Friday, July 25, 2008

Muralitharan leaves India in tatters

Muttiah Muralitharan repeatedly used the doosra and picked up four wickets to leave India in deep trouble with two days left.

Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis shook the SSC pitch out of its slumber after the Sri Lankan batsmen given them a mountain of runs as a cushion, and the new-ball bowlers had done their bit in taking the shine off the ball. Once the spinners came on, the batsmen were either mesmerised or stunned -- both, in rapid succession, in the case of Rahul Dravid -- and when bad light stopped play on the third day, India were 242 adrift of the follow-on with only four wickets left.

All eyes were on Mendis and he delivered a spectacular blow in pegging back Rahul Dravid's off-stump, but it was the old master who caused the most damage with four wickets, though the relentless pressure from the other end would have helped.

It was in stark contrast to India's start. After 162 overs on the field, Virender Sehwag and Gambhir finally got a chance to bat and the featherbed of a pitch allowed the pair to hit their stride quickly. Sehwag was especially aggressive, hitting five boundaries in the first five overs. But he threw it away when he failed to control a hook off Nuwan Kulasekera, which landed down Malinda Warnapura's throat at deep square-leg.

Six overs before tea, Mendis was introduced. In three overs, he got Gambhir to jab at sliders twice, but Gambhir had his way when he feasted off two full tosses. With his last ball before tea, Mendis beat Dravid with a legbreak, and suddenly the dull match had come alive.

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Smart stats

  • This is the second time Sri Lanka have scored 600 or more at this ground against India. The last time they did it, in 2001, they won by an innings and 77 runs.
  • It's the third time four Sri Lankan batsmen have scored hundreds in an innings. All of them have happened at the SSC, and twice India were at the receiving end.
  • Four centuries have been scored against India on seven occasions, four of which have been since 2000.
  • Gambhir's wicket was Murali's 150th in Tests at the SSC. He is the only bowler to take more than 100 wickets at a venue, a feat he has achieved at two grounds, the SSC and Kandy.
  • Tillakaratne Dilshan's 125 was his first Test century in 29 innings. The last time he scored one was nearly three years back against Bangladesh.
  • Of the 108 balls that Mendis bowled, he induced false shots (beaten, rapped on the pads, edged) 22 times. His percentage of 20.37 was much higher than Murali (13.33%), Harbhajan (11.63%) and Kumble (9.46%).
  • The 18 no-balls conceded by India is only one short of their record against Sri Lanka.

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Post-tea, Sri Lanka inflicted maximum damage. Particularly Murali, who drew Gambhir - on 39 - out of the crease but the ball dipped and a leading edge was snapped up at cover. The next over, Dravid had no answer to a Mendis special: the "carrom" ball was quick, pitched just short of a length on middle stump, and turned just enough to beat the poke and take the top of off stump. Not bad for a first Test wicket, a mention Mendis wouldn't mind on his CV.

In two overs, the game had changed. The pitch, so long a calm sea, had turned choppy. Every ball bowled by the spinners - who were bowled unchanged - required immense concentration, something Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly displayed for about an hour. Mendis and Murali, bowling from round the wicket to the right-hand batsmen, were accurate. Briefly, the batsmen fought back, Ganguly deploying the drive and Tendulkar stepping out to hit Murali and slog-swept Mendis. Then, as the partnership gathered confidence, Tendulkar, on 27, misjudged the amount of break on Murali's doosra. As he looked to withdraw his bat, the ball took the inside edge and hit the stumps.

After the first halt for bad light Ganguly swept Murali, a shot he had employed successfully in getting to 23. This time, however, he didn't spot the straighter one and top-edged towards square leg, where Kulasekera ran in from long leg to take a low catch. Dinesh Karthik reverse-swept the same bowler for a boundary, before Murali foxed him with a doosra, running backwards to take a return catch. VVS Laxman then survived a few anxious moments before stumps.

It rounded off yet another day of domination for the home side. Tillakaratne Dilshan played a part in grinding India down, scoring his first century in three years. India tried to slow the scoring down and delay the inevitable declaration but Dilshan, who resumed on 20, had different ideas. He rocked back and cut the first ball of the day for three to cover, then clipped the first ball of the next over for two. The outfield was slow, India soon employed an in-and-out field, and Dilshan set into a one-day mould, tipping and running, finding gaps in the outfield for two, and going for the occasional boundary. All through, only his head gear changed, from helmet to bare head to the floppy hat. The floppy hat was his only source of discomfort, falling off whenever he sprinted for quick runs.

The true show of intent came in the 10th over of the day, when Dilshan cut Zaheer Khan for a boundary and followed it with a Twenty20-style paddle. In his next over, Zaheer reached his most expensive figures in Test cricket, beating the 3 for 135 he had conceded against Pakistan in Faisalabad in 2005-06. The Indian spinners went round the stumps to Dilshan, with a 6-3 on-side field at times. There was momentary control, but Dilshan pulled and swept effectively, hitting Kumble for a four and a six in one over to move to 89. With handy support from Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka added 178 runs in 42 overs on the third day, Dilshan scoring 105 of those off 115 balls.

Sri Lanka piled up four centuries, while their opponents barely looked like managing even one after an abject batting display.

ECB must take the call on Pakistan - Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen: "I've definitely got reservations - 100% - about going to Pakistan. I don't think pressure should be put on any individual, especially when you realise your life could be at risk".

Kevin Pietersen, the England batsman, has asked the ECB to take the call on sending a team to Pakistan instead of leaving the players to decide on touring the country in September for the Champions Trophy.

"The ECB are coming together on August 3 or 4, having spoken to [chief executive] David Collier this morning, and he reassured me that the decision will probably be taken out of the players' hands, which is great," Pietersen told AFP. "I really hope the players don't have to take the lead, to be totally honest. But I don't know, we'll see the outcome of that meeting, whatever the decision is."

While stating his concerns, Pietersen believes players shouldn't be forced to travel to Pakistan. "I've definitely got reservations - 100% - about going to Pakistan," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. "I don't think pressure should be put on any individual, especially when you realise your life could be at risk."

On Thursday, the ICC board decided the Champions Trophy will go ahead in Pakistan. The boards of Australia, England and New Zealand were believed to be against holding the tournament in the country, and there are fears that players might opt out of the tournament - a decision ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said won't be penalised. Player representatives from Australia and New Zealand have criticised the move, and the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) echoed those sentiments

"We've still got some very serious concerns, despite the fact that the Pakistan Cricket Board have made every effort they can to try to make it as safe as possible," Sean Morris, the PCA chief executive, said. "But, unfortunately, in that part of the world there are some matters that are beyond anyone's control.

"I think one thing the ECB has said - and something we are very well aligned on - is the one thing you are never going to compromise on is security," he said. "You may find a world-class event doesn't feature a large number of world-class players. That would be a real shame for cricket."

David Collier, the ECB chief executive, said they were in touch with the PCA and that a decision would be taken after consulting the players. "It's a very fluid situation in Pakistan at the moment," he said. "It's primarily the external environment we're looking at and which we have raised some concerns over. We will be monitoring that very closely.

"Clearly, other boards around the world are in the same position. The safety and security of our players is paramount and we won't compromise on that."

Cricinfo understands that Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, told the ICC that he had spoken to the players and he warned the executive that they had told him they were not prepared to go to Pakistan.

Pakistan delighted at remaining hosts

Despite increasing concerns that big-name players from Australia, New Zealand and England could opt out of the Champions Trophy in Pakistan, the PCB is elated at being given the go-ahead to host the second-most important ODI tournament in the ICC's roster.

"It is a huge thing for us," Shafqat Naghmi, the board's chief operating officer, told Cricinfo. "The decision has proved that Pakistan is safe to play cricket in."

The decision is a significant one. Pakistan has suffered from a number of tour pull-outs and venue shifts since 2001, most recently when Australia postponed their March-April tour this year over security fears. There were real concerns that shifting the Champions Trophy away would irreparably damage Pakistan's status as a venue for forthcoming bilateral series as well as, potentially, a co-host of the 2011 World Cup.

"Most concerns various boards had were based on perceptions rather than reality," Naghmi said. "We argued along these lines through all our meetings and talks. We kept saying that things look different when you sit and watch from a distance.

"Players who have toured have realised that in the past. Even a security advisor here for the Asia Cup said he had a hard time chasing down Indian and Sri Lankan players because they were always out and about somewhere."

Naghmi confirmed that the move to retain the venue had received "overwhelming support" at the teleconference held yesterday. "We had good support in there and at least one case where we were not expecting it at all. India of course played a big role in it as has been acknowledged."

The venue finally decided, the focus will now shift swiftly on to who will come and who will not. Players' associations from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England have expressed disappointment at the ICC's decision and it is feared a number of big names might not come. But Naghmi hoped that boycotts and pull-outs can be avoided.

"We believe it is the job of the various boards to talk to the players now," he said. "The task force will be very important. It is there to allay fears and correct wrong perceptions and even a member of FICA is there.

"Importantly, this is now a forum for information to be channelled and discussed. I am very hopeful that most of the big names will come. One or two might not, but most."

England ponder bowling options

Has Steve Harmison done enough for an England recall?.

The dust has barely settled on the furore surrounding the England selection at Headingley and the focus will again be on what names Geoff Miller comes up with for the third Test at Edgbaston, which starts next Wednesday. The squad, expected to include 13 players, will be announced before the first Twenty20 semi-final at The Rose Bowl on Saturday.

After plucking Darren Pattinson out of obscurity the selectors are likely to go the other way this time and bolster the pace attack with a tried (if not always trusted) name. Steve Harmison could be handed a chance to relaunch his international career as England look at how they can bowl South Africa out twice. It took them 176.2 overs to claim 10 wickets at Headingley, following two days of toil for three scalps at Lord's.

"We now know we have to win two games to win the series, and have to create a side which is capable of that at Edgbaston, which as a ground is different to Headingley," said Miller. "We have discussed all kinds of things: extra pace, whether it will turn more, or whether it is anticipated to swing."

Harmison is in the best position to earn a recall after claiming 41 wickets at 22.82 for Durham this season while reaching 90mph. He had plenty of ground to make up after his poor display in New Zealand, but after Matthew Hoggard was overlooked at Headingley, Harmison is now ahead of him in the pecking order. Simon Jones, the other of England's Ashes quicks still on the sideline, would be another option but Worcestershire and England are being very careful about his progress.

An on-form Harmison would certainly add another dimension to the England attack, especially alongside Andrew Flintoff who got through 40 overs at Headingley. James Anderson has also impressed during the series, but Stuart Broad has looked tired and could be rested despite the runs he brings at No. 8.

Ryan Sidebottom, who missed out with a back problem last week opening the selectorial can of worms, is expected to be fit again. He should be a straight swap for Pattinson, who can go back to county cricket and, hopefully, not be adversely affected by his past week.

"You always need options. Ryan has been an extremely important member of the squad, and indeed side, since he came back last year," said Miller. "But it is not just about taking 20 wickets - yes we need to do that - it is about scoring runs as well, and 200 in the first innings [at Headingley] is simply not enough."

The batting, though, is unlikely to be altered despite temptations to strengthen the middle order with a swift recall for Paul Collingwood. Alastair Cook hasn't scored a century since the third Test against Sri Lanka in December, but the most in-need of runs is captain Michael Vaughan with scores of 0, 2 and 21 in this series.

England squad (probable) Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Michael Vaughan (capt), Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Tim Ambrose (wk), Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, Steve Harmison.

Steyn ruled out of third Test

Dale Steyn has been ruled out of the third Test against England, at Edgbaston, after fracturing his thumb. He will need two to three weeks recovery time, but has a chance of being fit for the final Test at The Oval.

Initially it had been thought the injury wasn't severe enough to put his place in doubt, but subsequent x-rays revealed the extent of the problem. He has had the thumb put in a cast to speed the recovery process.

Andre Nel is the most likely replacement at Edgbaston although Monde Zondeki, who made his Test debut on the 2003 tour of England, is also in the squad.

"Missing a player of Dale's calibre is a huge blow, but I feel we have such good depth with the likes of Andre and Monde," said coach Mickey Arthur. "Nel is probably next in the queue. That was why I was strong on wanting good reserve strength with experienced players who know about the intensity of Test cricket."

Steyn took seven wickets in South Africa's ten-wicket win over England in Headingley after a sluggish start in the opening Test at Lord's. He has risen rapidly up the world rankings over the last 12 months and has become the spearhead of South Africa's attack.

There were also injury concerns over Paul Harris, who hurt his right wrist after slipping in his hotel bathroom. However, he was passed fit for the three-day game against Bangladesh A as he aims to maintain his place in the Test eleven. He claimed three wickets at Lord's, but didn't make an impression at Headingley as the quick bowlers did the damage.

More than just a trophy

Kent are the defending champions, but will face stiff competition as they aim to bag a lucrative trip to Antigua.

"Show me the money," hails from the film Jerry Maguire, but it could just as easily fit with the ECB in recent months. When Allen Stanford landed his helicopter at Lord's in June he offered England's elite players a chance at the biggest payday of the lives. And it hasn't stopped there. Now county cricket gets its slice of the action after it was confirmed the winners of Saturday's Twenty20 Cup will form part of the Stanford Super Series event in Antigua in October.

The highlight of that tournament is the All-Stars match on November 1, but one successful county will play three matches - against the England XI, Stanford All-Stars and Trinidad and Tobago - with the prospect of a bumper payday if they are successful. If the winning county beats Trinidad and Tobago, the reigning Stanford 20/20 champions, they stand to pocket US$400,000 (£200,000).

It adds even more spice to Finals Day, when defending champions Kent along with Durham, Middlesex and Essex will battle for the big prize. To put into perspective the riches on offer, winning the Twenty20 Cup itself brings a cheque for £42,000.

Even before Stanford's latest proposal, there was a huge financial carrot being dangled in front of the counties with the multi-million dollar Champions League. However, that event continues to be shrouded in doubt with Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, maintaining the stance that any team with ICL links wouldn't be invited to join. That would rule out Durham and Kent if either progressed to the Twenty20 final.

It has gone against the odds that two of the three counties without ICL players - Essex and Middlesex - have made it to Finals Day, but even if they both qualify there is still plenty of uncertainly whether the Champions League will get off the ground. The other aspect is that before Stanford's offer, the semi-finals where shaping as the most important matches of the day, but now the result of the final brings more than just the domestic Twenty20 crown.

It's notoriously difficult to pick where the trophy will finish in Twenty20, but Durham have a side packed with international stars and also have the advantage of playing a recent Twenty20 match - the delayed quarter-final where they thrashed Glamorgan. They have managed to retain Shaun Pollock while Shivnarine Chanderpaul gives the top-order an international feel. This will also be Steve Harmison's biggest stage since he was dropped by England.

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Twenty20 Finals Day

  • First semi-final (11.30am): Essex v Kent
    Mascot race
    Second semi-final (3pm): Middlesex v Durham
    Mascot dance-off
    Twenty20 final (7pm)
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Essex, though, are the form team going into Finals Day and have played outstanding one-day cricket this season. Graham Napier has become one of the most talked-about players on the circuit, and could yet be tapped up by the IPL following his record-breaking 152 against Sussex. They have a well-balanced team, with Danish Kaneria's legspin being their trump card with the ball.

But you can't discount any defending champions; Kent have the been-there-done-that knowledge of how to succeed on Finals Day. As with all four sides, Kent bat deep into their order but their key weapon, especially when the pressure is on, is the death bowling of Azhar Mahmood and Yasir Arafat. Joe Denly was one of the surprise omissions from England's 30-man Champions Trophy and has another chance to show the talent that has brought him 384 runs this year.

Middlesex are the dark horses of this year's tournament, having had a miserable Twenty20 record since it began in 2003. They have formed a powerful unit and swept all before them during the qualifying stages, yet saved their most impressive performance for the quarter-final against Lancashire. They were 21 for 4 when 20-year-old Dawid Malan played one of the innings of the season with 103 off 54 balls before the bowlers took over. Their five main bowlers have all taken at least 10 wickets, a key to them being able to restrict opposition.

The live music and mascot race which have been part of Twenty20 cricket remain - and like everything in this form of the game the mascot race is bigger this year - but the format has developed out of sight from its early days. No longer is it a bonus trophy, but the path to previously unheard-of riches. This is serious cricket with a serious prize at the end.

Duminy takes his chance to shine

JP Duminy hit 12 fours and a six during his century at New Road.

JP Duminy made the most of a rare outing on tour with 166 against Bangladesh A as the South African top order enjoyed a productive day at New Road. Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis also spent time in the middle as runs flowed throughout.

The major problem for South Africa came off the pitch with news that Dale Steyn will miss the third Test with a fractured thumb. It makes the second day of this match much more important as Andre Nel, the most likely replacement, and Monde Zondeki try to find some form.

Duminy has at least bagged himself a long innings in case South Africa need any batting replacements in the remaining Tests. He came into the line-up for Neil McKenzie, who has been rested following the back-to-back Tests, and took his chance. His century came off 166 balls as the Bangladesh A bowlers were put to the sword in friendly batting conditions. The attack couldn't dismiss him and it was eventually a run-out that ended his 234-ball innings, three short of his career-best first-class score.

"I realise that the top six are doing very well at the moment and I must just keep knocking on the door and be ready if the chance comes," Duminy said. "Opening the batting is not ideal but I must be ready to take any place in the top six that becomes available."

Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, was also impressed. "I'm hugely comfortable that our batting reserve strength is very, very well looked after," he said. "He's batted out of position. He normally bats at four so I'm happy that he has the ability to step up at any time if there is an injury or loss of form."

Duminy added 155 for the first wicket with Smith, who struck 87 off 88 balls, and a further 137 with Amla (55). Kallis, short of runs in the first two Tests, clocked up his own half-century during the final session and the South Africans have ten more overs to bat before the mandatory close of the innings after 100 overs.

Player lobbies step up pressure to pull out

South Africa had toured Pakistan in 2007, but they travelled amid a tight security blanket.

The ICC's decision to go ahead with the Champions Trophy in Pakistan has drawn sharp criticism from players' associations in non-Asian countries, with South African cricketers leading the criticism of a decision backed by their own board. The reactions have mirrored concerns voiced at the meeting, with reports from Australia and New Zealand suggesting that their top players might not attend the tournament. The ICC, on its part, has waived penalties for player pull-outs.

"The South African team are very disappointed with today's decision and remain extremely concerned about safety and security in Pakistan," Tony Irish, chief executive of the South African Cricketers' Association, told Reuters. "We hope Cricket South Africa (CSA) will sit down with us and talk to us about whether they are seriously considering sending a team to the Champions Trophy in Pakistan or not."

Paul Marsh, the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) chief executive, was also disappointed with the decision. "We've gone through this with a fine-tooth comb and we don't think the risk to go to Pakistan is acceptable," he said on Friday. "I am very hopeful Cricket Australia will make that decision. It would be unfair to put that decision back on the players and it would be inconsistent to put that decision back on players given what's happened in the past."

Marsh said despite the ICC's measures, the ACA would maintain its recommendation to Australia's cricketers not to play in Pakistan.

Cricket Australia spokesperson Peter Young told the Age: "We're not willing to send our players or team officials anywhere that is not safe. We will always reserve the right to put player welfare first."

An ECB spokesman was quoted by AFP as saying it would have "further extensive discussions" with key stakeholders - including England players and Team England - following which the ECB "will be in a position to make a clear decision."

Kevin Pietersen has said he has concerns about travelling to Pakistan: "The ECB are coming together on - I think - August 3 or 4, having spoken to [chief executive] David Collier this morning, and he reassured me that the decision will probably be taken out of the players' hands, which is great.

"I really hope the players don't have to take the lead, to be totally honest. But I don't know, we'll see the outcome of that meeting, whatever the decision is. If it's taken out of the players' hands then great. If not, then I'll certainly make a decision."

Officials from Australia, New Zealand and England are believed to have informed the ICC board, which conducted a teleconference on Thursday to confirm the venue, that their players were concerned about the security situation in Pakistan and may decide to pull out of the tournament, which starts on September 11.

New Zealand Cricket (NZC) said on Friday in a press release that it "is talking" to its players about the security situation in Pakistan following the ICC board's decision to go ahead with the tournament.

Based on the independent information and advice received, we maintain that the risks are simply too great for the ACA to recommend that our players tour Pakistan at this timeAustralian Cricketers Association chief executive Paul Marsh

"NZC is talking to the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association (NZCPA) about player safety and security concerns following the ICC's overnight decision that the Champions Trophy remain in Pakistan," the NZC said. Justin Vaughan, the chief executive of NZC, said he would also discuss player concerns with the board as well as the safety and security reports upon which the decision was based.

NZCPA executive manager Heath Mills had earlier slammed the proposal to go ahead with the tournament in Pakistan. "We believe this is a poor ICC decision ... we can't see how they have put player safety as their No. 1 priority and this is very disappointing," Mills told New Zealand-based Radio Sport. "Our recommendation to our players is not to travel to Pakistan at this point in time. There isn't one player I have spoken to who is comfortable about travelling to Pakistan at the moment."

The decision, though, was welcomed unequivocally by Pakistan's captain Shoaib Malik. "It would have been a great loss for Pakistan cricket had the Champions Trophy been taken away from here," Malik told IANS. "I'm thankful to the cricket world for taking a decision that is great for the sport in this country."

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, said in Colombo that players opting to pull out would not be penalised, nor would their boards. He hoped the task force formed to assess the security ahead of the tournament would be able to convince players. "This is not something I treat lightly but we can manage it," Lorgat said. "We will use this task team to ensure that we properly communicated with players who have concerns. We are making sure FICA is a part of the process to understand the situation."

"We have to separate perception from reality. We will do our utmost to assure them that we would not go into an event where safety or security is going to be compromised.

"We need to gain trust as event organizers," Lorgat said, "and will do everything possible to ensure their safety and security."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Warnapura takes control in rain-hit day

Malinda Warnapura played and missed a bit early on before finding his rhythm.

Malinda Warnapura's brisk unbeaten 50 off 74 balls proved to be the difference between an emphatic session and a merely satisfactory one for India in a rain-hit opening day of the Test series. India's new-ball bowlers had Warnapura sorted out initially, saw his rather unsubtle love for front-foot play, peppered him with bouncers, fooled him with slower ones, got him playing ungainly shots, but by the end of the 22 overs possible he managed to stay undefeated after watching Michael Vandort and Kumar Sangakkara depart early.

Heavy overnight rain, sporadic drizzles during the day and the resultant wet outfield had ruled out any play in the first two sessions. After Mahela Jayawardene won the toss, both teams came out suggesting they could hardly wait inside their dressing rooms. Vandort flicked the first ball off his legs before Gautam Gambhir's interception at short leg averted a certain boundary. In Zaheer Khan's next over, Warnapura planted his front foot down the wicket and drove him straight down the ground for the first boundary of the series.

That was cue enough for Zaheer, who made the bouncer into his stock ball, hitting Warnapura three times on his shoulder in one over, the third of the innings. Ishant Sharma, at the other end, took advantage of the shackles Zaheer had put around the batsmen. Getting one to kick off a short length and move away from the off-stump line, Vandort followed it and only managed an edge to Dinesh Karthik.

Though Warnapura still looked ungainly, what stung India was the pace at which fetched his runs. The misses, the body blows and the edges didn't seem to have any effect on his mindset; the pitch didn't have scary pace in it and he was happy driving on the front foot. Then, just when the two left-handed batsmen seemed to be settling into a partnership, Sangakkara got a vicious legcutter from Zaheer, just after the drinks break. Angling in towards the stumps, Sangakkara had to play at it, but after pitching it straightened to take the edge low to Rahul Dravid at first slip.

In the following nine overs, Jayawardene and Warnapura batted with contrasting styles. Warnapura, although more assured than before, still looked to press forward, and to his credit, whenever forced into an uncomfortable territory, he got the bottom hand off the bat so that nothing flew off it. Jayawardene, unperturbed by the fading light, was more fluent than Warnapura, playing majestic cover-drives off a tired Zaheer and an innocuous Sourav Ganguly.

The players walked off at the first offer of light, 20 short of the scheduled 42 overs. India missed a third specialist seamer in overcast conditions, but the true test will come when the sun is out and also when they are bowling the second time round.

Mendis debuts as Sri Lanka bat

Ajantha Mendis, the debutant, will partner Muttiah Muralitharan.

Toss Sri Lanka chose to bat against India

Mahela Jayawardene won the toss and chose to bat on an SSC pitch that looked dry despite the consistent rain over the last 12 days. Overnight rain, followed by a steady drizzle, made sure there was no play for two sessions and the captains finally came out for toss at 3pm. The only session therefore had to be extended, with 42 overs expected to be bowled.

Both teams made changes from their previous Tests, with Ajantha Mendis, the spinner, expectedly making his debut.

Gautam Gambhir, who has gradually become one of the most reliable openers in ODI cricket, made his comeback in Tests, a proper one unlike the last time he played a Test, against Pakistan in Bangalore last year, dropped after making 5 and 3 in the final match of the series. Also making comebacks for India were Zaheer Khan - from an injury-enforced break, Harbhajan Singh - from a slap-enforced break from ODIs, and Dinesh Karthik - from a Mahendra Singh Dhoni-enforced break.

Sri Lanka continued to show faith in their young opening pair of Michael Vandort and Malinda Warnapura. But the most exciting prospect in their side was Muttiah Muralitharan's spin partner, the finger-flicking Mendis. With all due credit to Chaminda Vaas' persistence and guile, this was perhaps the first time since Murali got into his own that some other bowler was talked of more than him, leading up to a Test.

India last went to Sri Lanka for what was to be a tri-series also featuring South Africa. South Africa had pulled out after a bomb blast in Colombo, but the monsoon didn't let India and Sri Lanka get on with a bilateral series either. That was in the month of August, and even the current series, bar one Test, will be played in the same rainy month.


Sri Lanka: 1 Michael Vandort, 2 Malinda Warnapura, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Nuwan Kulasekera, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Ajantha Mendis

India: 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ishant Sharma

Sri Lankan fortress awaits India

Rahul Dravid wonders how many runs are in store for him over the next five days.

Match facts

Wednesday July 23 - Sunday July 27, 2008
Start time 10.15am (0445GMT)

Big Picture
The Indian Test team has been in form over the last couple of years but the task before them over the next three weeks is a huge one. Sri Lanka are a formidable team at home - since India's last tour in 2001, the Sri Lankans have won 11 out of 14 series, losing only to Australia and Pakistan, and drawing a two-match series against New Zealand.

It's been seven years since India's last Test series here, but the settled nature of both teams means many of the protagonists are the same. A couple of Indians who missed out in 2001 could have huge roles to play this time: Anil Kumble is the leader of the team and the bowling attack, while Sachin Tendulkar continues to be the key man in the middle order and is within touching distance of becoming the highest run-scorer in Test cricket.

Sri Lanka's successes at home have largely been built around the simple strategy of steady run-accumulation and a relentless diet of high-quality spin bowling. They have the resources for both in this series: the opening pair is inexperienced, but Sri Lanka have plenty of class in the middle order, while Ajantha Mendis lends a touch of mystery to their spin attack.

Form guide (last 5 Tests)
Sri Lanka LWDDW

Watch out for
Muttiah Muralitharan: The focus has been exclusively on Mendis throughout the build-up to the Test, but Muralitharan will probably be the bigger threat, especially at a ground where he has taken 20% of all his Test wickets. In 22 matches, he has a rich tally of 149 wickets here at slightly more than 21 apiece. Most of the Indians are fairly adept players of spin, but that didn't stop Murali from taking 11 wickets at this ground the last time the two teams met.

Gautam Gambhir: He has made a regular spot for himself in the shorter versions, but this is Gambhir's chance to make the Test opener's spot his own as well. His Test career has been more stop than start so far, but these might be the best conditions for him to make his mark: the bounce shouldn't bother him too much, while he has given enough indications in the past that he is adept at tackling high-quality spin.

Team news
Most of the Sri Lankan team chooses itself, and Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, confirmed that Tillakaratne Dilshan had sealed the No. 6 spot ahead of Chamara Silva, who scored two half-centuries in the tour game against the Indians. With Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando and Farveez Maharoof all unavailable, the tussle for Chaminda Vaas' new-ball partner is between Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekara. Thushara, who played both Tests in the West Indies earlier this year, should get the nod. Jayawardene suggested there was a chance of playing both those seamers because of the wet weather which has been forecast.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Michael Vandort, 2 Malinda Warnapura, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Thilan Thushara.

The Indian team has a settled look to it. Gambhir gets another chance to resurrect his Test career, but the rest of the batting line-up chooses itself. The return of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh should boost the bowling attack.

India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ishant Sharma.

Pitch & conditions
The pitch looks good to bat on but with thundershowers forecast over the next five days the seam and swing bowlers could come into the picture as well. Both teams have the quality to exploit the turn which should be on offer on the last couple of days.

Stats & Trivia
# In the last 13 Tests at the SSC, Sri Lanka have won ten times and lost just once, to Australia in 2004.

# Sachin Tendulkar, who needs 172 runs to become Test cricket's highest run-getter, has an excellent record in Sri Lanka: in eight innings he averages 111.67 with four centuries and two fifties.

# Muttiah Muralitharan averages 32.47 against India, but in seven Tests against them at home, he has taken 36 wickets at an averages of 26.36. At the SSC against India, the average drops to 21.72, including match figures of 11 for 196 when the two teams last played here.

# Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have both done superbly at the SSC - Jayawardene averages 79.30 from 19 Tests with eight hundreds, while Sangakkara averages 62.85 from 14 Tests.

"We can't control the hype that is being built up. It's a great opportunity for a young guy who had come from humble beginnings. He has the luxury of Murali and Vaas around him to take on the responsibility. What we want Ajantha to do is go out there and enjoy himself. There are a lot of expectations from a lot of other people but from the team's point of view there is hardly any expectation."
Mahela Jayawardene plays down the hype surrounding Ajantha Mendis

"Not just Mendis, every bowler is discussed. It's his first Test, let's not forget that. The pressure is on him. As a youngster you are obviously nervous. If you look at our batting strength, most of them have played more than 100 Tests. The two bowlers who have done extremely well over the years are [Muttiah] Muralitharan and [Chaminda] Vaas and we can't discount that we need to be concerned about them."
Anil Kumble makes an honest assessment of the Sri Lankan attack

India backs Pakistan as Champions Trophy venue

Niranjan Shah said that the BCCI were "supporting Pakistan as the venue of the Champions Trophy".

The ICC board's discussion - via a teleconference on Thursday - on the issue of Pakistan hosting the Champions Trophy is likely to see India resist any move to change the venue, though there is a growing fear of top players from non-Asian countries pulling out. The ICC will take a final decision which, if it cannot be reached via consensus, needs a 7-3 vote.

The Indian board sees "no harm" in Pakistan hosting the tournament in September, Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, said on Wednesday. "We are supporting Pakistan as the venue of the Champions Trophy," Shah told Cricinfo. "Our Indian team had taken part in the Asia Cup without any incident. Besides, the report of the ICC's security consultants, which was presented during the briefing in Dubai (on Sunday) was positive. So the BCCI sees no harm in Pakistan hosting the tournament."

While players' associations from England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have warned of a pullout by cricketers who fear for their safety in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are learnt to be firmly behind the official host, which also seems to have gained the support of Cricket South Africa.

"We must give Pakistan every opportunity to host the tournament to the best of their ability," Norman Arendse, the president of Cricket South Africa (CSA) told Independent Online. "I'm inclined to support Pakistan's hosting of the tournament. I know it might sound easy for us as administrators to make such decisions as we stay home while the players go to Pakistan, but I assure you it is not so."

However, Tony Irish, the chief executive of the South Africa Cricketers' Association (SACA), said that there was a possibility of top players from his country pulling out of the tournament if it went ahead as scheduled (from September 11) in Pakistan. "I can't confirm this, but yes, there could be some players pulling out," Irish told Cricinfo.

Irish said that the players reiterated their concern at touring Pakistan after the SACA reported back to them on the ICC's security briefing in Dubai, which Irish attended. At the meeting, the players' representatives were told that the governing body or the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) couldn't give any foolproof security guarantees.

"We have serious concerns with the security situation in Pakistan, especially after the briefing in Dubai," Irish said.

Arendse told Independent Online that he was aware of SACA's views and would consult Logan Naidoo, the manager of the South Africa team that toured Pakistan last year, and the rest of his board before the teleconference.

The board meeting - at which India will be represented by Shashank Manohar, the BCCI's president-elect - will consider a report on the security briefing conducted by the ICC last Sunday for officials of the eight participating nations, broadcast executives and players' representatives. However, it's learnt that the report for the ICC board does not contain any specific recommendation.

'Review will eradicate obvious errors' - Richardson

Richardson: 'Should we have a system where the umpire is given an opportunity to review his own decision and make a final decision himself? That would be preferable.'

Terming the new umpire referral system a 'review process' as opposed to a challenge process, Dave Richardson, the ICC's acting chief executive, was confident it would work well on a long-term basis with plenty of room for improvement. He said most umpires were in favour of this system and the real purpose is to eradicate obvious mistakes.

"Our policy in the decision-making process has always been to keep an open mind," he said. "You will recall in Sri Lanka in the 2002 Champions Trophy when we first started experimenting with technology and it continued until the Super Series in 2005, during which we allowed umpires to initiate a consultation on decisions. That didn't work because the umpires didn't refer decisions they should have. And then when they discovered that they could have made mistakes they became over cautious.

"It was actually just wasting time. They were double-checking themselves and this lead to a loss of confidence of the players in the umpires. We realised it doesn't work.

"A lot of people will say reviews are contradictory to the spirit of the game and that players are challenging the umpires, but the way we look at it is - what is better or worse for the game? Umpires make mistakes and are accused of cheating, Steve Bucknor's effigies are being burnt, teams threaten to fly home from a country, boards criticise umpires. Should we have a system where the umpire is given an opportunity to review his own decision and make a final decision himself? That would be preferable."

Richardson, who was present in the South African Test side when the first third-umpire referral was made in 1992-93, was firm that the ICC was not paying the television channels for the use of this technology, but rather saw it as a piggyback process. "The very first step in this process was to approach Ten Sports (the main broadcasters) and ask if they were willing to help us. They were keen to do so and we are very grateful to them. The broadcasters, like it or not, have been guilty in the past of showing up the umpires. All we ask them to do is continue to do so, but help us instead of being negative."

The ICC normally appoints three neutral Elite Panel umpires for a series. For this contest, instead of one umpire rotating and taking a break, he will act as the official third umpire. This, according to Richardson, was the way it would be going forward and there may even be the case of recalling some more experienced umpires to be specialist television umpires. But that, he affirmed, would be based on how the players felt about the situation.

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Richardson on Steve Bucknor's removal from the Perth Test in January

  • "There were calls for Steve to be fired permanently and we have resisted that. He's a good umpire and he's had a long career. The reason for taking him out was because of the hype which made it impossible for him to stand in that Test. He was on a hiding to nothing. The slightest error would have been blown out of proportion. To make it easier on him and his colleagues in that Test, we decided to rest him and so diffuse the situation."

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Over the last few days the ICC has worked with the company that provides the ball-tracking devise. Cameras have been placed in correct positions around the SCC and both parties have confirmed the accuracy of the results. Camera use will differ from series to series but there are minimum specifications, clarified Richardson.

The company being used to provide the ball tracking is not Hawk-Eye, as generally employed, but one called Virtual Eye. They are similar to Hawk-Eye, said Richardson, but the ICC would only use the actual path of the ball until it hits the batsman. "It will then stop, and we won't use the predictive element because the suppliers of that technology will say that it's a bit of a computer guess.

"The trickiest part is going to be for the batsman," said Richardson. "As far as caught-behinds and bat-pads are concerned I have no doubt that every batsman, if he is honest with himself, will know he's got the finest edge. But I can understand as a batsman that you are uncertain as to whether the ball pitched on leg stump or slightly outside. It might be tricky and we may find a circumstance that you get back into the dressing room and your coach has spoken to you for not challenging the decision or asking for it to be reviewed. We must not forget what the real object of this system is - to eradicate obvious mistakes."

Stanford Superstars Twenty20 squad announced

Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are part of the 32-man squad.

A 32-member Stanford Superstars Twenty20 squad has been announced for the US$20 million winner-takes-all match against England on November 1. The squad includes Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo, as well as notable performers from the Stanford Twenty20 domestic tournament.

"This is a squad of the best performers in the two editions of the Stanford 20/20 tournament we've had so far and the best players in the region," Viv Richards, the chairman of the seven-member selection committee, said. "It was a difficult task to select the top 32 but our selection panel believes that these players will provide us with the firepower and all the other resources to prevail over England in what is the richest prize in team sport history."

Richards said the squad would be whittled down based on how the players fare in training. "The difficult task of further reducing this training group to the playing squad lies ahead, so we will have to pay keen attention to how the players cope in the training camps which will be held in Antigua in the coming months."

Dave Mohammed, the left-arm spinner who won the Player-of-the-Tournament award last season, provides spin-bowling options along with his Trinidad team-mate Samuel Badree, the legspinner, while John Eugene, the only centurion in Stanford 20/20 history, is the oldest player in the mix at 37. The squad includes four wicketkeepers, with Denesh Ramdin the likely contender for selection ahead of Andre Fletcher, Lyndon James and Aldermond Lemond.

Eldine Baptiste, the former West Indies and Antigua allrounder, has been appointed the head coach, and he will be assisted by Roger Harper and Anguilla coach Cardigan Connor. The squad will be trimmed down once the dates for the preparatory camp are announced.

Stanford Superstars squad: Samuel Badree, Lionel Baker, Sulieman Benn, Dwayne Bravo, Jonathan Carter, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Lennox Cush, Travis Dowlin, Rayad Emrit, John Eugene, Andre Fletcher, Daren Ganga, Chris Gayle, Chad Hampson, Monctin Hodge, Danza Hyatt, Lyndon James, Sylvester Joseph, Aldermond Lesmond, Xavier Marshall, Dave Mohammed, Nelon Pascal, William Perkins, Kieron Pollard, Daren Powell, Kieran Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Jerome Taylor, Kelbert Walters, Tonito Willett.

Miller wants explanation from Vaughan

Geiff Miller wants a clarification from Michael Vaughan about his comments on Darren Pattinson's selection.

Geoff Miller, England's chairman of selectors, has had a meeting with Michael Vaughan to dispel differences over the selection of the team for the second Test against South Africa. Vaughan, England's captain, had earlier said that the inclusion of Darren Pattinson had unsettled the team.

"The selectors are not here to make Michael's job harder, which is why I'd like him to clarify his comments," Miller told the Telegraph before the meeting. "It's been made into a massive issue by the media and I want to hear his side of the story."

After Vaughan called Pattinson "a confused selection", Miller defended the inclusion of the 29-year-old fast bowler who had played only 11 first-class matches prior to his Test debut. "We garner opinion by talking to umpires, county coaches and other players and then we go and monitor the players that those chats throw up," said Miller. "Once we've got a rounded picture, and if they're the kind of player Peter and Michael are looking for, we'll consider them for selection."

Pattinson's presence in the XI meant England went in with only five specialist batsmen with wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose batting at No. 6. After the ten-wicket defeat to South Africa, Vaughan said: "The whole Friday morning (the first morning of the Test) unsettled the team. You change the team by two players, there are players playing out of position and you leave out a player like Paul Collingwood, who is a huge player in the side, of course it has an effect."

Vaughan also said the team spirit was lacking during the second Test. "We didn't feel as much of a unit this week. I have a huge belief that we need to be a unit in Test cricket."

However, he defended Pattinson's performance (match figures of 2 for 96) and was unhappy with the severe criticism the fast bowler faced. "He tried his guts out and bowled some good spells. I felt sorry for him. He's not been in the set-up and didn't know anyone. We didn't know him, so it was difficult for him."

EU ruling could spell end to Kolpaks

The number of Kolpak players in county cricket could be set for a drastic reduction after the European Union decided on a new interpretation of the employment law that has brought about a huge influx of players from South Africa and the Caribbean.

Under the rules of the Cotonou Treaty, free trade exists between the European Community and many African, Pacific and Caribbean countries, and in 2004, the Czech handball player, Maros Kolpak, won a ruling from the European Court of Justice which allowed him to play professionally in Germany without be classed as a foreigner.

That set a precedent that has had a major impact on English cricket, with players such as Jacques Rudolph, Martin van Jaarsveld and Omari Banks choosing to ply their trade in England rather than seek international honours for South Africa or West Indies.

A similar situation exists in French rugby union, which has up to 150 South Africans on its books, and as a result, a campaign was launched by the Central Council of Physical Recreation. It has resulted in the EU, under French presidency, ruling that the Cotonou Treaty was designed for the free trade of goods and services and should not be regarded as free movement of labour.

It promises to be a significant development in the ECB's battle to reduce the number of Kolpak players in county cricket, and a spokesman said: "The ECB have noted the recent developments and are looking at the possible implications of that."

One possible upshot would be for existing Kolpak players to be permitted to complete their existing contracts, but for future signings to be regarded as overseas players.

Monday, July 21, 2008

South Africa stor to ten-wicket win

Dale Steyn removed Tim Ambrose as England slid towards defeat.

After the first Test at Lord's, Mickey Arthur promised that the real South Africa would turn up at Headingley. And so they did, with an emphatic 10-wicket win over England. They were made to work for their victory today, but with England only squeaking a lead of eight runs, it is South Africa who have taken a 1-0 series lead with two Tests to play. England have plenty to ponder.

However great the feeling of inevitability was that England wouldn't survive six sessions, they didn't lie down submissively and wait for the axe to fall. South Africa were frustrated by Alastair Cook and James Anderson at the start of the day; by Stuart Broad and Darren Pattinson at the end. Broad smacked his third Test fifty and most authoritative to date, with 11 perfectly timed fours in a partnership of 61 in just 12.3 overs with Pattinson.

Broad has improved with each of his Test innings, but while his batting average is going in the right direction, he is taking his wickets at forties. Not that his place was directly under threat today, but his innings 57 was a timely reminder of how valuable he is at No.8. His back-foot play through the leg-side off Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn was remarkable for the timing he showed, twice swivelling on shorter deliveries to lift them over the infield. After bringing up his fifty from just 41 balls, a powerful cover drive off Makhaya Ntini handed England the lead, though Pattinson was bowled shortly afterwards to end the entertainment. Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie knocked off the nine runs in seven balls as South Africa recorded an emphatic 10-wicket win.

South Africa have enjoyed the better of the conditions, truth be told, but such is the advantage of winning the toss at Headingley. Regardless of the pitch, however, their bowling performance was far improved than at Lord's. Today's effort with the ball was a team performance. Steyn and Morkel each took three apiece; Kallis and Ntini two. Even Paul Harris briefly threatened, even though he went wicketless. Graeme Smith's seamers were made to work for their wickets, however, and England nearly managed to survive until lunch unscathed, thanks to a partnership of 59 between Cook and Anderson.

Anderson played with impressive composure and no shortage of class, though South Africa passed the edge of his bat on numerous occasions. Morkel and Ntini opened the bowling and Anderson, mostly playing off the back foot, was beaten twice by Morkel as the fourth-day pitch began to show worrying variable bounce. Balls shot through; the occasional one from Morkel, with his extra height, spat up, but it was an early concern for South Africa that they extracted so little movement.

Cook showed excellent judgement of his off stump all morning and the pair began to irritate South Africa with impish running between the wickets. If anything, it caught South Africa off-guard. Anderson was particularly eager, nudging singles out to cover and midwicket and taking on the fielders. These were decidedly dangerous runs, but South Africa's wild throws missed the stumps repeatedly. England were beginning to really frustrate them.

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Smart stats

  • South Africa's ten-wicket win comes on the back of the Lord's Test they saved after following on. They last three times they managed a draw after following on, they have gone on to win the next Test.
  • This was England's second ten-wicket loss at Headingley, where they have lost five Tests by an innings margin.
  • Mark Boucher's nine dismissalsin this Test equals the best for a South African wicketkeeper.
  • Boucher's nine was the most in a Headingley Test, and for a South African in away Tests. He also goes past Jeff Dujon as the opposition keeper with most Test dismissals at Headingley.
  • Stuart Broad's unbeaten 67 was his third fifty in as many Tests. It was the highest score by an England No.9 since Peter Lever's 88 not out against India at Old Trafford in 1971.

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A languid cut by Anderson demonstrated his growing confidence, and he bettered it with two excellent fours off Harris, threading him through cover with the panache of a No.4. Steyn, meanwhile - delayed into the attack until the 12th over of the day - persisted with a war of bouncers against both batsman, and only when he pitched it up did he trouble the two left-handers. He was at his most vicious from around the wicket, however, and rapped Anderson a nasty blow on his forearm that required physio.

The next ball, however, really shook Anderson's resolve when the batsman ducked into a bouncer, the grill hammering into his right jaw. He was immediately floored, prompting Steyn and Hashim Amla to assess the damage, and though he looked groggy and stunned by the bouncer, he gave a sparse Headingley crowd reason to cheer by deciding to bat on. He only lasted a few more overs, but richly deserved the standing ovation for his courage.

Kevin Pietersen marched to the crease for a frenzied 13 from five balls, and Ian Bell fell to a screaming catch by de Villiers at gully - taking it low to his right - while Cook carved out an impressively calm 148-ball fifty. Unlike South Africa's rescue act at Lord's, no England batsman could contribute a hundred, and although Tim Ambrose and Andrew Flintoff briefly threatened to take on the bowlers, South Africa were too disciplined and probing to let England get away.

Some of South Africa's fielders practised their golf swing at mid-on and mid-off earlier in the day, and tomorrow represents a much-needed break for both teams before the third Test gets underway at Edgbaston. England, however, need more than recuperation if they are to bounce back and level the series a week on Wednesday.

It's a mistake to focus on Mendis alone - Dravid

Rahul Dravid feels Sri Lanka have the right balance in these conditions.

Rahul Dravid, the Indian batsman, has said it would be wrong to concentrate solely on tackling Ajantha Mendis, the Sri Lankan spinner, before the three-Test series against Sri Lanka begins on Wednesday at the SSC in Colombo.

Mendis, known for his variations, was hyped as a sensation before his international debut and in his eighth match, spun Sri Lanka to victory in the Asia Cup final against India with figures of 6 for 13. However, he remains an unknown entity for the Indian Test middle order.

"It will be a big mistake to focus just on Mendis," Dravid said. "We will just play it as we see it. We have come against a lot of bowlers in our times and have succeeded against them. Sure, he is going to be one of their four or five bowlers, but you cannot just focus on Mendis. They have got a couple of other guys [Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas] who have got 1000 [Test] wickets between them."

India are currently third in the ICC Test rankings, with Sri Lanka two spots behind but Dravid was wary of Sri Lanka's record at home and felt they had the right balance.

"They have got the right balance in these conditions. They are always a big threat at home," he said. "They have a good batting line-up that adapts well, they can bat for long periods. But we have come here with a good team as well. If we play to our potential, I think it will be a good Test series."

The series is of great significance to Sachin Tendulkar, who needs 172 runs to beat Brian Lara's world record Test aggregate of 11,953 runs, but Dravid assured that the pre-series talk in the dressing room was on winning the series and not the record.

"I hope he [Tendulkar] achieves the landmark here," Dravid said. "We are hoping it is in the first innings of the first Test on the first day itself, so we can have a big celebration. There has been no talk in the dressing room of either the record or anything like that. We are focused on winning the series and so is Sachin."

India last won a Test series in Sri Lanka back in 1993. They lost their most recent tour - 2-1 - in 2001.

Mendis named in first Test squad

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Sri Lanka squad for 1st Test

  • Michael Vandort, Malinda Warnapura, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Thushara, Nuwan Kulasekera, Chamara Kapugedera

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International cricket's new spin sensation Ajantha Mendis was named in Sri Lanka's 14-member squad for the first Test against India starting at the SSC on Wednesday.

The 23-year-old Mendis, who bowled Sri Lanka to a 100-run victory over India in the Asia Cup final in Karachi this month, is most likely to make his Test debut and partner Muttiah Muralitharan, the Test world record holder.

Selection committee sources said that Sri Lanka could opt for a 'six batsmen and four bowlers' combination.

Sri Lanka have, however, fallen short in the fast bowling department with Dilhara Fernando also out of the reckoning along with Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof - all recovering from injuries. Fernando, who last played a Test in December, suffered a knee injury while bowling in the three-day match against the Indians which concluded at the NCC grounds yesterday. The selectors have named Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekera in the squad, one of whom will partner the experienced Chaminda Vaas with the new ball.

While batsmen Michael Vandort, Malinda Warnapura, Thilan Samaraweera and wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene have sealed their spots, there could be a tussle for the No.6 slot between Chamara Silva and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Silva was impressive in the tour game, compiling half-centuries in both innings. Chamara Kapugedera, another middle-order batsman, makes a comeback to the Test squad after an impressive last few months with the one-day team.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

England limp after de Villiers' epic

AB de Villiers magnificent 174 crushed England's hopes of limiting South Africa's lead.

South Africa maintained their domination of the second Test at Headingley, leaving England in the forlorn position of 50 for 2 at stumps on the third day, still trailing by 269. AB de Villiers' magnificent 174 lofted South Africa's first innings to 522, grinding down England's weary bowlers mercilessly. On a wearing pitch, the hosts have rather little hope of preventing South Africa taking a 1-0 series lead in the next 48 hours.

South Africa have outplayed them in nearly every session since the third day at Lord's, and it is due to their resilient batting that the home have been left kicking the turf in frustration. England's prospect of batting all day tomorrow and Tuesday to save the Test is not one they will cherish, on a surface beginning to offer variable bounce and movement. South Africa fought back brilliantly to save the Lord's Test, but that was on a pitch more akin to Lahore than London. Still, Headingley has history in creating history.

It was pleasing to see Makhaya Ntini return to something like his best, too. Poor at Lord's and disappointing in the first innings, he bowled much wider of the crease today - like he used to - as recommended by his former team-mate, Shaun Pollock. The acute angle created, slanting across both Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, affected the judgement of their off stump, but it wasn't until he went around the wicket that he really threatened. A surprise lifter outside off was fended behind by Strauss, and South Africa had kicked the door open on weary England.

England so nearly resisted. For once, Michael Vaughan survived several near misses off Dale Steyn who produced two leg-cutting jaggers that zipped off the seam. Vaughan picked him off through midwicket twice, but Steyn continued to attack and could easily have had him lbw on 9. However, with one over left in the day, Ntini squared him up with a corking leg-cutter to cap a perfect day's Test cricket.

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Smart stats

* The 212-run partnership between Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers is South Africa's fourth-highest for the fifth wicket in Tests, and their highest against England for that wicket. Prince features in three of the top four stands. The partnership is also South Africa's highest at Headingley for any wicket.
* de Villiers' 174 is his sixth Test century, and his highest against England. He also has 13 half-centuries in Tests, but on the last three occasions he has converted his fifties into hundreds.
* de Villiers scored only 9 out of his 174 runs in the V between mid-off and mid-on. He scored 57 in the cover region, and 66 through backward square leg or midwicket.
* Prince and de Villiers scored at just 2.06 runs per over against Andrew Flintoff. Against the other four specialist bowlers, their run rate was 3.11 per over.
* It's only the third time that Flintoff bowled 40 or more overs in a Test innings. James Anderson's 44 overs is the most he has ever bowled in an innings.
* South Africa's 319-run first-innings lead is their fourth-highest in all Tests against England. On two previous occasions they batted first, while once they batted second. Two of those three games ended in draws.

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South Africa owe their position to Ashwell Prince and de Villiers, whose hundreds - though not always glitzy, attractive innings - were models of patience and resilience, and they needed to be. England fought hard this morning, grateful for a pitch that at last offered seam movement, and both batsmen could have fallen within the first hour. Inevitably, it was to Andrew Flintoff that Vaughan turned for early inspiration, and in a lively morning spell he found encouraging movement off the pitch, beating de Villiers with several leg-cutters and even luring the normally sober Prince into a washy drive outside off.

James Anderson impressed throughout, though to judge by his pained expression and Angus Fraser-like kicks at the turf, his patience wore thin as he passed the edge of Prince and de Villiers' bat time after time. de Villiers was particularly tentative, doubtless nervous about a possible hundred, and was beaten all ends up by a corking outswinger that came off his hip. England were at last making them work.

They were far from faultless, tiring visibly, and for all Anderson's occasional jaffas, too often they were followed by half-volley gifts that de Villiers made sure to capitalise on, flicking through midwicket with fine timing. Prince was less tentative, and accordingly less patient, edging the impressive Darren Pattinson behind one short of his 150. Nevertheless, South Africa's lead had swelled beyond 200.

Mark Boucher struggled, as he has all series, and narrowly escaped edging behind on numerous occasions, but de Villiers powered onwards and upwards to register his sixth Test hundred from 264 balls. The Headingley crowd unsportingly booed their disapproval, doubtless with a nod to de Villiers' non-catch which he tried to claim on the first day, but this was a courageous and skilful innings, even if the half-cut couldn't bear to acknowledge it. Anderson was eventually rewarded for persistence when he bowled Boucher, and de Villiers fell to an outstanding catch by Flintoff at first slip - diving to his left to pluck a grass-licker - while Monty Panesar picked up 3 for 65. The damage had been done, however, and in losing two late wickets, England look down and out.

The door hasn't quite been shut on them, but it is only just ajar. Not even the weather is looking down in their favour with two days' hard work ahead.

Chamara, Gambhir shine in draw

Gautam Gambhir, through solid cuts and pulls, made an unbeaten 60 to cover for his first-innings failure.

India's only chance to acclimatise before the Test series ended in a tame draw with less than three days' play at the Nondescripts Cricket Club in Colombo. Having declared at an overnight 196 for 8, the tourists turned in an ordinary day in the field - Anil Kumble did not bowl a ball - as the Sri Lanka Board XI batted to 247 before handing the final session over. In that time, extended by nearly an hour, Gautam Gambhir helped himself to a fifty after Virender Sehwag fell cheaply again.

The Sri Lankan top order struggled, as on the opening day. Solid efforts here may not have entirely swayed the national selectors' decision when they meet to announce Sri Lanka's Test squad, but the single-digit scores from the openers was disappointing. Upul Tharanga edged Zaheer Khan to the wicketkeeper in the third over and Mahela Udawatte slashed Ishant Sharma in the air to backward point for 15.

Jehan Mubarak's shots remained punchy as he stood tall to get over the ball, but having made 41, he played an ugly shot. Harbhajan Singh changed ends after two overs and Mubarak charged his second delivery, only to chip the ball to point.

As Munaf Patel searched for what length to bowl, Chamara Kapugedera pulled him ferociously out of the ground. Having honed his radar, Munaf picked up Kapugedera in the 21st over, perhaps with some assistance: the ball looked to have been carrying on just over the stumps when Kapugedera was adjudged lbw for 22. Thilina Kandamby looked to score off Harbhajan - a few hard cuts scurried past the infield and one straight drive, albeit uppish, stood out - but on the stroke of lunch, Harbhajan had his man chipping loosely to Sachin Tendulkar at cover for a brisk 27.

A brief but heavy shower during the interval delayed the resumption of play for just under 50 minutes. Chamara Silva, like Kandamby, was aggressive against Harbhajan - his feet constantly moved and his bat quick to come down on anything errant. A slip mid-pitch resulted in Kaushal Silva being run out and with the second session extended, Chamara ticked along to his second fifty of the match. His cutting remained his strongest suite, and a couple of lusty blows raised the landmark. The Indians' fielding slipped dramatically in the second session, with wayward throws not always backed up correctly. Kumble refrained from bowling and Gambhir's unassuming spin was employed as support to Sehwag's offbreaks.

Dammika Prasad scored a useful 53-ball 43 and the two put on 74 for the seventh wicket. A declaration at 247 for 6 gave India the final session to test out their batting.

With Sehwag falling for 14, caught at deep square-leg, Gambhir and Rahul Dravid kept the ball on the ground. Gambhir slowed down in the process and Dravid took a while to open up, but soon sweet drives and cuts peppered the ground. The helmets came off at the arrival of spin as both batsmen tried to dominate. Gambhir succeeded with some aerial drives but Dravid was late on a shot against the left-arm spinner Rangana Herath and was bowled for 26. Play was extended until 6.10 pm and Gambhir, through solid cuts and pulls, made an unbeaten 60. Sourav Ganguly notched up 22.

Two days out of three were hit by rain, and locals expect the pattern to continue when the actual contest kicks off just down the road at the SSC on July 23.

ICC board to decide on Champions Trophy venue

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, at the press conference in Dubai.

Pakistan's chances of hosting the Champions Trophy in September have been pegged at "50-50" by an official who attended the ICC's security briefing in Dubai on Sunday. The meeting was attended by board officials of the eight participating countries, broadcast executives, and players' association representatives.

The ICC board will now take a final decision over the next 72 hours after its members discuss the issue over the phone, the official said. The ICC board, while taking a final decision, will also consider a report on Sunday's security briefing.

"The briefing was detailed and comprehensive and it looks 50-50 at the moment for Pakistan," the official told Cricinfo. "The players of four countries, Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, have expressed some reservations over the security climate in Pakistan, and I would expect their boards to back them."

Asked whether Sunday's meeting discussed alternate venues for the tournament, the official said, "That topic was not touched upon at all in this meeting. That is for the ICC board to discuss." South Africa has been projected as the possible alternate host, in case the ICC board decides against Pakistan, after Sri Lanka, the original stand-by venue, was found to have significant security concerns of its own.

The ICC said in an official statement that "until or unless the Board decides otherwise, the tournament will proceed in Pakistan." Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, later told reporters that Sri Lanka remains the alternate venue.

Lorgat said that the briefing by the ICC's security consultants stressed "great satisfaction" at the security measures in place during the Asia Cup but added that, "if it was up to the player representatives, they would prefer not to be in Pakistan".

"They have got concerns because no guarantees, as far as safety and security are concerned, can be given by the PCB, the ICC or security consultants," Lorgat said at a press conference, the Associated Press reported. "We can do everything in our power to secure and safeguard officials, but we can never issue guarantees."

The ICC statement said, "While there was recognition the PCB had gone to great lengths to provide a high level of security during the Asia Cup and would do so again during the ICC Champions Trophy, concerns were expressed about the potential for threats beyond the PCB's control."

Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, reiterated that the tournament should not be shifted out. "Pakistan's case is strong and we see no point in moving or not holding the Champions Trophy in our country after full assurances on security," he told AFP.

ICC discussed the issue at its annual conference in Dubai earlier this month, and it was decided that it would take a decision after it studied a security report from its consultants on the arrangements in place for the Asia Cup. Security experts, led by the Australian Reg Dickason, toured Pakistan recently, visiting venues in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.

New Zealand might not be at full strength

Jacob Oram is unsure about visiting Pakistan.

A final decision on Pakistan hosting the Champions Trophy in September is expected at an ICC meeting in Dubai later today, but there are already reports suggesting a full-strength New Zealand team is unlikely for the tournament.

The meeting will involve representatives from member boards and the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) besides a team of security experts. Those from New Zealand include the team manager Lindsay Crocker and the New Zealand Cricket Players Association executive manager Heath Mills, who told the Herald on Sunday that there could be high-profile withdrawals among the New Zealand squad.

Speaking before leaving for Dubai, Mills said there could be pullouts even if the ICC declared Pakistan as a safe venue. Mills said several players had expressed their concerns to him, and that the reason no-one has come out and said "no" to the tour "is because nobody has yet asked them that question directly".

New Zealand are slated to play three ODIs in Pakistan before the biennial tournament, which now features the top eight ODI sides. New Zealand had cancelled their tour to the country in 2002 after a bomb went off outside their hotel, but returned the next year.

Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, had earlier said he would feel safe to tour if the level of security was the same as when his side toured in 2003. "I was there when the bomb went off outside our hotel in [2002] and I went back a year later on tour and the security they put forward that time was immense and overwhelming," Vettori said. Jacob Oram had expressed concerns over the visit, and said he would sit with his family and make a decision.

New Zealand Cricket has commissioned their own security expert along with Cricket Australia and the ECB. Security experts, led by the Australian Reg Dickason, had visited Pakistan in late June, and had said security in the country needed "fine tuning" . Pakistan hosted the Asia Cup without incident recently, but fears emerged following attacks in Islamabad, the capital, and in the port city of Karachi the last week. In a statement before the meeting, the ICC said: "The ICC will not indulge in speculation and, at this stage, the tournament will proceed in Pakistan, as scheduled."

The Champions Trophy will be held in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, between September 11 and 28. Shafqat Naghmi, the board's chief operating officer, told Cricinfo on Saturday that the board was confident of hosting the tournament after successfully conducting the Asia Cup.