Saturday, September 6, 2008

Australia fend off Tamim to earn clean sweep

Michael Hussey, the Player of the Series, registered an important half-century that kept Australia ahead of the committed tourists.

Tamim Iqbal's one-man entertainment show was not enough to turn Darwin into Cardiff as Australia wrapped up a 3-0 cleansweep with a 73-run victory over Bangladesh. Tamim mastered the slow surface better than anyone had all week. He showed more flair than Australia's key man Michael Hussey but only two of Tamim's colleagues reached double figures and three wickets to James Hopes led to a familiar result.

Bangladesh were chasing 199, which despite their batting woes on this tour looked like a vaguely feasible target. When Tamim lashed the likes of Hopes and Mitchell Johnson there were some nervous flutters from Michael Clarke, who was part of the team when Bangladesh upset Australia in Cardiff in 2005.

Several facets of Bangladesh's game came together on this occasion: Tamim was on fire, their spinners bowled terrifically tightly and their fielding was sharp. Again, the disappointment was the rest of their batting as several men threw their wickets away unnecessarily. It was all the more frustrating for Bangladesh this time because, the way Tamim was playing, they had a genuine chance.

He made their first half-century of the series and finished with 63, skying a catch off Shane Watson as he ran out of colleagues. He ended up with more than half of his team's 125 and the Man-of-the-Match award. Tamim was so enthusiastic that one attempted pull off Hopes finished with the bat flying halfway to the square-leg umpire after he failed to connect with the ball.

More often he did make powerful contact. A cracking drive for four over mid-on from Hopes was followed next ball by a cleanly-struck six to the same spot. But Hopes easily got through the defences of Mahmudullah and trapped Dhiman Ghosh lbw, having already removed Tamim's most important partner, Shakib Al Hasan.

Shakib had batted well for 27, although he was dropped at third man on 14. His luck ran out when he tried to pull Hopes but failed to connect properly and lobbed a catch to Michael Hussey at midwicket. It was the end of Bangladesh's best stand of the series and, as it turned out, the end of their chances. The pair had led a good recovery after the top order stumbled to 3 for 22.

Mohammad Ashraful fell to an awful piece of batting for the third time in the series. As the captain and arguably best batsman in a young side, his approach in the middle must be a major concern for the coaching staff. They had 50 overs to score 199. What they needed from this innings, as they have through the whole series, was patience and concentration. Instead Ashraful showed no application. He had 3 on the board when he drove Stuart Clark in the air with no real control and was taken by Michael Clarke at point.

Before wandering off the Marrara Cricket Ground, Ashraful stood for a moment and looked down the pitch, seemingly wondering what had gone wrong. He had not learned from his mistake from Clark's previous ball, when he drove in the air straight to cover, where Hopes spilled what he should have taken.

Just as bad was Alok Kapali's brain explosion as he tried to pull a Johnson ball that was nowhere near short enough and lost his off stump as a result. Clark had already accounted for Junaid Siddique with a nasty bouncer that was fended to first slip. Bangladesh really needed to take note of the way Hussey, the Player of the Series, had batted to nudge Australia to 5 for 198.

His painstaking unbeaten 57 ensured a competitive total despite the strong efforts of Bangladesh in the field. He struck a couple of boundaries towards the end but for most of the innings concentrated solely on batting out the overs, something Bangladesh failed to do in any of the three ODIs.

Scoring was tough for Australia. Eye of the Tiger blared over the PA system and it was a prescient choice as a sharp Bangladesh threw down the stumps several times. Such was Australia's trouble finding gaps, particularly against the spin of Shakib and Abdur Razzak, that they started taking suicidal singles.

Shane Watson (27) did not trust Clarke's call and his hesitation cost him when Mashrafe Mortaza and Ghosh combined to find him short. Clarke himself was stranded out of his ground when he bunted to the off side, hared for a run and watched as Kapali's throw shattered the stumps.

David Hussey fell in similar fashion when Ashraful at mid-off was accurate, although the one they needed to get was the one they missed. When Michael Hussey had 6 he scampered through for a run and was well short when the throw narrowly passed by. Bangladesh can only dream of what might have happened had the shy hit.

As it was they tied Australia up impressively. No boundaries came off the bat between the 14th and 42nd overs. By the close of Australia's innings, Bangladesh's confidence had lifted appreciably. If only their batsman had done the same.

'Spirit of the game has not worsened' - van der Bijl

Vince van der Bijl: "When I meet the players and umpires that I know and from what I have seen, I really don't think the game in terms of conduct and behaviour is any different to when I played".

The behaviour of present-day players is not much worse than their predecessors, according to Vince van der Bijl, the ICC umpires' and referees' manager. The on-field conduct of players has come under increased focus in recent years; Scyld Berry, the editor of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2008, had even made note of the threat of violence in the game, but van der Bijl disagreed with these observations.

"I certainly don't think the spirit of the game has worsened, it is just more visible," van der Bijl told the Associated Press. "This is not an excuse for the [poor] behaviour - just reality. I saw this job as an opportunity to be part of the process to keep the spirit of cricket strong and healthy. What one sees today on TV occurred in the old days, but it was not as visible. Lapses in sportsmanship and aggressive behaviour have been there since the game began."

van der Bijl, the former Natal and Middlesex fast bowler, was appointed by the ICC with an "overall responsibility for the management and smooth running of the umpires and referees section". The new role will also see van der Bijl monitor the manner in which umpires and match referees deal with disciplinary issues.

However, van der Bijl felt there was not much to be worried about. "When I meet the players and umpires that I know and from what I have seen, I really don't think the game in terms of conduct and behaviour is any different to when I played.

"There is huge pressure on them to be role models," he said. "I do believe that the general public want from their sports stars, the perfect human beings. Supporters expect players must have tunnel vision and be driven to absolute perfection in their specific art, yet be balanced and broad in their worldly views. Be determined and driven yet caring and sensitive. Few [people] like this exist. And in reality it is almost impossible to find these kinds of people, other than a [Nelson] Mandela or a [Desmond) Tutu. The pressure for players to be perfect is very high."

Player behaviour has come under focus in the past year, with the ICC even calling for improved conduct on the field. Andrew Symonds' claim that Harbhajan Singh racially abused him during the Sydney Test in January, a charge that was later not proved, was one of several flashpoints that brought the game into disrepute. Harbhajan was later penalised when he slapped his India team-mate Sreesanth after the end of the match in the Indian Premier League.

Elsewhere, Paul Collingwood, the England captain, received flak for not withdrawing an appeal against New Zealand's Grant Elliott after the batsman was run-out following a collision with Ryan Sidebottom. Jelly beans also stirred a row during India's tour to England last year, when Zaheer Khan showed his displeasure to opposition fielders after a few were placed on the batting crease.

"I fear the day is approaching when a high-profile, televised cricket match will see an outbreak of physical violence on the field," Berry said, "and nothing could be more injurious to all concerned." He noted the increasing on-field physical contact between players. "James Anderson was fined 50% of his match fee for "inappropriate and deliberate physical contact" with Runako Morton ... Paul Hoffmann of Scotland barged into Canada's opening batsman Abdool Samad so forcefully that Samad needed four minutes of treatment on the field before continuing; Hoffmann too was fined 50%.

"The worst example came in the Kanpur international when Gautam Gambhir ran straight down the pitch and straight into Shahid Afridi. As the bowler, Afridi was allowed to stay where he was at the end of his follow-through; it was up to the batsman to swerve and avoid him. Gambhir looked to be the chief culprit and, even though it was his first offence, should have been penalised more harshly than Afridi, whatever his verbal provocations. As it was, Gambhir was fined 65%, Afridi 95%."

van der Bijl also felt umpires were under increased pressure, with TV cameras and technology available to scruntinise every decision. "I actually believe, though, that the umpires are under even greater pressure - every ball - as they can make three unbelievable decisions and they can go unnoticed, but as soon as they make a mistake it is highlighted on televisions across the world."

van der Bijl, who took 767 wickets at 16.54 in a first-class career that spanned from 1967-68 to1982-83, didn't play a single Test as it came at the time of South Africa's sporting isolation because of their policy of apartheid. "I don't regret anything," he said. "All I hope for now is that the players have fun and express themselves in the right way and show their talents."

'This side has great potential' - Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff: "One of the big things he [Kevin Pietersen] has passed on to the side so far is confidence".

Andrew Flintoff says he's enjoying playing in a new, winning England set-up under a confident Kevin Pietersen. Flintoff was the leading run-getter and wicket-taker in England's 4-0 triumph ODI over South Africa, and feels the present ODI team is a well-balanced outfit that could turn into a champion side given a decent run.

"I've played in three World Cups and in each one of them, a week before the tournament began England didn't know its best side and there was loads of chopping and changing," Flintoff was quoted as saying on the ECB website. "I'm sure if these lads are allowed to play with each other over a length of time, I think that's the way they'll develop into a really good team."

England are yet to win a World Cup - they reached the final in 1979, 1987 and 1992 - or the Champions Trophy, where they reached the final when hosting the tournament in 2004 and lost to West Indies. But Flintoff was bullish on the future. "We've got all bases covered and when you've got Luke Wright coming in to bat at No. 8 that's a strong line-up," he said. "Everything is there but it's been there in the past so it's more about a mindset or a confidence thing, which I'm sure this side will get from Kevin.

"One of the big things he has passed on to the side so far is confidence. He's a confident lad and I think that's started to rub off on to quite a few of the players. When you see the way he goes about his business, especially towards his own game, no matter how good a player you are you can still watch and learn from that."

What's needed now, Flintoff said, is for this team to be given time. "If we're allowed to play together over a long period of time and allowed to grow together then this side has great potential."

With the postponement of the Champions Trophy, England's next scheduled ODI will only be in December, when they take on India for a seven-match series. "We're on a roll against South Africa and it would have been great to take that form into a tournament," Flintoff said. "The Champions Trophy is not the biggest tournament we could win but I remember when we got to the final in England a few years ago [2004] and everyone was gutted we didn't win it, so we'll have to take that form to India now instead."

One of the things I was determined to do when I came back into international cricket was that I wanted to enjoy it. I knew there was going to be pressure on me but cricket's not life or death, it's a game and it's to be enjoyed. Possibly for a period I lost that enjoyment

Flintoff, who hadn't played a Test for nearly 18 months and an ODI for almost a year, said he learnt a lot during his time away from international cricket. "I think I'm a better cricketer for those dark times and a better person," Flintoff told PA Sport. "When you experience tough times, the better times are that much sweeter.

"I was sitting on the balcony at Lord's the other day after we'd won and one of the lads asked if I'd enjoyed it," he said. "I'd been through a whole host of things just to be sitting there with a Man-of-the-Match award and playing for a side that's 4-0 up in a series against South Africa, so I just couldn't stop smiling.

Ankle injuries had threatened to curtail Flintoff's career: he's needed four operations to fix the problem. "It's a complete reversal from six months ago and I suppose that all goes back to enjoyment and I'm absolutely loving it at the moment.

"One of the things I was determined to do when I came back into international cricket was that I wanted to enjoy it," he said. "I knew there was going to be pressure on me but cricket's not life or death, it's a game and it's to be enjoyed. Possibly for a period I lost that enjoyment."

Flintoff's successful return sees him in the No. 1 spot among ODI allrounders in the ICC players rankings. "I'm in a privileged position because I'm playing cricket for England but I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts and it always helps when you're doing well, but I'm in a very good place at the moment."

Shoaib to join Surrey on Sunday

Shoaib Akhtar: "The eventual aim is to play for Pakistan and I feel Surrey offers me the best opportunity to prove my fitness".

Shoaib Akhtar has sorted out his visa formalities and is expected to join county side Surrey on Sunday. Shoaib had been sent back home on arrival at Heathrow Airport on Thursday as he was carrying the wrong type of visa.

Surrey, in their bid to stave off relegation from Division One of the County Championship, had sought Shoaib for their final three games of the season. Shoaib missed the ongoing fixture against Kent - which has been affected by rain - but will be available for the final two matches against Hampshire and Nottinghamshire. The fast bowler, though, was headed to India on Saturday to take part in a TV show.

"I am going to India for a day to fulfil a commitment to take part in a television show and after that I will fly out to England to join Surrey," he told PTI. "Everything is now in order and I will join Surrey by Sunday.

"The eventual aim is to play for Pakistan and I feel Surrey offers me the best opportunity to prove my fitness," he said. "I am keen to prove myself to the selectors and resume my Pakistan career."

Shoaib has previously had county stints with Durham, Somerset and Worcestershire. He has played only one first-class match this year and was banned by the PCB for five years in April. The ban was subsequently reduced to 18 months, and later suspended. Shoaib was picked in Pakistan's squad for the Champions Trophy but he still has to pay a fine of Rs 7 million (approx US$92,000) to the board.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bangladesh search for some fight

Australia want to wrap up the series as comfortably as possible after thrashing Bangladesh in the first two games.

Match facts

Saturday, September 6, 2008
Start time 9.30am (local)

The Big Picture

Australia have wrapped up the three-match series by winning the first two matches but it is the one-sided nature of those games that is the biggest concern for Bangladesh. The first was decided by 180 runs, the second by eight wickets. Bangladesh made 74 in the opening game and 117 on Wednesday. The captain Mohammad Ashraful was critical of his side and said it was a much better team than the results reflected, although the men lacked confidence against the world's top team. Bangladesh will be aiming for a competitive effort to finish the series. For Michael Clarke, the goals are not only to win but also to give some of Australia's lesser-known players a chance to shine.

ODI form guide

Australia - WWWWW (most recent first)
Bangladesh - LLLLL

Team news

Australia's desire to make absolutely certain of a 3-0 result means they are unlikely to tinker with their best eleven. In any case, they have little choice. Brett Geeves is the only man who could potentially come in, having picked up two wickets on debut in the opening game.

Australia (possible) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Shaun Marsh, 3 Michael Clarke (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 David Hussey, 6 Brad Haddin (wk), 7 Cameron White, 8 James Hopes, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Nathan Bracken, 11 Stuart Clark.

A few players showed promising signs in the second match. Dhiman Ghosh's lower-order striking was briefly entertaining and Junaid Siddique and Shakib Al Hasan held off the Australia attack for some time. With Raqibul Hasan unavailable due to his broken thumb their batting options are limited and the same top order might be retained.

Bangladesh (possible) 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Mehrab Hossain jnr, 3 Junaid Siddique, 4 Mohammad Ashraful (capt), 5 Shakib al Hasan, 6 Alok Kapali, 7 Dhiman Ghosh (wk), 8 Mashrafe Mortaza, 9 Abdur Razzak, 10 Nazmul Hossain, 11 Shahadat Hossain.

Watch out for ...

Nathan Bracken Did the top-order damage on Wednesday with some excellent swing bowling. If Bangladesh bat first again he could the man to make quick inroads into their line-up. Appears comfortable as the leader of an attack missing Brett Lee and his consistency and accuracy continue to make up for his lack of genuine speed.

Shakib Al Hasan One of the few men to have shown impressive glimpses in both games, Shakib showed some much-needed patience in compiling 19 in the second match. His dismissal came from a good Mitchell Johnson inswinger rather than a loose stroke and Bangladesh will be hoping he can again be composed on Saturday. His left-arm spin has been just as important and he has four wickets, including the cheap removal of Clarke in both games.

Umpires Amiesh Saheba, Peter Parker.

Pitch and conditions

The drop-in pitches in Darwin have not been the easiest surfaces to bat on, although Australia have made it look considerably simpler than Bangladesh. The players will be expecting early seam and swing and whoever bats first must work hard through the first hour.


Another hot and sunny day is predicted, with a top temperature of 34 degrees.

Stats and trivia

Bangladesh have won one of their past 14 one-day internationals, with the only success coming against the United Arab Emirates. In the same time they have won the toss on ten occasions.

In the past two matches, Cameron White has more than doubled his wicket tally in ODIs.

Bracken needs two more victims to become the seventh Australian to claim 150 one-day international wickets.


"I'd like to see if we could do another number on them and hopefully get them out for not many, or if we bat first, get a lot of runs."
Stuart Clark, the Australia fast bowler.

"Whatever we are practising and whatever we are planning, we are just not being able to implement those in the games, out there in the middle."
Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangladesh captain.

Arthur concerned over fatigue and Kolpaks

Ryan McLaren is one high-profile South African Kolpak (currently playing for Kent) whom Mickey Arthur desperately wants back on home soil.

South Africa's one-day nightmare against England has at least crystallised two things in coach Mickey Arthur's mind: the need for inaction on one front and action on another. With so many South Africans opting to sign in England as Kolpaks, Arthur is increasingly determined to lure them back to home soil.

The search for new talent has led Arthur to Ryan McLaren, who South Africa are now trying to hook away from a recently-extended Kolpak deal with Kent.

"I have had discussions over the phone with Ryan McLaren's agent," Arthur said. "But Ryan is on an unbelievable deal with Kent, so we will need something extra. But he would provide the all-round depth we need, he's a top-class player and he's had another big season with Kent."

While McLaren is the big fish South Africa are trying to land, the likes of Johan van der Wath, Andrew Hall and Justin Kemp can hardly be regarded as anchovies and they would all provide the power-hitting option down the order that South Africa are seeking.

The sudden urgency over all-rounders is ironic when considering the likes of Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje, Dale Benkenstein and Zander de Bruyn - all South African products and capped at international level - have also fled to England.

Moreover, Arthur is concerned that fatigue is beginning to hamper South Africa's progress. Pakistan may be promising the moon in terms of a tri-series they want South Africa to host to compensate for the postponement of the Champions Trophy, but Arthur believes the tournament is highly unlikely to take place.

"I'm sure the tri-series is not going to take place and, in retrospect, it's a relief the Champions Trophy was called off because we would have been back on a plane flying to Pakistan on Sunday," Arthur said. "I'd like the administrators to remember the team is our product and because they've done so marvellously well it has led to commercial opportunities. But I don't think we should be flogging a dead horse.

"I can't think of one player who was involved in both the Test and one-day series in England who has not picked up a niggle. Graeme Smith's tennis elbow is just through over-use; Mark Boucher has a fractured finger from over-use; Morne Morkel a side strain and Dale Steyn has not recovered properly from the shoulder injury he picked up in the IPL [Indian Premier League]."

So, resting his core players will certainly lead to a better showing later in the year, but Arthur admitted there were doubts over the selection of the limited-overs team going forward.

"We knew the one-dayers would be tough and I don't think a really good England side has got the credit they deserve. But I am concerned about our depth in all departments, but in particular in terms of all-rounders," Arthur said. "In the past we've had teams where we basically have fielded 12 players because of the all-rounders; we've batted down to nine. But in the England series I felt it was 12 against 10 at times."

2009 Champions League scheduled for September-October

The second Champions Twenty20 League will take place next year between September 25 and October 11, and will feature 12 teams, four more than the first edition to be held between December 3-10, 2008.

Next year's league has been scheduled in the same month the ICC proposes to hold its Champions Trophy, which was postponed from September 2008 after five of the eight participating nations said they would not send their teams for the event given security concerns in Pakistan.

The dates were announced in a release issued by the three founding members - the BCCI, Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa.

The 2008 Champions Twenty20 League was initially due to begin on September 29, the reserve day of the Champions Trophy final, but the ICC expressed its unhappiness over the scheduling. It asked the Champions League organisers to rethink the programme after which the tournament was shifted to December.

The 2009 Champions League will involve 12 teams and 23 matches, while this year's competition has eight teams - the winners and runners-up from domestic Twenty20 competitions in India, Australia and South Africa plus the winner of 2008 Twenty20 championships from Pakistan and the reigning Twenty20 Cup champion from England, Middlesex.

According to the Future Tours Programme, Australia are scheduled to play seven one-day internationals in October 2009.

Former umpire Col Egar dies at 80

Col Egar (right) chats to Ian Meckiff, whom he no-balled for throwing.

Col Egar, the former Test umpire and Australian cricket administrator, has died in Adelaide at the age of 80. Egar was one of the leading umpires during the 1960s and went on to serve as the chairman of the Australian Cricket Board from 1989 to 1992.

He officiated in 29 of Australia's 30 home Tests during the 1960s and is probably best remembered for his part in the Ian Meckiff throwing incident. In the first Test of the 1963-64 series against South Africa, Egar no-balled Meckiff, the Australia fast bowler, four times in his first over.

It finished Meckiff's career and also brought death threats for Egar, who went on to continue umpiring at the highest level for five more years. He also stood in the tied Test between West Indies and Australia in Brisbane in 1960-61 and, along with his colleague Col Hoy, earned the praise of the visiting captain Frank Worrell for their calm and unobtrusive officiating.

After retiring from on-field duties, Egar stayed involved with the game by joining the board of the South Australian Cricket Association. He was a board member from 1971-72 to 1999-2000, including 12 years as vice-president, and sat on the Australian board from 1981 to 1998. During that time Egar managed several Australian tours, including the 1988 visit to Pakistan when he helped keep the tour on course despite disputes over umpiring standards.

Creagh O'Connor, the Cricket Australia chairman, said Egar had given lifelong service to the game. "Col will be best remembered by cricket followers as an outstanding international cricket umpire who was involved in several historic moments on field," O'Connor said.

"But those of us who knew and worked with Col will also remember him with high regard for his selfless service to SA and Australian cricket as an administrator and volunteer, and as a manager of Australian touring cricket teams. He gave a lot to cricket and the Australian game is all the better for that."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

4-0 to England after Cardiff washout

Stuart Broad removed Herschelle Gibbs for 3.

England's hopes of securing a 5-0 whitewash over South Africa were denied by the Welsh rain, as the fifth and final ODI at Cardiff was abandoned after only three overs of play. England will no doubt feel frustrated in being deprived a fifth win in succession, but a scoreline of 4-0 against South Africa represents an achievement far beyond their pre-series aspirations. Not even Kevin Pietersen, their unerringly positive captain, could have foreseen England's dominance.

South Africa, who recalled Justin Ontong in place of Vernon Philander, only had three overs in which to bat, but such is their flattened confidence that they lost Herschelle Gibbs, perhaps the only man in their current lineup capable of ratcheting them out of their slump. A neat outswinger from Stuart Broad lured him into a loose drive, and Matt Prior pulled off his second diving catch of the series, clinging on with his right hand in front of first slip. Demure - perhaps even expectant - celebrations by England were an acute reminder of just how dramatically Pietersen's team have stolen the late-summer momentum.

And that was that. The Cardiff rain shot down from the heavens to end England's international summer, and finally finish what has been a thoroughly dismal denouement to South Africa's tour. Their 2-1 win in the Test series seems an awfully long time ago now, and as Jacques Kallis has admitted, their one-day tribulations - of the sort England themselves have become far too accustomed to - has scuffed the gloss of their visit. It seems inconceivable there won't be a clear-out when the debrief takes place in Johannesburg in the next few weeks.

A disappointing day for England, but also for Wales. Today's match was the first to be held at Cardiff's revamped stadium, the contentious venue for the first Ashes Test next summer. Quibbles aside about its makeshift, untraditional appearance, it was mostly a shame that a full 100 overs weren't possible in order to gauge just what sort of pitch England will face Australia on next summer.

And yet, despite the Cardiff clouds, nothing can dampen England's mood. It was a faintly absurd notion that England were in a position to win this series 5-0. Indeed, they should have, had the rain not intervened. But 4-0 is no less loopy a result considering the hapless ODI form they have shown for so many years, and although they would have skipped into second position in the world rankings with today's win, they nestle neatly and proudly into third.

Perplexed wonderment aside, the solution to England's one-day woes has been relatively simple. Pietersen has coaxed Steve Harmison out of retirement and squeezed the best out of him as a second and third-change bowler. In addition, his best friend, Andrew Flintoff, has found a rich vein of batting form, carving two innings of 78 and a blistering 31 in the shortened 20-over thrash at Lord's. Aside from the two giants, Pietersen has shown confidence in Owais Shah, whom he lofted to No.3, while Samit Patel - who played with him at Nottinghamshire - has offered runs, wickets and a calm head. All four of these players have at one time or another been described as contentious characters. Pietersen doesn't care about their past troubles, however, and appears to be getting the very best out of them.

It was Flintoff, however, who was the difference between the two teams. Averaging 187 with the bat and 12.90 with the ball, he slowed South Africa's innings down and accelerated England's. Perhaps more importantly, the added responsibility of his status as the senior statesman of the side hasn't dulled his naturally youthful instincts, unlike the burden of captaincy which surely did.

Pietersen, on the other hand, appears unsaddled by his new leadership role, though he did admit to being "knackered" prior to today's match. If he's tired now, one can only imagine the exhaustion he might feel when things don't go quite so swimmingly. For now, though, a successful start to his tenure has hinted at an exciting time for England in one-day cricket, and all eyes now turn to Antigua.

Marsh guides Australia to easy win

Dhiman Ghosh provided a few highlights for Bangladesh but his innings was short-lived.

Bangladesh improved marginally but still lost by eight wickets in Darwin, where Australia's bowlers set up an unassailable 2-0 series lead. Once again weighed down by batting lapses, Bangladesh struggled to 117 against an unforgiving attack and then found Shaun Marsh and his top-order colleagues equally merciless as they completed the chase within 23 overs.

They wrapped up the result by 2.45pm, a time when most one-day internationals in Australia have barely started. Marsh finished unbeaten on 69 and firmed as a permanent opener in the limited-overs outfit. His second half-century of the series featured powerful cuts and clips through leg and highlighted why his partner Shane Watson described him as the hardest hitter of "normal cricket shots" that Watson had witnessed.

The result was never in doubt after poor shot selection was again a problem for Bangladesh. Their bowlers were put in a no-win situation, although Shakib Al Hasan tried to make the most of it. He had Watson trapped lbw trying an expansive sweep on 29 and Michael Clarke stumped for 1 when his eyes lit up prematurely. As they did on Saturday, Marsh and Michael Hussey batted with calm assurance and the victory was complete.

It was all but confirmed before midday after Bangladesh tried to avoid another thrashing by batting first. Nathan Bracken and Mitchell Johnson did the important damage in the top order and Australia's bowlers were spared a full day in the sun as Bangladesh sputtered out in the 37th over.

A late fight from Dhiman Ghosh helped them improve on their efforts of four days ago, when they capitulated for their lowest ODI total of 74 in 27.4 overs. But they were the sort of trivial steps forward that will do little to please the coach Jamie Siddons, who must again be lamenting the decision-making from several players.

Too many men lacked concentration and apart from a 38-run stand between Junaid Siddique and Shakib, they rarely looked like posting a challenging score. Dhiman showed some spark with his 36-ball 30 that featured consecutive sweeps for six and four over midwicket off Cameron White, but his departure in the next over was one of several unnecessary blunders from Bangladesh. Dhiman had nearly 20 overs up his sleeve when he tried to hammer Stuart Clark down the ground but lobbed it clumsily to mid off. From there the tail tried to resist but the outcome was inevitable and Johnson returned to finish the task, ending up with 3 for 17.

Dhiman was far from the only batsman who would regret the way he got out. Alok Kapali spooned a weak aerial drive to mid on when he was far from settled, and the captain Mohammad Ashraful again failed to lead by example. Ashraful's loose drive at a fullish, wide Clark delivery resulted in a thick edge to first slip when he was on 3. It left Bangladesh at 3 for 15 and in danger of setting another record low score.

The Australia fast men did not make things easy, using the early 9.30am start to extract some impressive swing. Bracken picked up both openers, including Tamim Iqbal from the first ball of the game. Tamim received a pearler that angled in and then swung away, catching the edge of his bat and flying to David Hussey at second slip.

Bracken combined with the other Hussey brother, Michael, four overs later when Mehrab Hossain jnr prodded another outswinger to third slip and left his series tally at one run from 18 balls. The hordes of schoolchildren who gradually filtered in were in danger of missing the action until Shakib and Siddique threatened a fightback of sorts.

Shakib brought up the first boundary of the innings with a well-timed cover-drive off Bracken that finally gave Bangladesh reason to cheer. The pair attacked Johnson, whose speed troubled the batsmen on Saturday, and his first delivery was dispatched confidently through cover for four by Shakib, who also cut him high over point.

Siddique looked quietly confident and advanced calmly to drive James Hopes over mid on for four, and their partnership was growing impressively. But the familiar scenes returned when Johnson picked them both up within two overs, Siddique for 21 and Shakib for 19.

White got his wish of a lengthy spell and sent down seven overs, the most he has ever bowled in an ODI. Although he battled to pitch the ball on line at times, he collected two wickets and will again be searching for a decent stint in the final game.

There is not much else Australia can aim to improve. For Bangladesh, the most relevant goal is to somehow bat out their overs.

Walters calls for Symonds to clean up his act

A Harbhajan-Symonds re-match is becoming more unlikely.

Doug Walters says Andrew Symonds has become a "bit of a liability" but Dean Jones, another former Australia Test batsman, believes the treatment of the allrounder has been "disgraceful". Symonds was sent home from Darwin for going fishing instead of attending a team meeting and is unlikely to be part of next month's Test tour to India.

While Symonds decides on his future, he has been given more to think about following the responses from former players and coaches. Walters, who is famously laidback and the subject of numerous off-field adventures, has told Symonds to "pull his head in".

"I certainly think he must start toeing the line more than he is doing at the moment," Walters said in the Courier-Mail. "Whether he likes it or lumps it, he is a public figure and he should start acting like one. I certainly hope he does start toeing the line because we need a player like Andrew Symonds in the side."

Jones, speaking on Radio 2GB, wanted to know what the big deal was about Symonds' behaviour. "Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee did some awful things in their time," Jones said. "And it's not as if he's hit anyone or racially abused anyone.

"All he has done is miss a team meeting. For God's sake. We send him home and then throw him to the dogs. I think it's disgraceful.''

Greg Chappell, the former Australia captain and now Centre of Excellence coach, said Symonds needed a break from the game to work out what was important. "There are a lot of stresses away from the field," Chappell told AAP. "The constant focus of attention on everything that you do, anything that goes wrong will be highlighted.

"Learning to deal with all of that and understanding how it fits into a successful career and a successful team is a very important part of the mentoring role. Hopefully he decides playing for Australia is very important because he is a terrific cricketer and we all want to see him playing for Australia as long as possible."

Symonds will be given all the time he needs by Cricket Australia to make a decision on his future. "He has our absolute support and we've already gone to great lengths to ensure appropriate processes are in place for him," James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, said. "The feedback I have got from inside the team is that they have dealt with it as a welfare issue. There's some discipline issues related to it, but ultimately it's a welfare issue. We all want Andrew Symonds up and going, playing cricket for Australia."

Currently the only person who does not mind if Symonds returns is Harbhajan Singh. Symonds and Harbhajan were at the centre of the SCG row in January, but a repeat of the match-up is unlikely. "It doesn't bother me whether he is coming or not," Harbhajan said in the Courier-Mail. "We are playing against a team. If he features in it, fine, if he doesn't, things don't change much for me. We may have had our squabbles, but that's all part of the game."

Tri-series plans still in the air

Pakistan will not play a single Test this year and have played most of their ODIs against weaker teams such as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Negotiations are still underway for a tri-series tournament in South Africa, involving Pakistan and potentially Sri Lanka, as Pakistan continues to find ways to fill a depleted international calendar.

Though talk of the series has been rife since the Champions Trophy - originally scheduled to be held in Pakistan from September 12 - was finally postponed at the end of last month, progress in bringing it about has been slow.

The PCB's international cricket committee met today to review the situation arising from the postponement and discussed several options for Pakistan. Time, though, is against Pakistan as realistically, most teams have international commitments from October 1 and any commitment has to be arranged before then. The committee discussed the South Africa tri-series proposal as well as alternatives within and outside Pakistan.

"They [Cricket South Africa] are still looking at various commercial options and opportunities for the series," Shafqat Naghmi, chief operating officer, told Cricinfo. "The situation will be clearer once the commercial viability of the proposal is assessed."

It is believed that the PCB, eager for the series to go ahead, has offered to help CSA in trying to attract a broadcaster as well as sponsors. As of now, however, no dates are confirmed and neither is the availability of Sri Lanka just yet.

The Champions Trophy postponement left Pakistan with their second big gap in the year, after Australia refused to tour in March-April, also due to security concerns. Board officials are privately concerned at the lack of matches in Pakistan, not just because of the effect it has on the development of the side, but also the financial pressures.

Though neither the Australia tour nor the Champions Trophy have been written off as losses, some estimates suggest the PCB was looking to earn US$7 million from each series. "It isn't just that this team needs to play to learn more and develop. Financially it is very important that we just play," one official present at the meeting today told Cricinfo.

Pakistan will not play a single Test this year and have played most of their ODIs against weaker teams such as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Members of the current administration have long been unhappy with their predecessors, who, under Shaharyar Khan's tenure, negotiated such a lopsided Future Tours Programme (FTP) last time round. "We were left with very few commitments for this year and that is something we must address when the next FTP cycle is finalised," the official said.

Naghmi will now meet the governing board during the second week of September for approval of any potential assignments.

Greg Chappell accepts Australian Academy post

Brisbane is the next destination on Greg Chappell's journey.

Greg Chappell's coaching career has followed a familiar path to his playing days after he agreed to join the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane as the head coach. Chappell, who switched states from South Australia to Queensland more than three decades ago, will fill the post that has remained vacant since Tim Nielsen joined the national set-up last year.

Brian McFadyen, the former Tasmania coach, was in charge for 18 months in an interim role, but Cricket Australia delayed making a full-time appointment because it wanted someone with significant international experience. Chappell was mentioned in the initial search, but Cricket Australia originally hoped the New Zealander John Wright would take the position, and then the other preferred candidates, Dav Whatmore and Trevor Bayliss, gained international appointments. Eventually the journey returned to Chappell who, like Wright, has worked with India.

"I am looking forward to the challenge this position will offer in what is an exciting time, not just for Australian cricket but world cricket as a whole," Chappell, who has a three-year deal, said. "Working with other coaches in the Australian cricketing system and deciding how to make the best possible use of the wonderful facilities we have available to us is something that excites me greatly.

"I believe I have a lot to offer the younger players, especially in the mental area of the game from both a personal and coaching point of view, and have a lot of knowledge when it comes to individual and team preparations for cricketing tours." He will be in charge of all the Centre of Excellence programmes and will also be a consultant to the Australian team, and the Australia A coach.

Chappell said the current situation in Australia was reminiscent of the mid-1980s. "Australian cricket is again going through a period of rebuilding after what has been a very successful era," he said. "We need to ensure we continue this momentum and prepare the right kind of players who can continue our excellent performances of the past."

Chappell to continue work in Rajasthan

  • Chappell will continue to be the head coach of the Rajasthan Cricket Academy (RCA), a post to which he was appointed a year back. "He will be spending time both at the RCA and at the Centre of Excellence. This will only help the RCA in getting the best techniques and follow through with the training of our boys," Lalit Modi, the president of the Rajasthan board.

A former director of cricket at South Australia, Chappell landed the India job in 2005 but left two years later when the team was knocked out in the first round of the World Cup. In South Australia, where Chappell played from 1966 to 1973, he was unable to lift the Redbacks to any trophy success in five years in charge and his most memorable decision with India was to drop the then captain Sourav Ganguly.

Chappell's latest appointment was with the Rajasthan Cricket Association's Centre of Excellence, but he is expected to start at the Australian Academy before the end of the year. He will use his varied experience to develop the country's emerging and established young talent at the Centre of Excellence, which is based at Brisbane's Allan Border Field. A member of Australian Cricket's Hall of Fame, Chappell, the most graceful of batsmen, played 87 Tests, scoring 7110 runs at an average of 53.86, and captained the team in 48 matches.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Shah backed for a successful run

Owais Shah is being given the chance to seal a spot at No. 3 in the England one-day team.

The various pieces of England's one-day jigsaw have slotted into place seamlessly over the last couple of weeks against South Africa. Kevin Pietersen's desire to have Steve Harmison back in the attack, Andrew Flintoff at No. 5 and Samit Patel as the spin-bowling allrounder has worked like a dream. The only plan that hadn't quite come off, at least until Sunday at Lord's, was Owais Shah's promotion to No.3.

He made 12 in the opening match at Headingley and 23 at The Oval but on his home ground Shah guided England's run chase of 137 off 20 overs with 44 off 40 balls as they took a 4-0 lead in the series. He didn't panic after a slow start and soon unleashed an array of shots against the struggling South Africa bowlers. It was getting increasingly dark, but Shah didn't have any problems picking up the ball, swinging one six over the Tavern boundary.

Pietersen has had the utmost faith in his players so far and had no doubts that Shah would show his true value higher up the order after an extended run at No. 6. "He got a top edge at Headingley and a good ball from [Jacques] Kallis at The Oval," said Pietersen. "I had no doubt he would come off. He knew I had the confidence in him, and so did the players and his county stats prove he's a great player in first-class cricket.

"He deserved a go at three. He's played some fantastic shots, and the way he was talking when I was batting with him was a really good sign of things to come."

Shah's stand of 74 with Pietersen broke the back of South Africa's defence after England had struggled to find the boundary during the Powerplays. Andrew Flintoff came in and finished the match in a blaze of boundaries, but was quick to give credit to the hard work of his team-mate. "I came in and did what I did and probably took the glory - but the work had been done beforehand," he said.

Flintoff added that Shah had the talent to make the most of his promotion to No. 3. The pair played together in age-group cricket for England and, at 29, it was now time for Shah to push for a lengthy international career.

"I've played a lot of cricket with Owais since he was about 14," said Flintoff. "He's always been a special player - I think there's a hell of a lot more to come from him."

Unlike Flintoff and Pietersen, Shah will be back on county duty after the final ODI against South Africa, at Cardiff, on Wednesday after being one of the players released for the remainder of the season. It will be a chance for Shah to end the season in good form before looking ahead to the Stanford Super Series and a tour of India.

Nielsen plans for tour without Symonds

Andrew Symonds had an eventful series against India last season but there is no guarantee he will be around for the rematch.

Australia cannot assume Andrew Symonds will take part in their Test tour of India in October and are planning for potentially being without the allrounder, according to the coach Tim Nielsen. Symonds is pondering his future after being sent home from the Bangladesh series in Darwin because he missed a team meeting to go fishing.

Nielsen was one of the members of the team leadership group that made the tough decision to remove Symonds from the squad. He said Symonds' ongoing behaviour had raised concerns about his frame of mind and under the circumstances it was impossible to bank on having Symonds for the India trip.

"I don't think we can at the moment, I don't think we can bank on much at all at the moment," Nielsen told AAP. "The only thing we can bank on is providing as much support as we possibly can for him to make the right decision for him and for us, to come back into the group 100% committed.

"But how long is a piece of string? I don't know if Roy [Symonds] would understand or know how long it's going to take. I certainly don't."

Australia are less than a month from departing for India, where they will aim to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after beating India 2-1 at home in 2007-08. That series was played in often strained circumstances, partly due to a racism row featuring Symonds and Harbhajan Singh.

For the time being, Nielsen said Australia were being forced to rework their plans for the rematch due to the uncertainty over Symonds' future. "Oh yeah," he said, "we've lost our No. 6 batsman and our allrounder in the Test team for the short-term, so for sure."

White makes most of Symonds absence

Cameron White picked up a career-best 3 for 5 against Bangladesh but he is keen for some longer spells.

The loss of Andrew Symonds from Australia's team has opened a door for Cameron White during the series against Bangladesh. One of the few batsmen in Australia who can on occasions match Symonds for sheer power, White's legspin will also become more important if Symonds does not return to the one-day team soon.

In the West Indies this year, Australia were often happy to rely on the part-time slow bowling of Symonds and Michael Clarke instead of including a specialist to replace the retired Brad Hogg. White bowled in only one of the games in the Caribbean but he made the most of his chance against Bangladesh on Saturday, when he took a career-best 3 for 5.

More than any other player, White's place in the team could be affected by the return of Symonds. But he said the squad still had no idea exactly what frame of mind Symonds was in after being sent home from the Darwin series for going fishing.

"I don't think the team really knows," White said. "Obviously no-one's really spoken to Andrew over the last couple of days so only Andrew will know what his mental state is and he'll take the time and work it out for himself I guess."

In the meantime, White is happy to take on as much bowling responsibility as he can. He nearly doubled his career ODI wicket tally on Saturday - he had four victims from his previous 18 games - but he sent down only ten balls as the Bangladesh lower order capitulated in the 180-run loss.

Although he has played mostly as a batting allrounder for Victoria in the past few seasons, White is keen to get plenty of overs at the top level to prove he can handle the role of frontline spinner. Not a huge turner of the ball, White relies heavily on a stock top-spinner and he said he was unsure how much his bowling had improved lately.

"It's hard to get a gauge because I haven't bowled a hell of a lot," White said. "I'm happy with the way I'm bowling in the nets at the moment. I can probably bowl as much as I like in the nets but under the pressures of the game is where it counts the most and that's where I have to prove to myself and my team-mates and opposition that I can do it.

"It's just getting used to bowling at this level and dealing with the pressures that sort of comes with it. So the more bowling I get the better, I guess. It was nice to get a few wickets but it would have been nice to get a few overs under the belt as well."

He will have more opportunities to hone his legspin when he captains Australia A in India next month and he is keen to send down as close as possible to ten overs in each of the four one-dayers. The situation could be similar to Victoria, where he wants to bowl more but finds it difficult to juggle his responsibilities as captain with his desires as a bowler.

"A lot of bowling would be better for me but maybe not necessarily for the team," White said. "So obviously as the captain you have to do what's best for the team in the game situation and your gut feel."

For now, White is happy to take whatever chances he gets in the remaining two games against Bangladesh. If that means more than ten deliveries in each match, all the better.

Harmison available for season finale

Player availability

  • Unavailable for rest of season Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook (except a Pro40 fixture & T20 floodlit challenge), Andrew Flintoff, Ryan Sidebottom (due to injury)
  • Available for rest of season Tim Ambrose, Ravi Bopara, Stephen Harmison, Samit Patel, Monty Panesar, Matt Prior, Owais Shah, Andrew Strauss, Graeme Swann, Luke Wright

England players who have been involved in all forms of cricket during the season will be given an extended break after the one-day series against South Africa, and won't be available for their counties for the rest of the summer. Andrew Flintoff, despite only returning to international cricket in the middle of July, is also unavailable as England coach Peter Moores looks ahead to a packed calendar from the end of October.

Durham will be relieved that Steve Harmison has been made available as they chase their first Championship title, but will have to do without Paul Collingwood. Nottinghamshire's challenge is boosted with Graeme Swann and Samit Patel returning from international duty, but Ryan Sidebottom has been ruled out for the rest of the season with his injury problems. Sussex, too, will be strengthened with the availability of Matt Prior and Luke Wright.

The postponement of the Champions Trophy has provided an unexpected chance for some players to return to their counties. However, Moores said it was important for those with a heavy workload to take advantage of the rare opportunity of an extended rest ahead of the Stanford Super Series and India tour.

"It has been a gruelling summer schedule and it's important for those players involved in both the Test and ODI squads to be rested ahead of what promises to be a hectic winter," Moores said. "It is important the players use that interval to refresh themselves mentally and physically ahead of a schedule that has little respite over the next 12 months."

Alastair Cook is available for two one-day matches for Essex - a Pro40 against Warwickshire and a floodlit challenge game - but won't have any Championship action. This is despite him only playing two days of cricket since the final Test against South Africa finished on August 11.

"Alastair has not featured in the current series and after working hard on his one-day game during recent weeks he is available Essex," explained Moores.

For those players with no more cricket this season, after Cardiff on Wednesday, there is now an eight-week break before the week of matches in Antigua for the Stanford Super Series. After a week in the Caribbean, England begin their seven-match one-day series in India on November 14 before two Tests before Christmas. The first Test in West Indies begins on February 4 in Jamaica and the final ODI is on April 3.

England's next home season includes a two-Test series against Sri Lanka before the ICC World Twenty20 and the Ashes series. That is followed by seven ODIs against Australia, then there is the chance of a rescheduled Champions Trophy.

South Africa overpowered in 20-over thrash

Andrew Flintoff starred once again with bat and ball as South Africa were condemned to their fourth defeat of the series.

Kevin Pietersen produced a bruising innings of 40 from 34 balls, before Owais Shah and Andrew Flintoff carried their side to victory in a fourth-wicket stand of 44, as England chased down a revised target of 137 in 20 overs to move a step closer to their coveted 5-0 whitewash. On a piecemeal day's cricket that was delayed for more than two hours then suffered two further lengthy interruptions, Shah and Pietersen roused England from a sluggish start with a third-wicket stand of 74 in 9.1 overs, before Flintoff scorched them to victory with 14 balls remaining.

In the end the result was emphatic, but this performance was not quite the waltz that England had produced in their previous two matches at Trent Bridge and The Oval. In part that could be attributed to the frequent weather interruptions (the match began as a 39-over affair, was reduced to 33, then finished as a 20-over thrash) but nevertheless, there were two clear occasions when South Africa held the whip hand, only for England to prise their fingers off with an efficiency rarely witnessed in the country's one-day cricket.

For the best part of a decade, South Africa have been a formidable one-day outfit, but this was a performance that revealed just how far they have slipped from the standards they were setting at the end of the 1990s. After being asked to bat first in juicy conditions, Herschelle Gibbs produced a glimpse of his former glories with a typically no-nonsense 74 from 75 balls, and Hashim Amla produced one of the most cultured 34s you could ever hope to witness, but a rollicking opening stand of 66 in nine overs was squandered as the soft underbelly of their batting order was exposed once again.

The man who exposed the frailties, unsurprisingly, was Flintoff, whose figures of 3 for 21 in seven overs transformed the dynamics of the match. He was thrown the ball moments after Steve Harmison had been clobbered by Amla for four wonderful boundaries in a single over, and his mere presence was enough to unsettle South Africa.

Off Flintoff's first ball, Gibbs pushed a good length delivery down the ground and charged through for a single. Amla at first hovered in his crease then belatedly set off, by which time Shah at mid-off had gathered with his left hand, pirouetted while transferring to his right, and unleashed a flat and deadly accurate shy at the stumps at the far end. It was a sad end to a fine innings, but Amla's reticence in the end cost him dear.

Two overs later, and Flintoff was in the action again - albeit in marginally controversial circumstances. Jacques Kallis, whose form has collapsed on this tour, swished loosely outside off to a ball that nipped off the seam, and appeared to beat the bat. Matt Prior behind the stump went up for a loud appeal, and Simon Taufel - after a consultation with his colleague - decided to refer the decision to the third umpire, Ian Gould. Under the current regulations, Gould can only adjudicate on whether the ball carried, not whether there was an edge or not. And so, a furious Kallis was sent on his way. Although belated replays did eventually suggest there had been a nick, it nonetheless seemed to be another muddled use of technology.

Gibbs brought up his fifty from 46 balls with a single into the covers off Samit Patel, but the momentum had been sucked clean out of South Africa's innings, and England's bowlers recognised as much. AB de Villiers never got going in a fitful 34-ball stay, JP Duminy slogged gamely before driving Flintoff to Ian Bell in the covers, and when Gibbs stepped across his stumps to be bowled off the thigh pad by Stuart Broad, South Africa were 158 for 5 and struggling. Vernon Philander - standing in for the injured Albie Morkel - became Flintoff's third victim as he scooped an over-ambitious drive to long-off, and the gut feeling as the end of the innings approached was that rain would be South Africa's only saviour.

For a while it appeared that would be the case. With five balls remaining, the heavens opened and the outfield was drenched, but such is the sophistication of the Lord's drainage system that a restart was inevitable if the weather cleared up. Sure enough, at 5.38pm they were back on the field, with England handed an unexpected opportunity to test their Twenty20 techniques before the Stanford clash in November.

Chris Gayle and his colleagues would not have been quivering in fear as they watched the early exchanges of England's chase. Prior and Bell had added almost 200 runs at a run a ball in the previous two matches, but all of a sudden neither man could get the ball off the square as South Africa's bowlers produced a wholehearted defence of their inadequate total. It took until the fifth over for Bell to score the first boundary, whereupon he fell to the very next delivery, as Morne Morkel found the edge of a wild swipe with a full-length delivery. By this stage Prior had fallen to Dale Steyn for a fourth-ball duck, and after eight overs of Powerplays, England had yet to reduce their requirement to double-figures.

But then, all of a sudden, Pietersen found his range. His first real shot in anger richoceted off Shah's leg at the non-striker's end, but there was no mistake with his follow-up, a bruising pull through midwicket off Vernon Philander. Kallis decided the time was nigh to bring himself into the attack, but the move backfired spectacularly. Pietersen battered him for three withering fours in a row, before Shah launched the sixth - and final - ball of his spell into the Tavern Stand for six.

The result was never in doubt after that. Pietersen swatted another six through midwicket, and though he holed out to Amla at midwicket (it looked for a moment as though he was about to unfurl the switch-hit), Flintoff's second scoring shot was a late cut of such sumptuous timing that you knew he was in the mood to see it through to the end. A fusillade of boundaries followed as the light faded along with South Africa's hopes, and he was unbeaten on 31 from just 12 balls when the winning boundary whistled through deep backward square.

Kaneria determined to return fitter than ever

Danish Kaneria broke a finger while playing for Essex.

Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan leg-spinner, is determined to use his enforced six-week injury lay-off in a positive manner, and enter the domestic season in October at his fittest.

Kaneria broke a finger on August 21 playing for Essex, and had a wire inserted into his finger last week. He has been advised complete rest for the time being.

"The specialist, Dr Shahad Ghani, inserted a wire into my finger behind the knuckle of my right ring finger to help mend the fracture and that will stay in there for a month," Kaneria told "He has told me not to do any weights or think about cricket for at least a month and probably more like six weeks.

"I had to stay in hospital for one night to allow the general anaesthetic to wear off but I was discharged the next day.

"I am staying positive about the injury because these things happen in cricket. Instead of being miserable about it I am actually viewing this time as an opportunity to get myself stronger and fitter than I have been for a long time.

"Although I cannot lift weights for the short term I will at least be able to start running soon and go on the cycling machine in the gym. The good thing is that Pakistan do not have any cricket coming up so it is not as though I am going to miss a Test series. We next play against India in January."

'Afridi has no team ethics' - Laxman

Laxman: "Probably it is time someone told Afridi that a captain can only be as good as the team and to blame only me is totally out of place".

VVS Laxman, the Deccan Chargers captain, has said that it was a "collective failure" that resulted in the franchise finishing last during the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League in 2007-08 and said he was "really shocked" that team-mate Shahid Afridi criticised his performance in public.

"Afridi has no team ethics. Speaking negatively about the team in public, let alone the captain, is just not on," Laxman told "Being an experienced cricketer, he should not be questioning the way the team functions. I am really shocked to say the least. He should know that it was a collective failure because he was part of the team. It is unfortunate that he chose to blame the captain for it."

Laxman was reacting to Afridi's statement that Adam Gilchrist would have been a better choice to lead the side than Laxman. "At times Laxman lost the plot on the field," Afridi told Geo News. "Twenty20 cricket is not his forte. Adam is more comfortable in this type of cricket.

"Gilchrist was one of the two most successful players for us along with Rohit Sharma. He played some really good innings and his input was very good at times on the field. If they do appoint Adam as captain I think he would be a better choice than Laxman."

Both Laxman and Afridi performed poorly during the IPL. Afridi was one of the most high-profile failures, scoring only 81 runs in ten innings. Laxman sustained an injury after six games, in which he scored 155 runs, and Gilchrist took over as captain. The Deccan Chargers won only two out of 14 games in the league.

"Probably it is time someone told Afridi that a captain can only be as good as the team and to blame only me is totally out of place," Laxman said. "The truth is that the team did not perform to its potential. Every player should take the blame for it and try and comeback strongly in the next edition instead of blaming each other.

"There was not much I could do after I fractured my hand and heeded the team's request to travel with it. So just being with the team does not mean I was influencing the decisions on the field. Gilchrist was totally in charge of the game once he took over from me and being a true professional, he does not take orders from others and was instrumental in making the decisions in the middle."

Surrey keen on signing Shoaib

Surrey have Shoaib Akhtar in their radar .
Surrey have expressed interest in signing Shoaib Akhtar, the Pakistan fast bowler, in their bid to avoid relegation. Surrey are currently at the bottom of Division One in the County Championship, and have only three games remaining.

"We have made contact, we have spoken with him [Shoaib]," Alan Butcher, Surrey's cricket manager, told the Press Association. "We are just waiting to see whether it's possible. We've got three matches left and we need something to happen.''

ECB regulations require overseas players to spend a minimum of three weeks in England, but the county was hopeful that Shoaib's potential signing will be mutually beneficial. "They [overseas players] have to be here for a period of 21 days,'' Butcher said. "But he is keen. He's desperate to get back into the Pakistan side and is hoping this could be a springboard to do that.

"If it [the deal] does go through, we hope it can be of great benefit to us all," he said.

If an agreement is reached, Shoaib could play as early as next week, when Surrey face Kent at Canterbury. He has previously represented Worcestershire and Durham with only limited success.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

South Africa desperate to fight back

Andrew Flintoff: back in ominous form with the bat.

Match facts
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Start time 10.45BST (9.45GMT)

Big Picture
And so, the Kevin Pietersen fairytale continues. England took an unassailable 3-0 lead at The Oval, but for England's new and irrepressibly positive captain, he and his team have greater goals in their sights: a 5-0 whitewash. It may have seemed an implausible task before the series, but such has been England's dominance that Pietersen's ambition is perfectly achievable. Sunday's match represents another chance for South Africa to turn around their short-term fortunes, yet the poor form of their senior players - Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher in particular - has prompted their coach, Mickey Arthur, to look ahead to the future. He wants the younger generation to stake a claim for their own futures, but also sees Lord's as the beginning of a new era. It cannot come quick enough, as it seems unlikely England will take their foot off the gas in the last two games.

Form guide
England WWWLL
South Africa LLLWW

Watch out for...

Andrew Flintoff
How England have missed him. Although he continues to maintain he is a batting allrounder who occasionally bowls, the rest of the world coo with awe over his consistent venom with the ball. Yet, pleasingly for him, he has shown some of his best form since the 2005 Ashes with the bat. A cultured, mature 78 - his second of the series - at The Oval helped lift England out of a sticky position to post a challenging 296, and perhaps now that he is the oldest member of this young side, the added responsibility has made him a more complete player.

Jacques Kallis
It was hoped, certainly for South Africa's fortunes, that his elevation to captaincy might reverse his dismal form with the bat. Not so. He managed just 9 at The Oval in their 126-run defeat, yet it seems farfetched that one of South Africa's most consistent run-scorers won't make an impact come the end of the series. Should he need any inspiration, he might find it in the words of his coach, who has labelled the Lord's ODI as the start of a new era. Kallis, a proud man of prodigious talent, will not fade away meekly. Or will he?

Team news
It seems perfectly reasonable to expect England to name an unchanged side from the one which walloped South Africa on Friday. Samit Patel took the plaudits for his 5 for 41 - the first England spinner to take a five-for since Ashley Giles in 2002 - yet he also struck an impish 31 from 33 balls, as well as taking two very smart catches. With Flintoff in form, and Steve Harmison bowling with accuracy and pace, England are a team united.

England (probable) 1 Ian Bell, 2 Matt Prior (wk), 3 Owais Shah, 4 Kevin Pietersen (capt), 5 Andrew Flintoff, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Luke Wright, 8 Samit Patel, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steve Harmison.

It is difficult to know who Arthur will opt for, in light of his rallying call to the youngsters. JP Duminy is clearly one for the future, yet has looked overawed, while Morne Morkel has shown glimpses of his own prolific ability. His brother, Albie, has returned from injury, and briefly asserted himself with 16 from 17 balls in Friday's game, but South Africa urgently need their wizened troops - Kallis, Boucher, Gibbs - to lean on their vast experience and produce the goods.

South Africa (possible) 1 Herschelle Gibbs, 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Jacques Kallis (capt), 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Jean-Paul Duminy, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Johan Botha, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Makhaya Ntini.

Umpires: Mark Benson and Simon Taufel

Pitch and conditions
Though summer has only briefly threatened to arrive, Lord's has quickened up as the season has progressed. Yet it offers plenty of assistance to the bowlers - even more so when considering the humid, stormy conditions that are forecast for north London.
Stats and Trivia

* South Africa have only played once at Lord's before, back in 2003, and were beaten by seven wickets. Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson, who shared five wickets in that game, are the only surviving members of England's squad.

* Not since 2006, in the VB Series, have South Africa lost three ODIs in succession. The last time they lost four matches in a row was against Sri Lanka in 2004, a series that they lost 5-0.

"That's the sort of pressure we want. Pressure, I believe, is a privilege. If we win 5-0, which is a goal, then it takes us up to the top with Australia. If we keep delivering there's no reason why we can't do it."
Kevin Pietersen's confidence knows no bounds.

"Everyone is under serious threat at the moment. We are going to need some big performances from them. It's up to the youngsters in the next two games to put their hands up and stake a claim for places."
Mickey Arthur maintains that no South Africa player's place can be taken for granted

Symonds determined to fight back

Tim Nielsen says Andrew Symonds' frame of mind in recent months has been a concern.

Andrew Symonds is committed to forcing his way back into the Australia team but whether that is possible for October's tour of India is uncertain, according to his agent Matt Fearon. Symonds was thrown out of the squad in Darwin after missing a team meeting because he went fishing.

It was only a misdemeanour but it was the last straw for a team leadership group that was already concerned about Symonds' dedication and frame of mind following several other incidents. Symonds flew home to Brisbane while his colleagues took on Bangladesh on Saturday and Fearon said the allrounder was pondering his attitude and his future.

"Andrew's going to take some time to reflect on what's happened," Fearon said. "He's still committed to playing cricket at the highest level. How he goes about doing that and how it plays out I don't know. Whether it means India I don't know."

It has been an eventful year for Symonds, who among other things was at the centre of a racism row with India's Harbhajan Singh in January. Paul Marsh, the chief executive of the Australian Cricketers' Association, said the latest incident was unexpected but the ACA would do everything it could to get him back into the Australia team.

"It was a surprise but there were issues last summer that have been well documented," Marsh said. "Our role is obviously we're here to support Andrew. We've been in discussion with his manager and look to put in place the best possible support for him."

Australia maintain that a break from the game is in Symonds' best interests as well as for the good of the team, although nobody knows how long his lay-off will be. His attitude over the past few months has troubled the squad's senior figures and the coach Tim Nielsen said the fishing expedition was simply a trigger point.

"They [usually] don't miss a thing and they are always early and presented as well as they possibly can," Nielsen said. "When somebody hasn't got the information that they need or hasn't turned up on time it's usually due to the fact they're away from us and the group a little bit, mentally. That always raises concerns."

While Cricket Australia said it would do whatever it could to help Symonds, the unusual situation means it is not clear what he must do to prove his commitment. "There's no prescribed, exact process for these sorts of things," Marsh said. "We just need to get to the bottom of things and work out what's the best way to move forward."

Geeves grateful for dad's job advice

Brett Geeves picked up 2 for 11 on debut against Bangladesh.

If it wasn't for some frank words from his father, Brett Geeves would have been toiling away in a manual labour job in the miserable, wintry Tasmania weather on Saturday. Instead, he was working hard in draining heat for the priceless reward of two wickets in his one-day international debut.

Geeves had such a disappointing 2006-07 season with Tasmania that during the following winter he was hours away from giving up on the game, fearing he would lose his state contract. He was dejected at his poor form and being overlooked for the Pura Cup final, a match when his Tigers team-mates made history by winning the title for the first time.

"Probably ten hours," Geeves said when asked how near he came to giving up on his cricket career. "I was really, really close. I'd been offered a job and I was going to take it. I spoke to my father and he said 'No, don't. That would be pretty stupid'.

"Luckily I didn't and it's all worked out quite well. It was a labouring job. It was going to be tough work. I'm obviously stoked that I didn't take the position."

Instead, he concentrated on getting into better shape and completed a football pre-season with the Glenorchy club. Geeves believes the hard fitness work helped him become a more dangerous bowler and the results bear that out. In 2007-08 he was Tasmania's Player of the Year and was the equal leading wicket-taker in the FR Cup.

"[Glenorchy] flogged the pants off me to be honest," Geeves said. "I ran more than I ever thought I could run and it was just key to me getting back on the park and playing some good cricket. I've now got some confidence in my body, I hit the wicket a bit harder."

Despite his strong domestic season - and the surprise of being picked by the Indian Premier League team the Delhi Daredevils - Geeves was stunned to be called into the one-day international team. He had to wait until Bangladesh were four wickets down before getting his first chance to bowl but the build-up did not bother Geeves, who was too busy soaking up the atmosphere.

"There was always the chance of getting a couple of cheap ones at the end," Geeves said. "It was great just to be out there, the first 18 or 20 overs before I bowled. I got a catch and ran around and was patting everyone on the bum. It felt quite surreal."

Just as pleasing for Geeves was that his first wicket came with a genuinely good delivery, a leg-cutter that caught the outside edge of Dhiman Ghosh's bat. He finished with 2 for 11 but is not guaranteed of holding his place for the second match on Wednesday, with Shane Watson set to return to the side.

Regardless of what happens, Geeves remains thrilled to have capped off a remarkable 12 months by achieving something that seemed impossible less than two years ago. "I didn't ever think I'd play for Australia," Geeves said. "It's not really something I've thought about in the past. For it to happen has been quite unbelievable."

Australia's back-up boys crush Bangladesh

Shaun Marsh gave Australia a reasonable opening with 76 - two more than the tourists managed.

Michael Hussey and Shaun Marsh proved that even an under-strength and comparatively under-prepared Australia are a major handful for Bangladesh, who crumbled to their lowest ODI score and a 180-run loss. Before the game Jamie Siddons, the Bangladesh coach, said a rusty Australia would still be very good and after they posted a challenging 254, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Geeves troubled the top order to set up the one-sided result.

The build-up to the match was remarkably similar to the memorable 2005 contest in Cardiff when Andrew Symonds turned up to the ground under the influence of alcohol, was left out of the match, and Bangladesh scored a five-wicket win. This time Symonds was scratched because he had missed a team meeting due to a fishing trip on Friday, but his colleagues had no intention of letting the incident affect the outcome.

Marsh and Hussey registered cautious half-centuries that stopped Bangladesh's bowlers gaining any momentum, although the attack was commendably tight at times. But even without Australia's strike bowler Brett Lee, the home team was far too strong in the field and Johnson's speed was a handful.

He picked up their most dangerous striker, Tamim Iqbal, who had struck a couple of boundaries from the slower Nathan Bracken. When he tried to slash Johnson over third man, the debutant Geeves ran around and took an awkward-looking but well-judged catch. Tamim had made 21 and tellingly for Bangladesh, the 16-run stand he had just shared with his captain Mohammad Ashraful was the largest of the innings.

Johnson also picked up Ashraful, who tried a lavish pull to a delivery that stayed a touch low and struck him dead in front. Michael Clarke and Stuart Clark chipped in with wickets and by the time Geeves was handed the ball for the first time four batsmen were already gone.

He bowled with impressive speed and had little trouble capturing a couple of victims to boost his confidence. The Bangladesh lower order fizzled without a whimper and handed Cameron White three easy wickets, highlighting just how valuable the concentration of Marsh and Hussey had been on a hot and sunny Darwin day.

The pair combined for a grinding 85-run third-wicket partnership that masked a hint of under-preparation from the top order, which had been given only one warm-up game to get used to the conditions. Marsh and Hussey managed only three boundaries during their stand, hardly the "100 miles an hour from ball one" that the captain Clarke promised.

But their efforts were appreciated by a team that had been reduced to 11 available men before play began. As well as losing Symonds, they were also without Shane Watson, who was rested as a precaution as he suffered soreness in his lower left leg - he had also nursed a broken toe on his left foot through the West Indies tour.

The top-order reshuffle gave James Hopes a chance to open, but when he and Clarke both departed relatively cheaply and without dominating Bangladesh's bowlers - their self-proclaimed weakness - it was left to Hussey and Marsh to rebuild. They relied heavily on Marsh in the early stages and he continued to prove himself a player for the future with an assured 76 that included few risks.

In his first one-day international in Australia, he played calmly and turned over the strike with ease, if not exactly hurting the bowlers. Bangladesh struggled to plug the holes in the field and easy ones and twos were available throughout the innings but their spinners proved difficult to attack. Only with the loss of Marsh, who inside-edge onto his stumps to Abdur Razzak, did Australia threaten to lift the tempo. Eventually it was a late assault from Hussey that got Australia up to a total that left his captain Clarke "rapt".

Hussey was out from the last ball for 85 - one of three wickets to Shahadat Hossain in the 50th over - as Australia piled on 49 in the final five. His late strikes, including a powerful six over long-off, brought the loudest cheers from a laid-back Darwin crowd, full of deck chairs and with barely a pair of long trousers in sight.

They gradually filtered in after the early start time of 9.30am. By 4pm, they were heading home. As patriotic as the local fans were, they will be hoping for a more even contest in the second match on Wednesday.

Dhoni stars in memorable triump

There has been an unmistakable zeal to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's leadership.

The Test side's failures against Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan had slashed expectations about the one-day side exponentially, but on the night of August 27, when a huddle of men yelled and shrieked at the Premadasa Stadium, almost everyone clapped in appreciation. For India, this 3-2 triumph, sealed by the fabulous efforts of their medium-pacers and the reliable bat of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, came against the odds.

India were the more consistent team and deserved to win the series, but it wasn't an entirely fluent triumph, as other than Dhoni and Suresh Raina, India's batsmen struggled. Gautam Gambhir, after a stellar Test series, had a thoroughly disappointing outing. He never got past the Powerplays and his attempts to take on the medium-pacers led to his downfall. Similarly for Yuvraj Singh, who poked and prodded his way to 72 runs in the series. Rohit Sharma's place will also come under scrutiny after a poor series, though he was a victim of poor umpiring on two occasions.

The extension of Dhoni's new cool, calm and collected avatar into his batting; the fluidity of Raina, who like Dhoni, refused to be overawed by spin; and the encouraging glimpses of potential shown by Virat Kohli and S Badrinath, were paramount to the win. Dhoni singled out Kohli's 159 runs as part of the growing process, and said such players needed time to settle. These were not always easy tracks to bat on, and Kohli's 55 in the fourth game and Badrinath's unbeaten 27 in the second were key innings. Both instilled confidence and saw out tough passages. Raina's handling of the spinners, and his ability to hold one end up while scoring at a good rate, was pleasing. He looks nearer to the complete package in his second coming. India have headaches about how to fill the shoes of stalwarts such as Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, and hopefully such players will step up to the task.

Sreesanth was injured and RP Singh not favoured until the dead rubber, but India's pace attack delivered. The combination of Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel looked exciting and achieved more than any Indian fast bowlers over the past year. The pick of the bowlers was Zaheer, who bowled splendidly in Dambulla and maintained a consistent, nagging channel at the Premadasa.

A rehabilitated Munaf's comeback series was a boon as he showed he'd worked hard on all aspects of his game. He slipped into the third seamer's role in three games and always produced breakthroughs, bowling with fire and purpose. He made the ball dart both ways and was staggeringly accurate when opening the attack.

It is early days in his captaincy, but is it a coincidence that under Dhoni, India have won the inaugural World Twenty20, their first trophy in Australia for 22 years, and their first ever series in Sri Lanka?

After a dismal Asia Cup, Praveen bowled with heart and was in the wickets in all games except one. Irfan Pathan had to make way for Praveen in three matches but with the trio working as a unit, India managed with four specialist bowlers. Harbhajan Singh kept it simple, varying his pace and flight, and remained steady without being threatening. He didn't have much to do given how successful the pacers were. Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner, bowled craftily in the final game.

After dropping catches like hotcakes during the Asia Cup, India's fielding was efficient, bar the last game when they missed run-outs and conceded overthrows. Dhoni maintained his standards behind the stumps and the bowlers were mostly adept at saving runs off their own bowling. Badrinath took a good catch on debut, Kohli pulled off some good stops - though he dropped a relatively straightforward catch off Jayasuriya at cover - and Munaf and Praveen covered good distance in the deep to save boundaries. Yuvraj, far from the livewire he once was due to a nagging knee injury, was shuffled around in the field and didn't always impress. Rohit was good at backward point.

It is almost inconceivable that India could have won without Dhoni, Man of the Series and now the No. 1 ODI batsman in the world. He was reliable with bat and gloves all series, and his overall presence was immense. It is early days in his captaincy, but is it a coincidence that under Dhoni, India have won the inaugural World Twenty20, their first trophy in Australia for 22 years, and their first ever ODI series in Sri Lanka?

Zaheer Khan was the pick of the Indian bowlers.

Dhoni has spoken enthusiastically about the potential of the young players in the team (nine of the 15 in the ODI squad are 25 or under, two are 26, the oldest is 29). India have been compelled to invest in youth, and a bit of the pain of losing the Test series has been wiped away by the success in the one-dayers.

Three years ago, after India thumped Sri Lanka 5-1 at home, it appeared their captain and coach were on the same page, keeping their options open and relying on flexibility with an eye on the 2007 World Cup. Then they lost series in the West Indies and South Africa, and that rose-tinted picture ended in flames after India crashed out in the first round of cricket's biggest tournament. The momentum had been lost.

Since then, though, Dhoni has batted splendidly and captained with a tactical finesse not always known in Indian cricket. There has been an unmistakable zeal to his leadership and importantly, his young wards have responded to it. The trick is to maintain the intensity. Three wins on the trot in tough conditions is commendable, but tougher challenges are in store. England, Pakistan and New Zealand will set entirely different challenges; only then can this win be better assessed.

Fans of Indian cricket will hope the recent upswing under Dhoni, like the surge during the 2003 World Cup - which came on the heels of a thrashing in New Zealand - is no aberration. There is a sense that this young side will not entirely follow the course of previous sides.