Saturday, February 23, 2008

McCullum steers New Zealand home

A jubilant Daniel Vettori traps Alastair Cook leg before...

Last week, Brendon McCullum was the surprise package in the IPL auctions - today he batted like a cricketer with a million-dollar price tag. His superlative 77 from 43 balls ensured that New Zealand finished their five-match one-day series against England as they had begun it; with a thumpingly impressive victory. Had it not been for a late collapse of 3 for 1 in seven balls, and the even later invention of rain, this result would have been as comprehensive as New Zealand's first two victories at Wellington and Hamilton. It really was that one-sided.

England were off the pace throughout. They batted too slowly, bowled too naïvely, and fielded like a side resigned to defeat - four chances of varying degrees of difficulty were shelled while the game was still live, including a howler by Stuart Broad at third man when McCullum had made 31. New Zealand were led superbly in the field by Kyle Mills, who took 4 for 36 with two wickets in an eight-over burst with the new ball and two more with his offcutters in the death overs, but none of England's bowlers seemed willing to follow his lead.

James Anderson, once again, was especially culpable. He unleashed the Kiwi beast in his third over by serving up another diet of short wide long-hops that McCullum bludgeoned up and over the covers for two fours and a six. When he returned for a second burst at 75 for 0 in the tenth over, with his side in dire need of wickets, he was clobbered for three massive sixes in a row - the first, which was spectacularly caught in the second tier of the grandstand, took him to his fifty from just 27 balls.

McCullum's form in this series has been nothing short of sensational. He finished with 261 runs from 203 balls faced, and only once, at Auckland, did he fail to reach 40 - not surprisingly, that was the only game that New Zealand went on to lose. Once again he compiled a century stand with his new opening partner, Jesse Ryder, but on this occasion Ryder was little more than a bystander. By the time he was lucklessly run out for 24 from 32 balls, his partner had pummelled his way to 72 from 34.

It was England's captain, Paul Collingwood, who eventually ended McCullum's stay. One ball after dropping a regulation return chance, he knocked back the off stump as McCullum attempted another heave through midwicket. But Jamie How, in the form of his life, responded with two sumptuous drives before the new batsman, Ross Taylor, got off the mark with consecutive edges for four. It was clear that nothing was going to stop New Zealand now.

Well, almost nothing. Just as at Napier, England found a second wind at precisely the moment that everyone else had given up on them. Scott Styris was once again the unwitting catalyst, as he wellied an attempted pull to cover off the undeserving Anderson, before Ryan Sidebottom - very much in the zone - removed the debutant Daniel Flynn and the dangerous Jacob Oram with consecutive off-stump legcutters. At 198 for 6, there was a glimmer for England and they were convinced that Vettori had edged Anderson but Billy Bowden disagreed. Then came the mandatory ball change at the end of the 34th over, and the venom went out of their challenge as the rain began to fall.

In truth, England scarcely deserved to get so close to victory. Batting first, their innings had been a mishmash of partially formed anchor roles, and all-too-brief cameos. Phil Mustard never got going, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen played themselves in then gave their wickets away in crass fashion - Bell to a lofted drive, a shot he had been playing exquisitely, and Pietersen to a second-ball mow off the spinner, Jeetan Patel.

Alastair Cook seemed set to drop anchor for the full 50 overs when he missed a quicker one from Daniel Vettori, who also served up the ball of the innings to have Collingwood stumped for 14. Owais Shah was scratchy in a rare lengthy opportunity, and in the end England owed every ounce of their competitiveness to Luke Wright and Dimitri Mascarenhas, who belted six sixes between them as 81 runs were added in the final eight overs.

Unfortunately for England, Wright and Mascarenhas's ease of strokeplay was the norm for this wicket, not the exception. By the time McCullum was into his stride, there was no doubt about the outcome. England had done well to recover their poise after the humiliations of the opening two games, but the 3-1 series result still flatters them. There is much for Collingwood and his team to work on before the return one-day series in June.

Wait before you sign, BCCI to junior cricketers

India's U-19 cricketers have been told not to sign any contract until further instructions...

The Indian board has clearly instructed all junior cricketers to not sign up for the Indian Premier league on an individual basis until they decide on a procedure to adopt for the same.

The board plans to consult the franchises while deciding a common procedure to adopt while signing up junior domestic cricketers. "An instruction has been sent to all players," said Niranjan Shah, the secretary of the Indian board told Cricinfo. "The BCCI will decide what procedure to adopt for the franchises signing up players."

The above automatically holds for 15 of India's U-19 cricketers are currently taking part in the World Cup in Malaysia. The IPL rules dictate that each franchise must have at least four U-22 players in their side, as well as four players from the respective catchments.

It's been learnt that several franchises are unhappy with the manner in which players have been poached - especially with player agents getting involved in the process. "Too many agents have cropped up and some of the Under-19 players [currently away in the World Cup] are away on tour and already poaching has started," a member of a franchise said. "So it's good that BCCI is considering a ruling to ban any young player from being picked now."

There is also a concern about players being lured with big bucks so early in their careers. A couple of franchises are advocating there be a limit for the amount that can be paid for junior players.

"It's sad that young kids are being exposed to so much money so early," said a representative from another franchise. "What kind of an example are we setting? You have not even played a Test but already you're demanding so much money. Maybe, it would have been better had a price been fixed by the IPL board for these players. It might have solved many problems."

The board is expected to take a decision on the process in a few days time. However, they may be reluctant to do so before the end of the U-19 World Cup (which concludes on March 2) to ensure the youngsters are not distracted during the event.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rain helps Australia to 24-run win

Michael Clarke helped rescue Australia from a shaky start, not for the first time this series...

Australia and Sri Lanka were both dug into holes by their top orders at the MCG but while Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke clambered out, Sri Lanka were drowned in their pit by Melbourne's rain. Australia picked up a 24-run victory on the Duckworth-Lewis method, which means Sri Lanka must now win both their remaining CB Series games and rely on Australia beating India to have any chance of reaching the finals.

They had only themselves to blame, though, after dawdling in their chase of 185. Sri Lanka's innings was 29.3 overs old when the showers came but they had only reached 4 for 77 and they needed to have 101 on the board to make Duckworth-Lewis work in their favour. They were so far off the mark they even conceded the bonus point to Australia. The slow pitch did not help matters, and Sri Lanka's go-to man Kumar Sangakkara struggled to find a way to score.

He laboured for 59 balls for his 22 and when he departed in the 25th over, top-edging James Hopes to cover when he tried to force the run-rate, Sri Lanka's chances took a major blow. Nobody will ever know if the batsmen at the crease could have rescued the situation but it had taken Chamara Silva 47 deliveries to reach 16 while Tillakaratne Dilshan was on 9 from 14.

Sri Lanka had looked steady while Sangakkara and Mahela Jaywardene were together but the loss of the captain, who edged behind off Nathan Bracken, hurt the visitors significantly. Jaywardene had finally got the scoreboard ticking over with a couple of boundaries - none came until the 15th over - and his cover-driven four off MitchellJohnson looked like it might spark some quicker runs.

But Australia's seam attack continued to use the conditions perfectly after a pair of Stuart Clark wickets in the opening overs reduced Sri Lanka to 2 for 3. They were 1 for 0 when Sanath Jayasuriya made a first-ball duck, edging Clark's initial delivery to Ricky Ponting at second slip.

Clark followed with Dilurwan Perera, the opener playing his first ODI of the tour, who was unlucky to be given lbw to a ball that would have sailed over the stumps. So difficult was the pitch that Sri Lanka reached just 2 for 19 after ten overs - the crowd thought Australia's 1 for 24 at the same stage was sleep-inducing.

Fortunately for the hosts they had Clarke and Hussey to fall back on. It was not the first time this series the middle order was required to clean up the mess left by Australia's top order. The pair built a 90-run partnership that was all the more important as they came together when Australia had staggered to 4 for 54 in the 22nd over.

Boundaries were not high on the agenda as they took easy singles, although Clarke eventually managed four fours. He sparked a relative frenzy from the subdued crowd when he launched Lasith Malinga over long on and next ball glanced fine for another boundary. Clarke made his third half-century of the series - he has been the shining light in a switched-off batting line-up - but fell for 50 to a sharp return catch by Muttiah Muralitharan.

Hussey's effort was typically anonymous - he scored 39 singles and only one four - but it was just what his side required under the circumstances. When he came to the crease Farveez Maharoof had been choking the runs and picking off the batsmen to more than justify Jayawardene's unexpected decision to send Australia in.

Ponting said on Thursday he and Matthew Hayden were the only Australians who could be disappointed at their price-tags in the Indian Premier League but they did little to earn sympathy with their agonising approach to target-building. Their 27-run partnership took nearly 11 overs - hardly inspiring for their Twenty20 purchasers - and both fell when the pressure from Sri Lanka's seamers became too much.

The out-of-touch Ponting had 11 from 34 balls - his series has been so bad his low score actually improved his average - when he attempted a suicidal single. He thought he had pushed the ball past the bowler but Maharoof is a tall man and dived to his right to stop it, leaving Ponting to try and scramble back from the middle of the pitch as Clarke wisely decided against running.

Maharoof also had Hayden caught off a leading edge for 23 from 53 balls and he finished with 2 for 20 from his ten overs, which was a fine turnaround after he leaked nearly seven an over in Adelaide on Tuesday. Ultimately, though, Sri Lanka's inability to break the Hussey and Clarke partnership sooner was the key. Australia's attack, even without Brett Lee, was dangerous and Sri Lanka's inability to read a weather radar and bat accordingly has left their CB Series in a precarious position.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sri Lanka fight to stay in series

It has been a lean tournament for Ricky Ponting, who wants his batsmen to lift their game ahead of the CB Series finals...

Sri Lanka's match against Australia at the MCG on Friday is not technically a must-win game for the visitors but Mahela Jayawardene knows another defeat could be as good as fatal to their CB Series. Australia are all but into the deciders - a victory on Friday will confirm it - and they are taking the opportunity to again rest their spearhead Brett Lee.

However, Jayawardene said with several Australia batsmen out of form the hosts would be keen to regain their touch ahead of the finals. "I've played Australia quite a few times," Jayawardene said. "They don't take any game lightly. Even without Brett they've done pretty well, they've shown that they can control things out there in the middle."

Ricky Ponting has been one of Australia's struggling batsmen, with 53 runs at 10.60 during the series, and he said it was time for the top order to pull its weight. Ponting was preparing to speak to his batsmen at their team meeting on Thursday but he conceded it was difficult to be inspiring when he was a chief culprit.

"It's pretty hard to go and talk to the rest of the guys and tell them to get their head down when I can't get it myself," he said. "We haven't played anywhere near our best cricket just yet, as a team.

"We've managed to fight and kick and scratch and win some games - and some have been pretty entertaining games - but they've all been low-scoring ones. Our bowling so far right through the tournament has been outstanding. If we've ever been in any trouble in any game so far it's been as a result of our batting."

Sri Lanka's top order is a concern as well, and they have not enjoyed a 50-run opening stand throughout the tournament. Jayawardene said they had not decided on their final line-up but they would need to consider whether to keep Tillakaratne Dilshan at the top after he failed in his past two starts following a match-winning 62 against India in Canberra.

A victory in Melbourne will keep Sri Lanka's hopes alive and Jayawardene said his batsmen in particular had to improve. "The picture is very clear," he said. "We need to at least win two more out of our three games. We've made some mistakes and we deserve to be where we are."

One of the keys for both teams will be to put the Indian Premier League out of their minds after several players from each side fetched around the million-dollar mark on Wednesday. Andrew Symonds was sold for $1.35m, while his more experienced team-mates Ponting and Matthew Hayden went for less than $400,000 each, and Ponting was keen for the players to forget about the money.

"We'll have to talk about it today at training," he said. "We'll all get together and probably just clear the air a little bit. I'm pretty sure the coach will make sure that happens. For me and a few other batsmen it's about time we put all this stuff behind us and moved on and played some good cricket."

Australia (likely) 1 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 James Hopes, 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Nathan Bracken, 11 Stuart Clark.

Sri Lanka (likely) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Ishara Amerasinghe, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.

Bangladesh bank on home advantage

Bangladesh will have to ensure they bat for longer periods if they are to reverse their dismal Test record...

With the controversial spat between South African coach Mickey Arthur and Cricket South Africa chairman Norman Arendse over team selection resolved, the action finally shifts to the field as South Africa take on Bangladesh in the first Test at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium starting on Friday.

Previous contests between the two sides have been rather lopsided in favour of the South Africans and going by current form, another series whitewash looms. After a successful away series against Pakistan, South Africa steamrollered New Zealand and overcame an early jitter against West Indies to record a 2-1 series win in the Tests and a 5-0 clean sweep of the one-dayers to round off a comprehensive home season.

Bangladesh, by contrast, suffered a predictable 2-0 defeat on their tour of New Zealand, where their frailties in the batting department were exposed yet again. Both Tests ended within three days as the batsmen wilted in unfamiliar conditions. A return to home conditions would be their best possible chance of competing better, especially now, after South Africa's scratchy bowling performance in the drawn three-day game against a Bangladesh Cricket Board XI in Fatullah. The Test attack leaked 412 runs in just over 100 overs - conceding a lead in the process - but Arthur brushed aside the concerns and was confident that things would fall into place.

"We have spoken about what's expected from each player," Arthur said. "The stakes are high at this level and I expect everyone to raise the level of their performance."

Graeme Smith, the South African captain, hoped for a sporting pitch in Mirpur, though the indications are that his bowlers are in for a bigger workout. Despite the slow surface, the South Africans are unlikely to field two spinners, with offspinner Johan Botha the first choice ahead of Robin Peterson, the left-arm spinner. Andre Nel, down with a hamstring strain, remains a doubtful starter.

The mood was fairly upbeat in the Bangladesh camp and coach Jamie Siddons reflected on the positives from the tour game. However, Siddons, now in his first home series as coach, was quick to caution his players to expect a backlash.

"We want to make a difference," said Siddons. "The lads are happy and confident of making a fresh start. We need to show a little more courage at this level. The Board XI, who held the South Africans to a draw, gave us some indication as to what we can expect in the first Test.

"I thought we learned a few things and we are going to work on them. I was glad that some of our batsmen made runs. They [South Africa] may have looked flat in the three-day game, but it could be different in the Test. If we can play with some guts, conviction and confidence I believe we will be able to hold our heads high."

One of the positives for Bangladesh in New Zealand was the performance of their young openers, Junaid Siddique and Tamim Iqbal, and the return of Tamim from a thumb injury would come as a boost. Tamim, however, missed out on the tour game and if he's on the reserves again, Shahriar Nafees could be reinstated as an opener.

Heavy rain on Tuesday and overcast conditions the next day forced the players to train indoors. Peterson and Neil McKenzie, who arrived early morning on Wednesday, practiced at the indoor nets.

Bangladesh (from) Mohammad Ashraful (capt), Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Aftab Ahmed, Habibul Bashar, Junaid Siddique, Mohammad Rafique, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Rajin Saleh, Sajidul Islam, Shahadat Hossain, Shahriar Nafees, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal.

South Africa (from) Graeme Smith (capt), Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Neil McKenzie, Robin Peterson, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn.

Pakistan confident of India touring

There could still be no respite in India's schedule if the BCCI agrees to the Pakistan tour...

The Pakistan Cricket Board has sent the BCCI an official proposal for a short three-match ODI series to be played in Pakistan in March. Though the Pakistan board is confident the series will go ahead, a cramped Indian itinerary means the tour is still not a certainty.

The series has been under discussion between the two boards following the hesitancy shown by Australia in coming to Pakistan as scheduled in March-April. It was decided recently that Australia's tour - if it goes ahead - would be considerably shortened. Pakistan are now keen to utilise the free period in the first half of March.

"We have spoken to the BCCI about it and the tour is 99% done," an official told Cricinfo. "If Australia do come, it will not be over the same period as it was before, so we want that period to be used as well. The series will involve three ODIs, and we are aiming for it to start around March 12. For ease, the ODIs will be played in Lahore."

Though the Pakistan board is fairly confident of organising such a high-profile contest in such limited time, the BCCI is still undecided about the series. An official confirmed to Cricinfo that the BCCI had received the proposal. "We have received a proposal from the PCB. The board needs to decide yet. It depends on India's schedule then. Nothing is confirmed yet."

India's participation in the ongoing CB series only ends on March 7 at the latest - provided they qualify for the best-of-three finals - and are then scheduled to begin their Test series against South Africa on March 26. The official pointed out that fitting in a three-match series into this gap may be very tough.

Pakistan has been desperately trying to fill up considerable gaps in its FTP and the uncertainty over Australia's tour hasn't helped. But bilateral talks with boards and discussions in Kuala Lumpur have borne some fruit at least with the estimated addition of nearly 38 ODIs into Pakistan's commitments over the next two years.

As well as plans for a tri-nation series before the Asia Cup in June, New Zealand are also expected to visit Pakistan for a five-match ODI series in September this year, before the ICC Champions Trophy, which Pakistan is hosting. South Africa and Sri Lanka have also agreed to play five-match ODI series in Pakistan in 2009, but concerns over Pakistan's Test schedule remain.

Apart from three Tests against India in November-December this year, Pakistan have no Test commitments until November 2009 when they head to Australia.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The day cricketers sold like stocks

Adding to the glitz was the presence of Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, whose company owns the Kolkata franchise ...

On-field action aside, we could have just witnessed the most eventful day in cricket's history, one when players were bought like stocks at a share market. In the frenetic Indian Premier League auctions, which lasted 10 hours in the Hilton Towers in Mumbai, six players raked up more than a million dollars each, and over 70 others earned immediate financial security. In one day of tradings, the face of world cricket has been changed: for better or worse, is for time to tell.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Andrew Symonds were the big winners on a day when Indian and Australian players were the most wanted. A whopping US$14.6 million was spent on 25 Indians, including big sums for those on the fringe, while the 13 Australians were worth US$6.7 million, with relative unknowns like Cameron White and David Hussey thriving among the big daddies.

The auction wasn't without its surprises. Glenn McGrath was not picked up in the first set of bids and needed to wait till the end before he was bought at the base price. In contrast Ishant Sharma, a bowler just two seasons old, benefitted immensely from the recent performances, ending as the costliest bowler in the pool.

The trends were hard to miss. Teams have not looked to buy just match-winners; they have invested in a mix of cricketers and brands. The fact that Dhoni is getting more than double of what Gilchrist will is a case in point. As for the young players, especially the batsmen, the franchises have all preferred the popular over the proven: Robin Uthappa was worth more than Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting put together. Stunningly Yusuf Pathan, who's played just one Twenty20 international, was deemed about three times more valuable than the experienced Scott Styris.

The day kicked off with the blockbuster news of Dhoni being bought for US$1.5 million by Chennai. That set the ball rolling, and no other player was able to catch up with it by the end of the day. Dhoni was part of the first group of players (the marquee players) to be auctioned and grossed more than double what Adam Gilchrist did ($700,000 from Hyderabad). It took the franchises only about 20 to 25 minutes to decide the teams for the six biggest names in the fray.

The second round of bidding featured some more senior players for sale, and surprisingly McGrath and Mohammad Yousuf didn't find any takers. It was later learnt that Yousuf was a disputed property as he had been asked by the court not to participate in any league that is rival to the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Harbhajan Singh and Sanath Jayasuriya were the big draws in this round and Mumbai dug deep into their pockets to procure the two. While a $975,000 salary might not be too high for Jayasuriya, Harbhajan's taking away $850,000 did come as a surprise.

After a brief lunch break, the kind we see in a rain-curtailed ODI, Andrew Symonds came pretty close to beating Dhoni. In the third round, featuring the star players from outside India, Symonds was bought by the Hyderabad franchise for $1.35m. The franchises would have known of Symonds's decision to not tour Pakistan later this year, because Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden - two other Australians auctioned in the same round - were not fought for nearly as hard and went for $400,000 and $375,000 respectively. The New Zealanders, Brendan McCullum and Jacob Oram, were interesting picks as they drew $700,000 and $675,000 from Kolkata and Chennai respectively.

Bangalore, who were relatively quiet till then, surprised all by digging deep into their coffers to procure Jacques Kallis for $900,000, while Kolkata bought Chris Gayle for $800,000 in the fourth round of biddings, which featured stars who were perhaps one rung lower than the top draw.

By the end of the fourth round, one could vaguely look into how the teams were going about their selection. Hyderabad, for example, were going all out for big hitters: Symonds, Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs, and Shahid Afridi had cost them $3.3m by then. Mohali were looking for solid batsmen (Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara) and a fiery pace attack (Brett Lee and Sreesanth).

Kolkata were going for a more equitable distribution of salary, not bidding outrageously for superstars but looking to get as many good players as possible, while Jaipur kept their cards close to their chest, having spent only $1.15 by the end of four rounds.

In the fifth round, Delhi surprised everybody in the auction for wicketkeepers - spending $825,000 for two wickekeepers, Dinesh Kartik getting $125,000 more than AB de Villiers. Bangalore followed their trend of banking in safe players and picked Mark Boucher for $450,000.

The allrounders, the hot properties in Twenty20 cricket auctioned in round 6, had more surprises in the offing. Irfan Pathan, whose bidding started at $200,000, was finally bought by Mohali for $9,25,000. His brother, Yusuf, and Cameron White, another largely untested player at the international level, were bought for $475,000 and $500,000 respectively. No-one, though, was ready to pay a dollar more than his base price of $175,000 for Scott Styris.

When it come to the young batsmen, it was down to the real box office. India's dashing Twenty20 stars were showered with money while Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina and Manoj Tiwary - those not part of the World Twenty20 squad, got their share too. David Hussey was the only non-Indian lesser-known batsman, to draw a favourable response from the bidders. David actually found more takers than brother Mike, and was bought by Kolkata for $625,000; bidding for him started at $100,000.

By the time we moved to the last round of auction, for the lesser-known bowlers, the franchises were spent, both physically and financially. Umar Gul, one of the best bowlers in the Twenty20 world championships, was bought for a mere $150,000 by Kolkata, while Chaminda Vaas, Makhaya Ntini, and Dilhara Fernando all went for their base prices. But Kolkata offset the Gul steal and stung the last surprise of the day by buying Ishant for a whopping $950,000.

Things have happened too fast to make a sense of it or predict where we are headed, but in one day one thing was proven: in a free-market environment, the players' worth and selections would not be judged by how they played, but as a commercial commodity.

Top ten players at the auction
Player Franchise Base price Winning bid
Mahendra Singh Dhoni Chennai 400,000 1,500,000
Andrew Symonds Hyderabad 250,000 1,350,000
Sanath Jayasuriya Mumbai 250,000 975,000
Ishant Sharma Kolkata 150,000 950,000
Irfan Pathan Mohali 200,000 925,000
Jacques Kallis Bangalore 225,000 900,000
Brett Lee Mohali 300,000 900,000
RP Singh Hyderabad 200,000 875,000
Harbhajan Singh Mumbai 250,000 850,000
Robin Uthappa Mumbai 200,000 800,000

Icon players
Player Franchise Price
Sachin Tendulkar Mumbai 1,121,250
Sourav Ganguly Kolkata 1,092,500
Yuvraj Singh Mohali 1,063,750
Rahul Dravid Bangalore 1,035,000
Virender Sehwag Delhi 833,750
All figures in US$. Icon players' price calculated at 115% of next-highest earning player in the same franchise.

Kolkata open up coffers for Ishant

Ishant Sharma was bought by a shade under a million dollars by Kolkata...

Ishant Sharma’s superb performance in Australia was rewarded with a cool bid of $50,000 short of a million, his base price being $150,000. With that he became Kolkata’s biggest draft, sending Sourav Ganguly into the million club.

RP Singh was the other big draft among the bowlers: Hyderabad bought him for $875,000, which rose from his base price of $200,000. Piyush Chawla, Dale Steyn, Murali Kartik, and Munaf Patel were the only other bowlers whose final bid was more than twice their respective base prices. Chawla went for $400,000 (base price: $125,000) to Mohali, Steyn for $325,000 (base price: 150,000) to Bangalore, Kartik for $425,000 (base price: $200,000) to Kolkata, and Munaf for $275,000 (base price: $100,000) to Jaipur.

Other tradings in the eighth round: Nathan Bracken bought by Bangalore for $325,000 (base price: $225,000), Makhaya Ntini by Chennai for his base price of $200,000, Lasith Malinga by Mumbai for $350,000 ($200,000), Chaminda Vaas by Hyderabad for his base price of $200,000, Ramesh Powar by Mohali for $170,000 (base price: $150,000), Umar Gul by Kolkata for his base price of $150,000, Dilhara Fernando by Mumbai for his base price of $150,000, and Nuwan Zoysa by Hyderabad for $110,000 (base price: $100,000).

Squads as of now:

Jaipur Shane Warne (US$ 450,000), Graeme Smith (US$ 475,000), Younis Khan (US$ 225,000), Kamran Akmal (US$ 150,000), Yusuf Pathan (US$ 475,000), Mohammad Kaif (US$ 675,000), Munaf Patel (US$ 275,000)

Chennai MS Dhoni (US$ 1.5 million), Muttiah Muralitharan (US$ 600,00), Matthew Hayden (US$ 375,000), Jacob Oram (US$ 675,000), Stephen Fleming (US$ 350,000), Parthiv Patel (US$ 325,000), Joginder Sharma (US$ 225,000), Albie Morkel (US$ 675,000), Suresh Raina (US$ 650,000), Makhaya Ntini (US$ 200,000)

Mumbai Sachin Tendulkar (icon), Sanath Jayasuriya (US$ 975,000), Harbhajan Singh (US$ 850,000), Shaun Pollock (US$ 550,000), Robin Uthappa (US$ 800,000), Lasith Malinga (US$ 350,000), Dilhara Fernando (US$ 150,000)

Bangalore Rahul Dravid (icon), Anil Kumble (US$ 500,000), Jacques Kallis (US$ 900,000), Zaheer Khan (US$ 450,000), Mark Boucher (US$ 450,000), Cameron White (US$ 500,000), Wasim Jaffer (US$ 150,000), Dale Steyn (US$ 325,000), Nathan Bracken (US$ 325,000)

Hyderabad Adam Gilchrist (US$ 700,000), Andrew Symonds (US$ 1.35 million), Herschelle Gibbs (US$ 575,000), Shahid Afridi (US$ 675,000), Scott Styris (US$ 175,000), VVS Laxman (US$ 375,000), Rohit Sharma (US$ 750,000), Chamara Silva (US$ 100,000), RP Singh (US$ 875,000), Chaminda Vaas (US$ 200,000), Nuwan Zoysa (US4 110,000)

Mohali Yuvraj Singh (icon), Mahela Jayawardene (US$ 475,000), Kumar Sangakkara (US$ 700,000), Brett Lee (US$ 900,000), Sreesanth (US$ 625,000), Irfan Pathan (US$ 925,000), Ramesh Powar (US$ 170,000), Piyush Chawla (US$ 400,000)

Kolkata Sourav Ganguly (icon), Shoaib Akhtar (US$ 425,000), Ricky Ponting (US$ 400,000), Brendon McCullum (US$ 700,000), Chris Gayle (US$ 800,000), Ajit Agarkar (US$ 330,000), David Hussey (US$ 675,000), Ishant Sharma (US$ 950,000), Murali Kartik (US$ 425,000), Umar Gul (US$ 150,000)

Delhi Virender Sehwag (icon), Daniel Vettori (US$ 625,000), Shoaib Malik (US$ 500,000), Mohammad Asif (US$ 650,000), AB de Villiers (US$ 300,000), Dinesh Karthik (US$ 525,000), Farveez Maharoof (US$ 225,000), Tillakaratne Dilshan (US$ 250,000), Manoj Tiwary (US$ 675,000), Gautam Gambhir (US$ 725,000)

Players on the auction list

No. Category
Name Nationality

1 A
Shane Warne Australia

2 A
Mahendra Singh Dhoni India

3 A
Adam Gilchrist Australia

4 A
Shoaib Akhtar Pakistan

5 A
Mahela Jayawardene Sri Lanka

6 A
Muttiah Muralitharan Sri Lanka

7 B
Anil Kumble India

8 B
Glenn McGrath Australia

9 B
Mohammad Yousuf Pakistan

10 B
Harbhajan Singh India

11 B
Sanath Jayasuriya Sri Lanka

12 B
Kumar Sangakarra Sri Lanka

13 C
Ricky Ponting Australia

14 C
Brett Lee Australia

15 C
Andrew Symonds Australia

16 C
Michael Hussey Australia

17 C
Daniel Vettori New Zealand

18 C
Matthew Hayden Australia

19 C
Brendon McCullum New Zealand

20 C
Jacob Oram New Zealand

21 D
Stephen Fleming New Zealand

22 D
Graeme Smith South Africa

23 D
Herschelle Gibbs South Africa

24 D
Chris Gayle West Indies

25 D
Shoaib Malik Pakistan

26 D
Shahid Afridi Pakistan

27 D
Younis Khan Pakistan

28 D
Mohammad Asif Pakistan

29 D
Jacques Kallis South Africa

30 D
Zaheer Khan India

31 D
Sreesanth India

32 E
Dinesh Karthik India

33 E
A B deVilliers South Africa

34 E
Mark Boucher South Africa

35 E
Parthiv Patel India

36 E
Kamran Akmal Pakistan

37 E
Tatenda Taibu Zimbabwe

38 F
Albie Morkel South Africa

39 F
Ajit Agarkar India

40 F
Shaun Pollock South Africa

41 F
Irfan Pathan India

42 F
Scott Styris New Zealand

43 F
Farveez Maharoof Sri Lanka

44 F
Tillakeratne Dilshan Sri Lanka

45 F
Cameron White Australia

46 F
Yusuf Pathan India

47 F
Joginder Sharma India

48 G
Ramnaresh Sarwan West Indies

49 G
Simon Katich Australia

50 G
Justin Langer Australia

51 G
Goutam Gambhir India

52 G
Robin Uthappa India

53 G
Shivnarine Chanderpaul West Indies

54 G
Ashwell Prince South Africa

55 G
VVS Laxman India

56 G
Wasim Jaffer India

57 G
Rohit Sharma India

58 G
Loots Bosman South Africa

59 G
Mohammad Kaif India

60 G
Suresh Raina India

61 G
Manoj Tiwary India

62 G
Chamara Silva Sri Lanka

63 G
David Hussey Australia

64 H
Nathan Bracken Australia

65 H
R P Singh India

66 H
Murali Kartik India

67 H
Makhaya Ntini South Africa

68 H
Lasith Malinga Sri Lanka

69 H
Chaminda Vaas Sri Lanka

70 H
Ramesh Powar India

71 H
Umar Gul Pakistan

72 H
Dale Steyn South Africa

73 H
Dilhara Fernando Sri Lanka

74 H
Ishant Sharma India

75 H
Piyush Chawla India

76 H
Munaf Patel India

77 H
Nuwan Zoysa Sri Lanka


England salvage incredible tie

How's brilliant 86-ball hundred took New Zealand desperately close to sealing the series...

Jamie How produced the innings of his life to guide New Zealand to within a single blow of victory in the fourth ODI at Napier, but in the end his 139 from 116 balls was trumped by six balls of nerveless discipline from England's rawest recruit, Luke Wright. His solitary over of the innings - his third in four international matches to date - resulted in six thrifty runs and the game's pivotal dismissal, as England snatched an incredible tie from the jaws of defeat to carry the five-match series into a decider at Christchurch on Saturday.

In any ordinary match, How's masterclass would have won the contest with a yawning chasm to spare. He batted throughout with a Test-class composure, and yet moved to his hundred from a mere 86 balls, cashing in on Napier's short square boundaries with a series of shredding drives and emphatic pulls. England's own efforts with the bat had been impressive - Phil Mustard made a career-best 83 from 74 balls as he added 158 for the first wicket with Alastair Cook, and Paul Collingwood latched onto six leg-side sixes in an England-record 24-ball fifty - but all the while that How was easing New Zealand towards their target, their efforts paled to insignificance.

With seven overs remaining, New Zealand needed a fraction more than a run a ball with seven wickets still standing. It was looking like a done deal - not least because the same team, 12 months previously, had twice chased 340-plus scores to beat the mighty Australians. From Jesse Ryder's pugnacious opening salvo of 39 from 32 balls, via Brendon McCullum's gutsy 58 from 65 and a run-a-ball 48 from Ross Taylor, New Zealand had demonstrated the firepower and the willpower to win. James Anderson bowled a succession of long-hops to concede 61 runs from his first six overs, and England's lack of a specialist fifth bowler was causing an over-reliance on the ineffectual offspin of Owais Shah.

But then, suddenly, something clicked within the England mindset. Scott Styris, on 20 from 17 balls, lashed their best bowler, Ryan Sidebottom, down Anderson's throat at long-on, and one over later, the disastrously out-of-form Peter Fulton ran himself out for a four-ball duck as he chipped and charged to a pumped-up Kevin Pietersen at mid-on. The dangerous Jacob Oram punctured the off-side ring with a fierce drive in the next over, from Stuart Broad, but then picked out Pietersen at short cover with his next shot. Three prime wickets had fallen in consecutive overs, and with 25 needed from 24 balls, a sense of vertigo began to set in for the New Zealanders.

Back came Anderson for his final two-over burst. Suddenly his length was full and menacing, and backed up with a hint of reverse-swing, he conceded a meagre two runs in his ninth over to lift the requirement to a daunting 23 from 18. Though Daniel Vettori connected with a scythe over mid-on, the equation was still fractionally in England's favour when Wright was thrown the ball on a whim by his captain. There was no planning involved in the hunch - England in their desperation had been forced to bowl out their big guns early, but Wright was confident after producing an effective innings of 24 from 13 balls, and it showed.

Phil Mustard: on the rampage.

He did nothing more than bowl six consecutive wicket-to-wicket deliveries, but with no room to swing their arms, New Zealand's batsmen were forced to take on the ground fielders. Pietersen missed by inches from midwicket with How stranded, but one ball later Anderson - who was superb in the field - did not. How had to turn back after Vettori's drive went straight to the man, and he carried on walking as his stumps were pinged down from ten yards.

And so it all came down to the very last ball. Vettori was on strike, although he arguably should not have been there at all, after the third umpire failed to notice that his bat had been in the air during an earlier run-out referral. Wright kept it full and straight once again, and a cramped shot squirted out to point. A direct hit would have given the match to England, but the shy slipped past the stumps and so the spoils were shared. As he left the field, Collingwood admitted he didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but there's little doubt that, after the devastation at Hamilton, England would happily have accepted a win and a tie in their next two games.

England did, however, have their eyes on a bigger prize at the start of today's game, and by the interval, Vettori was doubtless pondering the wisdom of bowling first. England's sizeable total might have been very different had McCullum behind the stumps held onto the simplest of edges off Chris Martin, when Cook had made just 2 from 14 balls. The opportunity, however, went begging, and Cook joined Mustard in England's biggest stand of the series.

The main source of England's mayhem was Mustard, who allied power with patience and even some delicate touch play in his most convincing innings to date. It was the brutality of his cutting and square driving that really caught the eye, and set the tone for the day. Vettori was running out of options as the stand entered the 27th over of the innings, so he tossed the ball to the innocuous seamer, Ryder. But, in a remarkable maiden ODI over, he removed both men in quick succession - Mustard to a flat smack to wide long-on, and Cook to a perfect wicket-to-wicket seamer that nipped through bat and pad to rattle middle stump. Perhaps it was the memory of that intercession that prompted Collingwood's last-ditch gamble. Either way, part-time medium-pacers are the toast of Napier tonight.

Symonds is the newest millionaire

Andrew Symonds became the second-most expensive player in the IPL, as Hyderabad bought him for US$1.35m (his base price being $2,50,000). The others picked in the third round of the bidding include: Brett Lee bought by Mohali for US$9,00,000 (base price: $3,00,000), Brendon McCullum bought by Kolkata for $7,00,000 (base price: $1,75,000), Jacob Oram bought by Chennai for $6,75,000 (base price: $2,00,000), Daniel Vettori bought by Delhi for $6,25,000 (base price: $2,50,000).

Ricky Ponting and Mathew Hayden didn’t draw too much of money, their tour to Pakistan could have had something to do with it. Ponting waw bought by Kolkata for $4,00,000 and Hayden by Chennai for $3,75,000.

Like McGrath and Yousuf, Mike Hussey didn’t find any takers, and will be sent into the reserve pool.

There are four men who have broken the million barrier by now: Dhoni, Symonds (both by the virtue of bid), Yuvraj and Tendulkar (both by the virtue of being the icon player, and getting 15 per cent more than the next best)

Squads as of now:

Jaipur Shane Warne (US$ 450,000)

Chennai MS Dhoni (US$ 1.5 million), Muttiah Muralitharan (US$ 600,00), Matthew Hayden (US$ 375,000), Jacob Oram (US$ 675,000)

Mumbai Sachin Tendulkar (icon), Sanath Jayasuriya (US$ 975,000), Harbhajan Singh (US$ 850,000)

Bangalore Rahul Dravid (icon), Anil Kumble (US$ 500,000)

Hyderabad Adam Gilchrist (US$ 700,000), Andrew Symonds (US$ 1.35 million)

Mohali Yuvraj Singh (icon), Mahela Jayawardene (US$ 475,000), Kumar Sangakkara (US$ 700,000), Brett Lee (US$ 900,000)

Kolkata Sourav Ganguly (icon), Shoaib Akhtar (US$ 425,000), Ricky Ponting (US$ 400,000), Brendon McCullum (US$ 700,000)

Delhi Virender Sehwag (icon), Daniel Vettori (US$ 625,000)

Everything you wanted to know about the Indian Premier League

What is the Indian Premier League?
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a franchise-based Twenty20 competition organised by the BCCI, and it has official sanction since it has the backing of the ICC. It features the world's best cricketers playing - their affiliation decided by open auction - for eight city-based franchises, owned by a host of businessmen and celebrity consortiums. The inaugural edition of the tournament will run from April 18 to June 1.

What are the logistics of the IPL?
The tournament will begin on April 18, when Bangalore take on Kolkata at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. The tournament will feature 59 matches in total, the teams playing each other on a home-and-away basis. Click here for the full list of fixtures.

Why is the IPL generating such a buzz?
Two main reasons why. One the football-club concept of the IPL, which is unlike anything cricket has known. The best players from across the world playing not according to nationality but according to market forces. Second, the sheer financial scale of the IPL is unprecedented at this level of cricket. The BCCI has already made close to US$ 1.75 billion solely from the sale of TV rights ($908 million), promotion ($108 million) and franchises (approximately $700 million). Players are expected to earn close to US$1 million for a three-year contract. It's an entire cricket economy out there.

Who are the top cricketers involved?
There are 77 names in the fray, the top current players: Dhoni, Ponting, Gilchrist, Shoaib Akhtar, Jayawardene, Jayasuriya, Yuvraj, Hayden...The notable absentees are from England, because the IPL will clash with their domestic season, and Australia's Michael Clarke, who opted to focus on his regular cricket.

Who are the franchise owners - celebrities and others?
Mukesh Ambani, the Reliance Industries chairman, acquired the Mumbai franchise for $111.9 million over a 10-year period; beer and airline baron Vijay Mallya, who also owns a Formula 1 team, won the Bangalore franchise for $111.6 million; Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment won the Kolkata franchise for $75 million; the biggest surprise was the Chandigarh franchise, which went to Preity Zinta, another Bollywood star, and Ness Wadia, together with two other industrialists, for $75 million. The winning team will get richer by $3 million if they win the first edition of the tournament.

How are the players paired with teams?
The BCCI will conduct a player auction on February 20, in which the respective franchises can bid for a maximum of eight international players from pool of 89 players who have been contracted to the board. But Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, and Yuvraj Singh are not up for auction as they have been given 'iconic' status by the BCCI - which means that they have to represent the city in which they are based. Another exception to the bidding process is with regard to the Australian players - a clause in the rules of Cricket Australia has meant that each team can select a maximum of two Australians.

Whose idea is the IPL?
The IPL is the brainchild of Lalit Modi, the vice-president of the BCCI, and is modeled along the lines of club football in Europe, specifically the English Premier League. Though there is a school of thought that the idea came about in the 1990s, the announcement that such a tournament would happen, and which it would be a precursor to Twenty20 Champions League, cricket's version of the European Champions League, came only after Subhash Chandra, the owner of Zee Televison said, in April last year, that he was intending to start an unofficial league called the Indian Cricket League, fuelling speculation that is was a reactive idea rather than a proactive one.

How different are the IPL and ICL to each other?
The IPL is an official sanctioned Twenty20 tournament, and unlike the ICL, which is not recognised by any of the national boards or the ICC, it will have a better status, international reach, players, and the requisite infrastructure by default. Since the IPL is sanctioned by the ICC, players don't have the danger of bringing their international/first-class careers to a halt - as is the case with the ICL - whose players have been banned by the various boards. Another major difference is with regard to franchises - the ownership of the team rests with the individual owners and not one single entity.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Australia agree to shorter Pakistan tour

James Sutherland: "This delay will certainly assist us to better assess the post-election situation in Pakistan"...

Australia's tour of Pakistan has been delayed by a month and shortened by 18 days after officials of the two boards met in Kuala Lumpur to thrash out a deal to save the trip. But the players are so concerned about the safety situation in the country, which held elections on Monday, that there are reports individuals may boycott the visit and a second-string side might have to be sent.

Last week the Australian said some players were reluctant to travel to Pakistan and the Herald Sun has quoted an unnamed team source saying: "There is no way the players want to go."

"Nothing has changed," the paper reported a "high-ranking cricket source". "A few weeks isn't going to make much difference here or there. There are a lot of players who will decide not to go. Australia may have to field a second-string side if the tour goes ahead."

The original 48-day itinerary has been culled to 30 and the schedule of three Tests, five one-day internationals and a Twenty20 will be reviewed. Cricket Australia will send a security delegation to Pakistan in early March to assess the venues and security arrangements. A joint statement by the boards said: "Subject to the appropriate security clearance, and by mutual consent, the tour would be compressed and will be played tentatively between March 29 and April 27."

"We were assured that Cricket Australia was committed to touring Pakistan," Shafqat Naghmi, Pakistan's chief operating officer, said after talks in Kuala Lumpur. James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, said Australia "remain committed to tour Pakistan" and " the PCB's preparedness to take a flexible approach to this tour is much appreciated".

"This delay will certainly assist us to better assess the post-election situation in Pakistan," Sutherland said. Last week Pakistan suggested Sri Lanka as an alternative venue if Australia was not content with the security arrangements, and India has also been mentioned as a possible substitute.

All set for action at the auction

The services of some of the world's finest cricketers will be on auction on Wednesday...

Minutes after the clock strikes 11 on Wednesday morning in Mumbai, world cricket will rub its eyes, roll up its sleeves, pull out the calculators, and take its first step into an arena it has never been before - an auction room.

Soon, the first name will be announced, along with the base price. Then, the first paddle will go up with a figure marked on it. The next paddle will follow soon, from another table.

And so the bidding or the first cricketer to play in the Indian Premier League, from a pool of about 78 of them, will begin.

On offer, for a price, are some of the world's finest cricketers, from Ricky Ponting to Shaun Pollock, Chris Gayle to Shoaib Akhtar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni to Muttiah Muralitharan. Eager to buy them are some of India's biggest corporate names, from United Spirits to Reliance Industries, and a couple of the country's brightest faces - Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and leading lady Preity Zinta.

Steered by veteran auctioneer Richard Madley, the "open bidding" will take place behind closed doors inside the Regal Room at the Hilton Towers. About six representatives from each of the eight teams will be seated around separate tables with computer screens to track the action.

Cellphones will be off, and as the tension rises with every paddle, watching the various gameplans unfold could well be former Indian captains Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, icon players for Bangalore and Kolkata, this time taking guard as team advisors. The IPL's organisers expect Ganguly and Dravid to be present at the auction, while three other icon stars - Sachin Tendulkar (Mumbai), Yuvraj Singh (Mohali) and new member Virender Sehwag (Delhi) - will track the action from Australia.

All eyes, though, will be on the money, with bids for top stars set to go into seven figures. "You can expect at least one player, say Adam Gilchrist or Dhoni, to breach the US$1 million mark, which is nearly triple their base price of around $400,000," the CEO of a franchise who will be present at the auction, told Cricinfo. "That is the top bracket. But with eight teams coming to the table with $5 million each, there will be quite some money floating around in that room tomorrow."

At the other end, the two or three players who fail to attract a single bid will be clubbed together and offered to the organisers after the last bid - at a discount, as it were. Owners can then bid below the designated base price for them.

"This is a debut of a different kind for many of us. Most of us have never been in such a situation before," said a former India cricketer who is to assist one of the teams.

No wonder, then, that on Tuesday, the franchise representatives were rushing from one meeting to another, finalising their purchase strategies, and poring over the rule book in the evening with the organisers.

No wonder that at least one of them has decided to "to hit the bed early to be fit and alert" for the open auction that's expected to stretch for over 12 hours, albeit with breaks in between.

No wonder, again, that with the kind of confusion that the first cricket exercise of this kind is expected to generate, there will be one final briefing on Wednesday morning for the team owners.

This is the primer they will follow:

The rules of the auction

  • An open auction, with each franchise allowed to bid any number of times for a player. Each franchise should spend a minimum of $3.3 million, but not more than $5 million.

  • The bid starts with the annual "base player fee" that has already been fixed by the IPL. This base player fee assumes that the player is available for the entire tournament. This fee will be adjusted on a pro-rata basis, depending on the players' availability.

  • The players will be divided into "sets" of approximately 12 each, according to their base player fee, cricketing speciality and expected availability for the opening season. But the bids will start with a set of marquee players like Gilchrist, Dhoni, Ricky Ponting and Chris Gayle. A random draw will decide the order in which players go up on the block.

  • One designated bidder from each franchise will raise a paddle to indicate a bid, with the bid representing the fee per season to be paid by the franchise to the player.

  • No bid can be withdrawn.

  • Bid increments have been fixed at $5000 for bids up to $100,000, $10,000 for bids between $100,000 and $250,000, and $25,000 for bids between $250,000 and $500,000. Increments over the $500,000 mark will be at the auctioneer's discretion.

    The fine print

  • The minimum "percentage availability" for any player included in the auction will be 25 per cent. Thus, even if a player is expected to be either completely unavailable or only available for less than four of the DLF IPL matches in 2008, 25 per cent of the player fee bid for that player in the auction will count against the $5 million purse. For example, the purchase for $400,000 of a player who is expected to be completely unavailable in 2008 will cause a deduction of $100,000 from the franchise's overall $5 million purse.

  • If more than one franchise is interested in signing a particular foreign player from outside the current pool, the IPL's organisers will hold another auction. But Indian players who are not in the pool can be signed at any time.

  • Each franchise can only have up to a maximum of two centrally-contracted Australian players in its squad and/or up to a maximum of two Australian players from each state association.
  • Australia to send security team to Pakistan

    Cricket Australia will send a security team to Pakistan to assess the security of the venues for their proposed tour next month. If the findings allow the tour to go ahead, it will be compressed down from 48 days to 30.

    The decision was made between Cricket Australia (CA) and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in an ICC meeting in Kuala Lumpur today, following Australia's unease over the political upheaval in the country. Last week Pakistan suggested Sri Lanka as an alternative venue, should Australia not be content with the security arrangements, and India has also been mentioned as a possible substitute.

    "I am glad that we had very open and fruitful discussions with CA where we were assured that CA was committed to touring Pakistan," Shafqat Naghmi, Pakistan's chief operating officer, said. James Sutherland, CA's chief executive, said Australia "remain committed to tour Pakistan" while adding that "the delay will certainly assist us to better assess the post-election situation in Pakistan."

    Yuvraj and Dhoni clinch thriller

    Kumar Sangakkara posted his second-highest ODI score but India enjoyed a victory in Adelaide...

    Two months into his Australian holiday, Yuvraj Singh finally showed up for work with a blistering 76 that set up India's chase before Mahendra Singh Dhoni survived a tense finish to guide them to a two-wicket win. The result was particularly disappointing for Kumar Sangakkara, who spent nearly the entire match on the field - much of it batting in 38-degree heat - and posted a gutsy and exhausting 128 as Sri Lanka set India 239 for victory.

    Yuvraj departed with 81 still required and five wickets in hand but the captain Dhoni fought off leg problems, a sore finger and a swallowed fly to see them home. There were some late jitters as Irfan Pathan threw his wicket away, Praveen Kumar was caught hooking and Harbhajan Singh was trapped by Lasith Malinga's inswinging yorker, but Sri Lanka had left their final run too late.

    Dhoni squirted the winning two through the off side with only five balls to spare after the mini-collapse of 3 for 20 caused some nervous moments. But Dhoni, who earlier this tour berated his batsmen for forgetting their roles, judged his innings perfectly and took no risks as he ran all 50 of his runs with no boundaries.

    It was an impressive result for India, who had crashed to 3 for 35 after their chase began with a searing, near-perfect 144kph outswinger from Malinga that clipped the top of Sachin Tendulkar's off stump. But Yuvraj turned things around and he was so fluent it was hard to believe he was the same man who started his Australian trip with a dissent charge in the Boxing Day Test and suffered a downhill slide after that. He struck ten fours and a massive six over midwicket, and there was no safe place to bowl to him.

    A couple of superbly-timed cover-driven boundaries were accompanied by some classy whips through the leg side and a cracking lofted drive over mid-off when Farveez Maharoof overpitched. Not even a change of bats slowed his progress; the first ball with his new weapon was square-cut ferociously for four.

    But as incongruous as this innings was in the context of Yuvraj's tour, his dismissal was just as unexpected given the batting masterclass he was delivering. Chaminda Vaas had only just replaced Maharoof, who was leaking runs, when he angled in a yorker that crashed into the stumps and nobody looked more surprised than Yuvraj. However, he made more runs in one innings than in all his Test and ODI efforts of the past two months combined and despite the late wobbles, India completed the triumph.

    Sangakkara was, not surprisingly, disappointed following his heroics. Unlike Yuvraj, Sangakkara has hinted throughout the CB Series that something special was coming. He came in three balls into Sri Lanka's innings and was out from the final ball of the 49th over, by which time his body seemed about ready to pack it in.

    During the last few overs, following most runs down the pitch he was crouching to catch his breath, knowing he had 50 overs of wicketkeeping ahead of him. His fatigue was understandable; until a late blitz brought Sri Lanka 61 in the final eight overs Sangakkara had pushed within reach of his century with only five boundaries, which meant an awful lot of running.

    He was so intent on building a solid platform that when he swept a four off Harbhajan Singh in the 36th over it was his first boundary in 21 overs. Eventually he became more aggressive and lifted his run-rate to finish with 12 fours from his 155 deliveries as he posted his second-highest ODI score - his top three have all come against India.

    Not only was Sangakkara the man who rebuilt Sri Lanka's innings, he was also the person India had to thank for two important wickets. Playing straight is generally regarded as a sound batting policy but Sangakkara must have been tempted to switch to cross-batted slogs after his straight-drives caused the run-outs of Mahela Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya.

    Jayawardene had combined with Sangakkara for a 153-run partnership and a race to triple-figures was on the cards when a drive clipped the fingers of Praveen Kumar and ricocheted onto the stumps, finding Jayawardene short on 71. The previous wicket had fallen the same way - Sangakkara's straight shot glanced off Munaf's hand and a half-asleep Jayasuriya was dawdling out of his crease.

    Fortunately for Sri Lanka, there were 35 overs between those second and third wickets as India failed to capitalise on their strong start after they had Sri Lanka at 2 for 6 in the third over. After Sangakkara's Man-of-the-Match effort it seemed Sri Lanka's shaky start had not hurt them, but their slow consolidation ensured India's target was thoroughly gettable on an Adelaide pitch that did not worry the batsmen and Dhoni's men moved one step closer to the CB Series finals.