Saturday, July 19, 2008

England v South Africa, 2nd npower Test, Headingley, 2nd day Prince and de Villiers dominate England

AB de Villiers was strong off front and back foot .

Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers ground England's weary bowlers down in a magnificent partnership of 179 on the second day at Headingley, as South Africa took a crucial 119-run lead. After scraping just three wickets in two days at Lord's, there was always a concern England's bowlers would be a little jaded. And so they were today, conceding 221 runs and stealing one measly wicket. They rarely looked like taking any more, either.

Their nemesis today, as at Lord's, was Prince who struck his second successive hundred, remaining unbeaten on 134 at stumps. For all the threat posed by South Africa's two big guns - in every sense of the word - Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, Prince has sneaked up on the inside and once again irritated England with his limpet-like ability. Only occasionally did he offer even half-chances, and his partnership with AB de Villiers has all but swept England out of the contest, barring a remarkable collapse tomorrow morning.

Prince smacks of a batsman content to play within his own limitations. Once a lightning-quick fielder and aggressive batsman, his mode these days is a calmness at the crease, nullifying each bowler in turn through his combination of dogged defence and compact strokeplay. There is nothing extravagant about his method, though he dealt with the threat of Monty Panesar superbly in a premeditated attack on England's premier spinner. Two perfectly reasonable balls were deposited over Panesar's head for cleanly-struck sixes, and in doing so, Prince had scuppered Vaughan's last remaining hope.

England managed one, poor little wicket all day. James Anderson bowled with verve, as did Andrew Flintoff, but Stuart Broad looked short on pace and he never troubled either Prince or de Villiers. The fourth man in their pace attack, the controversially selected Darren Pattinson, was the surprise man to snatch England's only wicket - albeit with a leg-side full toss to Hashim Amla. Pattinson is playing his 12th first-class game and his first Test match.

Top Curve
Smart stats

* Ashwell Prince has an excellent conversion rate, scoring nine centuries and seven fifties in Tests. Among batsmen with at least eight Test hundreds, only eight others have more centuries than fifties. Don Bradman has the best conversion rate, with 29 hundreds and 13 fifties.
* Ab de Villiers has now played 73 Test innings without being dismissed for a duck. He is only two short of Aravinda de Silva's record of 75 innings before his first zero.
* The unbroken 179-run partnership between Prince and de Villiers is only 13 less than the fifth-wicket record for South Africa against England. It's also the second-highest stand for South Africa at Headingley.
* Prince and de Villiers aggregate 1056 partnership runs at an average of 62.11 runs per stand, with three century partnerships. They are the most prolific fifth-wicket pair in South African Test history, with 1002 runs at 62.62.
* Session-wise runs scored: 1st: 57 in 23 overs (22 scoring shots); 2nd: 104 in 33 (53 ss); 3rd: 60 in 20 (32 ss)

Bottom Curve

As Ryan Sidebottom proved on his return to the England side last year, county cricket is an excellent training ground for Test match bowlers; an arena in which they can prepare for a sterner international examination. Pattinson is undoubtedly eligible to play for England, and his inexperience shouldn't count against him. But when Prince and de Villiers brought up their 150 partnership, it was difficult to imagine Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard or Saj Mahmood not offering a little more zing to counter South Africa's Zen calm.

De Villiers, meanwhile, shared the same resoluteness of Prince but was beaten three or four times by Anderson who never gave up all day. However, where South Africa excelled - where England struggled yesterday - was in their patience, particularly their judgement of their off stump. Only once or twice did Prince flash wildly outside his off stump to Flintoff, angling it across him, and although the partnership was one of grinding endurance, there were plenty of entertaining strokes.

Prince cut Flintoff powerfully, standing tall, but it was bettered by de Villiers' own airborne drive off the back foot which sped through cover. de Villiers is not a model of fluidity at the crease but, rather like Ramnaresh Sarwan, his balance at the crease marks him out as a fine player off both front and back foot. Strong with his wrists, he dealt comfortably with anything down the leg side - of which there was enough to keep him going all day - and midway through the afternoon South Africa had wiped off the deficit.

Prince's strokeplay down the ground was the standout of his innings, one such gift off Flintoff taking him to 99, and he celebrated his ninth hundred - and second in as many Tests - from 194 balls. de Villiers continued to favour the off-side with several exquisite strokes off the back foot as England's bowlers lacked consistency in length, and he cruised through to his 14th fifty as South Africa's lead swelled beyond 100. England were lost for inspiration.

A heavy shower fell at 5.15pm, and though the players returned for a tricky three overs an hour later, Prince and de Villiers remained intact. England's domination of the first couple of days at Lord's seem a distant, blurry memory, and South Africa look hungry to maintain their advantage.

Indians struggle despite Tendulkar and Karthik

Sachin Tendulkar made 69 from just 76 balls, but the rest of the top order didn't have much to shout about.

Sachin Tendulkar and Dinesh Karthik were the only batsmen to get meaningful practice ahead of the first Test, as the rest of the Indians fell cheaply on the second day of the tour game against Sri Lanka Board XI. Tendulkar top-scored with 69, while Karthik sealed his spot for the first Test with a patient, unbeaten 58, but none of the others got among the runs as the Indians closed the day on 196 for 8, still 28 behind the Board XI total.

Wet weather delayed the start in the morning, and no play was possible before lunch. When the game did get underway, the Indians suffered an early setback as Rahul Dravid was run out for 5. Virender Sehwag got a start, but was trapped in front by Rangana Herath, the left-arm spinner, for 27. It got worse for the Indians soon after when Dammika Prasad, the right-arm medium-pacer, dismissed Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman in the same over - Laxman was hit-wicket for a second-ball duck - to have them struggling at 80 for 5.

Tendulkar and Karthik then repaired the damaged partially with a 62-run sixth-wicket stand. Tendulkar made a brisk 69, the feature of which was his crisp driving on both sides of the wicket. He struck eight fours and a six in the 76 deliveries he faced - showing in the process that he is in prime form to score the 172 he needs to become Test cricket's highest run-getter - before falling to Seekkuge Prasanna, a 23-year-old legspinner.

Karthik was far more circumspect, with just six fours in 105 balls, but in an innings in which all the other batsmen were keen to play their strokes, his knock was just what the team needed. With Harbhajan Singh, he added 30 for the seventh wicket, but both Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan were dismissed shortly before close of play. Prasad, who played three one-day internationals for Sri Lanka a couple of years back, was the most successful bowler, finishing with figures of 3 for 30.

Pakistan wait for Champions Trophy verdict

A crucial day awaits Pakistan, and the subcontinent, as ICC members gather round in front of a team of security experts to discuss arrangements and address concerns for the Champions Trophy, currently scheduled to be held in Pakistan this September.

Representatives from all eight countries will be present at the important briefing in Dubai tomorrow and it is expected that if there is to be any decision on shifting the venue, it will be taken here.

Security experts, led by the Australian Reg Dickason, have toured Pakistan recently, visiting venues in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi amid increasing concerns in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa about the security situation in Pakistan. Though their final assessment is yet to be heard, Pakistan is cautiously optimistic of its chances as host.

"We are pretty confident that the tournament will go ahead, as scheduled in Pakistan," Shafqat Naghmi, the board's chief operating officer, told Cricinfo. Naghmi, in Dubai ahead of tomorrow's meeting, believes the incident-free and smooth hosting of the Asia Cup helped Pakistan's case as much as Australia's pull-out a few months before hindered it.

Security measures in place for the Asia Cup were stringent and a similar level will be provided for the Champions Trophy. "We did a fairly good job in hosting the Asia Cup without any such issues," Naghmi said.

"We have assured fool-proof security measures for the Champions Trophy and there is no reason for us to believe that the tournament will be relocated from Pakistan. The ICC has so far said nothing to suggest that the tournament will not be held here, so we are pretty confident."

The slow pace of the ongoing renovation of the stadium in Rawalpindi has been a micro concern, but even that, Naghmi says, should be completed by August 15. "The roof design had changed there, but the stadium should be ready between August 15 and August 20."

The other reason to believe the tournament may not be moved is that the implications of any such shift are likely to be far-reaching. The credible talk is of moving the event to South Africa - recent reports about England being a venue have been dismissed by one high-ranking non-Asian official - which also means bypassing the official alternative Sri Lanka, presumably because the security situation there is also a concern.

The four full members of the subcontinent are due to jointly host the World Cup three years from now. It is unlikely that the strife in Sri Lanka or the war on terror afflicting Pakistan will have stopped in that time, so if the Champions Trophy goes to neither Pakistan nor Sri Lanka now, the precedent set for the 2011 World Cup and future tournaments in the subcontinent, as one official points out, is a "dangerous" one.

Pakistan will also hope that their position as hosts does not become the subject of politicking and bargaining between boards of India, England and Australia, for example, over issues such as the Champions League.

Asif wants B sample test postponed

Mohammad Asif has asked for more time to prepare his case.

Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Asif has asked for his B sample test, which had been scheduled for July 28, to be postponed. His lawyer, Shahid Karim, wants more time to prepare for the case and make travel arrangements.

Karim said Asif has yet to receive the required documents from the Indian Premier League authorities relating to the A sample test, without which he could not prepare for the case.

"From the IPL we certainly want the documents that relate to the procedures they adopted for the 'A' sample test and we are entitled to have them," Karim told PTI. "We also want certain documents from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) that might be relevant to the case."

ICC anti-doping regulations provide players and/or their representative the right to be present when the B sample is opened and analysed. That means Asif and his lawyer will have to travel to Switzerland, where the testing will be done in a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-accredited laboratory. "We will not be able to make all the travel arrangements to Switzerland by July 28," Karim told Cricinfo. "The visas have to be processed and documents have to be obtained."

The IPL announced on Monday that Asif had tested positive for a banned substance, following which the Pakistan Cricket Board suspended him.

Hoggard fears for England future

Matthew Hoggard: could his England career be over?.

Matthew Hoggard has been forced to accept that his England career could be over after Darren Pattinson got the Test nod ahead of him on Hoggard's home ground of Headingley. Sidebottom had originally come in to cover for Hoggard and has held on to his place ever since, with Hoggard playing alongside him at times, but when Sidebottom was forced out with a back injury, it was Pattinson - a little-known Australia-raised bowler with 11 first-class games under his belt - who got the call.

Hoggard had been left out in New Zealand six Tests ago while England continued to choose an unchanged side since then. He was called into the 12 for the first Test against New Zealand at Lord's but now Pattinson - called up after only 11 first-class matches in England - has leapfrogged him, the second Test against South Africa could prove the nail in the coffin for Hoggard.

"It would have been lovely to have played at Headingley," Hoggard told BBC's Test Match Special. "I am bowling better and better - I am not bowling a bag of spanners. But I am thinking at the moment that, yes, it is over and looking forward to seeing what I am doing in the future. My whole career is a high point really. Even the low points when you are kicking the dirt you still look back and think 'It is me in an England shirt'."

Geoff Miller, the ECB's head of selectors, said of Pattinson: "What we've seen of him is ideal for these conditions and other conditions elsewhere. Pattinson's bowled really well: he's outbowled the others. The message to those guys is that we've watched them play too and will continue to do so."

Hoggard was dropped after the Hamilton Test against New Zealand in March following a poor match that yielded one wicket. Likewise, Steve Harmison was left out by England and hasn't played since, though has shown encouraging form for Durham this season. Harmison, though, is concerned what signal the selection of Pattinson sends to the up-and-coming bowlers in the England ranks.

"The amount of money the ECB have pushed into young bowlers, taking them to Chennai and the Academy - are we saying the young bowlers aren't good enough?," Harmison said. "I haven't seen him [Pattinson] bowl - I was asleep when we played them. But good luck to him, he has taken his chance. If he deserves it I'm not sure, but good luck to him."

Durham surge to the top

First Division

Durham moved to the top of the table with a ten-wicket win over Surrey at a blustery Guildford. Surrey appeared to be well on course towards batting their way to a draw as they reached 261 for 3, but with lunch in sight Usman Afzal was caught behind cutting for 73, ending a fourth-wicket stand of 135 with Jon Batty (50). It was downhill all the way from then on as their last seven wickets fell for 62, with Steve Harmison cutting through the tail with 3 for 10 in 13 balls. Set 134 in 45 overs, Durham wasted no time as Mark Stoneman (60*) and Michael Di Venuto (57*) laid into a listless Surrey attack to reach their target with more than ten overs in hand.

Somerset moved to the top of Division One - however briefly - after 45 minutes of play on the final day which was all they needed to beat Kent by 246 runs at Taunton. Steffan Jones took the last three wickets, ending with 5 for 53. Jones had McLaren caught behind by Craig Kieswetter for 23, the keeper diving to his left, then next ball Robbie Joseph played all round one and had an lbw shout turned down against Martin Saggers on the hat-trick delivery. Jones claimed Saggers soon enough from a short ball pushed to James Hildreth in the gully and leave Kent nine down. With Rob Key absent following the birth of his second child, Somerset had the win.

Ollie Rayner's career-best 5 for 49 helped seal ten-wicket win against Hampshire at Arundel, their second victory of the summer. On a slow, low pitch Rayner - who was leading the spin attack in the absence of the injured Mushtaq Ahmed - grabbed match figures of 7 for 89 with his offspin. This was only the side's fifth win in any cricket this term, and it was the first time in eight years they have taken to the field without an overseas player.

Team Mat Won Lost Tied Draw Aban Pts
Durham 8 4 2 0 2 0 106
Somerset 8 3 1 0 4 0 105
Kent 9 3 3 0 3 0 100
Nottinghamshire 8 3 2 0 3 0 98
Lancashire 8 3 1 0 4 0 97
Sussex 9 2 2 0 5 0 95
Yorkshire 8 2 3 0 3 0 85
Surrey 9 0 3 0 6 0 77
Hampshire 9 1 4 0 4 0 73

Second Division

Chris Woakes took a career-best 5 for 37 to bowl Warwickshire to an innings-and-56-runs win over Middlesex Uxbridge . Following on, the home side resumed on 20 for 0 and once they started losing wickets, they couldn't stop. The loss of in-form Dawid Malan was a key scalp, trapped low in front by Woakes, who also picked up Owais Shah in similar fashion, as well as Murali Karthik who had offered vain resistance with a topscoring 44. Either side of Karthik's wicket, Woakes removed Tim Murtagh and Danny Evans.

It was a day for batting practice at Wantage Road once Northamptonshire just managed to avoid the follow-on in the morning. From then on Chris Rogers' second hundred of the summer steered Derbyshire to 275 for 6, with Dan Birch (71) and Wavell Hinds (64) chipping in before bad light brought an early end.

Team Mat Won Lost Tied Draw Aban Pts
Warwickshire 9 3 0 0 6 0 125
Northamptonshire 9 2 2 0 5 0 95
Middlesex 9 2 3 0 4 0 94
Worcestershire 9* 2 1 0 5 0 91
Derbyshire 9 2 2 0 5 0 89
Essex 8 3 3 0 2 0 89
Leicestershire 8 2 1 0 5 0 86
Glamorgan 8* 1 3 0 3 0 59
Gloucestershire 7 0 2 0 5 0 59

England hit back after lowly batting display

Dale Steyn removes Kevin Pietersen.

After last week's dull draw, this series needed igniting, and Headingley has provided it. South Africa dismissed England for a disappointingly meagre 203 before they themselves lost three quick wickets, while Hashim Amla was a hair's breadth away from joining those dismissed in the pavilion. This was Test cricket at its most compelling and frantic.

The commotion of the day took place in the 25th over of South Africa's reply, in early-evening sunshine. Amla, on 9 at the time, fended a sharp bouncer from Flintoff to Michael Vaughan at mid-off, the captain diving forward to claim what appeared to be a clean catch. However Amla was sent back by his coach, Mickey Arthur, as well as his captain Graeme Smith, forcing the umpires to refer the decision upstairs. The evidence was inconclusive, as it so often is; Vaughan scuffed his toes in annoyance and Amla shovelled Flintoff's next ball unfussily for four.

The decision will rankle with Vaughan and England overnight, and doubtless the debate surrounding the use of technology will rumble on - particular in light of England turning down an offer to use the umpire-referral system in this series. Regardless of all that, Amla survived to put South Africa's noses in front by a few whiskers, and they went to stumps trailing by 102.

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Smart stats

* England's 203 all out is the lowest first-innings score at Headingley since 2000, when West Indies were bowled out for 172. It's England's lowest first-innings score here since 1997, when Australia bowled them out for 172, again.
* Dale Steyn has dismissed Michael Vaughan thrice in 56 balls in Tests. Vaughan has only scored 38 runs against him.
* Kevin Pietersen has scored 422 runs from 492 balls at Headingley. The strike rate of 85.77 is his highest at any ground.
* Only three times have England won a Test at Headingley after scoring less than 203 in their first innings. The last such instance was against West Indies in 1991.
* Andrew Flintoff dismissed Graeme Smith for the fourth time in Tests. Only two bowlers - Glenn McGrath (5) and Chris Martin (6) have dismissed him more often.

Bottom Curve

The day was dominated by South Africa's bowlers, however. Morne Morkel again impressed with four wickets, mostly continuing the encouraging display he showed at Lord's. And Headingley proved a happier hunting ground for Dale Steyn, who took 4 for 76 in 18.3 angry overs. Makhaya Ntini toiled for 11 overs, but although he did remove Tim Ambrose around the wicket - his first wicket in the series - the younger bucks are making this great, tireless bowler look a little innocuous.

It was Morkel who broke through for South Africa - a little fortuitously - when Alastair Cook attempted to flick a leg-side drifter around the corner. He failed to make contact, but South Africa's raucous appeal was vindicated by Billy Bowden. The door was open, and it soon became a procession as England struggled to cope with the swing on a dank, gloomy day.

Vaughan lasted a mere seven balls when he edged Steyn's beautiful outswinger to Smith at first slip. It was the third time in five Tests that Steyn has removed the England captain through suspect defence of straight deliveries. There were no such concerns for Kevin Pietersen, however, fresh from his hundred at Lord's. Steyn fed him with an easy-paced delivery on middle-stump, flamingo-flicking it through midwicket. Two balls later, a half-tracker was dispatched into the midwicket stand for the morning's most authoritative shot for six, as the drizzle began to fall more steadily.

Strauss fell victim to the day's first piece of juicy contention when he edged a Morkel lifter to AB de Villiers at third slip. Wonderful fielder though he is, it was clear even to Strauss that de Villiers had grounded it, and despite South Africa's protestations the third umpire let Strauss carry on. After playing sensibly and cautiously - unlike nearly all his colleagues - he soon fell when he edged Morkel for 23 and England found themselves struggling on 70 for 3 at lunch.

Pietersen responded after lunch with consistently audacious strokeplay. Steyn, overpitching, was picked through cover and mid-on; Ntini, wide of the crease, was mowed through midwicket for two more boundaries. On such a spicy surface, however, it was only a matter of time before Steyn would find his length, and after being clouted for yet another four, he induced Pietersen into edging an outswinger to a gleeful Smith. Everything rested on Ian Bell's shoulders, and how would England's new No.6, Tim Ambrose, cope?
Andrew Flintoff returned to England colours, bowling with fire and accuracy.

Not altogether wonderfully well, nibbling at Ntini from around the wicket to fall for 12. Meanwhile Bell, fresh from his magnificent 199 at Lord's, was in supreme touch, oozing class with five delicate boundaries, but like Pietersen before him, he chased a wider ball from Jacques Kallis which clattered into the stumps. England were 150 for 6 and South Africa were already into the tail.

All eyes on Flintoff. After an absence of 18 months, any hope of England scraping a challenging first innings rested on his fit-again shoulders, and he responded to a rousing reception with two muscular fours through the off-side. Another wide, tempting carrot outside his off stump from Kallis lured him into a poor stroke on his comeback, and with him went England's chances of a substantial first innings.

Whereas South Africa enjoyed plenty of swing, England couldn't find quite as much, as it became sunnier. Geoff Miller's surprise package, the 29-year-old Darren Pattinson, looked understandably overawed by the whole occasion, but James Anderson soon found his length and broke through Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith's excellent opening stand of 51 to have McKenzie smartly snaffled by Flintoff at slip. Flintoff took two overs to crank up his pace, but bowled with wonderful rhythm in his 10-over spell, removing Smith with a brutish riser from around the wicket. Kallis' miserable series continued three overs later when he inside-edged Anderson onto his stumps, and South Africa's high was tempered somewhat at 76 for 3.

It could yet be the match's defining point, Vaughan's non-catch of Amla, particularly for a batsman so keen on large scores. Much rests on Flintoff's shoulders once again if England are to make early inroads tomorrow. Welcome back, Fred.

Bowlers restrict Sri Lanka XI to 224

Anil Kumble picked up 3 for 30 off 13 overs in the first innings.

India's bowlers, several of whom are returning to the Test squad after breaks due to injury, form or discipline, had a satisfactory start to the tour of Sri Lanka, dismissing the Board XI for 224 at the Nondescripts Cricket Club in Colombo.

Zaheer Khan, who hasn't played for India since the tour of Australia due to an ankle injury, struck twice with the new ball; Harbhajan Singh, returning from a disciplinary ban, took a brace of wickets; while Test captain Anil Kumble slotted back into the side with 3 for 30. Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel, who was not picked after the IPL, took a wicket apiece. Dinesh Karthik, standing-in for Mahendra Singh Dhoni for this series, also held three catches.

The Sri Lanka Board XI top order struggled, slipping to 82 for 4 after the team had won the toss. Upul Tharanga, who hasn't played a Test since December 2007, failed to make use of his opportunity. He was trapped lbw by Zaheer for 6.

The danger of a collapse was averted by Thilina Kandamby, whose last international appearance was in an ODI in Lahore in October 2004, and Chamara Silva. Kandamby struck 11 fours during his 84, and added 100 for the fifth wicket with Silva, before he was caught by Karthik off Patel. Silva was dismissed by Harbhajan with the score on 214 and the innings folded swiftly thereafter.

The Indian openers had to negotiate a short period before stumps but Gautam Gambhir failed to see out the day. He was caught by Jehan Mubarak off Dilhara Fernando for 4, leaving India trailing by 220 runs with nine wickets in hand.

I want to play for Pakistan, not England - Kaneria

Danish Kaneria will not turn his back on Pakistan.

Danish Kaneria has reaffirmed his commitment Pakistan, denying quotes attributed to him that he would consider switching allegiance to England if he wasn't selected for Pakistan.

Kaneria, who is currently playing county cricket for Essex, had been quoted by a local newspaper as saying that he had "plenty of years to go" and will "consider playing for England at one stage if Pakistan" don't pick him. But despite the fact that his name does not figure among the 30 probables for the Pakistan squad in the Champions Trophy, Kaneria has insisted that he remains committed to Pakistan.

"I did not say that I wanted to stay over here (and qualify to play for England)," Kaneria told the Essex website. "I still want to play for Pakistan and my state side there. My priority is with Pakistan for as long as they need me in Test cricket.

"In fact I am always there for them in any form of the game - Pakistan has given me the name to be playing cricket in England. If ever Pakistan didn't select me for three to four years in a row in any form of cricket then, and only then, would I think about coming over here [on a permanent basis]."

Kaneria has not represented Pakistan in the current season, and had been reprimanded by the board in April for criticising them after he was demoted to category C among Pakistan's centrally contracted players. He was in the Pakistan team in their most recent Test, against India in December, and made the last of his 18 ODI appearances in the 2007 World Cup.

County Championship round-up Kent and Hampshire face heavy defeats

Will Smith sweeps on his way to a maiden double hundred at Guildford.

First Division

Will Smith's maiden double hundred helped Durham to take a first-innings lead of 190 at Guildford as they piled up 410, but Surrey fared much better second time round, reaching 185 for 3 by the close. This was another day when the players came and went between showers, but Smith ploughed on, reprieved by Jimmy Ormond who put him down in the slips when he was on 166. On a pitch which remained good, Scott Newman, who had been off the field with a knee injury, struck a brisk 67 to add to his first-day hundred, and then Jonathan Batty and Usman Afzaal gave Surrey a chance of salvaging a draw with an unbeaten fourth-wicket stand of 59 before a premature close. With Darren Pattinson called up at Leeds, Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett hardly put pressure on him. Harmison was smacked for 73 in 13 overs while Plunkett shipped 29 in two.

Kent were left on the brink of a thumping defeat as they closed on 163 for 6 chasing a distant target of 463 at Taunton. Somerset had extended their second innings to 243 for 8, with Justin Langer finishing on 88, when they declared at lunch. Kent, without Robert Key who was absent attending the birth of his son, lost three wickets in an afternoon shorted by rain, and in the final session top scorer Martin van Jaarsveld gloved an attempted hook as the players trotted on and off. With the forecast tomorrow much improved, Somerset could go top, albeit briefly, if the wrap up the game quickly.

Hampshire were also staring defeat in the face after they closed on 127 for 7 in their second innings at Arundel, still 42 runs short of making Sussex bat again. Greg Lamb (54) led some spirited resistance at the end of Hampshire's first innings as their last four wickets added 126, but following-on 163 in arrears, none of their batsmen looked like playing the necessary anchor innings. Ollie Rayner made the most of Mushtaq Ahmed's absence to pick up 4 for 49. The temperature was raised early on when Lamb refused to walk for a catch Chris Adams claimed at slip and the umpires were unable to confirm the catch. Adams simmered for an over before engaging in a row with non striker Nic Pothas, prompting the officials to intervene.

Second Division

Middlesex struggled to gain a foothold at a dank Uxbridge where the players spent more time in the pavilion that out in the middle. In what action there was, Warwickshire dominated, taking the last seven Middlesex first-innings wickets for 75. Owais Shah top scored with 42 but failed to capitalise on a missed slip catch when 25, while Chris Martin and Darren Maddy shared six wickets. The in-form Ben Scott marshalled a long lower order with determination and was last man out for 37. Following-on 223 behind, Middlesex closed on 20 for 0 after a farcical finish when the players, sat inside for two hours, returned for two overs of spin before all trooping off again for bad light.

Jonathan Clare followed his hundred yesterday with 5 for 52 as Derbyshire remained in charge against Northamptonshire at Wantage Road. With poor light bringing an early tea and finish, and with the batting fairly attritional, it was a day for the purists only. Niall O'Brien provided the early impetus with 80, but when he holed out to Nayan Doshi Northamptonshire were 171 for 5, still 314 behind. Lance Klusener and Andrew Hall rebuilt the innings, although Hall was inexplicably dropped off a sitter by Dan Birch at mid-off early on. Both passed fifty, but as the gloom descended, the new ball did for Hall and an over later Clare completed his five-for by pegging back Klusener's leg stump.

Lawyer unhappy over revelation of Asif's identity

Mohammad Asif's lawyer, Shahid Karim, is unhappy that his client's name was disclosed by the IPL as the player whose sample tested positive for a banned substance, even before the results of the test of his B sample were known.

"There are certain rules that were not followed in this case," Karim told AP. "The authorities should have waited for the B sample test before revealing the identity of the player."

He remained optimistic that Asif, who has since been suspended by the Pakistan board, will escape punishment. "As a lawyer, I am quite hopeful that Asif will come out clean from this doping case and will again represent Pakistan in international cricket." If Asif's B sample tests negative, he will be deemed to be clear of the charge.

Karim said the date for Asif's B sample test had been tentatively fixed for July 28; the testing will be carried out at a WADA-accredited laboratory in Switzerland.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Flintoff returns to boost England

Andrew Flintoff is fighting fit.

Match facts

Friday July 18 - Tuesday July 22, 2008
Start time 11.00am (10.00GMT)

Big Picture

One weary set of England players and one rejuvenated set of South Africans have made their way north after five days of hard toil at Lord's. Even though a featherbed surface aided the visitors' escape, it was a magnificent effort to lose just three wickets in 167 overs of their second innings. Michael Vaughan was aware of the dangers of back-to-back Tests when he enforced the follow-on and, with a couple of his attack showing the strain by the end at Lord's, their endurance and stamina will be tested to the full - especially if they have to field first. With that in mind it is a major boost to have a fresh pair of legs in the squad, and they aren't just anyone's legs. Eighteen months after his last Test appearance for England, Andrew Flintoff will make his comeback. His previous outing in any international was last September during the ICC World Twenty20. Throw in the side strain that aborted his return against New Zealand and the wait has seemed interminable. But a couple of Championship matches for Lancashire has been enough to convince the selectors that now is the time. South Africa, as expected, are refusing to get drawn into the hype, focussing instead on improving on a performance during the first three days at Lord's that left them in series danger of defeat. The bowlers will have learnt from their pummelling. Will the real Dale Steyn and co. please stand up.

Form guide

England WDWWD
South Africa WDWLD

One to watch

Andrew Flintoff: Rarely has one player's return been so anticipated. Flintoff is back, but not quite in the position he left after Michael Vaughan confirmed he will bat at No. 7. Before his side strain Flintoff was batting in binary, and although the form has gradually returned it will be a case of crossing fingers when he walks even if the demotion does release some pressure. Bowling wise, he's been impressive, consistently putting in quick spells and the only test remaining is that of sustained international cricket. It will be impossible for him to live up to expectations, but just seeing him stood at second slip will be a huge boost for Vaughan.

Dale Steyn: It was tempting to think what's all the fuss about after watching Steyn at Lord's. But that would be very dangerous. The South African camp has admitted the quicks got wrapped up in all the pre-match talk and, really, the only way from there was down. Steyn, though, hasn't risen up the rankings without good reason. His vicious yorker to Vaughan gave a tantalising glimpse of his best. Many overseas bowlers need a match to find their feet. Steyn has had his, now batten down the hatches.

Team news

The most significant development is Flintoff at No. 7 because, in all likelihood, it means Tim Ambrose will play at No. 6. It is asking a huge amount of Ambrose who, despite two key innings in his short Test career, has yet to convince. However, all is not so simple. Vaughan didn't confirm that Paul Collingwood was dropped, so a possible scenario is Ambrose at No. 8 followed by three bowlers. Yet, there are more spanners in the works. Ryan Sidebottom is struggling with his back as is James Anderson. Chris Tremlett and Darren Pattinson have been called up, but Vaughan is desperate to have Sidebottom. After months of consistency, this team decision will go down to the wire.

England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Michael Vaughan (capt), Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Tim Ambrose (wk), 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar

South Africa have concerns over Neil McKenzie, who needed a runner during the latter stages of his marathon Lord's century after tweaking his groin. He will have a fitness test in the morning and JP Duminy is on stand-by. The other issue is the make-up of their attack. Makhaya Ntini was well short of his best in the first Test - and the feeling persists he is on a steady decline - while Paul Harris' role will also come under scrutiny. The temptation will be to field a full hand of quicks, which would bring Andre Nel into the set-up.

South Africa (probable) 1 Graeme Smith, 2 Neil McKenzie/JP Duminy, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 AB de Villiers, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Morne Morkel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Makhaya Ntini, 11 Dale Steyn

Pitch & conditions

The pitch was under cover throughout Thursday as steady rain hung around Leeds. It will have sweated, so both captains could well think hard about bowling first. The forecast is for a good deal of cloud on the first couple of days and Headingley is a venue where it's just as important to look up as it is down. If the sun comes out runs can flow, but overcast skies can make it a bowlers' field day.

Stats & Trivia

  • South Africa have played 11 Tests at Headingley, winning just two including their last visit in 2003 which ended in a 191-run victory.
  • Three Englishmen survive from the 2003 match - Vaughan, Flintoff and Anderson (if fit) - compared to a possible five South Africans - Smith, Kallis, McKenzie, Boucher and Ntini.
  • Flintoff's first two Tests on the ground brought pairs (against South Africa in 1998 and India in 2002). But since then he has managed three consecutive half-centuries, including twin efforts against South Africa in 2003.
  • Headingley has the reputation of being a bowlers' ground, but since 2000 the average first-innings score has been 440.


"I feel good about my game, about myself and my fitness. The side strain is long gone and the ankle operation is that long ago that that is forgotten too. I am just ready to go."
Andrew Flintoff doesn't have any injury worries on his mind

"He's a quality, quality player. If we're going to conquer England and win here we want to do it against their best side - and their best side certainly has Fred in it."
Mickey Arthur does his best not to add to the hype

India likely to be at full strength

Sachin Tendulkar gets a chance to test his match fitness.

Match facts

Friday July 18 - Sunday July 20, 2008
Start time 10.30am (05.00GMT)

Big Picture

After three hectic months of Twenty20 and one-dayers, this is India's only warm-up game before the Tests against Sri Lanka. It is also the only chance for several of India's players who have had an enforced break from cricket - Sachin Tendulkar (groin injury), Zaheer Khan (ankle injury), Harbhajan Singh (disciplinary ban), and VVS Laxman (fractured wrist) - to get some match practice under their belts. That means India might want to opt for the same XI they have in mind for next week's Test.

Captain Anil Kumble has been stressing that the Test outfit has been performing consistently over the past year and will be keen to redress India's poor record in Sri Lanka, where they haven't won a series in 15 years.

For the home side, the match will be a chance for Upul Tharanga, who has been out of the Test side since last December, to make his case. Chamara Kapugedera has become a regular starter in Sri Lanka's one-day unit and will be trying to use this game to stake his claim for a Test spot. At least two other members of the team - fast bowler Dilhara Fernando and batsman Chamara Silva - are also likely to feature in the Test series.

One to watch

Nearly twenty years on the international circuit have taken their toll on Sachin Tendulkar, and he has been struggling with a groin injury for the past few months. The only cricket he has played after the Indian Premier League is a few leisurely games with Lashings. This match will give a better indication of whether he's fit enough to return to the rigours of Test cricket next week. He's within touching distance of Brian Lara's record Test aggregate and will want to use this game to get into the groove.

Team news

Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag get a chance on this tour to translate their opening form in the limited-overs versions of the game to Tests. The experienced middle-order picks itself while the absence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni leaves Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel vying for the wicketkeeper's spot. Zaheer Khan will reclaim his place as the pace spearhead with Ishant Sharma likely to be his sidekick. India's spin threat will come from the old firm of Kumble and Harbhajan.

India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Dinesh Karthik/Parthiv Patel (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ishant Sharma

Sri Lanka Board XI squad Mahela Udawatte, Upul Tharanga, Jehan Mubarak (capt), Chamara Kapugedera, Chamara Silva, Thilina Kandamby, Kaushal Silva (wk), Chanaka Welegedera, Sujeewa Silva, Dammika Prasad, Rangana Herath, Dilhara Fernando


"We have Zaheer Khan back in the team with his experience of bowling in subcontinental conditions, Ishant Sharma who has really progressed well as a seamer, and Harbhajan Singh is back as well."
Anil Kumble talks up his bowling attack

Flintoff returns ... but that's the easy bit

Andrew Flintoff has ended Geoff Miller's run of six unchanged sides.

After months of having it easy, England's selectors might need a lie-down once they have finalised the eleven for Headingley. Andrew Flintoff returns, but that's the simple decision. He will bat at No. 7 - an admission that his status as a world-class allrounder has slipped in absentia - which means Tim Ambrose must bat as high as No. 6 if England play five bowlers. However, at the moment the identity of those bowlers remains a mystery.

Chris Tremlett and, most surprisingly, Nottinghamshire's Darren Pattinson have been given late call-ups as cover for Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson, both of whom have back problems. Pattinson, named in England's 30-man Champions Trophy squad, has leapfrogged the likes of Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard - on his home ground - and Simon Jones following an impressive season for Nottinghamshire. For Hoggard, this slight could be the final nail in his Test career.

But this is just the latest twist in Pattinson's story. He was born in Grimsby before emigrating to Australia, where he didn't make his first-class debut until 2006-07 after plying his trade as a roofer. He is a hit-the-deck swing bowler and it's the ability to swing the ball which has caught the selectors' eye. His call-up harks back to the days of selecting specialist swing bowlers for this venue. If Anderson and Sidebottom - himself a 'Headingley selection' last year - both miss out, England lack lateral movement in their attack so Pattinson could be one cloudy morning away from a debut.

The irony is that one of the guaranteed bowlers is Flintoff, who hasn't played a Test for 18 months, and it is clear it's with the ball that he is valued higher. During his absence the question has often been asked whether he can recapture the status of world-class allrounder that was bestowed on him during the peak of his powers in 2004 and 2005. The answer from the England camp, in the short-term at least, appears to be no.

"I've always seen him more as a No. 7," said Vaughan at a damp Headingley, where both sides were restricted to indoor training. "His style of play is suited to that position, he is very attacking, and given the chance he can take the game away from the opposition in that position as well. He's happy there and feels very comfortable there, it takes a little bit of pressure off him and hopefully he can go and express himself.

"We see him as having a long-term future in the team, not that we don't see Ambrose having a long-term future, but Freddie at No. 7 is a perfect position for his style of batting. At this stage No. 6 would be quite high up and the style you are asked to play there is different. We want him to be relaxed."

The move is significant not only because Flintoff himself has always been adamant that he is a batsman who bowls, but also because of the knock-on effects to the line-up. Ambrose had a dire one-day series, managing 10 runs in five innings, and began this series with 4 at Lord's. Vaughan, though, who will lead England for the fiftieth time on his home ground, is confident his wicketkeeper can cope with any promotion.

"If that's the decision we are very confident he can go and make a score. Sometimes that is just what you need, a confidence boost of being pushed up the order. Only two innings ago he got a really good [innings] against New Zealand. He seems to be hitting the ball well. He didn't have a great one-day series which is why people are talking about him, but I think he looks very comfortable in the one-day team."

All of this does spell bad news for Paul Collingwood, whose run of 33 consecutive Tests - dating back to Lahore 2005 - looks set to end. He has pulled England out of many holes, but it is hard to find a justification for keeping him in the eleven. His final chance would be if England opt to use Flintoff as one of four bowlers, but the concerns over Sidebottom and Anderson means extra resources will be needed.

Ryan's had these stiff backs before and come through and I really hope he does this time. The way that he swings the ball, he is a key bowler for us and if he isn't right he'll be a big loss for us- Michael Vaughan waits on the fitness of Ryan Sidebottom

Sidebottom is the greater worry and his absence would be as big a blow for England as Flintoff's return is a boost. It was here, last year against West Indies, that he returned to Test cricket with eight wickets against West Indies and has since established himself as the main man in the attack. "He's an old pro and comes from the old school," said Vaughan. "He's had these stiff backs before and come through and I really hope he does this time. The way that he swings the ball, he is a key bowler for us and if he isn't right he'll be a big loss for us.

"He still bowls very well at 80, 81mph. But in his own mind, he wants to be back at 83, 84mph because he gets that snappy swing, that late swing. That's when Ryan is at his best but he needs to be very confident in his own body to be able to do that. He'll make that decision in the morning and I hope as a captain he comes through because he's been a revelation in the last year."

For Graeme Smith this is all a pleasant role-reversal, because leading into Lord's all the attention was on his team. Flintoff has taken the heat away and allowed the South Africans a relaxed few days following their three-day escape act in London. "We've been in good spirits throughout, we were obviously disappointed with how we played for the first three days at Lord's, but to still get something out of it was a positive," said Smith. "The nice thing is knowing we can achieve those levels that we want."

The bowlers struggled with the quirky conditions at Lord's, and Headingley offers similar challenges with a slope from one end of the ground to the other. South Africa spent a long time practising on Thursday, but the rain meant Smith's attack wasn't given another early look at conditions. "We would have loved to have another session today," said Smith. "We put in quite a lengthy stint yesterday and have had a few little discussions on where we want to improve. Hopefully we can execute things better."

Like England, they will wait on their final eleven until just before the toss and Smith said he "would leave his options open" regarding the make-up of their attack. Unlike England, their procrastinations are more out of choice.

BCCI bars its players from counties with ICL staff

Piyush Chawla has been denied permission to sign up for Hampshire.

The BCCI has cranked up the pressure on English counties that have employed players linked with the unauthorised Indian Cricket League (ICL) by "advising" its own players to not sign up with such teams.

Niranjan Shah, BCCI secretary, told Cricinfo that its contracted players - including VVS Laxman, Piyush Chawla and Ajit Agarkar - who have signed or are in the process of signing with English counties this season are being "advised" to pull out if the county has ICL players on its rolls.

"We don't want our players in teams that have other players playing in unauthorised tournaments," Shah said.

Shah, however, clarified that "non-ICL" players from these county teams will be allowed to take part in the Indian Premier League (IPL) - Hampshire's Dimitri Mascarenhas had played for Rajasthan Royals in the tournament's first season. The decision does, though, put into doubt the participation of Indian players in the English Premier League, which was unveiled on Wednesday and will start in 2010.

Chawla was expected to sign up for Hampshire, Laxman was set to join Nottinghamshire in August, and Agarkar was reported to be in talks with Worcestershire.

A report on said the BCCI first granted permission to Chawla to join Hampshire and then decided against it.

The ECB has allowed around 25 cricketers associated with ICL to represent 15 of its 18 counties after it faced legal action from the unauthorized league, which was backed by the country's strong trade laws that protects the rights of individuals. Only Middlesex, Somerset and Essex have teams without any ICL players.

Injured McKenzie doubtful for second Test

Openers Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie averaged 99.27 from 11 innings this this year.

JP Duminy could get a chance to make his Test debut if Neil McKenzie doesn't recover from his groin strain in time for the start of the second Test against England in Headingley on Friday.

Mickey Arthur, the South African coach, said McKenzie's injury was not serious but the short three-day gap between the first and second Tests meant there wasn't enough time to recover. "I think it was prodding forward to Monty [Panesar] for nine hours that did it," Arthur said.

"I'm optimistic - I think he'll play. He had some ultrasound this morning and is going to do some strength and muscle activation this afternoon. He'll bat on Thursday and will do some training again tomorrow afternoon - and we'll put him through a fitness test on Friday morning."

However Arthur confirmed that if McKenzie didn't play, Duminy would open the innings with Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers would remain at No. 6. "Anything else would be two swaps for one, and I don't want to make two changes for one position. It will just be a straight swap."

McKenzie's absence could be a great blow to South Africa who are looking to gain a series lead after drawing the Lord's Test. Since his return to the South African Test side this year, McKenzie has averaged 79 from seven Tests, scoring two hundreds and a double-century. His opening partnership with Smith in those Tests gave their side a solid platform to build on - the two averaged 99.27 from 11 innings, with three hundred-run partnerships and four half-century stands.

Australia look to revamp domestic Twenty20

Australia's domestic Twenty20 competition may feature their international players from 2009-10.

Cricket Australia is looking at ways to revamp the existing the domestic Twenty20 competition of the 2009-10 season, with the idea of involving Australia's international players in the tournament.

"We're really aware of a lot of things that are developing at the moment in Twenty20 cricket, particularly with domestic competitions," James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, told the Melbourne-based Age. "We're already on the record as saying we are planning a revamp of our Twenty20 Big Bash. It will be a larger and [on] different scale in 2009-10, but we see that there is a lot to learn from other parts of the world and we are closely monitoring that."

On Wednesday the England board unveiled the English Premier League - to include 18 counties and two overseas teams divided in to two divisions - to get underway in 2010.

Cricket Australia officials will present financial models of the proposed revamp to its directors next month and is looking for a window in the season when it can schedule the Twenty20 tournament. Last season each of the six states played the others once before Victoria beat Western Australia in the final. Sutherland said it was not easy to find a period in Australia's summer when international players could also participate in the tournament.

"The challenges of our summer period, which coincides with the cricket season for eight or nine of the 10 Test-playing countries, means that period from September through to April is a very busy time ... There aren't many opportunities to play state cricket. We'd love to see them play more and if we can find a window, we will."

Pakistan confident ahead of Champions Trophy meet

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is optimistic security measures provided for the Champions Trophy in September will be enough to convince other participating nations that the country is safe enough to host the tournament.

Representatives from all eight countries will attend an important briefing at the ICC headquarters in Dubai this Sunday where a final decision is expected on the hosting rights. Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, said there was no reason for the tournament to be shifted after the recent Asia Cup went off without any security glitches.

"We have assured fool-proof security measures for the Champions Trophy," Naghmi told the News. "There is no reason for us to believe that the tournament will be relocated from Pakistan.

"Everything that needs to be done has been done to ensure that the Champions Trophy is held here smoothly and safely. We've informed the ICC, the security experts and the competing nations about it and now hope that all the stake-holders will consider it objectively."

A growing number of players, especially from Australia, have expressed reservations about touring Pakistan: earlier this year, Australia postponed a first full tour of the country in a decade to next year, due to growing violence in parts of Pakistan. Sri Lanka is the official alternative venue in, though media reports suggest that South Africa and now England are also in the running.

Naghmi, however, said the board was never contacted on this issue.

"I've also heard about such reports but we haven't received a word on it from any of the concerned parties," he said. "We are now hoping that it will be confirmed soon that the Champions Trophy will take place in Pakistan according to schedule."

South Africa has also added its voice to the chorus of concern over the tournament, though none of the players have commented. "Yes, the South African players and their association do have some concerns regarding the Champions Trophy in Pakistan," Tony Irish, chief executive of the South African Cricketers Association, told Dawn. "No decisions have been taken at this stage and I will attend the ICC meeting in Dubai on Sunday."

South Africa toured Pakistan in October 2007 and, significantly, stayed and played on after bomb blasts in Karachi killed nearly 150 people when the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto arrived. The ICC has insisted the tournament will remain in Pakistan and that all representatives at the meeting will be comprehensively briefed on the security measures.

"It was already decided at the ICC board meeting that the eight cricket boards will be given a presentation about the Asia Cup security as well as the overall security report prior to the ICC Champions Trophy," Brian Murgatroyd, the ICC's media manager, told the paper.

Champions Trophy 2008 Live Score

ECB unveils new Twenty20 tournament

The much-anticipated English Premier League will get underway in 2010, with two divisions made up of ten teams, after the ECB unveiled a radical shake-up of the domestic game following its board meeting at Lord's.

In a unanimous decision, the format that has been agreed upon will involve all 18 first-class counties, plus two overseas sides to make up the numbers, with the matches to be played in the month of June. One of the teams will be provided by Allen Stanford and it is believed the other will be from India, with the winners of the IPL the likely choice.

A separate Twenty20 League for the 18 counties will then take place, primarily on Friday nights in July and August, and will act as the qualifier for the Champions League. The current Pro40 competition will be scrapped to make way for the competition.

"I am delighted that the board unanimously supported these creative proposals," said the ECB chairman, Giles Clarke. "I would like to congratulate everyone for their hard work and thank those who went to considerable time and trouble to produce documents for discussion.

"We have already received enormous broadcast and sponsor interest from around the world which was reported to the board by the chief executive David Collier."

The proposal that had been put forward by the MCC chief executive, Keith Bradshaw, and Surrey's chairman, David Stewart, for a nine-team league modelled on the Indian Premier League was rejected out of hand, although in a press release, Stewart threw his weight behind the new initiative. "These are extremely exciting and satisfying proposals for the future of domestic cricket in England and Wales," he said. "I am delighted to support them.

"They incorporate some excellent ideas and Keith Bradshaw and I were delighted to be able to submit our ideas as part of the decision making process and to build on the robust structure proposed by the ECB as a result of detailed consultations undertaken."

According to the ECB, the structure of the new league was decided upon following detailed market research in which spectators stated their desire to watch more Twenty20 cricket. Some of the funding ideas in Bradshaw and Stewart's plan were incorporated at the meeting.

The board also agreed the 2010 season would include a single 50-over competition and 16 County Championship matches in a two-division structure. "We looked at the Schofield Report, which stated that we should be playing competitions that mirror international competitions," Clarke told Sky Sports News.

"Spectators want to watch Twenty20 cricket on Friday nights, in the months of July, August and September, and the county championship in midweek. This is about giving the spectator what they want."

David Smith, Leicestershire's chief executive, told Cricinfo he was "delighted" with the announcement. "The ECB has got it right," he said. "It has maintained 16 four-day games which I think is sacrosanct for the development of Test cricket. We also needed a bit more Twenty20 and an EPL is an exciting prospect. It was obvious that one of the competitions had to go."

Botham slams London scheduling domination

Sir Ian Botham: 'Lets put cricket before the coffers'.

Sir Ian Botham has lashed out at pitches at Lord's and The Oval in the light of the drawn first Test.

In his column in the Daily Mirror Botham was highly critical of the domination of London, which has two Test venues, on touring itineraries. "Out of 25 Test matches since 2005, London has played host to 11 and the rest of the country has had 14. Of those 11 we have won just once, drawing nine and losing the other. Of the 14 games that have been allowed to be played elsewhere in the country, we have actually won 11 of those, drawn one and lost two. What is better for English cricket?"

He accused the authorities of preparing pluperfect surfaces so the games go the distance, with the commercial benefits that brings.

"For me English cricket is about winning matches. If you continue to play on surfaces like this that are designed to last five days then you are going to kill the enthusiasm that exciting and result driven cricket creates.

"Lets put cricket before the coffers and if the powers that be haven't got the vision to see that an England winning side is going bring in more attention and more revenue than a side drawing matches and slipping down the rankings then we're in big trouble."

Botham's tirade is about scheduling, however, likely to fall on deaf ears, even if there will be behind-the-scenes discussions about the pitch.

Lord's and The Oval, with capacities of 28,000 and 23,000, are the biggest grounds in the country and are usually sold out, or close to being so, for the first four days. The income they generate for the ECB dwarfs that from other grounds.

Cardiff, which has a capacity of only 15,000, was controversially awarded the first Test of the 2009 Ashes series, but that was because of financial guarantees received by the ECB which meant that it was able to outbid more established venues. That highlighted that cash is king.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Asif suspended by Pakistan board

Top Curve
Could Asif benefit from technical mistake?

  • Danish Zaheer, a medical expert who was part of the tribunal that overturned Shoaib Akhtar and Asif's drug-related ban in 2006, criticised the IPL for violating the WADA regulations that stipulate a player's name should not be made public till his B sample tests positive.

    "The IPL should not have made a public disclosure until Mohammad Asif's 'B' urine sample was checked in the presence of Asif or his legal and medical representative," Zaheer said.

    The World Anti-Doping Code Article 7.2 gives the player the right to ask for his 'B' sample to be analysed while Article 14.2 says the player's name can be publicly disclosed "no earlier than the completion of the administrative review described in Articles 7.1 and 7.2".

    "This deviation from the WADA regulation can now help Asif win his case in appeal if his medical and legal representative fight his case well," Zaheer said.

Bottom Curve

Mohammad Asif has been suspended by the Pakistan board for testing positive for a banned substance during random drug tests conducted during the Indian Premier League. To make it worse for Asif, the Pakistan board has refused to assist him in the matter, though he has the right to appeal against the suspension. Asif has said he will ask for a testing of his B sample.

"Asif has been suspended until the drug tribunal of the IPL completes its inquiry," Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, said. "For the time being he is suspended from playing all forms of the game until further decision which includes the right of appeal."

The board also said it would go by the decision taken by the IPL's drug tribunal. "Since Asif competed in a tournament outside Pakistan, we will honour the findings of the IPL drug tribunal and will assist them if required," Naghmi said.

He also explained the PCB's decision to not provide assistance to Asif. "Our policy on dope offenders is very clear," he told The News. "The board will not provide any kind of help to Asif and he will have to fight his case himself. The player seems to be in a lot of trouble. A second drug offence means a life ban."

If he is left to fight for himself this time, it will signal a distinct change in the board's policy. In 2006, Asif and Shoaib Akhtar had their bans overturned after successfully appealing to an independent committee against the original punishments. Though they escaped on a technicality, it was widely speculated that the decision had the PCB's complicit support.

Asif, who said he was "shocked and surprised" at failing the test, has asked for his B sample to be examined. "We will fight the case because we believe that our client has not taken any drug so we will go for the B sample test and do whatever required to clear Asif's name," his lawyer Shahid Karim told AFP.

This is Asif's second drug offence since failing a dope test before the Champions Trophy in 2006, and the board has warned that a life ban is possible if he is found guilty. Last month he was detained in Dubai for 19 days under suspicion of possessing a contraband substance and is already the subject of a board inquiry into those events.

While the PCB has chosen to distance itself from the current controversy, it hasn't stopped former Pakistan cricketers from lashing out at its functioning. Aamer Sohail, a former captain, has blamed the board for not taking appropriate action against doping after Asif and Shoaib tested positive for Nandrolone, a banned substance, in 2006.

"My question is, what has the PCB done in this regard," Sohail told the News. "What measures did the board take since Asif and Shoaib Akhtar tested positive for banned drugs in 2006? Did they introduce dope testing in domestic cricket? The board has totally failed to handle things.

"The last two years have been the worst for Pakistan cricket and the situation will get worse if no action is taken."

The IPL had announced on Monday that Asif's sample was positive after comparing the result from the WADA-approved laboratory in Switzerland [that tested the samples] with the data collected by IDTM, the Sweden-based independent agency that organised the tests.

Asif played eight of the Delhi Daredevils' 15 matches in the IPL, taking eight wickets with an economy rate of 9.25.

Jayawardene predicts close contest

Top Curve
Captains praise Test cricket

  • With the Sri Lankan players reportedly keen on playing in the IPL, a shadow hangs over the tour to England next year, but Test cricket, it seems, is the No. 1 priority

    Jayawardene: "As cricketers, the ultimate challenge for most us is Test cricket. Twenty20 cricket is a different challenge, so is one-day cricket. Test cricket is where the cricketers are really tested."

    Kumble: "Test cricket is here to stay and players really feel privileged to be a part of it. Personally, I remember most of my milestones achieved in Test matches. As cricketers we value Test cricket more than any other form. This series obviously will depend on how the media portrays it."

    Arjuna Ranatunga, the chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket's interim committee: "It is very important to protect Test cricket. That has been my view from day one. When it comes to Twenty20 it is more of a business. You need Twenty20 to get more money but ultimately you've got to realize that Test cricket is the major concept."

Bottom Curve

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, has predicted a close contest in the three-Test series against India, while his counterpart Anil Kumble emphasised his team's consistency in the run-up to the tour, during a press conference in Colombo to launch the series.

"Every time we've played them, there has been some really good cricket played by both teams, who possess some good-quality players," Jayawardene said. "I am sure that the public will have a great series to watch."

"We thoroughly enjoy playing India, at home or away," he said "It's always been a tough challenge. There is good rivalry with our neighbours."

Jayawardene said his team's focus was on winning the series and not on stopping Sachin Tendulkar from getting the 172 runs needed to overtake Brian Lara, who has 11,957 runs to his name, as the highest run-scorer. "I don't think we will try that hard not to give him the record. We are going to treat Sachin in the same manner as anybody else in the Indian camp," he said. "It will be a great milestone if he achieves it, but our focus will be on the series.

He also spoke about his performances against India. "Personally I have a couple of milestones against India. I made my debut against them and also scored my first double-hundred against them. It's a pretty good team for me to play against."

Kumble was upbeat about India's prospects considering the players at his disposal and the team's recent record. "The last time we played Sri Lanka in India we beat them. We are confident," he said. "We have Zaheer Khan back in the team with his experience of bowling in subcontinental conditions, Ishant Sharma who has really progressed well as a seamer, and Harbhajan Singh is back as well."

"We have a good combination and we have done pretty well in the lead up to the Test series," he said. "In the last one year or so we have been really consistent with our performances. That's something which we will take forward."

Kumble, who has not played in Sri Lanka since the 1993-94 tour, said the senior members of the team had experience of the conditions there. "The conditions would be pretty similar [to those in India] and the players we have in the team are all quite used to these conditions, especially the batting line-up. They are familiar with what to expect."

He also expected his team's middle order to cope with the threat posed by Ajantha Mendis, who destroyed India in the Asia Cup earlier this month with figures of 6 for 13. " We have the quality [to counter Mendis] ... our middle order has more than 30,000 Test runs and four of them have played more than 100 Tests," he said. "It will be challenging and I am sure our batsmen will definitely cope with that. It is something obviously we need to be on the look out for."

Meanwhile, former captain Hashan Tillakaratne has been appointed as the Sri Lankan team's manager. He replaces Shriyan Samararatne.

India play a three-day warm-up match against a Sri Lanka Board XI from July 18 to prepare for the first Test, which begins on July 23.

Yousuf pulls out of Champions Trophy

Mohammad Yousuf doesn't want to play during the holy month of Ramadan.

Mohammad Yousuf has made himself unavailable for Pakistan's Champions Trophy campaign in September, thus further depleting Pakistan's 30-man list of probables for the tournament.

The announcement of the squad has already been delayed twice so far, initially because of disagreement between the board and selectors over some names on the list, as well as uncertainty over Shoaib Akhtar's eligibility.

The names were supposed to be made public today, but the revelation that Mohammad Asif, one of the names in the squad, was the player who tested positive in a dope test at the IPL, meant another delay. The names will, the board now says, be announced tomorrow.

But Yousuf will not be among them. Cricinfo has learnt that Yousuf will be unavailable because the tournament will be played during the month of Ramadan. "Yousuf has asked to be excused from the Champions Trophy as it will be held during Ramadan and he does not want to be playing during that month," a source close to the selection committee told Cricinfo. "We have respected that decision and not picked him in the squad."

Though Yousuf had made the request to the board a while back, final confirmation only came today. Mohammad Hafeez is likely to take his place in the list of probables. Incidentally, Yousuf played during Ramadan last year - against South Africa - and the year before in the Champions Trophy in India.

His decision will come as a blow to a squad already likely to be missing Asif. Uncertainty remains over the inclusion in the final 15 of Shoaib, and possibly Umar Gul as well, who is yet to recover from an injury sustained during the Asia Cup.

Yousuf has been Pakistan's middle-order rock over the last 12 months, scoring over 1100 runs at an average of nearly 70, with three 100s and eight 50s. And he hasn't just milked minnows such as Bangladesh or Zimbabwe; in 14 matches against India and South Africa, he averages over 60, with six fifties and a hundred.

As Yousuf Youhana, he was one of the few Christians to have played for Pakistan and the only one to have captained the side. But he publicly announced his conversion to Islam in September 2005 and has since been a devout, practicing Muslim. Ramadan is among the holiest months in the Islamic calendar, where Muslims are expected to fast between sunrise and sunset. Pakistan players have on occasion played while fasting in the past and it is popularly thought that some were fasting during the 1992 World Cup.

Team focussed on winning series - Kumble

Anil Kumble still isn't certain how the umpire-referral system will work.

Anil Kumble, India's Test captain, has brushed off suggestions that the team may be distracted by the approaching milestone for Sachin Tendulkar, who needs 172 runs to surpass Brian Lara as the leading run-scorer in Tests. Kumble insisted the team's focus was on a series win.

"We always feel proud that one of our team-mates is going to cross a landmark," Kumble said. "Every time when there is an achievement, it's not for the individual only but also for the team.

"But, the most important factor is that we go there and ensure a series victory. That will be on top of everybody's mind," Kumble said. "I am sure that at some point of time, Sachin will cross the mark. It will be a huge achievement not just for him but also for Indian cricket. Sachin is confident. He has come back fully fit from groin injury. He is really fresh in mind and really confident."

Although India lost to Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup final recently, Kumble was confident of the Test team's prospects. "As a Test team we have really performed well, in that sense, we are pretty confident," he said. "In Test cricket, we have done exceptionally well in the last year or so. We have been consistent. I am sure we will be able to put up a good show and ensure a series win."

The umpire review system, where players can challenge the decision of the on-field umpires, will be tested for the first time during the series. "We are going to have a chat about it once we reach Sri Lanka with the officials," Kumble said. "We will see how it goes.

"From whatever I gather, it is the captain who takes the call," he said. "It all depends on what kind of a situation you are in. If it is a lbw decision, then what is important is what the wicketkeeper or the bowler feels because the captain might not be in a position to say whether it was close or worth having a go.

"It all depends on what happens on the field. It is difficult to say right now whether I am going to take the call or say that we will appoint one player to take the call on an issue."

Happy with the practice for the series, Kumble said, "We just followed our plans to spend a day in Chennai before we leave for Sri Lanka. Players have all had a camp in Bangalore for about a week. We have had eight days of training before going in to the Test match. By the time the Test match starts, I am sure the team will be well prepared."

India kick off the series with a three-day warm-up match against a Sri Lanka Board XI, which starts on Friday.

Amla ton guides South Africa to safety

Hashim Amla's resilience bodes well for South Africa in the rest of the series.

Hashim Amla's fifth Test hundred guided South Africa safely to a draw on the fifth and final day at Lord's. Two days ago, it seemed unlikely the visitors scrap it out into the fifth, yet it was England - the team who so dominated the first three days - who trudged off wearily 75 minutes after tea. South Africa may not have won, but they will take heart from their characteristically dogged performance with the second Test only four days away.

Remarkably, this was the sixth draw in as many Tests at Lord's. Indeed, the home of cricket hasn't witnessed a win since Australia's 239-run win in the 2005 Ashes, and barring a spectacular collapse by South Africa, it was unlikely that the trend would be broken today by Michael Vaughan's men. This isn't to discredit a wholehearted bowling performance, more to emphasise the benign surface that Lord's has produced over the last few years. In truth, they needed an Andrew Flintoff, and shortly after play his name was included in England's 12-man squad for Headingley.

Amla and Neil McKenzie deadened the match in the morning session, surviving unscathed at lunch, though by no means did England simply go through the motions. They persisted in a war of bouncers against Amla, attacking his supposed weakness; James Anderson, in particular, cranked up impressive pace from the Pavilion End, and fired in bumper after bumper to try and unsettle Amla. Yet not even an extraordinary leg-side field reminiscent of Bodyline could waver Amla's concentration, as he ducked, weaved and evaded all Anderson threw at him. Anything on his legs was duly whipped through midwicket with subcontinental elasticity. With Amla nudging and nurdling on a lifeless pitch, this was more Lahore than Lord's.

Meanwhile, McKenzie continued where he left off last night, showing remarkable resolve as he notched up his 400th ball faced. Such were England's attacking fields that anything wide could be easily dispatched, as was the case when Stuart Broad offered McKenzie a gift outside his off stump that was languidly back-cut.

Not even the introduction of Monty Panesar could turn England's fortunes for the better.

In fact, Panesar bowled the first over of the day to McKenzie, and could well have had him caught at short-leg, the ball narrowly evading his bat. Yet thereafter, for all his guile and occasional turn, Panesar was rarely a threat - unsurprisingly given the pitch's lack of bounce. Only occasionally did the odd ball leap alarmingly, and Amla's concentration failed him for once when he drove loosely at a wider spinning delivery. The very next ball was thumped through cover for four, before Amla nurtured more runs through midwicket to bring up the pair's hundred partnership from 250 balls, and his own cultured fifty from 116 balls. The match was subsiding into a draw.

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Smart stats

* South Africa saved a Test after following on for the tenth time in 38 matches. England have failed to win a Test the last three times they have asked South Africa to follow on.
* South Africa batted 167 overs after being asked to follow on, which is their second-highest in the second innings since their readmission into Test cricket. They had faced 209.2 overs against the same opposition after following on in Durban in 1999.
* Three South African batsmen hit hundreds in their second innings, only the second time a team following on has managed three centuries in their innings.
* South Africa closed their innings at 393 for 3 declared, the lowest total in which three individual centuries have been scored.
* Monty Panesar bowled 60 of the 167 overs in South Africa's second innings, the most he's bowled in an innings. Only Ashley Giles has bowled more overs in an innings for England since 2000.
* Ryan Sidebottom gave away 46 runs in his 30 overs, equalling the most economical spell of 30 overs or more in this decade by an England bowler.

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Or was it? England were given cause for brief hope just after lunch when Anderson, visibly tiring in the field, offered McKenzie a wide to which he slashed behind to Tim Ambrose. In strode the ominous figure of Jacques Kallis, who made just 7 in the first innings, and again he struggled to pick up England's seamers, driving streakily just wide of Alastair Cook in the gully. Panesar troubled him in the next over, too, with one that finally spat up off a length, but Kallis responded in commanding style to pull him over midwicket. The authority he showed in one stroke eluded him entirely a few overs later, however.

Sidebottom chose this moment to produce his best ball of the match to South Africa's best batsman. Appearing to angle across Kallis, it bent back markedly on the right-hander to rip out his middle stump. South Africa were effectively 11 for 3, and the excitement of the situation chivvied Panesar into producing a fine over to the new batsman, Ashwell Prince. Two very close shouts for lbw were turned down by Daryl Harper, while Prince insisted on padding up to viciously-spun balls turning out of the rough.

As South Africa took the lead, Amla visibly settled, working twos through midwicket and occasionally pouncing the odd boundary off any strays that England offered. His was a controlled, disciplined innings - the type none of his team-mates, with the exception of Prince, could muster in the first innings; the like of which South Africa will need at Headingley, too. A back-cut for four brought up his hundred from 231 balls, and the match was as good as saved.

Farce briefly threatened to scuff the shine off South Africa's gutsy effort when the umpires halted play for bad light - in near-bright sunshine. And a patient crowd were then victim to watching Alastair Cook's time-stalling offbreaks for an over, before common sense prevailed and an exhausted Graeme Smith gave the thumbs up to Michael Vaughan from the balcony. The match might have petered to a draw, but both sides have given a tempting glimpse into the battles that lie ahead in the final three Tests.

Shoaib included in preliminary squad

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Preliminary squad:

  • Shoaib Malik (capt), Misbah-ul Haq (vice-captain), Salman Butt, Nasir Jamshed, Khalid Latif, Ahmed Shehzad, Khurram Manzoor, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan, Azhar Ali, Bazid Khan, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Fawad Alam, Mohammad Hafeez, Yasir Arafat, Mansoor Amjad, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Mohammad Ali, Iftikhar Anjum, Sohail Khan, Abdur Rauf, Wahab Riaz, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Aamer, Kamran Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal
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Shoaib Akhtar has been included in Pakistan's preliminary 30-man squad for the Champions Trophy in September after the Lahore High Court temporarily suspended an 18-month ban imposed on him by the board. The board will also conduct dope tests on all the players on July 19 and 20, and those testing positive will be ineligible for selection.

The list has been the subject of considerable delay, after disagreements between the board and selection committee over a number of players. Shoaib's eligibility and Mohammad Asif's latest drugs saga further pushed back the announcement by a day.

Asif, understandably, is out as is Mohammad Yousuf, who has opted to pull out of the squad as the tournament will be played during the month of Ramadan. Yousuf had made the request some time ago, though last year and the year before, he played for Pakistan during Ramadan. In his place comes Mohammad Hafeez.

The selectors have also chosen five uncapped players in the squad: Mohammad Aamer and Ahmed Shehzad, both of whom are 16, as well as Azhar Ali, Mohammad Ali and Anwar Ali. Aamer's inclusion comes just days after former captain Wasim Akram had called for his selection during an interview with Cricinfo. Akram had earmarked Aamer as a future talent during a fast bowlers' camp in May 2007. Shehzad, Aamer's under-19 team-mate in the Pakistan team, has impressed as a batsman since making his debut last season, scoring 360 runs at 51.42 from eight domestic limited over matches.

Azhar, the Lahore batsman, has been rewarded for his consistent performances in the domestic circuit - he has made 1305 runs at 50.19 in first-class cricket, and 903 runs at 47.52 in List A matches. Mohammad Ali, the 18-year-old Sialkot seamer, has taken 41 wickets at 25.46 in his first year at the first-class level last season. Anwar Ali led Pakistan to their last under-19 World Cup win in 2006 and has hovered close to Pakistan selection since.