Thursday, November 27, 2008

England fly home but Tests go ahead

The England team suitcases lined up at the hotel lobby in Bhubaneswar.

England have cut short the ongoing one-day series against India following Wednesday's terrorist strikes in Mumbai and will fly back home on Saturday morning. However, Lalit Modi, the head of the BCCI's fixtures committee, and Hugh Morris, the ECB's managing director, both confirmed the Test series would still go ahead.

"The Test series will go ahead, and there is no problem with that," Modi told Cricinfo. "We are sure the first Test will go ahead as scheduled in Ahmedabad [from December 14]. But there is a problem over hosting the second Test in Mumbai [from December 19]. The ECB wants the Test to be shifted to southern India, we are exploring all options."

Bangalore and Chennai are among the venues being considered and Modi said a final decision would be taken in the next 24 hours after discussions with the ground authorities.

The decision to postpone the remaining two ODIs of the seven-match series was taken during a meeting between BCCI secretary N Srinivasan, England's managing director Morris, and the Indian team management in Bhubaneshwar. England did not travel to Guwahati on Thursday as scheduled and will remain in Bhubaneshwar overnight before flying to Bangalore, where they will spend Friday night, before boarding a plane home on Saturday.

"It's very, very real and emotions are very high. It's a sensitive time. The home environment is where the players should be for a few days," Morris told Sky Sports News. "The Test matches are in place and, unless we get security advice to the contrary, they will be going ahead."

The Indian team, which had a meeting mid-day, was informed by the BCCI about England's position. "We have been told England are going back home. So we are going to our homes," Venkatesh Prasad, India's bowling coach, told Cricinfo. As of now, the Indian team has been asked to assemble in Ahmedabad on December 8, three days before the scheduled start of the first Test start against England.

The ICC said they had "no role to play in the current situation" regarding the England tour of India. "The arrangements for the tour itself is strictly a bilateral matter," an ICC spokesperson said. "The only time we would play a part is if there is a disagreement between the boards about whether the tour would proceed or not. In that case there would be a security assessment binding with the two boards."

England's High Performance squad's tour has also been called off and the players, currently training in Bangalore, will travel home immediately. The squad, which includes Michael Vaughan, Monty Panesar and Andrew Strauss, was scheduled to reach Mumbai on December 3 to play a practice game and train with the England Test side.

The strikes, including blasts and shooting incidents, were spread out across the city but the majority of them were in south Mumbai, the main tourist hub. In the early hours of Thursday morning, a major blaze was sweeping through the Taj Mahal hotel, a city landmark and the scene of one such attack, which was to host the two Test teams and was where the England side stayed during their warm-up period in Mumbai.

It is also where Middlesex were set to check-in on Thursday for their Champions League fixtures. Middlesex were due to leave London for Mumbai at 10am on Thursday to prepare for the Champions League but postponed their departure by 24 hours after being told that matches scheduled for Mumbai would be switched to Bangalore.

The Brabourne Stadium, venue of the second Test and scheduled to host three Champions League games, is in the middle of the area where most attacks have taken place. It is also the vicinity where most foreign tourists are likely to stay.

Champions League postponed

ICL and Ranji Trophy also affected

  • The ICL has called off its ongoing world series after a meeting with Gujarat government officials. "The [ICL] executive board decided it was not appropriate to continue," Kiran More, a board member, told Cricinfo. "We were ready with the extra security but felt the atmosphere in the wake of the Mumbai events was just not right to go ahead with the matches." The world series, involving India XI, Pakistan XI, Bangladesh XI and World XI, was scheduled to end on Saturday.
  • The Ranji Trophy match between Mumbai and Hyderabad, which was scheduled to start on November 29 in Mumbai, has also been postponed. The match will now be played between December 2 and 5.

The inaugural Champions League Twenty20, scheduled to begin in Mumbai on December 3, has been postponed following Wednesday's terrorist strikes in the city. The tournament is likely to be held in India early next year, Lalit Modi, the Champions League chairman, told Cricinfo.

Modi said the tournament was postponed due to the logistical problems associated with finding a third venue after Mumbai was ruled out as a host. The governing council will meet in the middle of December to finalise fresh dates for the tournament, which will be held in India, he said.

"We are confident we can hold the tournament early next year," Modi said. "India will remain the venue, as there was never a problem with hosting it here. All the teams agreed that they wanted to come for the tournament. But we had a problem with finding a third venue after Mumbai. There was no way we could have shifted the venue to Bangalore or Chennai, considering the state of the wickets and the grounds would not have accommodated all the matches."

A series of terrorist strikes in Mumbai on Wednesday night left at least 100 dead and 250 injured; the situation had not settled on Thursday, with Army troops joining the security operations.

Cricket Australia had advised its two teams, Victoria and Western Australia, and other players taking part in the tournament against travel to India in the immediate future.

"We held consultations among all the stakeholders including the founding members, the participating teams and members of the Governing Council after the unfortunate terrorist attacks in Mumbai on Wednesday night," Modi said in a statement. "It was agreed that in the best interests of all concerned, the inaugural edition of the Champions League should be postponed."

But it won't be easy for the organisers to find a window for the Champions League early next year. Australia are engaged in home and away series against South Africa, India are due to tour Pakistan and West Indies host England in a four-Test series in February. The one clear break in the international calendar is taken up by the second season of the IPL, due to start in April.

New Zealand fight to stay seventh

Ross Taylor, who was his side's leading batsman in Brisbane, has a big job to do in the second Test.

Match facts
November 28 to December 2, 2008
Start time 10.30am (00.00GMT)

Big Picture
Australia won the first Test in Brisbane, though it was not as one-sided as they might have expected. But a win is a win and after they had not triumphed in any of the four Tests in India the result was welcome. The success became slightly overshadowed in the days that followed after news emerged of Andrew Symonds' latest bar-room incident. Symonds had only just made his comeback and some of his team-mates were frustrated at seeing him involved in more off-field drama but Cricket Australia decided he had done nothing wrong and he kept his place for the Adelaide match.

It is the final Test of the series and following the game several of the Australian players will rush to India for the Champions League Twenty20 - if it goes ahead following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai - while their team-mates can enjoy a two-week break ahead of the first Test against South Africa in Perth. New Zealand head home after this game to host a series against West Indies.

The stakes are high for the tourists. They cannot win the Trans-Tasman Trophy and the best they can do is draw the series. However, should they lose the match they will fall to eighth in the ICC's Test rankings, behind West Indies. It would leave them ahead of only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and would increase their reputation as a challenging one-day side that struggles to adapt to the longer format.

Form guide (last five Tests, most recent first)
Australia WLDLD
New Zealand LDWLL

Watch out for
Matthew Hayden - The match should be a celebration for Hayden, who is playing his 100th Test. But in the past couple of weeks as much ink has been dedicated to speculation over his future as to reflecting on his achievements. Hayden has not made a Test century since he last played at this venue, when he posted 103 against India in January. A lingering achilles tendon injury stopped him from playing in the West Indies and since then he has averaged 26.88 from five Tests. A series-ending Test on a batting-friendly surface against a middling attack could be precisely what he needs to get back in form.

Ross Taylor - In a batting line-up that struggled severely in Brisbane, Taylor was the one man who threatened to get on top of Australia's bowlers. He top scored in both innings and his 75 in the second might have helped them save the game, had he had any help from his colleagues. Not a man whose score will trickle along with too many singles, Taylor has had his temperament questioned at Test level but his talent is without doubt. He likes playing Australia. In his first ODI against them he made 84 at better than a run a ball in Hobart and his 117 in a Chappell-Hadlee Trophy match set up a superb chase of 340 at Eden Park.

Team news
Australia' horses-for-courses selection policy has cost Shane Watson his position as the selectors were keen to include a specialist spinner on a surface where fast bowling is not always the most rewarding occupation. Things became more complicated when Jason Krejza hurt his right ankle at training and Nathan Hauritz was rushed into the squad. If Hauritz plays, he will be the sixth specialist spinner Australia have used in Tests this year following Brad Hogg, Stuart MacGill, Beau Casson, Cameron White and Krejza. The inclusion of Peter Siddle in the 12 has also meant Stuart Clark has been asked about his position this week, which is a strange scenario after Clark took six wickets in the first Test, but Siddle will be carrying the drinks.

Australia 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Andrew Symonds, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Brett Lee, 9 Jason Krejza/Nathan Hauritz, 10 Mitchell Johnson, 11 Stuart Clark.

New Zealand added the offspinner Jeetan Patel to their squad and released the fast bowler Kyle Mills, who did not play in Brisbane. But Patel is not guaranteed of a spot and New Zealand would need to cut a fast bowler to accommodate him. The batting has also been boosted with the addition of Peter Fulton as a replacement for the allrounder Grant Elliott, who had little impact at the Gabba. Their top order was disappointing in the first Test, where they were four down for less than 80 in both innings, but they have few other options and Adelaide should provide a more comfortable experience for the batsmen.

New Zealand (probable) 1 Aaron Redmond, 2 Jamie How, 3 Jesse Ryder, 4 Ross Taylor, 6 Peter Fulton, 6 Daniel Flynn, 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Tim Southee, 10 Iain O'Brien, 11 Chris Martin.

Pitch and conditions
A green-tinged Gabba pitch could hardly be more different from the expected surface at the Adelaide Oval, where scoring big totals has never been a problem. Only once in the past five Tests at the venue has the side batting first failed to post more than 500. West Indies could only manage 405 in 2005-06. It is a ground where spin generally has an effect and there have been plenty of long and fruitless days for seamers over the years. If ever there was a venue where win the toss automatically means batting first it is the Adelaide Oval; Mohammad Azharuddin in 1992 is the only Test captain to have sent the opposition in here in the past 25 years.

Stats and Trivia

* Hayden becomes the 11th Australian to reach 100 Tests.
* Australia have lost one Test at Adelaide Oval in the past 13 years - against India in 2003-04
* Last time the teams met in a Test in Adelaide Australia won by 213 runs but much has changed since then. Only three men from each team during that 2004-05 game will be turning out this week: Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori and Chris Martin.
* Vettori needs 90 runs to move into the top 10 all-time Test run scorers for New Zealand.

"Generally 95 times out of 100 we want to play a specialist spinner. We felt that Nathan was probably the best skilled and probably the most experienced of the spinners playing around Australia at the moment."
Ricky Ponting on Australia's call-up for Nathan Hauritz to cover for the injured Jason Krejza

"When you come to Adelaide it probably brings a bit more of a sense of calm about everything because you know how good the wicket is and the expectations to score runs."
Daniel Vettori expects his batsmen to have more impact than at the Gabba

Committed Hayden remains motivated to succeed

Matthew Hayden: "I've pursued other passions as well, food and life around the sea, so that's who I really am as a person. I'm a bushy at heart but love the ocean.".

It is hard to think of Matthew Hayden as a slow starter. He has made his name by destroying opening bowlers and quickly turning shiny new balls into lifeless chunks of worn-out leather. But when it took him six years to make his first seven Test appearances, reaching 100 Tests seemed like an unattainable goal.

He will bring up the milestone at the Adelaide Oval on Friday against New Zealand, eight and a half years after regaining his position permanently. At the time he was already 29, had a mountain of state runs and wondered if his big break would ever come, but in the lead-up to the game he said his eventful career-path was not particularly special.

"My story's not any more significant than anyone else's," Hayden said. "Anyone that's got into the Australian cricket team has had to have their personal challenges met, and they've confronted those and conquered them - that's just what it means to play for Australia, that's the fabric of playing for the baggy green."

Hayden will be the 11th Australian to reach a century of Tests, although questions remain over just how many matches he will add to the tally. His form since suffering an achilles tendon injury mid-year has been disappointing but he has not decided on an exit time and he said the constant speculation over his future was not a worry.

"You get used to the melodramatic nature of performances, sometimes you're okay, other times you're not okay, so it's just the way it goes," he said. "And the swings and roundabouts of people's perceptions are something I've taken, never to heart, but more as a motivation as to how I can get better every single game.

"My commitment to the game hasn't changed, and more than anything if I can say what I'm proud of that would be it, Matthew Hayden in 1991 worked as hard as he works in 2008. And that guarantees you at least the best result in terms of how you prepare yourself, but it doesn't guarantee success."

The Adelaide Test presents him with an ideal opportunity to regain his best form. He will be facing an attack devoid of superstars, with the exception of Daniel Vettori, on a pitch expected to offer the seamers little help.

Vettori, the New Zealand captain, recalled once having his first ball of a Gabba Test spanked back over his head by Hayden for six. He said few men had mastered the art of dominating slow bowling like Hayden over the past decade.

"Him and Gilchrist were the two guys I always thought any ball I bowled could disappear out of the park," Vettori said. "Even if I felt like it was a good one and that always makes it tough bowling against guys like that - so destructive. Most of the time they took it to spinners.

"He's the sort of guy that a lot of batsmen grow up wanting to emulate the way he played spin. And it wasn't just an average spinner, it was guys all the way through to Muralitharan. He was aggressive against him, Harbhajan … I think he almost wrote the manual for how to be aggressive against spin bowling."

Hayden, 37, said one of the keys to his longevity in the game was having interests away from cricket. "I've pursued other passions as well, food and life around the sea, so that's who I really am as a person," he said. "I'm a bushy at heart but love the ocean."

India power past Pietersen's ton

Steve Harmison bowled Sachin Tendulkar, but wasn't enough to stop India.

Whatever challenge is put in front of this Indian team they conquer it with skill and flair. In Cuttack, England managed their best batting performance of the series, led by Kevin Pietersen's unbeaten 111, but it was made to look a long way short as they cantered home by six wickets with more than six overs to spare. The hard work was done by an electric opening stand of 136 between Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, meaning the others barely had to break sweat.

As has been the case with each match of the series there were signs of improvement from the visitors, this time with the bat, as Pietersen and Owais Shah added 112 for the fifth wicket. Pietersen's seventh ODI ton was the first by an England captain outside of London and only the third by an England batsman in the last 30 one-dayers. However, any momentum gained during the final few overs evaporated as Sehwag sped out of the blocks with another display of fearless clean striking.

At times the bowlers could only shrug their shoulders as the ball raced to the boundary. When Tendulkar on-drove Andrew Flintoff, the bowler spun on his heals and headed back to his mark. It was batting in its purest form. Sehwag was set for a thrilling hundred before receiving a rough lbw decision, but the required rate was comfortable, leaving Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina to stroke steady half-centuries and keep India on course for a whitewash. It's hard to see how they'll be stopped, especially as Stuart Broad hobbled off with a hamstring injury.

Steve Harmison's second over, to Tendulkar, was a maiden but it provided false hope - 13 came off Harmison's next over as Sehwag cut loose. One shot, a front-foot pull over midwicket, was as dismissive as they come. In the blink of an eye, and a flash of Sehwag's bat, England were losing control. Flintoff was summoned into the attack, but even when the bat was beaten, or the inside edge found, there was no breakthrough.

Pietersen tried to make things happen. He experimented for one over of Samit Patel before calling the Powerplay, then threw the ball to Graeme Swann inside the fielding restrictions. To say the move backfired is an understatement: Sehwag proceeded to take 21 off the over. Swann was slammed through the covers three times and swung miles into the stands for a huge six before being given a rather hollow pat on the back from his captain.

Tendulkar's fifty was a quieter affair, but still took just 54 balls, played with textbook skill after a slightly sticky start. The moment he tried something a little more agricultural, heaving across the line, he lost his off stump to Harmison. England's celebrations were muted, partly because the damage had already been done and also because walking in at No. 3 was Yuvraj Singh - series average 160. But, Ravi Bopara, bowling just his 13th over in ODIs and for the first time this series, did what no else has threatened to do and removed Yuvraj cheaply with a gentle caught and bowled.

Sehwag was dispatched the next ball, Broad's first delivery of a new spell, and momentarily England's frowns turned to smiles. However, they couldn't build on the breakthroughs and Pietersen had to gamble on bowling out his strike options, while Broad couldn't finish his ninth over. Dhoni survived a close stumping appeal on 22, with 73 still needed, but it would have been unlikely to alter the result.

As is the modern way, England will no doubt "search for the positives" and Pietersen's hundred was a tick in the right column. He has led the call for the top order to score more centuries and showed how it should be done with a well-constructed innings.

Where Pietersen should bat has provided much debate inside and outside the England team. He has moved up and down during the previous two matches, rising to three in Kanpur then oddly back to No. 4 in the 22-over chase in Bangalore. Despite Shah's success in that match, hitting 72 off 48 balls, he was back at No. 6 and the captain returned to first drop. Still, though, making the most of the Powerplays was an issue as the two five-over blocks produced 45 runs.

It's all symptomatic of the muddled thinking in the England camp, but Pietersen's innings showed that No. 3 should be his long-term position, while Shah again demonstrated his flexibility with a 57-ball 66. With Paul Collingwood's continuing to struggle for form - he laboured 40 from 64 - Shah could well be on the move again to No. 4. One day, he might find a settled home.

On the theme of being unsettled, Alastair Cook and Bopara formed England's eighth one-day opening pair since Peter Moores took charge as coach in 2007. Both gave their starts away with loose strokes and the innings wobbled again when Flintoff fell for third-ball duck. Dhoni pulled off another impressive piece of captaincy, throwing the ball to Ishant Sharma when it would have been easy to maintain an all-spin attack against Flintoff. Dhoni can do no wrong for India, and his team continue to ride on the crest of a wave.