Saturday, August 16, 2008

Shoaib's Champions Trophy participation in doubt

The drama between Shoaib Akhtar and the Pakistan board continues.

Just three days after completing a remarkable comeback into the Pakistan squad for the Champions Trophy, Shoaib Akhtar's participation in the tournament was again in doubt after the Pakistan board served him an ultimatum saying he could play only if he paid the fine of Rs 7 million (approx US$105,000). The latest statement is yet another u-turn by an embattled Pakistan board, which had earlier softened its stance over the fine and cleared his selection.

Tafazzul Rizvi, a PCB lawyer, confirmed that Shoaib had been served a legal notice to pay the fine, failing which he would be dropped from the squad. "We have asked him to pay the fine or it would not be possible for us to retain him in Champions Trophy squad," Rizvi told PTI.

The PCB had earlier agreed to defer the payment of the fine till after Shoaib's appeal against the 18-month ban is heard in the court in September, a board official claiming at a press conference for the squad announcement that legal and cricket matters should be kept separate. But Rizvi justified the board's decision by saying: "There is no court order saying he should not pay the fine. Even if the court upholds his petition against the ban and fine it will be refunded to him but he has to pay the fine now."

Shoaib was initially banned by the board for five years, but the sentence had been reduced to 18 months by an appellate tribunal in June, which also imposed the fine. A Lahore High Court suspended the ban after Shoaib complained against it, but it did not pass any order on the fine. A final verdict on the ban is expected when the courts restart in September.

The Champions Trophy starts on September 12, with Pakistan playing the first match against West Indies.

ICC doesn't rule out Champions Trophy switch

Despite repeated statements from the ICC that the Champions Trophy will go ahead in Pakistan next month, suggestions that the tournament might be switched to an alternative country continue to circulate. David Richardson, the ICC's general manager of cricket, said on Friday it was not too late to take such action.

His comments come at a time when the ICC appears to be fighting a losing battle in its bid to persuade players from several countries that there are not major safety issues over staging the event in Pakistan. "We're very short of time now," Richardson said after meeting with James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, Paul Marsh, the head of the Australian Cricketers' Association, and Australia's captain and vice captain Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. "If we're going to relocate now it needs to be made within the next few days. Operationally it would be difficult, but it's certainly not an option that would be discarded at this point and it could be relocated."

Although the ICC has issued vehement denials, there continue to be reports in the English media that some Test grounds there are on standby to host games at short notice. However, should players refuse to travel to Pakistan then the ICC's hand might be forced.

Were that to happen, the ICC would face substantial financial penalties from ESS, who have a long-term broadcasting contract with them. That stipulates that if the venues for any major tournament are switched at less than three months' notice then they will be entitled to compensation that is likely to run into millions of dollars.

The ICC had hoped that the findings of its fact-finding mission to Pakistan earlier this week would sway players wavering over playing, but it seems not to have worked. Meetings with New Zealand and Australia team members are reported to have been less than productive.

The ICC will meet players from England and South Africa next week and much could depend on their reaction. Were only one country to decline to send a side, then the ICC would in all likelihood replace them with Bangladesh, ranked ninth in the ODI rankings at the time of the qualification cut-off date in March. Were two to back out then in theory Ireland, ranked tenth, would be invited.

We will fight all the way - Ashraful

Mohammad Ashraful lays out the challenges that lie ahead for Bangladesh after arriving in Darwin.

Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangladesh captain, has stressed the need to be competitive after his side arrived in Darwin for their three-match one-day series against Australia.

"We want to show improvement all the way. This is a very challenging tour for us as Australia are a top side," he said. "But we want to be tough and competitive and will fight all the way. We have the ability and hopefully, we can bring our best cricket to this series."

Ashraful said Bangladesh had enough time to prepare for the series, with five warm-up matches in store. "We have come to Australia a little ahead of the series. We will play five practice matches before the ODIs, and that will give us a good idea about the conditions here."

The Marrara Stadium, which has a drop-in pitch, will host all the three matches. Ashraful felt that the experience of having played on the surface before, as well as the favourable weather conditions in Darwin, will be beneficial for his side. "The last time we were here [in 2003], the pitches did not have too much pace or bounce," he said. "And the weather here is almost similar to Bangladesh. I think we'll feel comfortable here."

Bangladesh's coach, Jamie Siddons, was pragmatic on his assessment of the series, saying that his side's goal was to be consistent. "I am sure they [Australia] remember the loss to Bangladesh in 2005 and they will come hard at us," he said. "We are an improving side and the objective remains the same here also. We have shown in the past, that if we get to scores in the region of 250, then we can put pressure on the opposition."

Bangladesh play all their five practice matches at the Gardens Oval, beginning their campaign on August 18, when they take on the Australian Institute of Sports. The first ODI will be played on August 30.

Flower guides Essex to trophy triumph

Grant Flower lofts the winning boundary high over midwicket as Essex win by five wickets.

For two sides possessing such hulking heavyweights as Graham Napier and Justin Kemp, the final of the Friends Provident Trophy appeared destined to offer big runs and lavish hundreds. And yet for all the power contained Essex's lineup, it was left to Grant Flower to guide them home with a pitch-perfect 70, beating Kent by five wickets.

It was the second occasion this season that Kent have reached a final yet finished as losers. Middlesex beat them in the Twenty20 Cup, a result which deflated the usually indefatigable Robert Key, and again today they were outplayed from the outset at a packed Lord's. Six years ago, the domestic 50-over final was the peak of a county cricketers' season.

And although Twenty20's attitude has seeped into batsmen's mindset in 50-over cricket on occasion, the 2008 final was as much a throwback to the dusty old days of low-scoring one-dayers. And no bad thing that was, either.

With Essex chasing what appeared to be a straightforward 215, Kent had fought back impressively to leave them on 161 for 5, still needing 54. The catalyst for this comeback was Robbie Joseph, the young Antiguan-born fast bowler in whom Kent have invested so much time, who produced the sort of blistering spell his supporters know he is capable of. Reintroduced into the attack after a wayward first over conceded seven, he trapped Ravi Bopara leg-before with a quick off-cutter and then caused Alastair Cook embarrassing indecision trying to pull, and then cut. The result was a bottom edge to short extra cover, and Essex had lost two of their big guns.

At last, however, Flower found a similarly determined team-mate in James Foster to keep things under control, and the pair put on a patient 68 for the fifth wicket. With Azhar Mahmood and Yasir Arafat out of the attack, Key turned to Darren Stevens and Ryan McLaren who both bowled tidily enough, but their lack of venom allowed Foster and, in particular Flower, to keep the scoreboard ticking. Nurdles through midwicket, cheeky paddles down to fine-leg and a sweetly timed four off Stevens' gentle drifters kept Essex and they never needed more than a vaguely-testing five-an-over.

Foster, to his own outrage, fell to a loose flap outside his off stump - Joseph's third wicket - but Flower soon stepped up another gear, reaching 50 from 73 balls and lofting Joseph over extra cover. Ryan ten Doeschate played a vital and infuriating role at the other end, running Kent ragged with daring singles out to cover, and he was typically elegant to anything minutely straight, turning them through midwicket with ease. Yet it was Flower who appropriately sealed Essex's win with a clout over midwicket, and Kent's 30-year wait to win a Lord's final continued.

"That was the epitome of a team performance," Mark Pettini, the Essex captain, said. "Grant Flower stood out in the run chase, but the rest of the day was all down to the fight from the team. It turned out to be a nice toss to lose. My team were absolutely fantastic. We knew Kent would come hard at us, and the guys rose to the challenge really well."

If Flower sealed the win, then it was Essex's bowlers who set up the victory-charge. Renowned as a frighteningly powerful striker this season, Napier has been more consistent with the ball than in years gone by, and bowled a fine opening spell alongside David Masters to upset Joe Denly and Key's natural free-flowing partnership.

On 7, Key tried to force Masters off the back foot but could only edge him behind to Foster, standing up to the stumps, who took an effortless snaffle - as is now expected of him. Martin van Jaarsveld, evergreen at 34 and the tournament's highest run-scorer, nearly fell for nought lbw, but the same bowler found one to cut back sharply on Denly and bowl him through the gate.

Essex were in business and had restricted Kent to a distinctly tepid 31 for 2 after 10 tight overs. Nevertheless, van Jaarsveld had his fellow South African for company, Kemp, and the pair set about calming Kent's evident nerves with a patient, nurdling partnership of 39. It couldn't last, however, and an equally frantic cut off Masters, whose unerring line outside off was a testament to the underrated control he has offered Essex this season, sent an inside edge cannoning into his stumps. Kent had slipped to 58 for 3.

Panic set in, aptly demonstrated by Stevens' fraught swipe off Chris Wright. Geraint Jones, meanwhile, threatened briefly with two crunching cuts before he was trapped by Danish Kaneria. Essex were on top through a disciplined bowling performance, but the shot selection from Kent was much less restrained.

van Jaarsveld brought up yet another fifty from 68 balls - his third this season, in addition to four hundreds - but fell shortly afterwards to an outstanding catch by Cook, sprinting back from midwicket. And it was left to McLaren to salvage something for Kent, working balls through midwicket; back-cutting to the wider deliveries offered by ten Doeschate and nudging through the gaps with a coolness of temperament that his top-order team-mates lacked. His 63 was too little, much too late.

As a hefty contingent of Essex fans roared their side on with victory in sight, Flower lofted the winning runs to seal their first Lord's final since the B&H Cup in 1998. The 50-over lark may lack Modi's millions, but Essex's triumph was no less sweet.

Walter Chawaguta appointed as Zimbabwe coach

Walter Chawaguta, the former Zimbabwe Under-19 coach, has taken charge of the national team, Cricinfo has learnt. Chawaguta replaces Robin Brown, whose contract expired in July, making him the third person to coach Zimbabwe in a year.

Chawaguta, 35, is regarded as a decent coach but hopelessly raw and the consensus is that he cannot hope to stand up to the more political elements within the board who are pushing to control selection and impose racial quotas. His appointment is more down to the need to be seen to act quickly and also the acceptance that in the present climate, Zimbabwe Cricket cannot hope to attract any overseas coaches.

After playing one first-class game for Mashonaland in 1997-98, Chawaguta turned to coaching, first with the U-19s and then the A team. He was briefly a selector in 2004, and was a contender for the national coach in 2005, but lost out to Kevin Curran. Chawaguta, though, was part of the national set-up as Brown's assistant when he took over in August, 2007.

Patel gives Lions some bite

England Lions struck a timely blow for the main side as they beat a full-strength South African outfit by six wickets at Derby. Samit Patel pushed his claims for an international debut against Scotland, or later next week against South Africa, with an unbeaten 60 as he and Eoin Morgan added 113 to seal the win with 52 balls to spare.

The first of the Lions matches went the South Africans' way by four wickets at Grace Road and both sides made significant changes for this game. The visitors brought back Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher after they were rested following the Test series, while the Lions also had some fresh faces, including a new captain Ed Joyce, with only four players remaining from the first match.

Patel was one of those and enjoyed considerably more success this time after his first-ball duck on Thursday. Matt Prior, promoted to open after batting at No. 5 in the previous match, gave the chase an early push until he was caught behind, but Patel came in with the innings chase at a crucial time on 97 for 4. Andre Nel made two quick breakthroughs by bowling Owais Shah for 46, including three sixes, and Joyce trod on his stumps for 10, however Patel formed an impressive stand with Morgan, the Middlesex left-hander.

The required rate was never an issue for the Lions as Patel and Morgan moved along at close to a run-a-ball. Nel and Johan Botha were expensive as the batting pair picked off regular boundaries.

The new-look Lions attack caused problems for the South Africans despite a brisk opening stand of 67 between Smith and Herschelle Gibbs. Darren Pattinson, who controversially made his Test debut at Headingley last month, struck the first blow when he bowled Gibbs but was the one bowler to take severe punishment.

The key period came when the medium-pacers, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Luke Wright and Jonathan Trott, tied down the scoring. The 26 overs from that trio along with Patel went for just 74 runs. Kallis' poor run continued when he was trapped lbw by Mascarenhas, who surprisingly isn't part of the one-day squad, who then bowled Smith for 50 off 67 balls. AB de Villiers and JP Duminy struggled either side of a brief rain break before both fell to Trott and the South Africans were 117 for 5.

They rebuilt through Mark Boucher and Vernon Philander, but couldn't really push the accelerator. Boucher twice cleared the boundary as the pair added 92 and he finished with 63 off 67 balls. The Lions, though, put in a far improved batting display and the likes of Patel and Prior can join up with the England squad to face Scotland on Monday on good heart.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Yuvraj ton steers Indians to big win

Yuvraj Singh celebrates his whirlwind hundred.

Powered by Yuvraj Singh's brutal century, the Indians cruised to a pre-ODI series 92-run win against a Sri Lankan XI at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo. Yuvraj hit 13 sixes in a 121-ball 172, taking the Indians to 342 for 5, and in reply the opposition - comprising ten internationals - produced a sloppy chase, managing 250 in their 50 overs. It was a good way for the Indians to celebrate the 61st anniversary of their country's independence.

The last time Yuvraj had scored a hundred in a limited-overs game had been on October 5 2007, against Australia. He dismissed that drought, albeit against a weaker attack, with a two-paced innings that lifted the Indians to a massive total. Yuvraj came in at No. 4 in the 13th over and struggled initially, often going hard at the ball, which resulted in mistimed drives and dragged cuts. An otherwise erratic Dilhara Fernando - his no-ball problem continued and he bowled too short - beat Yuvraj repeatedly off the upright seam, forcing him to hold back on his expansive strokeplay for a while.

But with Suresh Raina in good nick, the singles came easily. Raina broke free from a tense start by backing away and slamming Fernando over cover for four. He also had his share of mistimed shots, but came back well to blast a big six over midwicket off Jehan Mubarak. Like Gautam Gambhir, he too fell while trying an aggressive shot too many, giving Malinga Bandara his first wicket.

In the mean time, Yuvraj had settled in. Crucially, he was confident against spin - he hit Malinda Warnapura for a six in his solitary over - and his flicks across the line were all power and precision. He stood tall to punch the shorter deliveries through the in-field and his bent-knee while driving down the ground was pleasing.

Yuvraj blasted sixes off the first two balls of Thilan Thushara's comeback over, the 36th, moving past fifty with the first. A whip over mid-on followed, and Yuvraj then trained his ire towards Bandara, striking his fourth six. His century came off 95 balls, after which he decided to have some fun. In 16 balls, he raced past 150, pasting Mubarak for three more sixes and a four in his final over and hitting his ninth and tenth sixes, both effortless swings over long-on, off a beleaguered Chanaka Welegedara.

Yuvraj's final six was the pick of the lot, a stunning shot over long-off which nearly took out the press cordon. His 13 sixes were the second-most for a 50-overs innings in this decade, after Namibia's Gary Snyman, who hit 17 during his 196 against UAE last November.

Yuvraj's partners went unnoticed during his blitz, but they played their part in India putting up a mammoth total. Rohit Sharma scored a 42-ball 24 in an 85-run fourth-wicket stand, while Mahendra Singh Dhoni's contribution to a 99-run stand, which came in just 6.4 overs, was a mere 16.

In reply, Upul Tharanga gave his team as robust a start as the Indians had got. He threw the bat at anything marginally over-pitched and wide, tucking into some indifferent new-ball bowling from Munaf Patel and RP Singh. While the two bowlers produced three good lbw shouts in consecutive overs they also gave too much width; Tharanga cashed in with an upper cut over third man and into the ivy-covered scorecard.

But the aggression was short-lived. Through a mixture of edges, top-edges and poor footwork it all started to go downhill. Mahela Udawatte had a fortuitous top-edge over point, followed it up with a perfectly-placed cut for four, only to then spoon a catch to mid-off. Warnapura fell to a very good catch from Gambhir at first slip, taken diving to his left. In the next over, after going past an electrifying half-century, Tharanga tried to pull RP but top-edged to the wicketkeeper, leaving the required rate at just under eight. In fewer than five overs the Sri Lankan XI had combusted.

Harbhajan Singh's introduction tightened the Indians' grip. His accurate offspin, backed by balanced and energetic field placing, kept runs at a minimum. A trigger-happy Chamara Kapugedera tried to sweep him out of the park but found deep midwicket instead. With the asking rate burgeoning to nearly ten an over, the sprightly Chamara Silva cut and swept Pragyan Ojha's left-arm spin for boundaries. After 32 overs the Sri Lankan XI needed 191, and Ojha came back well to force a faint nick from Silva to Dhoni for 38. Mubarak remained in the hunt for a place in the national team with 60 from 74 balls but when he departed the side needed 118 from 15 balls, and the result was never in doubt.

India and Sri Lanka meet in Dambulla for the first ODI on August 18.

Ponting out of Bangladesh series

Matthew Hayden has been picked in the squad, but faces a fitness test.

Ricky Ponting's recovery from wrist surgery will prevent him from appearing in the one-day series against Bangladesh at the end of the month while Matthew Hayden must prove he is ready after a long-standing heel problem. Ponting's absence makes him an unlikely starter for the Champions Trophy - if Australia go to Pakistan - while Hayden will be monitored over the next two weeks.

Both players left the tour of West Indies early, with Ponting heading home during the one-day series, and Hayden departing without playing a Test. Michael Clarke, who was in Melbourne for a meeting with ICC officials over the Pakistan situation, will take charge of the 14-man squad.

Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, said the three games against Bangladesh in Darwin would be ideal preparation for a busy time over the next 18 months. "While it is disappointing not to have Ricky Ponting available," Hilditch said, "we are confident that continuing his recovery and missing this series will assure Ricky is ready for the demanding cricket schedule ahead."

Australia's previous engagement was the 5-0 win over West Indies and players such as Shaun Marsh, Cameron White and David Hussey have held their spots. "This series provides us with an exciting opportunity to see our senior players and youth combine in what will be a very important series for us," the coach Tim Nielsen said. "We are very hopeful of Matthew Hayden being able to rejoin the team and our medical staff will continue to monitor him over the next two weeks."

The Australians go into camp next week in Queensland before the first match of the series on August 30. Originally Bangladesh were supposed to appear in two Tests, but they were postponed to 2010 when it was realised they clashed with the Olympics. Both teams will use the contests to fine-tune for the Champions Trophy, which is currently due to start in Pakistan on October 12.

Australia Matthew Hayden, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt), Michael Hussey, Andrew Symonds, Brad Haddin (wk), Shaun Marsh, David Hussey, James Hopes, Cameron White, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark, Nathan Bracken.

Peterson returns for Champions Trophy

South Africa squad for Champions Trophy

Graeme Smith (capt), Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Justin Ontong, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn

South Africa have included Johan Botha and Robin Peterson in their 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy in Pakistan next month.

Gerald Majola, the CEO of Cricket South Africa, said the spin duo were included to add depth to the squad. "The selection committee has opted for the two bowlers, considering the tournament takes place in the subcontinent," he said. "And having both left-arm and right-arm options in Robin Peterson and Johan Botha gives the selectors the variation they're looking for."

Botha, who is currently on tour in England with the South one-day side, has played 27 ODIs, taking 19 wickets. He last played against Bangladesh in March 2008.

Peterson, who was part of the Test squad which recently claimed victory in the four-match series in England, was, however, overlooked for the one-dayers. His previous appearance came in the 2007 World Cup, when he played against New Zealand

South Africa are placed in Group B in the league phase of the Champions Trophy, alongside Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand. They open their campaign when they take on New Zealand on September 14.

Selectors unveil 17-man Stanford Superstars squad

Shivnarine Chanderpaul missed the camp in Antigua because of his commitments with Durham.

The 17 players who will form the Stanford Superstars Twenty20 squad and compete for US$20 million in the winner-takes-all match against England on November 1 have been named. The squad includes Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo, as well as notable performers from the Stanford Twenty20 domestic tournament.

"We [the Stanford Superstars selection panel] believe this squad is very capable of doing justice to their selection to the Stanford Superstars squad to face England for the unprecedented purse of US$20million," Viv Richards, the chairman of the selection panel, said.

"There are several familiar faces in this Stanford Superstars squad, but there are some exciting new additions such as Lindon James, Lionel Baker and Chad Hampson. This was due to the fact that there were some high quality performances from these individuals in the Stanford 20/20 Tournaments and they were also very impressive in the just concluded Stanford Superstars camp."

Thirty one out of 32 probables participated in a two-week camp in Antigua. Chanderpaul was excused because of his county commitments with Durham but was eligible for selection. The 17 players were presented with contracts and have 14 days to confirm their participation in the tournament.

The selection panel comprising Richards, Everton Weekes, Curtly Ambrose, Lance Gibbs, Richie Richardson, Andy Roberts and Courtney Walsh will meet at a later date to select the captain and vice captain.

Squad Lionel Baker (Montserrat), Sulieman Benn (Barbados), Dwayne Bravo (Trinidad and Tobago), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (Guyana), Lennox Cush (Guyana), Rayad Emrit (Trinidad and Tobago), Andre Fletcher (Grenada), Chris Gayle (Jamaica), Chad Hampson (Antigua and Barbuda), Lindon James (St Vincent and the Grenadines), Sylvester Joseph (Antigua and Barbuda), Xavier Marshall (Jamaica), Dave Mohammed (Trinidad and Tobago), Kieron Pollard (Trinidad and Tobago), Daren Powell (Jamaica), Ramnaresh Sarwan (Guyana), Jerome Taylor (Jamaica).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

ICC fails to convince New Zealand on Pakistan

New Zealand's squad members were involved in an "active" meeting with the ICC task force.

New Zealand's squad has not softened its view on attending the Champions Trophy despite a detailed security briefing by an ICC task force in Christchurch on Thursday. Safety remains a prime concern and Heath Mills, the chief executive of the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association, will not be recommending the team attends the tournament.

"In all honesty, nothing I heard yesterday has allayed our concerns," Mills said. Twenty-two of New Zealand's contracted players attended the lengthy and animated meeting along with team management and New Zealand Cricket officials. Worried players threw many questions at the out-numbered ICC representatives, who had arrived from a security assessment in Pakistan in an effort to convince the side to travel, but at this stage the official plea is unlikely to work.

"It was an interesting meeting, an active meeting," Mills said. "It went for a while." Similar concerns are expected to be heard when the ICC group arrives to discuss the situation in Australia on Friday. The tournament is also expected to be on the agenda at Friday's New Zealand Cricket board meeting.

David Richardson, the ICC general manager of cricket, is heading the task force, which also includes the communication manager Brian Murgatroyd, Tim May, the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations chief executive, and a representative from the security firm Nicholls Steyn and Associates. Another ICC group, led by the chief executive Haroon Lorgat, will speak to English and South African players and officials in England next week.

Mills was impressed with the detail of the safety outline, but was concerned how it would work in practice in a country battling political instability and acts of terrorism. "There is no question about the effort put in by the Pakistan Cricket Board and the Pakistan government, the security plans are outstanding," he said. "They're the best we've ever seen for cricket.

"But the fact is they are unproven and we don't know if the plans can be delivered. We need to see them demonstrated. The threat in Pakistan is real. There's a lot of political instability and we've seen more reports of activity by the Taliban."

A television station in Pakistan has carried a warning that members of the Taliban have threatened suicide attacks in Lahore and Karachi. The cities are the only two venues being used during the Champions Trophy, which is due to start on September 12, following the cutting of Rawalpindi from the schedule.

New Zealand have experienced the dangers of touring Pakistan after a bomb exploded near the team's Karachi hotel in 2002. They left the country although, unlike Australia, they have been back, playing a one-day series in 2003-04. Australia have not visited Pakistan since Mark Taylor's outfit went there in 1998.

Clark ready for decision on Pakistan

Stuart Clark wishes a decision on Australia taking part in the Champions Trophy was made two weeks ago.

The waiting for an official word on whether to tour Pakistan for the Champions Trophy next month is nagging at Stuart Clark, the Australia fast bowler. David Richardson, the ICC general manager of cricket, will lead a delegation in Australia on Friday that will try to convince the players and officials to take part in the tournament. A similar exercise was completed in New Zealand on Thursday.

However, Clark said he wished a decision had been made two weeks ago. "At least there would be closure," he said in the Sydney Morning Herald. "You hear about Australia closing its embassies in Pakistan, what are you supposed to think? And the back-up country has its own problems."

If the Champions Trophy, which is due to start on September 12, is not held in Pakistan it could be staged in Sri Lanka, which is also a place of risk for travellers, according to the Australian government's advice. There have been bomb blasts in Pakistan this week and the Herald Sun reported warnings of more suicide attacks in the cities of Lahore and Karachi, which will host all the Champions Trophy matches.

Clark says he can't make a decision until he hears from Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association. "Once again I'm going to have to look at that report and see what it says," he told AAP. "I can't commit either way at the moment.

"If we do go it'll be on the basis of that all has been taken care of and that unease factor will hopefully be removed. There's obviously something going on although I'm only hearing it second hand."

Clark, who visited the country on Australia A duty in 2005, said if the tournament was cancelled he hoped it would not mean a long break for tours to Pakistan. "It's very important that that part of the world keeps playing cricket," he said.

"Obviously those countries are struggling, but if it doesn't happen I hope they do whatever they need to rectify the situation." Australia have not visited Pakistan since 1998, playing the 2002-03 series in Sharjah and Sri Lanka, and postponing the Test and one-day contests which were due to occur last March and April.

Champions League will start on December 3

The start of the three-Test series between South Africa and Australia has moved to create an adequate window for the Champions League.

The inaugural Champions League Twenty20 will be played between December 3 and 10, instead of October, the organisers - the boards of India, Australia and South Africa - have announced. To accommodate the change, the first Test between Australia and South Africa in Perth has been pushed back from December 12 to December 17.

The eight-team tournament was initially due to begin on September 29, the reserve day of the Champions Trophy final, but the ICC was unhappy with its timing, given its close proximity to the Pakistan event. It asked the three founding members of the Champions League to rethink the programme.

No other international fixtures have been scheduled on those dates, allowing all players to participate, although the domestic seasons of Australia and South Africa will have to be rearranged. The tournament has been sandwiched between India's seventh one-dayer against England and the first Test in Ahmedabad, games which start a day before and after the tournament respectively.

"We are happy that we were able to find a window during the first week of December," Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, said. "There was a gap in between the one-day internationals and Tests [in India] against the touring England squad, which will enable both the Rajasthan Royals and the Chennai Super Kings (the IPL finalists) to regroup and focus on the Champions League."

Gerald Majola and James Sutherland, the chief executives of the South African and Australian boards respectively, said they had consulted the players, players' associations and the Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) - the hosts of the Perth Test - before deciding the dates.

"We were pleased with the WACA's reaction that the new playing dates offer local fans, including corporate groups wanting to entertain at the cricket, good dates for pre-Christmas Test match enjoyment," Sutherland said. "We also took feedback from players that the changes could be accommodated without compromising what will be a defacto World Test Cricket Championship bout between Australian and South Africa during December and January."

Majola told Cricinfo that the organisers have "conveyed the new dates to the ICC and they are fine with it". The venues and commercial partnership details will be finalised in the coming weeks.

The Champions Twenty 20 League comprises the Twenty20 domestic finalists from India , Australia and South Africa, Pakistan's winner Sialkot and England's champion Middlesex. The competition was announced on July 30, with a total prize money of US$6 million which will be shared between all teams.

Chance for India's ODI specialists to acclimatise

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina at practice on the eve of the warm-up match against Sri Lankan XI.

India's one-day specialists have one opportunity to acclimatise to conditions before the five-ODI series and the team management faces selection headaches ahead of Friday's warm-up match against a Sri Lankan XI in Colombo. The momentum is with Sri Lanka, who won the Test series 2-1, while the Indians are still grappling with methods to handle Ajantha Mendis, who took 26 wickets in three Tests and a six-wicket haul in the recent Asia Cup final against India.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who joined the squad on Wednesday, said he was not going to talk about the Test series, which he opted out of, but on how his ODI side would tackle whatever came their way. India's one-day squad has two uncapped players - Subramaniam Badrinath, the Tamil Nadu batsman, and Virat Kohli, who led India to victory in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year - and Dhoni stressed on the importance of youngsters stepping in to fill the breach left by Sachin Tendulkar's absence.

It's likely that Badrinath and Kohli will be competing for a spot as the batting order picks itself. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir will continue their partnership at the top, followed by Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma. Dhoni will bat at No. 6, leaving the next spot for Badrinath, Kohli, or an allrounder.

India are without fast bowler Ishant Sharma for this series and their pace options include Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan. Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha are the only two spinners in the squad. The warm-up match gives India the chance to test Ojha, RP and Munaf, neither of whom played in the Test series but choosing between Kumar and Pathan is tougher.

The bowling attack is likely to comprise three medium-pacers and one spinner. With Zaheer virtually certain to play, the other four - RP, Munaf, Kumar and Pathan - will compete for two spots and performances in the warm-up match could decide who plays. Harbhajan could be the lone spinner which means India will have to consider getting ten overs out of part-timers Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag on helpful pitches.

India's last one-day international was the 100-run defeat in Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka. Sanath Jayasuriya scored 125 before Mendis snuffed out India's chase by taking 6 for 13. Neither of them will be playing the warm-up game but they will be an intergral part of the challenge that awaits India in Dambulla, a notoriously low-scoring venue, on August 18.


Sri Lanka XI: (probable) 1 Malinda Warnapura, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Mahela Udawatte, 4 Jehan Mubarak, 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Chamara Kapugedera (capt), 7 Kaushal Silva (wk), 8 Kaushalya Weerarante, 9 Malinga Bandara, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11 Thilan Thushara.

Indians: (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 S Badrinath 8 Irfan Pathan 9 Pragyan Ojha, 10 RP Singh, 11 Munaf Patel.

Swann happy to tour Pakistan

'In Sri Lanka last year there were bombs going off while we were there, but you did not feel threatened by it - because you have got the security detail'.

Graeme Swann, the England offspinner, has pledged that he will travel to Pakistan should the Champions Trophy go ahead, despite the uncertainty over the country's political stability.

The ICC's task force has been in the country assessing the security over the past week, but their most difficult issue is in convincing the players. ICC's security advisors are being dispatched to England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to persuade the boards that the players' concerns are unfounded. Swann, however, is not one of them.

"In Sri Lanka last year there were bombs going off while we were there," he told PA. "But you did not feel threatened by it - because you have got the security detail, and the army give you escorts. I'd certainly trust what [ICC security expert] Reg Dickason says - after spending some time with him - so I'll have to wait and see what he says."

Swann has only played 12 ODIs for England, spread over eight years, so any opportunity for him to swell his experience on the field is not one he can easily pass up.

"It is obviously tricky - because if you are in a position like me, having only played a dozen or so internationals, you certainly worry about giving your place up and not winning it back," he said. "Inside me, I think I would not have a problem; I'd trust in them - but then your family is saying you must be crackers and your girlfriend is saying, 'I don't want you to go'. "That's when you start thinking, 'Hang on a minute'."

The decision to tour Pakistan, though "tricky" due to safety concerns, cannot be compared to playing in Zimbabwe, Swann admitted. "It would be completely different if it was on moral grounds," he said."The Zimbabwe trip would be a complete no-brainer - you just wouldn't go there, if you can sleep at night."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

May wants more action in Pakistan

Tim May: "One of the concerns is that we haven't been able to see enough of the implementation of the security forces".

Tim May, the chief executive of the global players' union, believes Pakistan must do more to ensure the safety of players at next month's Champions Trophy. May will form part of an ICC task force that will attempt to allay the touring fears of New Zealand in meetings on Thursday before travelling to Australia on Friday.

In the Herald Sun May, who represents the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations, praised the Pakistan Cricket Board for its efforts, but said more had to be done. And he said it was not too late to make the changes.

"One of the concerns of the task force is that we haven't been able to see enough of, let's say, the implementation of the security forces," May told the paper. "We need to speak to the players and governing bodies and see if they are in the same position too, if they want to see some more."

Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach and former Test bowler, will join May in the meetings in an effort to convince Australia and New Zealand to travel. Australia postponed Test and one-day series earlier in the year while New Zealand, along with England and South Africa, have concerns over participating in the tournament, which is due to start on September 12.

"I am coming at the ICC's request to give my personal experiences to the New Zealand and Australian players and officials," Lawson said in the Australian. "I will be telling them why I live in Lahore and why I think it is safe.

"I wouldn't be living there if I didn't think it was safe. I will be letting them know my straightforward and earnest views."

Australia point to the government's travel warnings when arguing against going to Pakistan. "We strongly advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Pakistan at this time due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, sectarian violence and the unpredictable security situation," the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's website says. "If you do decide to travel to Pakistan, you should exercise extreme caution."

While one ICC group is in the southern hemisphere, another will be travelling to England, where it will talk with English and South African officials early next week. David Morgan, the ICC president, will receive the results of the meetings on August 20.

Handling Mendis is up to the individual - Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has said Sachin Tendulkar's absence will be crucial, but wants the youngsters to step up and accept more responsibilities.

Hardly 15 minutes after Mahendra Singh Dhoni arrived at the team hotel in Colombo with his fellow one-day recruits, had he faced a barrage of questions. No surprise that most of them focused around the man who snatched almost half of the Indian wickets in the Test series, Ajantha Mendis.

"I'll just ask Mahela [Jayawardene] if he will lend Mendis for a couple of practice sessions. If not, then...," Dhoni said with a laugh when asked how India could tackle Mendis. "But seriously, we will have to deal with it in a personal way. We can watch 1000 videos of what he does, but it is up to the individual to play him on the turf. It depends on your frame of mind."

India's ODI squad includes two uncapped players, Tamil Nadu's S Badrinath and Delhi's Virat Kohli, the victorious Under-19 captain. Sachin Tendulkar will not play the five-ODIs after sustaining an injury to his left elbow during the third Test in Colombo. Dhoni admitted that was a major blow, but put faith in the younger players. "It's not just his contribution with bat and the ball, but he comes up with brilliant suggestions and advice on the field. The impact he has in the dressing room is great.

"But cricket goes on. The youngsters will have to prove they are good enough. Whenever this scenario has happened in Indian cricket, somebody has accepted responsibility. Sri Lanka is one of the toughest places to play cricket. You don't often get loads of runs when batting. It can be crucial."

In the Tests India's batsmen failed to put up good scores, failing to cross 330, and that cost them the series. Dhoni, however, said it was important for the batsmen to back themselves to score briskly, despite the setbacks.

"There are a few things that we need to assess," said Dhoni. "I've always been saying that confidence shouldn't go up and down with the performance. You have to stay positive always."

India's recent record in the subcontinent includes losses in the finals of the Kitply and Asia Cup, which Dhoni termed as "crucial games", and he hoped to rectify that trend. The ODI specialists had two days of practice at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, which Dhoni said was "up to the mark", and he noted a lot of energy in the side.

Jayawardene, Dhoni's counterpart, was understandably optimistic about the ODIs, having defeated India in the Asia Cup and the Test series. "It is always a different game and we have different game plans [for handling India]," he said. "It's a young side, and we are grooming a young group of guys to take over. We are looking to the little things well as individuals - that's been our emphasis and I think that's what has contributed to our improvement over that period."

Picking up 26 wickets is no mean achievement for a bowler, but when Mendis and Murali operate in tandem is when they're so difficult. After a long time, Murali has a genuine match-winning spinning partner, and Jayawardene felt it was quite a relief for a captain to have such an option. "We now have good attacking options," he said. "Murali has got the support he requires and also there is support for [Chaminda] Vaas. We have the likes of Lasith Malinga and Dilhara Fernando. For us it's always a team and it does not matter what Ajantha Mendis does."

Sri Lanka will welcome back their prolific one-day opener, Sanath Jayasuriya, but Jayawardene was not sure about who would partner him. Sri Lanka's 15-man squad includes eight batsmen, so they have choices between Malinda Warnapura, Mahela Udawatte, and Kumar Sangakkara to open. Jayawardene said Warnapura's success in the Tests - he scored 243 runs at 60.75, with a hundred in the first Test at the SSC, and two fifties - gave Sri Lanka a viable option, but Sangakkara's success in the Asia Cup could see him opening with Jayasuriya.

"The way everyone's talking about Ajantha," Jayawardene said, "he might take ten wickets even before going on." The venue for the first two ODIs is Dambulla, a notoriously low-scoring venue which favours spin, so India will need to be on their best guard against Sri Lanka's two spinners.

Nielsen encouraged by Pietersen Ashes chat

Tim Nielsen has a few series to worry about before he starts looking at England.

Tim Nielsen, the Australia coach, has taken confidence from Kevin Pietersen's early talk about the Ashes following his opening game as England captain. The series doesn't start until next July, but Pietersen said after opening his account against South Africa that "if we play like we played this week, we'll beat Australia".

"I'm pleased that he is thinking about us already," Nielsen said in the Age. "We've got a couple of big series coming up that are taking up most of our thinking at the moment, but we're certainly very aware that in 12 months we'll have an Ashes series on the go, and we're very much looking forward to it."

Australia have a Test campaign against New Zealand in November followed by home-and-away contests against South Africa before they head to England. Nielsen felt England, who lost the 2006-07 Ashes 5-0, had a lot to improve before they could compete with Australia.

"Without wanting to put too much on paper, I reckon it is interesting that he's coming out and saying that already," Nielsen said. "There are obviously some things they need to work on. It was a dead rubber and if they want to win the Ashes, they've got to win two more Tests than they won in this series, against us in England next year."

Pakistan won't host New Zealand series

New Zealand beat England in June, in what now looks set to be their last hit-out before the Champions Trophy.

New Zealand's visit Pakistan for a three-match ODI series in the lead-up to the Champions Trophy has been cancelled, according to the PCB. New Zealand originally agreed to the tour, which would have given them a good chance to acclimatise ahead of the main eight-team event.

But New Zealand are one of the teams that have shown reluctance to visit Pakistan for the Champions Trophy due to security concerns. New Zealand Cricket told the PCB it would reassess the security situation before confirming or cancelling the three ODIs, but Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB chief operating officer, said time had all but run out.

"We have not received any positive reply from New Zealand Cricket and heavy rains in Punjab [province] where the three matches were planned did not make the series a possibility," he said.

The plan was to play three games in Multan and Faisalabad from August 24 to 30, which would have been their first visit to Pakistan in five years. The ICC is still trying to convince four countries, including New Zealand, that Pakistan will be a safe venue for the Champions Trophy.

ICC task force aims to convince players of Pakistan safety

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, and Brian Murgatroyd, the media and communications manager, after wrapping up their trip to Karachi.

As the ICC task force wrapped up its visit to Pakistan to assess security concerns ahead of September's Champions Trophy, its real work begins now. Members of the panel will head to Australia, New Zealand and England, where they will also meet with South Africa, in a bid to convince top players from the countries not to pull out over security concerns.

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, admitted the next step in ensuring a top-quality tournament might not be so simple. "I think it's not easy to convince people that are feeling uncertain about something," Lorgat said in Karachi on the last leg of the task force's three-day visit. "It is a difficult task but we have to do our best and, inshallah, we will be able to convince them."

A group led by Lorgat will go to England early next week while David Richardson, the ICC's general manager of cricket, will head meetings in New Zealand on Thursday and Australia on Friday. Tim May, the chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations, and Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, will travel with Richardson.

David Morgan, the ICC president, will receive the results of the meetings on August 20 and make "a further assessment of the comfort levels of our participating members". "We are committed to a safe and secure event in Pakistan," Morgan said. "We believe these visits and the feedback we get from them will play a major role in us achieving those ends."

Though the ICC is satisfied with the security measures in place - Rawalpindi has been dropped from the schedule, leaving Karachi and Lahore as the only venues - transporting that confidence on to reluctant players will be the big job. "The first thing we should look at is what we can do," Lorgat said. "What we will try and do is convey the type of confidence we have in the measures that are in place, hence why we will go to member countries to convince them.

"You've got to remember that, unfortunately, they sit far away and they've not been to Pakistan. They might not share the sentiment that we do and it would be good of us to go and explain to them exactly what measures are in place and raise their levels of confidence. Some of us who've been here feel satisfied with the security measures. If we can convince them, then there is no issue."

Lorgat did hint again that no action is likely against players who opt out, saying "we can never force anybody to come and play in the competition". "We will do our very best to convince them. The member countries have signed participation agreements to send their teams."

Lorgat also gave details of the task force's visit. "We've had two very entertaining days in Pakistan," he said. "We got into Islamabad and met with officials and diplomats in the day. We then proceeded to Lahore to get a physical demonstration of the security measures that have largely been recommended in various security consultant reports and observed them. Similarly, we've observed them in Karachi." Observations will be shared and points noted before two teams head off on missions to either side of the planet."

Confirmation of the cutting of Rawalpindi from the schedule came after the group was unable to check the security arrangements during the Asia Cup in June and July. "There has been no way for us to formulate an opinion on the venue," Lorgat said.

"We believe that by excluding Rawalpindi and using just two venues, both of them successful hosts during the Asia Cup, it will remove doubt, allow a further concentration of resources and thus improve comfort levels for all stakeholders in the event." Lahore will host eight of the 15 games, including the opening match on September 12 and the final on September 28.

Lorgat also acknowledged there could be further visits to Pakistan by the task force, should the situation arise. "It is difficult to predict because the brief is to exist through to the end of the tournament. It is a dynamic process. If something different was to occur or the environment was to change then perhaps the task force may well re-visit. At this stage I cannot say but certainly the task force will exist to the end of the tournament."

ICC deploys Lawson to convince players

It's safe to play in Pakistan: That's what the ICC wants Geoff Lawson to tell players in Australia and New Zealand.

Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, has been recruited by the ICC to try and ensure that the best players turn up for the Champions Trophy, to be held in September in Lahore and Karachi.

Lawson, who has been a consistent advocate for international teams coming to play in the country, left Pakistan for Australia in the early hours of this morning. He will also visit New Zealand and will be gone for approximately 12 days, addressing the nations' concerns as part of an ICC task force.

"The ICC made the request about ten days ago," Mansoor Suhail, a PCB spokesman, told Cricinfo. "He has been living here and he is Australian so it is a good thing. He will go meet players and tell them what it is like here."

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, said later that the Lawson move had been a spontaneous one. "Geoff Lawson offered to join us," he said. "He lives in Lahore so he has a better sense of what is transpiring in Pakistan. He has decided to join us and go and talk to those players, member boards and convey his confidence to those people. It wasn't an invitation from the task force. It was just some people discussing it personally and thought it might be worthwhile him going."

The trip is to be funded by the ICC's task force, which has been in Pakistan assessing venues and security arrangements ahead of the tournament. "It is a very logical thing to do," Suhail said. "They are funding the trip and hopefully it will assuage the concerns of leading players and convince them to come here."

Lorgat said on Monday that the task force would visit Australia, New Zealand and England in an attempt to convince the players to tour Pakistan. One group, which will be led by the ICC's David Richardson, will meet with Cricket Australia on Friday, with Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke representing the team.

Creagh O'Connor, the Cricket Australia chairman, James Sutherland, the chief executive, and Paul Marsh, the Australian Cricketers' Association chief executive, will also be part of the proceedings. New Zealand officials will be visited on Thursday while another ICC group, headed by Lorgat, will go to England, where South Africa are playing, early next week.

The task force has taken considerable input from Lawson as well as David Dwyer, the team trainer and another Australian, during their time in Lahore. Lawson had recently expressed delight over the "positive voices" coming from Australia and New Zealand, after umpire Simon Taufel said he was willing to tour and Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain, made remarks supportive of playing in Pakistan.

Following the ICC board's decision last month to go ahead with the tournament in Pakistan, players' associations in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa had raised concerns over the security situation, even warning of a possible boycott. Similar doubts were echoed by the international captains Graeme Smith, Kevin Pietersen and Ricky Ponting.

Shoaib completes remarkable comeback

Pakistan squad for Champions Trophy

Shoaib Malik (capt), Salman Butt, Nasir Jamshed, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal (wk), Bazid Khan, Khalid Latif, Shoaib Akhtar, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Iftikhar Anjum, Abdur Rauf, Saeed Ajmal

Shoaib Akhtar capped an ultimately inevitable but nevertheless remarkable comeback into the Pakistan side, being named in the 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy. The inclusion became inevitable only recently after various, protracted legal battles were semi-won and other fast bowlers suffered injuries or became embroiled in doping scandals; it is remarkable because only in April was he banned for five years by the board, his career seemingly over.

Kamran Akmal also made a mildly surprising comeback into the squad, having lost his place to Sarfraz Ahmed during the Asia Cup, due mainly to exceedingly poor form behind the stumps. But Pakistan's selection committee has banked on Akmal's batting strength and experience.

Umar Gul has also been included after his rib injury was cleared by the board's medical committee. Gul, who picked up the problem during the Asia Cup, has not bowled since then and didn't do so during the practice games in Multan last week. Shahid Afridi and Salman Butt also made the squad despite missing the trial games. Afridi was attending to a domestic problem and had been under pressure over his poor recent form, while Butt had just recently undergone appendicitis surgery.

As ever, however, the headlines will go to Shoaib. He was named in a preliminary list of probables after the Lahore High Court temporarily suspended an 18-month ban imposed on him by the PCB, itself reduced from the initial five-year punishment. Since then he has worked his way back steadily to some kind of fitness - he last played an international last year in India - choosing to opt out of a training camp to work on his own.

He then impressed in the trial matches, where witnesses said he bowled with sustained speed ad accuracy. "We held two trial matches where Akhtar proved his fitness and he is willing to return and since he is determined he is an asset for Pakistan," chief selector Salahuddin Ahmed told a news conference.

The PCB has also apparently softened its stance over the question of an outstanding fine they said Shoaib had to pay before he was cleared to play. Shoaib has refused to pay the Rs 7 million fine while he waits for the court to rule on whether it will overturn the ban, a decision expected to be made once courts restart in September.

"His lawyer has argued that Akhtar can pay the fine once the appeal against the reduced ban is heard in the court, so we have decided to keep the legal matter and cricket separate," PCB chief operating officer Shafqat Naghmi said.

Mohammaf Yousuf's opting out of the tournament as it was played during Ramadan has led to the recall of Bazid Khan, son of Majid, while a place has also been found for the young Karachi opener Khalid Latif.

Pakistan, hosting the tournament for the first time from September 12, is drawn in the same group as India, Australia and the West Indies, against whom they open the tournament.

ICC panel to assess umpire review system

An ICC panel of experts will meet soon to assess the umpire review system used during the recent India-Sri Lanka Test series and decide whether it's appropriate to implement the system for the Champions Trophy next month and subsequently, Cricinfo has learnt.

Considering that the Champions Trophy is starting in Pakistan on September 12, the panel is expected to meet over a teleconference to arrive at a decision in time. An ICC spokesperson has confirmed the development.

It's understood the system will be assessed by a sub-committee of the ICC cricket committee, and will comprise Dave Richardson, the ICC's general manager (cricket), umpire Simon Taufel, Clive Lloyd, the ICC cricket committee chairman, Tim May, the chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations, Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka vice-captain, and Anil Kumble, the India captain.

Taufel will represent the umpires' views on the system and also present the feedback of the umpires who were involved with the implementing it in Sri Lanka, including Rudi Koertzen, Mark Benson and Billy Doctrove. May will present the views of cricketers worldwide on the system and Lloyd, a former match referee, will bring in a match official's perspective.

All the members of this panel, except Kumble, are part of the governing body's cricket committee. The ICC spokesperson said Kumble was co-opted to the panel as he was "directly involved with the system, and would also represent the viewpoint of the Indian players who were part of the reviews during the recent three-Test series".

The ICC had implemented the review system after it was recommended by its cricket committee this May. It was initially expected to be implemented during the England-South Africa Test series but was initiated in Colombo instead, and has since sparked a debate on its effectiveness after a mixed response from the players.

Kumble has asked for a re-look at the system while Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain who led his team to a 2-1 win this week, said that he welcomed the ICC initiative.

Monday, August 11, 2008

England secure consolation victory

Andrew Flintoff completes the consolation win with a towering straight six.

As fresh starts go this wasn't too shabby from England as they wrapped up a consolation six-wicket victory on the final day at The Oval. Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook broke the back of the run chase with a positive opening stand of 123, before Makhaya Ntini and Paul Harris claimed two wickets apiece to take away a little of the gloss. But a week after England were plunged into uncertainty, Andrew Flintoff signed off the victory with a six to give Kevin Pietersen a winning start.

Given the week he has had, the stage appeared set for Pietersen to hit the winning runs until he edged a catch to short leg with 15 required. As captain of England, Pietersen will have to get used to his side giving him some stressful times, but the opening stand meant that, here at least, the late wobble didn't do any more than make victory appear less empathic. Tough challenges lie ahead for him, not least the forthcoming one-day series and tour of India, but he couldn't have done much more at the start of his reign.

Claiming victories after a series has gone was a speciality of England during the 1990s. While this success won't soften the blow of losing the series, it has boosted spirits after a trying couple of weeks when two captains resigned and the questions were being asked about the set-up. With a new leader to impress England were motivated - while South Africa couldn't quite summon one last push - and they produced some periods of vibrant cricket.

Whatever South Africa say, they weren't really up for this contest. They expended such huge amounts of physical and emotional energy at Edgbaston that they couldn't rouse themselves. Makhaya Ntini and, especially, Morne Morkel wasted the new ball and the openers had very little to play at. Strauss after a successful run against New Zealand was back under pressure and was given a life on 4, when he clipped Morkel firmly to Ashwell Prince at leg gully, only for the umpire to call a no-ball. It summed up Morkel's session.

The increase in momentum came from Cook who latched onto a couple of short balls from Ntini and also drove nicely down the ground, a sign that hours with Andy Flower in the nets are paying off. Cook made the most of attacking fields set by Graeme Smith with controlled edges down to third man, and both he and Strauss countered Paul Harris with intent. Despite some spin out of the footmarks they used their feet to disrupt his line and length, taking him through the leg side with confident whips.

Cook reached his fourth half-century of the series with a crunching back-foot drive off Jacques Kallis. After the sleepy opening 45 minutes 98 runs were added in the next 18 overs of the morning and they continued a similar vein after the break before South Africa made a breakthrough, Cook driving at wide ball from Ntini and edging to first slip. It was another opportunity to go begging for Cook and although he ends with a series average of 47 there is a sense of unfulfilment. However, without ever looking in top form he has continued to score runs, which is a testament to his strength of character.

Strauss slowly found more fluency, bring out a perfect on-drive, and went to his first half-century of the series from 95 balls. Ian Bell never settled during his short stay and he paid the price for moving across his stumps when Ntini bowled him behind his legs. An inconvenience became a wobble when, in the next over from Harris, Strauss got an inside edge to Smith at leg slip. Three wickets had gone for 24 and two new batsmen were at the crease.

However, any momentary concerns were settled as Paul Collingwood found the boundary and Pietersen's late departure for 12 was about the only thing that hasn't fitted with his script in the last week. South Africa have deservedly taken the series honours, but Pietersen's England have regained some pride.

Rawalpindi unlikely to host Champions Trophy

Heavy security at the Gaddafi Stadium during the ICC inspection of arrangements for the ICC Champions Trophy.

The ICC delegation in Pakistan will confirm that they are satisfied it is safe for the Champions Trophy to go ahead, although it is unlikely that any matches will be played in Rawalpindi. The tournament's opening has also been rescheduled and the opening match will now take place on September 12, not September 11, as had been originally planned.

"Pakistan has been given all clear to hold the Champions Trophy, the first-ever in this country," Haroon Lorgat, the ICC's chief executive, told reporters in Rawalpindi. "There is a strong likelihood that Karachi and Lahore will hold the matches, thus excluding Rawalpindi as one of the three venues." Lorgat is one of six officials of an ICC task force currently in Pakistan assessing the venues.

Lorgat said that the main reason for the exclusion of Rawalpindi was that it did not stage any games during the Asia Cup and so it was not possible to assess the effectiveness of security at the venue. "There was no way we could formulate an opinion on Rawalpindi," he said. Another reason could be that renovation work on the stadium will not be finished in time for the start.

The last one-dayer Rawalpindi hosted was in December 2006. The city has seen several terrorist attacks in the past year, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

Lorgat added the delegation's meeting with the ministry of the interior was very informative. "The attitude and willingness of the Pakistan government officials to implement security measures was very positive."

But Lorgat admitted it would be a great challenge to convince the players who are reluctant to tour Pakistan. "I think personally from what I have seen and what I have heard and beginning to witness some of the actual security implementation measures, I am quite impressed with the level of security in place. It is another matter to satisfy and improve the confidence of key players."

Lorgat said the task force will visit Australia, New Zealand and England in an attempt to convince the players to tour Pakistan. "We have got a series of visits that follows from completing the visit to Pakistan. We go to Australia and New Zealand and speak to the boards as well as the Players' Association and to the players themselves and then visit to England and let's see what comes out.

"It (to convince) is a big challenge, we will personally tour and its upon us to convey the message and to raise the confidence based on what we have seen and experienced that the security arrangements in place should be sufficient to have the event safe and secure."

A PCB spokesman later told Cricinfo that the tournament will now begin on September 12 instead of a day before as had been planned. "The opening ceremony and ICC awards are on September 10 and it will probably go on till late that evening so we thought it best to have a day in between before the opening match," Mansoor Suhail said. Lorgat admitted to reporters that they had received advice from security consultants that the 12th might be a better day to start.

Pietersen targets the Ashes

Kevin Pietersen: targeting Australia already.

"If we play like we played this week, we'll beat Australia," declared Kevin Pietersen, only minutes after becoming the fourth man in the last 30 years to win his first Test as England captain. If that seemed a tad of an over-reaction to a comfortable but unspectacular dead-rubber triumph, then it was merely an extension of the up-and-at-'em attitude that has revived English spirits at the end of a disappointing series. Pietersen has never stood on ceremony at any stage of his career, and this moment of victory was not likely to change that pattern one iota.

"This is a very exciting stage, but a starting stage," he said. "The key is to turn up to every single Test match like we turned up to this one. With the structures and the players we've got, the type of attack we've had in this game, the way we've gone about the game and the way we've been up for it every single day, and the emotions that the guys have come out with, it's not far away from a perfect start. It's the way we want to play our cricket in the future."

The fact that England have now slipped one place from fourth to fifth in the ICC Test rankings clearly has no bearing on the hyperactive thought-processes that Pietersen has been putting himself through in the week since he assumed the role of England captain. An arduous winter looms in India, followed by a springtime tour of the Caribbean and then a possible home Test series against Sri Lanka (IPL commitments pending). But Pietersen knows full well that there's only one contest that really captures the public imagination, and as such, he's wasted no time in firing the first shots of the 2009 Ashes.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking over the last five days, and I've definitely done a bit of thinking about Australia next year," said Pietersen. "Certainly, a lot more than I would have if I was a player. It's about getting the structure right for a long amount of time so the players can feel comfortable and know their role, and deliver. I think that's very important, over the next nine months, for the boys to learn their roles and deliver next year."

Quite what the Australians will make of Pietersen's long-term ambitions remains to be seen - clearly they won't consider his hubristic approach to be out of character. Nevertheless, there's no doubt that England have hit upon a certain something in the course of this contest. The form and fitness of Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff means that England's attack has been stripped bare and reassembled since the start of the summer, with James Anderson finally confident enough to play a starring role in his own right, and Stuart Broad finding his niche as the junior player in a five-man set-up.

It is a formation that has the capacity to rattle a few opponents in the coming months, but not even Pietersen, surely, will be kidding himself that he's found the answer to the England's post-2005 malaise after one half-decent win. After all, when England last took on South Africa, in the winter of 2004-05, not only did they emerge victorious in a contest that was far more keenly contested than this one, they did so with a team that contained nine of the eleven men who went on to defeat Australia the following summer.

How many of the current eleven can feel confident about their futures just now? Andrew Strauss's first fifty of the series cannot mask another flaccid performance from a player who revived his career against the Kiwis, but who averaged 24 on the last Ashes tour and hasn't gone big against any senior opponent since the Shoaib-less Pakistanis toured England in 2006. Ian Bell's form has shrunk away since his 199 at Lord's, while Tim Ambrose played this match with an expression as hang-dog as if he had already been dropped

In fact, aside from Pietersen, Flintoff and the version of Harmison that turned up at The Oval this week, there's no-one else who can declare with any certainty that they will be in the team that opens the Ashes at Cardiff next summer. Nevertheless, Pietersen's confidence was clearly contagious during the contest just gone. He hasn't got long to formulate a squad that can live up to his ambitions, but his positive and aggressive outlook is a useful starting point.

"It's been a good fun five days, and I've got a real happy tiredness," said Pietersen. "It's about that excitement at the start, but I want to be a guy who talks to the players and they think: 'Yeah, he really truly wants me to do well here.' It's important to have that relationship with your players and your coach where you really want to perform for each other, and you know they'll do anything on the planet for you. It's a recipe for success."

Pietersen was particularly pleased to see the pride and passion come flooding back into England's game during this match, and for that he reserved a special mention for Harmison, who arguably hasn't looked as enthused by international cricket since his blood-letting first morning of the 2005 Ashes at Lord's.

"Big Steve came back in after a time out and he was magnificent," said Pietersen. "I said to Stevey, when I told him he was playing, I want you open, I want you to bowl fast and straight, and bowl like the old Steve Harmison. He said he'd do his best and his best was good enough.

"He's a huge player, absolutely huge, and we've seen this week how important he is for us," said Pietersen. "I'm going to be looking after Steve as best I can, but also looking to get the best out of him as well. I think now he's experienced international cricket again, which he loves, and with the smile he's got now, I'm definitely going to get the best out of him."

Such is Pietersen's confidence in his new-found leadership abilities, he added that he had even been trying to coax Harmison out of his one-day retirement. "It would be lovely to have him coming in first-change with the white ball, but you don't always get what you want in life," he said. Compared to that particular ambition, the Ashes might actually be a doddle.

Clinical Sri Lanka clinch series

Mahela Jayawardene steered Sri Lanka to their second consecutive home series win against India.

Drip by drip, Sri Lanka made their way to a comprehensive series win, their first over India since 2001. On what turned out to be the final day of the series, Sri Lanka did not attack overtly, and kept their composure at crucial junctures - when Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had a long partnership, and also when India struck with two early wickets, after Sri Lanka came out in pursuit of 122.

A bowler short, a batsman limping, the No. 11 in no shape to bat, and only 14 runs ahead with half the team gone, India started the day as no-hopers, but they managed to give Sri Lanka a few nervous moments. Dravid and Laxman - who was nursing an ankle injury - provided resistance for about 90 minutes. Harbhajan Singh played a cameo to take the lead beyond 100, and then took a wicket in his first over.

Sri Lanka seemed in no hurry. They waited patiently, bowled in the right areas, and got the last five Indian wickets without much damage. It was Ajantha Mendis who broke the resistance, dismissing Dravid half an hour before lunch. And when Harbhajan, who hit five boundaries in his 26, looked to take India towards a sizeable lead, Chaminda Vaas, that epitome of discipline, struck in the first over he bowled after his three with the first new-ball.

When India struck early, reducing them to 22 for 2, Sri Lanka didn't look to hit out, and waited instead for Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan to tire. Harbhajan, who opened the bowling in Ishant Sharma's absence, bowled Michael Vandort with an arm-ball; and Zaheer Khan got Kumar Sangakkara soon after on the check-drive. Malinda Warnapura and Mahela Jayawardene weathered the storm, survived lbw shouts, and were content to add only 23 in 10.3 overs before tea.

The two went on to frustrate the Indian bowlers after tea, too. They never looked harried, kept rotating the strike, and by the time the Indians had frustrated themselves into exhausting their reviews, started to have some fun with sweeps - both orthodox and reverse. The only contest in the end was whether Jayawardene would get to a half-century as Warnapura had done earlier. Jayawardene was 46 and Sri Lanka three short of the win when he square-cut Sourav Ganguly for a four to end the match.

That India had a semblance of a chance when they began bowling was thanks to the partnership between Laxman and Dravid. Coming out of bad patches, they took the first steps towards what briefly seemed to be an incredible comeback, before they were stopped. Nonetheless it was the best partnership between two of the Fab Four in this series. The two looked comfortable reading the spinners, nudging and flicking for singles at ease, and capitalising on the fields set by rotating the strike. Laxman, who had Gautam Gambhir running for him, was visibly in pain, limping away to square leg when he got singles.

VVS Laxman scored a fighting 61 not out despite an injured ankle, but finally ran out of partners.

Dravid and Laxman lasted as long as they did thanks in no small measure to Sri Lanka's strategy: for much of the time, they didn't employ conspicuously attacking fields, and gave away singles for free as they tried to prevent boundaries. As a result, despite the time consumed, India's lead never reached threatening proportions.

The day started with Dravid closing in on his first half-century of the series, which he brought up with a punched boundary off Mendis. He then settled down again, looking determined as he played the most confident innings by an Indian middle-order batsman in the series. Laxman at the other end received plenty of favours from Sri Lanka. When he was on 35, he edged Muttiah Muralitharan, but there was no slip. The field at that time had no slip and no silly point, and had a short mid-on, a short midwicket, a short square leg, and a backward square leg. In Murali's next over, Laxman was dropped by Thilan Samaraweera at short mid-on. After he got to his second half-century of the series, he was dropped by Malinda Warnapura at forward short leg.

In between those drops and missed chances, he hit Dammika Prasad for two delightful boundaries, but those were about the only quick runs India got from Sri Lanka, who stuck to their plan of not letting India run away with the game, testing their patience and resolve, knowing the wicket-taking delivery would come.

Come it did, courtesy Mendis, who, bowling from round the stumps, drew Dravid forward and got the ball to move enough to take the edge. Then Murali, who had started from over the stumps, came back round, and got Kumble lbw with an accurate offbreak. Mendis ended with 26 wickets, the best for a debutant in a three-match series, and Murali with 21.

Sri Lanka have now won 13 of their last 16 series at home, and have not lost to India at home since 1993. The way Mendis and Murali bowled through the series bodes well for the continuation of Sri Lanka's near-invincibility at home. It could signal the beginning of the end for the most feared middle order in world cricket.

Tendulkar ruled out of ODI series

An elbow injury has forced Sachin Tendulkar out of the ODI series in Sri Lanka.

Sachin Tendulkar will not play the five-ODI series in Sri Lanka after sustaining an injury to his left elbow during the third Test in Colombo. S Badrinath, the Tamil Nadu batsman, is likely to be his replacement.

"I spoke to Sachin and the team physio [Nitin Patel] this morning and I can confirm that Tendulkar has been ruled out of action for two to three weeks," Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI's chief administrative officer, told Cricinfo.

Tendulkar had jarred his elbow while attempting a catch in the 47th over of Sri Lanka's first innings on Saturday, and was quickly taken off. An MRI scan revealed a swelling, and Tendulkar didn't take the field for the rest of the innings. However, he did bat in India's second innings on Sunday, though two places below his customary No. 4 position. Tendulkar was out for 14, which still leaves him 77 short of surpassing Brian Lara as the leading run-getter in Tests.

No replacement has been confirmed as yet, though Badrinath is the frontrunner. "I believe that the possibility of Badrinath being sent as a replacement is being discussed. But that's not 100% final, as of now," Shetty said. "We have been informed by the physio that Sachin has been ruled out for the remainder of the series, and there is a good possibility of Badrinath being sent as a replacement," a national selector said.

The five-match series will be played from August 18-29.

Tendulkar had missed the Asia Cup in Pakistan due to a groin injury, and had been named in the ODI squad for Sri Lanka as well as the Champions Trophy in Pakistan which takes place in September. His last one-day match was the second final of the Commonwealth Bank Series against Australia in Brisbane in March 2008.

NZ Cricket should take call on Pakistan - Vettori

All or nothing: Daniel Vettori wants a full-strength team for the Champions Trophy in Pakistan.

Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, says he doesn't want to lead a less than full-strength team for the Champions Trophy in Pakistan, and has asked New Zealand Cricket (NZC) to take a decision on the team's visit to the country.

Vettori said he and other senior players had concerns over their safety, but felt the decision shouldn't be left to individuals. "I think that's the important bit. It's all well and good me saying no, that I'm not going after playing for a long time but it'd be unfair to put a Daniel Flynn or a Tim Southee in that position," Vettori said. "For me personally, I want to make sure that it's a collective decision and not put in front of young guys, because the young guys probably don't have the same options as the more experienced players."

The ICC task force is currently in Pakistan to assess the security situation, and their report will determine whether the tournament goes ahead as scheduled. Players' associations have already expressed their doubts, and Tim May, the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations chief executive, is part of the delegation visiting Pakistan.

Vettori backed Justin Vaughan, NZC chief executive, and Heath Mills, the New Zealand Players' Association chief, to make the right decision. "I know that they'll put players safety concerns first before they make a decision about turning up to the tournament."

New Zealand are slated to tour Pakistan for a three-ODI series later this month, but Mills had said it's unlikely it would take place. NZC, though, haven't taken a decision yet.

Vettori also gave the thumbs up to Greg Shipperd as New Zealand coach. Shipperd, a coach with Victoria, was considering applying for the post, to be vacated by John Bracewell next year, and had coached Vettori's IPL team, the Delhi Daredevils. "I was only there for a short period of time but I really enjoyed his coaching style," Vettori said. "He's a guy who had a good knowledge of the game - obviously it was only Twenty20 but he's been successful with Victoria and he had success with Delhi.

"He's got a pretty simplistic style but it was one that I enjoyed while I was there ... he'll be one of the guys that New Zealand Cricket will have a good look at."

Vettori said he was in discussions with Vaughan and said he would be informed about the final choice. However, he suggested John Wright, the former India coach, was unlikely to apply. New Zealand Cricket have stated Wright was the favourite for the post.

"I'm pretty sure he hasn't [applied] but things can change with Wrighty so we'll wait and see," he said."I really don't know - I haven't spoken to John for a while. I think people know his credentials and what a fantastic coach he was with India, but he's taken on a new role with NZC and maybe that's where he wants to stay."