Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pakistan coast to victory despite Shakib

Shakib Al Hasan scored more than half his team's runs, but it still wasn't enough...

Shakib Al Hasan tried his best to lift Bangladesh, but his single-handed efforts - 108 and 1 for 34 - couldn't inspire an otherwise woeful team as Pakistan equalled their most successful streak in ODIs, winning their tenth in a row to take a 4-0 lead in the five-match series. Shakib's innings lifted Bangladesh from a dire 109 for 8 to a respectable 210, but Pakistan's top order barely broke a bead of sweat in knocking off the runs, achieving the target with seven wickets and 5.3 overs to spare.

Shakib gave Bangladesh a fighting chance, but the game was settled when Butt and Akmal blitzed 97 for the first wicket in less than 17 overs. Both had scored hundreds in the previous game, and the good form showed as both oozed confidence, caressing fours through the off side and flicking wristily to the midwicket and square-leg boundaries whenever the bowlers erred even marginally.

Bangladesh had one opportunity to break the stand before it had reached dangerous proportions, but Mahmudullah made a mess of a chance at extra cover when Butt drove airily at Shahadat Hossain. Butt had made 16 in a total of 25, and he made Bangladesh - and Hossain - pay dearly in his next over, creaming three glorious drives through the off side, two of which found the boundary. Akmal then joined the party, flicking the last ball of that over - which leaked 15 - for four, and then belting Mashrafe Mortaza for two more fours. Fifteen more came off that over, and after nine, Pakistan had sped to 65.

Mohammad Ashraful was forced to turn to spin in the tenth over, and while the slow bowlers reduced the boundaries, both openers milked singles and twos, with the occasional boundary ensuring that the run-rate stayed above a run a ball. Akmal lofted Shakib over long-on for the first six of the match in the 13th over, but fell while trying to repeat the stroke four overs later.

The arrival of Bazid Khan significantly slowed the scoring-rate, as he struggled to get the ball off the square against the slow bowlers, giving Bangladesh a chance to regroup. His first 23 deliveries fetched just two runs, and also led to Butt losing his patience and his wicket, dashing down the pitch for a non-existent single.

The excitement for the crowd dried up as Mohammad Yousuf joined Bazid - there was a 67-ball boundary-drought at one stage - but Bazid finally broke the shackles in emphatic fashion, blasting Mahmudullah over midwicket for six, and gradually grew in confidence thereafter. Yousuf, meanwhile, played a typically fluent innings, guiding the ball into the gaps, cutting and flicking with characteristic elegance, and scoring at a fair clip despite the lack of fours and sixes. The asking-rate was always within control, and the result was a foregone conclusion long before Yousuf swept Abdur Razzak to seal the deal.

That Pakistan required 44.3 overs with the bat was itself a surprise, for at one stage it appeared the game would be over before the artificial lights came into play. After winning the toss on a hot and sunny afternoon, and on what looked like a flat pitch, Bangladesh made a complete hash of ideal batting conditions. Umar Gul struck twice in his first over, inducing edges from Junaid Siddique and Aftab Ahmed, while Mohammad Asif - playing his first international match in nearly six months - had Tamim Iqbal cutting straight to point. Ten for 3 became an even more depressing 16 for 4 soon after Shakib walked in, as Mohammad Ashraful became another victim of Gul's nagging line around off.

Shakib, coming off a fine 75 in the third ODI in Lahore, continued from where he had left off, gauging the pace of the pitch in a trice. Gul was cut and pulled for two fours in three balls while Asif was creamed through the covers.

Through the early part of his innings, though, it seemed his resistance would just be a minor irritant for a marauding Pakistan, as they knifed through the rest of the batting. Sohail Khan helped himself to a couple of wickets, while Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik took a wicket apiece as well.

Mortaza, though, turned out to be an excellent foil for Shakib. Where other top-order batsmen had thrown it away, Mortaza showed fine temperament, turning the strike over and allowing Shakib the luxury of a solid partner. The first signs of a significant partnership came when Gul returned for a second spell. Shakib pulled him crisply and then struck him through extra cover in the same over - the 33rd - scoring 12 off it, the most expensive of the innings. Fawad Alam's harmless left-arm spin was milked away for ones and twos, while Malik's offspin met a similar fate as well. Never hurried in attack or defence, Shakib finally got to a richly deserved hundred in the 47th over, and the 97 he added with Mortaza was the highest ninth-wicket stand for Bangladesh in ODIs. That incredible rearguard effort gave Bangladesh some hope; sadly for them, though, Pakistan's top order showed just how badly Bangladesh had bungled earlier in the afternoon.

Pakistan v Bangladesh, 4th ODI, Multan

Indian Cricket League seeks ICC recognition

Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, has been approached by the ICL in their quest for recognition...

The Indian Cricket League (ICL) has written a letter to the ICC seeking recognition for their Twenty20 league and asking why they continue to be labelled as 'unsanctioned' or 'unofficial' by the BCCI.

While Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, confirmed that the letter had been received, Himanshu Mody, the ICL's business head, said that they have also sought a meeting on the issue. Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, however, maintained that "any tournament which is not recognised by the member body can't be recognised by the ICC."

"We want to know why they [the BCCI] keep calling us 'unofficial', we want to find the reason behind it," Mody told Cricinfo. "We have requested the ICC for a meeting on the issue. So far, we haven't got a response from the ICC. Hopefully, we will get a reply soon."

Speed told reporters in Mumbai that the ICC's lawyers were studying the ICL's application and the official stand will become clear in a week. Speed, who was in Mumbai to felicitate the captains of Australia, South Africa and India for their accomplishments in the ICC events in the last calendar year, said this was the first time the "question" was asked.

Pointing out it wasn't a simple, open-and-shut case, Speed said: "There are two parts to that. Until recently, the ICL had never sought recognition from the ICC, so it never asked the question. About 10 days ago, lawyers acting on behalf of ICL contacted ICC and sought recognition from the ICC."

Asked if the ICC was backing the BCCI on this issue, Speed said there was never a written statement from the Indian board on not granting official status to the ICL. "The BCCI has never sent anything in writing to the ICC terming the ICL as 'unsanctioned' or [that] they don't recognise it," Speed said.

"We are awaiting advice from our lawyers on that issue and I expect [that] within the next week or so, we'll respond to the ICL lawyers. The question has never been asked, whether ICC will recognise ICL one way or another. It's a fairly complicated legal issue and we are taking legal advice," Speed said.

Speed also said that it was not the ICC's concern if the any ICL player was allowed to play in his own country's domestic competition. Recently, Mervyn Dillon, the former West Indies bowler who had played in the ICL last year, returned to the Caribbean to play in the domestic competition. "That's the matter for those countries to work out - whether they want to have those players back. It might become clearer when we get final legal advice and there's dialogue with the ICL" Speed said.

New ICC panel to pick Elite umpires

Malcolm Speed: "The umpires on the Elite Panel are chosen as the best umpires, with each country nominating two umpires to the international panel and these umpires are chosen to umpire Tests and ODIs"...

With umpiring standards recently coming under the scanner in several countries, the ICC has responded by appointing a new panel to pick and evaluate the international and Elite umpires. Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, said the old procedure, where he and Sunil Gavaskar, ICC's cricket committee chairman, picked up the umpires, would now be scrapped.

"The pair will now be replaced by a new four-member panel consisting of David Richardson, ICC general manger of cricket, Ranjan Madugalle, chief referee, David Lloyd, former England coach and a commentator and S Venkataraghavan, former Indian captain and umpire", Speed said in Mumbai.

The ICC will also now be expanding the Elite Panel's strength by adding two new members to the existing 10.

The new selection process, Speed said, would give equal opportunities to umpires from various member countries.

"The umpires on the Elite Panel are chosen as the best umpires, with each country nominating two umpires to the international panel and these umpires are chosen to umpire Tests and ODIs. So the two Indian umpires who come on to the international panel they will be considered along with the rest for inclusion in the Elite Panel."

Meanwhile Speed once again reiterated that the ICC had left the decision to Gavaskar on whether he wanted to continue heading the ICC cricket committee and stop writing his syndicated columns. Last year, Gavaskar was appointed for a three-year term as the chairman of the cricket committee. But the ICC board is now concerned about his role as a commentator and journalist and it has decided that the chairman should be a non-practising journalist.

"I've explained that carefully to Sunny who accepts that and after the cricket committee meeting he will choose [whether] to continue as chairman or as a journalist.

"There are no guidelines at the moment but he has been the chairman for a long time. It hasn't been an issue up until now, but it's become an issue and the decision has been made. It's sensible that the chairman of the committee is not a journalist and not commenting on issues that involve other employees or consultants of ICC."


IPL seeks meeting with news broadcasters

News channels want more match coverage passes for their crews...

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has sought a meeting with the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) after the umbrella body for major national news channels decided to put its coverage of the IPL on hold from Tuesday midnight until there is a resolution to problems related to coverage it had raised with league officials.

"The IPL officials have asked for a meeting to discuss the issue and we are doing that late on Wednesday night," Chintamani Rao, the spokesman for NBA, told Cricinfo.

Rao, the chief executive of Times Now channel, said two main issues need to be addressed by the IPL and they relate to accreditation guidelines and access to footage. "Unless practical considerations are taken care of, it's not possible for us to cover the IPL," he said.

It's understood that the channels are unhappy about the exorbitant rates that are being charged for news clips and also the stipulation that footage can't be used in archival form. They also want more match coverage passes for their crew after the IPL specified on Tuesday that only one pair [journalist and cameraman] representing an electronic media group would be given accreditation at each venue for the Twenty20 tournament starting April 18.

"The fundamental issue is that our relationship with the event organisers is naturally symbiotic," Rao said. "The sporting event needs TV coverage; it's not as if we live off sporting events. It's not as if TV channels are hungry for coverage. The event owners should be hungry for coverage. I don't see how the IPL and its sponsors can get proper value if they don't get TV coverage. We are not doing anybody any favours."

A statement released by the NBA on Tuesday night said it sought clarifications from the IPL but, instead of receiving a response from either Lalit Modi, the IPL's chairman and commissioner, or any of the other members of the IPL's governing council, it instead received a reply from an official of the Sony Network, which along with World Sports Group had bought the TV rights for the IPL.

The sporting event needs TV coverage; it's not as if we live off sporting events. It's not as if TV channels are hungry for coverage. The event owners should be hungry for coverage.
NBA spokesman

The statement said the NBA's questions didn't fetch a satisfactory response as Sony was "not in a position to discuss matters other than access to footage, and that any offer Sony could make in that regard was limited within the framework of its contract with IPL."

"As Sony was by its own admission neither authorised nor competent to deal with the subject comprehensively, and moreover may reasonably be assumed to have a direct conflict of interest in extending use rights to television news channels, it is unacceptable to us to deal with them in this matter," the NBA said.

The NBA, based in New Delhi, includes leading the news broadcasters such as TV Today, NDTV, Times Global Broadcasting Company, TV18, Global Broadcast News Limited and Zee News.

Indian Premeir League

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rain curtails West Indies chase

Denesh Ramdin brilliantly stumps Sri Lanka's top scorer Mahela Udawatte for 73...

A series of increasingly heavy showers caused the third and final ODI in St Lucia to be abandoned, leaving West Indies 2-0 winners of a series which started with a thriller but ended in a damp squib.

There had been one shower much earlier in the day, but a brief downpour sent everyone scurrying from the field with West Indies trundling along and only ten balls needed for Duckworth-Lewis calculations to come into play. The mopping up was almost complete when a second squall brought the tarpaulins back, and soon after a third cloudburst was heavy enough to empty the stands and bring an early end to the night.

The shame was the game was bubbling up nicely with West Indies on 81 for 2 chasing 258 for a series whitewash. Sewnarine Chattergoon's breezy 46 had got the innings off to a rattling start but Sri Lanka were nevertheless in the box seat as on a lifeless pitch with variable bounce, their slow bowlers would have been desperately hard to get away, much as Chris Gayle had been earlier in the day. West Indies would have been further hampered by Gayle's absence, a passenger after limping off with a groin strain shortly after finishing his bowling stint.

Sri Lanka had done well to reach 257 for 8 after a poor start, fifties from 21-year-old opener Mahela Udawatte and Tillakaratne Dilshan reviving what had seemed set to be a rather moribund effort.

On an outfield slowed down by the first shower, Sri Lanka, who were stuck in by Gayle, struggled to time their shots during the three back-to-back Powerplays, and when they slid to 44 for 3 after 12 overs, a below-par score seemed on the cards.

The loss of Kumar Sangakkara, perishing to a leading edge in the second over, set the innings back on its heels, and it stuttered along until the crowd were woken by a brilliant juggling catch by Daren Powell at short fine-leg, stretching high above his head to parry a flick from Mahela Jayawardene up before twisting to clutch the rebound behind him as he fell. Ten balls later and Sri Lanka's problems grew when Chamara Silva was tamely strangled down the leg side by Powell.

Udawatte and Chamara Kapugedera regrouped before finally showing attacking intent, the highlight being a sweetly-timed swish by Udawatte, in only his third ODI, a dozen rows back over midwicket.

An almost full house in St Lucia...

If Sri Lanka were not firing on all four cylinders then neither were West Indies, whose groundfielding, not helped by the damp and slippery surface, was mediocre. They were grateful to the no-frills offspin of Gayle, who took 2 for 41 in his ten overs and never allowed the batsmen to get on top in the middle overs. He removed Kapugedera, chipping lamely back after being frustrated into an indiscretion, and the impressive Udawatte, well stumped off a leg-side wide.

The platform laid, Dilshan and Kaushalya Weeraratne then began to cut loose in a spirited sixth-wicket stand of 79 in 9.2 overs, initially pushing singles with Dilshan not hitting his first boundary until he was in his forties - there was a 15-over spell midway through without a four or a six. But so well did they find spaces that the rate chugged along, and then rose as the boundaries came in a frantic final ten overs.

The inevitable late flurry of wickets came too late to stem the flow, and the lively and loud crowd seemed set to be rewarded with an entertaining second half of the evening. As it was, they went home damp and disappointed.

West Indies v Sri Lanka, 3rd ODI, St Lucia

Bangladesh gear up for Asif attack

Mohammad Asif: set for a comeback after a six-month break...

Match facts

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 Start time 15:00 local time (10:00 GMT)

The Big Picture

Bangladesh have yet to win a match, let alone a series, in Pakistan. Their previous trip was a 5-0 sweep and with their captain, Mohammad Ashraful, short of runs and under severe criticism from certain quarters, are struggling to compete. The third ODI in Lahore was the most competitive match so far but Bangladesh still don't look like pulling one off.

'Powerless in Multan' screamed a headline in a national daily after power-cuts across the city prompted riots but the situation is unlikely to affect the fourth ODI. While Bangladesh have plenty to look forward to in this series, Pakistan will want to continue their dominance and not give up the winning habit.

Form guide - Pakistan

Last five matches - WWWWW

Player to watch: Mohammad Asif's return may spell more trouble for Bangladesh, given his expertise with swing and seam. An elbow injury kept him out of the side for six months but he's recovered just in time for the final two games. He made a comeback to competitive cricket last week, bowling in a domestic limited-overs match in Karachi, and could well be a potent threat to Bangladesh's trigger-happy batsmen.

Form guide - Bangladesh

Last five matches - WWLLL

Player to watch: Shakib Al Hasan's plucky 75 in the previous game did plenty to prove Bangladesh aren't a total walkover. Batting with the lower order, he kept strike with some excellent running and though his shots weren't always pretty, he kept Bangladesh in the hunt chasing a big total. His handling of the quicks was superb as was his ability to score at a healthy rate. His bowling too was handy, and two wickets checked what looked a massive total. Definitely the bright spot from Bangladesh's brief stay in Lahore.

Team news

Asif's return could mean a rest for Rao Iftikhar Anjum but Pakistan are likely to stick to the batting line-up that amassed 309 in Lahore. Naumanullah, recently included at the expense of the injured Nasir Jamshed, might have to wait his chance with Bazid Khan being given another opportunity in Multan. Shahriar Nafees will struggle to keep his spot, after a poor series, and could be replaced by Junaid Siddique or Nazimuddin.

Pakistan (likely) 1 Salman Butt, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Bazid Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Shoaib Malik (capt), 6 Misbah-ul-Haq, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Kamran Akmal (wk), 9 Rao Iftikhar, 10 Sohail Khan, 11 Sohail Tanvir

Bangladesh (likely) 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Shahriar Nafees, 3 Aftab Ahmed, 4 Mohammad Ashraful (capt), 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Mahmudullah, 7 Mashrafe Mortaza, 8 Farhad Reza, 9 Dhiman Ghosh (wk), 10 Syed Rasel, 11 Abdur Razzak

Pitch and conditions

Rains lashed down on Monday, adding more confusion to the electricity situation, and showers are forecast for the match day too. The pitch in Multan is usually brown and flat and one could expect another run-feast if the match goes to conclusion.

Stats and trivia

  • In the four day-night matches so far the team batting second has won on three occasions.

  • Pakistan haven't enjoyed major home advantage at this ground - winning three matches and losing as many.


    "I have said it before, I like this combination of Akmal and Butt opening and they showed it in the last game. We will stick to this one."
    Shoaib Malik

  • Pakistan v Bangladesh, 4th ODI, Multan

    Bindra warns England players

    IS Bindra: "We would love to see them [England players] as part of the league. Other than the English players, we have all 70 to 80 of the top ICC-ranked players"...

    England players have been warned by the Indian Premier League (IPL) not to take drastic measures in order to take part in the competition which starts later this week.

    The players centrally contracted by the ECB have not been allowed to participate in the IPL, and IS Bindra, a member of the IPL's governing council, and the ICC's principal advisor-in-waiting, indicated they would not be in favour of players rejecting their England contracts to play in the IPL.

    "That solution is not acceptable to us," Bindra told BBC Sport. "We will not have any player revolting against their establishment and becoming part of the IPL."

    Bindra's comments come at a time when England's players have expressed their desire to take part in the league at some stage, including England's Test captain Michael Vaughan and batsman Kevin Pietersen. "I've heard so many people say that all the best players are in the world are there and you want to go and play in it," Vaughan said. "So I think we're all naive if we don't think that England players are going to end up playing in the IPL."

    Dougie Brown, the chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Association, had also suggested the majority of England's leading Test players might be lost to the Indian Premier League if the ECB doesn't compromise on its current stand.

    Bindra said the IPL will try to reach a solution with the England board, whose chief Giles Clarke has clearly stated that centrally-contracted players will be allowed to take part in the IPL. "We don't want to be a rebel league, we want to be part of the system with the support of the ECB," Bindra said. "We are looking forward to meeting Giles Clarke and other members of the ECB during the inauguration in Bangalore."

    At present, the only English player participating in the IPL is Dimitri Mascarenhas, who's not contracted by the board.

    Bindra indicated the IPL could tweak its schedule in order to fit in England players, and was hoping that there would be a place for the league in the international calendar. "We can make adjustments, we can postpone our league by a couple of weeks," he said. "If we can find a solution, it will be in the interests of everyone involved, including the players.

    "The ICC have said they will try and find if they can find a permanent slot for the IPL. That will make it a lot easier for the players to know what the calendar is, what the options are. It will facilitate everyone going forward."

    He said the IPL would love to have players such as Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff in its ranks. "People in India love icon players, and they are certainly among the best eight or ten players in the world," he said. "We would love to see them as part of the league. Other than the English players, we have all 70 to 80 of the top ICC-ranked players."

    Bindra also hailed the ECB's idea to start an English Premier League, an English version of the IPL. "It's a good news and I think it would be great if all the countries start their own Twenty20 league," he told reporters in Delhi. "Before we launched the IPL and the Champions League, the idea was to have separate league in each country. Now that England is planning one, I think this would make the Champions League [scheduled for October] more interesting and competitive," he said.

    The Champions Twenty20 League is expected to feature the top teams from the domestic Twenty20 tournaments in India, South Africa, England and Australia.

    Indian Premier League

    Age no barrier for Twenty20 success - Boucher

    'We (Royal Challengers) have got a few tricks up our sleeve' - Boucher...

    Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, South Africa's top stars in the Indian Premier League, feel that age and their reputation as Test players will not be a barrier when they enter the field for the Bangalore Royal Challengers in the Twenty20 tournament starting April 18.

    "We have done it throughout our career, adjusting to Test cricket, one-day cricket and Twenty20 cricket," the 32-year-old Kallis said in Bangalore three days ahead of their inaugural home game against Kolkata Knight Riders. "So the players are used to it, it is a different mindset. It is probably easier to go from Test cricket to one-day cricket than it is the other way around. We are looking forward to some exciting cricket."

    Shaun Pollock, a former team-mate of Boucher and Kallis playing for the Mumbai Indians, also indicated age was not a barrier by stating the IPL had come as a boon for players close to retirement. "It does give another avenue for the older guys who can just get through the shorter version of the game to continue and extend their career," the allrounder, who recently retired from international cricket, pointed out.

    "We have got a few tricks up our sleeve," Boucher, 31, said. "We have got a side that on paper has a lot of good Test players but that's a bonus. If you can play Test cricket, you can play any form of the game. It's just a matter of mindset. If you look at those players called Test players, they have also played some unbelievable innings in one day cricket for their countries. I would rather have a couple of guys who can see off the new ball and post a competitive total than have guys who can smack the ball out of the park and also get out."

    The Royal Challengers had bought Kallis for US$ 900,000 and Boucher for US$450,000 during the players' auction in February. Both played the three-Test series in India that ended on Sunday and were cleared to play for the IPL after they were dropped from their domestic teams for the Standard Bank Pro20 tournament in South Africa.

    "Obviously, it was a tough couple of weeks playing Test matches, and then we were told that we were going home and now we are staying," Kallis said. "Eventually, the board [Cricket South Africa] released us from our franchises back home. Probably there are six to seven guys who play for our franchise back home, the Cape Cobras. And instead of keeping all the internationals back home, they have released Mark and myself. Therefore we are now part of the IPL contract which allows us to play here."

    When asked whether the ICC should find space for the IPL in the international calendar, Boucher said, "We do play a lot of cricket these days. May be the way forward is to go ahead with the IPL and cut down the number of one-dayers we play every year. But ultimately the fans will decide and Twenty20 does create the finance for the ICC."

    Boucher and Kallis have had discussions on the 44-day-long tournament with Rahul Dravid, their IPL captain, and said they were excited by the opportunity.

    "We spoke to Venkatesh Prasad [the coach of Royal Challengers] the other day and spoke to Rahul last night," Boucher said. "It is difficult to discuss things when we guys are competing with each other in a Test series. So we kept it formal on the field but now the chats are going on and it is exciting."

    Boucher is also looking forward to meeting Virat Kohli, his team-mate and captain of India's Under-19 World Cup-winning team. "It would be nice to talk to him and may be share a few whispers about his success against South Africa in the Under-19 World Cup."

    Monday, April 14, 2008

    Senate committee says Shoaib appeal process to continue

    Shoaib Akhtar attends a sitting of the Pakistan senate committee on sports...

    The Pakistan senate committee on sports has decided the process for Shoaib Akhtar's appeal regarding his five-year ban should continue and that the appellate tribunal should be allowed to take its decision independently. Last week the Pakistan board had appointed a three-man tribunal, headed by a retired High Court judge, to look in to Shoaib's appeal.

    Enver Ali Beg, a senate committee member, criticised the board for imposing the ban and called for a revamp of the cricket administration that handed down the punishment.

    "We have analysed the charges on Shoaib and [are] criticising the PCB," said Beg after the committee meeting today. "[It] was not as big a crime that he was banned for five years.

    "The committee called up officials of the PCB and Shoaib and the meeting lasted for three hours and we feel that some people have settled their scores by banning Shoaib."

    Shoaib said he hoped the appellate tribunal would do justice to his appeal and that Senate committee would take up the matter in his support.

    On April 1 the board banned Shoaib from playing cricket, for and in Pakistan, for violating the players' code of conduct. Shoaib filed an appeal against the ban and lashed out at the PCB saying he was being "victimised".

    On one news channel he alleged that the ban was punishment in return for refusing to give the PCB chairman, Nasim Ashraf, a share of his salary from the Indian Premier League. This claim prompted Ashraf to issue a legal notice seeking damages worth US$1.6 million for defamation. Shoaib also said he had been approached by individuals to underperform during the team's tour to India and South Africa, offers which he refused.

    Sunday, April 13, 2008

    Akmal and Butt set up 23-run victory

    Kamran Akmal made his first fifty-plus score since May 2007 a special effort, and that helped seal the series win...

    A total of 309, disappointing given that Pakistan had been 151 for 0 in the 23rd over, ultimately proved sufficient as they wrapped up the series with a 23-run win over Bangladesh. The bulk of the total came from centurions Kamran Akmal and Salman Butt, one trailblazing and the other smoothing over some middle-order cracks.

    Tamim Iqbal and Aftab Ahmed's sparkling approach to a daunting target and Shakib Al Hasan's 75 with the lower order kept visions of a memorable chase under satisfactory lights at the Gaddafi Stadium flickering but it all proved a bit quixotic as Shahid Afridi snapped up two wickets in the 46th over to end their hopes.

    Promoted to open in the absence of an injured Nasir Jamshed, Akmal teed off with a manic 81-ball 100 before Butt rounded off with a more measured and career-best 132. From 17 in seven overs Pakistan went to 51 from ten and after the completion of the Powerplays they were 132, thanks largely to Akmal's belligerence. Given lives on 1 and 19 he revved up the pace after a watchful start with a three consecutive fours in the eighth over.

    He took a particular liking to Abdur Razzak, making room to cut square off the pitch repeatedly as he reached fifty off 43 balls. Razzak continued to struggle for length and with no assistance from the surface Akmal milked runs. His timing only improved as he trained his attention towards Farhad Reza, smacking three fours in one over. A fourth hundred came shortly afterwards and was raucously cheered by a sparse crowd - 70 runs had come in boundaries - but Akmal remained on 100. Backing away once too many in an attempt to steer spin away cheekily, he was bowled by Mahmudullah. It was his first score of fifty or more in just shy of a year.

    Pakistan's total should have been sizably larger but Bangladesh pulled matters back superbly with three more wickets in six overs. Butt stuck around to ensure a superb platform wasn't entirely squandered, scoring his fifth ODI hundred and first against anyone but India. Butt has often stepped on the accelerator early in his innings but today he kept up one end tightly. His shots remained positive while his footwork minimal and it paid off on a track without much spin. There were few boundaries along the way but Butt scored at a healthy clip and eased to his hundred.

    Here Bangladesh, through their pace bowlers, hit back again to limit the damage in the last ten overs efficiently with four wickets for 72 runs, Pakistan basically crawling past 300. Tamim and Aftab shrugged off a watchful first few overs, during which Pakistan drew first blood with the wicket of Shahriar Nafees, to add 90 in 13 overs. Tamim's shots were almost all power and beauty and no crude hoicks. The two Sohails, Tanvir and Khan, didn't allow any free runs with the new ball and Tamim made room to carve the ball through extra cover or drill it straight. His driving was especially eye-pleasing as he kept the run rate at bay and his fifty came up from 52 balls.

    However, a bullet piece of fielding from Fawab Alam at third man cut Tamim short on 63 and Aftab's repeated attempts at reverse-sweeping proved his downfall after a perky 42, with Akmal holding onto a simple catch. Mohammad Ashraful succeeded in running himself out for 16 and it left much for Shakib and the lower order to do under a burgeoning run rate. They didn't throw in the towel, refreshingly. With ten overs to go, 103 needed, and six wickets in hands Bangladesh had a sniff as Shakib and Mahmudullah (24) combined for to add 59.

    Shakib top-scored with a plucky 75 that limited the margin of defeat, highlighted by some fine inside-out shots against Alam and some great running. It helped Bangladesh past their previous best against Pakistan, 245, but as the asking rate kissed 13 a truly fine knock came to an end with a paddle against Afridi, whose double-wicket over properly ended the chase. Mortaza and Dhiman Ghosh took 19 off the 47th over from Iftikhar Anjum to rattle Pakistan a bit and Bangladesh's 285 was their best against quality opposition. Sadly, the series's most compelling match was watched by a threadbare crowd. With two games to go the hosts may well ring in some changes with bigger challenges to come this season.

    Pakistan v Bangladesh, 3rd ODI, Lahore

    India sweep to eight-wicket win to level series

    Virender Sehwag struck two vital blows, removing Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis in quick succession to help India bowl out South Africa for a paltry total...

    A match which hung in the balance after two days had a swift and incredible denouement on the third as India swept to a eight-wicket win to level the series 1-1. Ahead by just 23 with one wicket in hand when play began, India stretched their lead to 60, and then made full use of a wearing pitch, bundling South Africa out for a meagre 121. The rest was a cinch.

    Either team could have won the game when the day started, but India were the side that won every session today, and convincingly. Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma lasted almost an hour in the morning, mixing solid defence with bold strokes in putting together India's second-highest last-wicket stand against South Africa. Both had several moments of good fortune: the edges eluded the slips, Sreesanth was caught off a no-ball while Ishant got away with a plumb lbw shout. That partnership ended up having a huge impact on the rest of the game - while the South Africans were suddenly up against a significant first-innings deficit on a crumbling pitch, the Indians were buoyed by that unexpected bounty, and rode on that momentum.

    The pitched seemed to have eased up slightly through the first hour today, but when the Indians took the field, there was plenty of variable bounce to exploit. Harbhajan Singh started proceedings - the first time he bowled the first over in a Test innings - and while that move didn't pay off immediately, he snared Hashim Alma in his seventh over, as Wasim Jaffer hung on to a bat-pad chance. By then South Africa had already lost Neil McKenzie, trapped in front when he missed a pull to one that kept low, and at 27 for 2 at lunch there was no doubt about which team had dominated the morning session.

    Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, South Africa's two most experienced batsmen, then put together a stubborn partnership of 38. The spiteful pitch tested both - Kallis was struck on the glove by one from Ishant Sharma which reared off a good length, while Smith was troubled by Harbhajan's round-the-wicket line. Both, though, stood firm, concentrating hard and not letting the jaffas bother them. Kallis struck just one four in his 45-ball stay, but that was an emphatic blow - a flick off Sreesanth, standing tall with front leg in the air. The introduction of Piyush Chawla eased the pressure on the batsmen as well, as Smith drove and swept him for fours.

    The momentum seemed to be shifting, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to Sehwag, and the move turned out to be a masterstroke. Sehwag's first ball kicked up spitefully, took the edge of Kallis' bat, and went straight to Jaffer at short leg. Four overs later, there was more to celebrate for India as Smith was bowled by a full delivery which pitched outside leg and spun back sharply to strike the stumps.

    The last-wicket stand of 46 between Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma turned out to be extremely crucial at the end...

    Those two wickets broke South Africa's resistance, and after tea there was a procession of wickets as six went down for 33 in 16.5 overs. With Chawla turning out to be such a disappointment, Dhoni relied on Harbhajan, Sehwag and Ishant, and the three combined superbly. Ishant angled it in from outside off, pitching it on a good length and allowing the uncertain bounce to do the rest, while Sehwag cleverly bowled at a quicker pace on the slow track, which gave the batsmen little to react to the extra bounce. After his two wickets had given India a sniff, Harbhajan took over.

    Getting plenty of turn and disconcerting bounce, he forced AB de Villiers to glove a catch to VVS Laxman at backward short leg. Yuvraj Singh then muffed an easy run-out chance, when both Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher were stranded at the non-striker's end, but that error cost India just two runs, as Ishant dug in a short one which kissed Boucher's glove on the way to Dhoni.

    By now with the pitch playing plenty of tricks, South Africa's tail had no chance. Morne Morkel was defeated by one which kept low and crashed into off stump, Paul Harris' defensive prod was snaffled up at slip, while Dale Steyn fell in the desperate attempt for quick runs. Prince batted through the fall of wickets at the other end, and finally got his first four off his 70th delivery, but that was the last hurrah for South Africa, as Sehwag, quite fittingly, ended the innings by nailing Ntini.

    Faced with a target of 62, India raced to victory in just 13.1 overs. Sehwag creamed Harris for two successive sixes to threaten an earlier finish, but then fell next ball. Jaffer was trapped by an indipper from Morkel, but those were mere crumbs for a South African side which failed to negotiate their final test in India after having done so well through the rest of the tour.

    India v South Africa, 3rd Test, Kanpur, 3rd day