Saturday, August 2, 2008

Smith leads South Africa to historic series victory

Graeme Smith cracks another boundary during his epic match-winning innings .

Edgbaston has provided heartbreak for South Africa in the past, but nine years on from their lowest point in the 1999 World Cup they exorcised some ghosts by claiming their first series win in England since 1965. Graeme Smith produced a performance that will go down in South Africa sporting history with an unbeaten 154, one of the finest centuries in a run chase. The victory was clinched by a 112-run stand with Mark Boucher, after they claimed the extra half hour against a spent England attack.

It was a crowning moment for Smith, whose love-affair with Edgbaston continued following his 277 in 2003. On that tour he was a young and inexperienced captain and his team failed to build on twice leading the series. Smith didn't want this contest to go to a deciding match at The Oval. Not that the winning moment needed to be any sweeter, but the final boundary came off Kevin Pietersen.

The next-highest score was 45, but it was an equally valuable innings from Boucher, an ideal man to have at the other end. He came in at 171 for 5 and England's tails were once again up following Monty Panesar's removal of AB de Villiers, who'd added a vital 78 with Smith. But all the emotional and physical exertions caught up with them during a final session that extended beyond three hours. By the time the extra overs were claimed, England had just about given up hope of repeating their 2005 heroics. Lightening doesn't strike twice.

Smith wore a steely determination throughout his innings as he steadily lost partners and had to be at his very best to combat a wearing surface, which offered particular assistance to Panesar from the footmarks. His century wasn't without its moments of fortune, but batsmen deserve a dose of luck in the final innings of a Test. To highlight the difficulty of chasing runs at Edgbaston, the previous best successful pursuit was 208 and Smith's hundred, which came off 177 balls, was also the first fourth-innings century at Edgbaston.

He played positively from the outset, but without being reckless, and his main moments of concern came against Panesar. On 74 he padded up to a delivery that ripped out of the footmarks and, although replays showed it hitting middle, Aleem Dar would have been guessing to give it. Then, on 79, he had a clear let-off when Tim Ambrose's lob to the stumps wasn't collected by Ian Bell after Smith and de Villiers hesitated over a single.

With Smith on 85, he gloved Panesar to Ambrose but England's appeal was muted and Dar not interested. The margin between success and failure was evident next ball when his slog-sweep landed inches short of a diving Andrew Strauss at deep midwicket. However, after reaching his century progress to 150 came without major alarm, but the spark and fight had gone from England.

Smart stats

  • South Africa's first Test win at Edgbaston sealed their first series triumph in England since 1965.
  • South Africa's 283 for 5 is the highest fourth-innings total at Edgbaston, and their fourth-highest successful chase in Tests.
  • Graeme Smith's 154 not out was the first century in the fourth innings at Edgbaston. Smith has now scored 523 runs in at Edgbaston, the most for a visiting batsman at the venue.
  • During his innings, Smith became the fourth to score 5000 Test runs while playing as captain. His unbeaten 154 was also the second-best score by a South African in the fourth innings of a Test.
  • Mark Boucher's 45 not out was his top score in a successful chase: his four fifties in the fourth innings had all come in defeats. The unbroken 112-run stand between Boucher and Smith was the third-highest fourth-innings partnership at Edgbaston.

Amid all the praise for Smith, Boucher's role shouldn't be forgotten. He was the last barrier before the tail was exposed. But he is one of South Africa's streetfighters and nudged, nurdled and chivvied his way through the target. Boucher was one of two survivors from the 1999 World Cup side - alongside Jacques Kallis - and has witnessed more than his fair share of victories go begging at the last. This one didn't get away.

England's bowlers just couldn't make the potentially decisive sixth breakthrough. Their cause wasn't aided with Ryan Sidebottom again lacking rhythm and sending down just 10 overs, while Anderson, surprisingly, bowled only 13. Inevitably, Flintoff began to show signs of tiredness as did Panesar when he started to drop short.

Smith's outward calmness was not always replicated by his team-mates or the dressing room, and at one stage the atmosphere began decidedly heated with Flintoff's yorkers from the Pavilion End again providing the spark. He made the breakthrough in his fourth over when Neil McKenzie failed to sight a full delivery, getting struck on the boot in front of off stump as he turned away. McKenzie wore a rueful smile as he walked off, but the anger was brewing in the South African dressing room. It almost boiled over eight overs later when a screaming, low full toss thudded into the top of Kallis's leg as he, too, turned away for cover. Steve Davis made the correct decision, but Kallis was almost apoplectic, a feeling matched by Mickey Arthur on the balcony.

Life was no easier at the other end as Panesar started to find some bite and turn, both off the pitch and out of the rough. He ripped a couple past Hashim Amla's outside edge before firing in an arm-ball, trapping him in front of leg stump. The ball was also reverse-swinging and Anderson produced a good one to remove Ashwell Prince. South Africa were four down with less than 100 on board, but their captain couldn't be shifted and produced his finest performance when it mattered most. It's mission accomplished.

Sehwag and Gambhir wrest initiative

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir added 90 together to give India the edge.

The Galle Test continued to amaze. The third day featured periods of heavy attrition, heavy artillery, then some attrition and some more artillery, and two wickets in two overs to cap it off. India managed to walk away with the honours, thanks to a special two-wicket over from Anil Kumble and fifties by Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Despite Mahela Jayawardene's calm innings and two late strikes by Sri Lanka, India moved towards a comfortable lead on a pitch that could be at its worst in the fourth innings.

After India had secured a 37-run lead in the first innings, it was Sehwag who drove home the advantage, continuing in familiar vein: he hit the first ball he faced for a boundary. Nuwan Kulasekara got a repeat dose four times in his four overs. Muttiah Muralitharan, introduced in the sixth over, was swept for a four in his first over and a six in his second. Ajantha Mendis, brought on in the 17th over, was cut for a four in his second over.

Only Chaminda Vaas, who was faced mostly by Gambhir, escaped the treatment. Finally it took a special catch - fast and high, taken at short cover - by Tillakaratne Dilshan to dismiss Sehwag.

Gambhir, who had made a slow start, then quietly took the front seat. He had scored two runs off 20 when Sehwag had 22 off 15, but when Sehwag got out for 50, Gambhir had 39 off 65. His handling of Murali was exceptional: no more getting suckered out of the crease, he was almost always right to the pitch of the ball. He slog-swept Murali, cover-drove him, and then charged him straight down to reach his second fifty of the match - a first for him, as with Sehwag, who for the first time scored a half-century in a match where he had scored a hundred already.

Post-tea, Sri Lanka came back, like India in the first session, and tightened the screws. Twenty-three runs came off the next 11 overs - the last ball of which was a special one. Mendis' offbreak started outside leg stump in the air, drifted further away, and broke big to beat Gambhir's pad and take the off stump. Sachin Tendulkar and Dravid attacked in response. Tendulkar, especially, stepped out and also employed the vertical sweep to the spinners.

It would not be an overstatement to say that Dravid was helped out of his bad patch by the batsmen around him. At one point, 2.3 overs after Gambhir's dismissal, he had faced just 15 balls in the ten preceding overs, and 48 out of the 22.3 overs he had been out in the middle for. When Gambhir got out, he had faced Mendis' three previous overs. But that Dravid was much more comfortable was evident from two cuts for four through extra cover in one over, and a lofted shot he struck stepping out to Murali.

Smart stats

  • Virender Sehwag's 50 in the second innings made it the second time in his career when he had two 50-plus scores in the same Test. The first came in Adelaide earlier this year.
  • Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir followed up their 167-run stand with a partnership of 90. In all, India's openers have managed two 50-plus stands, one being over 100, in seven Tests; the current pair has done it twice.
  • Both Sehwag and Gambhir scored fifties in both innings: it's only the second time that an Indian opening pair has done so in Tests. The first in Mumbai in 1978 was similar, with three fifties and a double-hundred.
  • Jayawardene's 86 was his 11th 50-plus knock in 18 innings in Galle; it also brought his average at the ground down marginally, from 99.21 to 98.33.
  • Harbhajan Singh's 6 for 102 is his best figures away from home, and his first five-wicket haul overseas in over two years.
  • The highest fourth-innings total in Galle is England's 210 for 9 in 2003, when they held on to a draw. Sri Lanka have won only three out of 19 Tests in which they have chased a total over 200, while India have lost only five out of 69 Tests in which they have defended a target over 200.

However, just when India came close to seeming clear favourites, Vaas struck with an offcutter, drawing Tendulkar out and getting an edge. In the next over, Murali got a decision, via review, against Dravid that left the batsman irate. It was not, perhaps, the actual final decision that was objectionable - the offbreak pitched outside off and would have taken middle - but the inordinate amount of time taken by Jayawardene to go for the review. Two wickets had fallen in two overs, the Galle Test had turned once more, and India were not the dominant side anymore.

The first session, too, saw its fair share of twists and turns. It was slow, but just as intense and gripping as the others, and perhaps more crucial. Almost every over - before Mahela started farming strike following a double-strike - featured a loud shout, or an edge that fell short, or a sharp spinning delivery that missed everything. Kumble and Harbhajan bowled 24 successive overs in tandem, and but for a three-over spell by Ishant Sharma in the final session yesterday, they bowled 68 overs at a stretch. Harbhajan took his unbroken spell to 37 overs, and then started bowling immediately from the other end.

Jayawardene, despite back-to-back wickets for Kumble and Harbhajan, kept Sri Lanka in the game. He was not affected by the spinning ball, the variations in the bowling, and all that happened around him. There were no free runs on offer; but he was cool enough to not try to hit himself out of the situation. He managed a total of five boundaries in the session - Malinda Warnapura had hit four in one over yesterday. And once Prasanna and Vaas fell in consecutive overs, he farmed the strike, getting good support from Kulasekara as he did.

In keeping with the narrative of the match, just when Sri Lanka seemed to have got the upper hand, another turnaround followed, with Kumble making his first impact of the series. Jayawardene, 14 short of a deserved century, edged Kumble to Dinesh Karthik, and the game was back in the balance. Although Jayawardene and Kulasekara frustrated India for 17.1 overs, India had managed to keep the partnership down to 36 runs. Kumble and Harbhajan then proceeded to remove the next two - taking the last three wickets in seven balls - to get the lead, the importance of which, on this pitch, will surely be disproportionately higher than the actual number it consists of.

Ramprakash joins the 100 club

And there it is: Darren Gough congratulates Mark Ramprakash on reaching his 100th first-class hundred.

With a forcing cut off David Wainwright for four, Mark Ramprakash finally became the 25th man in history to score 100 first-class hundreds when he notched three figures for Surrey against Yorkshire.

The last player to achieve the milestone was Graeme Hick, in 1998, and the other 23 names include the grand figures of WG Grace, Don Bradman, Denis Compton and Wally Hammond. For all Ramprakash's remarkable form since 2006, he has struggled this season: his last hundred, the 99th of his career, came at the start of May against Sussex. Today's knock was his 11th innings since hovering on a mere 99 hundreds, during which agonising time his top-score was 48.

The wait is now over, however, as Ramprakash reached his third century of the season from 196 balls with nine fours and a six.

"When I started out I never dreamed about making that many hundreds but I'll certainly take it now," he said. "I feel honoured to join such a high calibre of names who have also achieved the feat. It's definitely something I'll cherish for the rest of my days. I'd like to dedicate this to my mum, dad, sister, wife and daughters.

"Without their love and support I could not have achieved this milestone."

Ramprakash starred in a second-wicket stand of 259 with Scott Newman and remained unbeaten on 112 as the match petered out into a dull, but far from insignificant, draw.

Canada edge past Netherlands

Harvir Baidwan and Ashish Bagai celebrate.

Canada, after dismissing Netherlands cheaply, batted rather painfully before finally achieving a victory by four wickets, with three balls to spare, to open their ICC World Twenty20 qualifying campaign successfully. The bowling of both sides was good, but there was little batting to savour.

It was a significant come-down for Netherlands after their impressive victory over Kenya in the first game of the day, but shows how quickly Twenty20 fortunes can change and how open this tournament will be.

Netherlands decided to bat on winning the toss. They quickly lost their opening batsman, Darron Reekers, third ball without a run scored, caught and bowled by Henry Osinde, the ball bouncing up off glove and helmet.

Eric Szwarcynski and Daan van Bunge repaired the damage by good batting and running before the former sliced a catch to third man, departing for 19; 34 for 1 in the seventh over. This was to be the high point of Netherlands' innings. Osinde finished his four overs with an impressive 2 for 21.

The middle order trembled, with Tim de Grooth holing out on the leg boundary for 9 of six balls and van Bunge caught in the covers for a solid 12; at 53 for 4, taken to 58 at the ten-over mark, the innings was at the crossroads. It took a wrong turn, with the star role played by medium-pacer Harvir Baidwan. Ryan ten Doeschate, the hero of Netherlands' first match, sliced a catch to backward point to depart for 4 and Henk Mol was stumped first ball. After a run-out removed Mudassar Bakhari, Edgar Schiferli was lbw, and the score was a disastrous 65 for 8.

Soon after, Baidwan finished his spell of devastation with 4 for 19. At the other end, the offspinner John Davison took no wickets, but kept the pressure right on by conceding a mere 11 runs off his four overs, the most economical bowler of a long three-match day.

One batsman stood firm amid the ruins, Peter Borren, who batted so sensibly yet firmly that it was hard to realize he was scoring at better than a run a ball. Jeroen Smits gave him good support for a while with a noble 5 runs, their stand adding 29, before the innings closed for 97 in the nineteenth over.

When Canada, chasing an even less challenging target than Ireland had in the previous match, Davison was soon up to his usual tricks. Mudassar Bukhari had the misfortune to be bowling the second over of the innings, and he found successive deliveries planted for six over midwicket and long leg.

He was fortunate to limit the damage to 17 runs off the over. But Davison had more trouble with the bowling of Edgar Schiferli: after a couple of swings and misses, he tried to turn a ball to leg and edged a catch to slip; gone for 19, off 10 balls, out of 21.

Geoff Barnett and Abdool Samad took it easy - no-frills batting - as they added 34 at five an over before Samad (19) holed out on the leg boundary at 57 for 2, after 10 overs. Next man Ashish Bagai was run out quickly for 1, and Canada had to beware falling into the trap from which Ireland only just wriggled free in the previous match, getting into trouble through chasing a low target too slowly.

Barnett was next to go, caught in the deep for 21 attempting to increase the run rate, and the batsmen found it harder than ever to score off the tight Netherlands bowling. Schiferli took one for only 10 runs off his four overs, but then at last Sunil Dhaniram looked to take charge, though he was lucky to avoid being run out. He lost Zubin Surkari for a rather painful 6; eight were still needed off the last two overs.

Dhaniram ran himself out for 26, leaving three off the last over with four wickets in hand, which was finally achieved.

Botha shines in Ireland win

Andre Botha played a crucial role for Ireland with three wickets and a useful 38.

Low-scoring matches are not usually very exciting as they tend to be one-sided, but the game between the Celtic rivals ended up a thriller. Ireland, after dismissing Scotland cheaply, eventually scraped home by four wickets with one ball to spare, after coming so close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Scotland batted on winning the toss, and the captain Ryan Watson gave his team a flying start, especially considering that in his last two international matches, at Aberdeen a month ago, he had failed to score a run. He laid into Kevin O'Brien in his second over with 14 runs off four balls, including a big six over midwicket, before driving a catch to mid-on; he made 24 off 15 balls. Some rather frenetic batting followed, with Gavin Hamilton skying a catch and Colin Smith bowled attempting a big heave, and within minutes Scotland were 31 for 3. Ireland could have had another on 45 when Kyle Coetzer was dropped low at midwicket, but on 52 he was bowled by Andre Botha for 11. They were still on 52 for 4 after 10 overs.

At 63 both batsmen were at the same end, but their error was exceeded by that of the fielders, who let them escape. But then the two batting culprits, Neil McCallum and Richie Berrington, began to settle in and increase the rate, until at 92 the latter (17) sent up a huge skier to be caught by the keeper. Without addition McCallum (27) fell to a more conventional keeper's catch, and Scotland were 92 for 6 after 16 overs. Botha took 3 for 18 as he ended his spell.

Two lbw decisions for Alex Cusack followed, and the 100 only came up in the eighth over. Cusack returned figures of 4 for 21 for his seamers, and the innings ground to a rather dismal conclusion at 117 all out off the last possible ball. Basically, it was the story of Scottish batsmen committing suicide against good Irish bowling, backed by inconsistent Irish fielding. Twenty20 cricket is geared towards suicidal batting, but there are more efficient ways of doing it.

John Blain soon worked up a good pace when Ireland began chasing their relatively simple target, but Gary Wilson, after looking quite out of his depth for nine balls, then flicked him over square leg for six. At the other end, though, Dewald Nel bowled Will Porterfield for 7.

The spinners were soon in action again, with the left-armer Glenn Rogers bowling Wilson for 14. Scotland badly missed running out Niall O'Brien a few balls later, and after 10 overs Ireland were by no means finding it easy with only 47 runs on the board for two wickets.

The batsmen began to push harder, and Botha hit a ball from off-spinner Gregor Maiden for an impressive six over extra cover. O'Brien became bogged down and was eventually given out caught at the wicket for 22: there is no 'walking' in this tournament, apparently, by the innocent or the guilty.

33 were still needed off the last five overs, and Kevin O'Brien was easily stumped leaping down the pitch to drive. Unfortunately, Rogers injured his right calf in the process and had to leave the field. The 100 came up in the 18th over, so the match was still tight. Botha was bowled for 38, attempting a slog, and Trent Johnson, attempting a six, was caught in the deep; 105 for 6 in the penultimate over. Scotland were bowling and fielding well, and Ireland needed eleven runs off the last over.

Andrew White scooped the first ball, from Gordon Drummond, to fine leg for four, relieving some of the pressure. Then came ones and a two, the second being a missed run-out opportunity. Finally White swung another ball to the fine-leg boundary and Ireland sneaked what should have been a straight-forward victory. Nel (2 for 17) and Rogers (2 for 15) played a major part in Scotland's fightback.

Ireland v Scotland, ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers, Belfa.

Ten Doeschate stars in Netherlands win

Ryan ten Doeschate scoops the ball away during his half century.

Netherlands won the first match of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier tournament with a good victory over Kenya by 19 runs. Their star performer was the South African-born Ryan ten Doeschate, the Man of the Match with a top score of 56 and impressive bowling figures of 3 for 27.

At nine o'clock this morning it looked unlikely that the match would be able to take place, or indeed the other two scheduled for today, as the rain was falling steadily as it had done for much of the last twelve hours. But there was a remarkable transformation as the sun suddenly appeared, the groundstaff did a superb job in clearing up, and though pampered Test players might have protested, the associate members were only too keen to take the field.

Kenya won the toss and put Netherlands in to bat. Play opened only 25 minutes late, for the full 20 overs, in sunshine and in front of a crowd approaching 100 in number. Netherlands made a steady start, with Darron Reekers the more attacking of the openers, until, with 13 off Peter Ongondo's first over, they reached 49 off the sixth over. Then left-arm spinner Hiren Varaiya came on and immediately had Reekers stumped for 29 off 26 balls.

Eric Szwarczynski, South African by birth, was his opening partner, beginning slowly but then making 28 off 25 balls before driving a simple return catch to Varaiya. ten Doeschate and Daan van Bunge pushed on the score with some hectic running, and Kenya missed a stumping and at least one run-out opportunity. After 10 overs they were a promising 80 for 2. Variaya finished four overs with 2 for 24, but the offspinner Jimmy Kamande travelled for 11 off four balls before he had van Bunge stumped for 12; 111 for 3 after 14 overs.

ten Doeschate flourished, swinging two big leg-side sixes, but could not quite break loose in the final overs. Overs 18 and 19 yielded only seven runs. His fifty came in the last over, off 43 balls; he then hit a high six over midwicket before being caught at long-on for 56 trying to repeat the shot next ball. The innings closed at 153 for 5. Thomas Odoyo, conceding 16 off four overs, was the most economical bowler.

Edgar Schiferli almost struck for Netherlands in his first over, having Kennedy Obuya edging a catch to the slips - only for the umpire to call no-ball. Mudassar Bukhari's first over yielded 12 as Obuya and Morris Ouma were unafraid to hit the ball in the air as they attacked with panache. But it couldn't last, and Ouma holed out on the leg boundary for 13 off 11 balls. Otieno soon followed for 13, falling into a trap set for him at short fine leg, and after that Kenya became rather bogged down, with Bukhari able to complete his overs for just 20 runs.

At the 10-over mark, Kenya had only 60 on the board, 20 behind Netherlands at the same stage. Steve Tikolo, despite playing some good shots, did not really look in good form, and after 13 overs (83 for 3) the required rate went above 10. Tikolo now holed out at long-off for 37 off 33 balls, leaving only Odoyo capable of producing a miracle.

Fifty four were needed off the last four overs, and then Odoyo (17) clubbed to long-off to make defeat as inevitable as anything can be in this game.

Collins Obuya did his best to achieve the miracle, with two sixes in 16 off six balls, as did the other tailenders, and at least Kenya went down with guns blazing, finishing with 134 for 9. ten Doeschate took wickets with the last two balls of the innings, contributing to his good figures, but it was Schiferli, with 3 for 23, who took the first three wickets and broke the back of the innings.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Collingwood steel gives England genuine hope

Paul Collingwood hooks during his gusty century as England fought hard for a lead.

This match has produced spells of Test cricket at its very best and now there's a back-from-the-brink story to add to the chronicles. Paul Collingwood was playing for his future, and England's series hopes hung by a thread, but he responded with one of the gutsiest hundreds you'll see. Following a rousing 94 from Kevin Pietersen the lead is 214 and another Edgbaston classic is on the offing.

The momentum changed more than once, but England began to believe again when Pietersen and Collingwood added 115 in a thrilling 23-over stand. However, when the unlikely figure of Paul Harris removed Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff in the space of five balls South Africa were sensing the series. Yet Collingwood defied them with his sixth Test century, and to cap it all he reached it with a thumping six over long on. Once again this was sporting drama of the highest order.

Three figures came off 133 balls and, although there must have been so many pent up emotions, he restrained himself to a calm salute to all corners of the ground, but especially the dressing room. Tim Ambrose needs a mention, too, because when he came in the lead was a precarious 138, but a stand of 76 with Collingwood means England can still set over 250. No team has chased more than 208 at Edgbaston.

The energy and passion of yesterday's final session, when Flintoff's fire-and-brimstone performance rattled South Africa, left Edgbaston wanting more. For two sessions it didn't quite live up to those heights as England's limp top-order gifted South Africa the advantage with another poor display. They'd done well to restrict the lead to 83, but in the context of this ground that was still substantial.

England couldn't really afford more than a single loss while knocking off those runs. Two would have been manageable; three meant they were once again chasing the game. Alastair Cook's pull was defeated by Makhaya Ntini's angle and Michael Vaughan tried to hit his way out of form before finding mid-off. When Ian Bell lobbed a lame pull to Mark Boucher the decline appeared terminal at 104 for 4.

Pietersen, though, stood tall but needed support. He found it in Collingwood, who emerged from the most debilitating slump of his career. It's not over-stating the situation to say Collingwood's Test career hinged on this innings. He has bought himself a lifeline. The early stages of his innings were grafted purely from memory, but the wonder that is confidence began to return with consecutive cuts off Morne Morkel - a Collingwood trademark. This was his first century in any form of cricket since the 128 he made against West Indies, at Chester-le-Street, and more runs than he'd managed in first-class cricket this season.

It helped, no end, to have a domineering Pietersen at the other end, but his innings had begun in restrained fashion, aware that the series probably rested on his shoulders. He refused to chase Jacques Kallis' wide outswingers although his first boundary was a full-stretch cover drive off Andre Nel. After tea he changed gears and a passage of cricket to match the Flintoff-fuelled drama followed.

Morkel charged in, testing out the middle of the pitch, but without the experience or control of Flintoff. Pietersen repeatedly put him away through the leg side and his eight-over spell cost 55. Nel put everything into his burst, but became over-excited and gave Pietersen a series of half volleys. Almost before Graeme Smith knew it, the lead was past three figures as runs came at six-an-over.

Pietersen was bristling, and wasn't going to be contained by Harris. Twice he brought out the switch-hit to balls outside his leg stump, swinging them through huge space on the off side. This is the ground where he first brought out the shot - against Muttiah Muralitharan in 2006 - but Harris, with all due respect, is no Murali. That, though, may just have brought Pietersen's downfall. He felt he could do as he pleased, and sensing a century, tried to launch Harris over mid-on without getting a proper connection. AB de Villiers took a good catch and the game changed again. Pietersen knew it. Flintoff had lifted England to a match-winning lead here in 2005, but this time lasted just four balls before getting a thin inside edge to short leg. Harris, out of nowhere, was turning the match around.

South Africa, though, were not at their best in the field and the lack of Dale Steyn's pitch-up variety was telling for the first time in the match. Towards the end of the day the spark had gone and Smith was starting to sweat. The pitch has held together well and their batting line-up is in-form, but the pressure will be on with a series at stake. And, without mentioning the 'c' word, pressure can do funny things to South Africa.

ECB disappointed at Kent's omission

Middlesex, England's Twenty20 Cup champions, will be part of the Champions Twenty20 League, but Kent, the runners-up, will not.

The England & Wales Cricket Board have given their blessing for Middlesex to take part in the inaugural Champions Twenty20 League later this year, but have expressed their "bitter disappointment" that Kent, the runners-up in last week's Twenty20 Cup final, have been barred from the event because their squad includes players with links with the unauthorised ICL competition.

Kent's omission was confirmed to the ECB by Cricket Australia, who have been tasked with drawing up the rules and regulations of the competition. "Both the ECB and Kent are bitterly disappointed at this stance," read a statement, "as Kent had offered various solutions aimed at overcoming the objections of the organisers, such as not to include players who had taken part in unauthorised cricket in their squad."

With Kent's full knowledge, the ECB offered Essex, whom Kent beat in the semi-finals of the Twenty20 Cup, as an alternative county because their squad contains no ICL players. But this was also rejected by the organisers.

"The ECB have written to the organisers confirming that, subject to contract, the Board has approved the participation of Middlesex, the Twenty20 Cup winners, on the proviso that the event is authorised and on agreed terms," read a statement. "ECB has requested and is awaiting confirmation of the regulations for this event from the organisers."

Middlesex will join two teams each from India, Australia and South Africa and Pakistan's Sialkot in the eight-team competition. "It's very good news for world cricket," Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, told Cricinfo. "We are extremely happy to have Middlesex on board. This makes the tournament complete in every manner."

India, Australia and South Africa are the three founding partners of the Champions League which will be held from September 29-October 8. Modi had previously said that the tournament would be held in Jaipur, Delhi and Mohali this year but has since put that decision on hold.

"Ideally we would like to conduct the games at the venues announced originally but there are offers from other people and the members decided to examine all the options and not to decide right now," Modi said.

Associates join the Twenty20 bandwagon

Thomas Odoyo will be a key player for Kenya, who face a tough challenge to live up to their billing as favourites.

It's an exciting time to be involved in Twenty20 and the top six Associate nations get their chance at the big time when the World Twenty20 Qualifiers begin in Belfast on Saturday. The two finalists will quality for the World Twenty20 in England next year, as will the third-placed side after Zimbabwe pulled out of the tournament.

Ireland, fresh from their European Championship success, will start in good spirits but will face stiff competition from pre-tournament favourites Kenya and arch-rivals Scotland, who both played in the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa. Canada, Netherlands and Bermuda are the other three teams involved.

With the concept of Twenty20 internationals still relatively new to the Associate teams, all six sides will start on a similar footing although Ireland will feel they have their noses ahead for three simple reasons: they are playing at home, are at full strength and have shown excellent form of late in the Intercontinental Cup and the European Championships.

"We'd always back ourselves, but we know it's going to be difficult," said Ireland captain William Porterfield. "There's so much at stake, not just in financial terms, but in terms of prestige. The competition in England is going to be an incredible experience, and we'd like to be there," he said.

Porterfield said his team's chances for next year's event would not end even if it failed to qualify for the final. "The fact that it looks like there is going to be a third place with the likelihood of Zimbabwe withdrawing, then it takes a wee bit of the pressure off.

"It means if we lose in the semi-final, then we're going to have a second chance to qualify. That third and fourth-place place-off game will probably be the most tense match of the entire competition."

These six teams last got together in a qualifying tournament in Nairobi in January-February 2007, for the World Cricket League Division 1. Ireland finished fifth then, while Kenya defeated Scotland by eight wickets in the final.

But, despite that pedigree, Kenya captain Steve Tikolo says his team are behind Ireland and Scotland in the pecking order. "In the Twenty20 format anything can happen but I think Ireland and Scotland are the two favourite sides because they are playing in familiar conditions while we are coming from hot conditions.

"We have worked extremely hard in England on a pre-event tour and have made sure we have all the resources and have all bases covered."

Tikolo, who has played all of Kenya's 23 matches in World Cups, stressed the importance of this tournament for Kenya cricket. "We have to qualify for next year's event because it's extremely vital to the development of the game in Kenya," he said. "There is no point in having a good team that cannot perform."

Tournament Schedule

  • Saturday August 2
    0930 Kenya v Netherlands
    1300 Ireland v Scotland
    1630 Netherlands v Canada
    Sunday August 3
    0930 Scotland v Bermuda
    1300 Kenya v Canada
    1630 Ireland v Bermuda
    Monday August 4
    0930 Semi-final one: Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B
    1300 Semi-final two: Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A
    1630 Third and fourth-place play-off
    Tuesday August 5
    0930 Fifth and sixth-place play-off 1300 Final

Third seeded Scotland defeated Ireland in the World Cup Qualifier 2005 (formerly the ICC Trophy) and captain Ryan Watson said despite injuries his team had the ammunition to fire in the tournament. "We have a strong squad, with players who are ideally suited to this form of the game," he said. "In John Blain and Dewald Nel, I feel we've got the best new ball attack among the Associate teams. It's such a bonus to have guys who take wickets up front, and they do it consistently to peg back the opposition.

"I open the batting in the one-day format, and I see no reason to change that. Gavin Hamilton has started to open and has done quite well. We'll also have Navdeep Poonia and Kyle Coetzer available from the counties so we have options.

"Unfortunately we've been hit with a few injuries," he added. "Our former captain Craig Wright misses out as he has a back injury. That combined with the loss of Gordon Goudie means that there is an opportunity for the others to step up."

Looking ahead at the clash against Ireland on the opening day, Watson said: "An opening fixture with Ireland in Ireland is about as tough as it gets. As a tournament opener this should be a great one for fans of both countries."

Netherlands' preparation for the Belfast tournament has been up and down. They failed to qualify for the final of the European Championships in Dublin and installed Jeroen Smits as captain in place of Peter Borren just this week.

Smits, the 36-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, was not included in the original side and comes in place of 31-year-old batsman Bas Zuiderent. "I wasn't originally supposed to be in the squad, but we've had a few injuries, and I've been asked to come back in and help out," he said.

Smits said his team will target third place in the tournament. "We're in a tough group, but then there are no easy fixtures when you are at this level. Canada and Kenya are strong teams, but you have to look at yourself and your own strengths. If we play to our potential, then we will be hopeful of making it. Our focus is, of course, to finish in the top three."

Canada and Bermuda are the dark horses of the tournament. Both have struggled in the Intercontinental Cup but Twenty20 cricket brings sides closer together. Bermuda, are coached by the former West Indies batsman Gus Logie and he said his team need to stay focused throughout the tournament.

"Since this is a new concept, players aren't experienced enough which gives us a good chance to produce good results. It's a fast paced format and you have to match that pace and the 11 players need to fire to get the desired results."

Harbhajan's four keeps match poised

Harbhajan Singh's four wickets in the final session helped India fight back.

Sri Lanka couldn't get Virender Sehwag out, but Ajantha Mendis found a way around him, dismissing most of the others cheaply before Harbhajan Singh enacted a similar turnaround to restore the balance at the end of day two in Galle.

It was an eventful three sessions: Sehwag was imperious as he scored his fifth double-century while losing partners at the other end; Malinda Warnapura and Kumar Sangakkara threatened to run away with the match, but Harbhajan pulled Sri Lanka back with a four-wicket burst in the final session.

Sri Lanka dismissed the last six Indian batsmen for 51 runs; India replied by taking four of their top- and middle-order batsmen for 55. When Sangakkara and Warnapura were going hell for leather, it seemed they might take Sri Lanka's second innings out of the equation, but then Harbhajan came up with one of his best spells in recent times.

Warnapura, especially, showed he had learned a lesson or two from Sehwag. He saw his opening partner, Michael Vandort, get out in the first over, and then played at and missed a few times against Zaheer. But all along he kept punishing even the smallest errors of length. Zaheer's fourth over was the most expensive of the series: Warnapura took four successive boundaries to reach 24 off 18 balls.

With Sangakkara looking determined to set right a minor dip in his form, the Indian bowlers looked helpless. Sri Lanka raced to 50 in 8.5 overs, and by the time spin was introduced Sri Lanka had scored 60 for 1 in 11 overs. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan brought in some control, but their fortunes were not changing just as yet: just before tea, Dinesh Karthik made a mess of a regulation stumping chance off Harbhajan when he couldn't even collect the ball with Sangakkara way down the wicket.

When India came back from tea, they continued with the pressure tactics, and Warnapura yielded, giving Gautam Gambhir a difficult low catch at short cover. The ten overs preceding that dismissal had yielded 15 runs. Harbhajan took heart from that wicket and got a leading edge from Sangakkara, which he caught himself, just in case. Two new batsmen were in, and Kumble and Harbhajan were finally being treated with the sort of respect they have been used to.

Harbhajan went round the stumps and trapped Thilan Samaraweera with a slider. In the same over, he got Tillakaratne Dilshan with one that bounced and turned in sharply. In the dying overs Harbhajan came close to getting his fifth twice: first he beat Mahela Jayawardene with a sharp offbreak from round the stumps; the field-umpire thought it would have gone down the leg side, and the review said no different. Prasanna Jayawardene offered Gambhir a sharp chance at forward short-leg, but Gambhir couldn't cap the good day he had had in the field with another catch.

Smart Stats

  • Sehwag's was the 42nd instance, but only the second by an Indian, of a batsman carrying his bat in Tests. Sunil Gavaskar had done it in 1983 against Pakistan, scoring 127 out of 286.
  • Sehwag scored 61.09% of India's total, which is 11th in the all-time list and the third-highest for India in a completed innings. Only VVS Laxman (167 out of 261 against Australia in 2000) and Mohinder Amarnath (60 out of 97 against West Indies in 1976) have scored a higher percentage.
  • Sehwag's last 11 Test hundreds have all been 150-plus scores. His strike rate in those 15 innings is 78.41, only marginally higher than his career strike rate of 77.05
  • Sehwag scored 73 against Vaas and Kulasekara at a run a ball. Against Mendis he scored 70 from 77, while Murali kept him down to 58 from 81.
  • Sehwag and Laxman put together a century partnership for the first time in Tests. In 15 innings they have scored only 430 runs at an average partnership of 28.66.

The collapse that Sri Lanka faced paled in comparison with the two India had endured. India went from 167 for 0 to 178 for 4, and then from 278 for 5 to 327 all out, and both collapses were triggered by Mendis, who was facing the first big test of his short career. Sehwag read him and went after him, taking 70 runs off the 77 deliveries he faced from him. But that failed to intimidate Mendis, who stayed accurate, made the batsmen play almost every ball, and earned his first five-for in Tests.

After the wicket of VVS Laxman, who took his overnight stand of 36 with Sehwag to 100 before hitting a long hop from Mendis straight to midwicket, Mendis began to toy with the tail. Karthik seemed in no mental shape to play high-quality spin bowling; his lack of confidence showed when he didn't ask for the review after he was eventually given out: replays indicated the top-spinner from Mendis would just have brushed off stump. Mendis then repeated the now-famous carrom ball that got Rahul Dravid in the first Test to Harbhajan Singh, breaking it away rapidly and taking the top of off.

Mendis then repeated the now-famous carrom ball that got Rahul Dravid in the first Test to Harbhajan Singh: it broke away at a rapid pace and took the top of off.

The story of the day, though, remained Sehwag, who scored 61.09% of India's runs. This was the 11th consecutive hundred he had converted into a 150-plus score. He also became the second Indian to carry his bat through, and passed 5000 career Test runs.

It is a shame that some of Sehwag's best innings have come when his team-mates have been struggling for form. Only two of his 15 centuries - all scored at a maddening pace - have resulted in victories for India. After many a quick Sehwag hundred, the other batsmen have either folded or slowed the pace down so much as to deprive the bowlers of sufficient time in which to force a result. Something similar seemed on the cards here, but the difference this time was that Sehwag was around for the duration to make amends for the collapses.

Muttiah Muralitharan, surprisingly ineffective in the innings, began bowling with an in-and-out field. Sehwag smartly resorted to opening the face of his bat and finding twos. Mendis, back for a new spell, was welcomed with a six; the off stump at the non-striker's end prevented another certain boundary in the same over.

As the wickets fell, Murali at the other end started to rip his doosras, ending Anil Kumble's resolute innings, and Zaheer Khan's brief one. When Zaheer, the No. 10, launched into an irresponsible sweep off Murali, Sehwag was on 195. At 199, with just two overs to lunch, Sehwag refused the single twice, preferring to shield Ishant Sharma rather than get to the landmark. Off the last ball of the over, he then nonchalantly flicked to deep square-leg for a single.

The rest of his team owed him an apology for the lack of support - 307 of their 326 runs were scored by three batsmen - and Harbhajan went some way towards doing so. Whether it was enough remained to be seen.

Ashok Mankad dies aged 61

He scored four half-centuries in his first five innings in the Tests against Australia in 1969.

Ashok Mankad, the former Indian batsman, has died in his sleep early on Friday morning in Mumbai. A Mumbai stalwart, Mankad's death came as a shock as he was suffering from no reported ailments. He was 61.

Even though he never could reach the heights that his father, Vinoo, attained, Mankad possessed a clever cricketing brain which he would utilise later in his career as a leader of various teams, including Mumbai, to script the downfall of their opponents.

As a batsman, Mankad's career was staggered across a decade, where he played as high as an opener to as low as a No. 8, but he failed to establish himself and only played 22 Tests, between 1969 and 1978, scoring 991 runs. He made an impact against Bill Lawry's Australians in his debut season in 1969-70, compiling four half-centuries. His 97 in the third Test in New Delhi, also his highest Test score, helped India square the series 1-1. However, he managed only two more fifties in what turned out to be an unfulfilled Test career. He retired from first-class cricket in 1982-83, compiling 12980 runs at an impressive average of 50.90. He scored 44 in his only ODI, against England at The Oval.

"Indian cricket lost one of its stalwarts when Ashok Mankad passed away earlier today," Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, said. "He was a gifted batsman, an outstanding captain, and a respected cricket guru. An individual who dedicated his life to the sport, 'Kaka' will be missed by every single follower of cricket in this country."

"I was shocked to hear the sad news of the demise of Ashok Mankad, former Test cricketer," Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, said. "In the passing away of Ashok Mankad, the cricketing fraternity has lost a great friend, philosopher and guide."

Vasu Paranjpe, another Mumbai legend and Mankad's contemporary, thought Mankad never did "justice to his batting career". But Paranjpe had no doubt about Mankad's leadership skills.

"He was one of the best captains Mumbai had," Paranjpe said. "He was a clever player and shrewd leader."

Mankad's Ranji Trophy acheivements

  • Mankad scored 6619 runs (at 76.08), making him the 12th highest scorer in the tournament
  • A haul of 22 hundreds put him seventh on the list of most century-makers
  • He led Mumbai to victory in two consecutive seasons, 1974-75 and 1975-76
  • Another highlight of his career was his 265 against Delhi in the 1980-81 final
  • He also coached the Mumbai side to the title in 1999-2000

Mankad's legend as a captain was first established at Mafatlal's in Mumbai's premier corporate tournament where he led the likes of former India players Eknath Solkar and Brijesh Patel before captaining Mumbai. Here he worked out strategies in company of Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar to carry forward Mumbai's supremacy on the domestic front.

After his playing career, Mankad quickly moved to coaching. He was manager of the Indian team in 1982, at a time when the post involved a coaching element, though he was not in the reckoning when India moved into the era of full-time coaches. At the domestic level, Mankad coached Madhya Pradesh, Railways and Mumbai with Baroda being his last assignment. Mankad coached Mumbai to a Ranji Trophy title in 2000 and came close once again with Baroda in 2006-07. The hosts had Mumbai reeling at 0 for 5 in the semi-finals but failed to drive home the advantage and eventually lost the match.

Mankad is survived by his wife Nirupama, and two sons, Mihir and Harsh.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fiery Flintoff keeps England fighting

Andrew Flintoff is pumped after bowling Jacques Kallis with a brilliant yorker late in the day.

Andrew Flintoff almost single-handedly kept England's hopes alive at Edgbaston with an evening burst to bring back memories of his golden days. During a gloomy final session the tension levels rose and the crowd got behind the home side. Flintoff removed Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers having earlier claimed his 200th Test wicket by shifting top-scorer Neil McKenzie for 72. South Africa's lead is 25, but this match is now wide open.

The highlight of the day - reduced to 65 overs by rain and bad light - came in the shortened last session with a duel between Flintoff and Kallis that provided some of most compelling viewing of recent times. Flintoff was at his most fired-up, knowing that England's series prospects probably rested on how many wickets they could claim before the close. He revived memories of the Donald-Atherton confrontation, at Trent Bridge in 1998, as he rattled Kallis with pace and swing. He should have had him lbw on 55 when a yorker arrowed into his boot in front of middle, but Aleem Dar turned down Flintoff's pleading to his dismay.

Flintoff had barely calmed down when his next over came around and this time he had his man, a searing yorker going under Kallis' bat and uprooting off stump. From set-up to execution it was a row of deliveries to match the magical over he sent down to Ricky Ponting in 2005, and for the first time in the match Edgbaston found its voice.

AB de Villiers was given a tough examination - and appeared to get an edge off James Anderson on 1 but no-one appealed - and soon fell into Flintoff's bouncer trap as he hooked down to Ryan Sidebottom at long-leg. Feelings between the teams began to boil over again with Prince and Mark Boucher clearly unhappy about the viewing from Flintoff's end, but the England players quickly told them to get back to batting. The pair survived until the light closed in, but England will come hard again in the morning with the new ball four overs away.

The transformation from the England side that wallowed through the first session to the one that energised the closing stages was stark, but it remains to be seen whether they have already given themselves too much ground to make up. Given their current fragility with the bat a lead into three figures will put South Africa well on the way to claiming the series with a match to spare.

commentary: Flintoff v Kallis

  • 68.1 Flintoff to Kallis, no run, a fired-up bouncer to which Kallis snaps his neck out of the way. It's fast, it's straight, and Kallis avoids facial surgery by an inch That was quick, mark my words
  • 68.2 Flintoff to Kallis, no run, 85.7mph and left alone outside off
  • 68.3 Flintoff to Kallis, no run, a swing and a miss outside off! This is terrific Test match cricket here, a wonderful sight to see Flintoff roar up to the crease against one of the very best of modern-day batsmen
  • 68.4 Flintoff to Kallis, OUT, he's BOWLED HIM! What a ball from Flintoff and what an over, fired in at off stump and Kallis is beaten for pace and outswing, his off stump knocked back several metres And Flintoff celebrates, arching back and roaring his angry delight - it's been a terrific, enthralling couple of overs. The key to Kallis's dismissal was Flintoff's never-say-die attitude. He felt cheated and wanted revenge.
  • 68.5 Flintoff to de Villiers, no run, another fast yorker spearing into de Villiers' middle stump. That, too, was quick - upwards of 86mph Flintoff is as pumped up as you can imagine. Puce in the face
  • 68.6 Flintoff to de Villiers, no run, 88.7mph and it's left alone by de Villiers. Edgbaston stands for Flintoff who's produced two memorable overs, the type of inspirational cricket England have missed from him for 18 months

England were presented with ideal bowling conditions, but spurned the opportunity during a lackadaisical morning when South Africa only lost the wicket of nightwatchman Paul Harris. Even that was after a stand of 77 with Neil McKenzie, who continued as he has throughout the series, judging what to play and what to leave, drawing the bowlers to attack the stumps and then clipping them through the leg side. For a moment McKenzie feared his innings had ended on 29 when he edged Flintoff low to Andrew Strauss at first slip, but not for the first time in this series there was doubt over the carry. Strauss thought he'd caught it but didn't look entirely convinced, McKenzie remained and Flintoff stayed on 199 wickets.

McKenzie's hard work was rewarded when he brought up his fifty off 100 balls shortly before lunch. After the break he received a life on 57 when Collingwood's miserable match continued with a spurned chance at second slip off Flintoff. However, Anderson gave England a much-needed boost with a brilliant piece of athleticism, sprinting from his follow through to hold Amla's inside edge that ballooned into the off side. Anderson once again performed manfully for Michael Vaughan, moving the ball late at pace to trouble all the batsmen and could easily have had another wicket.

Anderson's pumped celebrations were soon followed by Flintoff's as he trapped McKenzie plumb in front, being the 12th Englishman to reach 200 Test wickets. Another wicket and England were back in contention, but it was only going to be a matter of time before Kallis made a contribution. It wasn't without fortune, though, as he was twice troubled by yorkers, edging one past second slip and another within inches of his stumps.

Slowly the fluency returned as he picked off consecutive boundaries from Collingwood, although a thick inside edge did rocket into Tim Ambrose's leg as he was stood up to the stumps. Vaughan eventually turned to Monty Panesar in the 52nd over, but he began poorly with a couple of short balls which were easily put away by Kallis. The half-century came off 93 balls in the first over after an hour's delay as South Africa approached a lead. England needed something special to stop the series drifting away and Flintoff provided. He has given his country a lifeline, are they good enough to take it?

Honours even despite Sehwag century

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir put on 167 in quick time.

India started promisingly in their quest to exorcise the ghosts of the SSC Test before being thwarted by double-strikes from Ajantha Mendis and Chaminda Vaas. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir played India into a position of domination but, after a rain break that accounted for the middle session and 75 minutes, Sri Lanka struck gold, taking four wickets for 11, bringing the memories of the collapses in the first Test back to roost.

Like the pitch at the Galle International Stadium, which comprised two polar halves -­ one cracked and unreliable, the other flat and damp -­ the first day's play featured startling contrasts. In the first half of the day Sehwag and Gambhir put behind them not only the debacle at the SSC but also thoughts of how, early in the piece here, they played and missed, and how the ball misbehaved when it hit the cracks. They got India off to a flier; Sehwag fell just short ­- for the second time in his career -­­ of a hundred in the first session of a Test, a session in which India scored 151 runs, registering the second biggest opening stand in Galle.

What made Sehwag and Gambhir's partnership - which came at more than five an over ­- remarkable was that both batsmen were troubled amply by the bowling. Nuwan Kulasekara was the most testing,­ and the most unfortunate, of the bowlers in the first session, getting the ball to move both off the seam and off the cracks. In his first three overs he beat Gambhir and Sehwag more than once each, even getting a leading edge from Gambhir, and used the variable bounce well, bowling shooters and bouncers.

Gambhir was the first to counter the cracks: he stood outside the crease, and then walked down the pitch, almost like Matthew Hayden, as the bowler ran in. The lbw was ruled out, and a game of tip-and-run got underway, with the batsmen taking singles almost intuitively.

Soon Sehwag shook off the early jitters and shifted gears. No bowler was spared: only a soggy outfield saved Ajantha Mendis from being hit for a four in his first over. Muttiah Muralitharan was hit for a four off the first ball he bowled. Mendis was hit for a six for the first time in Tests.

Kulasekara employed a similar field for Sehwag as at the SSC -­ two fielders in the deep on the leg side. Here he bowled a head-high bouncer again, and Sehwag went for the pull again, but this time he got on top and hit it to cow corner. This was a batsman who reached a triple-century with a six, after he had tried -­­ and failed -­­ to get to a double the same way. Sehwag was true to character in his approach to moving from 90 to 100. The first ball he faced after the break, he edged Vaas to gully, who collected it first bounce. The second ball, he moved his front leg out of the way and almost hit it into the Galle Fort. Two balls later he bludgeoned a straight boundary to get to his 15th century.

Smart stats

  • Virender Sehwag's 15th Test century was his first against Sri Lanka. Fourteen of the 15 have come in India's first innings in a Test.
  • Sehwag's 128 came off 122 deliveries. He scored 91 off 108 balls that pitched on a good length and nine off six pitched short. He was lethal on anything too full: nine deliveries bringing 28 runs.
  • The 167-run stand between Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir is the second-best for the opening wicket in Galle.
  • In 22 innings that they have opened the innings together, Sehwag and Gambhir have scored 1230 runs, at an average of 58.37 - the best for Indian opening pairs with over 1000 runs.
  • Rahul Dravid has faced 32 balls from Ajantha Mendis in the series, scoring just eight and getting out thrice.

The 21st over best illustrated Sehwag's approach. Mendis started by beating Sehwag with a carrom ball, which he didn't read. Then a straight one that beat him again. And he was almost caught and bowled off the fourth ball. Two balls later, reading the regulation offbreak correctly, Sehwag opened his arms and thrashed it through the covers for a four. The plan was simple for both batsmen: hit whatever you read, and rely on short-term memory loss if you are beaten. It worked in the first session.

In the third over of the second, Mendis got Gambhir with a googly that wasn't. Gambhir had read the wrong'un correctly, playing for the offspin, but this one straightened to trap him in front. He was so befuddled by the deception that he called for the review,­ which only confirmed the unpalatable truth.

In came Rahul Dravid, not VVS Laxman -­ that experiment lasted only one innings -­ to face Mendis. To the second ball Dravid faced from Mendis, he thrust his pad forward to a regulation offbreak, and bat-padded. Malinda Warnapura, at forward short-leg, took the catch on the third take, but the ball had hit the visor of his helmet on the way. In any case, Dravid rendered the debate superfluous by walking. Dravid has now faced 32 balls from Mendis, scored three runs, and got out thrice.

Leading up to the match, there was some debate over Vaas's utility to the side; it was even thought that Dammika Prasad's inclusion in the squad was a nudge. Only three Tests ago, in Providence, Antigua, on a pitch that resembled Sri Lankan wickets, Vaas had taken eight wickets. Here in Galle, he proved once again his utility to the side with two wickets in one over, which helped turn 167 for 0 into 178 for 4.

Sachin Tendulkar played outside the line to one that straightened up enough to be hitting off stump. Sourav Ganguly was done in by the reverse-swing, the ball moving away with the shiny side; with a spectacular diving catch ­ in front of Kumar Sangakkara at slip, Prasanna Jayawardene made amends for a slip he had made in similar circumstances earlier in the innings, causing Gambhir to be dropped on 13.

Sehwag has previously seen fiery starts given by him go to waste -­ in Melbourne in 2003-04, and in Mphali and Bangalore against Pakistan in 2004-05, to name a few. A similar story seemed to be panning out here, but ­thank goodness for small mercies -­ he was still unbeaten when bad light finally stopped play.

Middlesex complete Champions League line-up

Middlesex, England's Twenty20 Cup champions, will be part of the Champions Twenty20 League.

Middlesex, England's Twenty20 champions, will be part of this year's Champions Twenty20 League, Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, has confirmed.

David Collier, the ECB chief executive, informed Cricket Australia, one of the three founding partners of the Champions Twenty20 League, that Middlesex will be participating in the tournament starting September 28, and added that they would be interested in sending two teams for the tournament from next year.

"It's very good news for world cricket," Modi told Cricinfo. "We are extremely happy to have Middlesex on board. This makes the tournament complete in every manner."

Middlesex will join two teams each from India, Australia and South Africa and Pakistan's Sialkot in the eight-team competition.

The participation of a team from England was in doubt till a couple of days ago after the ECB conveyed that it had reservations about some of the rules and regulations, especially the one that banned players associated with the unauthorised Indian Cricket League (ICL). The no-ICL rule had prevented Kent, the other Twenty20 Cup finalists, from qualifying for the tournament which was originally conceived for the Twenty20 domestic finalists from India, Australia, South Africa and England.

However, Modi had told Cricinfo in an interview minutes after the Champions League was announced in Mumbai on Wednesday that an invitation was "still open" for Middlesex whose entry would ensure a "wholesome tournament".

India, Australia and South Africa are the three founding partners of the Champions League which will be held from September 29-October 8. Modi had previously said that the tournament would be held in Jaipur, Delhi and Mohali this year but has since put that decision on hold.

"Ideally we would like to conduct the games at the venues announced originally but there are offers from other people and the members decided to examine all the options and not to decide right now," Modi said.

Sehwag and Gambhir drive India

Virender Sehwag nearly got a century in the first session of the Test.

Lunch India 151 for 0 (Sehwag 91*, Gambhir 50*) v Sri Lanka

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir put behind them not only the debacle at the SSC, but also thoughts of how they played and missed early here, and how the ball misbehaved when it hit the cracks populating one end of the pitch. As a result India got off to a flying start, taking the first steps towards exorcising the ghosts of the first Test. Sehwag came close - for the second time in his career - to getting a hundred in the first session of a Test.

What made the run-rate of 5.21 in the first session incredible was that both batsmen were troubled amply by the bowling. Nuwan Kulasekara was the most testing ­ and the most unfortunate ­ of the bowlers, getting the ball to move both off the seam and off the cracks. In his first over he got a leading edge from Gambhir; in his second, Sehwag played at and missed one that held its line. In his third, he almost squeezed one through onto the pads, but an inside edge saved Sehwag. Kulasekara followed it with one that hit a crack and cleared even the keeper, and then with a perfect outswinger that Sehwag played at and missed.

Gambhir was the first one to counter the cracks: he stood outside the crease, and then walked down the pitch as the bowler ran in, almost like Matthew Hayden. The lbw was ruled out, and a game of tip-and-run got underway, with the batsmen taking singles almost intuitively.

Soon Sehwag shook off the early jitters and shifted gears. No bowler was spared: only a soggy outfield saved Ajantha Mendis from being hit for a four in his first over. Muttiah Muralitharan was hit for a four off the first ball he bowled. Mendis was hit for a six for the first time in Tests.

Kulasekara had employed a similar field for Sehwag as at the SSC - ­ two fielders in the deep on the leg side. Here he bowled a head-high bouncer again, and Sehwag went for the pull again, but this time he got on top and hit it to cow corner. This was a batsman who reached a triple-century with a six, after he had tried ­ and failed ­ to get to a double the same way.

The 21st over best illustrated Sehwag's approach. Mendis started by beating Sehwag with a carrom ball, which he didn't read. Then a straight one that beat him again. And he was almost caught and bowled off the fourth ball. Two balls later, reading the regulation offbreak correctly, Sehwag opened his arms and bludgeoned it through the covers for a four. The plan was simple for both the batsmen: hit whatever you read, and rely on short-term memory loss if you are beaten. It worked in the first session.

When Sehwag cover-drove Kulasekara for a four in the 16th over, it became India's largest opening partnership in Galle. When he cut Murali in the 18th over, he reached his half-century ­ off the 50th ball he faced. Gambhir got to his half-century in the last over before lunch.

The batsmen had their share of luck: Gambhir was dropped off Kulasekara, when he was on 13 ­ by Kumar Sangakkara, who was distracted by Prasanna Jayawardene lunging in front of him. Vaas came back to hit Gambhir on the pads just before lunch, but umpire Rudi Koertzen didn't think it was out, and Sri Lanka didn't go for the review. In the penultimate over before lunch, Mahela Jayawardene couldn't latch on to a Sehwag edge off Murali.

Fleming wants NZC to take a stance on Pakistan

Stephen Fleming: "It's only going to demean the tournament as a spectacle if three or four of the leading nations send second-string sides, which is why the national body needs to step in and make the decision".

Stephen Fleming, the former New Zealand captain, has urged his country's cricket board to take a stance on touring Pakistan for the Champions Trophy in September, instead of leaving individual players to decide. It is understood that several high-profile players are likely to opt out of the tournament owing to security fears, after the ICC last week confirmed Pakistan as hosts.

New Zealand are also scheduled to tour the country for a three-ODI series in August but that too looks in doubt.

"I know I'd be reluctant if I was still there, although it's tough to say categorically without being privy to the security reports circulated," Fleming told New Zealand Herald.

"But it's only going to demean the tournament as a spectacle if three or four of the leading nations send second-string sides, which is why the national body needs to step in and make the decision."

Besides New Zealand, players from other leading teams like England, Australia and South Africa have expressed reservations over touring. The respective cricket boards are likely to take a final decision when the ICC-appointed task force carries out its security inspection after August 14th, when Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day.

Fleming felt that New Zealand Cricket (NZC) was fortunate to have the backing of other leading teams on this issue.

"It's an unenviable position for New Zealand Cricket to be in, definitely," Fleming said. "It's a situation we've been in before, when we refused to play in Kenya [at the 2003 World Cup], although back then New Zealand was on its own standing up to the ICC.

"This time we have some fairly hefty weight behind us in the form of Australia and England, which significantly changes the landscape and any potential repercussions."

He did however sympathise with Pakistan, which has experienced several bomb blasts in major cities over the last few months. India, too, was affected by blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad but there have been no reports yet of Australia or England cancelling or postponing their respective tours of the country later this year.

"I know the situation might not be 100% there, but there's constant bomb blasts in India, and Sri Lanka's reputation [when it comes to terrorism] is hardly squeaky-clean," he said. "You've got to wonder if Pakistan aren't questioning why they're the only ones being singled out."

The Champions Trophy is scheduled between September 11 and 28 in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.

Gayle 'in discussions' with WICB

Reconsidering resignation? Chris Gayle is in talks with the West Indian board.

Chris Gayle has confirmed that he handed in his resignation as captain last week but says he is currently in discussions with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

"We are currently in discussions with a view at arriving at a mutually beneficial agreement," Gayle told the Jamaica Gleaner at a sponsor's event. "Until then, I cannot say much. In fact, whether or not I am captain, my focus now is on the upcoming Canada and Pakistan tours, where I hope to perform well and help the team to victory."

Gayle had reportedly sent his resignation letter to Donald Peters, the WICB chief executive, in the past few days. He had recently expressed his dissatisfaction with the selection committee. "Based on the selection committee, there are some things I don't have much control over at this point in time, regardless [of whether] I'm the captain or not," Gayle had said.

Gayle has had strained relations with the WICB. In June last year he criticised the board over its arrangements for the ODI series in England and its initial decision to veto his appointment as one-day captain.

Gayle's had mixed results as captain, winning two Tests out of five and seven ODIs out of 17. He led West Indies to two ODI series wins, including an away victory against England last year, and against the touring Sri Lankans recently.

He presided over a surprise win in the first Test against South Africa in Johannesburg but his side went on to lose the next two games and the series. His other Test win came against Sri Lanka in Port-of-Spain to level the two-match series. However, injuries have interrupted his tenure and he has struggled to stay fit for an entire tour.

Peters, meanwhile, has been put on administrative leave by the WICB.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Upbeat Sri Lanka look to seal series

Mahela Jayawardene averages more than 99 in Galle, and has scored double-centuries in each of his last two Tests here.

Match facts

Thursday July 31 - Monday August 4, 2008
Start time 10.15am (0445GMT)

Big Picture

After the annihilation at the SSC, the Indians have plenty of questions to answer in the second Test at Galle. The gulf between the two teams was so vast, and India were so abject in all departments, that Anil Kumble will be justified in believing that things can only get better. The bad news is the improvement will have to be dramatic for India to have any chance of levelling the series; the good news is they have done it before in Sri Lanka. The last time India toured here, in 2001, they lost the first Test by ten wickets, and then bounced back to win the second by seven wickets.

Sri Lanka's display in the first Test was so emphatic, though, that it seems unlikely they will slip up like they had then. They're coming back to a venue which has brought them plenty of success and one that is hosting only its second Test since being ravaged by the tsunami in 2004. Sri Lanka couldn't finish the job against England last year despite dismissing them for 81; this time, they'll hope to seal the series with one Test still to play.

Form guide (last 5 Tests)

Sri Lanka WLWDD

Watch out for

The spin wizards: Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis didn't give India a chance in the first Test, and they'll ask plenty of questions of the batsmen's technique in Galle as well.

Sachin Tendulkar scored only 39 runs in two innings in the first Test but the manner in which he tackled the spinners bodes well for future contests. He needs 133 more to become Test cricket's leading run-scorer, so there is plenty of motivation for him to turn on the run tap.

The review system: The first experiment with the use of more technology in decision making wasn't an unqualified success and the system will be under scrutiny again in Galle. Mark Benson, who reversed three decisions at the SSC after consulting with third umpire Rudi Koertzen, will be watching the replays this time while Koertzen does the on-field duty.

Team news

So utterly dominant were Sri Lanka at the SSC that they're almost certain to field an unchanged line-up, unless a last-minute injury or illness forces a change. The only aspect which disappointed in the first Test was the fast-bowling department. The new-ball bowlers took only one wicket, and Chaminda Vaas didn't take any, with his pace dipping to as low as 110 kph at times. Dammika Prasad has been added to the squad because of the pace he offers but it's unlikely Sri Lanka will sacrifice Vaas' swing, control and experience.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Michael Vandort, 2 Malinda Warnapura, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Nuwan Kulasekara.

Despite the first Test debacle, India's batting and bowling line-ups are likely to remain unchanged as well. The only change they might consider is the wicketkeeper. Dinesh Karthik dropped a couple of chances at the SSC and failed with the bat as well. He attempted a hopeless slog off Muralitharan in the first innings and edged limply to slip in the second. However, Kumble indicated India wouldn't make any changes, which suggests Parthiv Patel will have to wait to play his first Test since October 2004.

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

Umpires: Billy Doctrove and Rudi Koertzen. Third umpire: Mark Benson

Pitch & conditions

The pitch is likely to be another turner which will suit Sri Lanka. What might not suit them as much is the weather forecast with thunderstorms likely throughout the game. With India fighting to level the series, that's a piece of information Anil Kumble won't like either.

Stats & Trivia

  • Sri Lanka have won six out of 12 Tests in Galle, losing only two. All their wins have been comprehensive - three by an innings, two by ten wickets, and one by 315 runs.

  • Muralitharan needs nine more wickets to get to 100 Test scalps at Galle. His 91 wickets have come in only 12 games at an average of 16.50 and an economy-rate of 1.96 runs per over.

  • Mahela Jayawardene has a Test average of 99.21 at this ground, with four hundreds and six fifties in 17 innings. He has scored double-hundreds in his last two Tests here.

  • Against England last year, which was the first Test in Galle since the tsunami, seamers took 16 of the 20 wickets which fell to bowlers. Chaminda Vaas had match figures of 4 for 65 while Chanaka Welegedara took 4 for 76.


    "These are the conditions that you grow up with. I have a liking for SSC and Galle. I don't know, maybe it's because of the fans or the atmosphere."
    Mahela Jayawardene tries to explain why he has been so prolific here.

    "One down is one down, whether you're in Australia or Sri Lanka, so it's a matter of regrouping. We've done that and spent quality time discussing issues on and off the field, seeing how we can cope and come back. We've done that in the past with the same set of players and there is definitely a lot of experience and resilience in this team."
    Anil Kumble dismisses the notion that the comprehensive defeat at the SSC has demoralised the Indian team

  • South Africa take control as England fold

    Andre Nel removes Alastair Cook for 76, his third wicket of an impressive day.

    South Africa came into this Test at England's favourite ground, and with a history of failing to build on series leads, but after bowling the home side out for 231 are well on the way to their ultimate goal. The absence of Dale Steyn has so far proved no handicap as his replacement, Andre Nel, fired South Africa into life with three wickets and was well supported by Jacques Kallis and Makhaya Ntini.

    Andrew Flintoff gave England a late boost when he removed Graeme Smith in very similar style to the last Test, edging an off-stump delivery low to first slip. South Africa, though, have an in-form batting line-up and know that one collective effort over the next day or so can put this series to bed. England tried to counter their failure to post a decent first innings at Headingley by packing the batting, but Paul Collingwood's recall at No. 6 and Tim Ambrose's demotion to No. 8 had little effect.

    Only two batsmen passed fifty, Alastair Cook with 76 and Ian Bell with 50, but even their innings were examples of England's current failings. Both did the hard work on a relatively comfortable surface before wasting the chance to secure the three-figure innings that was needed. Another poor performance was summed up by the final two wickets, both run out as Flintoff tried to retain the strike with Monty Panesar's attempt at a second was embarrassingly forlorn.

    It's easy to dwell on England's failings, but this was another highly satisfying day for Smith, who lost the toss for the first time in the series and admitted he would like to have batted. There was a concern that without Steyn his attack would lack the pitch-up option, but the four quicks responded well on a surface far better than a total of 231 suggests. Morne Morkel was unlucky to end wicketless, but Kallis showed his value as a fourth seamer with the wickets of Kevin Pietersen and Collingwood. It was the five-man attack England dream of.

    Nel's return to the Test arena was always unlikely to be quiet affair. He benefited from an ounce of luck, but provided plenty of hostility. It was an innocuous ball which started England's demise, which Andrew Strauss nudged off his hip, but in the process the right foot went into the base of middle stump. Next delivery Michael Vaughan, with just 23 runs in the series, was drawn onto the front foot as the ball zipped past the edge. Mark Boucher barely appealed, but Nel and the slips went up and so did Aleem Dar's finger. Vaughan could hardly believe it, but his troubled times continued.

    Five stats

    • Andrew Strauss is the first England batsman to be out hit-wicket at Edgbaston.
    • England have lost tests to only West Indies and Australia at this vanue.
    • Michael Vaughan scored ducks in consecutive Tests for the first time in his career when he was caught behind off Andre Nel.
    • Alastair Cook's 76 was his third half-century in four innings in this series. He scored 60, 18 and 60 in the first two Tests.
    • Paul Collingwood's 4 was his fifth single-digit score in six innings this summer. He averages 8.60 in England in 2008.

    Pietersen bristled with intent early on, but got himself in a tangle against Kallis when he tried to flick him from outside off through the leg side. He was struck in line with off stump and the ball ballooned to Ashwell Prince at point. Steve Davis gave Pietersen out and signalled that it was for the catch. Pietersen looked bemused, and replays showed there wasn't an edge, but that the lbw shout was pretty adjacent.

    Cook was England's main provider, but it was further frustration that he failed to build on another half-century. At Lord's and Headingley he reached the 60s and here made it has far as 76 before edging Nel. He never looked entirely comfortable during his stay, especially against Morkel's first spell when he was regularly beaten outside off. However, when the bowlers dropped short Cook pounced, twice pulling Nel through wicket and also cutting strongly.

    He and Bell were stabilising the innings following the pre-lunch wobble with a fourth-wicket stand of 62, before Nel's third invention handed the momentum back to South Africa. Coming around the wicket, he brought an indeterminate poke from Cook, who was given a bit of send-off - although Nel will no doubt blame 'Gunther'. The pressure was on the returning Collingwood who took half an hour to open his account and it was of little surprise when he edged Kallis to first slip 20 minutes before tea. It was a shot that showed his complete lack of form, trying to turn a good length ball on off stump through midwicket. Ntini, who was the least impressive of the attack, then found Bell's outside edge in the penultimate over before the break.

    Flintoff and Ambrose battled hard after tea, but didn't really push the innings on, more content to survive against Ntini and Paul Harris. This would have been fine if they'd been able to cash in, but once wickets started to fall again little progress had been made. Kallis sneaked in with his third to break a stand of 39 in 19 overs and, although Flintoff hinted at something memorable, the end of the innings summed up the overall display. South Africa have let such positions of strength slip before, but it would be a brave person who backs England from here.