Saturday, May 24, 2008

Karthik fifty gives Delhi a life

Dinesh Karthik made a match-winning 56 to keep the Delhi Daredevils alive in the IPL...

Dinesh Karthik and the Delhi Daredevils' misfiring middle order came good when it mattered to clinch a thrilling five-wicket victory and keep their semi-finals hopes alive. Coming in with the team wobbling at 89 for 4, Karthik blitzed a classy 32-ball 56 to take Delhi past the Mumbai Indians' 176 with one ball to spare.

Mumbai are three points behind Delhi and two behind the Chennai Super Kings, who have a game against the lowly Deccan Chargers, and may need to win both their remaining matches, including a tough one away against table-topping Rajasthan Royals, to make it to the final four.

After Dwayne Smith took two-in-two in the eleventh over to put Mumbai on top, Karthik and Manoj Tiwary kept Delhi afloat with a 41-run stand. Karthik, using his feet to disconcert the slower bowlers, was the aggressor - he carved Smith past mid-off for four and then paddle-scooped him past short fine leg for another and then carted a Jaysuriya full toss into the crowd behind midwicket to ensure Delhi kept pace with the asking rate.

Tiwary was run-out for a well-made 36 following a mix-up. At that stage, 47 were needed off 30 as Karthik was joined by Farveez Maharoof, whose big-hitting has already helped Delhi recover from several middle-order collapses.

After a tidy over from Ashish Nehra, fifteen runs came off the next over from Dhawal Kulkarni, including a lovely six over backward square leg and an extra-cover drive for four. A down-the-pitch heave to the midwicket boundary off Jayasuriya and a delightful straight six off Andre Nel brought the equation down to eight from the final over.

Two singles came off the first three balls as the tension ratcheted up. Maharoof, though, kept his nerve and smashed the fourth ball to the midwicket boundary and cut the next one to point for four to bring up the victory and leave the home fans delirious.

Delhi will be even more satisfied with the win as their big guns fell early - Virender Sehwag provided a frenetic start with three fours and a rasping front-foot pull for six in the first over but was bowled by Nehra and Gautam Gambhir showed glimpses of the form that has made him the tournament's leading scorer before skying a catch to Smith at midwicket.

Shikhar Dhawan and Tiwary kept the required-rate in check collecting singles and punishing anything either wide or overpitched. Aided by some shoddy fielding, they had calmly progressed to 89 for 2 when Smith removed Dhawan and Tillakaratne Dilshan off successive deliveries to bring the Man of the Match Karthik to the crease.

Before Karthik's intervention, the leading candidate for Man of the Match was Jayasuriya. His assault gave Mumbai an explosive start to their innings but his team-mates failed to build on it and a fightback, led by Yo Mahesh who snared four wickets, from Delhi restricted them. Jayasuriya, typically scoring heavily square of the wicket, took Brett Geeves to task - a couple of leg-side boundaries in his first over were followed by an effortless slice over backward point for six and a powerful across-the-line shot past long-on for four.

Mahesh was brought into the attack but two towering sixes and an edge past the wicketkeeper for four kept the run-rate galloping. Delhi's semi-final hopes were further dented when Karthik, standing up to Maharoof, missed a leg-side stumping with Tendulkar overbalancing. The next ball was disdainfully swatted for six by Jayasuriya and the score read 70 for no loss after seven.

The breakthrough came when Tendulkar inside-edged Mahesh onto his stumps and, with Maharoof sending down a clever mix of slower balls and yorkers, the brakes were applied. Amit Mishra, whose googlies the batsmen found hard to read, kept the runs in check but a poor over from Geeves released the pressure. Just as Mumbai seemed to have regained their momentum, they were again pegged back by Mahesh, who removed Smith. Mishra then picked up the big wicket of Jayasuriya, who perished attempting his sixth six and when the hard-hitting Abhishek Nayar fell four balls later, Mumbai had slipped to 114 for 4.

It required Robin Uthappa's stunning 23-ball 46 to lift them to a competitive score. Uthappa, who has flickered through this tournament, combined some delicate glides past third man with his signature paddle sweeps as well as some full-blooded blows over midwicket and long-on to plunder 31 runs off the last two overs.

Uthappa's late hitting, though, was overshadowed by Karthik's and the win means Delhi will make it to the semi-finals if Chennai or Mumbai lose any of their remaining games.

Rajasthan edge spirited Chennai

Graeme Smith was at his belligerent best and guided Rajasthan Royals to an imposing total...

A high-scoring thriller which produced 412 runs finally went the way of Rajasthan Royals, as they edged Chennai Super Kings to record their tenth win of the IPL and further consolidate their position at the top of the table. After Graeme Smith had powered Rajasthan to 211, Chennai put up a spirited run-chase, thanks largely to Albie Morkel's 40-ball 71. In the end, though, his effort wasn't enough, which means Chennai still have work to do to make it to the last four.

Smith's 51-ball 91, and his stunning 127-run opening-wicket stand with Swapnil Asnodkar, put Rajasthan firmly in control at the halfway stage, but Chennai mounted a remarkable reply, with three of their top four making significant contributions. Morkel, Parthiv Patel and Suresh Raina ensured they kept up with the asking rate throughout - 30 were needed off the last 15 balls, when Rajasthan tightened up their act with accurate bowling and spirited fielding, with Mohammad Kaif putting in an outstanding performance around the long-on and long-off boundaries.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who came in at the fall of Parthiv's wicket, chipped to long-off from Sohail Tanvir in the 18th, and after S Badrinath fell in the next over, Chennai were left with 15 from the last over. With Morkel still around, Chennai had a chance, but Tanvir was superb, pitching it full, on the stumps, and giving away just four runs. Eleven were needed off the last two, and when Morkel flicked one straight to short fine leg, Chennai had fallen short again. Unlike their previous run-chase, though, when they made a hash of a target of 127, there was no shame in losing this one.

A target of 212 was a stiff one, but Chennai's start suggested they were hardly intimidated. After Stephen Fleming's early run-out, Raina and Parthiv carted the bowlers all around the MA Chidambaram Stadium in a 70-run stand that came off just 6.5 overs. Raina has struggled over the last few matches, but here he was unstoppable, driving and cutting fluently through the off side, and pulling Munaf Patel when he dropped it fractionally short.

When Raina fell, miscuing Warne to midwicket, it didn't hamper the run-chase at all, for out walked Morkel. While most batsmen preferred to move to leg and make room, Morkel's chosen method was to stay still at the crease, and then hit straight through the line over long-on and long-off. To anything drifting on leg stump, he used the short-arm pull or the slog-sweep to excellent effect. A couple of huge sixes off Yusuf Pathan and Munaf got him on his way, and Warne wasn't spared either, as a slog-sweep easily cleared midwicket.

Parthiv wasn't as explosive, but he played his part well, interspersing well-timed hits to the boundary - including a superb straight six off Warne - with clever nudges on both sides of the stumps to give the strike back to the more powerful strikers. He was clearly running out of steam, though, and his dismissal brought out Dhoni, who could have been the ideal man for the situation. As it turned out, though, Rajasthan had enough runs to the board to edge this one.

The match produced 39 fours and 18 sixes, and that was largely due to a perfect batting strip: the pace was even, allowing batsmen to hit through the line, while there was no seam or swing movement for the bowlers. Add a super-quick outfield and sweltering heat to the equation, and there was little to cheer for the fielding team.

With their team already in the semi-finals, Warne experimented with team strategy, choosing to bat first, and the move paid off immediately: the third ball, from Makhaya Ntini, was a no-ball, the free hit was promptly deposited over long-on by Asnodkar for six, and that signalled the start of the deluge. Both batsmen hit cleanly through the line of the ball, freeing their arms to crash boundaries through the off side or pull over midwicket. Manpreet Gony suffered early, as Asnodkar drove and pulled him for boundaries, and Smith soon joined in the fun, cutting and flicking Albie Morkel for fours. To make matters worse for Chennai, the hard pitch favoured the batsmen in more ways than one: when Smith played one off Ntini hard into the turf, it bounced so high over the fielder at point that Ntini could only smile in resignation.

The first six overs produced nine fours and two sixes, and with the total reading 67, Rajasthan were on their way. Muttiah Muralitharan was brought into the attack in the seventh, but he couldn't stop the bleeding either, as Smith lofted him over wide mid-on, and then slog-swept a mighty six. L Balaji was even more profligate, with Smith and Asnodkar creaming 20 in his second over.

Of the first 12 overs, ten produced ten or more runs, as Rajasthan put together their third century stand for the first wicket. Asnodkar and Smith fell in quick succession, but the two wickets didn't slow the run-fest, as Akmal quickly got into his stride, coming down the pitch and carting the third ball he faced into the long-on stands. His 26-ball half-century lifted Rajasthan to 211, and on a flat pitch, they needed all those runs to come out on top.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The road to the 2011 World Cup

The Taliban banned cricket in Afghanistan, with many of their cricketers learning their trade when exiled in Pakistan...

It may be three long years years away, but the road to the 2011 World Cup begins this week in the unlikely setting of Jersey. More famed for its cattle and potatoes than a venue for cricket tournaments, Jersey plays host to 12 of the world's lesser-known teams in Division 5 of the World Cricket League (WCL), as they battle to climb the ladder to the fourth division and dream of a World Cup place in Asia.

The road is long, winding and complicated. The two finalists from Division 5 progress to the fourth division - joining Hong Kong, Fiji, Tanzania and Italy - whose tournament takes place in Dar es Salaam in October. The top two sides then advance to World Cricket League's third division in Argentina next January, which is followed by the World Cup qualifiers. And, finally, the top four Associate or Affiliate teams from that competition book their place in the World Cup. So far, so confusing.

There are some unlikely countries participating, too: Mozambique, Vanuatu and Germany; Bahamas, Singapore and, of course, Jersey. But among the 12 sides, who are split into two groups, are three teams with realistic ambition of hot-footing it into the higher leagues. Nepal's infrastructure, while relatively modest in world terms, continues to expand. USA's interest in the game is burgeoning, and they return from international suspension. Perhaps most intriguingly of all, Afghanistan: ravaged by war, but no stranger to the peaceful clunk of ball on bat. As Taj Malik, the coach of Afghanistan, told Cricinfo, his side are in excellent form too.

"The preparations have been very good. We've been training for four months and played 14 matches in Pakistan and won all the games, so we arrive in supreme form," he said prior to arriving in Jersey. "I'm sure we will give a good [account of ourselves and we simply must go for the win. All the Afghan people expect us to win. Yes, cricket is a game of chance, but we want to win 100% so that we can reach the next division."

The irony of Afghanistan doing so well isn't lost on Malik. After all, the Taliban regime banned the game, and it is through exile in Pakistan that the Afghan people have rediscovered the game or learnt from scratch. "We have financial problems of course, and our cricket infrastructure is still poor," Malik said. "For example we have only just completed our national cricket ground and academy. But the team spirit is very high for the last three or four years because we have travelled to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, UAE - and the UK in 2006.

"The team is mature and experienced and ready for an international tour. We even had some of our guys in India, facing Mitchell Johnson, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel during a cricket academy in India, and they did very well."

Malik remains bullish of Afghanistan's chances and - no surprise here - is exceedingly keen, as his countrymen back home might also be, to beat USA. "To play America in the semi-final or final would be wonderful," he said, "and we would put our all into that game. But sport is about making friendships. It can bring two nations together. We don't see it as a political game - we just want to play seriously and win because they're a very good team full of different nationalities: Indians, Pakistanis, maybe even some Afghanistanis!"

The USA are back in international cricket, but will their year-long absence affect their performance this week?

They will be wary of the Americans. Their banishment from international cricket was not a surprise - repeated refusal to carry out the most basic of requests (such as engage a new constitution and hold elections) forced the ICC's hand - but they contain a number of dangerous players, not least their captain, Steve Massiah, who has been left kicking his heels for 12 months.

Little can be expected of the minnows' minnows - Norway, Mozambique, Germany, Singapore, Vanuatu - but the World Cricket League offers these smaller nations the incentive of boosting the sport's profile. Few Japanese people will even be aware their country has a national cricket side, let alone a gifted wicketkeeper in Tatsuro Chino, for example.

"The biggest problem cricket faces in Japan is lack of exposure. The average person just doesn't know what cricket is," Jarrad Shearer, Japan's manager, said. "That's why tournaments like this are so important. By being successful in Jersey, hopefully we'll get more exposure domestically. Our goal for this tournament is, first and foremost, to win it and progress to Division 4 - we're not here just to make up the numbers. At the very least we aim to finish in the top six at this tournament to stay in Division 5."

Shearer's sentiments will be shared by his opponents; big league cricket this is not, yet the competition will be hard-fought and the incentives are great. And in three years, one or two of these 12 will be looking back to where it all began in Jersey this week.


Group A

Germany: Graham Sommer (capt), Abdul Bhatti, Ayoub Pasha, Anees Butt, Farooq Ahmed, Javed Iqbal, Rajeev Vohra, Asif Khan, Milan Fernando, Surya Narayanan, Eksan Latif, James Eggleston, Srinivas Satyanarayana, Barkatullah Masaud. Keith Thompson (coach) and Dhushyanta Ekanayake (manager)

Mozambique: Muhammad Shoaib Younus (capt), Jayesh Mohanlal Khorova, Bineesh Vadavathi, Imtiyaz Shafikbhai Lili, Mohmed Aasif Aiyub Koliya, Imran Ismail, Muhammad Ikheriya, Zainulbidin Gulam Patel, Giovanni Florentino, Chandra Shekhar, C Puspussen, Nadir Gafar Karim, Mohammed Zulficar Sidat, Muhammad Kamran Qadir, Syed Kaleem Raza Shah, Wayne P Smith. Ismail Hassan (coach) and Carlos Jaime Mandlate (manager)

Nepal: Binod Kumar Das (capt), Paras Khadka, Paresh Prasad Lohani, Shakti Prasad Gauchan, Mahaboob Alam, Sanjam Regmi, Sharad Vesawkar, Dipendra Chaudhary, Gyanendra Malla, Mahesh Kumar Chhetri, Raj Kumar Pradhan, Amrit Bhattarai, Basant Regmi, Dhirendra Bahadur. Roy Dias (coach) and Tanka Prasad Paneru (manager)

Norway: Shahid Ahmed (capt), Aamir Waheed, Abdul Hadi, Adeel Ibrar, Ehtsham Ul Haq, Majid Zia Butt, Mubasshar Ahmed Bhatti, Muhammad Shahbaz Butt, Muhammad Zeeshan Ali, Sameer Sachdev, Shahid Ahmed, Syed Munawar Ahmed, Waseem Gill, Zaheer Ashiq, Saqib Qayyum. Ralph Dellor (coach) and Shahbaz Tariq (manager)

USA: Steve Massiah (capt), Gowkaran Roopnarine, Niraj Shah, Lennox Cush, Imran Awan, Khawaja Shuja, Steve Pitter, Sushil Nadkarni, Orlando Baker, Mohamed Masood, Rashard Marshall, Rahul Kukreti,Wahab Syed, Aditya Thyagarajan. Clayton Lambert (coach) and Sohail Bari (manager)

Vanuatu: Patrick Haines (capt), Andrew Mansale, Pierre Chilia, Kenneth Natapei, Richard Tatwin, Simpson Obed, Selwyn Garae, Manu Nimoho, Lenica Natapei, Trevor Langa, Michael Avok, Aby John, Eddie Mansale, Patrick Matautaava, Lazaro Carlot. Timothy Curran (coach) and Garry Blake (manager)

Group B

Afghanistan: Norooz Khan Mangal (capt), Karim Khan Sedeq, Rais Ahamdzai, Dawlat Ahamdzai, Ahamd Shah Ahmadi, Noor Ali Noori, Mohmmad Asghar Stanikzai, Hasti Gul Abed, Mohd.Nabi Eisakhil, Samiullah Shenwari, Hamid Hassan, Jalat Khan Naseri, Abdul Rashid Zadran, Gulbadin Naid. Taj Mailk Alam (coach) and Rais Jaji (manager)

Bahamas: Narendra Ekanayake (capt), Andrew Ford, Gregory Taylor, Whitcliff Atkinson, Jonathan Barry, Mario Ford, Garfield Armstrong, Wayne Patrick, Dannavan Morrison, Dwight Weakley, Roderick Mitchell, Lee Melville, Himchan Rampersaud, Ryan Tappin. John Welch (coach) and Irvin Taylor (manager)

Botswana: Tshepo Mhozya (capt), Akrum Chand, Abdul Patel, Omar Ali, Mosa Gaolekwe, Karabo Modise, Denzil Sequiera, Saad Mohiyuddin, Karan Kapoor, Manon Barot, Shah Zaib Khan, Nadeem Tajbhay, Dave Buchanan, James Moses. Solly Chotia (coach) and Ahmed Fazal Sheriff (manager)

Japan: Ko Irie (capt), Gavin Bruce Beath, Kenji Murata, Masaomi Kobayashi, Ahmad Munir, Naoki Miyaji, Patrick Jamieson Giles-Jones, Naoki Kamatani, Tatsuro Chino, Courtney Jones, Takuro Hagihara, Kensuke Kobayashi, Yuta Matsubara, Satoshi Nakano. Richard Laidler (coach) and Jarrad Shearer (manager)

Jersey: Mathew Hague (capt), Tony Carlyon, Steve Carlyon, Jonathan Gough, Peter Gough, Christopher Jones, Thomas Minty, Andrew Dewhurst, Robert Minty, James Brewster, Sachin Patidar, Bradley Vowden, Ryan Driver, James Caunt. Peter Kirsten (coach) and Chris Minty (manager)

Singapore: Chaminda R Kumarage (capt), Zeng Renchun, Syed Ali Muhammad, James Kailash Muruthi, Narender Reddy Bonguram, Anish Edward Param, Chongwei Low, Chetan Ramchandra Suryawanshi, Arun Vijayan, Mohamed Shoib, Abdul Razak, Mohd Rizwan Nasir Madakia, Christopher Janik, Buddhika Mendis Yange Oshanka, Dharmichand Mulewa. Venkataramana Margasahayam (coach) and Mahmood Gaznavi (manager)

Panesar returns to happy hunting ground

Monty Panesar has 18 wickets in two Tests at Old Trafford...

Match facts

Friday May 23 to Tuesday May 27, 2008 Start time 11.00 (10.00GMT)

Big Picture

There is nothing to split these two teams after a truncated opening Test at Lord's, but New Zealand will have travelled north to Old Trafford heartened by their performance. They batted when conditions were best for bowling and restricted England to 319 when the sun came out. For all England's talk about positive cricket there wasn't an awful lot of it on show as the middle order failed to build on a century opening stand and the bowlers struggled for breakthroughs with the older ball. However, they have positive memories of Old Trafford having won three of their last four Tests on the ground and drawn the other with Australia nine wickets down. But New Zealand have shown they are up for a fight and with three of their big guns - Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum - finding form it should be another compelling contest.

Form guide

England DLWWD
New Zealand WWLLD

Watch out for...

Monty Panesar Match-winning performances at Old Trafford against Pakistan and West Indies have brought 18 wickets in two Tests. He bowled well at Lord's without always getting the rub of the green, but is back on a happy hunting ground where he enjoys the extra bounce as much as the quick bowlers. He needs six wickets for 100 in Tests.

Daniel Vettori It could become a battle of the left-arm spinners. Vettori had an outstanding Test at Lord's and if the pitch turns he will come to the fore again. Even if the surface remains flat, Vettori is New Zealand's key weapon because he can both keep the scoring rate down and trouble England's batsmen. Is also proving to be an astute captain.

Team news

England have named an unchanged team for the fourth Test in a row. James Anderson did enough at Lord's to be given a chance on his home ground, although the temptation will have been there to utilise Chris Tremlett's extra bounce. The middle order is again under pressure after a below-par effort in the first Test, especially Paul Collingwood who has shown precious little form this season.

England Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Michael Vaughan (capt), Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Tim Ambrose (wk), Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom, Monty Panesar, James Anderson

New Zealand could be forced into a change after Tim Southee picked up a stomach bug between Tests. He has been laid low for two days and if he doesn't recover Iain O'Brien and Michael Mason would be the favourites to come in, although don't rule out Jeetan Patel as a second spinner. The main concern remains the top order, but the other options in the squad - Peter Fulton and reserve wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins - have had little cricket in recent weeks. Daniel Flynn showed huge promise on the final day at Lord's, while the success of McCullum at No. 5 and the return to form of Oram means the batting line-up is deep.

New Zealand (probable) Jamie How, Aaron Redmond, James Marshall, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (wk), Daniel Flynn, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori (capt), Kyle Mills, Tim Southee/Iain O'Brien, Chris Martin

Umpires: Simon Taufel, Darrell Hair

Pitch and conditions

Old Trafford could argue that it now has the quickest pitch in the world and this surface is expected to be another with something for everyone. The batsmen will enjoy the ball coming onto the bat, the quicks know they'll get reward for bending their backs and the spinners can expect some turn later in the game. On the weather front it looks like typical Manchester. There is a forecast for showers on Friday, Saturday looks the best day at the moment with some uncertainty over rest.

Stats and Trivia

  • England have only lost once at Old Trafford in the last 10 years, against Pakistan in 2001.

  • New Zealand have not won in six attempts at Old Trafford, finishing with two defeats and four draws.

  • Vettori is the one remaining player from the last time these two teams met in Manchester in 1999.


    "I enjoy bowling here because the wicket has a bit of pace and bounce and my style of spin suits this kind of wicket and my record shows that. I like the pace of the wicket here because the ball often gathers pace after bouncing and it turns quite sharply - my kind of pace suits this kind of wicket."
    Monty Panesar looks forward to his return to Old Trafford

    "I have not really gone into the psychology of it all but you always want to go with a volunteer rather than a pressed man."
    John Bracewell explains why he didn't stop McCullum batting again after his injury at Lord's

  • Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    Kumble inspires Bangalore to stunning win

    Anil Kumble's 3 for 14, the best figures for the Bangalore Royal Challengers in the IPL, played a big part in the upset win...

    This was Chokers' Day. A few hours after the Mumbai Indians collapsed from a winning position, thereby denting their semi-final chances, the Chennai Super Kings outdid them as panic struck at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. The Bangalore Royal Challengers seemed certain to crash to their sixth successive defeat but even they might struggle to fathom how they pulled off this robbery.

    It was one-way traffic for most of the game. Chasing a modest 127, Chennai appeared to be in cruise control at 60 for no loss, and later at 85 for 2, but Stephen Fleming's dismissal induced some panic. Anil Kumble's inspirational 3 for 14, the best figures for Bangalore in the IPL, played a part before Dale Steyn turned the heat on the lower order. The pitch hardly played a part in this low-scoring match - one where both sets of batsmen tried their best to outdo themselves in throwing it away.

    Chennai are still in with a good chance of making the semi-finals but this shock defeat yet again exposed their batting's frailty. Fleming and Parthiv Patel got them off to a rollicking start, cutting and pulling with ease, and there appeared to be no demons in the pitch. Fleming was in fine touch, even against spin, but he refused to ride his luck after Vinay Kumar bowled him off a no-ball. He was out two balls later - sweeping a fast one from Kumble straight into the hands of the B Akhil at deep square leg.

    That was enough to open up the weaknesses in the middle order. There is an over-reliance on S Badrinath and Mahendra Singh Dhoni and their frittered it away, triggering a wave of recklessness. Dhoni, who promoted himself to No.3, struggled with his timing before a frustrated loft landed in Kumble's hands at long-on. Badrinath tried a perilous sweep against Kumble, one where he moved across the stumps, and he was to regret it soon as the ball hit him plumb in front.

    Albie Morkel and S Vidyut fell to Steyn's pull-trap - both top-edges that reeked of complacency against a bowler who was cranking it up to 145kph - and one only needed to look at the Bangalore fielders' expression to understand how surprised they were. The startling freeze ended amid farcical scenes - Suresh Raina appeared to be in a daze against his state-mate, Praveen Kumar and even declined a single when they needed an improbable 16 off 5 balls.

    Bangalore were pleasantly stunned to end up as party-poopers. Their batsmen let them down earlier in the day with an insipid display. One might have expected them to express themselves more freely, now that they're out of contention for a semi-final slot, but they continued to plumb the depths.

    Manpreet Gony and Morkel led a purposeful Chennai bowling effort, utilising the nip in the air, and were backed up by some electric fielding and catching. Bangalore, who chose to bat, never managed any sort of momentum - they even endured a 44-ball phase without a boundary - and the fact that they were the slowest side to reach a 100 summed up the inertia.

    Gony has enhanced his reputation with every game and it was some sight to see the crowd chant his name in unison. He struck with his fourth ball itself: pitching it short of a length and angling away from the right-hander, he induced an edge from Jacques Kallis. He forced another edge out of Shreevats Goswami - Gony's timely maiden forced him into an indiscreet drive in the bowler's next over. Goswami, rooted to the crease, nicked to the wicketkeeper and walked even as the umpire, I Shivram, failed to detect the edge.

    Virat Kohli and Misbah-ul-Haq were undone by a couple of sensational catches - Morkel back-pedalling and completing a skier inches from the square-leg boundary, hurting his head in the process, and Parthiv Patel, behind the stumps, pulling off a full-length dive to complete a one-handed take.

    It was again left to Rahul Dravid to survey the debris and he took his time to consolidate. Five fours reeled off his bat towards the end but Mark Boucher's dismissal - just when it appeared as if they would string together a partnership - hurt them. Dravid couldn't last the distance - Dhoni pulled off a fine catch at cover - and the tail didn't have much of a chance with Morkel keeping it straight. Kumar's 11-ball 21 was a feeble attempt at making a match out of it but little would he have imagined bowling the last over to win his side the match.

    World champions look to avoid underdogs' bite

    Some locals watch the Australians prepare for the first Test, but there is less hype for this series than the great battles of yesteryear...

    Thirteen years ago an Australian adventure in the Caribbean rivalled in prestige a trip to England for the Ashes. The West Indies was also a top destination for supporters desperate to see what had made the region's players so great for so long. Since Steve Waugh's 200 at Sabina Park captured the Frank Worrell Trophy in 1995, the collection of countries has lost its cricket lustre to the point where the opening Test is no longer a major event. Not even for the players.

    Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo may fulfil the trait of struggling sides and literally be asleep in the field over the next week. Sarwan and Chanderpaul arrived in the West Indies a few days ago from the Indian Premier League; Bravo touched down on Tuesday in a private plane, about 48 hours before the toss. The squad camp to prepare for the series had already concluded before the big names decided to arrive with their jetlag.

    They flew from the star-filled Twenty20 stadiums into a contest that cannot match the hype, payments or short peaks of excitement they experienced over the past month. Tests offer tradition, style and stature. Whether those values remain attractive will be gauged during the three-match series and beyond.

    The Australians swear wearing whites under the shadow of a baggy green cap will always remain the pinnacle. Every player in the squad attended their camp in Brisbane two weeks ago, but this week it has been revealed Matthew Hayden has been carrying an achilles injury that developed while he trained during the IPL. Yet the only game he missed was the warm-up against a Jamaica XI at the weekend, and he is in serious doubt for Sabina Park.

    When Hayden last withdrew from a Test, in Perth in January, Australia's 16-match winning streak ended. Without him the batting loses strength, a problem which is compounded by the absence of Michael Clarke, another regular, who arrives on Friday from compassionate leave. At the camp the team expected a rebuild through the middle, where Brad Haddin steps into the unenviable job of replacing Adam Gilchrist, but if Hayden withdraws some serious reconstruction involving Simon Katich and Brad Hodge will be necessary. They are changes that give the home team hope.

    It might be the beginning of a new age for Test cricket, but there is little doubt over the place of West Indies. A distant eighth in the world rankings, they remain the underachieving underdogs. After the 1995 series, when the Frank Worrell Trophy and the unofficial No. 1 ranking were taken away, they have won five of 21 Tests against teams led by Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting. Only one victory has come in the past three series. There have been no draws.

    In the past they had Brian Lara to provide the occasional match-turning miracle, or at least make defeat more acceptable. He signed off with 226 on the previous Australia tour and for the first Test they don't have Chris Gayle, the captain missing with a groin injury, or the suspended Marlon Samuels.

    The visitors' batting newcomers are matched by those in the home set-up. Brenton Parchment, Ryan Hinds and Runako Morton have come in after West Indies won the final match against Sri Lanka to record a drawn series. Tim Nielsen, the Australia coach, has already spoken of the unknowns in the home team, and their support to the more established men, such as the IPL representatives, could be the difference between an even or one-sided contest.

    The fast bowling in both outfits is more settled and Australia will be looking for Stuart MacGill to out-perform the opposition's spinner - Amit Jaggernauth and Sulieman Benn are in the squad; one or none of them could play in Jamaica. MacGill is back after regaining fitness and form since the Australian summer and should enjoy encountering a team with traditional frailties against legspin.

    Australia showed some weaknesses in the series against India, losing and drawing the final two Tests of the four-game contest, and a couple of personnel adjustments leave them with points to prove. However, even though West Indies are at home, the world champions should not have many troubles disposing of them. Especially if the hangover from the IPL makes their three key players slow starters.

    Punjab sneak a one-run thriller

    Shaun Marsh hit 81 off 56 balls in Punjab's 189...

    A see-saw last over - which included a six, a four, a dropped catch and three run-outs - allowed Kings XI Punjab to end Mumbai Indians' six-match winning streak and boost their hopes for a place in the semi-finals.

    Shaun Marsh and Luke Pomersbach's 134-run stand laid the platform but it was Punjab's accurate bowling at the death under pressure that brought the game to a head in the final over.

    Mumbai needed 19 off the last six balls and had three wickets in hand with Siddharth Chitnis and Dilhara Fernando out in the middle. VRV Singh bowled a waist-high no-ball up front and Chitnis hit it for a six over third man. The next delivery was full and wide and Chitnis lifted it over extra cover where Tanmay Srivastava dropped a difficult catch and Mumbai needed eight off five balls. Srivastava was back in the action in the next ball when he threw the ball back to the keeper and Chitnis was run out trying to take a second run off.

    Seven off four and new batsman Ashish Nehra sneaked a bye to get Dilhara Fernando on strike. Fernando drove a fuller delivery through cover and it was Srivastava again who fielded the ball to run out Nehra as the batsmen tried for a risky third run. Four runs off two balls with one wicket remaining - Vikrant Yeligati dropped the ball on the pitch and the batsmen ran two as Punjab's fielders muffed up what would have been the fifth run-out of the innings. Yeligati faced the final ball needing two and drove to mid-off before setting off for the fateful runs. But before he could get to the other end, Yuvraj Singh collected the ball at mid-off and ran towards the stumps to knock them down at full stretch.

    But Mumbai had threatened to topple over Punjab's formidable target while Sachin Tendulkar was still at the crease. Punjab's bowlers nearly undid the efforts of Marsh and Pomersbach, starting with the first two overs.

    Sreesanth started off the innings with three wides - the second racing past the keeper to the boundary - and Irfan Pathan followed with over-pitched deliveries that Sanath Jayasuriya sent for two sixes over long-on and two fours in front of and behind the wicket. However Sreesanth recovered in his next over to trap Jayasuriya lbw with a legcutter. But Tendulkar took hold of the reins thereafter and punished VRV Singh's poor length with fours to fine leg and third man. He reached his fifty by cheekily lobbing a Yuvraj Singh delivery to third-man boundary.

    Though the required run-rate was more than nine an over, Punjab's bowlers did not apply any pressure and conceded a boundary in virtually every over. Also, other than Marsh, no Punjab fielder saved enough runs to make Mumbai's task tougher. Pomersbach dropped Abhishek Nayar in the deep on nine off VRV and Nayar made use of the life to belt two sixes and a four off the bowler's next over. But once Tendulkar was run out, when Rohin Uthappa sent him back from taking a single, the Punjab bowlers smelt an opening. Yuvraj Singh, who had gone for 10 runs in his first over, got Shaun Pollock to edge the first ball he faced to Piyush Chawla at short third man. Uthappa, the only proper batsman left, felt the pressure to go after the runs and was caught in the same over trying to clear long-on.

    Then Sreesanth came back for his final over to remove Pinal Shah, conceded only eight runs in the process. That set up the final-over drama.
    Sachin Tendulkar's wicket brought Punjab back in to the game...

    But it was really Marsh and Pomersbach's partnership that gave Punjab the fuel to fight with. Marsh was the more orthodox of the two, playing the spinners by getting inside the line while cutting and pulling the faster bowlers. While both used their feet against the spinners, Marsh cashed in by lofting Yeligati inside-out for a six over long-off and Chitnis for one over long-on. Pomersbach, meanwhile, was in a hurry to score and repeatedly stepped out of the crease, mistiming more often than not. He failed to connect when trying to sweep the spinners and also swung his bat wildly at Fernando's slower deliveries. But two brutal shots came off his bat in the third over against Nehra - he lifted a good length delivery for six over long-off before swivelling round to pull a four to midwicket.

    However it was Marsh who directed the partnership. He hooked Fernando for a six to fine leg and flicked Chitnis to four to take Punjab past 50 in the seventh over. He got to his fifty in 35 balls. The two ran hard between the wickets and apart from Shaun Pollock, early in the innings, no other bowler looked threatening enough to dislodge them.

    Eventually it was Punjab who held their nerve in the final minutes and that decided the match in their favour.

    Chennai poised for final four spot

    Chennai need to watch out for Sreevats Goswami, who was a revelation on his debut...

    The Big Picture

    With two of their remaining matches against lowly Bangalore Royal Challengers and Deccan Chargers, the Chennai Super Kings are poised to make it to the final four. A win against Bangalore will give them a handy four-point cushion over the team in fifth place and even a loss may not dent their chances so badly. One concern for Chennai is the fitness of their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who is nursing a finger injury. He is expected to play but Parthiv Patel might continue to keep wickets.

    With Chennai's openers Parthiv and Stephen Fleming ably negotiating a strong Kolkata attack in their previous game and Makhaya Ntini and L Balaji getting among the wickets, their two major problems - a fragile top order and a less-than-incisive attack - are being addressed.

    Despite trying several combinations, Bangalore's woes have continued and their only incentive to win is that it will boost their hopes of avoiding the wooden spoon.

    Tournament position

    Chennai Super Kings: P11, W7, L4, NRR -0.175
    Bangalore Royal Challengers: P11, W2, L9, NRR -1.517

    Form (last five matches, most recent first)

    Chennai Super Kings: WLWWL
    Bangalore Royal Challengers: LLLLL

    Watch out for

  • Sreevats Goswami - He was among the few positives to emerge from Monday's defeat to the Delhi Daredevils. After making an impressive fifty, he handled the tricky task of keeping to Anil Kumble confidently.

  • Dale Steyn v Mahendra Singh Dhoni - In the previous encounter between the two teams, Steyn's superb opening spell had kept the in-form Matthew Hayden quiet. However, after Dhoni bludgeoned 32 runs off Steyn's final two overs, the fast bowler will be looking for revenge this time round.

    Team news

    Muttiah Muralitharan had a forgettable outing against Kolkata but should retain his place. With their fast bowlers doing well, Joginder Sharma and P Amarnath are unlikely to get a look-in and the batting line-up could also remain unchanged.

    Chennai Super Kings Parthiv Patel (wk), Stephen Fleming, S Vidyut, Suresh Raina, S Badrinath, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Albie Morkel, Manpreet Gony, L Balaji, Muttiah Muralitharan, Makhaya Ntini

    Bangalore, being out of the running, have the opportunity to try out some of their unheralded players. That could be good news for left-arm spinner KP Appanna and medium-pacer NC Aiyappa. Zaheer Khan, struggling with a knee injury, and Mark Boucher, who has a sore knee, have been ruled out.

    Bangalore Royal Challengers Bharat Chipli, Jacques Kallis, Sreevats Goswami (wk), Rahul Dravid (capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Cameron White, B Akhil, Anil Kumble, NC Aiyappa, KP Appanna, Dale Steyn

    Stats and trivia

  • Bangalore have been defeated in their last five matches - the longest losing streak so far in the IPL
  • Parthiv Patel has opened the batting in eight matches but his highest score is only 21


    "We are not under any pressure but confident of the team making the semi-finals. We have three more matches to go and our aim is to win all three matches."
    VB Chandrasekhar, assistant coach and chief selector of the Chennai Super Kings, is upbeat about his team's prospects.
  • Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    Yusuf powers Rajasthan to victory

    Sohail Tanvir took 3 for 26 as Kolkata Knight Riders were restricted to 147...

    A disciplined performance with the ball, followed by a counterattacking blitz from Yusuf Pathan, sealed a six-wicket win at Eden Gardens for the Rajasthan Royals, who with 18 points from 11 matches, become the first team to firm a spot in the semi-finals. At the toss, Shane Warne had said his intention was to knock out the Kolkata Knight Riders, and the loss leaves the home side nearly out of the running for a semi-final place.

    Rajasthan were on top for most part of the game, barring a spell in the chase when wickets fell in a flurry. Warne decided to stick with his tried-and-tested policy of fielding first, with the pitch offering assistance to the bowlers. They kept Kolkata on the leash, and a regular stream of wickets ensured the home side could manage only 147.

    Warne made innovative bowling changes, and tried to unsettle the batsmen by rotating his fast bowlers for each of the first six overs. The faster bowlers varied their deliveries, changing their lengths and pace to keep the batsmen on their toes. Sohail Tanvir, Munaf Patel and Shane Watson kept the batsmen in check during the Powerplay, conceding just 32. Munaf's bowled a maiden first up, snapping Mohammad Hafeez.

    Salman Butt, fresh from his 73 against Chennai Super Kings, attempted to give the innings a push by striking a few fours, including a superb cover drive on one knee off Munaf - before falling leg before as he moved across his stumps. Sourav Ganguly, though, struggled for fluency: he needed seven balls to get off the mark and scored his first boundary to third man just when Warne played mindgames by bringing the fielder in the 30-yard circle. The battle between the two captains continued when Warne brought himself on. Warne had conceded only one off his first over but Ganguly broke the shackles by launching Warne over square leg in his second.

    The regular loss of wickets from then on hampered Kolkata. A frustrated David Hussey was bowled as he tried to charge Yusuf, while Ganguly later hit Siddharth Trivedi straight into the hands of long-on. However, Kolkata did well to go from 59 for 2 after ten overs to 147 in 20 largely due to Debabrata Das's sparkling 31 off 20 balls. He announced his arrival with a dead-straight six off Warne, and later dispatched Pathan over midwicket. Laxmi Ratan Shukla and the batsmen to follow also chipped in quick runs, and despite Kolkata losing wickets regularly, the big hits helped them post a challenging 147.

    Kolkata needed early wickets, and they got just that as Swapnil Asnodkar edged an awayswinger from Ishant Sharma to wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha. Warne hadn't had enough of surprises, and sent Tanvir, who had taken three wickets, at No. 3. Graeme Smith and Tanvir then took charge, and when 16 runs came off the fifth over from Ajit Agarkar, Rajasthan were on the rampage. Umar Gul though, turned things around quickly to the delight of the home crowd with a double-wicket maiden. Tanvir holed one to mid-on, and Smith got a faint edge to a delivery down leg, Saha completing an acrobatic one-hand take.

    Watson had been Rajasthan's key player in the tournament, and it seemed another match-winning knock from him was on the cards. He picked Agarkar and deposited him over square leg, and then smashed him through midwicket. Ganguly was deftly guided past short third man, but Watson was bowled as he tried to play across the line to an inswinger.

    Enter Yusuf Pathan, whose hand-eye coordination and powerful strokes quickly took the game away from Kolkata. Umar Gul had troubled the batsmen, but Yusuf wasn't to be daunted. He steered a full toss past midwicket, although he was lucky an inside-edge the next ball missed the stumps.

    He then took a liking to Ganguly, and the whole of Kolkata was silenced as the local hero was carted for huge in the midwicket region off consecutive deliveries. Runs came at ease as Kolkata's bowlers and fielders failed to break the partnership. Kaif, who had been dominated by his partner, took a hat-trick of fours off Ashok Dinda, before Yusuf sealed the game in the 17th over from Gul.

    The first ball was lofted over extra cover, the next through midwicket, and he finished the game off in style, sending the ball sailing over square leg for six. He already had the fastest fifty in the tournament, off 21 balls, and with a 48 off 18 today, he was just one hit away from breaking that mark.

    Monday, May 19, 2008

    Delhi secure much-needed win

    Virender Sehwag hit 47 off 19 balls to take Delhi to a five-wicket win over Bangalore...

    Bangalore Royal Challengers ruled themselves out of contention for a spot in the semi-finals following their fifth successive defeat of the tournament. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag's 90-run opening stand took the game away from Bangalore. Their pace was furious and their shots full-blooded as they careened towards the modest target.

    Though Delhi Daredevils suffered a few scares after the openers fell, as Bangalore bowled intelligently and fielded accurately, they recovered in time to boost their semi-final hopes.

    Considering the form that Gambhir and Sehwag have been in through the IPL, Bangalore's 154 was hardly a daunting one. In each of their successful chases of 170 or less, Delhi have completed their wins either inside 16 overs or for five or less wickets.

    Gambhir set the tone of the partnership with a four to square leg off the first ball. He then drove Dale Steyn and Praveen Kumar for fours through cover and long-on as Delhi reached 60 in the first five overs. Sehwag wasn't one to be left behind and after he mauled Zaheer Khan for three fours, he latched on to Praveen's wayward length, upper-cutting him for four, then pulling two fours and a six before he was caught by a diving Bharat Chipli at backward point off the same bowler. But Sehwag had left Delhi in a very comfortable position for they needed only five runs an over when he got out.

    However Gambhir followed ten runs later when he took a risky second run and couldn't make the crease before Shreevats Goswami knocked off the bails. Goswami was also quick to effect a stumping off Anil Kumble that sent back Tillakaratne Dilshan for four. Two more wickets fell in the next two overs but Farveez Maharoof and Shikhar Dhawan wrapped it up with 10 balls to spare.

    Maharoof was also chiefly responsible for keeping Bangalore in check. He replaced Glenn McGrath, who went for only nine runs in his first three overs, and took a wicket off his first ball - getting Jacques Kallis, Bangalore's eighth opener, to edge a fuller delivery to the keeper. He also bothered Goswami when he got to the crease, cramping him for room and troubling him with the lift he got from a back-of-length delivery.

    But Goswami broke loose in the next over by Pradeep Sangwan - pulling him for a six and a four to midwicket and then flicking another four to fine leg. But it was his late cut - which he played against Sangwan and Yo Mahesh - that oozed confidence and aggression. He waited till the last second to cut to third man and Sangwan's figures after two overs read 2-0-37-0. Goswami also tried to disconcert the bowler by either stepping out of the crease or sliding gracefully outside off stump and reached his fifty off 39 balls. His wicket considerably slowed down Bangalore and though Misbah-ul-Haq hit 24 runs in the final over, it wasn't enough to rein in Delhi.

    However Delhi haven't moved up the points table with this win and have only two more games to go, while their upcoming opponents, Mumbai Indians have three and Kolkata Knight Riders have two games left.

    Oram ton ensures Lord's draw

    Jacob Oram's cultured 101 mixed the aggressive with the deft...

    A magnificent 101 from Jacob Oram helped New Zealand stave off a spirited England bowling performance as the first Test at Lord's petered to a draw. Oram's fifth Test hundred rescued New Zealand from a tricky 120 for 4, but with excellent support from Daniel Flynn, whose immaculate composure earned him a dogged 29 from 118 balls, New Zealand take the honours while England enjoyed the best of the conditions.

    In an interview prior to this Test Oram spoke fondly of Lord's and his burning desire to have his name etched on the honours board. "If you had a five-wicket haul or a hundred and had to retire the next day," he said, "you'd probably still be fairly happy." Judging by the pride with which he celebrated, there isn't a cat in hell's chance of him retiring - and, with the return to form he showed today, New Zealand need his cultured strokes at No. 7 for the next two Tests. With Brendon McCullum casting a daunting figure at No. 5, New Zealand's middle and lower-order contains the spunky verve that their top-order traditionally lacks. England, beware.

    Oram's knock will have been especially enjoyed by McCullum, not least because he himself failed by three runs to reach a century in the first innings. But moreover, it was McCullum's earlier injury - a brutal blow to his bare forearm, hit by a vicious bouncer from Stuart Broad - which underlined the value of Oram's rescue-act. Broad, in the middle of a very lively spell from the Pavilion End, had tested McCullum's resolve with several bumpers, the best of which he couldn't avoid. For reasons known only to McCullum, he doesn't often wear an arm guard but the purple sprouting bruise that appeared might force him to change his mind. With the four early wickets England had taken earlier, New Zealand were effectively 78 for 5.

    Enter Oram. He scratched and poked unconvincingly for his first thirty runs, in particular struggling against Ryan Sidebottom, his nemesis in the winter. But eventually he broke the shackles off Monty Panesar, clumping him over midwicket for a four and a six to raise his - and New Zealand's - confidence. Flynn, meanwhile, scored statically but showed excellent composure - never troubled by his motionless scoring-rate but happy to nudge singles when possible. His contrasting anchor role to Oram's increasingly free-flowing innings was stark, but necessary and highly impressive.

    Oram really opened up after tea, and began to resemble the batsman of two years ago. A thumping pull off Broad over midwicket was followed by the deftest of dabs to third man; another huge swipe into the pavilion off Kevin Pietersen took him into the 80s, while he swept for more runs down to fine-leg. The runs were now flowing and England's initial hopes of forging an unlikely victory appeared lost. The new ball, their last hope, was dispatched with fury by Oram, smacking Sidebottom square with a flowery flourish and bringing up his hundred in imperious style with consecutive drives for four. His fifth Test hundred came from 120 balls, and the satisfaction with which he celebrated epitomised the deep respect Lord's holds for touring teams.

    England thought they had a chance earlier in the day, however. Aaron Redmond fell cheaply and, once the ball was changed in the ninth over of the day, it suddenly began to swing. James Marshall - whose duck lasted nine, torturous balls - was trapped by a booming inswinger to leave New Zealand on 52 for 2, before Jamie How produced the first of the day's rescue missions. Unlike his top-order team-mates his footwork was in excellent order, cover-driving Anderson with ease and hooking the same bowler over square leg.

    The contrast in technique between How's solidity and Ross Taylor's glitz could not have been greater. Taylor's wasteful pull in the first innings smacked of a batsman still hungover from his Indian Premier League partying, and here in his second innings, he was in a panicky hurry to assert himself. It was not a tactic New Zealand's balcony will have enjoyed. Trying to leave another Anderson outswinger, the ball clipped the toe of his bat and flew between second and third slips. Taylor responded two balls later with a free-flowing cover-drive for four: perfectly timed and executed, but impetuously played. His luck ran out on 20, lbw to Panesar.

    It would be tempting to say New Zealand have escaped with a draw here, but it would be plain wrong. McCullum dug them out of their hole in the first innings as Oram did today, and although their top-order lacks any sort of solidity, their bottom six are as sticky and resilient as ever. England have a fight on their hands, and thank goodness for that.

    Sunday, May 18, 2008

    Bravo seals Mumbai's sixth straight win

    Dwayne Bravo signed off with a bang for the Mumbai Indians...

    Mumbai Indians' last meeting with the Deccan Chargers ended in a fourth straight defeat but the return game provided plenty of cheer, producing their sixth successive win, the best run in the tournament so far. Dwayne Bravo signed off from the IPL with a fine all-round effort, giving Mumbai a great chance of making the semi-finals.

    Mumbai relied on a combined performance rather than individual brilliance: Sanath Jayasuriya's early blast set the tone before a counterattacking 54-run stand between Bravo and Abhishek Nayar boosted the total.

    Deccan didn't have much of a chance at 20 for 3 and even Venugopal Rao's valiant 57 couldn't make much of a difference. With their ninth defeat [including all five at home], Deccan's chances of making the semi-finals are over - even remote mathematical chances won't be spoken of anymore.

    Like many of their earlier defeats, Deccan weren't completely outclassed. Unlike the Bangalore Royal Challengers, they haven't appeared listless but they haven't managed to seize the big moments.

    Deccan's decision to field appeared to have backfired when Jayasuriya thundered a 15-ball 36, including laying into his fellow countryman Nuwan Zoysa for 19 off his first over, but Shahid Afridi, full of energy and verve, gave them a chance.

    He's had a relatively quiet tournament so far but was full of energy here: snapping up Sachin Tendulkar and Dominic Thornely and clinging on to a sensational catch, to dismiss Robin Uthappa, inches within the boundary line. But, with Mumbai wobbling at 96 for 4, the Deccan bowlers couldn't put the foot down on the pedal.

    Lot of the credit must go to Nayar and Bravo, who showed the value of good footwork: Nayar regularly sashayed down the track to loft the spinners through the on side while Bravo simply shuffled across smartly before lifting the ball with quicksilver wrists. They finally broke the shackles against Afridi - whose first three overs cost just nine - spanking him for 14 in the 16th over, surging the run-rate to eight an over. Nayar took on Zoysa soon after and Mumbai were on their way to a competitive score.

    Mumbai's innings was characterised by canny bowling and outstanding catching. In Shaun Pollock's absence, Bravo led the way with the ball too. Afridi's fine day didn't continue with the bat, though: he attempted to thump the first ball he faced over the covers for six but could only marvel at Thornely running back from point to snaffle a sharp catch.

    Adam Gilchrist struggled against a probing Ashish Nehra, who varied both his length and pace wonderfully, while getting the ball to move away off the track. He ended wicketless but played a big part in piling on the pressure. Dilhara Fernando was to reap the rewards soon: he surprised Gilchrist with a short one that was sliced to third man before Rohit Sharma missed a well-disguised slower one that rapped him plumb in front. With two wickets in two balls, he had pretty much sealed the match.

    Venugopal, who surprisingly picked up two wickets with his part-time offspin, continued his habit of coming up with a fighting knock in a lost cause. Like he's done in the two previous games, he was like a boy on a burning deck, smashing three sixes and four fours against a mounting asking-rate. Ravi Teja partnered him in a 74-run stand but it would have required something miraculous for the duo to pull it off. Bravo dismissed both within three balls and rounded off a memorable game - four days before facing Australia in the first Test in Kingston.

    Chennai clinch rain-reduced game

    Salman Butt's classy 73 lifted Kolkata Knight Riders to 149, but it wasn't enough...

    For the second successive day, the weather played spoilsport and forced Duckworth-Lewis to decide what was shaping into a fascinating contest. This time, Chennai Super Kings were on the right end of the result, as their total of 55 without loss after eight overs, chasing 150, was three runs ahead of the par score when a severe dust storm descended upon the Eden Gardens, and the rains that followed ensured there was no chance for the match to resume. The two points to Chennai moves them up to 14, while Kolkata Knight Riders are stuck on ten points from 11 games.

    The weather marred the contest, but through 28 overs the crowd witnessed a couple of fine performances. At the same ground where he had announced his arrival in international cricket, Salman Butt played another gem, scoring a classy 73 off 54 balls, to lift an otherwise subdued performance from Kolkata. Chennai had their own man for the moment, as Makhaya Ntini took the third hat-trick of the IPL, dismissing Sourav Ganguly in his third over, and then returning 11 overs later to bowl Debabrata Das - who had been involved in an 86-run stand with Butt - and David Hussey off successive balls.

    That stand gave Kolkata's bowlers something to defend, but the most crucial moment of the match came three deliveries before the interruption. Their defence of the total had got off to a poor start as Shoaib Akhtar struggled with what seemed an injured ankle. Stephen Fleming, at last showing the form and fluency of old, and Parthiv Patel had eased to a half-century stand when Parthiv top-edged a pull, but Ashok Dinda put down the skier, and in the process allowed a single. Had that chance been taken, Chennai would have ended level with the par score, and with no further play possible, Kolkata would have gone away with one point.

    The only positive for Kolkata was that their batting put together a reasonable performance after their abysmal display against Mumbai Indians, when they had been bundled out for 67. Butt's knock wasn't the fastest by Twenty20 standards, but considering the context - a pitch lacking in pace, and a batting line-up lacking in confidence - it was just what Kolkata would have wanted.

    Their start was poor yet again, as Ntini struck twice in his first three overs - Mohammad Hafeez flicked to fine leg and Sourav Ganguly attempted an ungainly heave and found his middle stump knocked back.

    At 28 for 2 after five overs, Chennai had taken the early honours, before Butt found a partner who was ready to play the support act. Das, drafted into the side in place of Aakash Chopra, creamed a couple of audacious straight sixes off Muttiah Muralitharan - who had a day to forget - but for the most part he was content to play second fiddle to the classy Butt, who played an outstanding knock.

    As is his wont, Butt was all silken grace through the off side, either making room to cream drives through the covers, or getting behind the line to pepper the point and cover boundaries off the back foot. Manpreet Gony was crisply hit through the covers in his first over, while Ntini, who otherwise gave little away, leaked successive fours off two exceptional shots, as Butt moved away and lofted one through the covers, and then square-drove the next ball through point. Muralitharan was not spared either, as Butt slog-swept a six over midwicket, and then carved three successive fours through midwicket and third man in his last over, as Muralitharan finished with unflattering figures of none for 41.

    Apart from that partnership, there wasn't much cheer for Kolkata. Ntini, bowling a full length and attacking the stumps, bowled both Das and Hussey to complete his hat-trick and ended with excellent figures of 4 for 21. Gony's control was exceptional as well, landing the ball on a length and allowing the batsmen no room. The fielding wasn't as impressive - S Vidyut was guilty of sloppy misfielding and a missed catch off Butt, while Gony dropped one late in the innings - as Kolkata managed to reach a competitive target. With Shoaib in the attack, there was plenty of hope for the home crowd, but his limp performance, followed by the rain, means Kolkata have plenty of catching up to do to win a semi-final berth.