Saturday, February 2, 2008

Pakistan complete clean sweep

Younis Khan's 63 off 51 balls led Pakistan's run-chase in Sheikhupura...

A new-look Pakistan, without a handful of senior players, drove Zimbabwe into the ground with a comprehensive seven-wicket victory in the final one-dayer in Sheikhupura to clean sweep the Mobilink Cup 5-0. The overcast and bitterly cold conditions didn't faze debutant Khurram Manzoor and Younis Khan as they chased down a meagre target of 182 with 19 overs to spare.

The win was set up by Pakistan's sprightly young bunch - which included four debutants - who showed exemplary commitment in the field to keep Zimbabwe in check for much of their innings. The overcast conditions were tailor-made, it seemed, even for Pakistan's untested seam-bowling attack, and Hamilton Masakadza's decision to bat first was perplexing. After a top order wobble, Zimbabwe were lifted by a rearguard from Elton Chigumbura and Brendan Taylor, but couldn't sustain the momentum as Pakistan quickly clawed back to shoot them out for a woefully inadequate score.

Sharp reflexes - a refreshing change from earlier games - handed Pakistan their early wickets as Abdur Rauf managed to hang on to a low return catch, literally off his toes. Debutant Rizwan Ahmed's athleticism contributed to the next two wickets, first running out Vusi Sibanda with a fiery throw to the wicketkeeper from deep backward square-leg, and then holding onto a stunner to his left at cover to send back Tatenda Taibu. Wahab Riaz, one among an assembly line of left-arm quicks in this series, was the beneficiary for the second, a wicket in his first international over.

As the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the mercury dipped in Sheikhupura's first international match for nearly a decade, the situation got worse as Zimbabwe lost half their side before the halfway stage. Chigumbura and Taylor, however, buckled down and produced a stand of 85, against the run of play. Pakistan allowed the game to drift a little as bowlers were made to pay each time they erred. The boundaries were interspersed with intelligent running and before anyone knew it, the pair had added fifty.

Taylor, who's had an inconsistent series with the bat, punished anything on full while Chigumbura, a proven allrounder, took on Fawad Alam's left-arm spin and punished anything full and wide outside off stump, unfurling forceful drives. Rizwan, the legspinner, excelled in the field but had a forgettable debut with the ball as the pair feasted on his half-trackers.

Wahab Riaz had figures of 8-3-19-2 on debut...

But just when a lower-order revival threatened to push the score over 200, the spinners struck back, breaking up the stand. Thereafter Rauf returned to clean up the last two wickets with inswinging yorkers to end the innings with over four overs to spare.

Zimbabwe's attack lacked the sting and pace to cause Pakistan any trouble. Nasir Jamshed threw his wicket away early when the going was good, but Younis and Manzoor were determined not to miss out.

Manzoor was impressive, the bridge between domestic and international cricket seemingly invisible as he sized up his first ball with a firm backfoot punch to the cover point boundary. Busy at the crease, he was particularly strong with his bottom hand, unfurling another punch on the hop, this time beating the covers.

But Manzoor soon took a backseat as Younis arrived and the chase progressed at pace. Chigumbura suffered as Younis announced himself with a punchy square drive and then blazed three consecutive boundaries in his next over, immediately after the second Powerplay began. Each was classic improvisation, beginning with a scorching square drive, following it up with a straight six after exposing all stumps on the walk, and then ending with a biff over midwicket.

Younis didn't slow down once the spinners came on. Ray Price was welcomed with a reverse sweep and Keith Dabengwa's long hops were bludgeoned to the on side. He soon brought up his fifty with a sweep to fine leg. Manzoor, meanwhile, was providing solid support.

Both looked set to see Pakistan through, before recklessness set in. Younis fell slogging, while Manzoor was cleaned up sweeping across the line, just after reaching his half-century. By that stage, however, the deal had been sealed as Pakistan, after four unconvincing victories, ended on a high before taking on the Australians.

One last hurrah

Australia have one last chance to make the tri-series a pleasant memory rather than something that has provided lasting discomfort...

Australian lounge rooms are about to lose a piece of furniture with the staging of the final tri-series. For 29 years the tournament has been central to the country's summer sport-watching, but over the past decade the concept faded, was patched up, and finally wore beyond repair. In 2008-09 the CB Series will be replaced by two head-to-head contests and Australia, India and Sri Lanka are the ideal teams to farewell the once revolutionary concept.

The world champions, the World Cup finalists and the side that pushed Australia over four Tests during the past month will all fight for the piece of history. This was how it was meant to be in the beginning, when the big names dominated Kerry Packer's idea, but as the event evolved the contests became one-sided, the tournaments were more drawn out and the winners were usually Australia. Only three times since 1993-94 have Australia not been successful, including last year against England.

There may be danger lurking again. While India are fourth and Sri Lanka sixth on the ICC rankings, they are teams that have the star quality to threaten Australia. Sanath Jayasuriya often lifts mountains when Ricky Ponting's men are in the way - although his tour has started in pain with a cut jaw against Tasmania - and Kumar Sangakkara performed outstandingly during the Test tour here in November. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag have similar successful attitudes when coming up against men in green.

Both squads are also regenerating and the influx of youth will lift both the fielding and collective energy of the units, which are crucial aspects when trying to challenge Australia at home. The tournament opens with Australia facing India at the Gabba on Sunday in a re-match of Friday's one-sided Twenty20 affair in Melbourne. Australia took the game in the 12th over and they want to build on the win.

"At the Twenty20 it was a good start," Ponting, who missed the match, said. "We wanted to set the tone for the entire tour there."

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India leader, tried to show he was not bothered by the size of the defeat. "It should be taken as a practice game," he said. "If you think too much about the things that have happened I don't think you will gain anything from it."

Australia have fitness worries over Ponting (lower back) and Matthew Hayden (right thigh) while India will be without Yuvraj Singh, who should be desperate to show his limited-overs class after his problems in the Test series. However, rain could be the biggest problem for all three teams - India play Sri Lanka here on Tuesday - and the forecast is for more wet weather throughout the week.

Packs of fast bowlers might be the best options on a pitch that spent much of Saturday under the covers, but Australia will wait until Sunday morning to name their squad. Adam Voges is on standby for Ponting and Hayden while Ashley Noffke has come in for Stuart Clark, who remains in Sydney for personal reasons. Once calls have been made on the two injured players, Ponting will decide whether to go with an all-pace attack on a greenish pitch or use Brad Hogg, the specialist spinner.

India's problem is shoe-horning a bunch of young enthusiastic talent. They have brought a modern team to Australia and the selectors have shown that all-round skills are preferable to age. Ponting was surprised Sourav Ganguly missed the squad, but at some point hard-won reputations have to make way for regenerating teams.

Despite the 2-1 series loss, India showed Australia have become less dominant in the Test arena and the hosts are intent on holding their edge in the one-day format. Ponting also wants to make up for the defeat to England last season.

"For the first time in a long time we didn't win the series," he said. "We've got a bit of a repayment to do there." Australia have one last chance to make the tri-series a pleasant memory rather than something that has provided lasting discomfort.

Australia (probable) 1 Adam Gilchrist, 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Brad Haddin, 8 James Hopes, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Nathan Bracken, 11 Mitchell Johnson.

India (probable) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 Robin Uthappa, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), 7 Suresh Raina, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Ishant Sharma.

Friday, February 1, 2008

India crash to nine-wicket defeat

David Hussey didn't get to bat but he enjoyed taking a wicket in his first Twenty20 international...

It was hardly the stuff of world champions. Four months after India were crowned the world's best Twenty20 side, they crashed to a humiliating nine-wicket defeat against Australia at the MCG. They were so rusty that they almost broke Kenya's record of 73, the lowest total in Twenty20 internationals, instead registering the second-worst score of 74 as they failed to adjust to the tempo.

They were dismissed in the 18th over and Australia needed less than 12 overs to post their first Twenty20 win against India, with just enough time for Adam Gilchrist to entertain the 84,041-strong crowd in his final match in the shortest format. India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said his side wanted to use the game as practice for the CB Series, which starts on Sunday, but more net sessions might be in order for several players.

Irfan Pathan made 26 and was the only player to reach double-figures for India. When he was the last man out, edging to Gilchrist up to the stumps to give Nathan Bracken his third wicket, the result was all but assured. Gilchrist and the stand-in captain Michael Clarke (37 not out) made sure of the win, while Brad Hodge chipped in with 10 at the end.

Clarke registered the first six of the game - India had managed only three fours, the least number of boundaries in this format - when he lifted Sreesanth comfortably over long-on, and Gilchrist followed with a vicious hook for six off the same bowler. Gilchrist received a standing ovation when he left the field, caught by Gautam Gambhir at long-on for 25.

Gambhir's catch was about the only thing that went right for India all night. Harbhajan Singh might be cautious about talking on the field after the Sydney Test but he took things to the extreme by not conversing with his fellow fielder Pathan. Either of the two could have caught a skied chance from Clarke but neither man called loud enough and they collided, spilling the catch between them.

Of course, timing a chase is simple when only 3.75 runs are required per over, while India had trouble with their tempo in setting the target. They were like a learner driver struggling to master the accelerator, one minute jamming it down and risking an ugly crash, the next minute over-compensating by slamming the brake.

Dhoni tried to steady his men after they fell to 5 for 32, but after labouring for 27 deliveries for his 9 he needed to stay until the end. Instead, Dhoni gave David Hussey his first moment in the international spotlight, albeit as a bowler. Hussey was firing in offspinning darts when he gave Dhoni some more air; the ball was there to hit but Dhoni did not time it and skied a catch to Brett Lee at deep midwicket.

That left India at 6 for 49 and, though it did not seem possible, it was all downhill from there. Adam Voges was the toast of the MCG after removing Harbhajan and Sreesanth in consecutive balls, the first to an athletic catch by Clarke at mid off and the second snared by Hodge at point. Ishant Sharma survived the hat-trick ball - Clarke, the stand-in captain, placed all his fielders in catching positions around the bat - but that was as good as things got for India.

They threatened to turn Twenty20 into Ten10 when they lost a wicket in each of the first four overs after Dhoni chose to bat. Changing from Tests to the shortest format cannot be easy but several of the offenders were not part of the five-day outfit. Three balls without scoring was unbearable for Virender Sehwag, who jammed Lee to backward point in the first over and attempted a cheeky single, only to be run out by a Clarke direct hit.

Gambhir followed in the next over, squeezing a simple catch to James Hopes at mid off from Bracken and Robin Uthappa was out in a similar fashion in the fourth over, giving Hussey his first international catch, also at mid off. In between Bracken's strikes a fired-up Lee shattered Dinesh Karthik's stumps with a full toss after pushing him back to sway out of the way of a 148kph bouncer.

Australia know the value of starting a series well - they lost the 2005 Ashes after opening their tour with a casual 100-run Twenty20 hiding - and they will enter Sunday's CB Series game against India with a winning mindset. Prior to the match Dhoni's men did not seem too concerned with the outcome, but the severity of the loss has given them plenty to think about as they prepare for a month of 50-over battles.

'The batsmen forgot their roles' - Dhoni

Irfan Pathan was the only batsman to get into double digits as India slumped to a nine-wicket defeat...

Mahendra Singh Dhoni says India's batsmen need to rethink their roles in the team after the side was bundled out for 74 in a nine-wicket Twenty20 loss to Australia. Irfan Pathan was the only man who reached double-figures and Dhoni said early wickets meant too many players were forced into unfamiliar tactics.

"We ended up [in a situation where] players who should have played their strokes were [forced to] play some other game, and guys who should have stayed there and given the strokeplayers a base played their shots and got out," Dhoni said. The typically aggressive Dhoni had to attempt a rescue mission after India wobbled to 5 for 32, but could only manage a watchful 9 from 27 balls. Before Dhoni departed, Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa were both caught when they aimed over the infield and Rohit Sharma was bowled trying to pull a delivery that was much too full.

"Somewhere in the middle, they forgot their roles and responsibilities in the team," Dhoni said. "We lost too many early wickets, and in the middle overs it was really hard to determine whether to go after the bowlers or just rotate the strike because on a wicket like this you cannot really defend 120 runs."

Dhoni was confident the loss would not affect his team's mindset ahead of the CB Series, though his counterpart Michael Clarke said Australia now had the momentum. Clarke said as much as India's mistakes, it was Australia's precision that earned them their first Twenty20 win against the world champions.

"The way we prepared, studied the Indian batsmen over the last few Twenty20s that they've played, I think our preparation was spot on and our execution was exactly how we wanted it," Clarke said. Australia and India now travel to Brisbane for the opening tri-series game on Sunday.

Alan Knott the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman

'A faultless team man: loyal, modest, chivalrous'...

On the heels of Adam Gilchrist's retirement from Test cricket, and on the day he prepares for his final Twenty20 international, the Telegraph's Michael Henderson opines that there was a greater wicketkeeper-batsman - Alan Philip Eric Knott. Henderson says that in the last 15 years, Australia have been able to call on three cricketers who have changed the way in which Test cricket is played - Gilchrist, Michael Slater and Shane Warne - but still feels for talent with the gloves, reliability with the bat, and loyaty, Knott's the man.

The greatest wicketkeeper-batsman was, and remains, Alan Knott. Most things can be argued either way, but this is one thing that can't. Raymond Illingworth, the captain when England regained the Ashes in Australia in 1970-71, said of Knott's work that it was simply not possible to keep wicket better than he did on that tour.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

ugly inzamam beating up ugly indian fan

Australia disappointed with handling of case - Ponting

Ponting : "A few players in the Australian dressing-room would be a little bit disappointed with the outcome".

Ricky Ponting says some of the Australia players are disappointed that Harbhajan Singh's penalty over the incident with Andrew Symonds in the Sydney Test was downgraded to 50% of his match fee. However, Ponting believes it is time for Australia and India to move past the racism saga.

Justice John Hansen said in his judgement that database and human errors meant a previous offence - Harbhajan was fined 75% of his match fee and give a one-Test suspended sentence in 2001 - was not revealed to the assisting counsel at the time of sentencing. Ponting said the appeal, which was heard on Tuesday, provided the players with closure but it had not been handled as well as possible.

"The judge has made it pretty clear today that even he was a bit disappointed with the severity, or non-severity, of his findings, basically because he wasn't handed some pretty vital and important information," Ponting said. "There's no doubt that there'd be a few players in the Australian dressing-room that would be a little bit disappointed with the outcome as well, knowing what we now know.

"I'm sure that Cricket Australia will get to the bottom of that. It's not up to me or up to the players. The case is closed, it can't ever be reopened. Cricket Australia will take it up with the appropriate people and let's hope that sort of stuff doesn't slip through the net again."

Ponting's comments were similar to those that came earlier in the day from Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland, who said he was disappointed Hansen was not given all the facts. "The judge's decision is final, we accept that, there was an unfortunate error in circumstances that led to him not having all the facts in front of him at that time, but that's gone," Sutherland said.

Harbhajan was accused of calling Symonds a "monkey" - Symonds had been subjected to monkey chants from spectators during Australia's ODI tour of India in October - but Hansen said Symonds could not be certain if Harbhajan had used the word. Hansen also criticised Symonds' part in the verbal exchange and Ponting hoped the case did not affect Symonds' reputation.

"Any sort of character assassination on Andrew Symonds would be completely unfair," Ponting said. "He's someone who doesn't want this stuff happening, it's the second time with what he had to go through in India as well, and it's the last thing in the world he wants."

However, Sutherland said Cricket Australia would discuss the judgement with Symonds and the rest of his team-mates. "No doubt with Andrew, as there with many other people, some things for him toe reflect on," Sutherland said. "We will take the opportunity to talk at the right time to Andrew and other players and the players as a group about some of the circumstances and some of the things that are reported in the judgement."

Ponting and Sutherland were speaking in Melbourne ahead of Friday's Twenty20 international between Australia and India, and Ponting said he was looking forward to again focusing on the cricket instead of off-field issues. "It has taken a toll on [Symonds] and it's taken a toll on me over the last few weeks," Ponting said.

"We're dealing with stuff in the middle of games that we don't want to be talking about or thinking about. It's consumed us all for enough time. It's been on my mind for four weeks, really, from the moment it happened I've been thinking about all this stuff."

ICC accepts blame for 'human and database errors'

Malcolm Speed has urged the players to improve their on-field behaviour...

Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, has said the ICC accepts the blame for the database and human errors that played a part in Harbhajan Singh escaping a more severe penalty during his appeal hearing in Adelaide.

Harbhajan's three-Test ban for allegedly calling Andrew Symonds a monkey was reduced to a fine of 50% of his match fees but Justice John Hansen, the appeals commissioner, said he could have imposed a more serious penalty if he was made aware by the ICC of the bowler's previous transgressions.

"It is very unfortunate that human error led to Justice Hansen not having the full history of Harbhajan's previous Code of Conduct breaches and the ICC accepts responsibility for this mistake," Speed said, after Hansen revealed that he had been informed of only one of Harbhajan's previous infractions.

Hansen said Harbhajan's full record of Code of Conduct violations - including the occasion when he was fined 75% of his match fee and handed a suspended sentence of one Test in November 2001 - had not been made available to the assisting counsel at the time of sentencing.

The ICC had advised Hansen's assistant counsel, John Jordan, of only one of Harbhajan's previous infractions, a Level 2.8 offence in April 2003 when he made an abusive comment to an umpire. However, it was only after his verdict that Hansen was made aware of the three other cases involving Harbhajan.

The first, a Level 1 offence in 1998, was overlooked because offences under the old Code of Conduct were not included in the ICC database. The second, a Level 1 offence in November 2005, was not made available because of a "human error". Hansen said the extent of his punishment wouldn't have changed even if he knew about the first two but added that knowledge of the third, a Level 2 offence in November 2001, "could have led to a different penalty".

Speed, though, chose to look at the lessons to be taken. "One thing that has come out of this is the need for players to review their on-field behaviour," he said. "In this case, it is clear that Harbhajan verbally abused an opponent having been provoked to do so by that opponent. This is not acceptable behaviour on the cricket field. I expect all players to use this as a wake-up call that on-field behaviour must improve."

India to use Twenty20 as 'practice'

Ricky Ponting is no certainty to play in the Twenty20 match against India as he continues to battle a back injury...

At the MCG on Friday, the world champions will attempt to maintain their unbeaten run against a talented opposition boasting a number of fresh faces. But in a reversal of the usual trend in recent years, Australia are the challengers and India are out to confirm their status as the world's best Twenty20 side.

The teams have met twice before in the shortest format and India came out on top both times, first with a 15-run semi-final win at the ICC World Twenty20 and then with a seven-wicket triumph in Mumbai a month later. However, India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said his side was not overly concerned about Friday's result.

They have a 17-man squad to choose from and nine of those players were not part of the Test group. Dhoni said because the new arrivals had had only one training session in Melbourne, India would need to treat the Twenty20 as a chance to warm up ahead of the tri-series that also features Sri Lanka.

"We will take the Twenty20 as one of the practice games," Dhoni said in Melbourne. "The guys are more serious about the Twenty20 World Cup rather than just winning one game. I don't know how the Australians will take it but we'll take it as a good opportunity to get the new guys in and let them get used to the conditions."

Ricky Ponting said Australia were keen to stamp their authority on Twenty20 cricket after India's successes against them. "For us, maybe there are some scores to settle," Ponting said. "We are going to be playing more of it and there's definitely room for improvement for Australia."

Australia have typically rested some senior players for one-off Twenty20 internationals, but this time Mitchell Johnson is the only man being given a break after a Test series that strained the relationship between the two sides. There is a chance that neither team will be led by the man who guided them through the Tests, with Ponting's back injury giving Michael Clarke a slim hope of captaining Australia for the second time in two months, and Anil Kumble having returned home.

Ponting picked up the problem during the Adelaide Test and although he is confident of playing, he conceded it was difficult to tell how much the complaint would affect his play. "I've been pretty much flat on my back for the last couple of days, just trying to give myself the best chance to recover," he said. "At the moment I'm feeling okay but I haven't done anything to test it out yet."

Ponting will likely have one new face in his line-up with David Hussey expected to make his international debut on his adopted home ground at the MCG. Hussey's outstanding domestic Twenty20 form earned him a place and it will give him the chance to play alongside his brother Michael for the first time in three years.

The pair has not been on the same side since a couple of Australia A games three seasons ago, and they never played together at Western Australia with David having to move to Victoria to break into state cricket. "It's always been my goal to play for Australia," he said, "so hopefully it can happen and can be a special night for me with my parents flying over."

The match will be preceded by a women's Twenty20 international between Australia and England, which will be exposed to a huge audience with Channel Nine set to air a highlights package on February 10. The MCG crowd is also expected to be something special, with Cricket Victoria hoping to break the ground's record of 90,800 spectators, set during one day of an Australia-West Indies Test in 1961.

Australia squad : Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Ricky Ponting (capt), Brad Hodge, Andrew Symonds, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Adam Voges, James Hopes, Brett Lee, Ashley Noffke, Nathan Bracken, Ben Hilfenhaus.

India squad : Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Dinesh Karthik, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth.

Dhoni urges team to stay in line

Mahendra Singh Dhoni isn't daunted by the prospect of playing the Twenty20 international in front of 90,000 spectators at the MCG...

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India's captain in the limited-over formats, has urged his team-mates to respect the international guidelines for on-field behaviour in the wake of the Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds controversy. He said there would be some allowance for "chit-chat" between players as long as there was nothing untoward being uttered.

"Whoever the players are, they know the international guidelines that are set out to be followed," he said, when asked about the importance of player behaviour in the forthcoming limited-over games. "Each and every player should respect it. It is the responsibility of an individual more than their skipper to know the limitations and to know where they stand."

It was reported that the Australian players were unhappy over Harbhajan's reprieve, given that he had been handed a three-match ban in the first hearing. Dhoni would also remember the World Twenty20 match in Durban last year, a match that marked the start of the fractious relationship between the two sides.

"We don't really care about whatever has happened so far," he said a day before the Twenty20 international in Melbourne. "It's a fresh start and we're going to play some good cricket. There's always chit-chat going on between the players. If nothing controversial is said, I think both the teams will be happy with it. We can't just shut up and play. It's cricket and you've got to do lots of things with the bat and the ball and there should be chit-chat out on the ground."

Dhoni preferred that contentious catches be referred to the third umpire, a procedure which was used in the final two Tests of the series. Before the first Test in Melbourne, Anil Kumble and Ricky Ponting had agreed to take the fielders word but reviewed the pact after the controversial Sydney Test. "I believe in referring it to the third umpire," Dhoni said. "A fielder can mislead so it's important that it's referred to the third umpire."

Was he expecting a hostile reception from a crowd that's expected to be close to 90,000? "If they are not on the field it does not really matter," he said. "We don't care whether we receive a hostile reception or not. In Eden Gardens there are 100,000 spectators, in Kochi there are 80,000 spectators. Still, this is a huge ground and playing in front of such numbers would be exciting."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Insufficient evidence against Harbhajan - Hansen

Justice John Hansen says Harbhajan Singh was cleared of racially abusing Andrew Symonds due to lack of evidence...

Lack of sufficient evidence, a more rigorous judicial process and an inexplicable botch-up on the part of the ICC allowed Harbhajan Singh to get away with a 50% fine, it emerged after Justice John Hansen read out the reasons for his verdict a day after the hearing in Adelaide.

Andrew Symonds' inability to conclusively say whether Harbhajan Singh had used the word monkey or a Hindi abuse, and his admission that the language did not fall under the requirements of a level 3.3 offence played a crucial part.

But Hansen also said Harbhajan had "reaped the benefit" of database and human errors, with his offence in November 2001 - when he was fined 75% of his match fee and given a suspended sentence of one Test - not being made available to the assisting counsel at the time of sentencing. He said he "would have required more extensive submissions as to the offence in mitigation, which could have led to a different penalty".

In a 22-page document that detailed the reasons for his decision, it emerged that Sachin Tendulkar's word could have had a big role to play too. Unlike Mike Procter, who thought Tendulkar was not in a position to hear what was uttered, Hansen said "extensive video footage" establishes that Tendulkar "was within earshot and could have heard the words".

Tendulkar said he heard Harbhajan "use a term in his native tongue "teri maa ki" which appears to be pronounced with an "n". He said this is a term that sounds like "monkey" and could be misrepresented for it."

Symonds couldn't recall if he had heard Harbhajan use that particular Hindi abuse and accepted that it was a possibility. He also didn't find favour with the judge with his explanation for abusing Harbhajan after he had patted Brett Lee on the back side. Symonds said he had objected because "a Test match is no place to be friendly with an opposition player" but Hansen dismissed that explanation ("If that is his view I hope it is not one shared by all international cricketers").

Michael Clarke's account was critical, considering that it did not coincide favourably with the rest. "It is not without significance that the Australian players maintain other than Mr Symonds that they did not hear any other words spoken, only the ones that are said to be of significance to this hearing," Hansen said.

"This is a little surprising in the context where there was a reasonably prolonged heated exchange. Indeed Mr Clarke went so far as to say that he did not hear Mr Symonds say anything. Given Mr Symonds' own acceptance that he initiated the exchange and was abusive towards Mr Singh, that is surprising. This failure to identify any other words could be because some of what they were hearing was not in English."

Hansen's report included the statement of agreed facts that contained the signatures of the seven players concerned. He also pointed out to the "agreement" between Symonds and Harbhajan in Mumbai last year, adding that it was Symonds who had breached it by "provocative abuse".

Towards the end of his statement, though, Hansen admitted that the ICC had advised his assistant counsel, John Jordan, of only one of Harbhajan's previous infractions, a Level 2.8 offence back in April 2003 when he made an abusive comment to an umpire. However, it was only after his verdict that Hansen was made aware of the three other cases involving Harbhajan.

The first, a Level 1 offence in 1998, was overlooked because offences under the old Code of Conduct were not included in the ICC database. The second, a Level 1 offence in November 2005, was not made available because of a "human error". Hansen said the extent of his punishment wouldn't have changed even if he knew about the first two but added that knowledge of the third, a Level 2 offence in November 2001, "could have led to a different penalty".

Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, endorsed Hansen's judgement as "a rigorous and independent document" and called for all players to review their on-field behaviour. The ICC also accepted responsibility for not being able to provide Hansen information on Harbhajan's previous offences.

"It is very unfortunate that human error led to Justice Hansen not having the full history of Harbhajan's previous Code of Conduct breaches and the ICC accepts responsibility for this mistake," Speed said. "One thing that has come out of this is the need for players to review their on-field behaviour. I expect all players to use this was a wake-up call that on-field behaviour must improve."

Hansen denied any deal had been struck between legal counsel for the Australian and Indian players to downgrade the charge. He was also critical of all parties involved in the confrontation in Sydney, saying "their actions do not reflect well on them or the game".

Malik and Yousuf power Pakistan win

Zimbabwe struck early in Pakistan's innings but Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf steered their team to victor...

A hundred from Mohammad Yousuf and a fine all-round performance by Shoaib Malik led Pakistan to a comprehensive seven-wicket win over Zimbabwe at Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad. Yousuf and Malik put on 141 for the third wicket to steer Pakistan's chase, with Yousuf's 14th century the first in what has been a horribly one-sided Mobilink Cup. Malik's 88 added to the three wickets he took earlier to restrict Zimbabwe to 244.

The pair came together after Pakistan's newbie openers had gone by the 15th over. Malik had already settled by then, returning to the one-down role he had once made his own, with Younis Khan resting. He averages over 40 from 34 innings at No.3 and it was immediately easy to see why so many argue for him to move up the order. He was off the mark immediately, clipping off his toes for four and in the next over he drove and cut Gary Brent for a couple more.

Soon after, he twice cut Elton Chigumbura and then did likewise to Brent five overs later. Having grabbed the initiative then and with no real pressure, Malik's calculating approach came out, as he dabbed and nudged runs for fun. A swift fifty was brought up, and though he lofted Ray Price over the boundary and welcomed Hamilton Masakadza with a brace of boundaries soon after, he was more than happy to play second fiddle.

Yousuf, meanwhile, began regally, picking up singles when he felt like it and only occasionally breaking sweat to find the boundary. It seemed for a while as if he wasn't even there, at least until a late dab to third man in the 27th over brought up the fifty partnership.

He made his presence known after it, twice depositing Masakadza over wide mid-on to bring up his own fifty. His pace picked up to such an extent that only 34 balls later, he was bringing up an effortless hundred, the highlight of which was a magnificent loft over long-on off Price. The only blemish on a flawless innings was a mix-up with Malik, which prevented the captain from reaching a hundred of his own.

It didn't prevent Malik from taking the Man-of-the-Match award. He had already excelled earlier, prompting a slump as Zimbabwe - not for the first time in this series - let slip a position of considerable strength after opting to bat. Sean Williams and Tatenda Taibu had rescued the innings early, with an intelligent 85-run partnership, but just when much was promised, Malik dismissed both, and Brendon Taylor, during eight mid-innings overs.

The pair have been Zimbabwe's best batsmen this series and it was soon apparent why. Taibu repeatedly came out of his crease to neutralize the early swing which so bewildered the openers, most effectively when he drove Kamran Hussain past mid-off for the day's first boundary. He cut twice soon after, but the real spurt came from Williams in the 14th over.

Hussain tired after an impressive opening spell and Williams took toll, twice flicking him through midwicket for three and driving over point to bring up Zimbabwe's 50. He then targeted Shahid Afridi, driving him elegantly through extra cover to mark the fifty stand, before cutting and lofting him for six an over later.

Taibu provided typically impish support and at that stage, until Malik brought himself on little was of concern. But in his second over, Williams inexplicably chipped back two short of what would have been his third fifty of the series. Taylor went in Malik's next over and the drive quickly petered out of the innings. Taibu fell immediately after getting to his ninth half-century and runs soon slowed to a trickle.

Singles were grudgingly given up, boundaries even more so. Chigumbura and Chamu Chibhabha battled well without any great urgency and it was only at the death, through Keith Dabengwa, that Zimbabwe rallied. He took 19 off the last over, part of a 33-ball 45, to drag Zimbabwe to a competitive score. Competitive, but no more.

Dippenaar announces international retirement

Boeta Dippenaar has called time on his international career aged 30...

Boeta Dippenaar, the South Africa batsman, has announced his retirement from international cricket to concentrate on building a life beyond the sport.

"Where my cricket career stands now, I have to make the tough call and step away," he told News 24 on Tuesday. "I want to improve my qualifications for life after cricket. Even if I were in the national team now I would have announced my retirement at the end of the season."

Dippenaar, 30, made his debut in 1999 but it took him a further 12 months to register his first hundred. Soon after, he lost his place to Herschelle Gibbs - a batsman of complete contrast to Dippenaar, whose strengths were his sweet timing and orthodox defence.

In spite of a healthy first-class record for Eagles and Free State, amassing nearly 9000 runs at 42.99, he couldn't translate that same form into his international career, though he found some success in one-dayers with 3421 runs and four hundreds.

Captain of the Eagles, who this week won the SuperSport Series title, Dippenaar will also play for Leicestershire in 2008.

"Some people may question my decision but it is something that my wife and I have reached certainty about during the past year," he said. "I am grateful for the opportunities I have had. I am grateful that I was able to represent my country and I wish the national team all the best."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Australia incensed by Harbhajan reprieve

The stony faces of Australia's cricketers tell a story, as Harbhajan Singh's racism charge is dropped...

Harbhajan Singh's exoneration for his alleged "monkey" comment towards Andrew Symonds has been hailed as a victory for justice in India, but the decision has incensed Australia's cricketers, who believe their board has caved in to overwhelming pressure from the game's financial superpower.

In a front-page article in Wednesday's Sydney Morning Herald, an unnamed Australian cricketer has hit out at the decision, which was only reached after Cricket Australia persuaded their five players at the hearing to downgrade their charge against Harbhajan from racism to abusive language. Instead of being banned for three Tests as per the original verdict, he was fined 50% of his match fee.

"The thing that pisses us off is that it shows how much power India has," the anonymous contracted player told the paper. "The Aussie guys aren't going to make it [the accusation] up. The players are frustrated because this shows how much influence India has, because of the wealth they generate. Money talks."

In what the paper described as a "brazen act of provocation", the Indian board chartered a plane to whisk their one-day squad from Melbourne - the venue for Friday's Twenty20 fixture - to Adelaide, so that they could fly home to India if the charges against Harbhajan were not dropped. The move was described by MV Sridhar, the team's assistant manager, as a "show of solidarity".

Friday's match alone - the curtain-raiser for the lucrative CB Series - is expected to attract a crowd in excess of 90,000, and Cricket Australia, fearing the loss of millions of dollars in TV rights, sponsorship and gate takings, opted not to call India's bluff. It was also believed to be under pressure from broadcasters who could have sued had the series been abandoned.

An Indian pull-out would have threatened Sri Lanka's participation in the CB Series as well. Arjuna Ranatunga, the chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket, and other senior board officials told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier that the board was keeping an eye on the developments in the hearing before deciding whether to commit to the tour or not.

The issue was resolved late on Tuesday night, when Cricket Australia and the BCCI issued a joint statement, saying Symonds and Harbhajan had "resolved" the issue and that both captains were also "satisfied with the outcome".

Australia's unofficial opinion, however, is less placatory. The team maintain that Harbhajan abused Symonds both at Sydney and three months earlier during an ill-tempered one-day series in India. In audio evidence supplied by Channel Nine - and played before the appeals commissioner, Justice John Hansen - Matthew Hayden is heard remonstrating with Harbhajan. "You've got a witness now, champ," says Hayden. "It's racial vilification, mate. It's a shit word and you know it."

Harbhajan can be heard protesting that Symonds started the verbals, but the actual word is inaudible on the tapes. "Ultimately, truth has prevailed," said the BCCI vice-president, Rajiv Shukla. "India has always stood against racism. Cricket is the victor in all this."

Ranatunga, a former Sri Lankan captain, called for a ban on sledging and hoped the Australians would learn their lessons from this controversy.

"Australia have had these issues with some touring sides," Ranatunga told Reuters. "History shows whenever they get it back, they struggle. Sometimes they also need to learn a lesson. I'm a great believer they should stop all shouting in the grounds."

Harbhajan racism charge not proven - Hansen

The three-Test ban against Harbhajan Singh has been lifted...

Three weeks after the controversy erupted, the racism charge against Harbhajan Singh was found to be not proven by Justice John Hansen, hearing the appeal, on Tuesday. Harbhajan was instead charged with a Level 2.8 offence - abuse and insult not amounting to racism - to which he pleaded guilty and was fined 50 per cent of his match fees.

With this, the cloud over the immediate future of the Indian tour lifted; the Indian team, which had gathered in Adelaide in a show of support instead of proceeding to Melbourne for Friday's Twenty20 match, has now decided to continue with the original arrangements.

Harbhajan had been found guilty of racist abuse of Andrew Symonds during the Sydney Test in early January and handed a three-Test ban by match referee Mike Procter. The charge was leveled by the on-field umpires, Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, on a complaint from Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain that Harbhajan had called Symonds a monkey.

An ICC statement following the conclusion of the appeal said that "a letter signed by all the players involved - from both Australia and India - was tendered into evidence as an agreed statement of facts as to what took place during the Sydney Test match."

During the hearing, oral evidence was called for from all the witnesses to the exchange between Harbhajan and Andrew Symonds - Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden and Sachin Tendulkar. The witnesses were then cross-examined by Brian Ward, counsel representing the Australians, and VR Manohar, representing Harbhajan via video link from Mumbai.

"Justice Hansen said he was convinced that, on all the evidence submitted before him, the charge of a Level 3.3 offence was not proven but that Harbhajan should be charged with a Level 2.8 offence." Harbhajan pleaded guilty to this charge, after which the fine was imposed on him. Hansen is scheduled to provide the full reasons for delivering his judgement on Wednesday evening.

Manohar said that while the maximum punishment for a Level 2.8 offence was a fine of the full match fees and a ban of one Test or two ODIs, the fact that Harbhajan hadn't been booked under the ICC Code of Conduct since 1998 ensured that he got the milder penalty of a 50% fine of his match fees.

"It is definitely known that there was some offensive language used at that time," said MV Sridhar, the team's assistant manager. "He's agreed to have used some form of abusive language. We felt that at the best interest of all there was an amicable solution arrived at. The charge was not withdrawn but we jointly felt that 3.3 will not be on the scale and 2.8 will be more relevant to the cause. Justice [Hansen] was generous enough to impose a fine of 50%."

About the decision to stay back in Adelaide, Sridhar said it was a show of solidarity. "There was no stand-off or anything between the boards," he said. "Over the last couple of weeks there was tremendous effort from Cricket Australia and BCCI. And they've been able to come to a cricketing solution. The efforts have been on and we were able to submit it in time to the appeals commissioner.

"The thinking over staying back was that the entire team should be in one place. We were here and the appeal was coming up today. That's the only reason. This decision to call the players was taken prior to all this."

After the hearing the two teams issued a joint statement emphasising the need to move on and focus on the cricket. "Harbhajan and Symonds said they had resolved the issue between them in Sydney and now intend to move on. They have said they intend to make no further comment on the issue and get on with the game of cricket, which is the most important issue for each of them." The two captains also expressed their satisfaction with the outcome.

Cricket Australia's spokesman Peter Young said both the Indian board and Cricket Australia were happy with the decision. Sharad Pawar, president of the Indian board, said the verdict vindicated the BCCI's stand. "The judge has given a proper judgement. BCCI was consistently taking only one stand that it was practically impossible for us to accept the racist charges against any Indian player."

New Zealand board attacked for Bond decision

New Zealand Cricket's decision came because they were 'increasingly concerned at the implications should they select Bond'...

Heath Mills, the executive manager of the New Zealand Cricket Players Association (NZCPA), has expressed disappointment at New Zealand Cricket's (NZC) decision to terminate Shane Bond's contract and called on the authorities to address the situation to avoid international cricket being devalued. He has also accused NZC of acting to appease the Indian board.

Mills said that Bond's contract with NZC allowed him to play for third parties when his NZC commitments allowed, and that there were no restrictions on what events he could participate in. "Three months ago Bond sought and was granted consent by NZC to sign with the Indian Cricket League (ICL) in line with his playing contract," Mills said. "Further to that Bond ensured his ICL contract released him for international duties if required.

"In this way his ICL contract did not affect his ability to play for New Zealand or impact on international cricket. NZC has become increasingly concerned at the implications should they select Bond, or any other player, to represent New Zealand if they are contracted to the ICL. These concerns principally relate to NZC's relationship with the Indian board (BCCI) and perceived risks to future revenue streams should the BCCI take a stand against NZC given the ICL is not sanctioned by that organisation."

NZC has also recently been made aware of an ICC operating manual regulation that purports to not allow them to release players to participate in non-sanctioned events. However, Mills said this regulation formed no part of the contracting arrangements with players and had never been communicated to them by the ICC or NZC.

"It has no application within the current player contracting arrangements between NZC, the NZCPA and the players. Attempting to retrospectively introduce and impose a regulation which amounts to a restraint of trade is simply unfair and inappropriate, and it compromises the freedom of contract that is preserved for our players under their agreements.

"The NZCPA fully understands the position NZC has found itself and we do not want them to damage relationships with the BCCI and other ICC members. However, pressure to preserve these relationships should not be placed above preserving New Zealand's right to select its best players to represent the Black Caps, the rights and aspirations of New Zealand citizens to represent their country and the legal rights of players under their signed playing contracts.

"Given the issues Bond has decided to stand aside from international cricket at NZC's request. The NZCPA supports this decision as it enables him to preserve a strong relationship with the board of NZC in the hope that he can again contribute to the game in New Zealand at some stage in the future. However, this is not a decision that he was compelled to make and under our contract system negotiated with NZC it remains open for any player to play for a third party like the ICL and still remain contracted to and play for NZC.

"It is this situation that leaves the NZCPA concerned for cricket in New Zealand. We urge the ICC to step in and attempt to influence this situation and find a way to manage third party investment in our sport before we lose more players both here and around the world, and international cricket has been damaged further. History has shown that professional sports cannot afford to become split. It is absolutely vital that international cricket remains the pinnacle of the sport and that we ensure the best players are playing."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Adelaide draw gives Australia series

Guess who's back: Virender Sehwag's mature 151 earned India a draw, but Australia took the series 2-1...

It was Adam Gilchrist's final day as a Test player and perhaps the last time that Australian crowds will watch Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble in a five-day game. But on a day for legends, it was another touched by greatness that stole the plaudits with a magnificent century that earned India a draw at the Adelaide Oval. Australia may have won the series 2-1, but Virender Sehwag's dazzling 151 will still be talked about in the years to come. The marquee names either failed or were incapacitated, and the next-highest score was Mahendra Singh Dhoni's 20.

Given the emotion-tinged nature of the occasion, it was appropriate that Gilchrist had a hand in Sehwag's dismissal, holding on to a thin edge off Andrew Symonds. By then, Sehwag had faced 236 balls and the lead was 216. The game, despite the absence of contributions from anyone else, was safe. At 5:28pm, with just over half an hour for the scheduled close, both captains and umpires decided that that was the case, with India closing on 7 for 269.

The key passage of play was either side of the tea interval. With Dravid having broken the middle finger of his right hand, the game was still in the balance when Dhoni arrived at the crease. Unconvincing with the bat for much of this series, he was again in hit-or-miss form. A wild flail off Brett Lee flew behind point for four, and there was another streaky shot through the slips before he came down the pitch to slam Symonds over mid-on for four more.

By the time Matthew Hayden held a stunning catch leaping to his left off Lee's bowling, Dhoni had helped Sehwag add 51, nudging the lead to 200. And that in effect was that, with the final moments dominated by players and spectators alike bidding adieu to the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman of all time.

Having lost Dravid and then Tendulkar to a disastrous run out, what India needed after lunch was a long partnership. They weren't to get it from Ganguly, even if he did avoid falling to Brad Hogg once again. Ricky Ponting had gone off the field leaving Gilchrist in charge, and it was Mitchell Johnson that proved to be his go-to man.

A loud shout for leg before was turned down, but Ganguly then hit a full delivery to short cover, where Michael Hussey took a fine reflex catch. The bat had thudded into the ground and a huge puff of dust went up. A confused Asad Rauf consulted Billy Bowden and then went up to the third umpire, who confirmed that the ball had indeed gone off the face of Ganguly's bat.

Laxman too failed, gloving one down the leg side off the tireless Lee, and it was left to Sehwag to hold things together. With Johnson bowling a fine 11-over spell, Sehwag didn't hit a single boundary in a session where India made only 68, but his mature approach was just what was needed.

Earlier, he had made 42 runs on his own in the morning before Tendulkar opened his account with a pleasing cover drive off Stuart Clark. Dropped on Sunday evening by Michael Clarke, Sehwag started the morning in a positive frame of mind, cutting Clark behind point for four. A slash against Lee was less precise, but it still streaked past the slips for four.

By then though, Lee had dealt a blow of his own, crunching Dravid on the bottom hand with a bouncer timed at 144 kph. He tried to carry on, but within a couple of overs, the pain had intensified to an extent that he had to go off for a precautionary x-ray. He finished with 11 runs, and muted applause, a far cry from his heroics of four years earlier.

The first ball that Tendulkar faced after walking out in a hurry saw a huge appeal from Symonds for a catch on the ricochet at cover after Tendulkar had driven the ball into the ground just short of Phil Jaques at silly point. The umpires conferred before going for help to the third umpire, who then ruled in Tendulkar's favour.

None of it appeared to faze Sehwag in the slightest. He cover-drove Lee and then cut him uppishly past gully to reach his half-century from 78 balls. There was also a lovely drive behind point, and a glance for four as the lead started to grow. Hogg's introduction only accelerated the progress. After taking him over long-on for a massive six, Sehwag then played two cover drives, before a single to mid-on off Johnson got him to three figures in just 123 balls.

Two balls later, disaster for India. Tendulkar tapped one on to the leg side and set off. Within a few seconds, he realised his mistake and tried to turn back. Johnson's throw though was precision itself, and Tendulkar was way short of his ground. His final Test innings in Australia had produced just 13, and yet another second-innings failure.

Sehwag's innings gave India the opportunity to dream, but reality bit soon after lunch. There wasn't to be a series-levelling win, but a draw was nothing to sneeze at after the manner in which Australia have brushed aside most tourists in recent seasons. A series that commenced at the MCG with hopes of an epic contest had delivered exactly that, between the two outstanding Test sides on the planet. Bring on October, and the next chapter.

The trailblazer completes his last act

Adam Gilchrist bids adieu to fans after the final Test match of his career...

Adam Gilchrist was weary but not exhausted. His baggy green, sweat-lined and with a desperately faded coat of arms, was more ragged than its owner. Relieved and happy that his Test career was over, he had been sad enough at tea that he bawled his eyes out to his team-mates.

At the back of the Adelaide Oval's indoor centre his large family watched him say goodbye. A baby squawked a couple of times and Gilchrist choked up when thanking his wife and children for sticking by him. The extended members of the clan huddled beside the television cameras and were partly responsible for him walking away. Over the past couple of years the new additions made him understand how much his life had moved on.

A simple dropped catch of VVS Laxman on the opening day was the sealer. The moment of clarity arrived between the ball hitting his gloves and the ground. He quickly looked up at the replay on the big screen.

"It made me realise in the ensuing 10 or 15 minutes that that's it," he said. "I'm not moving quite as well as I have, not just on the field but in training and my fitness. I just realised I didn't have the absolute desperation that you need to continue to maintain your standards."

Gilchrist's wicketkeeping, which he felt he had to defend throughout his career because of the high-quality work of his predecessors, had slipped over the past month. "I don't think anyone in this room has missed the fact that I did miss a few chances this series," he said. "It was bugging me and I couldn't understand why."

He was enjoying the team, the change in leadership, the new players and was thinking of retiring from one-dayers to extend his Test career. Everything changed with the sound of a ball bouncing out from two gloves. After 96 Tests, a world record 416 dismissals and 5570 runs, he has finished.

There were so many groups of people waiting for him throughout the day that he must have felt like a bridegroom. India's batsmen and Australia's fielders lined up on the ground in the morning, allowing Gilchrist to run through them, a reception which was repeated for the final session. Two catches were added to his tally and he was ecstatic as his team-mates converged.

Stumps were called early and there was no rush to grab a wicket, but there was an urgency to reach Gilchrist. He waved, he hugged and walked off first, his team-mates staying on the field and applauding in a gesture that was symbolic of the months ahead. They will miss him for many reasons.

After speaking for 20 minutes about his highs and lows a group of first-aid workers cheered and waited for his autograph. He was looking forward to celebrating with his family, friends and team-mates, and trying to finish the dressing-room speech he had to stop when overwhelmed by emotion.

The camaraderie, passion and pride of the side were the things that stood out most during his 12 years in international squads. "The way that legacy is passed on is the most glaring strength in Australian cricket," he said, "and I'm certain I'm seeing it happen in other countries as well."

In a career of so many individual and collective medals he chose another group moment as his best. Australia hadn't won in India for 35 years when he was thrust into the captaincy after Ricky Ponting broke his finger during the 2004 Champions Trophy. "From that moment on I started to get nervous and had a few self doubts and considered not taking it on," he said. "To captain that team for the bulk of the series and be part of the leadership group that constructed that was the highest point and greatest achievement of my career personally."

The magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final sealed a third successive trophy and the drawn-out nature of the tournament weighed heavily on Gilchrist. Five days before he left for the Caribbean his third child was born. As the event wore on he was lonely and a long way from home. "That was one of the most difficult parts of my career, getting through the World Cup," he said. "To pick myself up [for the final] was very special."

Australian audiences have another six weeks to say their goodbyes as he joins the CB Series circuit. He wants to excite people, but when he sensed the crowd's demand for something special in his final Test innings he fell to a loose shot on 14. "If I keep thinking I'm going to entertain," he smiled, "I'll get knocked over very easily."

Gilchrist's international career began as a specialist limited-overs player and he was pleased it would wind down in the same format. "I'm thrilled the way it's gone, that I didn't pull out of one-day cricket and then extend my Test career," he said. "One-day cricket gave me a chance to make a statement to the selectors and to the world. That filtered into Tests. To now play the last part of my career in one-day cricket, I am so excited about it."

Having thanked his coaches, a group of close team-mates and those who had supported him since he was child, Gilchrist was almost ready to go to his family. They exited first and he followed slowly, being interrupted at almost every step. In March he will re-join them for good.

New Zealand terminate Bond contract

Shane Bond is expected to finish his career with only 17 Tests...

New Zealand Cricket has terminated Shane Bond's national contract because of his desire to play in the Indian Cricket League (ICL), but the board has not ruled out allowing the fast bowler to return in the future. Bond, who has been involved in lengthy discussions over the deal, is now free to appear in the lucrative but unofficial Twenty20 tournament in April.

NZC considered Bond's request for a release in October but wanted him to fulfil his internationals obligations until his current agreement expired in May. An ICC decision last October prevented any contracted player from appearing in an unsanctioned event without the global body's consent.

"This is a difficult situation and we must comply with ICC regulations and support other Member Countries and as a consequence can no longer entertain Shane playing for New Zealand," Justin Vaughan, the NZC chief executive, said. "At some stage in the future we may be able to welcome Shane back in, either when he is no longer playing for the ICL, or when that competition does not exist."

Bond, who will reportedly be paid whether he is injured or not, will only be required for short stints with the ICL, which did not stand in the way of his international commitments. "I believed I could continue for the term of my contract while also taking up the ICL opportunity," Bond said. "Given what has happened, I want to do the right thing by NZC, so at their request I have terminated my contract."

He has played 17 Tests and 67 ODIs and hopes to add to his tally. "I will continue to be available to play for New Zealand," he said, "and look forward to doing so once again when NZC deems this appropriate."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Afridi blitz wins Pakistan the series

Sean Williams and Brendan Taylor added 105 together at five an over but it wasn't enough to overcome Pakistan...

Pakistan wrapped up the Mobilink Cup with a comfortable 37-run victory over Zimbabwe in what was, ultimately a dour, lifeless encounter in Multan. The only spark was provided, inevitably, by Shahid Afridi, who lit up the affair with a 52-ball 85, in the process rescuing Pakistan from a perilous 78 for 5. Zimbabwe battled away in their chase of 273, in particular Sean Williams and Brendan Taylor, but as has been the case at various points on this tour, they let healthy advantages slip.

In Hyderabad, they frittered away a promising position going in to the final ten overs and then dropped catches to make matters worse. Here, they had Pakistan reeling halfway through their innings, but somehow managed to concede nearly 200 runs in the second half to, essentially, the lower-order.

Until then, they had been disciplined, which was the doing mostly of Tawanda Mupariwa and fine opening spells from Elton Chigumbura and Gary Brent. The tone was set from the very first over of the innings, Chigumbura probing outside Salman Butt's off stump. It was a maiden and many more followed as Brent, at Mark Ealham's pace, found some lovely away-going curve against a left-handed opening pair.

Brent finally found reward for an outstanding spell when Butt cut to point in the 15th over. Thereafter, as Chigumbura finished his quota, Mupariwa took charge with a career-best spell. His first ball, a delicious, tempting in-dipper trapped Younis Khan in front. In his very next over, Nasir Jamshed pulled straight to short midwicket.

Zimbabwe were ecstatic when Shoaib Malik was run out, and they went beyond as Mupariwa reeled in the big one, Mohammad Yousuf. In truth, they didn't so much lose grip as have it snatched away from them by Afridi. He came in to this series the subject of debate: selectors wanted him to play, the team management were not keen. And yet, he has been indispensable thus far, taking wickets in Karachi, taking Pakistan over the line in Hyderabad and saving some blushes here.

Afridi's methods were no surprise; he equalled Sanath Jayasuriya as the leading ODI six-hitter, blasting six of them here and he was busy through the innings, running hard, but forever with an eye on the big heave. Ray Price was lofted for the first six and by the time Chamu Chibhabha was struck for two more a little later, a 34-ball 50 had been brought up.

Misbah-ul-Haq provided typically Misbhah-esque support, running hard, improvising and finding the occasional boundary, but this was Afridi's show. Keith Dabengwa was lofted and bludgeoned as a century stand came up, but just when a first hundred in nearly three years loomed, he miscued Mupariwa to point. A few overs later Misbah fell in typically Misbah-esque fashion, reverse-sweeping, but Pakistan pushed on to a daunting total.

Zimbabwe still had a chance, as Pakistan's bowling hadn't made an impression through the series and the wicket was flat. Sohail Tanvir, the one bowler who has made a mark, stymied early, fanciful notions sending back both openers. When Tatenda Taibu was run out in the 15th with just 50 on the board, it seemed over.

But Williams and Taylor then revived the innings with a partnership which put Zimbabwe in control of another portion of the game. They went about it intelligently, picking up the few boundaries they could, but hustling every run on offer. Williams hit three boundaries in his 50 and Taylor only two, yet the two put on 105 at just under five an over.

But just when it seemed Zimbabwe would launch a final surge, they again let slip the initiative. Taylor was stumped in the 36th over, with 118 still needed, and as so often happens, the partner went soon after. With Williams went the match. Pakistan will be concerned at an inability to bowl out Zimbabwe a third game running, but the visitors will rue yet another game where they were in it at various stages, only to lose it at critical moments.