Friday, February 6, 2009

England battle back after Gayle and Sarwan's hundreds

Chris Gayle flicks to leg early on the third morning.

Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan both recorded centuries in a second-wicket stand of 202 to put West Indies into a commanding position at lunch on the third day at Kingston. A flurry of two wickets in three balls from Stuart Broad in the penultimate over of the session dented their ascendancy a touch, but with Sarwan unbeaten on 103, and the limpet-like Shivnarine Chanderpaul newly arrived at the crease, West Indies were handily placed as they trailed England's first-innings total of 318 by 94 runs with seven wickets remaining.

On Bob Marley's 64th anniversary, it was an auspicious date for a modern-day Jamaican hero to record his first Test century in front of his home crowd. Though he was bowled by Broad for 104 with minutes of the session remaining, Gayle was the undoubted star of the morning session, as he produced one of the most disciplined centuries of his career to ram home West Indies' overnight advantage.

The grandstanding manner with which Gayle reached his hundred - two massive swipes over long-on off Monty Panesar followed immediately by a delicate sweep to fine leg - may have been in keeping with his reputation, but in truth this was an innings of intense dedication. He reached his hundred from a devout 183 balls, and aside from those two late blows, he picked up only two other boundaries in the session, both of them controlled deflections through the slip cordon.

On a slow and sluggish surface, patience was the key for batsmen and bowlers alike. England ploughed a disciplined furrow outside off, occasionally teasing the edge but more often than not hoping against hope for an indiscretion from the incumbent batsmen. It was not forthcoming, as Gayle and Sarwan sensed a genuine opportunity to bat England out of the contest.

Sarwan, whose form had been under some scrutiny in the build-up to this match, was every bit as disciplined as his captain. Resuming on 71, he continued to pepper the off-side with crisp drives and pushes, although on an incredibly slow outfield he did not get full value for his strokes. He picked up a solitary four through the covers as Andrew Flintoff overpitched, and then added his second boundary of the morning in the final over of the session, as he paddled Panesar delicately behind square to bring up his 12th Test century.

By that stage, Sarwan had lost his long-standing partner when Broad found a good tight line and a hint of low bounce to take out Gayle's middle and off stumps, and two balls later Broad added a second as Xavier Marshall was pinned plumb on the crease by another fine wicket-to-wicket delivery. But Chanderpaul's arrival was a reassurance to a wobbling dressing-room, and there were no further dramas before the break.

There had, however, been plenty dramas earlier on in the session, as the referral issue once again reared its head. England and Tony Hill were again on the wrong end of the deliberations, in another confused scenario that highlighted the flaws in the new system. On 85, Gayle flicked at a leg-side delivery from Flintoff, and Matt Prior claimed the catch with glee. Hill immediately upheld the appeal, but Gayle was not amused and called for a second opinion. Daryl Harper in the TV replay booth was not permitted to use Hotspot to aid his adjudication, so he had only a very sketchy and inconclusive slow-motion replay to work with. For the second day running, the benefit of the doubt was given to the batsman, and Hill, who would not have been umpiring in this game had Asoka de Silva got his visa in time, must have been wishing he'd never landed in the country.

England's fielders took the set-back in good heart, however, as well they might. With Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen newly unveiled as the latest IPL millionaires, the mood among the senior players was properly rather chipper in spite of the setback of the scoreline.

Flintoff and Pietersen most expensive buys

List of players sold (base price in brackets; all numbers in US$)

  • Shaun Tait to Rajasthan Royals 375,000 (250,000)
    JP Duminy to Mumbai Indians 950,000 (300,000)
    Andrew Flintoff to Chennai Super Kings 1.55 million (950,000)
    Kevin Pietersen to Bangalore Royal Challengers 1.55 million (1.35 million)
    Fidel Edwards to Deccan Chargers 150,000 (150,000)
    Owais Shah to Delhi Daredevils 275,000 (150,000)
    Paul Collingwood to Delhi 275,000 (250,000)
    Tyron Henderson to Rajasthan 650,000 (100,000)
    Ravi Bopara to Kings XI Punjab 450,000 (150,000)
    Thilan Thushara to Chennai 140,000 (100,000)
    Jesse Ryder to Bangalore 160,000 (100,000)
    Kyle Mills to Mumbai 150,000 (150,000).
    Dwayne Smith to Deccan Chargers 100,000 (100,000)
    Jerome Taylor to Punjab 150,000 (150,000)
    Mohammad Ashraful to Mumbai 75,000 (75,000)
    Mashrafe Mortaza to Kolkata Knight Riders 600,000 (50,000)
    George Bailey to Chennai 50,000 (50,000)

    Unsold players: Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Chamara Kapugedara, Ashwell Prince, Phil Jaques, Andre Nel, Luke Wright, Nuwan Kulasekara, Samit Patel, Shakib Al Hasan, Morne van Wyk, Steven Smith, Ashley Noffke, Gulam Bodi, Daren Powell, Tamim Iqbal, Jon Moss, Bryce McGain, James Franklin, Aiden Blizzard, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Michael Klinger, Kaushalya Weeraratne, Prasanna Jayawardene, Dominic Thornley, Yusuf Abdulla, Daniel Harris, Kemar Roach, Aaron Bird, Michael Dighton, Michael Hill and Brett Geeves.

The second IPL auction, held in Goa on Friday, has made Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff the highest-paid cricketers. Each fetched bids of US$ 1.55 million in an event that lacked the glamour and sheer drama of last year's auction but had its moments of surprise. The bidding war for Mashrafe Mortaza, the 25-year-old fast bowler from Bangladesh, stole the show; he eventually went for $600,000 to the Kolkata Knight Riders - 12 times his base price; a close second was Tyron Henderson, a relative unknown but actually the world's leading wicket-taker in this format, who was snapped up by Rajasthan for $650,000.

Shaun Tait was the first player to go under the hammer with the Rajasthan Royals snapping up the Australian fast bowler for $375,000. Next up was JP Duminy, the South African batsman, who turned out to be one of the star buys at the auction. Most people had predicted Duminy (base price: $300,000) would breach the $1 million barrier and he nearly did. But in buying Duminy for $950,000 the Mumbai Indians effectively ruled themselves out from the bidding for Pietersen and Flintoff, who took home a combined purse of $3.1 million.

When the Bangalore Royal Challengers didn't even enter the bidding for Flintoff, it was obvious which way the cards were going to fall. The Royals tried to keep pace, but after buying Tait they had only $1.5 million left. The Deccan Chargers showed no interest in Flintoff, and the Chennai Super Kings had their man, even if he ended up costing more than MS Dhoni had at the first auction.

The Royals tried again with Pietersen, but there was only going to be one winner. Vijay Mallya had come with a single-point agenda, and with Mumbai and Chennai out of the running and Deccan once again quiet, he had the talisman he sought for less money than he thought he would have to pay.

What followed was a bit of an anti-climax until Henderson's name was called. Most of those gathered had never even heard of him. Henderson (base price: $100,000) played for South Africa just once, in a T20 game against India at the Wanderers in December 2006, and his exploits with Middlesex in their shocking pink outfit hadn't been well documented here.

But the teams clearly knew of his prowess in this form of the game, and the Chargers matched the Royals bid for bid as the price went beyond half a million. By the time the deal was clinched, the Royals had made $200,000 more than they did for Shane Warne last year. Smart business for a 34-year-old? Only time will tell.

But even the collective intake of breath at the Henderson deal was nothing compared with the shock and awe that greeted the bidding war between Kolkata and Kings XI Punjab for Mortaza. Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh's player of the moment, and his captain, Mohammad Ashraful, hadn't attracted any bids, but it was soon obvious that something was afoot when the bids went more than three times higher than Mortaza's reserve price of $50,000.

Kolkata had just one slot to fill; with Umar Gul's contract suspended and Shoaib Akhtar's cancelled, they were certainly in the market for a fast bowler. Punjab, who could miss Brett Lee for most of the season, shared their interest though, and there was more than one gaping mouth once the bidding went past $400,000. Bear in mind that far more lauded individuals like Stuart Clark had gone unsold earlier.

The bidding lasted nearly half-an-hour before Punjab threw up their hands. "It makes great sense for Kolkata," Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, said. "Bangladesh falls under Kolkata's catchment area as per a new proposal we are discussing on letting franchises stage matches overseas. This could work well for the KKR later," he said.

The Kings XI had already caused a shock earlier in the morning, by paying $450,000 for Ravi Bopara, whose appearances for England have been fitful at best. Preity Zinta spoke of him being a "great player", an assessment that Bopara's mum would no doubt agree with.

The other England players to be picked up at the auction were Owais Shah and Paul Collingwood, who were bought by Delhi Daredevils for US$ 275,000 each. Speaking about the four England players who were bought at the auction, Modi said: "They are big stars and we are looking forward to their participation in the IPL."

Punjab picked up Jerome Taylor later, after he had been ignored the first time round, leaving the Mumbai Indians to make the last purchase, Ashraful, for $75,000.

If there was a surprise, it was the Chargers' relative lack of activity, given the dismal season that they had last year. Perhaps, with Andrew Symonds now likely to be involved for the long haul, they expect those already on board to showcase their talent better than they did in the opening season.

Modi spoke gleefully later of how his brainchild had proved to be recession-proof, but we'll know the truth of that once the ad slots start being sold for the telecasts. Flintoff, Pietersen and Duminy are undoubtedly exciting additions, while there are bound to be a few glum faces in Australian dressing rooms.

Of the 17 players up for auction [Michael Clarke and Shane Harwood pulled out], only Tait and Tasmania's George Bailey earned deals.

The auction also threw up some shocks as international players such as Ramnaresh Sarwan, Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Shakib Al Hasan and Samit Patel remained unsold.

Elliott guides New Zealand to 2-0 lead

Michael Clarke scored 98 opening the innings.

Michael Clarke's 98 could not stop his unthinkable series loss from coming a step closer after Grant Elliott kept a cool head to complete a six-wicket victory for New Zealand, who were solid without being spectacular. Despite making hard work of a less than imposing chase of 226, New Zealand got home with seven balls to spare to take a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.

On a day when the glitzy IPL auction caught the attention of much of the cricketing world, Australia and New Zealand combined to produce a distinctly unglamorous match that was hardly the best advertisement for the 50-over format. It was a throwback to the 1980s, when 220 was considered a good target and top-order men like Geoff Marsh and John Wright were commended for compiling 50 off 90 balls.

The lack of prettiness did not worry New Zealand, who gave their countrymen another reason to celebrate Waitangi Day when Elliott brought up the win with a pull for four off Ben Hilfenhaus. He finished unbeaten on 61 from 75 balls, which was his highest ODI score, and he was the only New Zealand batsmen who looked like truly imposing himself on the match. But as a group they did enough to outshine Australia, who had relied entirely on Clarke and Michael Hussey to post 5 for 225.

It continued Australia's strange trend of losing the next match after the Allan Border Medal ceremony. Not since 2004-05 have they followed the awards night with a win, which is hardly surprising for an event that should really be a season-ending party. In the field Australia were sloppy and with the bat uninspired.

Hussey and Clarke both put down chances - Clarke's a very tough one - an easy run-out opportunity was missed and there were fumbles and overthrows that must have left the fielding coach Mike Young shaking his head. The middling target meant New Zealand's batsmen didn't quite know how aggressive to be - Brendon McCullum's 43 from 75 balls gave them a base but he was uncharacteristically quiet.

Ross Taylor's 47 featured three fours and when he edged behind late in the chase it gave Australia a sniff. But Elliott was superbly calm and his second ODI half-century, along with some excellent support from Neil Broom, ensured that New Zealand did not let the required run-rate balloon beyond control.

The result was terrific for a New Zealand side that enjoys chasing and made the most of the chance to send Australia in. Kyle Mills and Daniel Vettori were the most economical of the bowlers and Iain O'Brien chipped in with the two important wickets of Clarke and Hussey. Importantly, the visitors were sharp in the field.

Vettori's direct hit from mid-off ended the innings of David Hussey (10), who had been promoted to No. 4, and it was one of several alterations to Australia's order. Without the injured Shaun Marsh and the resting Ricky Ponting, they promoted Brad Haddin to No. 3 and after walking to the crease to a mixture of cheers and jeers after the Perth controversy, Haddin departed for 12 when he flashed outside off stump against Tim Southee and was caught behind.

The only change that did work for Australia was the decision to open with Clarke. After David Warner went early, skying an attempted slog off Mills, Clarke took a cautious approach, conscious of the way the middle order had struggled throughout the summer. He and Michael Hussey combined for a 133-run fifth-wicket stand that steadied Australia but their lack of urgency was a concern.

When they did try to lift the rate in the late overs, O'Brien removed them both and added to the hurt by striking Clarke on the toe with a painful yorker. Two balls later Clarke was bowled for a 133-ball 98 that showed he was not distracted by stories about his dressing-room scuffle with Simon Katich.

He waited for bad balls to dispatch his seven boundaries, which included a classy pull off Southee and a few flicks off his pads. Mostly Clarke knocked the ball around into gaps and he picked up 48 singles, running well with Hussey. But the tight bowling meant the pair could not dominate with the bat and when they took the batting Powerplay from the 35th over it brought them only 33 runs.

Hussey's 75 from 94 balls featured four fours and it was a typically careful affair that highlighted his importance in a young side. But in a team missing its captain and best batsman, the efforts of the two remaining leaders were simply not enough to keep Clarke's unbeaten record as Australian captain alive. They head into Sunday's match in Sydney again without Ponting and in serious danger of handing back the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

India's aim is No. 1, says Kirsten

Gary Kirsten on Irfan Pathan: "He has a good work ethic and hopefully will get the rewards for it."

Gary Kirsten has said that India's goal in 2009 is to be the No. 1 team in the world. India's coach, who has received praise from many in the Indian team, felt the side's biggest improvement in recent times was the way they prepared for a game.

Following Australia's loss to New Zealand in the second ODI at the MCG, India have moved to second place in the ICC's official ODI rankings. "Getting to No. 1 is the obvious goal for this year," said Kirsten, "but it's not playing too much on our minds. To do that, it's important for the basics to be right. We are just trying to focus on taking it game by game and series by series. The team ethic is great. Everyone is preparing really well for a game and we are moving in the right direction."

Today's was an optional nets session at the R Premadasa, and the attendees included Sachin Tendulkar, L Balaji, Irfan Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja. Tendulkar batted for 45 minutes and was constantly chatting with the bowlers on the correct line to bowl. Venkatesh Prasad, India's bowling coach, spent lots of time with Irfan, primarily working on his length. Tendulkar even bowled to Jadeja and passed some tips now and then to the young allrounder.

Irfan's form has been a concern for India. Given the new ball in the last game - his only appearance on tour so far - Irfan ended up with 3 for 58 from seven overs; his first spell read 5-0-42-1 as Sanath Jayasuriya went after him. India have been using their slow bowlers in the middle overs, retaining the seamers for the Powerplays.

Kirsten had earlier said the lack of an allrounder who bowls seam had forced the team to take that route, and he felt it had been a bit difficult for Irfan as he has been in and out of the team. "I really can't comment after just one game," said Kirsten. "He [Irfan] is working hard in the nets. He has a good work ethic and hopefully will get the rewards for it."

To be the No. 1 team in the world, Kirsten said that India would have to dominate the opposition consistently. It was something that Gautam Gambhir also stressed upon, while talking about the dead-rubber game at this same venue on January 8. "When you playing for your country you can't take any game lightly," he said. "It's going to be a fantastic achievement if we can make it 5-0. You want to be a part of the team which is creating this history.

"You can't just think that you have won the series 4-0 and be complacent for the next game. It doesn't happen with us. When you go onto the field you go to win and not just compete. Great teams are those that carry the momentum forward into every game."

India have won the series and the final match is to be played at the R Premadasa as well.

Katich and Clarke admit to dressing-room disagreement

Michael Clarke and Simon Katich weren't so friendly after the Sydney Test.

Michael Clarke and Simon Katich have confirmed that they were involved in a dressing-room altercation after the Sydney Test against South Africa, but said they had moved on from the incident. The Daily Telegraph reported that the players argued over the singing of the team song, Beneath the Southern Cross, and had to be pulled apart by team-mates.

Clarke reportedly wanted it to be completed early so he could leave for a family function. "Yes, we had a disagreement after the Sydney Test," Clarke told the paper. "This kind of thing occasionally happens in cricket teams.

"We didn't see eye to eye on that night, but we have been team-mates at New South Wales and Australia a long time. We've spoken since, including catching up the other night at the Allan Border Medal. There's no issue between us."

Katich agreed with Clarke. "I've spoken to Michael as recently as today and we're both big enough and old enough to have moved on from this," Katich said. "Michael and I are focused on some tough Test cricket that's coming up for Australia against South Africa in a couple of weeks."

The Cricket Australia spokesman Peter Young said the organisation had no concerns about the incident. "Yeah there was a blue," he told AAP. "It happened after the last day of the Sydney Test and those guys have since made up and moved on.

"From our point of view as far as we are concerned it is an issue between two individuals and they have resolved it and moved on. These things happen in even the best of families from time to time, but everyone gets over it and moves on."

Pakistan announce Australia itinerary

Pakistan will play Australia in five one-day matches at neutral venues in the Gulf, the PCB chairman Ijaz Butt has said. The first two ODIs will be played in Dubai, while the remaining three will be played in Abu Dhabi.

"We have decided to play the five-match one-day series against Australia in Dubai and Abu Dhabi from April 24 to May 7," said Butt. "The teams will then return to Dubai for the Twenty20 international."

Australia had cancelled their tour of Pakistan in the wake of the heightened violence in March 2008, and were expected to visit the country separately for the ODI and Test series this year. Venues in England, Malaysia, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai had been considered as alternatives in a discussion with Cricket Australia officials on the sidelines of an ICC executive board meeting late last month.

The PCB had turned down the offer to stage the matches at a neutral venue when CA initially expressed their reluctance to tour last year. Butt said there was a possibility of hosting the Test series against Australia at neutral venues as well. "If Australia do not play the Tests in Pakistan there is a possibility of playing the Test series in England," he said.

Australia have not played in Pakistan since 1998. In 2002, due to security concerns, a three Test series between the two sides in Pakistan was shifted to Colombo and Sharjah.