Saturday, June 14, 2008

Butt and Younis inspire Pakistan to title

Butt and Younis inspire Pakistan to title.

A familiar nemesis and a battle-scarred warhorse inspired a downcast bunch to brave the odds and hand Pakistan their first multi-nation title in more than five years. In front of their board chairman, who had lashed out after their previous loss, and their coach, who was criticised for his overly optimistic statements, Pakistan turned in an intense, yet controlled, performance to clinch the Kitply Cup and head home upbeat for the Asia Cup.

In an era of slam-bang cricket, Pakistan reverted to a strategy straight out of the early 1990s: win the toss, bat, see off the new ball, keep wickets, accelerate and launch a big score. From 75 for 1 in the 20th over, on a pitch where the ball appeared to be stopping on the batsmen, they soared to 315. Salman Butt cracked his fifth hundred against India, and seventh overall, but it was Younis Khan's pumped-up century that charmed - under the cosh after his two successive ducks, he chose the big stage for the comeback.

India started well but came apart in the face of the middle-over onslaught. Eight bowlers were tried but Pakistan made the most of the lack of a fifth specialist, going after the part-time spinners even though the field was spread. Piyush Chawla came into this game on the back of a morale-boosting four-wicket haul against Pakistan but ended up having a harrowing time, finishing with the most expensive spell by an Indian spinner in an ODI.

All wasn't lost yet - India had chased down a similar total against Pakistan in Dhaka ten years ago - but there was no batsman, or partnership, to hold the innings together. A constantly mounting run-rate forced some poor shot selection and Yuvraj Singh's wicket, just when he was settled enough to guide the chase, all but shut the door. And just when Mahendra Singh Dhoni raised visions of a robbery, Umar Gul produced a masterclass in death-over bowling to seal the deal. His two early wickets, earned with bouncers, were probably more important but it was the final two, nailed with yorker-length balls, that will stick in the mind. The yorker that crashed into the base of Piyush Chawla's leg stump came with the effect of a hammer knocking in the final nail in the coffin.

Vital contributions ensured India stayed in the fight but what India could have done with was a couple of batsmen with the innings-building capabilities of Butt and Younis. The pitch wasn't conducive to strokeplay early and both bided their time through the Powerplays. Once set, there was little the bowlers could do and the blistering 240 Pakistan crashed in 30 overs made up for the lost time. This didn't come about through wild bashing; rather it was because of a pair who understood the nuances of the one-day game and illustrated the value of pacing an innings.

After two successive ducks, Younis Khan came up with a special 99-ball 108 in the final.

One needs to go back more than 25 years when a Pakistani second-wicket pair added more than 200 against India. The present duo couldn't match the rate set by Mohsin Khan and Zaheer Abbas, who belted 205 in just 27 overs, but did enough to set a rock-solid platform.

Younis raised his bat to the crowd twice: the first when he had a laugh at himself for getting off the mark, on the back of two successive ducks, and the second, a more emphatic celebration, when he brought up his century. It was truly a Younis special, the sort you expect from a batsmen who's used to his back against the wall. At no point was there a shortage of intent, whether he was drilling through the covers or pulling over midwicket or hustling between the stumps or even paddling fine.

If Younis nudged and glided, Butt punched and slapped. He didn't work on subtle glances and focused instead on forcing the ball through the gaps. He pulled out some of his signature strokes, like the slap through point and flick towards square leg, but the shot that defined this knock was the slog-sweep, whistling balls over midwicket. India, bizarrely, never plugged the gap - even after both batsmen peppered the midwicket boundary - and conceded 84 runs to the duo in that region.

Yuvraj chose to play in a different sort of V - between midwicket and fine leg. He was intent on sweeping the spinners and the packed off-side field prompted him to try out the slog-sweep, the flick, the conventional sweep and the vertical back-drive. He survived a close lbw appeal and a Fawad Alam caught-and-bowled chance but couldn't gauge the low bounce from Shahid Afridi, snicking to the wicketkeeper.

Dhoni held the lower order together and, typically, he chose to rotate the strike as the tailenders went for their shots. Irfan Pathan struggled to get his timing right and both Praveen Kumar and Chawla had no clue against Gul. Dhoni's two late sixes kept the flame flickering but, with nine wickets down and needing to go for broke, he holed out to deep point. He might have left it too late but the real damage was probably done much earlier in the evening.

Younis gets off the mark

Younis Khan celebrated his first run of the series ... and the 100th.

Appeals of the day
Shahid Afridi's delivery beat Yuvraj Singh's attempted sweep and struck him low on the pad in front of the stumps. He began the appeal confidently and was incredulous when he realised Nadir Shah's finger wasn't going up. That ball may have pitched outside leg but it was a tight call. A couple of deliveries later, Yusuf Pathan was struck on the pad as he pushed forward; once again Afridi roared an appeal and looked dumbfounded as Shah gave it as runs. In his next over, Afridi hit Suresh Raina plumb in front after he missed an attempted sweep. This time the ball had pitched in line but Shah remained unmoved.

Akmal's antics
Pakistan began their innings slowly and, in the tenth over, Kamran Akmal decided to improvise against Irfan Pathan. He walked across his stumps and created the line to hoist a short ball to the midwicket boundary. When he attempted to do it again the next delivery, Irfan altered his length and bowled it full. Akmal played across the line and the outside edge was held by Dhoni.

Younis finds his mojo
Younis Khan's tournament went from bad in the first match - out without facing a ball - to worse in the second - two dropped catches and a first-ball duck. Walking out to bat after Pakistan had made a quiet start in the final, Younis punched his first ball, off Irfan, elegantly through extra cover for four. He raised his bat to the crowd in good-humoured celebration of his first runs of the tournament. He would celebrate again, many overs later, on reaching a century which spurred Pakistan to a formidable total.

Caught the other day, dropped today
Rohit Sharma, fielding at a short cover point, had pulled off a sharp one-handed catch low to his left to dismiss Salman Butt in the league match against Pakistan. He was stationed in the same position in the final and once again Butt cut the ball low but this time to Rohit's right. He attempted it with one hand but was off balance and couldn't hold on.

A disciplined display
India did not concede a single extra in the first 16 overs of Pakistan's innings. The first leg bye came in the 17th over when Ishant Sharma hit Younis on the pad. Ishant also bowled the first wide, at the start of the 36th over, when he sprayed it outside Butt's off stump.

c Pathan b Pathan
It nearly happened in the 41st over when Younis skied Irfan towards long-on. Yusuf Pathan came sprinting in off the boundary and dived forward, barely getting his hands under the ball before it spilled out.

Substitute with safe hands
Nasir Jamshed hasn't had much to do in the Kitply Cup but today he had to field after Butt cramped up towards the end of his innings. Stationed at deep-backward square leg, Jamshed watched Rohit play a half-chip half-pull and as the top edge swirled towards him, he settled under it comfortably and took the catch to end India's promising second-wicket partnership. Minutes later, now at deep point for the left-hand Gambhir, Jamshed judged a skied cut to perfection to dismiss India's in-form batsman. He also pouched the title-clinching catch at the same position.

The doctor joins in
Nasim Ashraf, the chairman of the PCB, had written a letter to the Pakistan team blasting their performance during the league-match defeat against India. He flew into Dhaka and had meetings with the team ahead of the final. Whether it had an effect or not, Pakistan's batsmen flourished and Ashraf was seen sitting with the players towards the final overs of Pakistan's innings, applauding the boundaries.

England wary of New Zealand backlash

Cut away: Kevin Pietersen hasn't scored a one-day hundred for over a year, but looked in excellent form in England's Twenty20 win on Friday.

Match facts

Sunday June 15, 2008
Start time 10.45 (9.45 GMT)

Big Picture

From the frenzy of Twenty20 to the slightly more demure 50-over version, England and New Zealand face off for the first of five ODIs at Chester-le-Street, and it is the hosts who begin as favourites. A thumping nine-wicket win in the Twenty20 at Old Trafford on Friday has further boosted England's confidence following their series-win in the Tests, and New Zealand - who admit that one-day cricket is their forte - are further hampered with yet more injuries. Without Jacob Oram, who has been ruled out for at least 10 days with a hamstring strain, their middle and lower order lacks substance, and they will miss his economy with the ball. With rumours of infighting between John Bracewell and Daniel Vettori, New Zealand desperately need to start the series with a win and end their difficult tour of England on a high.

Form guide

England LTWLL (most recent first)
New Zealand WTLWW

Watch out for...

Brendon McCullum Uncharacteristically muted in the Twenty20 at Old Trafford, McCullum nevertheless remains a formidable figure at the top of the order. His exhilarating 158 from 73 balls in the Indian Premier League underlined his star quality - were proof even needed - and New Zealand urgently need him at his fearless best. Surprisingly, he has yet to notch an ODI hundred in 128 matches. Now could be his time.

Kevin Pietersen He hasn't made a hundred in one-day colours since the 2007 World Cup, but there were signs in his slick 41-ball 42 on Friday that his best form might be just around the corner. In his last 20 matches, he averages 31.05 - significantly down on his career mean of 48.18, and a hungry Pietersen is precisely the person England need to assert their authority over a shaky New Zealand.

Team news

England's lineup is unlikely to change significantly from their winning side on Friday, with Ian Bell and Luke Wright providing a solid base as openers. Wright needs to perform, however: he has shown glimpses of his talent with the bat, but needs to convert those promising starts into big innings, especially with Alastair Cook breathing down his neck. Cook, though, is unlikely to recover from a shoulder niggle he picked up on Saturday, with Andrew Strauss earning a call-up as cover. Meanwhile, Ravi Bopara didn't have much to do at Old Trafford, but has been in exhilarating form for Essex and bolsters an already strong middle-order for England. Ryan Sidebottom, who was rested for the Twenty20, could return at the expense of Graeme Swann or Dimitri Mascarenhas.

England (possible) 1 Luke Wright, 2 Ian Bell, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Ravi Bopara, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Owais Shah, 7 Dimitri Mascarenhas, 8 Tim Ambrose (wk), 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Ryan Sidebottom, 11 James Anderson.

The balance of New Zealand's side rests on how they cope with the absence of their towering allrounder, Jacob Oram, who has injured his hamstring. Their top-order looks strong - McCullum and Ross Taylor should provide the explosive strokeplay while Scott Styris, James Marshall and Jamie How offer ballast. The situation is less certain for the middle and lower-orders, and with Peter Fulton out of form they could gamble on choosing five specialist bowlers. Tim Southee, whose injured ankle kept him out of the Twenty20 at Old Trafford, will battle for the final seamer's spot with Michael Mason.

New Zealand (possible) 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Jamie How, 3 James Marshall, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Scott Styris, 6 Daniel Flynn, 7 Daniel Vettori (capt), 8 Kyle Mills, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Jeetan Patel, 11 Mark Gillespie

Umpires: Steve Davis and Nigel Llong

Pitch and conditions

The highest one-day score at The Riverside this season is Durham's 298 for 7, though the average is closer to 200. There is plenty of opportunity for batsmen who play conventionally, while the bowlers will never be totally out of the contest either. Traditionally a sporting wicket, conditions are expected to be cool but dry.

Stats and Trivia

  • New Zealand cantered to a seven-wicket win when they last played at Chester-le-Street in 2004, bowling England out for a paltry 101. James Franklin, their left-arm swing bowler, picked up 5 for 42.
  • England won the first ODI to be played at the ground in 2000, beating West Indies by 10 wickets, but have since lost their last three matches.
  • Since Paul Collingwood took over the reins, England have won nine and lost 10, tying that memorable ODI in Napier in February.

    Quotes

    "It was an amazing performance, but it means nothing for the one-dayers. We know we've got five tough games against them but hopefully we can keep similar sort of standards and put them under pressure."
    Collingwood urges England not to get carried away.

    "It's a huge blow to us because he's one of the best allrounders in the world so any time you lose him makes it tough to recover from it."
    Daniel Vettori on Jacob Oram's absence after injuring his hamstring

    Shoaib's five-year ban reduced to 18 months

    Shoaib Akhtar finally has something to smile about.

    Shoaib Akhtar's five-year ban has been reduced to 18 months by the PCB-appointed appellate tribunal, but he will have to pay a fine of Rs 7 million (approx US$105,000). The Pakistan board had, on April 1, banned him on various disciplinary grounds.

    "The tribunal has taken the decision [to reduce Shoaib's ban] with a clear conscience and under no pressure from either the board or anyone else," Justice (retd) Aftab Farrukh, the head of the three-man tribunal, said in Karachi, adding that it was an unanimous decision.

    Explaining the tribunal's verdict, Farrukh said: "We also took into consideration the past record of Shoaib and that he had publicly apologised for his behaviour and past deeds. He has promised to reform himself and we have also recommended to the board that he should be given proper counselling."

    Another member of the tribunal, Naveed Chaudhry, was pushing for the complete removal of the ban, with the provision of higher fine, but was overruled. "I wanted him [Shoaib] to play but pay a hefty fine of 20 million, but the other two members thought otherwise." The third member, former Test cricketer Haseeb Ashan, did not attend the meeting, but gave his consent over telephone.

    Meanwhile, Shoaib's lawyer, Abid Hasan Minto, said that he may pursue a further appeal against the reduced ban. "We will take a decision after going through the long and detailed order of the tribunal."

    The Pakistan board issued the ban after Shoaib, who was not being offered a contract by the PCB, lashed out at domestic tournaments, pitches and the administration in general. He made the comments while on a two-year probation after hitting team-mate Mohammad Asif with a bat before the World Twenty20 last year.

    Pakistan bat in overcast conditions

    Ishant Sharma returns after a one-match break.

    Shoaib Malik expectedly chose to bat first in the title clash - the first ODI final between the two sides since 1999 - but India might be heartened by the overcast conditions which could aid their swing bowlers early on. A steady drizzle, though, caused a 10-minute delay before the match got underway at the Shere Bangla Stadium.

    Ishant Sharma returned, in place of RP Singh, while Pakistan brought in Fawad Alam, the spin-bowling allrounder, instead of Wahab Riaz. India won by a comprehensive margin in the league game between the two sides - a 140-run hammering that prompted the PCB chairman to lash out.

    The surface has tended to be on the sluggish side but this one seemed hard and well-rolled with absolutely no grass on the surface. There was not much moisture either but the atmospheric conditions could come into play - especially with Praveen Kumar being in such fine form.

    The two captains, the ICC, and the Bangladesh board have agreed to change the ball at the end of the 30th over, instead of the 34th, because it has been getting discoloured too soon. It could play a part in the way the two teams use their spinners, especially with both having plenty of options in that department.

    India have won five of their last seven games against Pakistan but it always gets a bit tricky to predict when these two sides face off in a high-pressure final.

    India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rohit Sharma, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Yusuf Pathan, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Piyush Chawla, 10 Praveen Kumar, 11 Ishant Sharma.

    Pakistan: 1 Salman Butt, 2 Kamran Akmal (wk), 3 Younis Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Shoaib Malik (capt), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Fawad Alam, 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Iftikhar Anjum.

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    India start as firm favourites

    Praveen Kumar has been outstanding with the new ball.

    Match facts

    Saturday, June 14, 2008
    Start time 15.00 (local), 9.00 (GMT)

    The Big Picture

    Ancient history favours Pakistan, but more modern events give India the edge going into Saturday's encounter. Pakistan have usually fared better in ODI finals between these traditional rivals, winning five of the seven tournaments where the two sides met in the title clash - but the last of those was in 1999. India have had the upper hand in recent matches, winning five of their last seven games and with their rampaging top-order firing, have steamrollered their way to the final.

    A victory on Saturday would add to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's growing reputation as an ODI captain, having already tasted success at home against Pakistan and in the CB series in Australia.

    On the other hand, Shoaib Malik is yet to win a ODI series against significant opposition since beating Sri Lanka last May. His side's 12-game winning streak was emphatically snapped by a 140-run defeat in the league match against India, prompting a stinging and public rebuke from PCB chairman Nasim Ashraf.

    While this is a battle between arch-rivals, the frequency of matches between the two sides has taken the edge off this game. As Shahid Afridi said, "some of the jadoo (magic) has gone out of the atmosphere and build-up." A win here, though, will be the perfect tonic ahead of the Asia Cup.

    Form guide - India

    Last five matches: WWWWW (most recent first)

    Player to watch: Praveen Kumar's ability to move the new ball both ways has made him a tricky customer for batsmen to deal with. He dismissed Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting cheaply in both finals of the CB series and continued the good work in this series - running through the Pakistan top order and stifling the Bangladesh batsmen. With India's batting in top form, another incisive spell from Praveen could prove very costly for Pakistan.

    Form guide - Pakistan

    Last five matches: LWWWW (most recent first)

    Player to watch: Mohammad Yousuf has perfected the art of scoring quickly while rarely seeming flustered or hurried at the crease. An array of conventional shots has ensured the runs keep flowing with minimal risks. He's averaging a phenomenal 81.76 in his last 21 matches, and with Younis Khan and Afridi not in the best of form, he is the lynchpin of the Pakistan middle-order.

    Team news

    With the team progressing smoothly to the finals, India may not tinker too much with their combination. The only change could be Ishant Sharma coming back in place of RP Singh.
    India
    : (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rohit Sharma, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Yusuf Pathan, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Piyush Chawla, 10 Praveen Kumar, 11 Ishant Sharma.
    Mohammad Yousuf has been the lynchpin of Pakistan's middle order.

    Besides Malik and Afridi, Fawad Alam is the only spinner in the squad and he might not be risked in the final as he hasn't made much of an impact in his limited chances at the international level. Pakistan are likely persist with four fast bowlers in their XI.

    Pakistan: (probable) 1 Salman Butt, 2 Kamran Akmal (wk), 3 Younis Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Shoaib Malik (capt), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9, Umar Gul, 10 Wahab Riaz / Sohail Khan, 11 Iftikhar Anjum.

    Pitch and conditions

    The pitches used in the tournament have come in for praise from Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach. "The ball has not spun much but it has good bounce. It has been a terrific pitch to play on," he said. India's coach Gary Kirsten was also satisfied with the pitch and felt it would remain good for batting through the match, reducing the importance of the toss.

    Stats and trivia

  • Gautam Gambhir averaged 25.05 in his first 20 ODIs and a splendid 50.04 in his previous 29 games.

  • Twelve of Shoaib Malik's 33 fifty-plus ODI scores have come against India.

  • Younis Khan has faced only one ball in this tournament but has been dismissed twice.

  • The last final in Bangladesh featuring Pakistan and India had a thrilling conclusion with Hrishikesh Kanitkar slamming a boundary to clinch it off the penultimate ball.

    Quotes

    "We are not concerned by emails but about how the players perform tomorrow."
    Lawson puts up a brave front.

    "It's always a great clash and we know it's not going to be the same as it was the other night. It's going to be a different Pakistan team out there."
    Kirsten warns his team against complacency

  • Impressive England charge to victory

    Stuart Broad was outstanding with the ball as he removed James Marshall early in the innings.

    Maybe it was the lure of Allen Stanford's millions, but England produced their most convincing Twenty20 performance since crushing Australia at The Rose Bowl during their first game in 2005. They restricted New Zealand to 123 for 8 at Old Trafford, then an effortless 60 from Ian Bell made the run-chase a cakewalk, as a full house watched them romp home by nine wickets with 15 balls to spare.

    It was almost the perfect Twenty20 game from England. The bowlers were exemplary, led by Stuart Broad and James Anderson, as Brendon McCullum - the man who made 158, the highest Twenty20 score, in the opening IPL match - batted into the 11th over for 24. The ground fielding was fast and accurate while the catching, except for one drop by Paul Collingwood, was secure. Contrast this with New Zealand who lost Jacob Oram 10 minutes before the game, were laboured with the bat sloppy in the field and there's no question which side enters Sunday's first ODI with the momentum.

    The stage scores of New Zealand's innings show the hold England exerted. After six overs they were 33 for 2, after ten 59 for 3 and in total the innings included just 10 fours and four sixes. Broad was outstanding, conceding a little over four an over, showing that he has long since recovered from the mauling he received at the hands of Yuvraj Singh in Durban, when he went for six sixes in an over.

    By contrast, England's latest opening pair gave the run-chase the ideal flying start. Bell looked a different player than the one who scratched around during the Tests, cracking effortless boundaries during the Powerplay, while Luke Wright was more agricultural. Wright has been promised a run at the top, but at times he appeared to be trying to hit the ball too hard. A couple of drives, though, showed why the selectors like him as an opening option, before he swung a catch to long-on.

    As he is prone to do after one too many energy drinks, Kevin Pietersen was rather skittish early on and offered a leading edge which Daniel Vettori couldn't hold before he'd scored. However, by the end he was dominating the attack with his usual strut, while Bell eased to a 38-ball half-century, more than he'd scored in his previous four innings put together. The strokeplay of Bell and Pietersen that sealed the crushing victory was what the visitors never managed.

    New Zealand were never really in the contest once McCullum was denied the chance to light the fuse. He faced just eight balls in the first six overs, and by the end of the fielding restrictions didn't have a run. He was pinned to the crease, especially by Anderson whose second over was a maiden, a fine effort for a bowler who isn't renowned for his economy, and he also cracked him on the helmet with a bouncer.

    You would have got long odds on McCullum taking nine balls to get off the mark, but the key for England's quick bowlers was the extra pace provided by the surface. Unlike in New Zealand, where the short stuff was dispatched by McCullum on easy-paced surfaces, here Anderson and Broad were able to keep him on the back foot.

    Ross Taylor broke the stranglehold by taking 14 off the sixth over including a slog-sweep over deep square-leg for six, similar to those he played during his 154 in the Test on this ground. But Collingwood - fresh from his 5 for 14 for Durham on Wednesday - nipped one back between bat and pad for a crucial wicket. McCullum finally cut loose with a pulled six off Luke Wright, but it was brief onslaught. Wright had his revenge when he squeezed a yorker under McCullum's bat.

    Batting was no easier against spin when Graeme Swann was introduced in the 12th over and his second ball spun through Peter Fulton's half-hearted push. He should have struck again next ball when Daniel Flynn edged to slip, but Collingwood couldn't get his hands in an ideal position.

    Flynn, on the ground where he lost two front teeth against an Anderson bouncer in the Test, played as well as any of his team-mates, bustling between the wickets and connecting sweetly with a couple of powerful blows. However, Scott Styris barely middled a ball during his painful 22-ball stay, and it was clear that those batsman remaining from the Tests were low on confidence and those recalled short on practice.

    For England the transition appeared seamless and they rode on the momentum created from the Test series. With one eye on Antigua in November, their only concern is that they might have peaked too early.

    Proceedings in Asif case to resume on June 22

    Mohammad Asif's case will be taken up by the Dubai Attorney General.

    Dubai's Attorney General will conduct an inquiry into the case involving Mohammad Asif, who has been in detention in the country for the suspected possession of an illegal substance.

    "Our lawyer has confirmed that Asif's case will start on June 22 and no charges have yet been lodged against him," Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, told AFP.

    A Dubai court had referred Asif's case to the Attorney General last Sunday after the public prosecutor had completed his investigation and made his recommendations. "We have maintained that Asif is innocent until proven guilty and all speculations on the case are unwarranted," Naghmi said.

    Asif had been held at the Dubai International Airport on June 1 after authorities allegedly found a banned substance in his wallet.

    If convicted, Asif could face a sentence of up to four years. He is also likely to face an investigation by the PCB.

    Modi reiterates ICL ban for Champions League

    Chris Read and his county Nottinghamshire will be out in the cold even if they qualify for the Champions League.

    Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman and commissioner, has firmly ruled out the possibility of any team that includes cricketers associated with the unauthorised Indian Cricket League (ICL) participating in the proposed Champions League Twenty20 tournament, even if these players are dropped just for the event. This implies that those cricketers cannot play even in the domestic tournaments that serve as the qualifying stages for the Champions League.

    It's a scenario that could open up a host of legal issues in England, with the possibility of players suing their counties if they are dropped from the Twenty20 sides. Alternatively, it could mean that most of the English county teams will not be eligible for the proposed US$ 5 million event that is expected to feature the top two Twenty20 domestic teams from India, England, Australia and South Africa. Currently, there are around 25 players, spread over 15 of the 18 county teams, with official links to the ICL.

    "We are very clear on that," Modi, who is a major force behind the Champions League, told Cricinfo. Asked if counties with ICL players would be invited if they drop these players for the event, Modi said, "No, even that is not possible. Only teams that have no ties at all with ICL players will be invited... others are automatically disqualified."

    The ECB had on Saturday issued a press release which said that the ECB, Cricket Australia, the BCCI and Cricket South Africa had "reached an agreement for the staging of the inaugural Champions League this autumn" to be staged either in India or the Middle East.

    An ECB spokesman told Cricinfo that Cricket Australia were drawing up the rules for the competition and "it would be wrong to prejudge their decision". It is expected that the regulations will be finalised during the ICC annual conference in Dubai at the end of the month.

    However, Modi indicated today that the ECB's press release did not present the final picture and was issued earlier than expected. He said details of participating teams, venues and possible dates were yet to be finalised and all that had been formalised was just an "in-principle agreement" to host such an event.

    Hurtling into a new era

    Talking big money: Kevin Pietersen wants to cement his million-dollar role tonight.

    Match facts

    Friday June 13, 2008
    Start time 17.30 (16.30GMT)

    Big Picture

    It's the form of the game that has turned cricket upside down, and for England's players, it's become even more crucial than ever. Tonight's contest at Old Trafford is, to all intents and purposes, a first chance to audition for Allen Stanford's US$20 million showdown in Antigua in November. A strong individual performance here, in what is one of only two scheduled Twenty20 internationals for England this summer, will all but ink the player into the starting line-up. For New Zealand, the incentives are slightly less full-on, although revenge for the Test series defeat will undoubtedly spur them on. England beat them 2-0 in this format in New Zealand in February, and in fact they've lost their last six encounters, but since then six of their foremost stars have been toning their hard-hitting techniques in the Indian Premier League.

    Form guide

    England WWLLL
    New Zealand LLLLL

    Watch out for...

    Brendon McCullum No single player did more to ignite the feverish atmosphere of the IPL than McCullum, whose first foray for the Kolkata Knight Riders came on the opening night of the competition in Bangalore, when he belted Rahul Dravid's hapless Challengers for 158 unbeaten runs from 73 balls. He's back in black for this contest, rather than the gladiatorial gold of Kolkata, but he's bristling for another bout of big-hitting.

    Stuart Broad In Durban in September, Broad was battered for six sixes in a single over by India's Yuvraj Singh during England's feeble showing in the ICC World Twenty20, but since then he has come into his own as an international cricketer - with bat and with ball. He's only 22, but his disciplined pace bowling and cool head for a crisis make him an indispensable part of England's limited-overs planning

    Team news

    Michael Vaughan might protest that he's still available for this form of the game, but his second-ball duck for Yorkshire last night confirmed he's a long way out of this particular picture. Instead Paul Collingwood takes over the reins for England, with the youngster Luke Wright stepping up to the opener's role. Dimitri Mascarenhas, England's sole IPL representative, returns to the lower-middle order, while Ravi Bopara - bristling for an opportunity after a brilliant double-hundred for Essex last week - is also set for a chance.

    England (probable) 1 Luke Wright, 2 Ravi Bopara, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Paul Collingwood (capt), 5 Owais Shah, 6 Tim Ambrose (wk), 7 Dimitri Mascarenhas, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann 10 Ryan Sidebottom, 11 James Anderson.

    New Zealand's line-up will look rather more familiar to those who watched them in action in the Tests, with at least seven of their Trent Bridge line-up expected to play a part. McCullum shifts up the order yet again, from No. 3 to No. 1 this time, but their allround capabilities will be boosted by the return of Scott Styris, whose hard hitting is matched by his hit-the-deck seam bowling. Ross Taylor, who was New Zealand's most flamboyant batsman in the Tests, will relish the chance to play his strokes with impunity.

    New Zealand (probable) 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Jamie How, 3 Peter Fulton, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Scott Styris, 6 Daniel Flynn, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Michael Mason, 11 Jeetan Patel.

    Umpires: Ian Gould and Peter Hartley

    Pitch and conditions

    Old Trafford is arguably the fastest track in world cricket, and also provides good bounce and turn for the spinners. There will, however, be plenty for any batsman who chooses to hit through the line, so it probably won't just be Manchester's notorious weather that rains down on the crowd. Showers are forecast for the evening, but a full game is in prospect.

    Stats and Trivia

  • New Zealand took part in the world's first Twenty20 international, when they took on Australia at Auckland in February 2005.

  • New Zealand may have lost their last six Twenty20s, but their most recent victory did come against England, at Durban during the ICC World Twenty20.

    Quotes

    "We don't really know how they're going to react because this is a first for all of us. We're going into the unknown."
    Collingwood on the repercussions of the Stanford deal.

    "It will be interesting when I sit down with the IPL guys and just say 'did you notice any trends throughout the tournament?'"
    John Bracewell, New Zealand's coach, believes his senior players will provide an insight into Twenty20 tactics, after their sojourn in India.

  • Talat Ali plays down Ashraf remarks

    Talat Ali: "This is not the first time that the chairman has written to the team".

    Talat Ali, the Pakistan team manager, has played down the PCB chairman Nasim Ashraf's scathing remarks to the management following the side's 140-run defeat to India in the Kitply Cup. Ali said the media was making a big issue of Ashraf's email which was leaked to the Pakistan press on Wednesday.

    "It happens every now and again," Ali said of Ashraf's email, which, among other things, criticised Shoaib Malik's captaincy and fitness, and picked out Kamran Akmal for "unsporting behaviour" after he claimed a catch that he hadn't taken cleanly.

    "There is nothing new to it," Ali said. "This is not the first time that the chairman has written to the team. He has a right to ask me anything and it is nothing abnormal."

    Ali refused to divulge details of the email and said it was a board matter. "When we win, we do analyse the victory and when we lose we analyse the defeat. It's normal that people ask what went wrong with this kind of performance."

    On Thursday the board sacked Saleem Altaf, a senior board official, reportedly after alleging that he has leaked sensitive information to the press. Though it seemed initially that the leaked email was the reason for his sacking, it seems unlikely to be the case.

    Gilchrist tips Twenty20 to overtake internationals

    Adam Gilchrist has compared the excitement of the Indian Premier League to the Olympics.

    Adam Gilchrist has predicted Twenty20 will become cricket's "staple diet" in the next ten years and a window may have to be carved into the programme to fit in the traditional contests. Gilchrist has returned to Australia impressed with the Indian Premier League, which he compared with the excitement of the Olympics, and said the concept would be "a landmark in the history of cricket".

    "The great discussion at the moment is whether we carve out a window for the IPL," Gilchrist said in the Australian. "I envisage that, potentially, within ten years it could be more a case of trying to carve out a window for international cricket as this format becomes more of a staple diet."

    Twenty20 is being flooded with cash - Allen Stanford launched a US$20m series at Lord's on Thursday - and Ricky Ponting, who appeared in the first two weeks of the IPL, is concerned by the huge financial rewards. "I've always been a little bit worried that if money keeps growing and growing and growing in that version of the game then all of a sudden young kids who are 14, 15, 16 now and want to make cricket their career may not even consider playing for their countries," Ponting told the paper.

    "They might be trying to get a crack at the IPL or a competition somewhere like that and hopefully make a name for themselves and totally turn their back on the international game. That's what I'm worried about."

    David Hussey, the Victoria, Kolkata and Nottinghamshire batsman, told the Age he was "seriously worried" about domestic players chasing the money instead of focusing on first-class contests. "I'm just imploring that the ICC and the IPL all get together and keep a keen interest in Test cricket because that is what this game's all about," he said.

    Hussey, who will join the Australian one-day team in the Caribbean over the next couple of days, was signed by Kolkata for US$625,000, but said he remained a traditionalist. "My priority is still the same," he said. "I'm a traditionalist and I always had the goal growing up that I wanted to play cricket for Australia. I've got a little window of opportunity in the West Indies. Hopefully, I get a chance and if I do I will take it with both hands. I desperately want to play."

    Gilchrist has suggested caution on making decisions about the IPL's future, but he was amazed by the success of the tournament. "It was quite overwhelming to see an event capture the attention and mindset and imagination of a country," he said. "The only thing I can think of that was comparable was maybe the Olympics when they were in Sydney. But the Olympics was about two weeks, this was 45 days every night."

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Gambhir century takes India to easy win

    Gautam Gambhir guided India to a comfortable seven-wicket win with his unbeaten 107.

    A fifth ODI century for Gautam Gambhir and another quickfire fifty from Virender Sehwag extended India's domination in the Kitply Cup as they thumped Bangladesh in Mirpur by seven wickets, with 14.5 overs to spare, and set up a final with Pakistan. Bangladesh needed to win by a bonus point to book their place in the final but, despite Raqibul Hasan's 89, they always going to fall short of a fighting total after a miserly opening burst from Praveen Kumar.

    Chasing 223, India were off to a flier with Sehwag in imperious touch. He offered a few chances early in his innings but soon took the attack to Reza in the sixth over, smacking one over midwicket for a boundary and then another through point. Fortunately for him, an outside edge eluded a diving Mushfiqur Rahim. Gambhir repeated the dose in Reza's next over, taking three fours as the bowler erred in his line.

    Ashraful brought on Dolar Mahmud, playing his second game, but Sehwag showed him no mercy and disdainfully dispatched twice him over the extra-cover boundary for six. To Bangladesh's relief, he then smashed a short ball straight into the hands of Tamim Iqbal at square leg at the end of an over in which he plundered 24 to rush to 59 off just 32 balls.

    The platform had been set for the other batsmen to consolidate, and Gambhir took the cue from his Delhi team-mate. Rohit Sharma was lucky to survive an outside edge off Dolar and then pulled one superbly for six, but it was Gambhir who stole the show once the spinners come into play.

    Gambhir, reputedly the best player of spin in this Indian XI, justified that tag; he didn't hesitate to come down the track - giving himself a bit of room as well - and launched boundaries with ease in the arc between wide long-off and extra cover. Forty-four of his runs came in the region and, when the Bangladesh bowlers pitched it short on middle and leg, pulled or slog-swept them to the leg side. Abdur Razzak's entry into the attack was greeted with a inside-out shot over extra cover for four, and he was then launched over long-off for six.

    Gambhir was much slower than Sehwag to his fifty - it took 57 balls - but he stayed till the end to get a well-deserved hundred. Some innocuous spin from Mahmudullah and Alok Kapali was hardly a problem for a man who'd handled Muttiah Muralitharan with aplomb in the CB Series. Rohit and Yuvraj Singh fell at the other end, but that didn't matter as Gambhir's unbeaten 107 saw India home.

    Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangladesh captain, was left hapless as Sehwag and Gambhir plundered runs, but it was his batsmen who'd let the team down with an inadequate 222, which owed much to Raqibul's 89.

    Along with Ashraful, Raqibul rebuilt a tottering innings - Bangladesh's openers had fallen for just 17 - with a 76-run stand in 19.4 overs. Ashraful's 67-ball 36 ended in a tame manner, one driven back to Yusuf Pathan handing him his first ODI wicket. Although the more experienced Ashraful failed to capitalise, Raqibul didn't disappoint. In his eighth innings, he came up with his highest score - his 89 also being the best for a Bangladesh batsman against India - surely one of the few positives for coach Jamie Siddons from this tournament.

    Bangladesh crawled in the early half of their innings. Praveen's opening spell of 7-2-8-1, backed by a disciplined effort from the other Indian bowlers, ensured runs came at a premium. It was Alok Kapali's entry - with Bangladesh at 106 for 4 in the 30th over - that gave the innings a much-needed momentum. Both he and Raqibul found the gaps and ran hard for the singles. There were only four boundaries, shared equally by the two, and just when Bangladesh looked set for a late-over surge, Kapali was cleaned up by Irfan as he walked across the stumps. The fifth-wicket partnership added 46 in just 8.4 overs.

    Raqibul brought up his fifty off 78 balls, and he upped the pace in the latter half of his innings as India's bowlers failed to make inroads in the middle overs. Praveen's returns in his last three overs fetched three times the runs off his first seven, but with Raqibul cramping up, Bangladesh failed to make full use of the final few overs. Mahmudullah chipped in with 24, but Bangladesh lost their last four wickets for 26 as they were bowled out in 49.5 overs.

    Dubai A-G likely to take up Asif case on Sunday

    Mohammad Asif's case is now expected to be taken up by the Dubai Attorney-General.

    The Dubai Attorney-General is expected to take up Mohammad Asif's case on Sunday, according to the Pakistan embassy in the city, where the bowler has been detained since June 3 on suspicion of possessing contraband drugs.

    An official at the embassy dismissed media reports that Asif was likely to be deported on Friday. "I think if any decision was taken to deport him, we would know about it," the official told PTI. "There has been no development on the Asif front as yet and we are expecting the Attorney-General to handle the case on Sunday after going through the prosecutor's report. He might even take a decision the same day on whether to charge Asif or release or deport him."

    Last Sunday Asif appeared before the court, which was adjourned soon after the recommendations of the public prosecutor were heard. After the investigations were completed, the prosecutor's report was submitted to the Attorney-General.

    Shafqat Naghmi, the board's chief operating officer, said no progress had been made in the case so far. "Nothing much has moved on it so far. I spoke to Asif this morning in connection with his lawyer. He sounded tired."

    The ICC has also taken an official interest in Asif's case now, having written to the PCB and asked to be kept informed about developments in the case.

    "The ICC wanted to know what was happening with the case. They have gotten news from the media about it, but wanted to be kept informed about what is happening. We have no problem with that," a board spokesman told Cricinfo.

    Should Asif be released from detention and sent back to Pakistan he will face an inquiry from the PCB.

    Ashraf blasts Pakistan for "embarassing loss"

    Under fire: Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal have earned the ire of Nasim Ashraf.

    Nasim Ashraf, the chairman of the PCB, has criticised the Pakistan side after their embarrassing 140-run loss to India on Tuesday.

    In an e-mail written to team manager Talat Ali, a copy of which was published in Dawn, Ashraf was especially severe on Shoaib Malik's captaincy and fitness, and picked out Kamran Akmal for "unsporting behaviour" after he claimed a catch that he hadn't taken cleanly.

    "Last night's performance against India in which we lost by over 100 runs was embarrassing," Ashraf, who will fly to Dhaka on Saturday to have a meeting with the team management, wrote. "It is not a question of losing a match but our overall performance and the lack of resolve and commitment bothered me the most."

    Ashraf has sent copies of the letter to coach Lawson and Malik and asked the team management to respond in 24 hours "so that timely action can be taken before the next match against India [assuming the sides meet in the final]."

    He questioned why an additional spinner was not included in the team and inquired about the fitness of Malik. "The previous game against Bangladesh had clearly highlighted the characteristics of the track in Dhaka, that the spinners were going to play crucial role. The team selected for India game had four fast bowlers. Also, you [referring to Ali] clearly told me that Malik was 100% fit and therefore was the second spinner in the side. What happened to that? Why did Malik not bowl?"

    Ashraf then turned his attention to the team's strategy, saying that they looked "paralysed" in the field after the flying start made by India. "Nobody suggested to the captain that he must have a mini conference with the vice-captain and other players - junior or senior - and take corrective action. Even the commentators were talking as to the possibility of changing the bowling and bringing in Shahid Afridi at an early stage."

    Meanwhile, Akmal's place in the side looks to in danger after Ashraf called for his ouster. "[The] wicketkeeping was pathetic, especially after Kamran Akmal dropped the catch and pretended that he had held on to it. This is unsporting behaviour but perhaps one has to give him the benefit of the doubt as he may not have realised that the ball had slipped out from his hand, which was picked up by the cameras.

    "I do not want such behaviour from any Pakistani player. Please warn everyone. We ought to be looking at playing another 'keeper."

    He said that fast bowlers should be advised not to "overextend themselves" referring to the 38 extras conceded. "They should have been instructed to bowl strictly to a line and length and to contain especially when the batsmen were in such full cry. It seemed as if we were just continuing with tactics that were clearly not working. We need to be more proactive on the field."

    The team's body language also earned Ashraf's ire." Except for a few on the field, the body language was not competitive. We were smiling and joking as if we were some junior team which was happy just to be given the privilege of playing a top team. This has to stop."

    He directed the team management to conduct a fitness test on Malik "so as to determine clearly whether he can bowl full 10 overs." He also asked the touring management to decide on the playing XI for a probable summit clash with India, and, to request for an additional spinner if they needed one.

    The only positives Ashraf noted was Malik's 67-ball 53 and the bowling of Afridi, though he felt the latter "threw his wicket away in a most irresponsible manner," after making his way to 23.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Bangladesh look to upset red-hot India

    Will Bangladesh be celebrating at the end of the match ...

    Match facts

    Thursday, June 12, 2008
    Start time 15.00 (local), 9.00 (GMT)

    The Big Picture

    Any doubts about how an Indian batting line-up would perform without their senior players were put to rest by the clinical victory over Pakistan. Bangladesh, who are yet to win a match against significant opposition since last year's World Cup, now have the unenviable task of beating an in-form India to avoid elimination.

    India's massive win on Tuesday means that only an unlikely defeat by more than 218 runs will stop them from making the title clash. That match also dented Pakistan's net run-rate to such an extent that even a one-run victory for Bangladesh will see the hosts through to the final.

    Form guide - India

    Last five matches: WWWWL (most recent first)

    Players to watch: Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have been in sensational form in recent months. Their opening partnerships in the IPL formed the bedrock of the Delhi Daredevils' IPL campaign and the ease with which they piled on 155 at more than seven an over against Pakistan would worry any opposition.

    Form guide - Bangladesh

    Last five matches: LLLLL (most recent first)

    Player to watch: For a batsman of Mohammad Ashraful's undoubted class, an ODI average of 22.71 is unacceptable. Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons was heartened by the manner in which Ashraful ground out an unbeaten 56 against Pakistan, shunning the impetuousness that has brought an abrupt halt to many of his innings. It will be interesting to observe what sort of approach Ashraful adopts against India.

    Team news

    With Farhad Reza having had a horror run in the recent series against Pakistan, Bangladesh are likely to retain the XI they went in with for the previous game.
    Bangladesh
    (probable): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Shahriar Nafees, 3 Mohammad Ashraful (capt), 4 Raqibul Hasan, 5 Alok Kapali, 6 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 7 Mahmudullah, 8 Mashrafe Mortaza, 9 Dolar Mahmud, 10 Abdur Razzak, 11 Shahadat Hossain.
    ... or will Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir put the Bangladesh attack to the sword?

    India's coach Gary Kirsten spoke about adopting a rotation policy, and with a place in the final almost assured, they are likely to experiment with the line-up. Ishant Sharma has recovered from a niggle he picked up in the game against Pakistan but could be rested to give Manpreet Gony a debut.

    India (probable): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Yuvraj Singh, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Suresh Raina/ Robin Uthappa, 7 Yusuf Pathan, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Piyush Chawla, 10 Praveen Kumar, 11 Manpreet Gony

    Pitch and conditions

    With pitches offering considerable assistance to spin, and getting slower as the ball gets older, the batsmen may want to make the most of the hard, new ball. And with the tracks being composed of black soil, it has also been tougher for the batsmen to sight the ball as the innings progresses. Although heavy showers are forecast for the rest of the week, the excellent drainage facilities - and the reserve day - should ensure a completed match.

    Stats and trivia

  • Praveen Kumar's ODI career has got off to a fantastic start - he now has three four-wicket hauls in six games
  • India are among Mashrafe Mortaza's favourite opponents. His four wickets knocked the wind out of India's World Cup campaign in 2007, and he averages 56 with the bat at a strike-rate of 138.27
  • While Tamim Iqbal averages only 22.91 in away ODIs, he manages a healthy 39.88 while playing at home
  • Two of Dhoni's four ODI ducks have come against Bangladesh

    Quotes

    "We have strategies for each and every player, not only their in-form openers."
    Ashraful says Bangladesh have done their homework

    "They have enough depth in both batting and bowling and they should not be rated by one innings when they lost to Pakistan."
    Dhoni isn't underestimating Bangladesh

  • Stanford reveals US$100 million deal

    The winner takes it all: Allen Stanford reveals all at Lord's.

    Antiguan-based billionaire Allen Stanford has confirmed that he will be investing US$100 million in a series of Twenty20 matches over the next five years which will make England and West Indies players among the highest paid in the game.

    The deal, announced at a slick media conference at Lord's, will centre on five US$20 million games between England and a Stanford All-Stars XI, drawn from the Caribbean, at his purpose-built ground in Antigua. The first of these will be held on November 1, Antigua Independence Day, before England head to India.

    "I see the Stanford 20/20 as a fantastic opportunity for current players in the Stanford 20/20 tournament to take a giant leap into the spotlight and gain exposure to top class opposition," Stanford said. "The Stanford 20/20 for 20 [million dollars] will be a highly anticipated event, not just because of the prize money, but because of the traditional friendly rivalry that exists between England and the West Indies."

    "The winner goes home happy, the loser goes home unhappy. We had to create something that had never been done before and take cricket to the previous level in the Caribbean, we've not been running our sport at a professional level."

    There were concerns with the winner-takes-all format proposed by Stanford but those seem to have been resolved. A deal will mean that if England win, each of the XI will receive US$1 million, the rest of the squad share US$1 million, and the management team splits another US$1 million. The remaining US$7 million will be shared between the ECB and the West Indies Cricket Board, regardless of the outcome of the match itself.

    The sums exceed those available for all but the top-paid players in the IPL, and, for the England cricketers, will also come on top of their existing ECB central contracts.

    Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, brushed aside suggestions the deal was pandering to the players in light of the distractions offered by the IPL. "I'm not seeing a great deal of worry in the dressing room about finances and we are not trying to appease them," he said. "It gives them a chance to perform under pressure and to make money beyond the dreams of some of their predecessors."

    Stanford initially offered South Africa a winner-takes-all match in 2006 but their board declined. A similar offer to India, with a bigger pot, was also dismissed.

    Aside from the five matches, it is reported that Stanford will put up US$9.5 million a year for five annual quadrangular events to be held in England from next year. England and West Indies will always be involved in these.

    Stanford completes a bloodless coup

    Show me the money: Allen Stanford poses with US$20 million.

    If there were any doubts remaining as to whether Allen Stanford planned to back up his lofty words with deeds, consider them blown away once and for all. The breezy whirring of his jet-black helicopter's rotor-blades did for that, as he and his cast of all-stars swooped in as if from Antigua itself, to perform a bloodless coup at the very home of English cricket.

    Lord's has never before seen anything quite like this. Less than 24 hours earlier, the ground had played host to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, invited by the MCC to deliver the annual Cowdrey Lecture on the Spirit of Cricket. But the traditional values espoused then were nowhere to be seen now, as English cricket put dignity to one side and embarked on the biggest cash-grab the game has ever seen.

    Down swooped the chopper, the legend "Stanford" emblazoned in gold letters along the side. It paused momentarily above the square of the Nursery ground, rotated 360 degrees, then came to rest by a freshly painted "H" in the outfield. It's fairly apparent what impression this was meant to give, but the din of the descent was more Apocalypse Now than Opportunity Knocks. Trepidation, slight nausea and wide-eyed intrigue were the overriding emotions for the entourage of journalists invited to witness the dawn of English cricket's brave new era.

    As the engines were cut, Stanford emerged triumphant into the light, pointing cheerily into the middle distance in that matey manner so beloved by US presidents, with his entourage following closely behind him. Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Everton Weekes, Richie Richardson, Curtly Ambrose and Desmond Haynes arrived by air, along with the WICB chairman, Julian Hunte, while Sir Garry Sobers joined them at ground level moments after landing.

    By then, the ECB delegation had already marched out to meet him. The chairman, Giles Clarke, led the way, strutting to the middle as if keen to present himself as an equal partner (though General Jodl at Reims came more readily to mind). But it was his sidekick, David Collier, who gave a truer indication of England's standing in this arrangement. He was unable to decide whether handshakes or hugs were appropriate for Texan royalty, and so ended up performing a floppy chest-bump that was exquisite in its awkwardness.

    Stanford's presidential-style arrival at Lord's.

    And there is something undoubtedly awkward about all this, although it would be wrong to be out-and-out sceptical. Money is something that English cricket desperately needs, both to promote the game domestically and to compete at boardroom level internationally, and let's not forget that, back in 2003, the entire English media (and I include myself) was wrong in its initial impression of the Twenty20 Cup. But in keeping with the Texan connection, there is more than just a hint of cowboy about the way in which the ECB has leapt into bed with the first and highest bidder.

    That sense of unease had been fuelled as we waited for the arrival. As various scenarios were speculated upon by the journalists, one of the tabloid reporters stated baldly that Richards and Sir Ian Botham would be making cameo appearances in November's inaugural winner-takes-all game, to provide some "legendary" pizzazz. It soon turned out he was joking, but it was a measure of the moment that no-one could seriously write such a suggestion off.

    And then there was the d├ęcor. All around the Nursery pavilion, placards had been hung on the walls with grand motivational quotes plucked from history. The one that caught my eye came from Rudyard Kipling's "If". "If you can make one heap of all your winnings. And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss," were the chosen lines. The next two words, as if anyone needs reminding are: "And lose". Too much of this arrangement seems out of context with the game that we have known and loved for generations, but Clarke has taken his gambler's instinct and made a break for the big-time.

    At what cost, however, remains to be seen. There's no question that Stanford's involvement with West Indies cricket has been a force for good - the team's recent improved form undoubtedly stems from the improved sense of worth and identity that his competition has brought to the region, not to mention the riches. And yet, English cricket is not flatlining quite so drastically as to require this degree of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

    In fact, there is a fine line between a kiss of life and a smothering, because the greatest fear about the day's events was the one that Stanford singularly failed to allay. When asked his opinion of Test cricket, he responded baldly: "I find it boring, but I'm not a purist." Then, in a sweeping metaphor about the architecture at Lord's, he went on to liken the "1700s" pavilion to the Test game, and the "Eye in the Sky" media centre to Twenty20s. "Test cricket is the foundation, that's where cricket came from. Twenty20 is the future, that's where the money is."

    It's not a ringing endorsement for traditional values, and on today of all days, Clarke was not about to leap to Test cricket's defence. "He's more than entitled to his opinions," Clarke retorted. "We've made it very clear how highly we regard Test cricket in this country, we think England is the home of Test cricket." How much longer can this remain the case, however. The only man in Stanford's line-up who spoke out on the old game's behalf was Botham, who also looked as though he'd strolled off the golf course with a Pringle sweater draped over his shoulders. But even his words were lost amid the glitz. Botham, remember, refused to go to the ICC World Twenty20 because he thought the format was a joke. Something's changed his mind, and it's probably the very same thing that has turned the ECB's heads.

    Stanford is no fool, but nor is he a philanthropist. He wants a return on his investment, and - as the tagline from Jerry Maguire goes - he expects the ECB to show him the money. With that in mind, he decided to flash the cash himself, and onto the sleek, black, neon-lit stage, he wheeled a vast cabinet full of 50 dollar bills. So that's what US$20 million looks like - it's also what England's future looks like. Nothing about this game is ever going to be the same.

    Tight Caribbean tussle ends too soon

    Fidel Edwards will be a key man for West Indies but the make-up of the rest of their attack is still uncertain.

    A three-Test duel that seemed too long when it started now enters a conclusion that has come too quickly. The owner of the Frank Worrell Trophy was decided in ten days, but while Australia have controlled much of the play, the contest, which resumes in Barbados on Thursday, has been far from one-sided.

    Ricky Ponting rarely admits a weakness, but at the end of the second game he said his bowlers have come back to the pack. After running into a batting order that uses Shivnarive Chanderpaul as a crutch and has had wonky episodes in every innings, Ponting's admission gave the rest of the world further hope the world champions are ripe for overhauling.

    West Indies' main problem as they attempt to come from behind and level their second series in a row is the big prize is already back in Australia's hands. The emotional pull for success has been reduced and the best the hosts can achieve is 1-1. That result was a strong one against Sri Lanka when there were only two matches to fight over.

    Abbreviated series make it difficult for the followers to feel satisfied, especially if there are regular shifts in momentum. West Indies could have won the first Test until they were undone by Stuart Clark on the final day, and in the second fixture they never quite got ahead but refused to die. This tussle between two evolving teams could hold interest (for traditional fans, anyway) over five Tests, although one of the off-shoots of Australia's modern desire for dominance has been the reduction in full schedules. The long, winding walks of the past have been replaced by quick trips to the gym, except when England is involved.

    A year ago West Indies might have secretly wished for a short series against Australia to avoid the embarrassment of a fourth consecutive lopsided campaign. Now there are futile dreams of a longer contest. Imagine Chris Gayle being available for the next three Tests instead of one. Opening has been a problem for the home side and local supporters must wonder what might have been if Gayle's groin was healthy for the opening two games.

    Gayle was in charge when West Indies won the second Test against Sri Lanka in April and his short leadership reign includes two victories and a couple of losses. He has been training strongly and will return to take the spot vacated by the out-of-sorts Devon Smith.

    The local selectors have a major decision over the combination of the bowling attack, which faltered in the second Test when Australia's batting improved. No spinner was chosen on an unfriendly surface for the fast men, but there are much greater expectations for the Kensington Oval pitch. Ponting said the practice wickets in Barbados were "twice as fast and bouncy as anything we have experienced so far on tour". "If the Test pitch is anything like that," he said in his column in the Australian, "we could see some really exciting cricket."






    Where West Indies won't be comfortable is with Brett Lee. He was exhausted after back-to-back Tests, but the Australians had a few days off and Lee will be ready to charge





    Fidel Edwards and his gang upset the Australians in Jamaica and it will be fascinating to see how both sets of speedsters go if the surface fulfills the predictions. "It is going to be the best pitch we're going to be playing on this series," Gayle said. "There is going to be a bit more bounce and pace in it, it's going to be very good for batting even though it will have a bit more pace and assist the bowlers a bit more."

    Australia have avoided the lure of picking four fast men, meaning Ashley Noffke and Doug Bollinger remain on the sidelines, and named Beau Casson, the left-arm wrist-spinner, for his debut. The decision is a sensible one from Australia, who need to experiment before the India series in October, but the selection of a novice gives the home team another reason to feel calm.

    Where they won't be comfortable is with Brett Lee. He was exhausted after back-to-back Tests, but the Australians had a few days off and Lee will be ready to charge. On two flat pitches he has already picked up 13 wickets at 19.53, and if there is spring in this one he will be an awkward prospect. He might even find a way to remove the virtually indestructible Chanderpaul, who has scored 313 runs, including two centuries, and was not dismissed in Antigua.

    The tourists will also hope Mitchell Johnson can be convinced to show something approaching his best after a subdued start to his first overseas tour. Ponting's other concern is the right ring finger of Brad Haddin. It broke during the opening Test but Haddin, being true to the traditions of Australian wicketkeeping, ignored the pain in the next game. Despite - or maybe because of - the appearance of Luke Ronchi as a shadow player, Haddin will continue to shut out the discomfort as he tries to secure the gloves following Adam Gilchrist's departure.

    Australia's armour has become more brittle over the past year while West Indies appear to be on the rise. It is a shame there are only five more days before a surprisingly gripping series concludes.

    England players poised to earn millions

    Allen Stanford: set to make England's players very rich.

    The formal announcement will come this afternoon at Lord's but agreement has been reached between the ECB and billionaire Allen Stanford for a series of Twenty20 matches which could make England and West Indies players among the highest paid in the game.

    It is rumoured that the total value of the deal could be as much as US$150 million, with the bulk being invested in five US$20 million games at his purpose-built ground in Antigua. The first of these is expected to be held in early November, before England head to India.

    There were concerns with the winner-takes-all format proposed by Stanford but those seem to have been resolved. The Times reports that a deal has been reached which will mean that if England win, each of the XI will receive US$1 million, the rest of the squad share US$1 million, and the management team splits another US$1 million. The remaining US$7 million would be shared between the ECB and the West Indies Cricket Board, regardless of the outcome of the match itself.

    If correct, this could exceed the sums available for players in the IPL, and would also come on top of their existing ECB central contracts.

    Aside from the five matches, Stanford will also put up US$9.5 million a year for five annual quadrangular events to be held in England from next year. England and West Indies will always be involved in these.

    Australia pick Casson for third Test

    Brad Haddin will play through the pain in Barbados.

    Beau Casson, the left-arm wrist spinner, has been chosen in Australia's third Test team for Thursday's final match of the series against West Indies in Barbados. Stuart MacGill's retirement in Antigua opened a spot for Casson while Brad Haddin will play despite carrying a broken ring finger on his right hand.

    "Beau's been named in the eleven ... it's exciting for him," Ricky Ponting told AAP. "He's fitted in extremely well ... he's worked hard and now he's got an opportunity to play in a Test, which is great."

    Casson had a strong end to the Pura Cup season to prove to the selectors he was Australia's best option behind MacGill, but he was not expected to play on the tour. He will be the country's 401st Test representative and will be able to operate safe in the knowledge the team, which leads the series 1-0, has already recaptured the Frank Worrell Trophy.

    Luke Ronchi was called into the squad as a shadow player for Haddin, who hurt his hand in the opening Test. However, Haddin refused to succumb to the injury and will battle through the pain in Barbados.

    Australia 1 Phil Jaques, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Andrew Symonds, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Brett Lee, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Beau Casson, 11 Stuart Clark.

    Strauss hints players might boycott Zimbabwe matches

    Andrew Strauss: 'There's a feeling on previous tours that the players have been left in the lurch by both the government and the ECB'.

    Andrew Strauss has hinted that England's players will consider boycotting games against Zimbabwe should the 2009 series against them go ahead.

    Speaking at the MCC Spirit of Cricket evening at Lord's, where the guests included Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, Strauss told an audience of 1400 that if Robert Mugabe stays in power then there was a real chance that some of the team would not be prepared to play against Zimbabwe.

    "In the past there've been opportunities for the government to show the strength of feeling among the general population here and the government chose not to," he said. "If it comes down to players to do that, we'll definitely have to look at it.

    "There's a feeling on previous tours that the players have been left in the lurch by both the government and the ECB. There's a great sense among the general population that our last tour to Zimbabwe shouldn't have gone ahead. It's come down to a certain extent to personal preference and there have been some tough decisions made in previous tours.

    "When we come round to the issue again we all hope that the political situation in Zimbabwe is very different. But if it isn't there are going to be more very difficult decisions to be made."

    Strauss was speaking as a member of a panel, along with Barry Richards and Mike Brearley, in a question-and-answer session which followed Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Spirit of Cricket lecture at Lord's.

    Richards said that the ICC had missed an opportunity in not taking action against Zimbabwe before now. "I think the ICC are erring and it frustrates the hell out of me that Zimbabwe have not been brought to book. It's a moral issue and what he [Robert Mugabe] is doing everybody knows is simply not right ... cricket can play a part in that and it's not."

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    India rout Pakistan by 140 runs

    Virender Sehwag made his first ODI fifty in a year.

    India showed how the hectic pace of Twenty20 cricket could be replicated in ODIs, pounding 330 on a sluggish pitch before their bowlers rounded off a thumping win in their opening match of the tournament. Pakistan, coming off 12 successive wins against weak opposition, crashed to their worst defeat against India and their coach Geoff Lawson, who had hoped for a 150-run win, would have been embarrassed to see the shoe on the other foot.

    India's domination was complete. Their mammoth total was made possible not by one but three batsmen: Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir made the most of some sloppy catching, getting within four runs of India's highest opening stand against Pakistan, before Yuvraj Singh raised visions of a 375-plus total. They settled for 330 but that didn't matter in the final analysis. Once Pakistan crumbled to 26 for 3, it was only a case of picking up the pieces.

    A run-rate of 6.6 is impressive in all conditions but the fact that India kept it up on a sluggish pitch that offered some assistance to the medium-pacers added more gloss to the effort. Their fifty came up as early as the seventh over but Pakistan's four-pronged pace attack didn't start as badly as the run-rate suggested. They troubled the batsmen with swing and seam and even managed the edge on a few occasions but they were let down by poor fielding. Younis Khan allowed Gambhir two lives - on 4 and 29 - with identical edges flying past him at second slip and Kamran Akmal let off Sehwag on 43 when he lost control of the ball after appearing to have snared an edge to his right.

    Sehwag, who walked all the way back to the boundary before returning, made the most of his good fortune, racing to his first fifty in a year. He was dropped for the final stages of India's CB Series but an injury to Sachin Tendulkar allowed him another chance. He wasn't his customary buccaneering self, and that was probably because of the nature of the surface, but he continuously peppered the region behind square. Preferring to use the pace of the bowlers, he walked across and whipped a few off his pads while settling for the judicious glide on other occasions.

    The area behind square was productive for Gambhir as well but it was the occasional skip down the ground that unsettled the bowlers. He didn't hesitate charging the quicker men and actually cut one over the infield, off left-armer Wahab Riaz, with both his feet in mid-air.

    Riaz dismissed both openers in the space of a couple of overs but went on to have a forgettable day. It was the first time he was up against top-class opposition and the wheels began to come off once Yuvraj went after him. He even let slip two beamers - the second was probably because of the slippery ball - and wasn't allowed to complete his final over. It meant he earned the dubious distinction of bowling the most expensive spell against India, conceding one more than what Ata-ur-Rahman did in Sharjah back in 1996.

    Praveen Kumar's four-wicket haul floored Pakistan's hopes of chasing 331.

    Incidentally it was in that game where India passed 300 for the first time in an ODI. Here, more than 12 years later, they were in sight of much more as Yuvraj began striking it clean. He gauged the slow nature of the track and ensured he played late. A couple of half-trackers were swatted away over midwicket and his neat clips towards square leg suggested a batsman preparing to explode, but he fell to Umar Gul in the quest for quick runs.

    It was always going to be an uphill task for Pakistan and the contest was all but over once Praveen Kumar struck four big blows, including a two-in-two. Swinging the new ball either way, he showed how dangerous he could be in congenial conditions. Praveen had Rohit Sharma to thank for the opening breakthrough: a sensational reflex catch at short cover got rid of Salman Butt.

    A slightly wide ball was lashed hard but Rohit, throwing himself to the left and ensuring his hands got around a low chance, hung on superbly. There was no need of any such acrobatics for the next one: Younis Khan snicked to the wicketkeeper and walked back for his second successive duck.

    Akmal and Misbah ensured Praveen didn't have a perfect day - taking 17 off his fifth over, including four cracking fours - but Akmal was livid after falling to a full toss, lobbing a leading edge to mid-on. Misbah too couldn't carry on, falling to an injudicious waft, and it was left to Shoaib Malik to pick up the pieces. He soldiered on to a fifty but his meaty blows were largely inconsequential in the face of a steep mountain. Chawla finished with four wickets, tormenting the tail and giving the finishing touches to a near-perfect day for India.

    Counties head for showdown over ICL rebels

    Giles Clarke: caught in the crossfire.

    Plans for a Twenty20 Champions League this autumn could already be in trouble because of the insistence of Lalit Modi, the IPL's commissioner, that no player with links to the rival ICL will be allowed to take part.

    The chairmen of several English counties have demanded clarification over the eligibility of such individuals. Cricinfo has been told by other reliable sources of an agreement under which ICL-contracted players can take part.

    "The situation is blurred," Surrey's chief executive, Paul Sheldon, told Cricinfo. "No one can fully explain it at the moment, so we are waiting for clarification. Until we have clarification we are going to play the best side that we can to make sure we get to the finals and have that chance of going through to the Champions' League."

    The two finalists of this season's domestic Twenty20 Cup will qualify for the Twenty20 Champions League. As things stand only three counties - Essex, Middlesex and Somerset -have no ICL players in their squads, although as many as five more may not field ICL players in their squads.

    Originally, the IPL, backed by the Indian board, demanded that no ICL-contracted players be allowed to take part in any cricket anywhere in the world. But while some boards fell into line, the ECB's tough approach vis-a-vis the counties gradually fell apart, largely through legal threats, and by early May every ICL player who had signed with a county side was free to play.

    Counties are increasingly concerned that if they do as Modi demands and omit ICL players then they risk being sued. If they don't, Modi will block them from taking part. "If they ban the counties, about 15 out of 18 will be ineligible," Tom Sears, Derbyshire's chief executive, told The Guardian. "I can't see the ECB agreeing to a tournament on those terms."

    The ECB appears to be caught in the crossfire - keen to cooperate with Modi and the IPL but under increasing pressure from the counties. On Sunday Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, insisted that the counties were aware of the board's position that ICL players may be banned from participating in the final. They counter that the ECB has failed to offer clear guidance at any stage of the process.

    The chairmen also want clarification over Modi's statement that IPL contracts take precedence over any others in the case of a player who represents more than one side involved in the tournament. Again, that contradicts what Cricinfo has been told, and it seems that it could all come down to a power struggle and Modi seeks to increase the IPL's control..

    While the issue will not arise until the autumn, counties need to know that the side they pick in matches which start this week will be the one they can turn out later in the year should they qualify.

    The outcome will not only give the counties an idea of where they stand and what they need to do, it will clarify just how powerful Modi and the Indian board are in terms of the global game.