Saturday, May 31, 2008

Injured Smith ruled out of IPL final

Graeme Smith has been a crucial part of Rajasthan's campaign but he will miss the final because of injury...

Graeme Smith, the Rajasthan Royals opener, has been ruled out of the final of the Indian Premier League because of a hamstring injury he sustained during the semi-final against Delhi Daredevils on Friday.

Smith was rested for Rajasthan's last two league games because he injured his hamstring against Chennai but returned to open the innings in the semi-final. However, he pulled up while running a single in the second over and continued batting with a runner, Mohammad Kaif. He was eventually dismissed for 25 off 21 balls as Rajasthan crushed Delhi by 105 runs.

"Smith has played a huge part in the team's success and we had gave him a couple of games off to recover from his hamstring injury [against Chennai]," Shane Warne, the Rajasthan captain, said. "Yesterday he was running around like an 18-year-old and said he had no problem at all. However, during the game [against Delhi] he tore his hamstring in different spot.

"Unfortunately, he [Smith] is out for tomorrow's game [final]. We have to make the big decision on who will open the innings with Swapnil [Asnodkar]. Younis Khan and Kamran Akmal come to my mind as being likely to open in the final."

Smith's injury is a blow to Rajasthan for he is their second-highest run-scorer with 441 at an average of 49. He also forged an attacking opening partnership with Swapnil Asnodkar - the pair average 59.71 at 8.96 per over, with two century stands.

Rajasthan are likely to pick Akmal, who has scored 122 runs in five innings at a strike-rate of 171.83, over Younis who has played just one game in the IPL so far. If Akmal does get the nod, he is likely to keep wicket instead of Mahesh Rawat, which could also open the door for Niraj Patel's return.

Rajasthan will take on the winner of the second semi-final between Chennai and Kings XI Punjab, which will take place on Saturday at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The final will be held on Sunday at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.

Clinical Chennai send Punjab packing

The opening burst from Makhaya Ntini and Manpreet Gony left Kings XI Punjab in a position from which they couldn't recover...

An inspired Chennai Super Kings shrugged off the underdogs' tag with a comprehensive display to thrash Kings XI Punjab by nine wickets and join Rajasthan Royals in the IPL final. Punjab's batting had been in superb form through most of the tournament, but they came unstuck in the face of some accurate and relentless seam bowling by Chennai's three fast bowlers, folding for a paltry 112. Parthiv Patel and Suresh Raina then ensured that the run-chase was a canter, putting together 102 for the second wicket - both ended on unbeaten half-centuries as Chennai sailed home with 31 deliveries to spare.

Punjab's two previous losses to Chennai, in the league games, had both come when they'd chased, and Yuvraj Singh did the team a huge favour by winning the toss and choosing to bat on a pitch which was expected to assist the spinners later in the evening. That, though, was the only thing that went right for Punjab, as Makhaya Ntini and Manpreet Gony struck twice each in their first spells and reduced Punjab to 40 for 5. They never released the pressure thereafter as the Wankhede Stadium played host to the second one-sided semi-final in two days.

On a pitch offering generous bounce to the fast bowlers, Chennai's pace attack of Ntini, Gony and Albie Morkel bowled in the perfect channel, denying the Punjab batsmen any room to execute strokes through the off side. Learning from Shane Watson's spell on Friday, Ntini pitched it slightly short of a length, hit the bat hard, and hurried the batsmen in their shots, while Gony bowled a fuller length, and with the sort of control which would have made Glenn McGrath proud. Chennai were also superb in the field - Muttiah Muralitharan pulled off a splendid catch over his head to intercept a Yuvraj pull, Suresh Raina was equally spectacular in plucking a diving catch to dismiss Wilkin Mota, while the ground fielding was blemishless.

There was little sign of such a dramatic collapse when Shaun Marsh stroked the first ball of the match - from Muralitharan, surprisingly - through the covers for four. Seven came off that over, but the wheels started coming off in the next over, when James Hopes slashed at a wide one from Ntini and edged to Parthiv.

That dismissal sparked off a procession of wickets, as three more fell in the next four overs. Kumar Sangakkara's was the most unusual, as he seemed to miss a drive off Gony, but walked off even though Parthiv didn't appeal at all. Yuvraj was restless after playing out three successive dot balls and pulled to Murali at short midwicket, but the biggest blow was delivered in the next over, when Ntini hit back to dismiss Marsh immediately after being creamed for a perfect straight drive. Marsh had top-edged a pull for six earlier in the innings, but wasn't as lucky in the sixth over, as the inside edge crashed into his stumps.

Clearly rattled by the early wickets, Punjab lost the plot with some terrible running between the wickets, which cost Irfan Pathan his wicket. Mahela Jayawardene stroked the ball to third man, ran two, started for the third and then changed his mind, leaving Pathan with too little time to gain his ground. When Jayawardene himself fell next over, steering to the wicketkeeper, Punjab had slumped to 45 for 6.

From there, it was only an exercise in damage control: Mota and Ramesh Powar - the two local Mumbai players - put together 35, easily the most productive partnership of the innings. Mota managed a useful 26-ball 25, while Powar smeared Morkel for a huge six over midwicket and then punished a listless L Balaji for three fours in the last over, but a target of 113 was hardly enough to test Chennai.

S Vidyut fell early, but Raina and Parthiv gave Punjab no further opportunity. Raina was in especially sublime touch - he started off with two delectable fours, adjusting to Powar's turn and gliding a four to third man, and then cutting the next ball through point. As he grew in confidence, the ferocity of the strokes increased, and the high point was an incredible pull off Hopes - on a pitch where most batsmen struggled to ride the bounce and execute the stroke - which sailed onto the roof of the stadium. Pathan was similarly dismissed over square leg, while Chawla was slog-swept for six and then driven through extra cover in the last over as Raina brought up his fifty off 32 balls.

Parthiv was slightly more subdued, but the paltry target gave him plenty of time to work with. He started slowly, but then a couple of superb straight hits off the fast bowlers, and powerful sweeps off the spinners. Pathan's early swing with the new ball offered Punjab some hope, but once Chennai got past that threat, there was little the slower bowlers could do.

Chennai lost both their league games against Rajasthan, but after such an emphatic win, that will hardly bother them.

Favourites Punjab take on bogey team

Yuvraj Singh striking form is a cause of concern for Chennai Super Kings...

Match facts

Saturday, May 31
Start time 20.00 (local), 14.30 (GMT)

The Big Picture

Kings XI Punjab may start as overwhelming favourites to meet Rajasthan Royals in the final but if there's one team they might have wanted to avoid in the semi-finals it would probably have been Chennai Super Kings. Punjab have been nearly unstoppable in the competition but Chennai have found a way to get past them twice - first on the back of Michael Hussey's century in Mohali and later thanks to L Balaji's five-wicket haul in Chennai.

However, it would require a special effort for Chennai to make it three in three. A fine mix of foreign batsmen and Indian bowlers makes Punjab the most balanced side in the tournament. Shaun Marsh has consistently set up launch pads and Yuvraj Singh couldn't have regained his touch at a better time - as he did with a ballistic 16-ball 49 in the final league match against Rajasthan.

Chennai's batting has been a worry ever since Matthew Hayden and Hussey left and things have got trickier with the departure of Stephen Fleming. Albie Morkel has provided much needed stability but it may ultimately require Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni to guide them to a winning total.

Tournament position

Kings XI Punjab: P14, W10, L4, NRR +0.509
Chennai Super Kings: P14, W8, L6, NRR -0.192

Form (last five completed matches, most recent first)

Kings XI Punjab: WLWWW
Chennai Super Kings: WLLWL

Watch out for ...

  • Muttiah Muralitharan against Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Murali has dismissed both at crucial stages of earlier games.

  • Chennai's new opening pair with Fleming missing in action.

  • How Dhoni uses Balaji - especially after his hat-trick while bowling at the death in the previous match.

    Team news

    At the end of Punjab's previous game, out of touch Yuvraj had claimed that they had found the "right combination". James Hopes, who was with the bat, came good and he along with Irfan Pathan offer flexibility. Mahela Jayawardene missed the last game but he could return, especially given the threat Murali poses. Luke Pomersbach may have to make way but he, in his defence, can point to the half-century he made on this ground a few weeks ago.

    Kings XI Punjab (likely) 1 Shaun Marsh, 2 James Hopes, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Yuvraj Singh (capt), 5 Mahela Jayawardene, 6 Tanmay Srivatsava, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Ramesh Powar, 10 VRV Singh, 11 Sreesanth.

    Fleming's absence may provide an opening for S Vidyut or S Anirudha (the son of former Indian opener Kris Srikkanth) unless Chennai decide to push Abhinav Mukund to the top of the order. Chamara Kapugedera would be expected to beef up the middle order. The rest of the line-up is likely to be unchanged from the one that won comprehensively against Deccan Chargers.

    Chennai Super Kings (likely) 1 Parthiv Patel (wk), 2 S Vidyut, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), 5 Chamara Kapugedera, 6 S Badrinath, 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Manpreet Gony, 9 L Balaji, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Makhaya Ntini.

    Stats and trivia

  • Punjab have the best run-rate in the tournament (9.05). Chennai are third on the list with 8.50.

  • Chennai have struck the least sixes in the Powerplay (9). Punjab have a whopping 26 sixes in comparison.

  • Murali has spells of 1 for 33 and 1 for 32 in the two games against Punjab, both important efforts in the context of the games.


    "We had beaten them early in the tournament when we had our strongest team and later on even without the overseas players we still managed to win. It's an advantage to go into the semi-finals against them with this record."
    Kepler Wessels, the Chennai coach, talks up his team's prospects.

    "It's a different ground and circumstances are different. We are coming into the game with greater confidence and will be looking to do our best with ball, bat and on the field."
    Tom Moody, the Punjab coach, isn't reading too much into his side's previous losses against Chennai.

  • Kings XI Punjab v Chennai Super Kings, 2nd semi-final
  • Twenty quick numbers

    With the league phase of the IPL coming to an end, here's a look at a few key numbers:

    1 - Number of wickets that have fallen on the first ball of an innings. No first-ball sixes, but nine fours have been hit.

    3 - Three-in-threes, or hat-tricks. L Balaji, Amit Mishra and Makhaya Ntini were the three to achieve the feat, two of which came in the final over of a match, and two for the Chennai Super Kings. Chennai also performed a team hat-trick in their final league game against Deccan Chargers.

    6 - The number of hundreds in the tournament, but none scored by an Indian batsman. Four have been by left-handers - Michael Hussey, Adam Gilchrist, Sanath Jayasuriya and Shaun Marsh - while Brendon McCullum and Andrew Symonds have saved some face for the righties. Also, four Australians.

    8.02 - The Rajasthan Royals have been the best bowling unit, conceding 8.02 runs per over. Kolkata Knight Riders are next with 8.05, while the Deccan Chargers have been the most profligate, conceding 8.70 runs per over, marginally more the Chennai's 8.65.

    9.05 - Kings XI Punjab's run-rate in the tournament, the best among all teams. Rajashtan are second with a run-rate of 8.72, fractions ahead of Delhi Daredevils' 8.69. Bangalore Royal Challengers are the worst with 7.43.

    10 - Sohail Tanvir has toyed around with opposition batsmen during the tournament, taking a wicket every ten deliveries, and his 21 wickets has cost just ten runs each. Tanvir now has the best bowling figures in Twenty20 matches [6 for 14], and the best average, economy-rate [5.97] and strike-rate in the IPL [among bowlers to have delivered at least ten overs].

    Add 0.12 to the 10, and you arrive at Shahid Afridi's batting average in the IPL. While fellow Pakistani Tanvir may be the toast of this tournament, the Player of the Tournament at the World Twenty20 last year has had one to forget.

    11 - Tanvir has taken two hauls of four or more wickets in an innings, out of the 11 in the tournament. Nine other bowlers managed one, while Tanvir, and hat-trick heroes Balaji and Mishra are the only bowlers with five-fors.

    16- The numbers of maidens bowled in the tournament. Also, the number of wickets that have fallen on the final ball of an innings.

    19 - Partnerships of a hundred or more, of which Delhi have five, Rajasthan four, three each for Punjab and Deccan, Kolkata two, one apiece for Chennai and Mumbai Indians, and none for Bangalore.

    20 - The number of sixes conceded by Piyush Chawla, while four other bowlers, including fellow legspinner Shane Warne, have given away 16. However, with 17 wickets each, the two find themselves among the top five wicket-takers.

    31 - He's nearly 39, but Sanath Jayasuriya's wrists and shoulders were still strong enough to clear the boundaries 31 times, the highest for any batsman so far. Inverse 31, and you get the most sixes hit in an innings, 13 by Brendon McCullum in his epic 158.

    33.88 - Left is right. Left-hand batsmen average a good 11 more runs than their right-hand counterparts, who manage just 22.69. However, that stat is obviously influenced by the fact that quite a few tailenders are right-handers.

    36.28 - The percentage of dot-balls bowled. Rajasthan have bowled the most number of dot-balls - 647 - while Delhi have played out the least - 451.

    46.56 - The average score at the end of a Powerplay, given the average run-rate of 7.76. With Shaun Marsh dominating at the top, Punjab have scored 8.79 per over in that period [averaging nearly 50 runs per wicket], marginally ahead of the 8.76 Delhi's dominant top order have managed and way higher than Bangalore's 6.50. Mumbai have given away just 7.09 per over in the Powerplay, while Chennai's 8.25 in the most expensive.

    47 - The number of free-hits, but batsmen have managed only 93 runs off them. Only four have been hit for six, while eight have been carted for four. Yo Mahesh leads the pack having bowled five free-hits, conceding 17.

    50 - The runs teams have scored, on an average, in the last five overs. Kolkata have done marginally better, scoring 54, while Delhi manage approximately 46. Deccan have conceded nearly 57 on an average, while the rest of the teams hover near or below 50.

    74.12 - The average for Shaun Marsh, who tops the batting charts with 593 runs. Among batsmen with over 400 runs, Graeme Smith comes next, averaging 52. Marsh has six fifty-plus scores from ten innings; Gautam Gambhir has five from 13.

    204.34 - Brendon McCullum's strike rate in the IPL. He is the only batsman in the tournament [among those with at least 50 runs] to have scored at more than two runs per ball.

    258 - The number of sixes hit in the V between mid-on and mid-off, compared to 323 fours - a good indication that batsmen have been able to clear the boundaries with ease.

    447 - The highest match aggregate, scored by Chennai and Punjab in the second game of the tournament.

    I did not interfere in team selection for India - Arendse

    'When the team was presented to me, Langeveldt was in the team. He was always in the original team. The problem has been leaks to the media from the selectors themselves'...

    Norman Arendse, the president of Cricket South Africa, has denied interfering in team selection, in particular, the row involving Charl Langeveldt's selection over Andre Nel for the recent tour of India.

    In an interview to the Cape Times, Arendse asserted that Langeveldt was indeed in the original squad and he went on to blame the selectors for leaking information to the media, leading to Nel being dragged into the issue.

    "I don't know what was said to Andre Nel," Arendse told the paper. "I can't comment on that. All I can say is that I did not interfere in the team selection. I never took him out and put in Charl Langeveldt. Whoever spread that story must take responsibility. It is absolute lies."

    The transformation policy had earlier led to a delay in naming the squad for the short tour of Bangladesh which preceded the Indian tour. It led to a very public argument between Arendse and coach Mickey Arthur over the quota policy and both sides issued counter complaints about their treatment.

    Arendse complained the squad contained only four coloured players instead of the stipulated seven and Arthur responded saying Arendse should keep out of team selections. Ultimately, Arthur got the team he wanted as the original squad presented to Arendse was selected, which didn't include Langeveldt.

    The issue reared up again towards the end of the tour, when the Test squad for India was announced. Langeveldt got the nod over Nel, sparking speculation over the decision. Nel was apparently devastated over his omission, leading to further rumours that he considered quitting international cricket. CSA soon confirmed those reports were false. There was further drama when Langeveldt pulled out of the India tour, saying the entire controversy over his selection had upset him.

    "The protocol is for the selection convener (Joubert Strydom) to hand me a sheet with a squad of 14 or 15 names on it," Arendse said. "If the target of seven players of colour is not met, he is supposed to give me an explanation. If I'm not satisfied with the explanation, I then ask him to explain further or I send the team back. That never even happened in that particular case. When the team was presented to me, Langeveldt was in the team. He was always in the original team. The problem has been leaks to the media from the selectors themselves.

    "Selectors must take collective responsibility for the team that is eventually agreed. Given our fragile situation and the transformation policy of CSA, one or more selectors have only served to fuel an already very fragile situation. I am not a selector and I don't discuss the merits or demerits of players with selectors."

    Arendse insisted that he enjoyed a good working relationship with Arthur after the row. "We have a good relationship and a good understanding," Arendse said. "I'm a cricket person and he's a cricket person. It was never an issue between Norman Arendse and Mickey Arthur. But unfortunately that was how it was portrayed by certain sections of the media because it suited their agenda."

    Arendse however, admitted he was disappointed at Langeveldt's decision to cancel his contract with CSA and sign as a Kolpak player in England.

    "Firstly, I have to say that Kolpak does not mean players are no longer not allowed to represent their country. We have cleared that up with the English and various councils. But yes, it has been disappointing that Charl made himself unavailable, and also his turning down of a contract offered by CSA. The irony is that he would have been an automatic choice for England, and the further irony is that Andre Nel has benefited from his non-availability. It's not a train smash, we have lots of talented youngsters who can take his place."

    Friday, May 30, 2008

    Watson helps Rajasthan march into final

    Shane Watson's all-round show turned the match into a one-sided affair...

    This was Shane Watson's match. Imposing himself on the first semi-final, he boosted Rajasthan Royals with an electric fifty before rattling Delhi Daredevils' top order with an outstanding opening spell. Shane Warne had complained about being deprived of home advantage but his side adjusted perfectly to the conditions at the Wankhede Stadium, putting on a show that illustrated exactly why they have been the stand-out team in the competition.

    Delhi were like a side struck with stage fright. Their bowlers were rattled by a brand of unconventional strokeplay - even the peerless Glenn McGrath went wicketless for 38 runs - before their batsmen succumbed against a disciplined attack. Virender Sehwag decision to field may come under scrutiny but Rajasthan's ruthless efficiency might have steered them to the final either way. The farcical end to the match - when Mohammad Asif took an age to get his bat into the crease - summed it up.

    The scorecard may indicate a hopelessly one-sided contest but Rajasthan had their shaky moments. Losing the toss meant facing up to Glenn McGrath and Mohammad Asif on a juicy pitch and three quick wickets for Farveez Maharoof pushed them from 65 for no loss to 76 for 3.

    Graeme Smith, who was aided by a runner once his hamstring injury resurfaced, and Swapnil Asnodkar, who broke a window pane at fine leg with an audacious pull, provided the early impetus but the innings could have easily lost its way with Maharoof, utilising the bounce and movement on the surface, luring the top order into loose strokes.

    Watson's arrival put the innings back on track. From the moment he took 21 off the 11th over, with two ferocious pulls for six, only one team bossed the contest. With the high, straight back-lift that's been the feature of his batting in the tournament, Watson swung through midwicket and square leg. He targeted specific bowlers and went through with shots even if he wasn't to the pitch of the ball, allowing the timing to take care of the rest.

    Amit Mishra, the legspinner, teased with his flight and loop but Watson was intent on spoiling his rhythm - going down on one knee, he slog-swept him over midwicket, a technique that Yusuf was to pick up later.

    Such a commanding total wouldn't have been possible without the final flourish. Yusuf celebrated his recall to the one-day squad with a blistering 21-ball 45, an innings where four mighty sixes dripped off his bat. Without the Watson back-lift, without too much initial movement, he showed what brute force could do, blasting over long-on and midwicket. He spotted slower balls too, smearing Mcgrath over midwicket for the shot of the evening.

    Delhi have their fielders to thank for avoiding further embarrassment but their effort was put in the shade by some acrobatic catching by Rajasthan. Shikhar Dhawan pulled off a diving catch to dismiss Smith but it was Tauwar Kohli's peach of a dive, throwing himself to the right of cover to latch on to a Gautam Gambhir slash, that will stick in the mind.

    Watson may have top scored for his side, but his job wasn't done yet. Up against one of the most formidable opening combinations in the IPL, he cranked up his pace. Sehwag was done in by the extra bounce, holing out to deep point, Gambhir was frustrated into slashing in the air and Dhawan pulled straight to square leg. Every wicket was accompanied by an ecstatic expression - one that indicated the triumph of a well-laid plan.

    Tillakaratne Dilshan's furious swinging was never going to be enough against a constantly mounting asking-rate and he kept losing partners who misread the bounce in the track. Manoj Tiwary top-edged a bouncer from Munaf Patel and Yo Mahesh struggled against a short one directed at the shoulder. The rest were clueless against Warne's fizzers.

    He admitted he would have bowled first if he had won the toss but would have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of turn and bounce the surface offered. He toyed with the tailenders, mixing legbreaks and sliders as if this was a Test, and he could afford to wear an impish smile through the spell, considering the match was long gone.

    Yusuf and Ojha get maiden call-ups

    Half-brothers Irfan and Yusuf Pathan are part of the squad for the tri-series and the Asia Cup in June...

    Yusuf Pathan, a right-hand batsman, and Pragyan Ojha, a left-arm spinner, have been called up to the 15-member squad for the tri-series in Bangladesh and the Asia Cup in Pakistan next month. Dinesh Karthik and Munaf Patel, who played in the CB Series, failed to make the cut.

    The inclusion of Yusuf, who is the half-brother of Irfan Pathan, was on expected lines after his stand-out performances for the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League. He has scored 334 runs at 27.83 from 13 innings with three fifties, and recorded the fastest half-century of the Twenty20 tournament: off 21 balls against the Deccan Chargers. He also took five wickets at 41.60 with his offspin.

    Ojha was one of exceptions in an otherwise lacklustre performance by his team, Deccan, who lost 12 off their 14 matches. He took 11 wickets at 25.81, and his best figures were 2 for 18 in their IPL opener against the Kolkata Knight Riders.

    However Venkatapathy Raju, the former India left-arm spinner who is also one of the national selectors, said IPL performances had not carried much weightage in picking the squad. "Our team did well in Australia and we kept in mind injuries to players in our selection", Raju told Cricinfo. "Murali Kartik was injured and he opted out so we were looking for another left-arm spinner and Ojha's advantage is his height. He was the selectors' choice and not a recommendation from the captain."

    Yusuf, meanwhile, was a unanimous choice, Raju said, based on his recent performances. Apart from the selectors, Dav Whatmore, the National Cricket Academy director, Gary Kirtsen, the coach, Niranjan Shah, the board secretary, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni attended the meeting.

    Ojha first came in to the limelight last August when he picked up 22 wickets in India A's tour of Kenya, including 9 for 85 in a three-day fixture that India won by an innings and 87 runs.

    In four List A games last season, Yusuf scored 92 for Baroda, while Ojha, picked up six wickets for Hyderabad. Their first-class record was better, with Yusuf getting 441 runs at 44.10 from seven Ranji games and Ojha topping Hyderabad's wickets list with 24 at 31.87 from six matches.

    Squad Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, RP Singh, Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha.

    India announce 15-man squad for tri-series and Asia Cup

    No reward for coming first

    Shane Warne: "I can't see any advantage for finishing on top. The top two sides should have home-ground advantage."...

    In just over 48 hours, a team that lost nearly 50% of its league matches could be crowned champions of the inaugural Indian Premier League. A competition spanning six weeks, nearly as long as the much-criticised World Cup in the Caribbean, will finally reach its climax at two venues that none of the four semi-finalists call home. The Rajasthan Royals, perfect over seven games in Jaipur, go into their semi-final against the Delhi Daredevils with no reward whatsoever for that pristine home record. The fact that they won four more games over the regular season also counts for nothing. So, what sort of league are we talking about here?

    Traditionally, there are two kinds. The classic variety, still found in European football, has the teams playing a fixed number of matches, home and away. The team that accumulates the most points is crowned champions. If there's a tie, goal difference settles it [England] or it goes down to your head-to-head record [Spain]. Either way, the best team invariably wins.

    The second kind is the American league, and the dedication to Mammon dictates a convoluted finale that involves wild-cards and play-offs. Even there though, there's a sense of fairness, and reward for excellence during the course of the regular season. The teams with the best records get home-field advantage throughout the play-offs, and only in the case of American Football's Superbowl is the final game played at a neutral venue. The chances of a mediocre team coming through to upset a champion side are slim to non-existent, though once in a generation you'll get a Joe Namath or an Eli Manning inspiring a David outfit against the heavily favoured Goliath.

    Unfortunately, the IPL offers no sort of protection to the best teams in the competition. Rajasthan and Punjab have clearly been the pick of the eight teams, and there would be no complaints at all if they were to contest the final. Instead, two teams, Chennai Super Kings and Delhi, who lost six of their 14 games could slip in through the back door thanks to the semi-finals being one-off games played at a neutral venue.

    It doesn't help that the event was hopelessly compromised by the initial bidding process for the franchises. Whoever bid most [it happened to be Reliance shelling out $111.9 million for Mumbai] also won the right to stage the semi-finals and the final, while the second-highest bid won Vijay Mallya and the Bangalore Royal Challengers the opening game.

    In the larger scheme of things, the opening ceremony, however many lasers, dancers or cheerleaders you muster up, is an irrelevance. That certainly isn't true for the semi-finals and the final. After beating Mumbai in Jaipur last Monday, Shane Warne was understandably worked up about the possibility of Mumbai sneaking into the last four. "If Mumbai sneak in, they get a home semi-final, despite having scraped through," he said. "I can't see any advantage for finishing on top.

    "The top two sides should have home-ground advantage." No one, certainly no one that matters in the IPL, was listening though, and so it is that Rajasthan will play out their last-four clash 1000km removed from the passionate support that was such a factor in that perfect home run.

    Warne's views were echoed by another antipodean legend, Martin Crowe, chief cricket officer of the Royal Challengers. If anything, his suggestion was even more radical. "With an eight-team format, I would look at the top team going into final and second and third-placed teams playing off on the home ground of the second-placed side," he said. "The Rajasthan Royals have won the league, they might get smashed in the semi and I think they deserve to be in the final. And with television, it's been condensed to have the semis and the final at one venue, back to back. That doesn't make sense to anyone except the television people."

    Few events are perfect at the first time of asking, and we can only hope that this eyesore is fixed in time for next year. If not, you might just get the very ugly sight of a team that lost six or seven regular-season games walking away with the big trophy. Under the watchful gaze of the floodlight towers, that really would be daylight robbery.

    IPL eyes global network of leagues

    James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, has confirmed interest in staging an IPL-style competition the following season...

    The Indian Premier League, which will wrap up its inaugural season on June 1, is just the first step of a "grand vision" that will eventually lead to the birth of a network of similar franchise-based models across the major cricket-playing nations culminating in the annual Champions League that will rival its football counterpart in terms of quality, money and glamour, a top IPL official has said.

    England is working on developing their Twenty20 model; South Africa is convinced by the success of IPL and is already reviewing their current franchise format; Cricket Australia may launch their IPL version as soon as next year; and even Pakistan is thinking seriously about starting their edition of IPL.

    "This is the grand vision," IS Bindra, an influential member of the IPL governing council, told Cricinfo. "The vision is to move cricket to the next level, and get each league in each country to resemble the English Premier League with an exciting mix of international and national players. And then you have the grand Champions League, like the UEFA model which has taken football to such heights."

    The immediate task is to start the Champions League as planned from this year. Officials of the BCCI-backed IPL are understood to be meeting a team from Cricket Australia in Mumbai on May 30 to explore whether the event, involving the top two domestic Twenty20 teams from five countries, can be held in England between September 28, when the ICC Champions Trophy in Pakistan ends, and October 9, when India's home Test series against Australia starts.

    "The problem is the four-day practice match on October 2-5. We will try to work out a solution with Cricket Australia because the IPL franchises who will be part of the Champions League will want to have their best players available," Bindra said.

    Bindra, who recently returned from a trip to Melbourne where he briefed the directors of Cricket Australia on the mechanics of organising a franchise-based league there, said one of his focus areas after taking over as the principal advisor to ICC in July would be to "ensure that cricket moves to the next level in world sport" in this direction.

    The concept, Bindra said, is backed by senior officials of the major cricket boards. Giles Clarke, chairman of the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), "has expressed interest in the model" after being briefed by Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, last month; James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, has confirmed interest in staging an IPL-style competition the following season; and Nasim Ashraf, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), is "very keen to launch a similar tournament there" after having deputed two representatives to participate in the planning stages of the IPL last year and "learn from the process".

    In fact, Cricket Australia had invited Bindra last month to brief its board of directors on the concept at a resort near Melbourne on May 7-12. "There was a formal brainstorming session and an informal briefing, and the concept generated a lot of interest among the audience which included former cricketers like Allan Border and Mark Taylor. What I had suggested was a franchise model similar to IPL. But there might have to be some local adjustments.

    "For instance, when we discussed the IPL within the BCCI, the question was whether the teams should be owned by the local state associations or private franchises. Some of us strongly suggested the franchise model because only then can you acquire top players for the teams and make the competition truly global. But the BCCI is a non-profit body and has to look after the state associations, too. So a compromise was arrived at, and we have IPL teams owned by franchises and run in collaboration with state associations. But Australia would have lesser problems since they have a corporate model of governance and have much fewer associations -- six, I believe, compared to 30 in India," Bindra said.

    Thursday, May 29, 2008





    Puzzle Bobble

    King Ping Pong


    Donkey Kong

    burger time

    Maukie - the virtual cat

    Rajasthan and Delhi brace for knock-out clash

    Shane Warne didn't take a wicket in the two league games against Delhi...

    Match facts

    Friday, May 30
    Start time 20.00 (local), 14.30 (GMT)

    The Big Picture

    The irony of the Indian Premier League's first semi-final is that Delhi have Rajasthan to thank for their place in the final four. Stuck on 15 points after 14 matches, Delhi needed Rajasthan to beat Mumbai in Jaipur and only after Mumbai's final-ball choke was Delhi's spot secured.

    Ironic because Rajasthan have lost to only three teams in the IPL - Punjab, in a dead rubber; Mumbai; and Delhi, their semi-final opponents, in their first match of the tournament. Rajasthan were crushed in that encounter at the Feroz Shah Kotla by nine wickets and 29 balls to spare. They settled scores with Delhi during the home game, but that victory too looked improbable until Shane Watson blitzed 74 off 40 balls.

    Past IPL form, though, will count for little during the high stakes of a knock-out match and the contest could be decided by which team keeps its cool. Delhi have Glenn McGrath's tremendous experience to fall back on while Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Dinesh Karthik were part of the Indian squad that won several close battles during the World Twenty20 in South Africa. Rajasthan, however, will rely on Graeme Smith's experience at the top of the order and the inspirational captaincy of Shane Warne to keep emotions under control and instill self-belief in high-pressure situations.

    That they have already played each other twice should leave little room for surprise but, by a quirk of circumstance, Delhi's strong top-order are yet to face Sohail Tanvir, the IPL's best fast bowler. Tanvir was on Pakistan duty in the first encounter and, for the return, was rested to give Dimitri Mascarenhas a chance. Tanvir has been deadly with the new ball and tops both the wickets and economy charts (among those who've bowled at least 10 overs) with 21 scalps while conceding only 5.97 per over.

    Tournament position

    Rajasthan Royals: P14, W11, L3, NRR +0.632
    Delhi Daredevils: P14, W7, L6, N/R1, NRR +0.342

    Form (last five completed matches, most recent first)

    Rajasthan Royals: LWWWW
    Delhi Daredevils: WWLWL

    Watch out for ...

  • Tanvir against Delhi's openers, Sehwag and Gambhir.

  • Glenn McGrath. Rajasthan were able to score only 33 runs off his eight overs in the league games.

  • Yusuf Pathan and Shane Watson, who form the mainstay of Rajasthan's power-hitting arsenal.

    Team news

    Rajasthan toyed with their line-up for their final league game against Punjab, resting Smith, Swapnil Asnodkar, Tanvir, Ravindra Jadeja and Warne. All five are expected to return for the semi-final. Niraj Patel's excellent form against Mumbai and Punjab might see him edge Mohammad Kaif for a spot.

    Rajasthan Royals (probable): 1 Graeme Smith, 2 Swapnil Asnodkar, 3 Yusuf Pathan, 4 Shane Watson, 5 Niraj Patel, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Mahesh Rawat (wk), 8 Shane Warne (capt), 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Siddharth Trivedi, 11 Munaf Patel.

    Delhi are likely to leave out Brett Geeves, who played their final league game against Mumbai, and bring back Mohammad Asif, who missed the last three games because of a hand injury. He was seen bowling at the nets on the eve of the semi-final.

    Delhi Daredevils (probable): 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag (capt), 3 Shikhar Dhawan, 4 Manoj Tiwary, 5 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 V Yomahesh, 9 Amit Mishra, 10 Mohammad Asif 11 Glenn McGrath.

    Stats and trivia

  • Warne has figures of 0 for 63 off six overs from his two matches against Delhi. Watson, on the other hand, has scored 95 runs and taken 3 for 52 off eight overs.

  • Delhi have hit only 52 sixes in 13 innings, the lowest among all teams in the IPL. Rajasthan have hit 70.

  • Delhi's run-rate during the Powerplays is 8.76, compared to Rajasthan's 7.77. Both teams have lost less than one and a half wickets on average during the first six overs.


    "I have seen in previous matches that the ball does a bit in the first half of the match and in the second half batting is easier. Both teams have good bowlers and shot selection is important."
    Sehwag hints he might prefer to chase at the Wankhede.

    "It's been an interesting journey with the Daredevils. Basically, we have been in three finals already to get in to the semi-finals. If that doesn't prepare you for a semi-final, then nothing else will. To get through three must-win games steels the team. It will be a huge advantage for Viru and his guys.
    Dennis Lillee, Delhi's cricket advisor on the team's preparations.

    "We should have hosted the semi-final instead of playing it at a neutral venue. We have been the best team in the league so far but have not gained any extra advantage. Playing at home would have given us a big advantage. These are some of the things that need to be improved by the IPL authorities next year, especially by allowing the top two sides to host the semi- finals."
    Warne, whose team has been unbeaten at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.

  • Tendulkar to miss Bangladesh tri-series and Asia Cup

    Sachin Tendulkar's groin hasn't healed completely...

    Sachin Tendulkar will miss the upcoming tri-series in Bangladesh and the Asia Cup that follows because he hasn't recovered fully from his groin injury.

    The injury had forced Tendulkar to miss the second and third Tests against South Africa in April as well as the first half of the Mumbai Indians' campaign in the Indian Premier League.

    "Tendulkar is not available for the tri-series as well as the Asia Cup on the advice of Mumbai Indians physiotherapist Nitin Patel," Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, said. "He has not recovered sufficiently from the groin injury."

    Tendulkar was instrumental in India winning the tri-series in Australia earlier this year, scoring an unbeaten 117 and 91 in the best-of-three finals. His IPL form, after missing Mumbai Indians' first seven games, hasn't been as good, with 188 runs at an average of 31.33 and strike-rate of 106.

    Besides Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, the fast bowler, is likely to miss out owing to the recurrence of his ankle injury, which ruled him out of the recent Test series against South Africa. Zaheer took part in the IPL, picking up 13 wickets in 11 matches before succumbing to the injury.

    India will travel to Bangladesh to compete in a tri-series also involving Pakistan between June 8 and 14. The Asia Cup is scheduled to be held in Pakistan between June 24 and July 6.

    Akram denies being approached to coach Pakistan

    Wasim Akram (left) also ruled out the possibility of working as a bowling coach with the team...

    Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan captain, has quashed growing speculation that he is about to replace Geoff Lawson as the coach of Pakistan, saying that nobody from the Pakistan Cricket Board has approached him.

    Local media has buzzed in recent days with unconfirmed reports that the PCB is unhappy with Lawson and is looking for a replacement. Akram has been conducting a camp for fast bowlers in Lahore at the same time and was asked, on his first day, whether he would be interested in the coaching job.

    A positive response - albeit with qualifications - and subsequent reports of a fall-out between Lawson and members of the selection committee has led many to conclude that Akram is being lined up.

    But Akram said he had not been sounded out yet, though if the conditions were right, he would consider the post. "There has been no offer," he told Cricinfo. "Nobody from the board has approached me officially or unofficially with anything. I have a few years left on my contract with ESPN (as a television commentator and analyst) so anything that comes would have to be weighed up against that. Ultimately it would depend on a number of things."

    Akram also ruled out the possibility of working as a bowling coach with the team, suggesting that he would prefer becoming a full-time coach.

    Akram's work as a floating, freelance bowling consultant of sorts has been successful since he retired from the game in 2003. A number of Indian bowlers have benefited from his informal sessions and last year, in his first official role, his two-week camp for Pakistani fast bowlers, was widely considered a success. Sohail Tanvir - though he had already been spotted - benefited immensely from the tutelage and Akram also pushed the case of Mohammad Aamer, who has had a successful time at the Under-19 level. He is working this time with the likes of Sohail Khan and Anwar Ali.

    The development comes amid growing uncertainty over Lawson, though whether there is any substance to the unrest is not yet clear. The coach is expected to arrive in Pakistan from a month-long holiday in Australia tomorrow, and he is likely to arrive to a barrage of questions about his relationship with the selectors and his future.

    The selection committee and Lawson both deny that there are problems between them, though there have been run-ins in the series against Zimbabwe earlier this year. The situation was resolved at the time, but matters have reportedly taken a turn for the worse again in the aftermath of the Bangladesh series, the central issue remaining final say in selection. A few days ago, a local Urdu newspaper published an interview reportedly given by Lawson to an unspecified Australian radio station in which he is said to have criticised the selectors and some senior players.

    No PCB official has been available for comment on the situation so far.

    IPL Cheerleaders Pictures

    Indian Premier League Photos

    Hayden ruled out of West Indies tour

    Matthew Hayden is going back to Australia to recover...

    Australia received a jolt ahead of Friday's second Test with Matthew Hayden returning home after failing to recover from a lingering achilles injury. Ricky Ponting's team missed Hayden in the first Test in Jamaica, especially in the second innings when they collapsed to 18 for 5 before recovering to score 167.

    "He's no good," Ponting told AAP. "Haydos will be going home pretty much ASAP.

    "He had some scans after the game in Jamaica and, just with the time difference, he had to wait to get the experts back there to have a look at those, and obviously there's some tendon damage. It's just not going anywhere so we just want him to get home ... and get him back on a programme to get him right for the Champions Trophy."

    Alex Kountouris, the side's physiotherapist, said Hayden's right achilles tendon injury has not made sufficient progress during his time in the West Indies. "He will not be able to participate in the second Test and was highly unlikely to be available for the third Test," Kountouris said. "With the large volume of cricket to be played over the next 18 months it was decided he should return to Australia to undergo rehabilitation and consult specialists. This means he will not be available for the five one-day internationals against West Indies."

    Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, said Brad Hodge would remain with the side, "which is richly deserved given his strong performance in the first Test". Hodge made crucial contributions with 67 in the first innings and 27 in the second, but he will lose out to Simon Katich for the final batting spot once Michael Clarke comes back in at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua.

    Katich will open for the second game in a row while Clarke, the vice-captain, will take Hodge's place at No. 5. Hilditch said the selectors would be meeting later in the week to discuss Hayden's replacement for the one-day series that begins after the third Test.

    IPL becomes ever more appealing to England's players

    Kevin Pietersen: more likely than ever to be taking part in the 2009 IPL...

    Despite claims from ECB chairman Giles Clarke that the IPL will not impact on the England team, speculation is growing that leading players are preparing to use the window between the end of the West Indies tour and the start of the 2009 season to head to India.

    The second IPL season is scheduled to be held between April 10 and May 29. England return from the Caribbean in March, and traditionally the first Test of the summer is not until mid May, allowing them a four to five-week gap to play in the IPL.

    Assuming that all the leading players sign new central contracts with the ECB, in theory they will need permission from it - and, where applicable, their counties - to play. That will place the board in a quandary as earlier this week a spokesman reiterated Clarke's assertion at the start of the season that the early end to the West Indies tour was to allow players to rest rather than play elsewhere. But the players' desire to take part in the lucrative IPL might force the board to stand down.

    Adam Wheatley, Kevin Pietersen's agent, made clear to The Times that his client was keen to play in India. "I think the ECB wants to appease the players. There is at least a window now, albeit a short one, so I think Kevin will be able to play in the IPL. He might only play two or three games next year, then maybe a bit more the year after."

    Vijay Mallya, the owner of the Bangalore Royal Challengers, who despite a huge financial outlay failed to make the last four in the IPL, told the Daily Telegraph that English players were firmly in his sights. "Some swapping around will have to be done but we will be looking at English players and I have set my team management working on the composition of the squad for next year."

    Learning from Pigeon

    Over the last 40-odd days, the IPL has been cricket's classroom, where just about everyone has benefited from playing with cricketers they had till then only admired from afar. In the Delhi Daredevils side, Glenn McGrath has clearly been the teacher. Three young team-mates, Mohammad Asif, Farveez Maharoof and Yo Mahesh talk about what having him in the side has meant to them.

    The light-hearted heavyweight

    Maharoof It is never easy to approach a new person, but it was easy to gel with McGrath. Off the field he is an amazing guy, joking and making everyone relax. Outside the ring, the kid in him comes alive.

    He has been a hero for me, and I've always wanted to be as consistent as him. Lucky to have him, and he is always nice and helpful to share anything about cricket, or life in general.

    He is just an icon for the team - the way he reacts, the way he behaves, there's always something to learn from him.

    Yo Mahesh He's always friendly. He never makes you feel he is such a star. He is always joking around off the field. That releases all the pressure.

    I was a bit reluctant to talk to him when I first met him - I was in awe of him. But as days went by I started to ask him questions -about my bowling, his bowling, preparation ...

    Asif I played my first game against Deccan Chargers. I was pretty nervous about playing in front of such a big crowd and with such legends in the team. He was at mid-on and sensed my anxiety, and he came to me and calmed me down and encouraged me throughout that over. That gave me a lot of confidence, a belief that I belonged over there, especially if a guy like McGrath comes up and chats with me.

    What they've learned
    Maharoof He suggested a few technical adjustments about the variations and the grip when bowling the slow ball. Those should help. I have more control over my slower ball now. Cricket is all about doing the simple things right. If you get the basics right, you will succeed. That's the biggest lesson he has taught me.

    Just watching him has been a big learning experience - the way he changes his pace, employs variations, his preparations before a game.

    That and all the advice he gave me about cricket and life - he spoke about the importance of taking a break once in a while, considering the stressful lives we lead - will be a treasure.

    Yo Mahesh I tend to get excited easily if I take a wicket or if I get hit. What I've learned from McGrath is that in those moments you've got to be really focused on what you're supposed to be doing, rather than thinking about what has happened or what will happen.

    Once, I asked him how he prepares the day before the game. He said, "I just want to get a great feel. If I want to bowl here and if I do it, I feel good about it. I'm done for the day. I carry that to the next day for the game." That helped me a lot.

    We discussed Aussie batsmen. Guys like Simon Katich move across the crease and make you bowl on the stumps. Effectively, he makes you bowl to his strength. McGrath pointed out that it is better to bowl just outside off stump in such cases. Things like that have helped me read batsmen better.

    He will say, "Outside off, he'll leave the ball" and that's what the batsman does. Then he'll say, "Leg-cutter, middle and leg, batsman takes one." And that's what happens! Yo Mahesh

    About consistency he said, "I try to keep things very simple as far as bowling is concerned. I don't try much. I understand my own strengths, and I work on them rather than going way beyond myself trying to explore more things." His strength is his bounce - he was never really quick - and he has stuck to that.

    He will say he is going to bowl a particular ball, and he goes and does that exactly. He will say, "Outside off, he'll leave the ball" and that's what the batsman does. Then he'll say, "Leg-cutter, middle and leg, batsman takes one." And that's what happens!

    Asif He told me to hit the seam and that the bounce should come from the surface - that's what the batsman is bothered by more than anything else.

    Like he was never away
    Maharoof On the field he gives 100%. I had heard that about him but it was still surprising to see. He is 37 and most of us are in our twenties, but still we never felt the age difference.

    The first two games, he bowled right on the spot. It spoke volumes: this guy has been out for a year but is still so accurate. Normally a bowler who has been out for a while would tend to find it difficult to pitch it right, but this guy proved his star value. And this despite the fact that he said he wasn't 100%!

    Yo Mahesh When I saw him pitch his first ball perfectly I realised what a legend he is. It does not seem like he has retired from international cricket. In the nets he is very consistent with what he does, always pitching in the ball in the right areas.

    He is a class apart from other bowlers when it comes to bowling with the new ball in Twenty20. You see how many opening bowlers have been clobbered, and how he has mostly remained untouched. He reads the pitch early, in terms of what length to bowl.

    Asif Glenn has been in a different class and he has maintained that always. He bowls as if there is no pressure, and he keeps it simple, even in a game like Twenty20 where the bowlers are always under pressure due to the short boundaries and batsmen attacking them. Glenn has managed to put pressure on the batsmen.

    He is always open to talking. He asked me about subcontinental conditions, trying to understand the wickets here so he could bowl better on them.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Marsh century conquers Rajasthan

    Shaun Marsh's century allowed the Kings XI Punjab to finish the league stages on a high...

    Rajasthan Royals may have ended the league stage on top, but it will be the Kings XI Punjab who head into the semi-finals full of confidence after triumphing by 41 runs in a dead-rubber top-of-the-table clash in Mohali.

    Shane Warne rested himself for the game, and there was not much the Rajasthan Royals' captain-cum-coach could do watching from the dugout as Punjab's top order knocked them out of the contest. Shaun Marsh led the way with a 69-ball 115 and James Hopes' 51 provided him support in a century stand before Yuvraj Singh finally found his rhythm with a blistering 49. Without Warne, Rajasthan looked insipid in the field, and a weakened attack without him and Sohail Tanvir, the tournament's best bowler, leaked away too many short and wide deliveries.

    Rajasthan, despite a stumbling start, made a spirited effort at hunting down an imposing 222. There was a fluent fifty from Niraj Patel and two blistering hands from Yusuf Pathan and Kamran Akmal, but the match had pretty much been sealed after Punjab's batsmen provided a royal feast for the fans in their last home match.

    Marsh, who has been the in-form batsmen for Punjab, was quick off the blocks. Shane Watson had taken over the captaincy, but Marsh started by spanking two wide deliveries off him for boundaries through the off side. The cut, pull and the lofted straight drive were seen aplenty as Marsh began his assault to go past Gautam Gambhir as the tournament's leading run-getter.

    At the other end, Hopes got the occasional boundary while letting his partner take most of the strike, and he had to take some evasive action as Marsh blasted one off Watson that went right under his legs. The Powerplay overs fetched 51, but there was no respite for Rajasthan as Pankaj Singh was taken for 17 in the seventh: Marsh clobbering one over midwicket, before lacing the next through extra cover.

    Marsh took a single off Dinesh Salunkhe's first ball to become the tournament's leading run-scorer, and a rank bad ball was blasted through midwicket to bring up his fifty. At 88 for 0 after ten overs, the Mohali crowd were set for a treat from their batsmen, and Hopes shifted gears as Punjab looked to build an imposing score. He got three boundaries off Siddharth Trivedi in the 11th over, and Yusuf's offspin was slog-swept into the stands en route to his fifty, which came 30 deliveries.

    Next it was Marsh's turn; Yusuf was flat-batted over long-on for four before the Western Australian stepped down the track for to send one sailing over long-on. Yusuf got a breakthrough as Hopes holed on to deep midwicket and the two quiet overs that followed were the brief lull before Yuvraj came out storming and landed the knockout blow.

    By then Marsh was marching towards his hundred, and he struck a six over Pankaj's head to move to 97, and a single later in the over - that cost 25 - brought up the sixth century of the IPL. The pressure was getting to Rajasthan, and Yuvraj cashed in: he swivelled around to pull one for six, before dispatching one through square leg.

    Marsh scored most of his runs in front of the wicket...

    Yuvraj was in the sort of mood that caught him when he smashed six sixes off Stuart Broad in the World Twenty20. He did hit five sixes off six consecutive deliveries - though it was spread across three overs this time - before he was run-out off the last ball of the innings, one short of what would have been the tournament's fastest fifty. Marsh had fallen earlier in the over, but Punjab were way past the par score of 180 initially suggested by Warne.

    Rajasthan surprisingly opened with Mohammad Kaif and Niraj. Kaif fell early, as did Younis Khan, but Niraj, who held his calm during the gripping run-chase that knocked out the Mumbai Indians, scored a sparkling fifty.

    He cracked four fours in a Sreesanth over: he worked the ball square on the off side as the bowler gave him width, and launched a slower ball down the ground. VRV Singh tried to test him with shorter deliveries, but Niraj managed to find the boundary. Punjab's bowlers had frittered away a winning position in their shock loss to the Kolkata Knight Riders, but today they were largely disciplined and were backed up by sharp fielding.

    Though Niraj kept the score ticking, Rajasthan were struggling at 67 at the halfway mark. Piyush Chawla removed Niraj and Watson, but Rajasthan were given a glimmer of hopes as Yusuf Pathan and Kamran Akmal nonchalantly blasted sixes and scored 54 in three overs to bring it down to 90 off the final six.

    Punjab had conceded 71 in the final five overs against Kolkata, but Chawla picked up his third wicket, removing Akmal, and even the hard-hitting Yusuf, who's been a revelation in the tournament, couldn't save Rajasthan. Warne had experimented with his line-up and Delhi Daredevils will be wary of a backlash come the semi-final in on Friday. As for the Chennai Super Kings, they will know they're up against a juggernaut.

    Mumbai end IPL campaign with easy win

    Dilhara Fernando comes good against Bangalore...

    Mumbai rounded off their IPL campaign with a comfortable win over the Bangalore Royal Challengers in a match reduced to 18 overs a side by rain. Sanath Jayasuriya and Sachin Tendulkar weren't troubled by the damp conditions and added 96 in 69 balls after Dilhara Fernando restricted Bangalore to 122 with controlled spells of bowling that fetched him four wickets.

    While Mumbai's three seamers - Shaun Pollock, Ashish Nehra and Fernando - troubled the Bangalore batsmen with varying line and length, Bangalore's bowlers, except Dale Steyn, caused no discomfort to Mumbai's in-form openers. Rahul Dravid chose to open with Anil Kumble, like he did in the previous game, and was made to pay as Jayasuriya lofted the bowler for a four over his head off the second ball.

    In any opening partnership that features Jayasuriya, the other batsman will have to play second fiddle and Tendulkar did just that as Jayasuriya went on the attack. However both the batsmen were shaken by Steyn's pace and ability to seam the ball both ways. In his first over - that went for one run - Steyn cut one in to Jayasuriya, then had him miss a pull with a ball that stayed low and followed it with an away delivery that Jayasuriya nearly edge to the keeper. But the inability of the other bowlers to get the right length undid Steyn's efforts.

    The short ball was used effectively by Mumbai's bowlers to keep the runs in check but similar deliveries by Bangalore's bowlers went for fours and sixes off Jayasuriya's bat. R Vinay Kumar was hit for successive sixes and fours to midwicket and fine leg in an over that cost 16 runs. In contrast, for Mumbai, Pollock and Nehra set up Shreevats Goswami for Fernando's taking with back-of-length deliveries that jumped up at him. And though Mark Boucher countered bouncers from the two with ease, he appeared off-guard for one by Fernando and ended up lobbing it to Robin Uthappa at mid-on.

    In Mumbai's last match, Fernando had a nightmare final over where he conceded 15 runs to hand the Rajasthan Royals their 11th win of the tournament. But he had no hangover of that game today as he took three wickets for three runs in his first two overs. Later, when Tendulkar kept faith in him and gave him the final over, Fernando responded by conceding only seven and picking up a fourth wicket.

    Bangalore were hindered not only by the slow outfield, that converted certain boundaries in to threes and twos, but also by Mumbai's fielders, who contained runs by running hard and diving across the ground. The last three overs - which went for 30 runs - allowed Bangalore to go past 100 but it was never going to be enough to stop Jayasuriya and Tendulkar from sealing an easy win.

    Chennai Super Kings seal semi-final spot

    Suresh Raina's unbeaten 54 sealed the semi-final spot for the Chennai Super Kings...

    Mahendra Singh Dhoni lost the toss but everything else went right for his team, beginning with some tight bowling, as the Chennai Super Kings won the match against the Deccan Chargers and a spot in the semi-finals at the expense of the Mumbai Indians. Chennai will face Kings XI Punjab, whom they have defeated twice in the league games, in one semi-final, while Rajasthan Royals take on Delhi Daredevils in the other.

    Chennai had conceded 211 against Rajasthan in their previous game but the bowlers were up to the task this time as Deccan's final attempt to win at home win went awry. Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs and Shahid Afridi made a combined total of 14 runs, and though Venugopal Rao and Ravi Teja propped them up to 147, it wasn't enough. Chennai had an early wobble, but Suresh Raina, who came in to bat in the fourth over, steered them home with an unbeaten 54.

    Chennai's opening bowlers were on the mark from the start: Makhaya Ntini bowled with pace and got good bounce and carry, while Manpreet Gony, the team's leading wicket-taker, stuck to an impeccable length on off stump and bowled through his four overs for 21. And they reaped the rewards soon, as both Gibbs and Gilchrist found the fielder at third man - Gibbs with a slash, and Gilchrist with a thick outside-edge.

    Deccan's early runs came mainly in singles and Scott Styris, who has had a terrible tournament, seemed to be getting into rhythm with boundaries in the arc between midwicket and mid-on till he was bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan while trying to hit one across. At 57 for 3 after 10.1 overs, Deccan needed a partnership and Rao and Teja came up with a 76-run stand that lent respectability to the eventual total. Muralitharan was hard to get away but the two went after Balaji in the 14th over, which cost 14.

    They managed to up the run-rate with a boundary every over, and Rao, often at the centre of Deccan's rearguard actions, hit one to bring up the 100 in the 16th over. There was a flurry of runs in the 18th as well, as Teja slashed one high into the stands off Ntini in an over which cost 15. That he still ended with figures of 1 for 24 off his four indicated just how frugal he was in his first three overs.

    That burst was followed by a flurry of wickets, including three - one of them a run-out - in three balls in the 19th. The crowd had chanted Afridi's name but he lasted two balls as Deccan limped to 147.

    Deccan, and Mumbai, needed a wicket early and RP Singh nearly got the breakthrough as Stephen Fleming fended at one that swung away, but both Gilchrist and Styris were late to react. Fleming and his fellow left-hand opener Parthiv Patel cashed in when the bowlers erred: short and wide deliveries were dispatched for fours. P Vijaykumar then decided to go round the wicket, and it worked, as Fleming got a thick outside-edge while trying to force a drive through the covers.

    Deccan Chargers were always playing catch-up after an abysmal start. In their first ten overs, they had managed only 57 runs...

    In came Raina and he soon found his rhythm, slapping one riskily in the air through the covers, before punching one through the same region. Afridi was brought into the attack as early as the fifth over, and he put a brake on the scoring. At the other end, Raina got consecutive boundaries in Sarvesh Kumar's first over, but the pressure applied from Afridi worked as Parthiv played straight to cover in Sarvesh's next, Afridi taking the catch.

    Raina was joined by Dhoni, and the 55-run stand between the two put Chennai on course for victory. Dhoni started with two streaky boundaries - he hit one straight to Sarvesh first-up, who fluffed a chance, and followed with a thick outside-edge which flew to the third-man boundary. With left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and Styris managing to curb the runs, Dhoni decided to take a few risks. He stepped out to deposit Ojha over long-on, and after a miscued pull nearly landed in Gibbs' hands at midwicket, he cut Styris for four. Afridi came back with 52 needed off 42 balls, and Dhoni hit one dead-straight for four, before Raina powered a shorter delivery over midwicket for six.

    Chennai were cruising towards the target, but had a brief wobble after Dhoni found Gibbs at long-on. That Ojha over, the 16th, went just for three, and when Styris conceded the same in the next, Chennai were left needing 28 off 18. Another tight over and Deccan could have still been in the hunt, but Raina found the gap at midwicket as Ojha bowled a full toss. He was dropped by RP in the 19th over, and hit the winning six - which brought up his fifty - as Chennai reached their target with four balls to spare.

    While Dhoni and Co were relieved and celebrated the win, Gilchrist looked ahead after a disastrous first season, in which last-placed Deccan won just two of their 14 games. "I do not have any excuses. It depends which way you look it.," he said. "It's not end of the world. We should settle down, make a self-assessment and think over where we went wrong and plan for the future."