Saturday, June 21, 2008

Resurgent New Zealand level series

Owais Shah falls to Tim Southee as England's middle order collapses.

New Zealand produced a remarkable turnaround to level the one-day series with a 22-run victory at Bristol after finding themselves in a seemingly hopeless position. Kyle Mills and Grant Elliott had fine all-round days, while Tim Southee claimed 4 for 38, removing Paul Collingwood with his penultimate ball when the England captain was pushing his side within sight of the target, as New Zealand defended 182. However, that doesn't really do justice to the hole they dug themselves out of.

After 25 overs New Zealand were 61 for 5, which later became 110 for 7, but Elliott, who was pulled out of club cricket with Weybridge before the last match at Edgbaston, played very sensibly to ensure the overs were played out. Mills' career-best 47 off 40 balls meant they went into the interval with a little momentum and he built on that with two early new-ball wickets, then it was Southee who did the major damage to the middle order as three went down in 18 balls.

Collingwood and Graeme Swann added 65 to edge England back into the favourites position, but Daniel Vettori had an excellent match in the field and marshalled his resources expertly. He took the pressure himself of bowling at the end and sprung a surprise by handing Elliott the ball at the death. The move worked as Elliott claimed the final scalp, which capped a memorable match for him when, a few days ago, he would have been expecting to be playing the Surrey Championship.

With all the discussion about the explosion of Twenty20 cricket, this was a timely reminder that 50-over matches allow plenty of time for ebb and flow. Both teams were in positions where their causes looked distinctly doubtful, but there was the opportunity to turn it around which wouldn't exist in the shortest form. This game was also a pointer that the most gripping contests are those where the bowlers can have a say and it isn't just about whose bat can hit the ball further.

Conditions meant batsmen were never the dominant force with plenty of assistance on offer for the swing bowlers and bounce for taller men like Mills, Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett. England, though, will wonder how they let the match slip away and while they were slightly lazy in allowing New Zealand to bat out their overs, the target should still have been well within their grasp.

Mills put the run chase on the back foot by removing Luke Wright in the first over and then snaring the key wicket of Kevin Pietersen, a loose flick to midwicket, one of a few England batsmen who helped in their own demise. Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara began to resurrect the innings and New Zealand were desperate for another breakthrough. As so often in those types of situations, it was a brilliant delivery which did the trick as Bell slapped a wide ball from Elliott to cover. Five deliveries later Bopara was equally culpable when he slashed to backward point, although credit must go to Jamie How for a sharp catch.

What may have been a wobble turned into a full-blown collapse in the next over from Southee as he twice found outside-edges into the slips. Owais Shah drove without much conviction, sending a regulation catch to second slip, then Tim Ambrose flashed more expansively and found Ross Taylor, who parried the ball and held on a second time. Southee hasn't had the easiest of tours, following his impressive Test debut where he took five wickets in Napier, but this was a reminder of his talent especially when the ball is swinging.

It left Collingwood trying to pick up the pieces with the lower order for company, in the knowledge that both Swann (against Sri Lanka) and Broad (against India and Sri Lanka) have played major roles in chases during the last 12 months. Swann, after resurrecting the chase, chipped carelessly to midwicket and Vettori knew he had to bowl out England so recalled Southee. The move worked as Collingwood went lbw, then Vettori virtually sealed it as he trapped Broad down the leg side. Vettori's celebrations were a release of tension after a dispiriting few weeks, but also the realisation that his team had pulled off a memorable fightback.

Brendon McCullum departed after taking three consecutive boundaries off James Anderson and no other batsmen threatened to dominate in the same way. When Broad slanted a fuller ball through Taylor's static drive and Daniel Flynn clubbed a thigh-high full toss to mid-on New Zealand were 49 for 5.

Broad was in such metronomic rhythm that he was allowed to bowl his 10 overs straight through and produced the most economical figures of his career. Tremlett, on his recall, kept the pressure on with a miserly eight-over burst and there was a 12-over period where he and Broad operated in tandem that yielded just 16 runs.

However, from the high mark England had set in the field, their standards slipped. A couple of catches were put down - one by Collingwood and one by Ambrose - and while they didn't cost many runs it was a prime example of a moment not being seized. Elliott never threatened to take the attack apart, but his 99-ball half-century allowed a dart at the last few overs.

Anderson, who had his worst day of the summer with the ball, dropped too short and was dispatched, while Wright also proved expensive as the last two overs cost 32 runs. It is amazing how often such small periods of play end up being the difference. New Zealand have had precious little to cheer on this tour but, against the odds, they head to London for the final two matches with a chance of claiming a trophy.

Fears grow over Champions Trophy boycott

If the Champions Trophy goes ahead then it will be against a backdrop of intense security.

Despite assurances from the Pakistan board that all is well, there are increasing signs that a number of players are considering boycotting September's ICC Champions Trophy amid fears over their safety.

"We've been hearing though the media that there may be concerns among some of the players about the Champions Trophy," Zakir Khan, the PCB's director of cricket operations, said yesterday. "But we are not taking any of it seriously unless there is an official confirmation from the boards of those countries."

However, it emerges that England's players are in close contact with their Australian counterparts, and the ICC appears to be facing the real possibility that the tournament, which is far from popular with players and public, could be hit by a wave of boycotts.

"The Aussies have already come out and expressed their concerns," one senior England player was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph. "I'm not a big fan of going to Pakistan. I just hope it won't be us players who get left to make the decision in the end."

Australia's cricketers have also been expressing concerns. Earlier this year, Australia postponed a scheduled tour of Pakistan on safety grounds and the general view in the dressing room seems to be that the situation remains unaltered. "We don't know if we're going, and if we do go, we don't know if individuals are going to pull out," Ricky Ponting said. "But what we know right now is, yes, there is some apprehension amongst some of the players and that was stated last summer. I don't think that would have changed until now."

New Zealand are also among those watching with interest. Justin Vaughan, the chief executive of New Zealand Cricket, will fly to London next week to discuss his players' concerns over touring Pakistan for a short ODI series just before the Champions Trophy.

"If the Australians have got concerns, I'm sure a lot of other teams will as well," Daniel Vettori, their captain, admitted. "I was there when the bomb went off outside our hotel. Then I went back a year later and the security they put forward was immense, and almost overwhelming. I did feel safe throughout that time."

A security expert will travel to Pakistan next week and his report is expected to be submitted to the ECB and Cricket Australia soon after. Other boards may well look at the results with more than a passing interest.

The official line from the ICC, underlined by bullish comments from its president, Ray Mali, is that all is well and there are no problems, but privately concerns are growing, not least because Sri Lanka is the back-up venue should Pakistan be deemed unsafe. Many players would only be marginally happier switching there given the country's issues.

Pakistan board dismisses security concerns

Daniel Vettori: "I was there [in Pakistan] when the bomb went off outside our hotel in [2002] and I went back a year later and the security they put forward that time was immense.

The Pakistan board has dismissed concerns from several international players regarding security arrangements in the country for the Champions Trophy in September. The ICC had declared itself happy with the security situation in Pakistan "at this time" but many Australian and New Zealand players remain uneasy about the tournament.

"We've been hearing though the media that there may be concerns among some of the players about the Champions Trophy," Zakir Khan, the PCB's director of cricket operations, told the Karachi-based News. "But we are not taking any of it seriously unless there is an official confirmation from the boards of those countries."

Zakir said since the ICC was satisfied with the security measures, there was no need for other countries' boards to be worried. "I don't think there is a need for any security consultant from Australia to come here," Zakir said regarding reports that an Australian official was headed to Pakistan next week to review the situation. "The ICC [security] officials are already here and monitoring the situation. I believe that should be enough."

But while Ponting and other Australian players expressed their concern over the tournament, Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, said he would feel it was safe to tour if the level of security was the same as when his side toured Pakistan in 2003. "I was there when the bomb went off outside our hotel in [2002] and I went back a year later on tour and the security they put forward that time was immense and overwhelming," Vettori said. "So if they could promise that level of security it would appease a lot of guys." Earlier Jacob Oram, the New Zealand allrounder who was part of the 2003 tour to Pakistan, had said he would sit with his family and take a decision on whether or not to tour the country this year.

Peter Moores, the England coach, said his side hadn't discussed the situation yet. "We'll wait and see what is said and if that's where we're going and we'll take our advice from the ECB."

PCB forms three-man committee for Asif inquiry

Mohammad Asif is all set to face an internal inquiry from the PCB.

The PCB has constituted a three-man committee to investigate Mohammad Asif's 19-day detention in Dubai on allegations of possessing an illegal substance. Asif returned to Pakistan on Friday after Dubai authorities dropped the case on grounds of it being "insignificant." There remains confusion over whether he was deported, as media reports in Dubai claim, or 'repatriated', as the PCB claimed in a statement.

"They [the committee] have been asked to acquire all the documents related to the case, establish facts, and after a complete investigation, submit a report to me," Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, said in Lahore. "The same report will be sent to the ICC."

Of particular importance will be whether or not formal charges were actually laid down against Asif and whether he was subsequently pardoned. If no formal charges were placed, it could be that Asif escapes punishment altogether. But if charges have been placed and then withdrawn, it is likely Asif will face some sort of action, particularly as this is his second related offence.

The committee comprises of PCB officials Shaqfat Naghmi [chief operating officer], Zakir Khan [director - cricket operations], and Nadeem Akram [director - human resources], and they will begin their inquiry once they receive official records pertaining to the case from Dubai. Akram spent some time in Dubai handling Asif's case, though he came back before Asif was released.

"Based on the judgment's copy, we will consider whether Asif can be pardoned or not. A crime is a crime and any player who has committed it will be punished," Ashraf said. "It is a relief that he has been released, but it is a fact that this incident caused a lot of embarrassment and gave sleepless nights to the board."

Ashraf also said the hakeem [physician] who, according to Asif had given him the substance, could be questioned. "I have heard his [Asif's] point of view, and he told me that he was in possession of a pain killer given to him by an expert on natural herbs," he said. "If needed, we will also summon the hakeem to record his statement to know what exactly was in possession with Asif."

Dynamic Marshall drives Windies win

Xavier Marshall's short and sharp innings was the match-winner for West Indies.

A breathtaking display from Xavier Marshall, who hammered 36 from 15 balls, set up a seven-wicket victory for West Indies as they got home with 11 balls to spare. Marshall, playing his first Twenty20 international, overshadowed the strong efforts of a string of other debutants including Australia's openers Luke Ronchi and Shaun Marsh, as the Kensington Oval spectators got their money's worth despite the match being reduced to 11 overs a side.

After Ronchi and Marsh set up what looked like a challenging target of 98, Marshall provided the sort of batting heroics West Indies fans have been deprived of in recent years. Twenty-five came off the second over of the chase, from Mitchell Johnson, the highlight of which was a monstrous Marshall six over midwicket that hit the roof of the Greenidge and Haynes Stand.

He had help from the first-gamer William Perkins, who audaciously went down on one knee to paddle Brett Lee over the wicketkeeper's head for four, perhaps unaware of the bloodied chin Mal Loye once sustained trying to slog-sweep Lee. But Perkins could not keep up with Marshall, whose clean striking was up there with the most powerful one-day hitters.

The signs were there from the first ball of the innings, when Marshall pulled a short Lee ball over square leg for six. By the time he had cracked a couple of fours off Lee's second over West Indies, remarkably, needed 47 from 48 deliveries and it was their game to lose.

For a while it looked like they might do just that. Marshall could not bear to see a dot ball and was unnecessarily run out when Shane Watson collected off his own bowling and threw down the stumps at the striker's end, and Perkins was caught short in the next over. When Denesh Ramdin holed out to deep mid-off from Watson's bowling it left West Indies at 64 for 3 and gave Australia a glimmer of hope.

Those hopes were dashed when the acting captain Dwayne Bravo's 15-ball 28 got his team home, sealing the win with a six powered over midwicket off Watson. The match finished in near darkness, vaguely reminiscent of the World Cup final at the same venue, but this time Australia were not cheering.

Despite the loss, there were some positive signs for Australia, who tested a number of relatively new faces. Ronchi and Marsh opened the batting and quickly showed why they are viewed as men to watch in Australia's limited-overs future. Marsh took nine off Jerome Taylor in the first over, including a sweetly struck drive straight back over the bowler's head for six.

Ronchi had even more fun in Taylor's next over, backing away and slamming a six over backward point before following with powerful fours over cover and long-on. It was an exciting start, and Bravo contributed to the boundaries by apparently not realising the first Powerpaly had finished after three overs, keeping the field in unnecessarily for the fourth.

Bravo had shown some nous by opening with Sulieman Benn, whose spin forced Marsh and Ronchi to create the pace. In response, Ronchi slapped fours contemptuously on both sides of the wicket against Benn but his exciting innings ended on 36 from 22 balls when he gave another debutant, Kemar Roach, his first wicket thanks to a catch at long-off from Taylor.

It was a positive comeback after Roach began his international career with an ugly beamer that Marsh did well to get some bat on. Marsh crashed a huge six over long-on against Roach but then handed him his second wicket when his pull was brilliantly taken by Marshall, who jumped back on the midwicket boundary and then shimmied around the rope like a dancer to avoid conceding a six.

Batting for the first time in a Twenty20 international, David Hussey skied a catch for a second-ball duck before Watson and Cameron White completed the target-setting. It was hard to know what would be an appropriate score, given that it was the biggest reduction to both innings ever seen in a Twenty20 international.

The start was delayed by two hours and 25 minutes as persistent rain fell over Kensington Oval and it was beginning to look like the first Twenty20 international to be held in the Caribbean would not be held after all. In the end, the crowd got to see nearly two hours of relentless entertainment and, importantly, a home-team victory.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New blood handed chance to shine

Luke Ronchi gets into the groove ahead of what is likely to be his first match for Australia.

Match facts

Friday, June 20
Start time 14:00 (local), 18:00 (GMT)
The Big Picture
After a hard-fought Test series in which all three matches went to five days, a Twenty20 international will probably be a welcome release for some of the players. Failing to win the World Twenty20 last year frustrated Australia and they are keen to improve in this format, but ultimately there is little riding on the outcome of this match except perhaps the chance to take a slight edge into the ensuing one-day international series. Both teams will also test some fresh faces ahead of the ODIs, and the West Indies players will aim to show their credentials and build a case for selection in the Stanford $20 million match.

Twenty20 form guide
West Indies - LWLLL

Australia - WWLLW

Team news
West Indies will have a new-look top order compared to their last few Twenty20 internationals with Chris Gayle resting his troublesome groin, Marlon Samuels banned and Devon Smith axed. Xavier Marshall, who impressed in the Test series, is likely to open but his partner could be the uncapped William Perkins, Andre Fletcher or even the wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin. Kemar Roach, the fast bowler with four first-class games to his name, has also been included in the squad and might play at his home venue if West Indies want to rest one of their strike bowlers.
West Indies (possible) 1 Xavier Marshall, 2 William Perkins, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan (capt), 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Darren Sammy, 9 Jerome Taylor, 10 Sulieman Benn, 11 Fidel Edwards.

Australia will rest some players after a tough Test series and the leading candidates are Andrew Symonds, who has been battling back spasms, and Brad Haddin, who has a broken finger. The squad has been bolstered by the arrival of several players fresh from successful Indian Premier League (IPL) stints, including the Player of the Series, Shane Watson, and the tournament's leading run scorer, Shaun Marsh, who is likely to make his Twenty20 international debut. If Haddin sits out, Luke Ronchi will be playing his first game for Australia. Nathan Bracken has spent the past few months recovering from knee surgery but is considered a reasonable chance of playing.

Australia (possible) 1 Shaun Marsh, 2 Michael Clarke, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Shane Watson, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 David Hussey, 7 James Hopes, 8 Luke Ronchi (wk), 9 Brett Lee, 10 Mitchell Johnson, 11 Nathan Bracken.

Watch out for ...
Shaun Marsh The son of Australia's former opening batsman and coach Geoff Marsh, Shaun lit up the IPL with 616 runs at 68.44 in his 11-match stint with Kings XI Punjab and was comfortably the competition's leading run scorer. There is a permanent opening position on offer in the Australia limited-overs team following the retirement of Adam Gilchrist and Marsh has the ability to make the spot his own, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in his first tour with the national team.

Xavier Marshall Took the attack up to Australia in the Test series and his second-innings 85 in Barbados was especially promising. Without Gayle at the top of the order Marshall could be the man to get West Indies away to a flyer. His cover-driving was superb and he was always willing to go after the fast men, which could give Ponting some headaches if he starts to connect early.

Pitch & conditions
The Kensington Oval pitch provided sharp bounce and speed during last week's Test match and there could be more of the same for the Twenty20 outing.

Weather: There is rain expected in the morning in Bridgetown but by the time the match starts the conditions should have cleared up and a bright and sunny afternoon is on the cards.
Stats and trivia
Remarkably, given the popularity of the Stanford 20/20 tournament in the region, this will be the first Twenty20 international held in the Caribbean. It will also be the first Twenty20 international between Australia and West Indies.

West Indies have not made a strong start in this format and have won only two of the seven Twenty20 internationals they have played. At the World Twenty20 in South Africa last year, they lost both their matches and a six-wicket defeat at the hands of Bangladesh was particularly galling.

"At this minute, the thing I'm most looking forward to is watching Shaun Marsh bat."
Australia's captain Ricky Ponting

Asif returns to Pakistan

Mohammad Asif is back in Pakistan after spending 19 days in detention in the UAE.

Mohammad Asif has returned to Pakistan after being deported from the UAE, where he was in detention since June 1 for suspected possession of an illegal substance. The case against him was dropped by the Dubai public prosecutor on the grounds of "insignificance."

"First of all, I am thankful to God and I am happy to be back in my country. Now I am not going anywhere," Asif said at Lahore airport, where he arrived after taking a connecting flight from Karachi.

Asif maintained that he was innocent. "I did not use any banned substance. During the Indian Premier League, I underwent two doping tests, and cleared both of them," he said. "If I had been tested positive, the ICC would not have cleared me."

He also credited those who had worked for his release. "I am thankful to our ambassador in Dubai, Ahsanullah Khan, who put in a lot of effort, and when Nadeem Akram [the PCB's director - human resources] arrived, it gave me lots of encouragement."

Meanwhile, Asif is set to face an internal enquiry from the PCB, which earlier in the day issued a press release to confirm the case against him had been dropped. "The drug tests conducted on Asif during the investigations in Dubai were clear and negative for any contraband substance."

New Zealand look to turn corner

Luke Wright heaves another six during his brisk 52 at Edgbaston.

Match facts

Saturday June 21, 2008
Start time 10.45 (9.45GMT)

Big Picture
England's bristling one-day form hit a stumbling block at Edgbaston, escaping with a no-result in the second ODI, largely thanks to the faintly ridiculous regulation of having a needless 30-minute interval in between innings. Happily for New Zealand, and the public, such tomfoolery has been nipped in the bud by the ICC to allow the umpires the authority to decrease the interval if the first innings is interrupted. New Zealand were robbed, and showed a far improved effort after the first ODI - particularly in their fielding. Brendon McCullum brought out his calm alter ego in Birmingham, guiding New Zealand almost to the finishing line. For all their confidence this season, it has been England's inconsistency which has characterised their one-day cricket in the past few years, and they will need to be on their guard against a New Zealand team still smarting from their poor luck two days ago.

Form guide
England NWLTW (most recent first)
New Zealand NLWTL

Watch out for

Luke Wright Members at Hove can testify to Wright's fearlessness, but England fans have had to wait a while. He cracked a fifty at The Oval on debut last summer but has since lacked fluency - until, that is, on Wednesday at Edgbaston with a brisk 52. Inventive at the crease and not afraid to hit inside out, he smote Michael Mason for 4-4-6 in one over - the second maximum heaved over midwicket with the authority of Steve Waugh. Peter Moores knows Wright's worth from their time at Sussex, and if both he and Ian Bell can fire in the same innings, Alastair Cook might have played his last one-dayer for a while.

Grant Elliott Weybridge's loss is New Zealand's gain. Elliott, plucked from the Surrey Championship, showed his more experienced colleagues the wisdom of bowling full and straight at Edgbaston, picking up 3 for 23 on debut. Tall, with a short, angled approach to the crease - not unlike Mark Ealham - England found him difficult to get away and he provided Daniel Vettori with control at a time when Wright was beginning to accelerate. He has huge, size 15 shoes to fill - Jacob Oram is still injured - but the initial signs are promising.

Team news
Andrew Strauss is clocking up the miles on the motorways. He has again been called into England's squad as cover for Cook who is still struggling with a shoulder injury. More worryingly, however, Ryan Sidebottom might miss his second game in succession with a stiff back, and England haven't yet ruled out calling up another fast bowler should he fail his fitness test at Bristol.
England (possible) 1 Luke Wright, 2 Ian Bell, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Ravi Bopara, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Owais Shah, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Dimitri Mascarenhas, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson.

Oram's hamstring strain keeps him on the sidelines and his absence continues to hamper New Zealand's balance, but he could yet recover in time for the third ODI. Nevertheless Elliott showed impressive composure at Edgbaston to cement his place for Bristol. Gareth Hopkins is likely to keep the gloves again, allowing McCullum to free his arms and play as a batsman only.
New Zealand (possible) 1 Brendon McCullum, 2 Jamie How, 3 Ross Taylor, 4 Scott Styris, 5 Daniel Flynn, 6 Grant Elliott, 7 Gareth Hopkins (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Michael Mason, 11 Tim Southee.

Umpires: Steve Davis and Peter Hartley

Stats and trivia
England have only played five matches at Bristol, losing three of them - most recently against India last year.

Paul Collingwood is the unlikely name at the top of the wickets list this series, with 5 at 7.60.

Bristol is generally a high-scoring ground. India have twice reached the heights of 329, and (discounting Zimbabwe's 92 in 2003) the average first-innings score at the ground is 265.

"I think we showed in the Twenty20 and in the match in Durham how good a side we are when we play well. The boys are all confident and we all believe we've got a really good squad and we still have people like Andrew Flintoff to come back into that as well."
Luke Wright is confident England are on the right track.

"Everyone knows him [Brendon McCullum] as a guy who can get us off to a great start but it was a pretty composed innings and he got us into a really comfortable position. The fielding was also outstanding. Now we are riding with a little bit of confidence but we've got to make sure we take that to Bristol and don't let ourselves down."
Daniel Vettori senses New Zealand have turned a corner.

ECB ready to bulldoze the Championship

Giles Clarke: Twenty20 set to dominate in his brave new world.

English cricket is set for a massive shake-up, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.

Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, is preparing to push for sweeping changes that include the splitting of the County Championship into three divisions, a move whose main objective is to clear room for more Twenty20 cricket. This is despite growing worries from some counties that crowds at matches this season have been down, something many attribute to the increase in the number of games.

This will upset many, but he also wants to end promotion and relegation between divisions, so the three conferences will be randomly drawn at the start of the season. It is unclear quite what this will leave them playing for, and a number of county chairmen are known to be opposed to tinkering to this degree.

Clarke is also likely to recommend salary caps to try to balance the gulf between the counties, as well as a more controversial plan to loan foreign players to less well-off counties.

The ultimate aim is to create an English Premier League to rival the IPL, with teams drawn from outside the traditional county structure. Part of the agreement with Allen Stanford might well have included provision for him to field a side in such a competition.

Clarke's proposal will be further discussed at the next county chief executives' meeting in July.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dubai drops case against Asif

Mohammad Asif will be deported from Dubai.

The case against Mohammad Asif, who was detained in Dubai on June 1 for suspected possession of an illegal substance, has been dropped by the Dubai public prosecutor and the fast bowler will be deported soon, according to a report in the Gulf News.

The report quoted the public prosecutor, Mohammad Al Nuaimi, as saying the case was being dropped due to "insignificance".

The Pakistan cricket board was yet to confirm or deny the development. "We are waiting for Asif's lawyer to give us exact details of what has transpired," Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, told Cricinfo. However, Aamir Bilal, media advisor to the PCB, told Cricinfo that Asif would be in Pakistan by midnight on June 20.

"He [Asif] will be deported as soon as the police finalise the procedures," Mohammad Al Nuaimi, the public prosecutor who handled Asif's case, told Gulf News. "It is definite that he committed the crime as he was caught red-handed ... however in certain cases and for a faster litigation process the Public Prosecution drops a case due to insignificance and deports the suspect."

Pakistan's ambassador to the UAE, Ahsanullah Khan, also confirmed to the BBC's Urdu service that Asif would return to Pakistan, but refused to specify the legal position on the charges of possession of contraband. He also said that the PCB and the Pakistan embassy had played a significant role in this matter.

It is likely that the PCB will take action against Asif should he return, but even if they don't, the ICC might. They have been monitoring the situation and it is possible that Asif will face penalties under the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), of which the ICC is a signatory, once he is released.

Dave Richardson, the ICC's acting chief executive, had said that they had asked the PCB to keep them updated on the Asif issue. "As far as we know he has not been charged as yet," Richardson said. "But since the ICC is a signatory of WADA regulations if he is charged then he is liable to penalties under WADA code of conduct."

Counties free to pick players - Pawar

Sharad Pawar: "Test cricket remains the BCCI's first priority".

Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, has said that all teams participating in the proposed Champions League have the freedom to include players of their choice for the US$5 million multi-club Twenty20 tournament, even it means including players with ties to the unauthorized Indian Cricket League (ICL). But he placed the onus on letting such teams go through on the countries they represent and warned that the BCCI would then have the freedom to take its decision on the issue.

"This is not within the BCCI's jurisdiction," Pawar told Cricinfo. "They can do what they want . If any country takes any decision on this, they have every right to do so. They have the freedom to take a decision on the teams they choose to represent them (in the Champions League). But then, we also have the freedom to take our decision on the issue later."

Pawar's statement turns the spotlight firmly on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which is the only national board to have allowed players associated with the ICL to play in its domestic circuit. The ECB has permitted around 25 such cricketers to represent 15 of its 18 counties after it faced legal action from the ICL, which was backed by the country's strong trade laws that protect the rights of individuals. The Champions League, which is being powered by the BCCI, is expected to feature the top two Twenty20 domestic teams from India, England, Australia and South Africa. An ECB spokesperson had said last week that it would wait for the tournament rules to be finalised before taking a stand on the issue.

Asked to elaborate on the possibility of English county teams with ICL players qualifying for the Champions League, Pawar referred to the ICC's stand on the ICL and said that all countries "have been informed about it". The ICC has clarified that it would go by the BCCI's policy towards ICL. "The ICL is a domestic event that takes place in India so our rules prescribe that any decision as to whether an event be regarded as official or not must be made by the country that event is played in," Dave Richardson, the ICC's acting chief executive, said.

The BCCI has cut off all official links with players associated with the ICL, which was launched last year before the BCCI's high-profile Indian Premier League (IPL). Asked whether the BCCI would be more generous now, especially towards young Indian players in the ICL, Pawar said, "If anybody approaches us, we will consider their case."

Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman and prime mover behind the Champions League, had previously told Cricinfo that teams with players associated with ICL would not be invited for the tournament "under any circumstance". Cricket Australia is drawing up the competition's rules, which are expected to be finalised during the ICC annual conference in Dubai at the end of the month.

Pawar also said that despite the hugely successful IPL, Test cricket remains the BCCI's "first priority" and said that the Indian board would soon discuss the ICC's proposal to hold a Test championship. "The BCCI is definitely working for the future of Test cricket," Pawar said. "We are clear and confident that Test cricket has a future. We have digested one-day cricket, we have digested Twenty20, but the first preference is always Test cricket. My first preference is always Test cricket. We will discuss the Test championship proposal."

Senators call for state intervention in Asif case

Pakistan senator: "'Mohammad Asif is a superstar of Pakistan and we should not leave him alone over there".

The Senate Standing Committee on Sports in Pakistan has requested the intervention of president Pervez Musharraf and prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in securing the release of fast bowler Mohammad Asif, who has been in detention in Dubai for suspected possession of an illegal substance since June 1.

"Mohammad Asif is a superstar of Pakistan and we should not leave him alone over there [Dubai] and should not spare any effort to bring him back," senator Zafar Iqbal Chaudhary said during the committee meeting on Wednesday. "We request the president and the premier to intervene in the matter and bring back the superstar.

"Asif represents Pakistan and the [cricket] board should also talk to the president of Pakistan, who is the patron of the board, to do something in this regard."

Nasim Ashraf, the Pakistan board chairman, replying to a question from senator Enver Baig said that they hadn't received any information about Asif from Dubai. "We have hired a legal firm which is working on the case," Ashraf said. "However, it hasn't yet been established exactly what substance was he carrying with him."

Baig, an outspoken PCB critic who has previously criticised the PCB's efforts to help Asif, said that "an exemplary punishment be given to Asif" and suggested that he be banned for life if found guilty.

It is likely that the PCB will take action against Asif should he return, but even if they don't, the ICC might. They have been monitoring the situation and it is possible that Asif will face penalties under the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), of which the ICC is a signatory, once he is released.

Dave Richardson, ICC's acting chief executive, said that they had asked the PCB to keep them updated on the Asif issue. "As far as we know he has not been charged as yet," Richardson said. "But since the ICC is a signatory of WADA regulations if he is charged then he is liable to penalties under WADA code of conduct."

Australia players could pull out of Champions Trophy

Australia are the holders of the Champions Trophy but their players are concerned about defending their title in Pakistan.

Ricky Ponting says Australia's players are still uneasy about visiting Pakistan for the Champions Trophy later this year. Ponting's comments came as an Australian newspaper reported that some members of the squad had told their team-mates they would boycott the trip if it went ahead, even if the security advice was positive.

Australia postponed their Test tour of Pakistan earlier this year due to safety concerns and although the ICC is happy with the current security situation there, the Champions Trophy will be discussed at an ICC executive board meeting later this month. Ponting confirmed some individual players had concerns about touring Pakistan.

"We don't know if we're going, and if we do go, we don't know if individuals are going to pull out," Ponting told AAP. "But what we know right now is, yes, there is some apprehension amongst some of the players and that was stated last summer. I don't think that would have changed until now.

"It might change in the coming weeks, if we get some good news from the security reports over there, then the individual's mindset might change a little bit. What happened last summer was probably something that made us all sit back and think about it a little more.

"If Cricket Australia and the players' association decide that we go, then it will be an individual's decision, as every tour is. But there will be some apprehension for sure."

The Sydney Morning Herald quoted an unnamed player as saying several members of the team would not visit Pakistan regardless of the security assessment. "It is going to come down to the individual's decision," the player said. "We have talked about it, and there are some guys who will go if security advice says it's okay. But there are others who have said they won't go, regardless. At this stage, we are waiting to hear more."

The New Zealand allrounder Jacob Oram has already expressed his concerns about visiting Pakistan for an ODI tour before the Champions Trophy. Ponting, who led Australia to the Champions Trophy triumph in India in 2006, said other players would almost certainly have similar worries.

"I'm sure some of the England players will have some concerns as well as a lot of the New Zealand players who have been confronted with this stuff before, in Sri Lanka and Pakistan," Ponting said. "It just won't be Australian players. There will be a few other teams who will be thinking long and hard if the tour does go ahead there."

ICC mulls Test championship

Top Curve
'Twenty20 will benefit ODIs' - Dave Richardson

  • "Already we have seen that the approach to the batting, fielding and bowling skills involved have to be improved if you want success in Twenty20. Those skills are going to have a direct benefit on 50-over cricket. I think 50-over cricket is the perfect balance between Tests and very short, action-filled Twenty20."
Bottom Curve

The ICC is considering a Test championship to ensure that, amid the increasing popularity of the Twenty20 format, "a special place is maintained for Test cricket in the calendar".

"The ICC will consider a number of options in the upcoming board meetings (in Dubai later this month), one of which is an option to introduce a Test championship or league," the ICC's acting chief executive, Dave Richardson, said at the launch ceremony of the Champions Trophy in Pakistan.

The details of the championship, though, are yet to be worked out. "There are so many ways this could be done, a league over one year, two years or four years," he said. "I am certainly in favour of looking at such an option to make sure we provide a good quality context for Test cricket to take place so that it can be preserved as the pinnacle of the game."

Richardson acknowledged that domestic Twenty20 leagues such as the IPL had been a "fantastic success" but maintained that international cricket remained the game's highest level. "If you ask any player around the world what he would like to do, he would like to play Test cricket for his country."

The first ICC Test Championship was launched in May 2001 and was a ranking system based on the results of the most recent series (a minimum of two Tests constituted a series), home and away, between each of the teams. It was then revamped in 2003 to reflect the results of each Test, rather than an entire series, and also to take into account the strength of the opponents while awarding points.

ICC changes rule after rain farce

Brendon McCullum looks aghast as the umpires inform him the chase is off.

The ICC has acted swiftly - although still too late to help New Zealand - to amend the rule regarding the length of the interval in ODIs in response to the farcical finish to the second one-dayer against England at Edgbaston on Wednesday.

For the final three matches of the series officials will be allowed to reduce the length of the interval if the first innings is interrupted, as was the case at Edgbaston where England batted for 24 overs before the break. New Zealand were denied the chance to level the series when rain ended the game with one over to go for the result to have counted, having had to sit out the innings break of 30 minutes in fine weather.

The helpless umpires Steve Davis and Ian Gould came under fire for not acting differently, although they had no choice but to enforce the half-hour interval under the existing rules. The ICC chief executives' committee will examine the matter when it meets in Dubai at the end of June to consider a permanent change to the rule. In the meantime the final part of regulation 15.1 has been amended to read: "Where the innings of the side batting first is delayed or interrupted, the umpires will reduce the length of the interval.

"In the event of time being lost (playing time lost less any extra time provided) up to and including 60 minutes in aggregate, the length of the interval shall be reduced from 45 to 30 minutes. In the event of more than 60 minutes being lost in aggregate, the duration of the interval shall be agreed mutually by the umpires and both captains subject to no interval being of more than 30 minutes' duration or less than 10 minutes' duration. In the event of disagreement, the length of the interval shall be determined by the ICC match referee."

In the aftermath of Wednesday's fiasco, New Zealand's captain Daniel Vettori called for common sense to prevail. It has, and quickly, but New Zealand still have grounds to feel hard done by with the original rules. The third match in the series takes place at Bristol on Saturday where England will now head 1-0 up.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rain washes out chase one over short

Luke Wright showed why England's selectors are keen to have him as an ODI opener.

New Zealand were denied the chance of a series-levelling victory, and the patient crowd left without witnessing a close finish, as rain had the final say at Edgbaston one over before Duckworth-Lewis would have been able to calculate a result. With Brendon McCullum marshalling the chase, New Zealand would have needed seven runs from the 20th over to be at the winning score of 134, but the umpires finally decided the rain was too heavy and everyone trooped off.

It was an unsatisfactory end to a frustrating day, which began with a four-hour delay for steady rain, included a 30-minute dinner break when the priority should have been to complete the match, and finished with New Zealand wondering if they will ever get a stroke of luck on this tour. England wouldn't have given up their hopes of winning either, but will clearly be the happier side at the late abandonment.

For much of New Zealand's 23-over chase, England appeared second favourites as McCullum played a calm innings, adding 54 in seven overs with Ross Taylor. However, as the light faded even more and the rain began to return, the gap between runs required and balls remaining grew wider. Scott Styris, not accustomed to the murky conditions, found it difficult to force the medium-pacers away.

Crucially, though, 10 came off the 19th over, bowled by Luke Wright, but McCullum was left to see his undefeated 60 off 51 balls come to nothing. Although it won't be at the forefront of New Zealand's minds in the immediate aftermath, they will reflect that they played a good deal better than at Chester-le-Street.

Their fielding held up well throughout England's innings - Daniel Flynn and Gareth Hopkins both holding fine diving catches - and the bowlers remained cool as the batsmen began flexing their muscles. This was especially true of Grant Elliott, making his ODI debut as New Zealand tried to cover for the absence of Jacob Oram, and his three wickets were some of England's most dangerous hitters. When Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah added 46 in five overs after the rain interruption, England were on course for around 175, but the last six wickets fell for 36 runs.

England's major positive came from Wright, who struck his second ODI fifty off 33 balls and his first as an opener to show why the selectors want to give him an extended run in the position. Michael Mason's second over cost 20, including a clean straight six and an even mightier blow, down on one knee, high over midwicket.

Wright's half-century came in the next over when he drilled Elliott through mid-off. Flynn came within inches of losing his front teeth for the second time on the tour as a horrid bounce took the ball flying past his face. Elliott, though, held his nerve and collected his first ODI wicket when Wright carved a catch down to long-off.

The innings had given the crowd plenty to cheer after Kevin Pietersen couldn't reproduce his Chester-le-Street thrills. Ian Bell, the hometown star, fell for a duck to third ball of the match but the crowd didn't appear too disappointed as Pietersen entered to huge cheers. He was quickly using his feet to the seamers and mowed an early boundary over midwicket. The expectation will be on him to repeat his feats from Sunday each time he walks out, but it won't always happen. On this occasion he struggled to find his timing and drove straight to mid-off for 13.

Two of England's young allrounders were now in charge of the innings, but Ravi Bopara was run out shortly after the resumption when he cut to cover and raced down the pitch, only to see Collingwood hadn't responded. Bopara turned, but Collingwood suddenly put his foot down and almost caught up. The run out was clear, although TV was needed to decide who departed. Bopara lost out by a few inches.

However, the wicket may have been a blessing for England as it brought in Shah, who hit the ball as cleanly as he did during his 49 off 25 balls at Chester-le-Street. It continued here with an effortless flick over deep square-leg before he was deceived by a good slower-ball from Elliott, who also removed Collingwood thanks to an excellent diving catch by Flynn at deep cover.

An intriguing chase was set up and for 19 overs it kept everyone interested. In the end, though, the feeling wasn't a rush of excitement at a close finish but at a lot of effort for nothing.

SA board chief loses selection veto

Graeme Smith steps back from the selection of South Africa teams, but will still be consulted.

Cricket South Africa has implemented major changes to its selection policy following the recent controversies regarding quotas involving Andre Nel and Charl Langeveldt. The CSA president - Norman Arendse is the incumbent - no longer has the power of veto over selection, while the captain and coach have been removed from the selection panel, although will still be consulted.

The key change involves divesting the board president of his veto power. "The present system in terms of which the president has the right to veto the selected team should be abolished," a CSA statement said.

"The president and board of CSA should continue to be the custodians of the transformation policy insofar as the national team is concerned," it added. "In this regard, [they] should continue to monitor the progress in achieving acceptable levels of representivity that will eventually reflect the demographic make-up of the country, but there should be a change of process whereby the CEO and convenor of selectors are required to manage the process and report regularly to the CSA president/board as the ultimate oversight and policy body."

"In selecting the national squad, the selectors shall consult with and have regard to the input of both the coach and the captain," the statement said. "The coach and convenor shall be responsible for the selection of the final eleven players to take the field. The captain takes charge once the playing eleven have been selected."

The issue of quotas, whereby every 15-man South African touring squad should include seven coloured players, has long been a thorny issue, but it came to a head before the tour of India in March. Nel was left out of the squad, in favour of Langeveldt, who later pulled out himself saying he was uncomfortable with the selection policy. In the end, Monde Zondeki was drafted in although didn't play on the tour.

Langeveldt has since signed a Kolpak deal with Derbyshire, effectively ending his international career, although Nel has resisted the temptation and has been named in the touring team for England.

The South African board set up a committee to review the transformation policy, and all 12 of the recommendations were approved at a recent meeting.

"The board also decided that the committee should continue its mandate and make further recommendations on how to increase black African representivity in South African cricket at all levels and focus on other areas of transformation," said Arendse.

The changes are a significant erosion of Arendse's powers and there is also a shift in emphasis to transformation needing to start at grass roots level and move up, rather than beginning with the international team.

"CSA must focus on lobbying the state and other stakeholders to make possible the main thrust of the transformation policy which is to provide facilities, resources and access in previously disadvantaged communities, with particular emphasis to black African areas, as no sport has the resources to achieve these goals on its own."

Another recommendation was to ensure the selectors have "the necessary experience, expertise and knowledge of the game and, additionally, are trusted to ensure that the team is representative and reflects the broad ethos of democratic South Africa and the principles of CSA's transformation policy."

Richardson happy with security in Pakistan 'at this time'

Dave Richardson: "The safety and security of players, teams, officials and spectators is always the concern of the ICC".

Dave Richardson, the ICC's acting chief executive, is satisfied with the security situation in Pakistan "at this time" and has said the ICC is "comfortable" with Pakistan hosting the Champions Trophy in September.

"The security situation anywhere in the world is very fluid, it can change from time to time," Richardson said ahead of the Champions Trophy's launch ceremony in Lahore. "At this time we are comfortable with the decision that Pakistan has the ability to host the event and the fact is that we are proceeding with the arrangements."

Richardson, ICC president Ray Mali and other ICC officials are currently in Pakistan and besides inspecting the three Champions Trophy venues - Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi - they will be meeting officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board and the government.

The Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) had recently expressed reservations on the ICC's decision to host the event in Pakistan. "There may be some players, organisations and member countries who might express some (security) concerns from time to time," Richardson said. "But what must be remembered is that safety and security of players, teams, officials and spectators is always the concern of the ICC.

"We will be monitoring the (security) situation on a daily basis from now on until the conclusion of the event and those parties who have concerns about the situation would be apprised," he said.

The ICC's executive board will be meeting in Dubai later this month and Richardson said the Full Member countries will discuss the security situation in Pakistan. "The board will make a decision as to the staging of the event because the Champions Trophy is one of the most important events in cricket calendar and it pits the best against the best."

In March this year, Australia postponed their tour of Pakistan due to security fears which forced the PCB to invite Bangladesh for a five-match one-day series. Sri Lanka is the alternative venue in case the event has to be shifted from Pakistan.

Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, was also present at the launch and said the competition would be the first major ICC tournament in Pakistan since it co-hosted the 1996 World Cup with India and Sri Lanka. "The Champions Trophy is very important for cricket in Pakistan, not only we are expecting high quality cricket, it will be the first major event after a long, long time."

Nasim Ashraf, chairman of the PCB, said the tournament provides the chance for Pakistan to show its passion for cricket. "This tournament will also play a vital role in contributing to Pakistan's development programme which is already finding its feet."

The Champions Trophy is slated to begin on September 11and features the top eight teams in the ICC one-day rankings.

Twenty20, not Tests, will popularise cricket - Stanford

The future, according to Allen Stanford, is Twenty20.

Antigua-based billionaire Allen Stanford, who recently confirmed a US$100 million investment in five Twenty20 matches between West Indies and England, believes the shorter format, and not Test cricket, will help popularise and increase revenues for the game.

Stanford said Twenty20's short duration will interest youngsters. "I don't think Test cricket is going to draw them to the game in the droves that Twenty20 will. Twenty20 is a game that equates to soccer, it equates to basketball," Stanford told the Nation in an interview in London last week.

"It is a three-hour game and it is something that even the kids that may be marginally interested in cricket now, can say, 'well that's like soccer, that's like basketball, I want to get interested in that game and make as much money as a professional athlete playing cricket again. "

Stanford, who is already bankrolling the Stanford 20/20 in West Indies, felt only Twenty20 could bring in revenues that will help cricketers earn as much as their counterparts in other sports. "Test cricket is not going to be the revenue generator that Twenty20 can be. Twenty20 can generate revenue through television," Stanford said. "Test cricket is not going to generate revenue through television and that is what is going to allow you to pay your athletes these salaries that have to be commensurate based on their skill level with other sports and that is just the business side of it."

Stanford hoped his investment will help revive interest for the game in the West Indies. "We have two problems in the West Indies right now. Our cricket is down at the bottom and the reason it is down at the bottom, is that we have the best athletes in the world but they are going elsewhere."

He said the increased money to be earned will prompt youngsters to choose cricket over other sports in the Caribbean. "They are not interested in playing cricket. We have to have something to get them interested in playing cricket," Stanford said. "Cricket by now has to be paid like soccer, and basketball. All the American sports and international sports, are paying these huge amounts of money.

"We are not doing that in the Caribbean right now with our cricket. Our cricket in the Caribbean is back stuck in the 50s and 60s as an amateur-professional sport and it has got to be a professional business.

"It can't be an amateur professional sport. By taking the sport to another level, by bringing in money, the excitement, enthusiasm that only Twenty20 cricket brings and the way we do it in the Caribbean, [different from anywhere else in the world], we are hopeful to get these kids now going elsewhere back into the game of cricket and let us be world beaters again. So that's the reason [Stanford] Twenty20 for 20 [million dollars] is to benefit cricket in the West Indies if nothing else can."

Australia lose power to demolish

Ricky Ponting's men had to take a less aggressive approach than usual in the Caribbean.

Ricky Ponting has conceded Australia no longer have the sheer muscle to destroy opposition teams and instead must rely on grinding out their wins. Australia beat West Indies 2-0, but all three Tests went to the fifth day and there were several moments when it seemed that West Indies were building towards a surprise victory.

Without the powerful striking of the injured Matthew Hayden and with Brett Lee and Stuart Clark the only consistently reliable bowlers, Australia were forced into a more defensive approach than usual. They set West Indies gradually more challenging fourth-innings chases - 287 in Jamaica, 372 in Antigua and 475 in Barbados - and on each occasion dismissing West Indies proved tougher and more tiring than it might have in the Warne-McGrath era.

"We're probably not demolishing sides like we might have two years ago but we're grinding teams down and winning Test matches, and we're doing it well," Ponting told the Age. "It's a different time for the team. You go in the changing room and you look at the team and it is a bit different to four years ago. But we are winning games and that's something I am really happy about."

The slow and unresponsive pitches in Jamaica and Antigua did not help Australia's normally attacking brand and Ponting said the subcontinental-style conditions brought the two teams closer together. But for a squad that handed debuts to two players, Brad Haddin and Beau Casson, and had several others still finding their way at Test level, Ponting was pleased with the result.

"It [a slow surface] actually goes a little bit against the style of play we're used to playing," Ponting said in the Courier-Mail. "But we stuck to what we knew was going to work on those sort of conditions. A few times the batting has been a little bit indifferent. A few innings we played really well, but I thought the first innings in Barbados, we played pretty poorly on a wicket we should have been able to play better on."

Ponting was impressed by the improving West Indies, who he believed player better than their No. 8 ranking. He predicted a more successful period for the side in the next few years under the leadership of the captain Chris Gayle and the coach John Dyson.

"West Indies are probably a little bit like some other sides around the world, if they just have a couple of injuries they don't tend to have the depth of maybe Australia or South Africa," he said. "But if you read through their side you would actually stack their side up against most others and think that they would be competitive in most games they play. I'm sure in the coming year or couple of years that they will win their fair share of Test matches."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

England poised to seize control

Left-hand, left-field: Kevin Pietersen has provided a new talking point with his remarkable batting.

Match facts

Wednesday June 18, 2008
Start time 10.45 (9.45GMT)

Big Picture

England are on a roll. It's taken a while for them to reach top speed, but since they turned their fortunes around midway through the Old Trafford Test, they have won four games in a row against New Zealand, and showed an increasingly clean pair of heels on each occasion. They may have lost the last one-day series between these two teams, 3-1 in New Zealand in February, but a repeat reversal does not seem remotely on the cards against a demoralised and outclassed opposition. Sunday's contest in Chester-le-Street was over long before Kevin Pietersen started stretching the laws of the game with his astonishing switch-hitting, and if New Zealand cannot draw level at Edgbaston on Wednesday, the five-ODI series could also seem out of sight.

Form guide
England WLTWL (most recent first)
New Zealand LWTLW

Watch out for...
Kevin Pietersen Not many cricketers have required a special MCC meeting to discuss the legitimacy of their genius, but that was what Pietersen brought about this week when he flipped his stance against Scott Styris, and drove him clean over a lefthander's long-on and deep square-leg for two outrageous sixes. Quite apart from the sheer brilliance of his batting, Pietersen showed that his confidence levels have been utterly replenished after a difficult winter. And with Pietersen's former countrymen, South Africa, lurking around the corner, New Zealand cannot expect any let-up.

Daniel Vettori New Zealand's ship is close to sinking, and so all eyes are turning towards their captain, to see if he can find any inspiration to turn their fortunes around. Vettori cut a demoralised figure after the Twenty20 defeat at Old Trafford, and his mood has not been enhanced by the enforced absence of his best limited-overs allrounder, Jacob Oram, with a hamstring strain. It could require a virtuoso captain's performance to reignite his team's prospects

Team news
Alastair Cook is once again absent for England, having failed to recover from the right shoulder problem that hindered him during the third Test at Trent Bridge. His Test opening partner, Andrew Strauss, has been called into the squad as cover but is unlikely to break into a steady batting line-up that flourished as a unit in Sunday's first ODI.

England (probable) 1 Luke Wright, 2 Ian Bell, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Ravi Bopara, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Owais Shah, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Graeme Swann, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Ryan Sidebottom, 11 James Anderson.

Oram's hamstring strain is serious enough to sideline him for at least ten days, which means that the South Africa-born allrounder, Grant Elliott, has been called up from Surrey League cricket as cover. He has been thrust into the starting line-up, if only to provide an extra bowling option, because James Marshall has not taken his opportunities at No. 3, while the decision to relieve Brendon McCullum of the wicketkeeping gloves means that Gareth Hopkins is a fixture in the lower middle-order.

New Zealand 1 Brendon McCullum, 2 Jamie How, 3 Ross Taylor, 4 Scott Styris, 5 Daniel Flynn, 6 Grant Elliott, 7 Gareth Hopkins (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Michael Mason, 11 Tim Southee.

Umpires: Steve Davis and Ian Gould

Stats and Trivia
# England may have passed 300 in their last ODI at Chester-le-Street, but it's not a score that gets racked up at Edgbaston too often. Only twice in 40 matches has any team managed that many runs in an innings - and the two teams that have managed it are England in 1980 and New Zealand in 1975.

# Recently Edgbaston has been a happy hunting ground for England's ODI team. Since 2000, they have won six of their eight completed matches at the venue - the two that got away were West Indies in 2007 and Pakistan in 2001.

"He walked up the wicket and said 'I was thinking about doing that in bed last night', so the visualisation was there."
Paul Collingwood reacts to Pietersen's outrageous reverse-handed batting.

"I'm not sure the guys are quite up to it just yet, but I'm sure some of them will get there."
New Zealand's Daniel Flynn backs his team-mates to emulate such exploits.

Mali confident over Champions Trophy in Pakistan

Tim May has slammed the decision to hold the Champions Trophy in Pakistan.

The Champions Trophy appears set to take place in Pakistan in September with Ray Mali, the ICC president, publicly backing Pakistan's ability to host the tournament a day before the its official launch in Lahore. However, concerns over security continue with Tim May, chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA), saying the situation in Pakistan had not changed since Australia postponed a planned tour there in March.

Mali, part of a ten-member delegation in Pakistan for the launch and to oversee the facilities at the tournament venues, said Pakistan's experience in hosting such events will help them put up a good show in September. "The Asia Cup [which starts next week] will give Pakistan an opportunity to rehearse for the Champions Trophy," Mali said.

The ICC delegation also held talks with the Pakistan Cricket Board over preparations for the event. "The ICC is launching the event in Lahore on Wednesday and that is an ample proof that there are no problems," Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, said. "We have made foolproof security arrangements for the event."

An ICC team of security experts visited Pakistan last month to assess whether the country was safe enough for hosting the Champions Trophy in September and were reportedly satisfied with the security arrangements.

That seems to have cut little ice with May, who believed "absolutely nothing has changed" in the three months since Australia postponed their Pakistan tour after safety concerns. "FICA is very concerned about the inherent risks of holding such an event in Pakistan in such a landscape of unrest and volatility and opposition to Western countries," he said. "FICA is not alone in its concern regarding holding this event in Pakistan, compounded by the timing of the event in terms of the religious celebration of Ramadan and the anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York."

FICA along with other players' associations, including the Australian Cricketers Association, will commission its own independent report, expected to be completed in a fortnight.

Cricket Australia will bring up any concerns it has with the ICC's security assessment at the meeting of the ICC's executive board in Dubai later this month. "The welfare of the Australian team and team management is paramount," Cricket Australia spokesman Peter Young said. "But we have a responsibility to world cricket and the continued development of the game as a global sport so we'd like to see the Pakistan tour succeed."

While the Asian Cricket Council was satisfied with the security arrangements in Pakistan for the upcoming Asia Cup, beginning next week, New Zealand allrounder Jacob Oram had recently expressed concerns over his team's security ahead of their three-match ODI series in Pakistan in late August.

Pietersen switch-hit given all-clear

Kevin Pietersen's left-handed six could lead to law-changes, but it won't be outlawed.

The MCC - the guardian of the laws of cricket - has concluded that the controversial left-handed shot that Kevin Pietersen successfully executed during the first ODI between England and New Zealand at Chester-le-Street on Sunday is "exciting for the game of cricket" and conforms to the laws of the game, and consequently will not be legislated against.

The issue was raised during a scheduled MCC meeting, which was attended by Keith Bradshaw, the club secretary and chief executive, and John Stephenson, the head of cricket. The committee concluded that the "superb execution" of the stroke should not disguise its difficulty. "It incurs a great deal of risk for the batsman. It also offers bowlers a good chance of taking a wicket and therefore MCC believes that the shot is fair to both batsman and bowlers."

In a statement, the MCC pointed out that such a shot had already been acknowledged in the 2000 revision of the laws, in which Law 36.3 defines the "off side of the striker's wicket as being determined by the striker's stance at the moment the bowler starts his run-up."

However, the success of Pietersen's strokes could lead to two significant alterations to the laws. As things currently stand, under the provisions of Law 36.1.b, a batsman cannot be given out lbw if the ball pitches outside leg stump, an issue which will clearly require some review if leg and off stumps are to be swapped in this manner mid-delivery. And Law 25, which relates to wides, will also require some scrutiny, particularly in one-day cricket when anything that drifts past leg stump is liable to be called.

Some commentators, notably the former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding, had questioned the double standards at play, seeing as bowlers are not allowed to switch their style mid-over without informing the umpire. The MCC acknowledged this, but added: "They do not provide a warning of the type of delivery that they will bowl (for example, an off-cutter or a slower ball). It therefore concludes that the batsman should have the opportunity - should they wish - of executing the 'switch-hit' stroke."

Pietersen, naturally, was delighted at the news. "I'm very pleased by the MCC's decision and I think it's the right one not just for me or England but the game as a whole," Pietersen told PA Sport. "It's important that we as players are innovative and if this shot helps make cricket more exciting and entertaining for spectators then that has to be good for the sport.

"It's an extremely high-risk shot and there will be plenty of bowlers out there who will think that it gives them a great opportunity to get me out," said Pietersen. ""But overall I'm glad that MCC have recognised that cricket is always evolving and that this particular shot brings something special to the game."

'On-field umpires should be respected' - Jayawardene

Mahela Jayawardene wants the new system to be utilized in a manner that is respectful to on-field umpires.

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, feels that the new umpire decision review system that will be implemented on a trial basis during the home Test series against India next month should be utilized in a manner that shows respect to the on-field umpires. Jayawardene said he welcomed the trial but admitted that it would place more responsibility on the captains.

"In general, the system will be good for the game as it will reduce the scope for mistakes," Jayawardene told Cricinfo. "But you need to do it in a respectful way. The on-field umpires are human, after all. They do make mistakes, just as everybody else does, and we should respect that during the trial. We should be clear that the idea is only to reduce the mistakes."

Jayawardene revealed that his team would be holding extensive discussions prior to the series on how to utilise the system in the "best manner possible". "We will take the views of everybody on what is best for the team. We want to keep it simple and not make it into a complicated issue."

He dismissed suggestions that the system would mean extra pressure on the captain, but admitted that it will bring in added responsibility. "It seems so. Especially because you have three chances and the captain takes the call for the fielding side. But while batting, others share the responsibility - it's the batsman who has to take the call and maybe, he can consult his partner before doing so."

David Richardson, the ICC's acting chief executive, said that the decision to trial the system during India's visit to Sri Lanka is "an attempt by the ICC to enhance still further the game at the international level".

"The system will see the fielding and batting side allowed three unsuccessful appeals to the umpire per innings to change a decision if it is perceived to have been incorrect," the ICC said in a press release. "These appeals can be made only by the batsman in receipt of the umpire's original decision or the captain of the fielding side, in both cases by the player making a 'T' sign with both forearms at shoulder height.

"The on-field umpire will consult with the third umpire, who will review available television coverage of the incident before relaying fact-based information back to his colleague. The on-field umpire will then deliver his decision either by raising his finger to indicate "out" or by crossing his hands in a horizontal position side to side in front and above his waist three times - as per a "safe" decision by an official in baseball."

The BCCI said on Monday that it has agreed to implement the trial for the three-Test series from July 23 to August 12.

Sreesanth ruled out of Asia Cup

Sreesanth won't be going to Pakistan.

Sreesanth, the Indian fast bowler, has been ruled out of the Asia Cup in Pakistan. Sreesanth, who also missed the Kitply Cup in Bangladesh, has not recovered from the side strain he sustained during the Indian Premier League.

He was declared unfit for the tournament by Paul Close, the physio at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. The BCCI said Sreesanth would begin a bowling rehabilitation programme on June 23, and that he would need at least two weeks before a full recovery.

Sreesanth suffered a left side strain during Kings XI Punjab's final league match in the IPL, against Rajasthan Royals in Mohali on May 28. He played the semi-final, but only bowled one over in the loss against Chennai Super Kings. He featured in all 15 of Punjab's matches during the IPL, and finished with 19 wickets in the tournament, making him the joint-second highest wicket-taker with Shane Warne, and three behind Sohail Tanvir's 22.

The Asia Cup starts on June 24, and India play their first game against Hong Kong a day later. Sreesanth was included in the original 15-man squad

Old and new faces share the load

Simon Katich made the ideal return to Test cricket with centuries in consecutive matches.

Australia were forced to alter their usually stable Test line-up thanks to injury, compassionate leave and an unexpected retirement. They still recorded a 2-0 series victory but the triumph was less emphatic than they might have hoped against a team ranked No. 8 in the world. Cricinfo runs the rule over Australia's contributors to the Caribbean success.

Simon Katich
Returned to the Test team for the first time since 2005 and, after some nerves in Kingston, turned in a dream comeback with centuries in Antigua and Barbados. Was asked to open in the absence of Matthew Hayden and looked comfortable against the new ball, scoring heavily through the leg side and finishing the tour with 319 Test runs at 63.80. Is likely to be dropped when Australia play their next Test if, as expected, Hayden returns from injury.

Brett Lee
Following two Player of the Series performances against Sri Lanka and India, he was again Australia's leading wicket-taker and most consistent bowler. Was fast and fiery in Antigua, where he got eight wickets, and made several important strikes in the two victories. Pushed himself to the limit and was clearly exhausted on several occasions but finished the series with 18 wickets at 23.72.

Andrew Symonds
Rescued Australia after a couple of awkward top-order wobbles, notably in the second innings at Kingston, where he first steadied, then counterattacked, with a 79 that was essentially a match-winning contribution. He benefited, not for the first time in the past 12 months, from some incorrect umpiring decisions and topped Australia's averages with 264 runs at 66.

Ricky Ponting
Set up the victory in Kingston with a superb 158 on a pitch that was playing tricks and finished the series as Australia's leading scorer with 323 runs at 53.83 after adding a half-century in Antigua. As captain, felt some serious pressure at times during the tour but guided his team through for the 2-0 triumph.

Stuart Clark
Was almost singlehandedly responsible for Australia getting over the line on the final day in Jamaica, when he swung and seamed the ball in both directions and grabbed a career-best 5 for 32, taking his match tally to eight wickets. After a quieter time in Antigua, he contributed to the Barbados win with two fifth-day strikes, including the key wicket of Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Michael Clarke
Missed the first Test due to family reasons but made an impact on arrival, striking 110 in Antigua to help set up a big first-innings total. Enjoyed the vice-captaincy and was clearly a leader in the group, often advising the newer players on the field. Retained his uncanny partnership-breaking abilities with the ball and his four wickets for the series all came at important times.

Phil Jaques
Was badly out of sorts at the start of the series and caused himself problems by walking too far across his stumps and becoming vulnerable to lbws. Gradually came good with a half-century in Antigua and 108 in a double-century opening stand with Katich in Barbados. Took two excellent catches in the second innings at Kensington Oval that helped Australia secure victory and confirmed he is making the short leg position his own.

Brad Haddin
Made a solid if not spectacular start to his long-awaited Test career. His primary job, behind the stumps, was generally performed cleanly, although there were a couple of dropped chances that he will want to eliminate to keep Luke Ronchi at bay. Did not make a half-century but his batting was sound, and he figured in four handy partnerships when West Indies thought they were breaking into Australia's lower order.

Brad Hodge
Was unexpectedly thrust into the side in Kingston when Hayden missed out through injury. Quickly readjusted to Test cricket - his last match was in January 2006 - and his 67 and 27 were important contributions in the opening victory. Fell both times to excellent Denesh Ramdin catches and, after Jamaica, was required only as a substitute fielder.

Michael Hussey
The Bradmanesque average is slipping rapidly. Managed 137 runs at 22.83 and his only half-century came in the first innings of the first Test. That 56 was an important effort, though, as the openers had failed and Ponting needed someone to help in the recovery. Looked most settled when promoted to open in the second innings in Antigua but his usual precision placement was lacking and hitting in the air has become a slight weakness.

Beau Casson
Did not quite do enough to confirm him as Australia's permanent Test spinner but showed sufficient promise in collecting three second-innings wickets on debut. Recovered from a Dwayne Bravo belting to remove the batsman at an important time in the third Test and was not bullied into a more defensive approach.

Mitchell Johnson
After his promising displays during Australia's home summer, this was the sort of series Johnson didn't want to have. Wildly inaccurate at times, he was stripped of the new-ball duties and was barely threatening during the first two Tests. Began to rescue his reputation with one good spell in Barbados, finding extra pace and bounce to clean up West Indies' lower order, and finished with a Test-best 4 for 41.

Stuart MacGill
Deserves to be remembered for his outstanding Test career, not his miserable finale in the Caribbean. Made the bold decision to retire mid-series when he realised his bowling was not up to Test standard. Delivered numerous long hops and full tosses but showed occasional glimpses of his best, as when he lured Ramnaresh Sarwan forward with a venomous legbreak that was edged to slip in Antigua.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Casson and Clark seal series win

Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo frustrated Australia with a 122-run partnership.

Beau Casson fought off some harsh treatment from Dwayne Bravo to help Australia grind their way to an 87-run win in Barbados to secure a 2-0 series victory. The visitors' success was not without some tense moments after Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul threatened a record fourth-innings chase, but important breakthroughs to Casson and Stuart Clark exposed West Indies' tail and Australia wrapped up the triumph 20 minutes before tea when Daren Powell flashed a catch behind off Brett Lee.

Much like the first Test in Jamaica, Ricky Ponting's blood pressure was rising as West Indies happily pursued a challenging but vaguely gettable target. They started the day needing 240 more runs to make the highest successful Test chase in history, 475, and the explosive 122-run stand between Bravo and Chanderpaul gave them hope. Bravo hammered Casson with the sort of contempt that could have irreparably dented the confidence of the debutant spinner but, to his credit, Casson stayed on task and made the most vital strike of the match.

Bravo had reached his first half-century of the series and sent the Kensington Oval crowd into raptures with three powerful sixes over extra cover when Casson tossed up half-volleys outside off. Phil Jaques might well have laughed when Ponting asked him to move in to silly mid-off following the aggressive display, but Jaques did as asked and Bravo obliged by nudging a nothing shot that Jaques clasped low down to give Casson his second Test wicket.

The momentum was suddenly with Australia, who quickly took the new ball, and from the third delivery with the fresh one, Clark trapped Chanderpaul (50) in front with a ball that pitched in line and straightened, and West Indies were in big trouble. Some flashy resistance from Jerome Taylor and a gutsy comeback from Sewnarine Chattergoon, who batted with a severe ankle injury, nudged the target under triple-figures but Australia's four main bowlers made sure of the success.

Clark trapped Denesh Ramdin plumb lbw with a straight one, Mitchell Johnson found some bounce to entice Taylor to edge to Brad Haddin, and Lee had Chattergoon caught behind driving at a wide one. Lee finished the job by removing Powell after Casson picked up his third victim when Sulieman Benn skied a catch towards point. It was a solid debut from Casson, whose first-class bowling average of 40.36 may not have inspired complete confidence that he would step comfortably up to Test level. But he refused to back down after being beaten into near submission by Bravo, who had earlier handled the fast men with confident defensive strokes.

Bravo proved the perfect partner for Chanderpaul, who continued to be the rock for West Indies. He tucked and glanced in his usual fashion and brought up his 8000th Test run, becoming the fourth West Indies batsman to the milestone, and by the time he finally departed he had 442 runs for the series, a tally that was more than a hundred greater than any other player from either team and enough to earn him the title as Player of the Series.

The partnership between Bravo and Chanderpaul caused major headaches for Ponting, who was already without Andrew Symonds due to a back strain, and he must have been starting to wonder what on earth had happened to Test cricket if 475 was no longer a safe lead. Such was the confidence of the two batsmen that, until they were split with 172 more required, West Indies' record chase of 418 against Australia at St John's in 2003 was looking vulnerable.

But Ponting's men stuck to their tactics and through Casson and Clark, then Johnson and Lee, the plan started to come together. The most likely result was reached and Australia have now failed to win only one of their past 16 Test series, the mis-step coming in the 2005 Ashes.

Australia head for the limited-overs series with a Test victory, the Frank Worrell Trophy, and a few positive signs, including the form of Simon Katich and a reasonable start to Casson's international career. Still, the win was not nearly as comfortable as they might have expected. Despite the loss, West Indies should be proud of their efforts against the No. 1, and they have proved to the world that Australia's dominance is not as absolute.