Saturday, August 9, 2008

Former New Zealand bowler Bob Cunis dies aged 67

Besides playing for and coaching New Zealand at cricket, Bob Cunis was a handy three-quarter at rugby.

Bob Cunis, the former New Zealand medium-pacer, has died aged 67 at his house in Northland. Cunis played 20 Tests between 1964 and 1972, taking 51 wickets at the average of 37, including one five-wicket haul, and was also a useful lower-order batsman. He went on to coach New Zealand between 1987 and 1990.

One of the highlights of Cunis' international career was his battling 96-run association with Mark Burgess for the ninth wicket in the second innings against Pakistan in the third Test in Dhaka in 1969. The partnership helped New Zealand save the match and sealed their first series win on foreign soil.

He was good enough to earn a place in the World XI side, containing the likes of Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Sunil Gavaskar, and Zaheer Abbas, which toured Australia in 1971-72, but was plagued by knee injuries throughout his career.

Cunis, who had an unorthodox action which made it seem like he was bowling off the wrong foot, had a 16-year first-class career with Auckland and Northern Districts from 1960-61 to 1976-77. In 132 first-class matches, he took 386 wickets at 26.65, including 18 five-fors and two ten-wicket hauls. His best season was with Auckland in 1968-69, when he took 30 wickets at the astonishing average of 12.6 to take them to victory in the Plunkett Shield.

John Arlott, the famous BBC commentator and journalist, once described Cunis as being "neither one thing or another".

He was also a handy rugby three-quarter. His son Stephen was also a first-class cricketer and played for Canterbury between 1999 and 2005.

Amla sparkles on shortened day

Stuart Broad celebrates the wicket of Neil McKenzie.

Hashim Amla stroked his ninth Test fifty as South Africa reduced the deficit to just 12, on a shortened third day at The Oval. James Anderson and Steve Harmison were both guilty of bowling a little too wide, and runs flowed accordingly to leave the match fascinatingly poised as South Africa whittled away at the deficit. However, rain restricted play to 17.5 overs before play was abandoned at 4.55pm.

After a 30-minute drizzle delay, Harmison looked in good rhythm from the off but, though his pace was useful, his line was too wide to trouble Amla and Neil McKenzie who, time and again, left balls outside off stump. Playing well back in his crease and with soft hands, McKenzie angled deliveries out to point and gully and, when he came onto the front foot, drove elegantly through extra cover to bring up South Africa's fifty. Shortly afterwards, however, McKenzie was beaten for pace by Harmison, top-edging a pull but it scooted past Monty Panesar at fine-leg.

Amla, meanwhile, continued where he left off from last night and took advantage of Anderson's drifting deliveries into his leg-stump, flicking him with wristy power through square-leg. The next delivery, too, was pounced upon and sweetly timed past the lazy dive of Panesar at mid-on as runs began to flow and the deficit was decreasing steadily and surely.

McKenzie pulled Harmison for another powerful four through midwicket as Kevin Pietersen switched his field placings around, keen for a breakthrough. And after an hour's play, he turned to Stuart Broad for inspiration - and the decision immediately paid off. A testing, pacey over to McKenzie troubled the right-hander with good line on his off stump. After digging out a yorker and getting a thick inside-edge onto his pads, another inside-edge cannoned into his middle stump to give England a much-needed breakthrough.

Nevertheless, South Africa remained in a useful position, trailing by just 40 and Amla continued to look in excellent touch although he survived an inside edge on 58, as Tim Ambrose couldn't hold a tough catch to his left. An elegant punch through extra cover off the back foot, in Andrew Flintoff's first over of the day, brought up his aggressive fifty, and he followed the landmark with a canny nudge past gully for four more. Flintoff was audibly furious, reflecting his team's frustration at letting South Africa off the hook.

All eyes were on Jacques Kallis, who has struggled his way to 95 unconvincing runs in this series. It seems inconceivable that he will end his tour without a hundred, and if ever South Africa need him to fire, it was now. As more drizzle fell to prompt an early lunch, the deficit had been reduced to 12 as the match was left intriguingly poised, albeit at the mercy of continued rain. However, with six sessions left in the match and the forecast looking much better, there is still plenty of time for both sides to force victory.

Sri Lanka ride on Sangakkara ton in keen contest

Kumar Sangakkara's century gave Sri Lanka a slender lead on the second day.

It was good old-fashioned Test cricket on the second day - an examination of patience, will and concentration - and Kumar Sangakkara kept Sri Lanka's nose ahead with a patient century. After Chaminda Vaas and Sangakkara had frustrated India in the first session, the Indian spinners fought back in the middle, drying up the runs and getting important wickets as a result, but they were denied by a rock-solid Sangakkara, and to a lesser extent by the inconsistent umpiring when it came to reviews.

Sangakkara's hundred competed with the review decision that went Thilan Samaraweera's way as the talking point of the day. India had taken two wickets, those of Vaas and Mahela Jayawardene, for four runs to reduce Sri Lanka to 141 for 4, and should have made it three for 16 when Kumble's appeal for an lbw against Samaraweera was rejected. In live time, it seemed there might have been an inside edge before the ball hit pad, but the replays clearly showed the ball hit the pad first. The impact was 40% inside the mat - as it was with Rahul Dravid when he was given out yesterday - and the ball would have gone on to hit the middle stump three-fourths of the way up. For some reason, though, the original decision was upheld, which left the Indians irate. Sachin Tendulkar, who had injured his elbow earlier, even signalled "out" from the dressing room. Samaraweera was on 5, then, and went on to score 35, and more importantly, put together a 60-run partnership with Sangakkara at a crucial juncture.

Nothing should take away from Sangakkara, though, who curbed his stroke-playing instincts, realising that his wicket would have been critical. He made a dicey start in the morning with an uppish boundary past a diving Rohit Sharma at point, but was determined to make amends for his ordinary series till then. Before this Test, his average in 2008 was close to 24. Twice in the previous Tests, Zaheer Khan had caught him in the crease, making him play at legcutters. This time, though, Sangakkara consciously got on to the front foot, especially against Zaheer. Once he saw Zaheer off, there were no signs of struggle, and he was severe on anything loose.

A big chance arrived for India when Sangakkara, on 34 then, edged a faster one from Kumble, but Rahul Dravid failed to latch on to what would have been a spectacular slip catch. To rub salt in, Sangakkara came up with an exquisite cover-drive off Harbhajan in the next over.

The run machine

  • Kumar Sangakkara's unbeaten 107 was his second Test hundred against India. His first came during India's previous visit in 2001.
  • It was also Sangakkara's second ton at the P Sara Stadium, where he presently averages over 100.
  • Sangakkara's Test average of 55.39 is the best among Sri Lankan batsmen who have played more than one Test. He scores over 85 runs per innings when playing as a specialist batsman.
  • Since his 287 against South Africa in July 2006, his highest score, Sangakkara averages an astounding 97.84 in 26 innings.
  • With the 17th run of his 107, Sangakkara became only the third batsman to score 2000 runs without being bowled in a Test innings. Sangakkara was last out bowled in April 2006, and has not been dismissed in that manner ever since. Shivanarine Chanderpaul and Javed Miandad are the two others to achieve this feat. Read more on Chanderpaul in the It Figures blog.

After lunch India came out determined to make runs hard to get. In the first session Sri Lanka had managed 100, while in the first 11 overs of the second they got only 23. Harbhajan kept bowling outside off, while Kumble - from round the stumps - got purchase from the pitch. Vaas, the night-watchman who took ownership of the house in the first session, was strangled: he survived two close calls in one Kumble over, and in Harbhajan's next, lobbed an easy catch to extra cover, falling two runs short of achieving the double of 3000 runs and 300 wickets. Harbhajan then beat Jayawardene with an offbreak, and for once Jayawardene got the review call wrong. He was given out lbw and that's how it stayed.

That was when Sangakkara dug deeper, not falling for India's tactics, scoring 27 runs in the middle session. Bar one shot, he was a picture of discipline. Even that shot was perhaps a statement - I can hit those, but I don't want to. To a full, wide offbreak from Harbhajan - a similar one had been called wide earlier - Sangakkara went down on one knee and swept to midwicket for four. As he approached his 17th century, the Indians kept getting meaner on him. In moving from 76 to 99, he took 56 balls, and hit only one boundary.

India suffered injury setbacks through the day. VVS Laxman had twisted his ankle in fielding practice before the start of the play and didn't take the field. After tea Ishant Sharma became the third casualty when he tumbled during his follow-though, not for the first time in the series, hurt his hip, and had to go off the field. Still, the bowlers put up a brave show overall. The Harbhajan-Kumble duo worked well in the middle session, and Zaheer bowled a testing spell after tea, giving away 21 runs in eight overs and eventually getting Samaraweera out with a delivery that bounced and left the batsman.

Tillakaratne Dilshan, as usual, came out full of intent, and in partnership with Sangakkara started to break free. For 12 overs at one point towards stumps, Sri Lanka didn't score a boundary, getting only 27 runs, but once Dilshan cut loose things began to look ominous for India. But Kumble, unfortunate not to have got a wicket till then, struck at the right time with a topspinner. Dilshan asked for the review, but he had been caught plumb. Given the tendency of lower orders to collapse dramatically, and also that Sri Lanka have to bat last, it would be brave to say that Sri Lanka have a clear advantage.

ICC denies England on Champions Trophy stand-by

It is still unclear where Australia will be defending their Champions Trophy title.

The ICC has denied that England is being sounded out as an alternative venue for the Champions Trophy if Pakistan is deemed unsafe for the tournament.

It was reported that at least one Test ground had been approached as a potential venue, but an ICC spokesman told Cricinfo that was not the case. "England is not being lined up," he said. "Pakistan is the confirmed venue and our preparations are moving ahead on that basis.

"Members of the task team will head there this week to see for themselves the measures in place and we look forward to a great tournament with 15 matches involving the world's top eight teams in cricket's second major."

An ICC task force is set to arrive in Pakistan on Sunday (August 10) for a three-day visit, and Sri Lanka is understood to be the first stand-by venue if the tournament is moved, while South Africa is another possibility.

However, officials at Edgbaston have been asked by the ECB if they'd be interested in staging matches. "We were asked by Giles [Clarke, the ECB chairman] if we would be interested in hosting Champions Trophy games," Warwickshire chief executive, Colin Povey, told the Birmingham Post. "All we've said is that we would, in principle, be keen to do so. I understand a number of other Test match grounds have also been approached.

"There are some logistical issues. The ICC would probably require 'clean' grounds [free of ECB and Warwickshire advertising], but there is a window for the competition [in England] between September 12-26. We have a Championship match here from the 24th, but the final would probably be in London anyway."

Keith Bradshaw, MCC's chief executive, told Cricinfo he hadn't been officially approached about using Lord's but "would jump at the chance to stage the event if things came to that" and would be "100% interested if asked." Lord's hosts its last major game for the season on September 10, so there is a clear window in the latter part of the month. The Oval would be the other prime venue and along with Edgbaston hosted matches when the Champions Trophy was in England during 2004.

An ECB spokesman told Cricinfo that ICC asked the ECB to assess the availability of venues in case a move was required. "This was brought up by the ICC at their meeting in Dubai, " he said.

Even if the event does proceed in Pakistan player associations from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England have all expressed deep concerns over the tournament. Player boycotts have not been ruled out and a number of sides could send second-string teams.

Giles in the spotlight for potential conflict of interest

Ashley Giles remains adamant that his role as England selector, and his job with Warwickshire, can dovetail happily.

The chairman of Gloucestershire, John Light, has lodged an official complaint with the ECB over Ashley Giles's dual role as England selector and Warwickshire's director of cricket.

Light's complaint surrounds Warwickshire's approach for Alex Gidman and Steve Kirby, which he described as "a hand grenade in our dressing room". Both players chose to stay at Gloucestershire, but Light has nevertheless filed a complaint against Giles who, he claims, has a "conflict of interest".

"Warwickshire quite properly bid for two of our players," Light told the Birmingham Post. "For us smaller clubs, retaining players can be a problem and I feel that Ashley Giles' dual role gives him an extra advantage. There is no question of Ashley behaving improperly. He's a splendid fellow and Warwickshire have acted totally above board.

"The thing is, when 'Grav' [David Graveney] was a selector, we asked him to become involved with Gloucestershire, but he declined because he thought he must remain neutral. I wrote to Hugh Morris at the start of last week and also raised the matter with [national selector] Geoff Miller and at the chairmen's meeting. I cannot put words in others' mouths, but I think it is fair to say it was accepted that I have a reasonable point."

Giles, however, remains adamant that the two roles can work in harmony - despite rumours of discontent rumbling around the county circuit over the aggressive approaches made by Warwickshire for high-profile players.

"As far as I am concerned it is far from a conflict of interests," Giles said. "All I am doing is working to make England cricket better. I have never said to a player that if they came to Warwickshire they would have a better chance of playing for England."

Atkins and Taylor set record in thrashing

Sarah Taylor works the ball away during her century.

Caroline Atkins and Sarah Taylor set a new world record for a partnership in women's ODIs as England inflicted another crushing 225-run defeat on South Africa at Lord's. England's openers added 268 in a commanding display with both registering centuries and South Africa were overwhelmed, sinking for 85 in their chase.

Atkins and Taylor put the visitors to the sword despite conditions that favoured the bowlers early on. Both went along at almost identical pace, Atkins the first to three figures off 117 balls and Taylor following shortly after off 118 deliveries. For Atkins it was her maiden ODI century in her 33rd match, while for Taylor it was the second and lifted her average over 40.

Chances were few and far between for the South Africa, but they did miss one opportunity to remove Taylor in the 21st over. The opening stand went past the previous record of 258, also an opening stand, set by Reshma Gandhi and Mithali Raj, for India against Ireland back in 1999. The fun was eventually ended when Atkins was bowled by Susan Benade, but England powered on to reach 310 for 3.

South Africa never had a prayer of reaching the target and collapsed in a heap against Katherine Brunt, who claimed a career-best 5 for 25 and was on a hat-trick early in the innings.

Sri Lanka build towards strong position

Zaheer Khan removed Michael Vandort, but Sri Lanka had the better of the first session on the second day.

Chaminda Vaas was the itch India could not scratch, as their bowlers failed to make serious inroads on an overcast morning despite the presence of encouraging movement for the pace bowlers. To make matters worse for them, Kumar Sangakkara seemed to have played himself in by lunch. The proceedings were slow to begin with, but Sri Lanka looked to have taken control of the game by lunch.

Vaas, the night-watchman, took ownership of the house on the second morning. To the penultimate ball last night, Vaas had refused a single, to ensure he did his job of shielding the specialist batsman. But on the second morning it was clear who looked the better batsman of the two. Michael Vandort played and missed, got drawn into shots, and finally fell lbw to one that came in from Zaheer Khan. Vaas at the other end never committed, didn't play anything he didn't need to, and irked the bowlers with his peculiar style of letting the ball go.

He repeatedly hid the bat behind pad, and made a pretence of playing at the ball - way inside the line. The bowlers would glare, pitching it closer to him with every delivery, and then, when the ball got close enough, Vaas would either cover-drive or square-drive. Zaheer eventually tried to bounce him, but Vaas rocked back and pulled him, rolling his wrists on it, and hitting him to the backward-square-leg boundary. The next ball was a higher, better-directed bouncer, which Vaas mis-hit but managed to land in the vacant area in front of square. Ishant tried a bouncer as well, which was met with another hooked boundary, and that was the end of the short-ball business.

The spinners, too, failed to make any impression on Vaas: he took three boundaries off Harbhajan Singh, all too easy, and kept turning Anil Kumble round the corner for easy singles. By lunch he had settled in, and at 39 was 10 short of becoming only the seventh man to achieve the double of 3000 runs and 300 wickets.

Sangakkara, who made a dicey start with an uppish boundary past a diving Rohit Sharma at point, seemed to be looking to make amends for his ordinary series. Twice previously, Zaheer had caught him in the crease, making him play at legcutters. This time, though, Sangakkara consciously kept getting on to the front foot, especially against Zaheer. Once he saw Zaheer off, there were no signs of struggle, and he was severe on anything loose.

A big chance arrived for India when Sangakkara, 34 then, edged a faster one from Kumble, but Rahul Dravid failed to latch on to what would have been a spectacular slip catch. To rub salt in, Sangakkara came up with an exquisite cover-drive off Harbhajan in the next over, overtaking Vaas' score. By lunch the two had added 72, with no real discomfort.

Friday, August 8, 2008

England in control after Pietersen hundred

Kevin Pietersen cracked his 14th Test hundred and first as England captain.

A superb, even 100 from Kevin Pietersen, his first century as England captain, provided the mainstay of England's 316 on the second day against South Africa at The Oval. Yet with England's brittle middle-order again struggling - Makhaya Ntini took five wickets for the first time in 17 Tests - it was left to none other than Steve Harmison and the tail to extend their lead from a thrifty fifty to a challenging 122. James Anderson then capped a solid day for England by removing Graeme Smith for a duck to put the hosts firmly on top.

In helpful bowling conditions, the momentum swung wildly throughout the day. After Pietersen fell for his hundred, soon followed by Tim Ambrose and Andrew Flintoff, the onus fell on Paul Collingwood to chivvy the tailenders. But he too fell to Jacques Kallis, who bowled a nagging line all day, as England slipped to a precarious 248 for 7. A collapse was on the cards, but Harmison - clearly relishing his return - cracked his highest first-class score, falling one short of a maiden fifty, to lift England's lead and alter the whole feeling of the day.

An enigma with the ball during his career, Harmison is pleasingly uncomplicated with the bat. He stood tall to Ntini, punching him elegantly off the back foot before smudging another four over midwicket. A couple of fortunate swipes off the struggling Morne Morkel further deflated South Africa before he unleashed an exquisite cut to beat his previous best of 42. At the other end, Anderson was his muted partner but blocked and nurdled his way to a 34-ball 13 in the pair's crowd-lifting ninth-wicket stand of 53. A fifty for Harmison on his comeback to the England side, perhaps? Sadly not, as Monty Panesar was ball-watching for what was a tight single, but Harmison had already done the damage.

And Anderson made good England's tail-wagging with a brilliant set-up to dismiss Smith. Much as he did to Kallis in the first innings, two outswingers gave the batsman a sighter before he bent back a killer inswinger, trapping Smith bang in front. Anderson and Harmison couldn't break Hashim Amla, however, who looked in fine touch with five crisp late-evening fours.

If it was a day for the bowlers, then more power to Pietersen's elbow for his hundred. Ian Bell, promoted to the No.3 position which he yearns to cement, fell to the fourth ball of the day, and although Alastair Cook hung around for 102 balls, his 39 lacked fluency and confidence. Rather inevitably, he fell to a loose slap outside off. Yet the predicament England found themselves in didn't affect Pietersen. Rather, it - and the added responsibility of the captaincy - seemed to spur him on. There was no discernible difference in his extravagant method at the crease, picking Ntini over midwicket with one-legged flair of Desmond Haynes and taking advantage of Smith's heavy off-side field - an odd oversight to a player so strong on the leg-side, from a captain usually so aware of players strengths. Pietersen's driving off Kallis - indeed all the seamers - down the ground was at its imperious best.

Nevertheless, he wasn't faultless and offered a chance on 52 when he top-edged Morkel into the deep, where Paul Harris was dozing. Ntini made a good effort to snaffle it, as he did again when Pietersen mis-hooked Andre Nel from around the wicket, but all the luck was falling England's way. Collingwood, meanwhile, was fed with leg-side gifts aplenty, working and nudging through midwicket with ease, but he was no less strong through the covers when given the chance. A fierce cut scorched through extra cover as England took the lead and South Africa struggled to maintain the run-rate.

Pietersen's 15th four was flicked from outside the off stump through midwicket to bring up his hundred - a trademark stroke from a man writing his own script - as the crowd honoured him with a long standing ovation. But two balls later, he nudged a wide teaser from Ntini straight to Kallis at third slip; captain or not, it seems unlikely he will ever change his batting style. Nor should he.

Collingwood forced his way to another fifty, on the back of his magnificent hundred at Edgbaston, and though England suffered a middle-order collapse of 5 for 44, South Africa's slight complacency allowed Harmison off the hook during his trailblazing hour of fun. The momentum slipped away from South Africa with each four, and though Amla played with pleasing freedom in an extended final session, England remained in control in Pietersen's first Test of his tenure.

Mendis and Prasad put Sri Lanka on top

Ajantha Mendis capitalised on Dammika Prasad's strikes before lunch.

Dammika Prasad's raw pace pulled India back after an explosive start, whereupon the spinners took charge of the game, as has been their wont over the course of the series. India's middle order failed again, as they fell from 51 for 0 in seven overs to 198 for 9, after which Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma frustrated Sri Lanka for one ball less than 20 overs - the longest partnership of the innings, and at 51 runs also the joint highest. Ishant followed up the good work with the bat to get Malinda Warnapura's wicket two overs before stumps.

Mahela Jayawardene made exceptional use of the review system, getting the wickets of Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid after challenging decisions. Gambhir had got off to his fifth start in five innings, and his third half-century in three, in characteristically aggressive fashion, but could only watch from the other end as his partners came and went, before he himself failed to convert his fifty into a big one.

Ajantha Mendis ended the frustrating last-wicket stand to finish with his second five-for, the fifth time he has taken at least four in five innings, but the real impact was caused by the debutant, Prasad.

Ever since Prasad was called up into the Sri Lanka squad after the first Test, his pace had been a talking point. And when he finally got the cap, that speed made the difference. He didn't bowl at 150kph, but he was quick enough to thwart any thoughts the batsmen might have had of dominating the bowlers. The difference he made was clear from Gambhir's contrasting approaches against Chaminda Vaas and Prasad. To Vaas he walked down the pitch, as he does in domestic cricket when facing lesser bowlers, nullifying any swing. When Vaas managed to beat him, he opened the face to run it towards third man. Vaas tried bouncing him out, but he managed to rock back and pull him for fours. But no such tactics were trotted out against Prasad, who took all three of his wickets - as opposed to buying them, which was what the Sri Lankan medium-pacers had done in the series till then.

After India chose to bat, both Gambhir and Sehwag outdid each other, hitting boundaries at will in the first half-hour. Prasad, fast and erratic to begin with, was handed a cruel baptism: Gambhir took a boundary off his first ball, Sehwag one off the first ball of his second over. After he managed to start his third over with a dot-ball, Prasad bowled a no-ball immediately after, which beat the keeper and went for four. The first ball of his fourth over was pummelled back to him and hit his left wrist viciously. After three minutes of treatment, he stunned Sehwag with one that held its line and took a faint edge through. The celebration - Prasad's eyes almost popping out of their sockets, Murali-like - spoke of how important the wicket was.

India had done enough damage by then, it seemed: they had reached 51 in 7.2 overs. In came Dravid, struggling to find form, struggling to keep the strike rotating. The scoring-rate came down, and even though Dravid looked comfortable defending, it allowed the bowlers to settle into a rhythm.

Prasad, in his second spell, came up with another special effort. He got one to swing in late, and beat Dravid's defence. Jayawardene challenged the not-out call that ensued, and replays showed that about 40% of the ball was inside the mat at the point of impact. As it would definitely have hit off and middle, and there was no inside edge, the point of impact was the only matter of contention, and the umpire was convinced enough to overturn his decision.

Mahela Jayawardene used the review system exceptionally again.

To make a good first session better, Prasad got Sachin Tendulkar, playing in his 150th Test, beating him with inward movement. Tendulkar, given out by Mark Benson, asked for a review, but the replay didn't show any conclusive evidence of an inside edge, which would have been the only reason to reverse the decision.

With two of the Fab Four gone, the spinners - especially Mendis - reinforced the vice grip they have had over the Indian middle order. Despite a quick start from Sourav Ganguly, who began with a boundary off Prasad and then lofted Muttiah Muralitharan over long-off, the middle order never really took charge of the game. Murali came back with a fastish offbreak that took Ganguly's edge even as he tried to hide bat behind pad.

Gambhir, meanwhile, seemed to be picking Mendis early, and looked to use his feet to him. He stepped out to hit a full toss from Mendis wide of mid-on to get to his sixth half-century. He then slowed down, which suggested he realised the need to get to at least a hundred, which he had last managed in 2004-05 against Bangladesh. But Mendis and Jayawardene teamed up again: Mendis beat Gambhir with an offbreak and Jayawardene opted for another challenge, after the proximity of the bat to the front pad and the ball had created enough doubt for the on-field umpire to rule in favour of the batsman. Replays suggested otherwise, and Sri Lanka had reduced India from 51 for 0 to 155 for 5 even before Murali and Mendis had really got going.

In the last over before tea, Mendis made sure India had squandered the advantage of winning the toss, by getting the last recognised batsman, VVS Laxman, with a legbreak. The rest, bar Zaheer and Ishant, were a mere formality. And the ease with which the last-wicket pair batted only made things look more threatening for India as they went out to field.

Fernando returns for India one-dayers

Sri Lanka squad for ODI series v India:

  • Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Chamara Kapugedera, Chamara Silva, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chaminda Vaas, Kaushalya Weeraratne, Thilan Thushara, Nuwan Kulasekara, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Mahela Udawatte, Dilhara Fernando.
  • Champions Trophy squad:
    Same as above, except Farveez Maharoof comes in for Kaushal Weeraratne

Dilhara Fernando, the Sri Lankan fast bowler who has just recovered from a leg injury, has been retained in the one-day squad for the five-match series against India and the Champions Trophy in Pakistan. Medium-pacer Farveez Maharoof returns for the Champions Trophy while Lasith Malinga remains on the sidelines.

Sri Lanka have named virtually the same squad which won the Asia Cup last month. The only absentee from that side is middle-order batsman Jehan Mubarak, who will be touring South Africa with the Sri Lanka A team.

For the Champions Trophy, Farveez Maharoof will replace Kaushalya Weeraratne if he (Maharoof) recovers fully from his side strain. Both Fernando and Maharoof had their fitness tested in a one-day practice match arranged among players drawn from the Sri Lanka A team and the development squad before the selectors finally made the decision to pick them.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Parthiv in as India choose to bat

Toss India chose to bat v Sri Lanka

The toss in the series so far has been crucial: neither team wants to bat last, neither wants the other to get the advantage of runs on the board first. So far, the teams winning the toss have won the matches, after having chosen to bat first. Keeping with the trend, India won the toss in the third Test and chose to bat on a pitch that should be at its best for batting on the first two days. The pitch was expected to offer slow turn from the third day on.

Both teams went in with a change each: India dropped Dinesh Karthik, who had looked sloppy behind the wickets and edgy in front ­ with the exception of his last innings, which at 20 runs was too little too late.

Sri Lanka went in for the extra pace of Dammika Prasad, who will make his debut and replace Nuwan Kulasekara who has taken one wicket in the last two Tests.

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

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 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Dammika Prasad.

Riveting series awaits fitting finale

With a top-score of 44 between them in eight innings, there is plenty to be discussed.

Match facts

Friday August 8 - Tuesday August 12, 2008
Start time 10.15am (0445GMT)

Big Picture

Sri Lanka v India has already made a strong claim to being called the Asian Ashes, as opposed to the contests between Pakistan and India who, over their last two series, produced some of the most unappetising Test cricket on pitches that didn't deserve any better. The matches in this series have been far more exciting than the victory margins seem to suggest. The first Test witnessed the coming together of two spinners who look set to form the most fearsome bowling duo since McGrath-Warne. Till as late as the final two sessions and a bit of a see-saw second Test, one team took a lead of some sort, only to be pulled back even before they could feel comfortable.

Not for the first time did Sri Lanka lay claims to invincibility at home, only for India to come back from the dead in the next Test. That's raised the stakes for the third Test: India have not won a series in Sri Lanka since 1993, and Sri Lanka are looking for revenge for the 0-2 hammering they received when they last toured India. If the teams can continue from where they left off in Galle, we are in for some match.

Form guide (last 5 Tests)

Sri Lanka LWLWD (most recent first)
India WLWLD

Watch out for

Muttiah Muralitharan: Murali is not used to not contributing, and one of the key factors in India's success in Galle was that he took only 5 for 200, three of which were tailenders' wickets, after the damage had been done. He will look to make amends.

The Fab Four: Similarly, the famed Indian middle order is not used to failing so consistently. Between them they have managed one half-century in 16 innings. Their response will be interesting: will they master or be mastered?

Sehwag v Mendis: Two runaway stars of the series, both capable of turning a match around in a very short period. Without doubt Sehwag has been the best Indian batsman against Mendis, who has come across as a threat as big as Murali, if not bigger. Will they decide the series between them? Will Sehwag survive till Mendis comes on? If he does, will there be a repeat of Galle (76 in 83 balls) or the Asia Cup final (out second ball)?

Team news

Dinesh Karthik had done little behind the stumps in the first two Tests to inspire confidence in the bowlers and, with his captain among the bowlers to suffer, he may be axed in favour of Parthiv Patel, who last played a Test in October 2004. The rest of the line-up remains the same.

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

Sri Lanka decided to stick on with Michael Vandort - 17 runs in three innings so far - but were not as kind to Nuwan Kulasekara, who has taken one wicket in the two Tests. They are yet to decide whether they to pick Thilan Thushara, the left-arm medium-pacer, or hand out a debut to Dammika Prasad, whose pace has been a talking point ever since he was added to the squad after the first Test.

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/Dammika Prasad.

Umpires: Mark Benson and Rudi Koertzen. Third umpire: Billy Doctrove

Pitch & conditions

The pitch is likely to be hard and bouncy, a welcome news for all parties involved: pace bowlers, spinners, and the batsmen. But if the conditions are pacer-friendly, India stand a better chance of exploiting them. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for the five days of the Test, but that is expected in August in Sri Lanka. The thunderstorms in the first two Tests were not enough to rob us of a result, and the teams will be hoping for the same here.

Stats & Trivia

  • Sri Lanka have not lost a match at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium ever since Test cricket returned to the venue in July 2002; they have won four and drawn one. This is also the ground where Sri Lanka played their first Test, and later recorded their first Test win.

  • The last time India won back-to-back Tests was 19 matches ago - and that was the last and first match of two different series. Their previous back-to-back wins against the same opposition came against Sri Lanka in 2005-06 at home.

  • The spinners have taken 51 of the 66 wickets to have fallen so far. Ishant Sharma leads the pace bowlers with five wickets, while Zaheer Khan and Chaminda Vaas have managed four each.

  • Harbhajan Singh, who took his first away 10-wicket haul in the Galle Test, is 13 short of reaching 300 wickets. If he manages to reach the mark in this Test, this will be some comeback.
  • Pietersen's tenure begins in style

    Steve Harmison bowled Hashim Amla with a terrific yorker.

    Steve Harmison and James Anderson inspired England with five wickets between them, as South Africa were dismissed for a disappointing 194 on the opening day at The Oval. With the series already tied up, there was a concern South Africa's focus might have swayed for this, the final Test, and so it appeared. But for a bold 39 from AB de Villiers, and 46 from an exhausted Graeme Smith, South Africa were a team hungover from their Edgbaston glory against a revitalised England under new leadership.

    After rattling through South Africa, all Kevin Pietersen needed to cap an impressive first day's captaincy was a solid performance by his openers. He nearly got it, but for the loss of Andrew Strauss. During his comeback against New Zealand earlier in the year, he was patience personified. But South Africa have persisted on and around his off stump and repeatedly had him fishing meekly and edging into the slips. It happened again today as Makhaya Ntini angled one across him, leaving Alastair Cook and Ian Bell - promoted to No. 3 for the immediate future - to steady England.

    Whether inspired by South Africa's complacency, or energised by the new Pietersen-led regime, England's bowlers were aggressive and menacing for the most part. Yet, in the morning session, they were left frustrated by a stodgy Smith and their own poor fielding. Indeed Smith should have been held off Harmison to the very first ball of the match, but it flew through Alastair Cook's hands at gully. Admittedly, he was a little close, but it was the first of three misses from Cook during a disappointing first session by England.

    All changed after lunch. Hashim Amla took full toll of Stuart Broad's continued waywardness. Three fours were crashed through the covers, off front and back foot, as Broad's loopy half-volleys offered little threat whatsoever. Smith's career average briefly crept over 50 during his innings, but so too did Broad's with the ball. At 103 for 1 South Africa were in control - until, that is, Harmison returned.

    James Anderson picked up three excellent wickets.

    Smith survived a close shout for lbw against him but he couldn't resist hooking a well-directed bouncer straight to Anderson at fine-leg. It was the breakthrough England desperately needed and, the very next ball, Harmison cleaned up Amla with a 93mph yorker to rip out his middle stump. Harmison rarely dipped below 87mph throughout the day, and his line was immaculate to both left and right-hander. Jacques Kallis' miserable tour continued, beaten twice by two booming Anderson outswingers before the bowler foxed him with one that went the other way to bring up his 100th Test wicket. South Africa had lost 3 for 2 in eight deliveries and England were suddenly in control.

    Flintoff struggled with his left boot - specifically, his big toenail - but this never prevented him bowling a consistent, deadly line and beating the bat time and again. Intriguingly, he became Pietersen's right-hand-man, too, the pair repeatedly discussing fielding positions while Flintoff appeared to be the bowlers' advisor in chief. Pietersen needs to form his own trusted council, and it remains to be seen which of the younger contingent - the likes of Bell and Cook - will be drafted into what Nasser Hussain once labelled the "management team". Pietersen's touchy-feely leadership style was also on rampant display, patting everyone on the back at every opportunity. His tenure will be judged on the success he brings the team - but it will not be dull viewing.

    One of Flintoff's underlings, Anderson, continued to bend the ball at pace, and the pressurised position South Africa found themselves in told for Ashwell Prince who slapped him straight to Bell at point. An outswinger did for Mark Boucher as South Africa slipped to 132 for 6 and England had taken 5 for 29 in 10.3 exhilarating overs.

    Broad's woes continued as de Villiers pummelled him for two creamy cover-driven fours; smacking him off the back foot before launching a four over the bowler's head. It was a blistering, counter-attacking innings against a young bowler whose confidence had utterly deserted him. Surprisingly, it was to Broad that Pietersen turned straight after tea, and the gamble - it can be called nothing less - paid off when Morne Morkel fended a lifter to Bell at short-leg. He was rewarded for his persistence with a second when Andre Nel edged him behind, but there is a great deal of work to be done to turn him into a world-class allrounder.

    After Strauss's predictable demise, Cook and Bell put on 42 for the third wicket and never offered a chance. Bell looked in particularly elegant touch, and he will be only too aware of the need for a ton at his new No.3 position.

    ICC re-thinking its rules on Twenty20 leagues - Lorgat

    Haroon Lorgat: "We are now exploring whether we should have the championship in two venues - Karachi and Lahore".

    The ICC has set up a committee to look at increasing its relevance in the proliferation of Twenty20 leagues and its role in managing such tournaments, Haroon Lorgat, its chief executive.It may even change existing rules to prevent its marginalisation, as national boards plan their own tournaments and collaborative ventures.

    "The landscape has changed very quickly and we now need to re-look the regulations that were developed some years back," Lorgat said in an exclusive interview in Mumbai. "The Twenty20 concept really blossomed after the World Twenty20 in South Africa last year with other high-profile events following. The ICC has recognised that and put together this group to have a re-look at our regulations."

    Lorgat agreed with Mahela Jayawardene's views that the number of Twenty20 tournaments needs to be controlled as it may adversely affect the Future Tours Program (FTP). "He (Jayawardene) is asking us as administrators to manage the amount of Twenty20 tournaments we put together. Everybody has recognised that it is such an attraction at the moment and we are beginning to say let's just be careful how much of a dosage we send out.

    "Because it would impact on the FTP: there are only 12 months in the year or 52 weeks in the year... We have to be responsible in the way that we manage and allocate the number of Twenty20 games in relation to the amount of FTP and we've got to find the right balance."

    The other immediate issue the ICC faces is the staging of next month's Champions Trophy in Pakistan; several teams have expressed security concerns and Lorgat said one way of tackling that could be to strike off Rawalpindi as a venue for the tournament. "One of the points we are mindful of that came out of previous visits by the security consultants was that there were no Asia Cup games held at Rawalpindi. As a result they were not able to assess or monitor any of the security requirements. Bearing that in mind we are now exploring whether it would enhance security and whether it would remove perceptions being created around security for the whole tournament because Rawalpindi was not part of the Asia Cup.

    "We are now exploring whether we should have the championship in two venues - Karachi and Lahore - and we might make a decision to go in that direction," he said. "Our objective is to remove the discomfort or perceptions that any of the member countries or players may have." Players from Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa had earlier expressed reservations over the security situation in Pakistan.

    An ICC-appointed task force is overseeing the security situation in Pakistan ahead of the Champions Trophy and will carry out its inspection on August 10 and 11. The tournament, featuring the top eight ODI teams, will be held from September 11-28.

    Unchanged South Africa win toss and bat

    Steve Harmison returns to add spice to England's attack.

    South Africa won the toss and chose to bat against England

    South Africa won the toss and chose to bat in the last match of the series. A dead rubber this might be, but with the appointment of a new England captain there is plenty of intrigue for the final Test of the summer against South Africa. And plenty of opportunity for England to avoid a humiliating 3-0 defeat, too, as they welcome back Steve Harmison and Stuart Broad in Kevin Pietersen's attacking lineup.

    Only two Tests ago, Pietersen cracked a sublime 152 at Lord's, and the reaction of an admittedly partisan crowd gave indication that, perhaps, any lingering doubts about his loyalties were vanquished. The applause was warm and grateful. But even Pietersen couldn't have predicted that four weeks later he would be elevated to the captaincy, replacing England's greatest ever leader. The ego has landed: all change, please.

    And if it is an indication of Pietersen's style of leadership, he has begun in bullish fashion by recalling Steve Harmison and Stuart Broad. Harmison was named in the Edgbaston squad but missed out, yet has gradually begun to look back to his venomous best for Durham. It will be his first Test since he and Matthew Hoggard - whose career looks to have hit the buffers for now - were axed in New Zealand. Broad, meanwhile, was dropped (or rested) for the Edgbaston Test with concerns over his fatigue. This didn't stop the England management sending him back to Nottinghamshire, however, yet Broad responded with seven wickets. It is his silky batting at No.8 that will have swayed Pietersen, however, as Broad offers vital balance.

    Selections are rather more straightforward for South Africa. Dale Steyn's disappointing tour continues, and the tourists - 2-0 up in the series - are set to name an unchanged side from the victorious XI in Birmingham. The only question for South Africa, a team whose focus has a tendency to drift, is whether they can maintain their determination in nailing England when they're down. Pietersen's appointment will only swell their resolve in seeking a 3-0 triumph.

    The message from Pietersen's troops is to entertain and, as Broad said yesterday, to "let our natural ability and flair take over". Regardless of how successful Pietersen's tenure turns out to be, it will not be dull.

    Kohli gets surprise call-up

    Virat Kohli has been included in India's squad for the Sri Lanka ODIs and the Champions Trophy.

    Virat Kohli, who led India to victory in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year, has earned a surprise call-up to the national squad for the ODIs against Sri Lanka as well as for the Champions Trophy. Mahendra Singh Dhoni returns to take charge of the team after pulling out of the ongoing Test series while Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan are back in the squad. Ishant Sharma has been rested for the Sri Lanka ODIs and will return for the Champions Trophy, with Parthiv Patel and Munaf Patel missing out.

    Robin Uthappa, who has been in indifferent form, has been dropped along with Piyush Chawla and Yusuf Pathan. The selectors also decided against including Sreesanth, with Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, saying that he needed to "prove himself in domestic cricket."

    It has been a steady rise for Kohli, who, after making his debut for Delhi in the 2006-07 season, came into national prominence during India's triumphant U-19 campaign in Malaysia. An attacking batsman in the mould of Virender Sehwag, Kohli finished the the tournament with 235 runs at 42.16. He then joined the Bangalore Royal Challengers for the Indian Premier League, but his performances were below-par. Kohli staked his claim for national selection by becoming the second-highest run-getter for the India in the recently concluded Emerging Players Tournament in Australia.

    Zaheer is back after a nine-month absence; he last played for India during their home ODIs against Pakistan in November, while Tendulkar returns after he missed the Kitply Cup in Bangladesh and the Asia Cup to recover from a groin injury.

    The first of the five ODIs against Sri Lanka will be held on August 18 in Dambulla.

    Squad for Sri Lanka ODIs
    Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Parthiv Patel, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Harbhajan Singh, Zaher Khan, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha.

    Squad for Champions Trophy
    Same as above...

    In: Ishant Sharma.

    Out: Parthiv Patel, Munaf Patel

    Champions League organisers explore date shift

    The three founding partners of the Champions Twenty20 League - the BCCI, Cricket Australia (CA) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) - are exploring the possibility of shifting their tournament to December following a request from the ICC given a clash of dates with the Champions Trophy, Cricinfo has learnt. The Twenty20 tournament is due to begin on September 29, the reserve day of the Champions Trophy final.

    It's understood that the organizers are now looking at holding the tournament in India from December 2-11, between the India-England one-day series and Tests.

    'League does not violate ICC agreement'

    • Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president-elect, reiterated the Indian board's official position while speaking to reporters in Mumbai that the Champions Twenty20 League does not violate the ICC's playing agreement, which was signed by all members.

      "At the meeting, the BCCI, CA and CSA took a firm stance that holding the Champions League does not violate the clauses of the Members Playing Agreement," Manohar said. "Creagh O'Connor [the Cricket Australia chairman] said that seven days should be given to the BCCI, CA and CSA to discuss whether the dates could be rescheduled. We have to inform ICC about this after a week."

      Asked about the possibility of the Twenty20 tournament being postponed, Manohar said, "If it gets postponed, it goes after the Australia series (in October). Everybody is keen to hold it before March as the second edition of the IPL will be played in April and this year's top two teams will lose their chance of playing in the tournament."

    An ICC press release, issued after the board held a teleconference on Wednesday to discuss the overlap, said the three members had offered to "explore, with the ICC's management, the scheduling of the tournament". The three members, it added, will report back to the governing body within seven days.

    While the three boards stuck to their stand of last Wednesday - that the Champions Twenty20 League involves domestic teams and does not violate any ICC agreement - it is understood that they are also "aware of, and understand, the concerns" expressed by the ICC over its one-day showpiece being overshadowed.

    "We have 10 clear days in December to host the Champions League, and there is a good chance of the event being held then," a senior official involved with the tournament told Cricinfo. "But we will actively pursue this possibility only if all other details, including logistics and players' availability, fall into place. Otherwise, we will stick to the dates that have already been announced because we are not legally bound in any manner to change them. Having said that, we understand the ICC's predicament. The ICC has signed a significant contract with ESPN-Star Sports (ESS) and the Champions Trophy is their first big tournament."

    The official said that the ICC's request will be "looked into seriously" by the three boards especially given the broadcasters' concern that the Champions Twenty20 League would overshadow the Champions Trophy in terms of profile and advertising revenue.

    "There is already a threat to the ICC Champions Trophy over the issue of players pulling out due to security concerns and we are not very keen to add to those worries," the official said.

    The ICC's international schedule confirms that players from Australia, South Africa and Pakistan, who form a chunk of the eight teams for the Champions League, are free during the "window in December". However, it will still be a tight call - three international series, involving four of the countries sending teams to the Champions League, end on December 2 . South Africa will be most hard-pressed - they finish a Test series at home on that day, and ten days later begin a Test series against Australia in Perth.

    The Champions Twenty 20 League comprises the Twenty20 domestic finalists from India, Australia and South Africa, Pakistan's winner Sialkot and England's champion Middlesex.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008

    Dead rubber, new dawn

    Kevin Pietersen gives Ravi Bopara a consolatory hug after the announcement of his first team.

    Match facts

    Thursday August 7 to Monday August 11, 2008
    Start time 11.00 (10.00GMT)

    Big Picture

    Rarely has a dead rubber created such a stir. The series may have been wrapped up at Edgbaston last week, but so too was the career of one of England's finest captains. As Michael Vaughan departs the stage in tears, into the fray steps none other than Kevin Pietersen, the bĂȘte noire of South African cricket, and the man that his former countrymen love to hate. Pietersen's presence alone adds a whole new level of excitement to a contest that might otherwise have been a victory procession for Graeme Smith's men. Their first series win in England for 43 years will feel all the sweeter if they are able to inflict on Pietersen the same sort of drubbing with which Vaughan was baptised in the role, five long years ago. Conversely, if Pietersen is able to rally his troops with the same up-and-at-em attitude that he brings to his own game, English optimism for the future may not be entirely unfounded.

    Form guide

    England LLDWW
    South Africa WWDLW

    Watch out for...

    Kevin Pietersen: Who else? The ego has landed in no uncertain terms. It will be fascinating to watch how he goes about his work this week. His entire captaincy career amounts to one comfortable beating in an ODI against New Zealand in June, and so many facets of his leadership remain to be seen - his approach to field placings, bowling changes and, perhaps most crucially, man-management. Also under the spotlight will be KP's own attitude with the bat. Will he dare a repeat of the punchy performance that carried England back into contention at Edgbaston, if it means risking a shot similar to the one that got him out. One thing is for sure, the team that he's selected is not one that's going to die in a hole wondering.

    Graeme Smith: One year younger, but in captaincy terms, on another level of experience, the man that Pietersen once dismissed as a "muppet" is quietly plotting the most publicly humiliating of retorts. Smith's sublime 154 not out at Edgbaston has been virtually overlooked in the chaos of the past week, but one day it will be acknowledged as the performance of a man in utter command of his game, his team and the series situation. Smith is at the absolute zenith of his captaincy career, and with Australia looming in December this year, his focus is sure to remain unwavering. Five years ago, he sent Nasser Hussain packing from the England captaincy in almost identical circumstances ... and followed up with a crushing innings victory in Vaughan's first Test in charge. His share of that performance at Lord's was the small matter of 259 chanceless runs. When he pauses to reflect on the task ahead, that fact will loom large in Pietersen's thoughts.

    Team news

    England have announced two changes of personnel, but an entire overhaul in attitude. Michael Vaughan's absence briefly raised the prospect of a recall for Ravi Bopara, but Pietersen has preferred to place his faith in the remaining top five, and bring Stuart Broad to bulk out the tail and provide a fifth bowling option. Also returning is Steve Harmison - handed his chance by Ryan Sidebottom's back problem - who will be thrown the new ball for the first time since the Old Trafford Test against West Indies in June last year. Ian Bell, England's serial underachiever, is given the chance to sink or swim at No. 3, while Andrew Flintoff reverts to the No. 6 position from which he won the Ashes in 2005.

    England 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Andrew Strauss, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen (capt), 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Steve Harmison, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.

    No such ground-breaking team news for South Africa. With Dale Steyn still unfit, they are all set to name an unchanged side, although Graeme Smith remains slightly troubled by the back injury that hindered his movement (though not noticeably) during the Edgbaston Test. "I've been working quite hard with the physio, and I'll just keep managing it until I get some rest," said Smith. "It's basically down to over-use, because we've had a lot of intense cricket since the Twenty20 World Cup [in September].

    South Africa 1 Graeme Smith, 2 Neil McKenzie, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 AB de Villiers, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Morne Morkel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Andre Nel, 11 Makhaya Ntini.

    Umpires: Steve Davis and Aleem Dar

    Pitch and conditions

    The Oval has not enjoyed the best of reputations in recent years, with the last three matches all finishing as high-scoring draws. Nevertheless, Bill Gordon, the groundsman, anticipates rather more pace in the deck that has been seen of late, and for the moment at least, there is still a decent covering of grass. That sort of news will doubtless suit Harmison, although Morne Morkel and his colleagues won't mind that sort of prognosis either.

    Stats and Trivia

  • South Africa's last Test at The Oval, in 2003, was a classic - as England, 2-1 down in the series, recovered from a first-day scoreline of 290 for 1 to record an emphatic nine-wicket victory.

  • The best bowling figures ever recorded for a South Africa Test in England were made on this ground 14 years ago, when Devon Malcolm took 9 for 57 to pull England level in the series.

  • Pietersen's defining innings in Test cricket occurred on this ground in 2005, when he made 158 in England's second innings to secure the draw that won England the Ashes.

    Quotes

    "He's got a one-off Test against us, he'll be hugely motivated, he'll be excited, nervous, and have a lot of energy for this game. But everything you do in this game as captain, it's about sustaining it afterwards."
    Smith warns Pietersen to enjoy the moment while it lasts, because the real test of his captaincy is to come.

    " I think the recipe for success that I've tried to use is, do it my way. Once you go over the white line, express yourself, and do whatever you need to do to be successful."
    Pietersen outlines his own captaincy philosophy.

  • Share Twenty20 riches - Jayawardene

    Mahela Jayawardene: "Everyone needs to get together and find one solution. That is, to have one big tournament where you get all the revenue and all cricket-playing countries to share that".

    Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan captain, feels the spread of Twenty20 cricket needs to be controlled to prevent it from "taking international cricket apart" and says the "big solution" is to have one consolidated tournament where all cricket-playing countries get to share the revenue.

    Speaking to Cricinfo editor Sambit Bal in Colombo, Jayawardene observed that, with players and administrators across the world driven by money, the time had come to strike a balance and get the priorities right on developing the game's shortest format.

    "At the end of the day everything is driven by money," Jayawardene said. "You have to be honest with yourself. That means the players, the administrators, everybody. As long as everyone is happy and gets to share that, I think that's the way forward. That's where everyone has to draw a compromise."

    "You need to strike a balance because they cannot compete with each other on these issues," he said. "It is important that you sit down and everyone gets together and finds one big solution. That is, to have one big tournament where you get all the revenue and cricket-playing countries to share that."

    Jayawardene did not agree with the suggestion that Twenty20 might become 'The Game' if money is the overriding factor, and reiterated the answer lies in consolidation and not in having "five individual tournaments".

    "If you have one big tournament and the revenue is being shared, then everyone's happy," he said. "You won't need to play five individual tournaments. Then there's room for Test cricket and you can pump in money and develop the game and take it globally. That's where the compromise needs to be drawn and everyone gets together to find a solution."

    Asked whether the BCCI, which runs the IPL and is a founding partner of the Champions Twenty20 League, should take the lead and let everyone share the pot, Jayawardene said, "That's difficult for me to say after one year of the IPL. I don't know how big the English Premier League (EPL) or the Stanford games are going to be, but somewhere you have to draw the line. You have people competing against each other and taking international cricket apart. It's important to understand where you need to draw that line."

    Jayawardene, who has signed a three-year contract for US$475,000 per season with Kings XI Punjab, the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise, said the best way forward is for all those involved in promoting Twenty20 cricket to draw the line and arrive at a compromise.

    "The times and ways of thinking are changing and you need to evolve around that. Twenty20 is good for the game as long as people keep control of things," Jayawardene said. "You can't have three or four Twenty20 international tournaments a year. You just can't have that. It has to be controlled. Tests are very important; one-day cricket is important. You can't think that everybody wants Twenty20 cricket. Everyone wants cricket, but they want different varieties and there is a demand for everything."

    The Sri Lankan players are currently in negotiations with Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) over rescheduling the country's 2009 England tour, which clashes with the second IPL season. Apart from Jayawardene, 12 Lankan cricketers have signed for various IPL franchises, including Kumar Sangakkara, the vice-captain, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis.

    Irfan and Uthappa under scrutiny

    Irfan Pathan and his brother Yusuf could be competing for the same spot in the one-day squad.

    Current form and fitness will be the key criteria for India's selectors when they meet in Mumbai on Thursday to pick the squads for the one-day series against Sri Lanka, which begins later this month, and September's Champions Trophy. The meeting will also discuss the return of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the one-day captain who pulled out of the Sri Lanka Test series, and Yuvraj Singh, who was left out.

    Cricinfo learnt that the players under scrutiny include Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan and Robin Uthappa. It's understood that indifferent form is the main reason why it could be touch-and-go for Irfan, who had also nursed an injury during the Asia Cup last month, and Uthappa, who has been a key figure in Dhoni's gameplan.

    The selectors feel that Pathan's problem is his ineffective bowling on flat subcontinent pitches. He took only four wickets in three matches during the Kitply Cup in Bangladesh and, despite not being completely fit, played the Asia Cup in Pakistan where his three wickets cost 71 apiece. Pathan was subsequently omitted from the squad for the Sri Lanka Test series.

    "Irfan is not being so influential and, in addition to his loss of pace, he is not even able to cut the ball and bowl well at death", one member of the selection panel said. It's a view which is shared by the other selectors too. If Irfan has any support it might come from Dhoni who has strong belief in the allrounder.

    It's likely that Irfan will be competing against his brother Yusuf for a place in the squad. Yusuf made his ODI debut during the Kitply Cup and has played seven matches without a spectacular performance. His ability to score quickly and part-time offspin make him a direct competitor of Irfan.

    Uthappa's case is equally weak, considering he's scored only one half-century in his last 20 innings. His loss is likely to work in favour of Suresh Raina, who was among the highest run-scorers in the Asia Cup. Raina made his comeback to the one-day squad for the CB Series in Australia but didn't play a game. He failed to make a significant score in the Kitply Cup but Dhoni's confidence in Raina paid off and he played a crucial part in India making the Asia Cup final.

    The selectors are unlikely to make any drastic changes to the existing ODI squad unless forced to by injuries to players. It has also been learnt that Sreesanth's fitness report is not convincing and he continue his rehabilitation for a side strain.

    Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan will also return to the squad. Tendulkar last ODI appearance was the CB Series final in Australia after which he played for the Mumbai Indians during the IPL before opting out of the Kitply and Asia Cups in order to recover from a groin injury. Zaheer, whose tour of Australia was cut short by a heel injury, has successfully recovered and is currently playing the Test series in Sri Lanka.

    Considering the spinner-friendly pitches in Sri Lanka, the selectors are likely to consider Piyush Chawla as the third spinner in the squad in addition to Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha. However, Chawla is likely to miss out on Champions Trophy selection the squad will have only 14 members and Ojha's left-arm spin offers variety. The pace-attack will comprise Zaheer, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh and Praveen Kumar and the rest of the 15 will be made up by seven specialist batsmen.

    Movie on Cronje's life complete

    The role of Hansie Cronje will be played by South African actor Francois Rautenbach.

    The filming of Hansie, based on the life of the late South African captain, has been completed by his brother Frans Cronje, who says he went through his "own King Commission" during the "incredibly tough" year of shooting. Frans told Cricinfo the movie, completed on Monday, will be released across Africa on September 24 with a possible international release to follow.

    Frans said the film's DVD set will include a special documentary on Hansie and will feature interviews with his family, team-mates and friends including Jonty Rhodes, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Peter Pollock, Andrew Hudson, Gary Kirsten and Kevin Pietersen.

    Hansie, which was shot in South Africa, England and India, traces the cricketer's "internal journey from stardom to losing everything and then the journey to rebuilding his life". Cronje was a role model and a national hero till his involvement in the match-fixing scandal was exposed eight years ago. He was banned from the game subsequently and died in a plane crash in 2002.

    One of the most poignant moments during the making of the movie, Frans said, was the scene when Hansie breaks down in tears after confessing his involvement with illegal bookmakers to the King Commission that was appointed to inquire into the match-fixing scandal of 2000.

    "He was very emotional and my dad and I were crying with him," Frans said. "When we filmed this, it was like seeing the real event happen again. The acting in this scene was really magnificent. While filming, I just sat there with tears in my eyes. Fortunately, when I looked around me, I realised that everyone else on the sets were crying as well."

    The other scene that will touch people's emotions is one where Peter Pollock, the former South Africa allrounder, talks to Hansie after the King Commission. "Peter was instrumental in helping Hansie to begin the process of rebuilding his life," Frans said.

    The movie has been produced by Global Creative Studios, a Cape Town-based production venture headed by Frans, who has won an Italian award for his earlier movie Faith Like Potatoes.

    The filming went through a tough phase last year, he said, when an American firm that promised advance funding pulled out of the deal. "It was incredibly tough. In a sense, it felt like I went through my own 'King Commission' at a stage. Especially the last week in November last year, when we heard that the funding was not there, was difficult. Fortunately, some very capable businessmen got involved. Without their assistance, it would have been almost impossible. The fact the movie has been successfully completed has helped a lot."

    South African actor Francois Rautenbach will play Hansie in the movie. Frans said he decided not to use cricketers as actors as the "movie is primarily a drama". He was assisted in filming the cricket action by Gordon Parsons, his brother-in-law, and former county player.

    "We decided to use actors to play the parts of Hansie's team-mates like Allan Donald and Jonty Rhodes," Frans said. "As the movie is primarily a drama, it was important that we have experienced actors. To ensure that the cricket action was done well, we cast younger cricket players from a few different academies in South Africa and India. I was on the sets to ensure that the cricket sequences look real."

    Cricket South Africa (CSA) has given their "official endorsement and support" for the movie after Joubert Strydom, then convener of selectors, read the screenplay "to ensure that the story is told with integrity".

    "The International Cricket Council (ICC) were happy for us to continue, knowing that the CSA endorsed it," Frans said. "I think they were happy to see that we did not choose to try and uncover any more match-fixing dirt. Rather, we chose to tell the story of Hansie's internal journey."

    Champions League organisers explore date shift

    The three founding partners of the Champions Twenty20 League - the BCCI, Cricket Australia (CA) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) - are exploring the possibility of shifting their tournament to December following a request from the ICC given a clash of dates with the Champions Trophy, Cricinfo has learnt. The Twenty20 tournament is due to begin on September 29, the reserve day of the Champions Trophy final.

    It's understood that the organizers are now looking at holding the tournament in India from December 2-11, between the India-England one-day series and Tests.

    'League does not violate ICC agreement'

    • Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president-elect, reiterated the Indian board's official position while speaking to reporters in Mumbai that the Champions Twenty20 League does not violate the ICC's playing agreement, which was signed by all members.

      "At the meeting, the BCCI, CA and CSA took a firm stance that holding the Champions League does not violate the clauses of the Members Playing Agreement," Manohar said. "Creagh O'Connor [the Cricket Australia chairman] said that seven days should be given to the BCCI, CA and CSA to discuss whether the dates could be rescheduled. We have to inform ICC about this after a week."

      Asked about the possibility of the Twenty20 tournament being postponed, Manohar said, "If it gets postponed, it goes after the Australia series (in October). Everybody is keen to hold it before March as the second edition of the IPL will be played in April and this year's top two teams will lose their chance of playing in the tournament."

    An ICC press release, issued after the board held a teleconference on Wednesday to discuss the overlap, said the three members had offered to "explore, with the ICC's management, the scheduling of the tournament". The three members, it added, will report back to the governing body within seven days.

    While the three boards stuck to their stand of last Wednesday - that the Champions Twenty20 League involves domestic teams and does not violate any ICC agreement - it is understood that they are also "aware of, and understand, the concerns" expressed by the ICC over its one-day showpiece being overshadowed.

    "We have 10 clear days in December to host the Champions League, and there is a good chance of the event being held then," a senior official involved with the tournament told Cricinfo. "But we will actively pursue this possibility only if all other details, including logistics and players' availability, fall into place. Otherwise, we will stick to the dates that have already been announced because we are not legally bound in any manner to change them. Having said that, we understand the ICC's predicament. The ICC has signed a significant contract with ESPN-Star Sports (ESS) and the Champions Trophy is their first big tournament."

    The official said that the ICC's request will be "looked into seriously" by the three boards especially given the broadcasters' concern that the Champions Twenty20 League would overshadow the Champions Trophy in terms of profile and advertising revenue.

    "There is already a threat to the ICC Champions Trophy over the issue of players pulling out due to security concerns and we are not very keen to add to those worries," the official said.

    The ICC's international schedule confirms that players from Australia, South Africa and Pakistan, who form a chunk of the eight teams for the Champions League, are free during the "window in December". However, it will still be a tight call - three international series, involving four of the countries sending teams to the Champions League, end on December 2 . South Africa will be most hard-pressed - they finish a Test series at home on that day, and ten days later begin a Test series against Australia in Perth.

    The Champions Twenty 20 League comprises the Twenty20 domestic finalists from India, Australia and South Africa, Pakistan's winner Sialkot and England's champion Middlesex.

    Twenty20 is 'perfect fit' for Olympics - Watson

    Shane Watson: "Everybody who plays elite sport dreams of gold".

    The allrounder Shane Watson would be 39 if Twenty20 completed an astonishing rise to Olympic status by 2020, but he is still excited by the outside prospect of taking part. "As a cricketer it would be great to think you could achieve an Olympic gold medal in your career," he said. "Everybody who plays elite sport dreams of Olympic gold."

    Watson's credentials in cricket's shortest format are outstanding - he was the player of the tournament in the inaugural Indian Premier League and is a brutal hitter and economical bowler. He has stepped into line with a large group of current and former stars who support Adam Gilchrist's Games proposal, including Steve Waugh, Stephen Fleming and Sourav Ganguly.

    "This brand of cricket is a perfect fit for the Olympic schedule," Watson said. He received a taste of what the Games meant when Sir Steve Redgrave, the five-time Olympic gold medallist, spoke to the Australian team during its successful campaign at the 2007 World Cup.

    "Everyone wants to be part of the Olympic Games," he said. "I think we should continue to explore this."

    While Mitchell Johnson, Watson's former Queensland team-mate, said it would be "pretty cool" to play at the Olympics, he told AAP Tests remained the "ultimate". "You ask all the other guys and they'll say the same thing," he said.

    "Test match cricket is what they want to play. Hopefully it can stay like that and Twenty20 not take over, but I'm pretty confident Test match cricket is staying strong."

    Upton takes over Kirsten's role

    Paddy Upton has said that the team isn't losing sleep over the toss.

    Paddy Upton, India's conditioning coach, has taken over the responsibilities from head coach Gary Kirsten, who flew back to South Africa yesterday evening to be with his ailing mother. In Kirsten's absence, Upton wasn't worried about having to delegate responsibilities to the Indian team, instead stressing to make sure the basics are all in place for a must-win game for India.

    "Each person knows their role," he said during India's practice session at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium. "It's a case of just doing what we've always been doing and doing that well."

    Kirsten's hands-on role, especially working on fielding drills with seniors such as VVS Laxman or the two wicketkeepers, Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel, was obvious all series. Today that responsibility was shared between Upton and fielding coach Robin Singh, but Upton was comfortable being more conservative.

    "There are guys out there who have captained India," he said. "For me it's just a case of coordinating the expertise which is already in the team. Gary would give his expert input and receive input from the players, and even though he's not here, there are other experts."

    India already have two specialist coaches, Venkatesh Prasad (bowling) and Robin, plus Upton in the support staff, and the Indian board isn't rushing anybody as cover for Kirtsen.

    "The key is to prepare for every single possibility," Upton said. "Every game is critical in Test cricket. We know its 1-1 and we know how important it is. The players don't need too many reminders. Whether we win or lose the toss, our preparation is the same. We focus around what needs to happen to win. We're happy to take the consideration of the toss out of the picture."

    It was a pretty hot day, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees, but not something India's players are unaccustomed to. Anil Kumble mentioned in Galle that players were allowed to leave training once they felt they had done enough, and Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were no different. They practiced earlier in the morning and left to freshen up while the rest of the team stayed on till early afternoon.

    Parthiv had long batting and wicketkeeping stints but Upton said the choice of which wicketkeeper plays the final Test was not a decision he would be a part of. Sachin Tendulkar had the longest batting session, first receiving throw downs from Robin, virtually all of which were well timed, and then moved over to the nets, adjacent to Rohit Sharma's. Tendulkar, who needs 96 runs to overhaul Brian Lara's record of 11,953 runs in Tests, looked in a decent groove, though he was troubled a couple times by Prasad.

    Which brings us to the nature of the pitch. One glance at it revealed how hard it was, even under a green tinge. There was plenty of grass on the track, but even Geoffrey Boycott would have found it very difficult to force a key in there. Shoaib Akhtar, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn have all rattled teams here in recent years, and there looks to be some encouragement for the quicks, especially India's opening pairing of Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan.

    It is a different game and different pitch from the last two matches but as Upton said, India's strategy was the same - go in and win.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    Waugh joins Olympic Twenty20 push

    Steve Waugh said the 1998 Commonwealth Games was the "time of my life".

    Steve Waugh, who led Australia to a Commonwealth Games silver medal, is part of a growing group of current and former players who have supported Adam Gilchrist's push for Twenty20 to be part of the 2020 Olympics. Gilchrist raised the idea on Monday and since then a series of big names, including Kumar Sangakkara, Sourav Ganguly and Stephen Fleming, have climbed on board.

    Waugh, a mentor of the Australian Olympic team in Beijing, said the idea was "definitely worth pursuing". "If you want to globalise the game then you have to look at including countries like China and the United States, and getting cricket into the Olympics will fast-track that move," Waugh told the Press Association.

    In 1998 Waugh captained Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and said it was the "time of my life". "Winning the silver medal was one of the highlights of my career," he said. And he believes Twenty20 will become a "worldwide phenomenon" over the next few years.

    "The Olympic Games would provide the perfect platform to showcase the game to a larger audience, drawing in new fans and helping drive cricket development in emerging cricket countries," Sangakkara wrote in the Times of India. "The snowball effect this could be enormous. 2020 may seem like a long way away but we need to start the process now.

    "From a player's perspective, the privilege of competing at an Olympic Games would undoubtedly be a highlight of your career."

    The proposal has also received backing from Fleming, Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh. While Fleming and Gilchrist have retired from internationals, they are both involved in the Indian Premier League and see huge potential in the Twenty20 format.

    "The Olympics would be the greatest vehicle to spread the game worldwide and it would be a logical fit," Fleming said in the Australian. Ganguly also took a global view of the possible development.

    "It will help the players to be part of a worldwide movement," he said in the Deccan Chronicle. "Cricket is an exciting sport and should definitely be part of the Olympics."

    Laxman said representing India at an Olympics would be a "great honour" while Yuvraj felt it was an excellent initiative. "Should cricket make it to the Olympics," he said, "it would be significant, especially to our country where the game is most loved."

    Gilchrist said his proposal was a "call to arms for the game's administrators" and James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, is excited by it. "When you think of the Olympics, you also think of the big nations like the US, Russia and now China," Sutherland told the paper. "Those regions are clearly potential growth opportunities for cricket and we see Twenty20 at the Olympics as a superb vehicle."

    For cricket to be included in 2020 it would need to be approved by the International Olympic Committee in 2013. The game received Olympic "recognition status" last year, but it faces a battle with other sports, such as golf, karate and baseball, to become part of the programme.