Saturday, January 26, 2008

Gilchrist announces his retirement

Adam Gilchrist has decided to end his Test career while he has the world record for most dismissals...

Adam Gilchrist, who revolutionised the role of the wicketkeeper-batsman, has retired from Tests barely 24 hours after taking the world record for dismissals. The shock news means Gilchrist will depart on a global high at the end of the fourth match against India on Monday and his last ODI appearances will come in the CB Series, which finishes in March.

Over the past couple of years Gilchrist, 36, has been worn down by the grind of international touring and has been desperate to spend more time with his wife Mel and their three children. Despite his family circumstances, Gilchrist's announcement at the end of the third day came as a surprise after he had spent much of the previous evening denying he was close to walking away.

"I'll let people know when I'm going to retire," he said on Friday, "whether it's tomorrow or in 12 months. At the moment I'm going to keep focussing on giving everything I've got to this team."

He told his team-mates in the morning he was leaving and it was an emotional time. "I've come to this decision after much thought and discussion with those most important to me," Gilchrist said before boarding the team bus. "My family and I have been fortunate to have had an amazing journey full of rich experiences throughout my career."

Gilchrist played 96 Tests, the same number as Rod Marsh, and has collected 414 dismissals, currently one more than South Africa's Mark Boucher. However, his glovework, which has diminished over the past month, will not be why he is remembered as one of Australia's most significant players.

Matthew Hayden, who has been a team-mate of Gilchrist's for the past eight years, called it "massive news" and said he would be "deeply, deeply missed". "He is one of the greatest to have ever played the game," Hayden said. "He was incredibly positive and his flamboyant nature equals the greats of Viv Richards and other calypso characters over the years.

"He entertained everyone globally and has done it in a statesman-like way. He changed cricketers throughout the world and is a tremendous individual."

Gilchrist brought a limited-overs approach to Tests, becoming the first man to launch 100 sixes in the format, registering the most centuries by a wicketkeeper-batsman, and scoring at a phenomenal strike-rate in the low 80s. Apart from posting almost 6000 runs, he was also responsible for the more aggressive approach to a game where three runs an over was previously considered reckless.

Growing up in New South Wales, he moved to Western Australia to collect a first-class opportunity and made his Test debut to a chorus of boos after replacing Ian Healy in Brisbane. He scored 81 against Pakistan and brought up his first century in the following match in a miracle chase in Hobart. From 1999 the Australia team was never the same, winning 16 Tests in a row under Steve Waugh, a streak that was matched by Ricky Ponting's outfit over the past three years.

One of only three players to have won a trio of World Cup titles, Gilchrist was picked to open on a Waugh hunch over a bowl of ice-cream and quickly became one of the most threatening limited-overs players of all time. Others have tried to adopt his style but none has managed it for a decade, which is a tribute to the traits developed by a country boy from northern New South Wales.

"I am now ready and excited to move into the next phase of my life, which will include much more time with Mel, Harrison, Annie and Archie," Gilchrist said. He thanked his state and country associations and his team-mates for the "most enjoyable, fun career anyone could hope for". Brad Haddin, the New South Wales wicketkeeper, has spent the past couple of years with the limited-overs team and should get his first taste of Test action if the March tour to Pakistan goes ahead.

Two more wickets need to fall before Gilchrist will appear at Adelaide Oval and he will be celebrated like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer were last year. Adelaide has not been the normal place for farewells over the past decade, but Gilchrist has not been a traditional player.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Record-breaker losing his tune

Adam Gilchrist was pleased to equal Mark Boucher's world record but there was little fanfare when he finally passed Boucher after India's tail wagged...

A bottle of champagne is usually the gift for a world record holder, but Mark Boucher should save the postage after Adam Gilchrist became the game's most successful wicketkeeper. The two glovemen will play pass the parcel with the mark as they wait for the music to stop on Gilchrist's career.

The milestone of 414 has arrived at a testing time for Gilchrist, whose sloppiness behind the stumps has spread through the team. Ian Healy described the wicketkeeper as the drummer in the band, but during the India series Australia have lost their beat and their previously impeccable standards have dropped.

Gilchrist has a strong collection of 35 dismissals in the past seven Tests, but it is the four catches and two stumpings he has missed against India that are being remembered. Agendas to have him removed are premature, but at 36 each mistake is magnified by those looking to the new generation. Slowing reflexes and heavier legs are normal for those in middle age and Gilchrist has to regain his sharpness to fend off Brad Haddin, another attacking batsman and rounded keeper.

Footwork has been a problem for Gilchrist at times over the past four weeks, preventing him from making enough ground for more comfortable takes, but regulation offerings have also been spilled. VVS Laxman benefited from Gilchrist's error on the first day and the affliction was caught by Phil Jaques, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey on the second.

Seven offerings were grassed in India's first innings of 526 and when Gilchrist moved clear of Boucher with the final wicket there was no Warnesque fanfare. The edge from Anil Kumble's drive was accepted and the celebration involved Gilchrist brushing his gloves together like he does after taking most deliveries.

Almost two days in the field wore down Australia and only Ponting, Brad Hogg and Brett Lee congratulated Gilchrist on his achievement. Matthew Hayden, who spilled a take at first slip on Thursday, sprinted off the field to prepare to bat and the hardest backslaps came from the crowd on the way up to the dressing room. Head-to-head battles for untouched marks seem more riveting when the gloves are off.

Gilchrist accepted his two chances on the second day and both were comfortable, Harbhajan Singh lobbing a sweep for a running take before the Kumble nick. The men around him were not so fortunate and when a bowling attack is experiencing hard days, like it has in Adelaide and Perth, it looks to the fielders for a boost.

Only one chance was floored by Gilchrist in the innings, but his performances set the pulse for the side, and not just through sharp running between overs and sprints for balls in close. The mood is also relevant to his run-making, which has become hit and miss since the 2006-07 Ashes, when his scores were 0, 64, 0, 102 not out, 1 and 62.

In this series his results have been mixed again, with a half-century pushing his tally to 136 runs at 22.66. Australia expect more from someone who changed the role of the wicketkeeper-batsman, but the slide has been starting since his problems with Andrew Flintoff in the 2005 Ashes. From the beginning of that campaign he has averaged 30.66 in 27 Tests with only two centuries.

Over the past couple of years Gilchrist has complained about the workload before returning refreshed and energetic from off-season breaks. Unless the Pakistan tour is cancelled there will be no holiday this year and it would not be a surprise if Gilchrist shaved his one-day duties. A 100th Test is looming - he is playing his 96th - and so is more time with his family.

The lure of being a world record holder has also gone and a cross-Asia battle with Boucher is unlikely to hold his interest. Boucher, who has played 109 Tests, overtook Healy's 395 dismissals in Pakistan in October and South Africa will be playing India in March while Australia are scheduled to tour Pakistan.

However, wicketkeeping remains largely unfashionable despite Gilchrist's all-round exploits and the title fight for the record will not be covered like the Warne v Murali duels over the past four years. After the subdued reaction from his team-mates, Gilchrist may have to wait for a meeting with Boucher before the corks for the world mark really start to pop.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Big business and Bollywood grab stakes in IPL

The IPL continues to rake in the money with huge bids being received for the franchises...

The Indian Premier League (IPL) took a huge step forward on Thursday with the naming of the eight city franchises and their owners, a mix of the biggest names in business and Bollywood. The auction to pick the owners fetched the IPL - which is backed by the Indian board - US$723.59 million, almost double the combined base price of US$400 million. Mumbai was the most expensive team, costing over US$111.9 million.

The franchisees come from several areas previously unconnected with cricket, testifying to the sport's growing profile as a blue-chip investment in India. Among the successful bidders were Bollywood's top stars Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, a Hyderabad-based newspaper group, a UK-based media rights company and the regular big players, Reliance Industries - owned by Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian, and Vijay Mallya, who also owns a Formula 1 team. The failed bidders included Deutsche Bank and construction major DLF, and among those disqualified was ICICI Ventures.

"We can say that all the hard work fructified and the IPL is here to stay," the IPL chairman and commissioner, Lalit Modi, said. The league, which has the ICC's sanction, sees the teams play on a home-and-away basis and is due to begin on April 18.

A large part of the IPL's success will depend on its entertainment value as much as its sporting value and Modi, in his interaction, harped on how Bollywood and cricket are the two biggest box-office draws in India. The involvement of Khan, Zinta and Juhi Chawla - Khan's partner in the Kolkata franchise - takes care of the glamour quotient; Zinta's presence alone at the BCCI office in Mumbai saw a larger-than-usual media turnout.

Khan said he would take expert help before putting together a winning combination. "I have already decided on the entertainment part but we have not decided on the core and content of the team," he told the news channel CNN-IBN. "We want to put together a winning combination ... [but] I hope [Sourav] Ganguly leads my team."

The sporting element was established last month, when the IPL unveiled its roster of more than 70 international cricketers. They included some of the biggest names in current limited-overs cricket, and some from the recent past: Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Kumar Sangakkara and Graeme Smith. The affiliation of these players, and the Indian players involved, will be decided by a draft pick; it was originally slated for February 7 but will be finalised after consultation with the franchisees.

However, four top Indian players - Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh - will not be included in the auction but will play for their home teams, to ensure maximum support.

The next step is for the IPL to be marketed, and Modi spoke of a multi-million-dollar campaign, with US$15 million coming from the media deal with the Sony Entertainment Television-World Sports Group combine and the IPL chipping in as well.

The one sour note was struck when Modi was asked whether there was a conflict of interests in India Cements, of which BCCI treasurer N Srinivasan is vice-chairman and managing director, becoming a team owner. "Mr Srinivasan is just a stakeholder there, he is not the owner," Modi said. "So there is no conflict of interests."

The winning bids

City Franchise Owner Cost (in US$ millions)
Bangalore Vijay Mallya's UB group 111.6
Chennai India Cements 91
Delhi GMR Group 84
Hyderabad Deccan Chronicle 107
Jaipur Emerging Media-led consortium 67
Kolkata Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment 75.09
Mohali Preity Zinta, Ness Wadia, Karan Paul and Dabur's Mohit Burman 76
Mumbai Mukesh Ambani's Reliance India Limited 111.9

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ganguly dropped as selectors focus on youth

Suresh Raina makes a comeback after being out of the side for a year...

Sourav Ganguly is the notable omission from India's 16-member squad for the tri-nation CB Series, which starts on February 3, and the solitary Twenty20 international at the MCG on February 1. There was no recall either for Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman for the tournament, which also features Australia and Sri Lanka, with the selectors putting the emphasis on youth.

Suresh Raina, who last played an ODI in January 2007, and Praveen Kumar, the allrounder who played an ODI last season, benefited from good performances in Uttar Pradesh's Ranji Trophy season, one they ended as runners-up.

A third UP player, Piyush Chawla, who was impressive on last year's tour of England, gets the nod for the second spinner's spot ahead of Murali Kartik. Chawla was preferred because the selectors were of the opinion that a wrist-spinner would be handy on Australian pitches.

The most contentious decision, though, involved Ganguly. It is believed that the captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, wanted to stick with a majority of the squad that won the World Twenty20 last September.

Explaining why Ganguly was overlooked, BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah said, "The emphasis was on fielding abilities and they [the team management] wanted a young fielding side for the series. That's why you see a lot of youngsters in the side." After a run of three half-centuries in four matches against England last year, Ganguly has managed 231 runs at 25.66 in nine innings.

India's fast-bowling attack will be led by RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth, who missed the Test series against Australia with a shoulder injury. Joining them will be Praveen, who took eight Delhi wickets in the first innings of the Ranji Trophy final last week.

While Sreesanth was recalled after a brief stint at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore, there was no place for Munaf Patel. Though both Munaf and Sreesanth were cleared by the NCA, it is learnt that the selectors wanted Munaf to get more match practice before considering him. India's attack will also miss their spearhead Zaheer Khan, who is yet to recover from his heel injury.

Gautam Gambhir, who has cracked three centuries in the Ranji Trophy [two of them match-winning efforts, in the semi-final and final], and Dinesh Karthik have been included.

Manoj Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan and Munaf have been placed on standby and will join the squad in case of any injuries.

Squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Karthik, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla