Saturday, August 23, 2008

Form and numbers point to Sri Lanka

Sanath Jayasuriya hasn't fired yet in the series but he returns to a venue where he has an imposing record against the Indians.

Match facts

Sunday, August 24, 2008
Start time 2.30pm (local time) 0900 (GMT)
Big Picture

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and S Badrinath saved India the blushes with a series-levelling win in Dambulla on Wednesday, but the manner in which the win was achieved suggests Sri Lanka remain the favourites for the next game. The venue will suit them too: the last three matches will all be played at the Premadasa Stadium, a venue in which they have won 44 ODIs and lost just 17, giving them a win-loss ratio which is among the best by any team at any ground.

It isn't just that history favours them; they are the better team on current form as well. The batting stuttered badly in the second game, but there's enough firepower and experience in the top order to ensure that the mistakes aren't repeated, while the bowling, especially in home conditions, hardly ever falters.

India, on the other hand, have plenty of top-order worries: the batting line-up has failed to decode the mysteries of Ajantha Mendis, and even a target of 143 seemed like a huge mountain to climb. Gautam Gambhir's return will be a plus, but the rest of the batsmen will need to lift it a couple of notches as well. The bowling, especially the display of Zaheer Khan, has been terrific so far, and the onus will probably be on them to cover up for the deficiencies of the batsmen.

Form guide (last 5 ODIs)

Sri Lanka LWWLW

Watch out for

Sanath Jayasuriya clearly loves facing the Indians at the Premadasa Stadium, and the fact that he has only scored 23 from two innings in the series so far suggests he is due for some runs. In his last seven innings against them here, Jayasuriya has topped 50 five times. Expect more fireworks on Sunday.

Gautam Gambhir has looked the best equipped to play spin among the current Indian batsmen, and if he sees off the new-ball threat, he could well provide the solidity that the team has lacked in the first two games.

Badrinath v Murali and Mendis: Badrinath handled the Sri Lankan spin threats with plenty of assurance in his debut innings. Can he repeat the act?

Team news

Sri Lanka's middle order folded without a trace last Wednesday, but Mahela Jayawardene made it clear that changes will not be made on the basis of that one display. That means Chamara Silva - who has six single-digit scores in his last nine ODI innings, including ducks in his last two - will retain his place. Chaminda Vaas is likely to return, though, after recovering from a hamstring niggle that kept him out of the previous ODI, and will get an opportunity to take the one wicket he needs to join Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Muttiah Muralitharan in the 400-wicket club. If Vaas passes the fitness test, Dilhara Fernando will probably sit out.

Sri Lanka (likely) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Chamara Silva, 5 Chamara Kapugedera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Chaminda Vaas, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Thilan Thushara, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.

With Gambhir having recovered from a stiff neck that kept him out of the second ODI, the Indian team will see at least one change. Rohit Sharma, who made a second-ball duck in that game and has struggled recently, will probably make way for Gambhir, while Badrinath will keep his place in the middle order after an impressive and composed unbeaten 27 on debut.

India (likely) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virat Kohli, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 S Badrinath, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Praveen Kumar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Munaf Patel.

Pitch & conditions

The pitch is expected to be firm, and a better one for batting than in Dambulla, but the weather could have a major role to play as well: rains disrupted India's practice session today, and more thundershowers are forecast tomorrow. The Premadasa Stadium is tied with the SSC as the grounds to have hosted the maximum number of washed out games - six each - and if the forecast turns out to be accurate, this ground could sneak into sole leadership position in a rather unwanted category.

Stats & Trivia

* In day-night games at the Premadasa since 2000, teams batting first have won 23 times and lost ten. Sri Lanka have a 11-2 record when batting first during this period. When chasing in day-night games, their record drops to 6-4.

* India have an 8-12 win-loss record in day-night games here, but under lights against Sri Lanka that records drops to 3-10. In the last five completed games against the hosts they've won one and lost five.

* Jayasuriya has scored 2212 runs at the Premadasa Stadium. Only Inzamam-ul-Haq, with 2464 runs at Sharjah, has scored more at a single ground. (Click here for the full list.)

* Jayasuriya has an outstanding record against India at this ground, averaging 52.22 at a strike rate of 96.60, but Jayawardene and Sangakkara haven't had as much success here.

* Murali's 14 wickets against India here have cost him 38.85 each, while Vaas has been more successful with 18 wickets at 26.16. (Click here for the full list.)


"We were a bit disappointed the way we handled that situation in Dambulla. We knew it was going to be a tough period in that morning session. We've wanted to execute certain things which we couldn't. But that game's gone; it's a different wicket tomorrow and we have to prepare ourselves for this challenge."
Mahela Jayawardene is confident his batsmen won't repeat their mistakes from the second ODI.

"To see young players like Kohli and Badrinath come in and do well is promising, staking a claim for further honours. They took a bit of responsibility too. It's good to see young players come in and feel comfortable in the international set-up. It is very important for Indian cricket that we have competition for places."
Gary Kirsten, the India coach, is happy with the progress of the young players

Orthodoxy is the best form of attack

Gautam Gambhir played the prototype of the perfect one-day innings against Sri Lanka in Brisbane earlier this year, and remains the man India need to bat around.

The success of the bowlers in a low-scoring series has left the batsmen with plenty to do as the bandwagon moves back to Colombo for the last three matches. The indifference of the batsmen in the first two matches in Dambulla has given both sides cause for concern, and both captains have banked on a more traditional ODI track to nudge ahead in the series. Irregardless of the nature of the track, the two sides need to sort out their batting problems.

On Wednesday, Sri Lanka were 44 for 6 by the 18th over of their innings and India were 75 for 5 by the end of the 20th over. The damage had been done by the bowlers and India were only saved by a smart 60-run partnership between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and debutant S Badrinath. The orthodox approach the two took, getting down and dirty to knuckle towards victory, could be the best way for the two teams' batsmen to approach the first of three fixtures at the Premadasa Stadium, a ground built on swamp land, and with a spin-friendly reputation.

Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper, feels the batsmen have been indecisive so far, and felt that orthodoxy would pay out over panache. "We've seen two low-scoring games in Dambulla, where it was hard to know when the time was to play your shots," he told Cricinfo, "because at the start it was hard to get into rhythm when the ball was doing a lot. There was not enough solidarity. That attitude is vital in any form of cricket: stick around, watch the ball, and hit it. In one-day cricket there are field restrictions so a batsman can try his luck with the new ball but good orthodox cricket and patient shots always wins in the end."

In eschewing the extravagant shots and nudging the ball around for singles and the odd harried double, Dhoni and Badrinath proved that Mendis could be thwarted. In contrast, India's top order perished even before spin had arrived in the first match. Similarly, Sri Lanka's batting order capsized in trying to dominate from the outset.

"We were a bit disappointed the way we handled that situation," said Mahela Jayawardene. "We knew it was going to be a tough period in that morning session and wanted to execute certain plans. We couldn't, and that game is gone."

Bumping Yuvraj Singh, better against pace than spin, down the order may be a wise move. If the others before him can handle Mendis and Murali and set a platform Yuvraj can be devastating at the end

For starters, the teams would do well to identify what a match-winning total is. The average score at the Premadasa since 2000 has been 230. The difference, starting tomorrow, could well be who plays the patient innings. During his Asia Cup final hundred Sanath Jayasuriya batted time out while four early wickets fell, set himself up, and played a match-winning century. Gautam Gambhir played the prototype of the perfect one-day innings against Sri Lanka in Brisbane earlier this year, and remains the man India need to bat around.

Given the threat posed by Muttiah Muralitharan and Mendis after the Powerplays, the role of a player like Gambhir is significant, given his success against them in the Tests. Dhoni, a noted floater, needs to come up the order and aim to bat for a long time. Bumping Yuvraj Singh, better against pace than spin, down the order may be a wise move. If the others before him can handle Mendis and Murali and set a platform Yuvraj can be devastating at the end.

Sri Lanka's preferred opening combination in the series, Jayasuriya and Sangakkara, has yet to fire and bar two innings from Jayawardene and Chamara Kapugedera in the opener, the middle order has been poor. Instead of playing their shots, like they did in Dambulla, the batsmen may find success working themselves in and accelerating later.

India's nervous victory in the second Dambulla fixture has revived a series which many reckoned Sri Lanka would sweep after Mendis and Murali walloped India in the Tests. Now, with the series level at 1-1, both teams have everything to play for at the Premadasa. A traditional one-day venue it is, and a traditional approach from the batsmen could prove crucial.

Clarke promises attacking and positive leadership

Michael Clarke has had successful times when in charge of the Australian team.

Michael Clarke will use the lessons learned from his previous captains when he leads Australia against Bangladesh in his first full series in the top job. Clarke's major duties start in Darwin on Saturday, when he steps in for the injured Ricky Ponting, and while he has thought of his predecessors, he also intends to follow his own instincts in the three matches.

"I've always played my cricket my own way and that's certainly the way I want to lead the team," Clarke, who guided the side during two one-day games in the West Indies, told the Sun-Herald. "I think I can do that, along with the help and advice of those who've come before me.

"I plan to be a captain who leads in the same style that I play. I feel that I'm an attacking and positive sort of player. I love the challenge of a hard-fought game of cricket. I like being the one who is responsible for making the right or wrong decision."

Clarke, who is now 27, has played under some of Australia's most successful leaders and he has thought of them when working out his own outlook. "There are strengths in each of the captains I've played under," he said. "I've had Waugh, Ponting, Warne - a lot of good captains, even at grade level. But the key thing I've learnt from a number of them has been to always be your own person.

"You need to back yourself 100% and always believe in yourself. You need to back your instinct. If you feel like you want to make a change or something, you have to back your own judgment and ability. That's certainly one of Punter's strengths and it's a strength of pretty much all the captains I've played under."

However, Clarke said he was prepared to go his own way. "The last thing I want to do is be like someone else," he said. Clarke's leadership record is currently unblemished after victories in two Twenty20 encounters and success in both the one-day games in the West Indies in July.

Ponting to test injured wrist in nets

Ricky Ponting missed the end of the Caribbean tour with a wrist injury and is now ready to bat again.

Ricky Ponting will have his first net session on Sunday since undergoing surgery on his injured right wrist last month. Ponting suffered the problem during the ODI series in the West Indies in June and immediately flew home for an operation on the tissues that hold a tendon in place.

He has been ruled out of Australia's one-day series against Bangladesh, which starts next weekend at Marrara Oval, although he could yet fly to Darwin with the team so he can continue batting in the nets. Ponting will first have to test himself with a bat at Australia's training camp in Brisbane.

"I'll attempt to start hitting some balls for the first time and see if my wrist is strong enough and up to it yet," Ponting told AAP. "What I do from there will depend on what I do Sunday.

"If it's okay then I'll probably stay around for a few extra days and get what batting I can. If it's no good then I'll probably go back home and join up with the guys before we head off to the Champions Trophy."

Michael Clarke captained Australia during their final two one-day internationals in the Caribbean and is again in charge against Bangladesh. The team could yet be without Matthew Hayden, who was named in the squad but is still recovering from an achilles tendon strain.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pietersen leads the way in opening victory

Kevin Pietersen played another captain's innings then grabbed two wickets for good measure.

Kevin Pietersen is having quite an impact as England captain. If it wasn't enough winning his first Test and persuading Steve Harmison out of one-day retirement, he then did more than most to help his team take a series lead against South Africa with a 20-run victory at Headingley. He hit an unbeaten 90 off 82 balls, adding 158 in 21 overs with Andrew Flintoff, then claimed two crucial wickets as the visitors threatened to pull away in the run chase.

England's latest attempts to form a winning one-day unit comes with Pietersen's stamp of aggression, hence the trend towards pace bowling and hard-hitting, free-scoring batsmen. For two thirds of their innings, though, little appeared to have changed as just five fours a six came in 34 overs - all from Matt Prior's bat. However, England banked on having a middle-order filled with strikers and in Pietersen and Flintoff, they possess two of the most destructive one-day batsmen around. The pair crunched 94 off the last 10 overs, showing what can be achieved with wickets in hand, as South Africa's bowling became ragged and the fielding was poor.

In contrast to England's sedate approach, South Africa went hard at the start of their chase and put themselves ahead of the rate, reaching 139 for 2 after 25 overs. However, everything changed when Pietersen surprisingly brought himself onto bowl. By the end of the innings he'd doubled his one-day wicket tally after getting AB de Villiers caught at midwicket and benefiting from a swift piece of glovework from Prior to stump Mark Boucher.

It wasn't just with the ball that Pietersen shone during the second innings, his captaincy had a touch of the magic about it, too. In the eighth over, Pietersen turned to Harmison and it took him less than an over to strike when he hit the perfect line to take Smith's outside edge with his fourth delivery. Flintoff wasn't quite the metronome he can be and was picked off by Jacques Kallis, but then Pietersen dipped into his captain's handbook and pulled out another trick.

Holding back the final Powerplay, he brought Samit Patel into the attack with his left-arm spin and it proved a master stroke. Patel's fourth ball was quicker and flatter, beating Gibbs as he lent back to cut. Patel's first ODI wicket was Neil McCallum, against Scotland last week, but with a due respect to the Scots this one will have meant a little more.

However, Kallis and de Villiers moved along comfortably in their third-wicket stand of 49 in 11 overs. Then de Villiers flicked lazily to Ian Bell and, shortly after reaching fifty off 63 balls, Kallis, struggling with a leg problem, was run out after some quick thinking by Bell. Boucher showed in the Test series, at Edgbaston, that he is ideal in a run chase, but his opposite number, Prior, was very alert to a raised foot.

JP Duminy had the skill to guide South Africa home, but Harmison came back to find a thin outside and Johan Botha holed out at deep midwicket. The lower order, without the injured Albie Morkel, didn't have the power to keep up. Flintoff just had time to remind everyone that he's meant to be the main allrounder in the team.

England's success showed that there is more than one way to play one-day cricket, especially in their conditions, even though the new-look top three seemed to drift as more than half the innings came and went. Bell, after batting through 19 overs, and Prior after 42 off 52 balls both picked out backward point of Kallis and Owais Shah top-edged to deep square-leg.

Flintoff ignited the innings when he found the boundary in the 35th over, the first man other than Prior to locate the rope, and initially Pietersen was happy to feed him the strike. The change of ball at the 34-over mark helped England, the harder one making it easier to use the pace of South Africa's attack. Flintoff opened his front leg to hit strongly through the off side, and also rifled the ball with the straight power that typifies his batting when he's at his best. He reached fifty off 52 deliveries, his first half-century since the unbeaten 72 he made against New Zealand, at Hobart, in January 2007 and, when he was bowled moving across his stumps to Dale Steyn, his 78 was his highest ODI innings since making 87 against Australia, at Lord's, in 2005.

Pietersen was fortunate to survive an lbw shout off Botha on 18, and was close to being run out on 22 when he dived for the crease, the third umpire ruling the bat had just been grounded before it then bounced up as the stumps were broken. He eventually earned his first boundary off his 52nd delivery, but had a clear mindset on what he wanted to achieve, and then began to invent as he went to a fifty from 55 balls. He timed his charge and took 10 off two balls from Steyn in the 46th over, including the second six of the innings over midwicket.

What Pietersen is quickly realising is that his job now doesn't stop with the bat and his role in the field is just as important. It's a learning experience and he's learning fast. At some point life will get tougher for him, but today wasn't that moment.

South Africa pull out of tournament

Where they stand

  • Cricket Australia: "We have considerable reservations ... The security advice does not give us any great encouragement"
  • Australian Cricketers' Association: "Our position is we can't recommend to our players they should tour Pakistan"
  • ECB: "We have got some more meetings to go through and we need to get all the information we can get on the situation before a final decision is taken"
  • Professional Cricketers' Association (England): "We've still got some very serious concerns, despite the fact that the PCB have made every effort they can to try to make it as safe as possible"
  • BCCI: "We are supporting Pakistan as the venue of the Champions Trophy. Our Indian team had taken part in the Asia Cup without any incident"
  • New Zealand Cricket Players Association: "They (security plans) are 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"
  • Sri Lanka Cricket: "We are prepared to host the tournament, if needed. (But) It should go ahead as scheduled in Pakistan"
  • West Indies Cricket Board: "At this stage one has to be very careful with the players' safety and what each country has put in place for their team's well being"

Pakistan's chances of hosting the Champions Trophy, which is scheduled to begin on September 12, have received a huge blow with Cricket South Africa (CSA) deciding on Friday that it will not send its team to the country, prompting fears that more national boards are likely to follow.

Australia, New Zealand and England, who have also expressed serious security concerns over touring, are yet to reaffirm their participation for the tournament. And if those countries do follow South Africa, it's learnt that efforts could be made to save the tournament by persuading Pakistan to step aside on its own and let Sri Lanka, the official alternate venue, host the event.

"There is only one way left to save the Champions Trophy and that is for Pakistan to step down on its own and let Sri Lanka host the event," a senior official associated with the tournament, told Cricinfo. "If 2-3 other teams, like Australia and New Zealand, follow South Africa, and Pakistan insists that they will host the tournament, it will have to be cancelled."

South Africa announced its decision to pull out of the event following a meeting with the ICC task force in Johannesburg on Friday. In a statement, CSA said it assessed the presentation made by the team, led by ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat, as well as the information available from a number of other security reports, including one from the South African government, before arriving at a conclusion.

"After extensive discussions and frank exchange of views, the board resolved not to send our team at this time to Pakistan to participate in the ICC Champions Trophy," Norman Arendse, the CSA president, said. "We respect the right of the Pakistan Cricket Board to stage the tournament and we would urge the ICC to reschedule the tournament as soon as possible."

However, the official that Cricinfo spoke to ruled out the possibility of the event being rescheduled because "the calendar is packed for the next year and it's next to impossible to get dates from all the eight participating teams". Then again, ESPN-Star Sports, the official broadcaster, is unlikely to agree to an event with substitute teams like Bangladesh but seem willing to go ahead with the Sri Lanka option, he said.

"The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is aware that the blast on Thursday in Islamabad, which killed around 60 people, has weakened their case significantly. And Sri Lanka has repeatedly said that they are prepared to host the tournament. So it all depends on Pakistan. They could even be offered the next edition of the tournament, if that is an acceptable solution," the official said.

In such a scenario, India's position will be crucial as the BCCI has adopted a hardline stance on the issue, arguing that the tournament cannot be shifted from Pakistan on "flimsy grounds". "The Indian board has stood by Pakistan even if it means that the tournament might be cancelled. But if Pakistan agrees to stand down from its current position, the BCCI should have no problems with that," the official said.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), meanwhile, said it was "deeply disappointed" by South Africa's "hasty" pullout. "We are deeply disappointed and when a decision was to be made on Sunday we think South Africa made a hasty choice," Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, told AFP. "Now it's up to the ICC to take a decision but I would say South Africa's refusal will badly hurt the event. We will still do our best to save the event and host it on schedule."

Later on Friday, members of the ICC's task force met to "discuss the feedback received from meetings with stakeholders from Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa" on the tournament. "That feedback was discussed and will now be considered by the ICC Board, which is scheduled to have its own teleconference on Sunday. The task team noted the decision of Cricket South Africa not to send a team to the Champions Trophy," the ICC stated in a release.

Top-order batsmen hold the key

Unlike India's top order, Sri Lanka's wears a settled look.

After two low-scoring games in Dambulla, the teams move to three straight day-night contests at the Premadasa, and the statistics suggest what happens in the rest of the series could lie in the starts given by the top-order batsmen.

In 60 day-night games, Nos 1-3 average 35.78 per wicket, that figure falling to 29.84 for the next three in the line-up. Sanath Jayasuriya is the leading run-getter at the Premadasa - his 2212 is only 252 short of the record for most at a single stadium - followed by Marvan Atapattu, another top-order bat. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag have also scored big here - Tendulkar's aggregate of 872 here is the most for any Indian batsmen at a venue outside of Sharjah.

With the advent of Powerplays teams pack their top order with their most instinctive - and destructive - stroke players. Unlike India, who have major injury woes and are searching for rhythm, Sri Lanka are settled, with Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara in their top three. Sangakkara feels the responsibility will be on the top order. "If one of them bats into the 40th over and beyond, the side is going to get a large score," he told Cricinfo. "That is the kind of attitude that top-order players should carry into a match. A team then has one player who they can bat around and it gives the late middle-order a chance to attack. It is a foundation on which to build a huge score."

The Premadasa has hosted 81 one-day internationals and is a traditional one-day pitch that offers runs for the batsmen and purchase for the spinners. The pitch favours the batsmen more than Dambulla did, which should please both sides. The average runs per wicket is 29.33, scored at 4.61 an over, which equates to 230.5 in 50 overs. Teams that have won the toss and opted to bat first have won 32 times and lost 22.

Beating Sri Lanka at home has always been tough, but it's been even harder in day-night matches, and especially those played the Premadasa. In a line-up without Tendulkar and Sehwag, India are searching for adequate replacements at the top. Gautam Gambhir is likely to return but Virat Kohli has looked scratchy in his three innings on tour when thrust into the opening slot. Irfan Pathan didn't fire when given the chance, leaving S Badrinath as a potential opener. He's never opened in limited-overs domestic cricket but is a compact player and confident against pace.

With a spin attack comprising Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, it would not be a bad option for India's best batsmen to get their eye in against the medium-pacers. That could mean a promotion to No. 3 for Yuvraj Singh (a better option than straightaway exposing his weakness against quality spin) or Mahendra Singh Dhoni (who seems a good anchor for the rest to play around, rather than leave himself for a recovery act).

Both sides played six batsmen and five bowlers in the second game on a two-paced Dambulla track but such were the conditions that the batsmen were uncertain of when to play their shots. At the start of both matches the ball was doing a fair bit and it was hard for the batsmen to get into rhythm. "It was a very confusing time for both teams," Sangakkara said. "None of them really came to terms with how the pitch was playing."

One-day cricket was irreversibly changed 14 years ago when India, chasing 143 to beat New Zealand in Auckland, sent Tendulkar to open. A few years later Jayasuriya's revved-up approach to the same task powered Sri Lanka's successful World Cup campaign and took pinch-hitting to a new level. Tendulkar is back in India nursing an injured elbow, but Jayasuriya will pad up to open the innings. A good opening shot by either side may well close down the series.

Hair quits to focus on coaching

Darrell Hair officiated in 78 Tests and 138 ODIs in a 17-year career.

Darrell Hair, the Australian umpire, has handed in his resignation to the ICC in order to take up a coaching role.

Hair returned to top-flight umpiring in March, six months after a period of rehabilitation that was enforced by his employers, the ICC, in response to the forfeited England-Pakistan Oval Test in 2006. Hair officiated in two Tests between England and New Zealand in May but, in spite of continuing to be on the Elite Panel of umpires, he has not been offered any more.

Consequently, he has decided to end what has been a successful umpiring career, albeit one blighted by controversy in recent years. He takes up his new role with the New South Wales Umpires and Scorers Association (NSWUSA) in 10 days.

"Darrell will concentrate on what he will do best: mentor, coaching and getting umpires up to a higher level," Peter Hughes, a spokesman for the NSWUSA, told The Australian.

The fracas at The Oval in 2006 was the first game in history to be forfeited after Pakistan refused to take the field, following Hair's ruling that they had tampered with the ball. Hair was subsequently stood down from any matches which involved full-member nations, although never officially removed from the Elite panel, but continued to stand in Associate games. Indeed, he is currently standing in West Indies' match against Canada in King City. He took the ICC to court claiming racial discrimination, but withdrew his claims seven days into a tribunal in London last October.

He moved back to Australia and went on a six-month rehabilitation course before being reinstated at the ICC's March meeting in Dubai. Yet although he made a quiet return to the fold in England this year, the fact he was to be "kept away" from matches involving Pakistan led many to question his status as an international umpire. In addition, Pakistan were outraged at his return to the fold.

"This has been Darrell's decision and he remains on the elite panel until his contract finishes in October," an ICC spokesman told Cricinfo.

Geeves call-up caps dramatic year

Brett Geeves was Man of the Match in Tasmania's FR Cup final win in 2007-08 but the previous summer he was in and out of the state side.

Brett Geeves, the Tasmania fast bowler, was considering a new career a year ago. He had struggled to pin down a permanent place in the triumphant Tasmania Pura Cup squad of 2006-07 and with the state's pace stocks looking strong, he was in danger of being cut by the Tigers.

Now he could become Australia's newest one-day international player having been called into the squad to take on Bangladesh after Brett Lee pulled out due to his marriage break-up. It caps off a remarkable year for Geeves, who was unexpectedly signed by the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League and played alongside Virender Sehwag, Glenn McGrath and Daniel Vettori.

"I was checking the Saturday employment guides pretty carefully," Geeves told the Mercury of his situation during the 2007 off-season. "I wasn't far off maybe losing my state contract and having to pursue other areas."

His 12 wickets in the Pura Cup in 2006-07 had come at 63.83, he was overlooked for the decider, and his one-day average and economy rate had ballooned as well. His response was to train with a Tasmanian football team during the winter to get himself in the best possible shape to resurrect his career.

"It has been a pretty big turnaround, I've worked pretty hard in the gym and with the Glenorchy footy boys," Geeves said. "It has certainly paid off and I certainly credit that to the success I had last year in the domestic season."

It was quite a fightback. In 2007-08 he was Tasmania's Player of the Year, the equal leading wicket taker in the domestic one-day competition and Man of the Match in the team's FR Cup final victory. While Geeves, 26, is in line for Australia selection, his Tasmania team-mate Jason Krejza also enjoyed an unexpected call-up this week after being picked for Australia A.

Krejza, an offpsinning allrounder, also had a tough off-season in 2007 when he was caught drink-driving and speeding, and lost his licence for seven months. Tasmania suspended him from their pre-season training and banned him from alcohol for the whole of 2007-08.

He picked up 18 Pura Cup wickets last summer and although they came at 47.11 apiece, it was enough for him to go on next month's Australia A trip to India. "I'm proud of the way that I came out of it," Krejza said of his driving offence. "I have got Tassie cricket to thank for that, they helped me quite a lot to get through that.

"As you can see right now, my cricket is right on track so I'm very proud of that fact. Things like that can happen and put your world in perspective to see what is most important to you and I found out cricket is. It always was and I just had to get my priorities right and I did that."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dominant South Africa start as favourites

The gloves are on: Matt Prior returns as England's wicketkeeper.

Match facts

Friday August 22, 2008
Start time 2.30pm (13.30GMT)

Big Picture
Chastened by a 2-1 defeat in the Test series, England have their chance for redemption with the first of five one-dayers against South Africa, beginning at Headingley on Friday. Though much of the focus will be on Kevin Pietersen and how he leads his one-day side, perhaps the most interesting sub-plot of the series will be the opening partnership between Ian Bell and Matt Prior, returning to international cricket after 12 months. Their relationship at the top of the order will be crucial if England are to compete on level terms with South Africa, the No.2 ODI side in the world, who bristle with aggression (they welcome back Herschelle Gibbs) and nous (JP Duminy). With Paul Collingwood still absent following his dubious tactics in the one-day series against New Zealand earlier in the summer, and Ryan Sidebottom again injured, England have it all to do, while Prior has an opportunity to finally nail down England's see-sawing wicketkeeping position.

Form guide
England NLLLN
South Africa WWWWW

Watch out for
Herschelle Gibbs No longer favoured by South Africa as a Test opener, Gibbs comes into the series fresh and firing. A brisk 81 helped South Africa beat England Lions last week, and he offers an explosive, dynamic start to their innings. By his own standards he struggled to make an impact against Bangladesh earlier in the year, but nevertheless has four hundreds in his last fifteen matches. England can only dream of such riches. Opening the innings with his captain, Graeme Smith, will make for a thrilling denouement to the international summer.

Matt Prior Another series, another keeper for England, and this time they've gone back to the tried-and-failed Prior. Dropped after the Test series against India, headlines such as "Prior the buffoon should grow up" hurt his pride, but he has responded in the most sensible manner possible: scoring runs and taking catches. In the Championship alone, he has 841 runs at 56.06. It's another opportunity for him with Tim Ambrose and Phil Mustard both failing to impress in one-day cricket and, you sense, it is one he is desperate to grab: this time, with both hands.

Team news
England are still without Collingwood, who is in the middle of serving a four-match ban following the one-day series against New Zealand, which alters their middle-order somewhat. Samit Patel made his debut in the drizzly encounter against Scotland this week, but it seems likely that England will opt for Graeme Swann and Luke Wright in their middle and lower-order. Again, Ryan Sidebottom has failed a fitness test meaning Tim Bresnan gets another game. Owais Shah - who was "wasted" at No.6, according to Pietersen - will bat at No.3, as England ring the changes and opt for Bell and Prior as their latest opening combination.

England (possible) Ian Bell, Matt Prior (wk), Owais Shah, Kevin Pietersen (capt), Andrew Flintoff, Ravi Bopara, Luke Wright, Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, James Anderson

South Africa have injury concerns of their own, too. Albie Morkel (shoulder) has been ruled out, while his brother, Morne, is trying to shrug off a sidestrain. Meanwhile, Smith warmed up for the series with a neat 50 against England Lions, and leads a strong batting line-up with Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers providing middle-order power. In addition, JP Duminy acts as a dynamic strokeplayer at No.5, along with his useful spinners. Talking of which, Johan Botha is South Africa's main spinning option, having remodelled his action after he was reported by umpires in Australia during South Africa's 2006.

South Africa (probable) Graeme Smith (capt), Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher (wk), Vernon Philander, Johan Botha, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Andre Nel.

Umpires: Ian Gould and Simon Taufel

Pitch and conditions
After the Twenty20 washout at Chester-le-Street there remains a concern that Headingley, too, may not be ready in time for Friday. Heavy showers were forecast for Thursday, and that trend was to continue on Friday too, making the toss all the more important. A fired-up Dale Steyn, who missed the last two matches of South Africa's Test series win, could be an exhilarating prospect on a damp and seaming Leeds pitch.

Stats and Trivia

* South Africa haven't lost a one-dayer since New Zealand beat them at home in November 2007. In fact, they are on a remarkable winning streak of nine-straight victories

* Against England, South Africa have won 22 out of the 35 matches and haven't lost a match against them since January 2005 - the series in which Pietersen made his thrilling international debut

* England have won three out of their last five one-dayers at Headingley, including beating South Africa on the 1998 tour

"There were times when I thought maybe if I didn't keep, my batting average would escalate and I could try and get in just as a batsman."
Matt Prior reveals the steps he considered taking to force his way back into the England side

"During that period, I had to really think about my bowling and be really on my game - so that if something didn't feel right with my bowling I knew what it was."
Johan Botha on his remodelled action and return as South Africa's main spinning option

Tournament hangs in balance

It's expected that the BCCI and PCB will once again highlight the ICC's "positive" security assessment after the Asia Cup in Pakistan in June-July at Sunday's teleconference.

The fate of the Champions Trophy hangs on Sunday's telephone hook-up after it emerged that India and Pakistan have hardened their position on the tournament going ahead as scheduled from September 12 onwards in Karachi and Lahore, leaving the ICC with the possibility of a cancellation otherwise.

An option is to relocate the tournament to Sri Lanka, the official alternate venue - a solution that ESPN-Star Sports (ESS), the official broadcaster, may agree to even at this late stage - but India and Pakistan remain adamant that the tournament cannot be shifted on what they believe are "flimsy grounds".

The ICC, it is learnt, was informed about this view during a meeting at its headquarters in Dubai on Tuesday evening between David Morgan, its president, Sharad Pawar, its vice-president who also heads the BCCI, Haroon Lorgat, its chief executive and Shafqat Naghmi, the chief operating officer of the PCB. Apparently, there is also a credible pullout threat from Pakistan, backed by India, if the venue is changed.

Asked if moving the tournament to Sri Lanka was a solution, a source said, "You can't rule out the possibility of a cancellation, considering the absolute lack of a consensus at this stage."

There is no other alternative for the tournament which involves teams from the top eight cricket nations, sources told Cricinfo. "If countries like Australia pull out, there is no question of the tournament going ahead with substitutes like Bangladesh," a source said. "The broadcasters are not going to allow that."

Crucially, it's understood that ESS is concerned as there is no clarity yet on the tournament, which is less than a month away, and is open to a shift in order to salvage the situation. "Obviously, ESS wants the best teams to participate and ensure a world-class tournament," a source said. "It is possible [to ensure quality coverage] if it is shifted to a nearby country even now, but it will involve significant extra costs for the broadcaster."

The ICC board is expected to take a final decision on the issue during a teleconference on Sunday, two days after its task force on the Champions Trophy discusses the feedback it received from officials and players' representatives in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa.

Players' associations from these countries have insisted security concerns remain - another blast was reported near Islamabad on Thursday - and officials from the Australian Cricketers' Association and the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association have said they would advise teams against touring. Their boards may highlight those views, if not endorse them, on Sunday, but the BCCI and the PCB, with the traditional backing of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, are expected to reiterate that the ICC's "positive" security assessment after the Asia Cup in Karachi and Lahore during June-July leaves no room for doubt.

The ICC, meanwhile, remains firm the tournament will go ahead in Pakistan, as of now, and its officials are in Karachi and Lahore this week, conducting venue inspections. "We are still fighting and are hopeful of hosting the tournament," Naghmi told Cricinfo.

All this, of course, leaves Sri Lanka in an unusual position. Duleep Mendis, Sri Lanka Cricket chief executive, told Cricinfo his country is prepared to host the tournament if needed. However, he said the tournament should go ahead in Pakistan, indicating which way the Asian countries are likely to go if the future of the Champions Trophy comes down to a vote of the ICC board - any decision requires at least a 7-3 majority.

"The issue of security is subjective and what some may believe to be reality will be seen as mere perception by others," a source said. "This is the issue that has to be resolved on Sunday, if the tournament has to go ahead."

Harmison ends ODI retirement

Already back in whites, it's time for Steve Harmison to try some colour.

Steve Harmison has come out of ODI retirement and has been added to England's squad to face South Africa, after Ryan Sidebottom was ruled out of the opening match, at Headingley, due to a groin injury.

"After recently being asked by the England management to reassess my retirement from international one-day cricket I've decided to join England's ODI squad after careful consideration," Harmison said. "It's something I have been thinking about for a period of time and due to recent injuries in the England camp the opportunity has arisen for me to play a role in this series.

"I decided to retire from England's ODI team for a number of reasons, one being the amount of time I was spending away from my family," he said. "Now that my family is settled and my bowling is settled I feel I have something to offer England's ODI side and am looking forward to playing a part in the series against South Africa."

Harmison announced his ODI retirement following the Ashes in Australia and his last ODI was against Australia in Jaipur during the 2006 Champions Trophy. It is a major U-turn from Harmison who, despite his successful return to the Test team at The Oval, continued to insist he was happy to stay out of ODIs.

However, Kevin Pietersen spoke about wanting him back in the one-day side following the Test series against South Africa. "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. Clearly Pietersen has been able to help change Harmison's mind.

Harmison returned to the Test team earlier this month for the first time since being dropped following the Hamilton Test in New Zealand in March. He said that being out of the England set-up has made him hungry to return in both formats of the game. However, he isn't looking beyond the forthcoming five ODIs against South Africa

"Having missed out on selection at various times this year I am well aware of the disappointment that comes from not being a part of the England dressing room," he said. "With that in mind I want to be a part of the team and if that means bringing myself out of retirement to play a role in this upcoming series then I'm happy to do just that.

"At the moment my focus is on doing well in the ODIs against South Africa and I'm not looking beyond that at this stage."

Harmison has played 46 ODIs, taking 67 wickets at 30.70 with best figures of 5 for 33 against Australia, in Bristol, in 2005. He also has an ODI hat-trick, against India at Trent Bridge in 2004.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

India level series with hard-fought win

Zaheer Khan's opening burst set up India's victory.

India fought back to level the series 1-1 with a three-wicket win but the victory was far from convincing as they made heavy weather of a modest target of 143. Zaheer Khan's dramatic opening spell, which sent Sri Lanka's top order reeling, was the highlight of the day as India restricted Sri Lanka to a score four less than what India made on Monday.

The contrast, however, was the manner in which victory was achieved. While Sri Lanka coasted home in the first ODI, India lost early wickets, grafted, lost few more, recovered, and later limped to the target. Mahendra Singh Dhoni kept a cool head and debutant S Badrinath showed maturity in supporting his captain when he came in with 68 needed.

India's batting in the first match forced a change of strategy, but the paucity of specialist openers and the fact that India were playing four medium-pacers forced Dhoni to "bowl out of compulsion" despite a pitch that appeared good for batting by his assessment. His decision in the end proved a masterstroke.

Zaheer's deliveries moved, sliced the batsmen in half, made run-scoring an arduous task and India's body language perked up with each wicket, reflecting their hunger to turn the tables after an embarrassing drubbing.

In his first over, Zaheer produced an inswinger to Kumar Sangakkara which clipped the top of off stump after the batsman played around the line of the ball. Mahela Jayawardene and Chamara Kapugedera both fell to edges behind the wicket off deliveries that landed on off stump and seamed away. Praveen proved a good foil for Zaheer maintaining pressure with the new ball, moving it in the air and cramping Sanath Jayasuriya. He dismissed Chamara Silva off a leading edge, before Zaheer sent back Jayasuriya lbw with a delivery that cut into the left-hander. The decision was shrouded in doubt as it appeared as if he was struck high on the pads.

Tillakaratne Dilshan joined Jayasuriya with the score on 11 for 4 but looked scratchy early on, failing to make contact with his pulls. His frustration showed as he swished the air with his bat. He eventually connected against a short ball from Irfan Pathan but was caught by Badrinath who ran in from deep midwicket and dived forward to take a low catch, leaving Sri Lanka in an even bigger mess at 44 for 6.

An unlikely revival came courtesy the pair of Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekara. Once the ball had gotten softer, run-scoring became easier. Thushara was the more adventurous of the pair, freeing his arms when offered width and brought up the fifty stand with a slash down to third man off Harbhajan Singh.

Just when it looked like India were letting them off the hook, Praveen returned for a new spell and broke the 74-run stand. Thushara tried to heave him across the line but didn't get the elevation to clear Kohli at deep midwicket and three balls later, Kulasekara chipped the same bowler to Badrinath at midwicket. Harbhajan mopped up the tail to with 11 overs to spare, giving India the ideal opportunity to stay alive in the series.

India were left to bat out a nervous five overs before lunch but the experimental opening pair of Pathan and Virat Kohli - India's 12th combination since January 2007 - failed to click. Sangakkara snaffled a sharp catch to his left to dismiss Pathan off Kulasekara and Raina followed soon after, trapped lbw to the same bowler.

Kohli was solid in defence and safely negotiated the several bouncers dished out to him, before fetching boundaries through the off side off Kulasekara. Yuvraj Singh found his groove with crisply-driven fours off Thushara, but not surprisingly, continued to be a sitting duck against Mendis, falling prey to the carrom ball. Kohli took his chances against Mendis, heaving him over midwicket but eventually fell to Thushara, punching one straight to short extra cover. Rohit Sharma was sent packing two balls later and Sri Lanka were back in the match.

It was an opportunity for Badrinath to impress after being on the fringes of national selection for a while and he didn't disappoint, negating the spinners by coming forward and smothering the turn while rotating the strike. The singles and twos never dried up - Dhoni in fact started scoring at over a run-a-ball - as India steadily edged ahead. Muralitharan bowled round the wicket, but the pair used their wrists well to work the ball in the vacant areas on the leg side.

India suffered a late hiccup with eight needed as Dhoni played all over a full delivery from Dilhara Fernando, before Mendis returned for one final scalp. Though India registered a comeback win, it did nothing to allay the blaring frailties in the batting line-up devoid of senior players.

ICC to hold teleconference on Sunday

While officials debate the staging of the Champions Trophy, Andy Atkinson, the ICC grounds consultant, was in Karachi on Wednesday to inspect the conditions at the National Stadium.

The ICC board will have a telephone hook-up on Sunday, where a final decision on staging the Champions Trophy in Pakistan is expected. Top ICC officials, including president David Morgan, vice-president Sharad Pawar and chief executive Haroon Lorgat met in Dubai on Wednesday to discuss feedback from task force briefings with stakeholders from England, Australia and New Zealand, and decided to hold a teleconference of the task team on Friday, followed by the board meeting two days later.

The task team has already met with officials and players' representatives in New Zealand, Australia and England in a bid to allay their security fears, but the feedback hasn't been encouraging. Players' associations from New Zealand and Australia have advised their members against visiting the tournament starting on September 12. The boards haven't yet taken their stance, with Cricket Australia non-committal over its team's participation, and they are expected to convey their final decision to the ICC on Sunday.

Prior to the telephone hook-ups is the task team's visit to South Africa, whose board have been supportive of Pakistan hosting the tournament. However, Lorgat, leading the delegation, might once again find it tough to convince the players.

Tony Irish, the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) chief executive, told Cricinfo the South African team had their doubts over their safety after going through a number of security assessment reports, including that of ICC's official security consultant. Irish said he would raise these concerns during the Friday meeting. "We remain concerned about the security situation in Pakistan," he said. "Our board is meeting with the ICC on Friday, and I will be present at that meeting to convey our concerns."

Explaining the South African situation, Irish said the security report submitted by Reg Dickason, an independent security consultant would not be considered as he was engaged only by the players' associations of Australia, New Zealand and England. But Irish suggested the South African players, who are currently touring England, remain unconvinced after evaluating separate assessments by the ICC, FICA and the South African government.

"We have taken note of various security assessment reports, including one from the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA), Nicholls-Steyn, the ICC consultants, and another by our own government," he said. "I have also been in constant touch with our players (in England) over this and the mood among them is that the concerns remain."

Last week, the weekly Rapport newspaper had reported that DJ Mavimbela, the country's high commissioner in Pakistan, had sent a letter to Cricket South Africa warning it of a risk to players' safety in the country.

Zaheer back in full swing

Zaheer Khan combined pace, accuracy and movement to rattle Sri Lanka.

The classic one-day pattern is for the result to be in doubt until the final over; this was a match in which victory - regardless of India's stuttering chase - was secured in the first six. A mesmeric burst of 3-1-4-3 from Zaheer Khan, combining pace, accuracy and movement, unstitched Sri Lanka and sealed the fate of this match.

India had lost their best batsman to injury, and after the hiding in the first match many had written them off. Zaheer is no stranger to injury or criticism, and he has come back a few times in a chequered career through hard work and discipline. This was just another example from him that an indefatigable spirit and application can work wonders.

Dambulla was not a seamers' paradise like Headingley, but the strong breeze from the north-east made it difficult to middle the ball - evident in the first match as well - and that's just what Zaheer needed. He came out full of hustling intent and took three wickets in three overs on a pitch that was meant to assist spin.

The first ball, a late in-dipper, was too good for Kumar Sangakkara and his stumps were rearranged. His second wicket-taking delivery, pitching full just outside off stump and angling away, kissed the outside edge of Mahela Jayawardene's bat and flew towards first slip. The third, pitching just short of a length and gaining on Chamara Kapugedera, took the fatal edge through to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Zaheer was unstoppable as he broke into an unabashed triumphant celebration, arms spread wide like an eagle soaring high on an eddy.

With Jayawardene and Sangakkara gone, India had smashed the door from which they could barge in. Behind that door lay a potentially ravenous guard dog - one who had scored a brilliant 125 in the Asia Cup final despite four early wickets - but Sanath Jayasuriya's poor record in Dambulla preceded him. Trapped shuffling, uncertain as to whether he should defend or turn the ball away, he was rapped on the front-pad flap, a rabbit caught in front of the headlights.

Zaheer has had other good opening spells, among them against New Zealand at Centurion and England at Durban (he was overshadowed magnificently by Ashish Nehra) in the 2003 World Cup, a burst of 7- 4-9-3 at Cape Town in 2006, and a devastating opening against Sri Lanka at Margao last year. This was right up there because he was bowling in less amenable conditions. In three exquisite overs, highlighted by unstinting menace and significant seam movement, he put this match beyond Sri Lanka's reach.

Achieving a lovely angle, Zaheer showed the value of experience - keeping it on and around off - and mixed his length well. India's batsmen, relieved of so much pressure thanks to Zaheer's demolition job, nearly made a meal of a simple chase. Subtract Zaheer's role and the scoreline would have been 2-0 in favour of Sri Lanka.

Zaheer in full swing is a treat to watch. The eyes locked on the batsman, legs pumping, the big leap, the vociferous demand for an lbw once the ball has skidded on. He thrives on taking wickets, mixing accuracy with subtle swing. Today, having rediscovered the ball which came in to the right-hander, he was on top of his game. There was a trace of Wasim Akram, who had a lovely action that did not place a great strain on his body, especially when he bowled that lethal incoming delivery, the one that right-handers find most difficult to tackle from a left-arm over-the-stumps angle.

Early last year, after nine months out of the side when Greg Chappell was coach, Zaheer announced his return with a similar spell at Margao. The months after that were made up of phrases like "all I want to do is be back in the side", and "I'm desperate to return". After Margao, Zaheer turned in a stellar performance in England last summer, and has plugged away manfully since. After many false starts over the course of a career that began in Kenya in 2000, Zaheer is on the upswing.

Botha ready for Pietersen challenge

Johan Botha on Pietersen: 'If he does move early you maybe could pull out, but I suppose it is also a good opportunity for a wicket if you get it right'.

Finding some dry weather appears to be the biggest challenge ahead of the one-day series between England and South Africa, but when the contest does get under way - hopefully at Headingley on Friday - one of the major focuses will be how Kevin Pietersen takes on the South Africa attack.

Against New Zealand earlier this season he sparked heated debate by unleashing his switch-hits at Chester-le-Street during a flamboyant century. Pietersen then repeated the shot against Paul Harris at Edgbaston during the South Africa Test series and his century at The Oval, in his first match as captain, suggests he isn't about to change the way he plays because he's captain.

However, South Africa - No. 2 in the one-day rankings - are not about to be intimidated by Pietersen's bravado. "Obviously you have to find a way to bowl some dots against him and build a bit of pressure, because he is one of the world's best if not the best at the moment," said offspinner Johan Botha. "He has got all the shots and new ones. I see it as a challenge because no one else out there does it, so I would like to see what I do if he does it.

Being the team's main spin option Botha is likely to be one of Pietersen's targets for the switch-hit, but he is prepared for anything that is thrown at him. "We have had a few chats, and some of the senior guys have an idea what I should do," he said. "If he moves late you cannot do anything if the ball has already left your hand.

"If he does move early you maybe could pull out, but I suppose it is also a good opportunity for a wicket if you get it right. If he is totally turning around then his head is moving. But you have to acknowledge he has done it well so far: I have seen him five to 10 times, and he has never failed."

The gap between South Africa in second and England ranked at sixth suggests that the visitors start with a significant advantage. The last time the two sides met in a bilateral series, in 2005, South Africa won 4-1 despite three centuries from Pietersen in his debut series.

"The first two games are going to be important," Botha said. "If we can set it up early and take a lead I am sure the confidence should take us through to the end, and we can win the series."

For Botha to be in the position of South Africa's premier one-day spinner represents a strong fightback after he was reported for a suspect action following his Test debut against Australia, in Sydney, in January 2006. However, he went away and remodelled his delivery during 18 months out of international cricket and has now played 27 ODIs while adding another Test cap.

"It definitely strengthened me a lot mentally," he said. "During that period, I had to really think about my bowling and be really on my game - so that if something didn't feel right with my bowling I knew what it was.

"That helped me to groove my action and feel my action a bit more, so I can work it out if something goes wrong."

2nd ODI India vs Sri Lanka Highlights One Day Cricket

Sri Lanka Batting

India Batting

Zimbabwe confirm Twenty20 pull out

Zimbabwe have confirmed they will not take part in next year's ICC World Twenty20 in England following meetings with the ICC in Dubai. The decision means Scotland, who finished third at the recent qualifying event in Belfast, will take their place next June.

During the ICC's annual conference week Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) officials had said they were willing to pull out of the event, but chairman Peter Chingoka was sent back to Dubai to discuss further details of the agreement. He met with ICC president David Morgan, vice president Sharad Pawar and chief executive Haroon Lorgat.

The decision has been taken as a one-off with ZC recognising that the UK Government would be unlikely to issue visas for the team given that they had already cancelled the planned bilateral series next May.

"We are grateful to Zimbabwe Cricket for confirming the decision taken by its officials during annual conference week," said Morgan. "This allows the ICC the opportunity to plan with certainty the ICC World Twenty20, as well as giving Scotland, the side set to step up in Zimbabwe's place, plenty of preparation time ahead of the tournament."

The ZC delegation that met with ICC officials on Wednesday was made up Chingoka, Tavengwa Mukuhlani, ZC's vice chairman, and the chairman of the legal and constitutional committee Wilson Manase.

Scotland will face New Zealand and South Africa in Group D, while Ireland will move up to take Zimbabwe's place in Group A. The Irish, who had initially been in Group B with England, will face India and Bangladesh - while England are now grouped with Pakistan and Netherlands.

Security doubts 'beyond logic' - PCB

An ICC security delegation inspects the Bagh-e-Jinnah ground in Lahore.

The Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) may have told its players not to tour Pakistan for the Champions Trophy in September, but concerns are growing in Pakistan that the decision was made based on hasty, possibly inaccurate security assessments.

An increasingly exasperated Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has questioned the wisdom behind the ACA's decision and particularly the information on which it was based. "All we can do logically about the situation, we have done," Shafqat Naghmi, chief operating officer told Cricinfo. "This is now beyond logic. If they are haunted by horror stories there is little more we can do."

The frustration is understandable, given the lengths to which the PCB has gone to address various security concerns. Cricinfo has learnt that a lot of importance was given to Reg Dickason's private security assessment of venues by players from Australia and New Zealand, even though his was a whistle-stop tour of venues during the Asia Cup in June.

Dickason, hired by Cricket Australia, New Zealand Cricket and the ECB, provided, broadly, "a very negative report based on a one-day stay in Karachi simply advising them not to tour" according to an official involved in the recent meetings between the ICC task force and Australian players.

The PCB is particularly unhappy for it feels the more comprehensive and accurate assessment of the situation is provided by Nicholls-Steyn, security consultants hired by the ICC who have been analysing the ground situation in Pakistan for several months. The appointment of the firm itself was a recommendation of an earlier ICC security assessment, the Janusian report, carried out in the first week of June.

That report, based on a two-day stay in Pakistan, found several concerns, though one of them was the contention that as cricket was a 'western game', it constituted a valid target for extremists. But their key recommendation was the presence of a security team permanently in Pakistan to properly assess the situation, one which the Pakistan board readily accepted and which brought Nicholls-Steyn came into the picture.

Since then Nicholls-Steyn have worked assiduously with a number of relevant stakeholders to paint an accurate picture of what is happening in Pakistan. Led by Bruce Spargo, they have held briefings not just with police and interior ministry representatives - as most security firms do - but with a much broader network of security, military and intelligence officials.

"For example, they met men with hands-on experience of the Afghan situation, with real connections and people who know what is going on in the country and the various threats," Naghmi said. "They were told there was no feasible threat to the tournament."

Unlike the Dickason report, the Nicholls-Steyn assessment was discussed at the ICC annual meeting at the end of June. Minor concerns were discussed and immediately addressed by the PCB and the interior ministry. The Asia Cup in June and July provided a good dress rehearsal for security arrangements and Nicholls-Steyn were more than content, claiming the arrangements to be "beyond our own expectations." Such were the arrangements that even the ICC task force, including FICA chief Tim May, was said to have been impressed.

Even before the task force was created, however, the concern had already shifted to whether such elaborate arrangements could be sustained and delivered during the tournament itself, with May leading the questioning. "It appears that no matter what he [Bruce Spargo] says, Tim May questions the ability of the Pakistan authorities to deliver the 'Plan'," said an official who attended the meetings between Australian players and the task force.

While in Pakistan, May suggested organising two practice matches on consecutive days between local teams to get a clearer picture of the arrangements in action. The PCB agreed to this and sent an email to the boards concerned a week ago but have yet to receive a reply.

Thus, less than a month before it starts, the status of the tournament remains in limbo. Fear and paranoia is such that when a Pakistani police official spoke of a contingency plan in case of a rocket launch attack during meetings with the task force, he was immediately asked whether he was expecting one.

Lee rules himself out of Bangladesh series

Brett Lee was all smiles on Tuesday, but his situation has changed and he will not join the team camp in Queensland.

Brett Lee will miss the one-day series against Bangladesh for family reasons and has been replaced in the squad by the uncapped fast bowler Brett Geeves. On Tuesday Lee launched a new range of underwear in Sydney, but he will not be part of the team's pre-season camp in Queensland from Friday or the three one-day internationals in Darwin, which start on August 30.

Michael Brown, Cricket Australia's acting chief executive, said Lee had been given "short-term leave" for a personal issue that he had previously discussed with Cricket Australia and the selectors. "We look forward to Brett rejoining the group as soon as possible," Brown said. The news is a setback for the side, which is without Ricky Ponting (wrist injury), while Matthew Hayden continues to battle a heel problem.

Geeves, who is from Tasmania, has been picked in the squad ahead of Doug Bollinger and Ashley Noffke, who will instead travel to India for a tour with Australia A. "The selectors are comfortable this move will maintain the competitive edge for the Australian side," Brown said, "and provide a wonderful opportunity for Brett to join the Australian group for the first time."

Last season Geeves was the equal-leading wicket-taker in the FR Cup, collecting 15 at 25.20, and he was Man of the Match in their final victory. He captured 3 for 28 and scored 6 crucial runs as Tasmania beat Victoria by a wicket.

ACA denies ignoring Pakistan advice

Paul Marsh: "We've relied on Reg [Dickason]'s recommendations for 12 years. Reg has never let us down, so, yes, we put a lot of faith in what he has to say.".

The Australian Cricketers' Association has rejected suggestions that it ignored a comprehensive report on the security situation in Pakistan when making its decision to advise Australia's players not to tour. The ACA chief executive Paul Marsh said the organisation relied heavily on an assessment from the Australian security expert Reg Dickason, who visited Pakistan briefly in June.

But the Pakistan Cricket Board believes a more detailed and more positive report was supplied by Nicholls Steyn & Associates, the security firm engaged by the ICC, who investigated the situation in Pakistan for months. Pakistan are concerned that the ACA made its decision without taking enough note of that analysis, a claim that Marsh denied.

"Without getting into the specific details of the Nicholls-Steyn report, if you were to read that you'd probably share our concerns," Marsh said. "From a player's perspective we need to be absolutely sure that if we're recommending that players go into an environment like this that we need to be comfortable that they're going to be safe, and reading that report we couldn't be."

However, Marsh conceded that Dickason's advice played a large part in the ACA's decision to recommend Australian players do not visit Pakistan for next month's Champions Trophy. "We've relied on Reg's recommendations for 12 years," Marsh said. "Reg has never let us down, so, yes, we put a lot of faith in what he has to say.

"Our job is to assess whether it's safe for the players to go. We've done that and we do that through independent sources, it's not as though we just read the newspaper and make the decision."

Those newspapers have in the past few days carried stories on the resignation of Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf. While Marsh said that development had not affected the ACA's decision, general terrorism concerns and the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last December remained in the back of their minds.

"There are other issues here at play," Marsh said. "The level of terrorist activity in Pakistan over this year and last year - and I could quote you some statistics that are from our perspective relatively scary - they're at play without Musharraf standing down.

"There are external threats, and you only have to go to the DFAT [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] website to be able to get a bit of a handle on that, and there are internal threats, the ability to actually secure the team. Once again we could probably point to a Benazir Bhutto situation to see whether the team could be secured."

Such comments will do nothing to diminish suggestions from Pakistan that Australia had made up their minds some time ago that they did not wish to tour. Marsh said while there was virtually nothing Pakistan could do to change the ACA's stance, he did not expect a final decision to rest with Australia's players.

"If [the ICC] decide that it will take place in Pakistan then it will I guess become Cricket Australia's decision as to whether Australia participates. If Cricket Australia make the decision to send a team, then and only then will it become a player's decision. Talk of a boycott and all of those sort of things are some way off and I don't expect that it will get to that point."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Injuries 'compel' India to bowl

Life, is waiting: S Badrinath, at 27, finally gets to wear India colours.

Toss India chose to field v Sri Lanka

With a depleted Indian side at his disposal, Mahendra Singh Dhoni decided to bowl at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium purely "out of compulsion", desperate to make amends after an eight-wicket drubbing at the same venue on Monday. The paucity of specialist openers, with Gautam Gambhir sitting out with a stiff neck, prompted Dhoni's decision despite the pitch being expected to aid the batsmen a lot better than the first match.

India made two changes to the line-up, bringing in the allrounder Praveen Kumar in place of Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner, but the more notable inclusion was that of S Badrinath, the Tamil Nadu middle-order batsman and captain. Badrinath has been in the fringes of national selection for a few years now and was drafted into the squad following an injury to Sachin Tendulkar. At 27, age may not be on his side but the runs certainly are. He averages over 56 in first-class games and has shown enough prowess in the shorter formats, with a strike-rate of 147 in 16 Indian Premier League matches for the Chennai Super Kings.

Gambhir's absence means Irfan Pathan will open the batting with Virat Kohli, India's 12th opening combination since January 2007. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, made just the one change, bringing in Dilhara Fernando in place of Chaminda Vaas, who pulled his left hamstring. Vaas will have to wait at least one more game to join the 400-wicket club.

Sri Lanka (from) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Chamara Kapugedera, 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Nuwan Kulasekara, 8 Thilan Thushara, 9 Dilhara Fernando, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan

India (from) 1 Virat Kohli, 2 Irfan Pathan, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 S Badrinath, 8 Praveen Kumar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Munaf Patel.

PCB does not want Champions Trophy moved

The resignation of Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf has added another element to the Champions Trophy equation.

The Pakistan Cricket Board is adamant the Champions Trophy will not be moved despite the real threat of teams pulling out of next month's tournament. The ICC said in London on Tuesday the safety and security situation in the country was "satisfactory", but before the announcement the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) said it would not be recommending its players attend the event.

England, South Africa and New Zealand are also waiting to make a decision and the attitude of the countries has irritated the PCB. Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, said he was "more than disappointed" by the position taken by Australia.

"This has gone beyond logic," Naghmi said in the Age. "Their position, I don't understand -- the ICC has determined that Pakistan is safe, they have various sources to judge the security measures in place.

"If [Cricket Australia] has other security information which is negative, why don't they share it with us? Why don't they make us wise? They have not told us of any concerns, they have been dealing with the ICC. How come they are not willing to trust the ICC? Where are they getting their security information from? They won't tell us, their security information is dubious."

Cricket Australia told the paper their findings were "distinctively unique" and specific to the Australian team. "There are also particular interpretations different organisations will make of the information," a spokesman said.

Cricket Australia's position on Pakistan has not changed since the meeting with the ICC task force in Melbourne on Friday. They will wait for a decision from the ICC, which could come in Dubai on Wednesday, before making up their minds.

Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf resigned on Monday and Heath Mills, the executive manager of the New Zealand players' association, said the development added to the concerns. "The change may mean more assessments of the situation but time is running out to stage the event or move it elsewhere," Mills said in the Press.

Sri Lanka is the back-up venue for the tournament, but the PCB does not want a late switch. "It will not be moved from Pakistan," Naghmi said.

Australia consider Sri Lanka a safer touring option as there are no specific threats against them. "We've discussed this with the experts, who acknowledge that westerners are targets in Pakistan, whereas the biggest danger in Sri Lanka appears to be collateral damage," Paul Marsh, the ACA chief executive, said in the Australian. "Certainly, we will need a detailed security assessment of Sri Lanka, should the tournament be moved there, before making any decisions."

Ad-hoc committee could replace governing board

The Pakistan sports minister said a new PCB chairman could be named after the Champions Trophy.

The Pakistan government is set to install an ad-hoc committee to run national cricket affairs following the resignation of Pakistan board chairman Nasim Ashraf.

Najmuddin Khan, Pakistan's sports minister, told reporters that an ad-hoc committee will be formed soon and is likely to be headed by a former Test cricketer.

Najmuddin said since Pakistan are to host the Champions Trophy in less than a month's time, it cannot afford too many changes till then and a new chairman could be named at a later stage.

He also hinted at bringing reforms in the PCB constitution and said that it is likely the powers to appoint the board chairman could now go to the prime minister. Till now, the president has had the authority to appoint the PCB chairman. Ashraf was picked to head the board by former president Pervez Musharraf in 2006.

Ashraf has informed the sports ministry that he was willing to carry on for the next few weeks in a bid to ensure the Champions Trophy, scheduled for September 12 to 28, is held smoothly. But Najmuddin indicated that changes could be made in the PCB set-up before the start of the tournament that has been under a cloud because of security concerns.

Najmuddin also said that the government is planning to launch a probe into the PCB affairs in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, press secretary to the prime minister, Zahid Bashir, said the news about suspension of the constitution of the PCB was "baseless".

Clarke warns Pietersen over Ashes talk

Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen will each have leadership roles during the next Ashes series.

Kevin Pietersen should focus on England's immediate challenges before predicting success in an Ashes series that is nearly a year away, according to Australia's vice-captain Michael Clarke. After leading England to a dead-rubber victory over South Africa in his first Test in charge, Pietersen said his team had what it takes to regain the Ashes.

But his comments followed a generally disappointing 2-1 series loss for England and he now has the task of turning around their one-day form in a five-game ODI series against South Africa. In his first one-day match in charge, Pietersen led England to a comprehensive loss to New Zealand at Lord's.

"I think KP needs to concentrate on beating South Africa first rather than worrying about the Ashes," Clarke told the Courier Mail. "If anybody is thinking about the Ashes, in my opinion they are thinking way too far ahead. It's going to be an interesting time in Pietersen's career to see how he goes as captain."

Both teams have tough Test tours of India coming up in the next few months and England also have a trip to the West Indies to worry about before tackling Australia. Following Australia's visit to India they host New Zealand and South Africa, then head to South Africa for a return Test series.

They start their preparation at a training camp in Queensland this week, which will also serve as their warm-up for the upcoming three-game ODI series against Bangladesh in Darwin. They will spend the next ten months gradually building towards the Ashes but their schedule is so gruelling Clarke wants to ensure they do not look too far ahead.

"The one thing I want to make clear at the camp is we have some really tough cricket coming up before England next year," Clarke said. "We have three massive Test series in the next year.

"All three - India in India, South Africa home and away and England in England - are going to be as hard as each other. It's about adapting, because all three are completely different conditions. All our planning for the next 12 months will come from the camp."

Clarke is in charge for the one-day internationals in Darwin, which begin on August 30. Ricky Ponting will miss the series as he recovers from wrist surgery, while Matthew Hayden's ongoing heel problem will be assessed at the camp.

ICC president investigates cricket at the Olympics

David Morgan says "2020 must be the earliest realistic date" for Twenty20 at the Games.

David Morgan, the ICC president, believes Twenty20 could fit neatly into the Olympic schedule, but has warned the sport to think carefully about a push for a spot at the 2020 Games. Adam Gilchrist started the campaign earlier this month and Morgan has been in Beijing this week seeing how the event works and meeting with officials.

Cricket gained recognition status from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year and Morgan said Twenty20 would suit the Olympic timetable "without any difficulty whatsoever". However, fitting the tournament into cricket's already-crammed international schedule could be a concern.

"It is something that cricket has to think about very carefully," Morgan told AFP. "This visit, these few days, give us the opportunity to assess the potential for cricket becoming an Olympic sport."

Cricket Australia's James Sutherland and Creagh O'Connor have also been in Beijing and there has been a strong push from Australia for cricket to seek a spot at the 2020 Games. The issue is expected to be discussed at the ICC's chief executives committee meeting in Lahore on September 10 and is seen by supporters as a way to secure a truly global future for cricket.

"2020 must be the earliest realistic date but I must emphasise the ICC has to consider its position just as the IOC has to consider its position," Morgan said. For cricket to gain a spot at those Games it must be approved by the IOC in 2013.

India's batting under scrutiny again

The responsibility will fall on Gautam Gambhir to revive a struggling Indian top order.

Match facts

Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Start time 10am (local time) 0430 (GMT)

Big Picture
Since the Asia Cup final, India's acclaimed batsmen have had to endure a dreadful ego hammering. There seems no quick solution in sight and time is certainly not at India's disposal with just a day's gap between the first two games. Traditionally sound players of spin, the Test and ODI specialists are still groping for answers when Ajantha Mendis comes on to bowl, and an eight-wicket drubbing at the same venue on Monday only reinforced his threat after the two defeats in the Tests.

The woeful situation is compounded by Virender Sehwag's departure after twisting his ankle at practice. His double-century was the key to India's victory in Galle and the two captains were only stating the obvious yesterday by stating his absence would be a big blow. That puts additional pressure on Gautam Gambhir as the man in form at the top, and it's anybody's guess as to who his opening partner will be. No replacement has been sought for Sehwag and questions will be raised over the omission of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have no such issues and will go in as firm favourites. The decision to play five specialist bowlers worked for them and not one bowler looked like a weak link.

Form guide (last 5 ODIs)
Sri Lanka WWLWW

Watch out for
Gautam Gambhir: His second-ball duck notwithstanding, Gambhir is India's form batsman after Sehwag - his 310 runs was the second-highest aggregate in the Tests among batsmen of both teams. His ploy of walking down the pitch before a delivery may have an element of risk, but it only speaks of his confidence and intention of putting the bowler off his rhythm. Dhoni spoke about the importance of getting good starts, so it would fall upon Gambhir to bat responsibly without getting bogged down. With the limited resources available, Gambhir is probably India's best bet at the moment.

Munaf Patel v Sri Lanka's top order: The only saving grace for India on Monday was Munaf's ability to keep Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara in check. He repeatedly got the ball to either cut back in or shape away from the off stump. In a match dominated by spinners, Munaf did the best he could in the conditions on offer, picking up the only wickets to fall in the chase.

Team news
India would be forced to re-assess their combination after the drubbing on Monday, especially at the top of the order with Sehwag's departure. Experimenting with Virat Kohli as an opener didn't work so it's likely he will swap places with Irfan Pathan who has been successful in the past as a pinch-hitter. With Rohit Sharma struggling for runs, Mahendra Singh Dhoni might promote himself to No. 5.

India (likely) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Irfan Pathan, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Virat Kohli, 8 Pragyan Ojha, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Munaf Patel.

After the first ODI Mahela Jayawardene said Sri Lanka would retain the winning combination.

Sri Lanka (from) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Chamara Kapugedera, 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Chaminda Vaas, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Thilan Thushara, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.

Pitch & conditions
The conditions are expected to be similar to the first one-dayer, so batting could get difficult once the spinners operate.

Stats & Trivia
# Chaminda Vaas is only one wicket away from the 400-wicket club in ODIs. He will be the fourth after Wasim Akram, Muralitharan and Waqar Younis.

# Mahela Jayawardene has been dismissed only once by India at this ground in four matches and his average stands at an astronomical 228.

# Dambulla is India's least favourite venue in Sri Lanka against the hosts, having lost all four matches to them.

# Since January 2007, India have tried out 11 opening combinations in 57 innings. Only two of those pairs have batted together more than six times.

"They will definitely come back strongly. They have a very good side and a lot of talented individual players who can change the match for them."
Mahela Jayawardene isn't getting too carried away after coasting home by eight wickets and expects a backlash from the Indians.

"The only option right now is to play more and more of him and that's the only way of getting better. You can see a thousand videos but it doesn't matter until you go out there and play him off the track from 20 yards."
Mahendra Singh Dhoni says it's just not possible to be an overnight success against Ajantha Mendis.