in the world," Brown said in later years in the book Remembering Bradman, recalling how he felt when he discovered England were resting Harold Larwood, Gubby Allen and Bill Voce.

"Prior to that I'd been lying in bed at night worrying. I had a fairly heavy bat, you see, and I'd thought, God, I'll never get this up in time for Larwood, he'll hit me fair between the eyes and that'll be the end of me."

During World War II, Brown was an air-force pilot and he spent time serving in Darwin and New Guinea, so his recollections of the conflict were markedly different to those of his team-mate Keith Miller. "I class mine as a gentleman's war," Brown said. "Never got dirty doing anything."

Brown went on to become a selector for Queensland and Australia during the 1950s, and in later years he was known as a gentleman of Australian cricket and as an entertaining public speaker. He presented Adam Gilchrist and Scott Muller with their baggy-green caps in 1999 and repeated the occasion six years later at the Gabba when Michael Hussey debuted. Brown inherited the mantle as Australia's oldest living Test cricketer from Bradman and that title has now passed to Hamence, who at 92 is one of the four remaining Invicibles.

Bill Brown 1912-2008

Harbhajan available for selection: BCCI

Harbhajan Singh is available for selection, says the BCCI...

The Indian board will inform the national selectors that Harbhajan Singh is fit and should be considered for selection, although he has not been to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) to get his fitness assessed.

Harbhajan's team-mate Yuvraj Singh reached the NCA in Bangalore on Monday morning to attend a fitness test hours before the national selectors were scheduled to meet and finalise the 15 for the first two Tests against South Africa. The three-Test series starts in Chennai on March 26.

"Harbhajan has informed the board that he is fit, and it was obvious to us during the Australia tour that he is not injured. Like Sachin Tendulkar who has informed us that he is fit, Harbhajan doesn't have to get a clearance from the NCA," a senior BCCI official told Cricinfo.

Harbhajan's fitness was assessed by India physio John Gloster after the Australia tour and he was diagnosed as having a hamstring injury. Later, Gloster said in his report to the BCCI that Harbhajan needed rest, prompting speculation that he may miss the South Africa series.

The national selectors, headed by Dilip Vengsarkar, had wanted all India candidates to clear the NCA's fitness test, as per the new BCCI norms, before considering them for selection. It remains to be seen whether they will take the board's word on Harbhajan.

South Africa in India 2007-08

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sidebottom ends England's drought

Ryan Sidebottom: consecutive five-wicket hauls

Ryan Sidebottom bowled England to their first Test victory for nine months, and their first overseas since the tour of India two years ago, as New Zealand were dismissed for 311 on the final day in Wellington to lose the second Test by 126 runs. After resuming on their overnight 242 for 6, their hopes had been invested in their last recognised pair of Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori, but Sidebottom dismissed Vettori for a duck with his sixth ball of the morning, and though McCullum blazed merrily for a boundary-laden 85, the match was wrapped up with half an hour to spare before lunch.

The result was an especially timely tonic for England's captain and coach, Michael Vaughan and Peter Moores, who had been facing the very real prospect of a third series defeat in a row, a run of form not endured by England since 1999-2000. Instead England have now put their embarrassing first-Test defeat in Hamilton to one side and ensured that there will be everything to play for in next week's final Test in Napier.

England were made to work hard for their win, however. New Zealand's total was the highest they had ever recorded in the fourth innings, surpassing the 286 they managed against Sri Lanka in December 2006, and while McCullum and Jacob Oram had been in harness on the fourth afternoon, the prospect of a more nail-biting finish had been on the cards. But the new ball, which Sidebottom took late on Sunday evening, did the trick for England.

With Sidebottom swinging the ball at a good pace, Oram didn't make it to the close, and when play resumed, the new man Vettori was unable to open his account for the innings. After enduring two close shaves from his first three balls, he jabbed at a rising delivery outside off, and squirted a thick edge to Alastair Cook's right at third slip. England's jubilation was unconfined - Vettori had made 173 runs in his first three innings of the series - but with him out of the way, the way was clear to start working through the tail.

Sure enough, Sidebottom struck again soon afterwards to end a feisty, if brief, innings from Kyle Mills. He blazed two boundaries through the off side to move to 13 from 21 balls, but had no answer to a full swinging delivery that rapped him flush on the pads. The Barmy Army, who had been singing Sidebottom's praises all morning, exploded in acclaim of their new favourite bowler, who has now taken 16 wickets at 17.50 in the series, including five-wicket hauls in the second innings of both Tests.

But England weren't able to begin their celebrations while McCullum was still at the crease. He had been ominously placed on 43 not out overnight, and got into his stride with a fourth-ball flick through backward-square off Stuart Broad, who had opened up from the City End of the ground in place of James Anderson, who was still reportedly feeling the effects of his ankle injury. McCullum then cut Broad into the ground and over the slip cordon to bring up his half-century from 80 deliveries, before following up with another clip off his legs as Broad strayed off line.

But it was only once he had been joined by the No. 10, Mark Gillespie, that McCullum really began to cut loose. Sidebottom dropped short and was leathered through midwicket for four, and one over later Broad was launched over square leg for six. Sidebottom found his outside edge with an outswinger that scooted away through gully for another boundary, but in the same over he had already been launched on the up over the covers.

Eventually, and perhaps reluctantly, England were forced to call upon Anderson, whose ankle could doubtless do with three days' of R and R before the Napier Test. But his arrival did the trick. Bowling fast, full and with good swing, he found McCullum's edge in his second over, only for Andrew Strauss at first slip to shell England's sixth catch of the innings, but three balls later, Gillespie poked outside off, and Ambrose - the nominated Man of the Match - made no mistake.

After that, the end was swift. New Zealand's No. 11, Chris Martin, is not a reassuring sight for any batsman, and McCullum waited only three more balls before trying to mow Monty Panesar out of the park. Instead he picked out Sidebottom in front of the Barmy Army on the long-on boundary, to end England's long and often agonising wait for a win.

New Zealand v England, 2nd Test, Wellington, 5th day

Hayden seeks talks with Harbhajan

Matthew Hayden wants to see if he can patch things up with Harbhajan Singh...

Matthew Hayden could meet with Harbhajan Singh, who has became Australia's least-favourite opponent, during the Indian Premier League next month in an effort to sort out their differences. Harbhajan reportedly called Hayden a "liar" when he returned home to India, which followed Hayden referring to Harbhajan as an "obnoxious little weed" in the lead-up to the CB Series finals defeat.

"I want to sit down with him and see if there is any way we can move forward with our relationship because it hasn't been great," Hayden said in the Sunday Mail. "I'd like to see where he's at and see if we can patch up our differences. Frankly, everyone is sick of it."

Hayden said he made an error with his choice of words and maintained he did not want to "disgrace or denigrate Harbhajan". "In the end all I did was put fuel on a fire that already existed," he said. "It wasn't necessary. It was a mistake."

The IPL tournament is a likely time for the two players to meet, but Australia will also tour India for a Test series in October. Hayden is keen to take part in the IPL to fine-tune for the trip to the West Indies starting in May.

"If anything, the IPL will help us," he said. "I've told Chennai I will be playing. I'm committed to going, if Cricket Australia allows me to go.

The tit-for-tat arguments between Australia and India were a feature of a long Test and one-day campaign, but Hayden said the relationship had not reached rock bottom. "There's definite tension, but if I was a spectator, that's what I'd want to see," he said. "If I was a fan and I went to a game that was far from contrived but didn't have a competitive edge, I'd be unimpressed straight away.

"There can be a sense of hypocrisy there. You know, I cross myself when I get 100, then I'm at first slip giving it to the Indians. At what point do you cross the line?"

The confrontations have not diminished Hayden's desire and the 36-year-old is targeting the 2009 Ashes tour. "I don't like speculating too far but if the ingredients are there there's no point stopping," he said. "I'd love to go to England. It's a tour that, yeah, the carrot's dangling.

"I've had great success in county cricket but every time I've gone there [for Australia] I've averaged around the mid-30s without really excelling. And it's a place I know I can excel."