Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The brothers Pathan clinch India victory

Tillakaratne Dilshan's half-century was undone by two smaller but far more significant Indian contributions.

On a day when the Hussey brothers did the winning act for Australia, India found their answer in the two Pathans, with Yusuf and Irfan scripting a thrilling three-wicket win in the one-off Twenty20 game. Set a challenging 172 for victory, India seemed to have botched up the chase when Sri Lanka's spinners reduced them to 115 for 7, but then came the last twist in an evening which had several: a 59-run partnership off 25 balls, and India were home and dry with four balls to spare, ending the tour with four wins in five games.

The Twenty20 game is designed to thrill, and this game did it in ample measure: there were 345 runs scored in 39.2 overs, with 11 sixes and 32 fours. The most important of them, though, came late in the evening from the Pathan brothers, after it seemed Sri Lanka's spinners had spun the match irreversibly in their favour.

From an utterly dominant 81 for 2 after eight overs, India lost their next five wickets for 34 runs as Malinga Bandara, the legspinner, and Sanath Jayasuriya turned it around with a mix of fine bowling and some curious shot selection from the Indians. With Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja all back in the hutch and the asking rate an imposing 11.40 an over, Sri Lanka were well on their way to an incredible come-from-behind victory.

Enter the Pathan brothers. Yusuf had already made a name for himself in the IPL, and here he decided to remind the Sri Lankans of his prowess before the second season which starts later this year. The second ball he faced, from Bandara, was smashed over extra cover, the next one disappeared behind the sightscreen, and two balls later, another hit vanished over wide long-on. The requirement had come down to 40 from four overs.

That forced Tillakaratne Dilshan to abandon the idea of bowling more overs of spin, but when the fast bowlers returned, Irfan was ready to join in the fun. Lasith Malinga was carved over extra-cover for a one-bounce four, Dilhara Fernando was clubbed over midwicket for six, before the coup de grace was finally delivered off Malinga with a meaty blow over midwicket. Game, set, and match for the Pathan brothers.

Till that amazing turnaround, the match had gone pretty well for Sri Lanka and for first-time captain Dilshan: he won the toss - something that has been as rare as a victory for Sri Lanka in this series - starred with the bat despite a shaky start with a busy 61 to lift his team out of a mid-innings slump, and then, doing the job of makeshift wicketkeeper, even managed a sharp catch to dismiss the fluent and in-form Yuvraj. When he did make mistakes, lady luck still smiled on him: Irfan dropped a sitter in the first over when Dilshan was 0, but when Dilshan missed a chance from Raina on 28, it only cost his team seven runs.

It was with the bat, though, that Dilshan made his biggest contribution, getting to his first half-century in this format. Sensibly, he played the second fiddle to the rampaging Jayasuriya, contributing just 18 in an opening partnership of 59. Thereafter, he assumed the role of senior batsman, flaying through the off side, running hard, and pushing the score along with some support from Chamara Kapugedera. Ishant Sharma, who redeemed himself somewhat with a fine last over, and Zaheer were pasted all over the park by a marauding Jayasuriya and Dilshan as 53 came in the first five overs.

At that stage, a total of around 200 was well on the cards, but Sri Lanka lost the plot completely in the middle overs, scoring just 36 between the sixth and 12th overs, as Jehan Mubarak did his best to neutralise the momentum his team had got from Jayasuriya's early blitz. Eighty-two came from the last eight, which ensured Sri Lanka had a reasonable total to defend, but Dilshan will still rue the sloppiness of his bowlers. There were seven wides in the first six overs, and ten in all, and Dilshan was left screaming at his bowlers and wringing his hands in despair.

His spinners brought his team back into the contest, just as India's had, but the ultimate difference was the last three overs of both teams: Sri Lanka score 19; India made 30.

Hussey brothers help Australia level series

David Hussey made his highest ODI score.

The Hussey brothers ensured the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy would be decided by Friday's final match in Brisbane after they helped Australia to a six-wicket win that levelled the series 2-2. For the first time in the series New Zealand batted first and they posted a moderate 244, which on a good pitch was not enough against an Australian batting order starting to find form.

The game was to some degree overshadowed by the Victorian bushfire appeal that surrounded it, with contributions from players, sponsors, spectators and administrators totalling just over $6 million. But while Australia had failed to beat South Africa at the same venue on Australia Day, this time they did get over the line at Adelaide on another special, if more sombre, occasion.

Fittingly Michael Hussey brought up the win with a six over long-on, adding another $5000 to the tally after the Commonwealth Bank pledged that amount for every six in the game. It confirmed the win with ten balls to spare but much of the hard work was done by Australia's bowlers, who did well to restrict New Zealand to a middling total.

However, there were a couple of jitters in the Australian camp when Brad Haddin, fresh from a century in Sydney on Sunday and looking good once again, was run out for 43 thanks to an awful call from David Hussey. It left Australia at 3 for 101 in the 25th over and the match was very much in the balance.

The onus was then on the out-of-form Hussey to repay his side with a big innings and he delivered. He struck his highest one-day international score of 79 and combined in a 115-run partnership with his older brother that made sure the required run-rate was never too much more than six.

Importantly Australia made sensible use of the batting Powerplay, which they took with nine overs to go and a further 55 runs required. David Hussey punched the ball confidently through the off-side gaps and although he fell during the five-over period, bowled by an Iain O'Brien yorker, Australia were by then in control and took 37 runs from the Powerplay.

Siddle's appeal

  • Peter Siddle flew to Adelaide to join the Australia squad for the ODI against New Zealand but could not break into the side to make his debut. Instead, he found another way to occupy his time while his team-mates were on the field.
  • Siddle was roaming through the crowd collecting money for the Victorian bushfire appeal and there was a personal significance for him. Siddle's family lives in Gippsland, where some of the fires took place, and he said his brother had lost friends to the deadly blaze.
  • "It's hard to get a word out of him," Siddle said. "He doesn't want to talk about it. It's tough times for everyone."
  • By the end of the game, the Commonwealth Bank appeal had raised $6,023,643 via a combination of donations from players, spectators and TV viewers, the bank, Cricket Australia, the South Australian Cricket Association and gate receipts.

In his first ODI at his home venue, Callum Ferguson calmly helped Michael Hussey pick off the remaining runs and they got home with ease. Michael Hussey's unbeaten 75 was yet another superb innings - he entered the game with a lowest score of 49 from his past four efforts - and he made New Zealand pay for putting him down twice.

The first was a terribly hard chance when he was on 3 and pulled Daniel Vettori viciously to midwicket, where Martin Guptill just got his fingertips to the ball. But the second opportunity was particularly frustrating for New Zealand as Hussey pulled Grant Elliott hard and flat into the deep, where Craig Cumming spilled what he should have taken. It was not a good return to ODIs after a near four-year absence for Cumming, who had earlier made a duck.

He was not the only one of the New Zealanders who struggled with the bat and they were unsure of the right tempo in setting a target. Chasing is their preferred method and in the past two years they have won nine ODIs batting first compared to 19 batting second. Only a late spike from Ross Taylor and Kyle Mills pushed them to a respectable score after they had stumbled to 6 for 173 in the 42nd over.

Mills added $5000 to the bushfire appeal when his enormous hook off Mitchell Johnson went out of the ground. But it was Taylor who was in charge of the recovery mission and his 76 from 71 balls continued his impressive series.

He was eventually caught top-edging a pull off Johnson, who finished with 3 for 51, and Taylor was one of four New Zealand specialist batsmen who lost their wickets to top-edged hooks and pulls. The extra pace and bounce surprised them and Johnson used it to get rid of Guptill (45) and Elliott (26), while Neil Broom also skied one off Ben Hilfenhaus.

James Hopes was again dangerous with 2 for 37 and Michael Clarke proved an economical spin option. He also removed Brendon McCullum, who passed a late fitness test on his right shoulder and played an uncharacteristically cautious innings of 33 from 55 balls.

Like most of his team-mates, McCullum seemed unsure of how quickly he needed to score batting first and there seems little doubt that at the Gabba on Friday, New Zealand will be keen to chase if given the chance. The Chappell-Hadlee Trophy could depend on it.

Cook desperate to regain lost ground

Alastair Cook faces the media in Kingston: 'Obviously at that time we didn't perform well enough and you can't hide away from that'.

Smiles were still a scarce commodity around the England team as they continued to try to absorb what happened in their second innings at Sabina Park. After having a spare day to brood over their failings they can at least now leave Jamaica behind, but the players still can't get their heads around what took place on the fourth afternoon.

"Momentum is an amazing thing and I can't explain why it happened but if it happens again things have to change. That's the way it is," said Alastair Cook. "I don't know the reason, but it's happened before to other sides as well and hopefully it won't happen again."

Various theories have been thrown around as to why England folded in such dramatic style, ranging from the captaincy-coach split in January, the IPL and a failure to handle pressure. "The IPL thing is a load of rubbish, when you are out in the middle you aren't focused on anything else," Cook insisted. "Obviously at that time we didn't perform well enough and you can't hide away from that.

"In the last 18 months we have been in good positions and haven't been able to finish it off. If you go back a few years to 2004 when they were winning and then you haven't won a lot, it's like not scoring hundreds, you lose the habit. We have to get back to where we were."

A lack of hundreds has been a feature of England's batting line-up for a considerable period of time. Cook is as guilty of that as any of them, having passed 50 eight times in 2008 but not pushed past 76. His start to 2009 has been even worse, two poor shots - a pull to mid-on and a limp edge to slip - to collect scores of 4 and 0 in the first Test.

"If I'd turned three of those fifties into hundreds I wouldn't be sat here, it's a monkey I want to get off my back," Cook said. "There's no one little thing, form for every player fluctuates and it's how you come out the other end and it's down to me to change that.

"There's no better feeling than scoring hundreds, and you'd do it every day if you could. You get to fifty and start thinking about it, and batting is such a mental game and it doesn't help."

Cook has risen up the ranks of seniority in this team and is the vice-captain for the Test series, albeit in an unofficial capacity. Andrew Strauss has urged personal responsibility, but the lack of a head coach is suggesting a lack of a direction among the team.

"The 11 on the field take responsibility and when things go wrong you hold your hands up," Cook said. "You can't hide behind that. But we are not really reinventing the wheel, it's the way it's always been. When there's a focal point like a head coach and things don't go well it goes onto other people. Here that responsibility goes to the players and they have to face up to that. At the moment we are under a lot of pressure."

The only batsman who seems able to respond to that pressure is Kevin Pietersen and Cook admitted the others need to take the strain. "It's down to the batsmen to take responsibility, and over the last year I haven't scored a hundred so am partly to blame."

Pressure and responsibility are two words the England team are going to have to face up to over the next leg of their tour in Antigua. The island has a beach for every day of the year, but this trip is anything but a holiday in the sun.

Stanford prepares to break his silence

Sir Allen Stanford: ready to reveal his plans.

Sir Allen Stanford is expected to make an announcement about his future involvement in cricket later this week, as his home island of Antigua returns to the spotlight ahead of the second Test between England and West Indies.

The last time England were in Antigua was in November for the Stanford Super Series, a competition that ended, like last week's first Test in Jamaica, in humiliation. England were bowled out for 99 by the Stanford Superstars, en route to a ten-wicket defeat that meant they missed out on the US$20 million bounty that Stanford had put up for grabs in a winner-takes-all scenario.

Since then, Stanford's involvement with cricket has been under severe scrutiny. In December he closed his cricket office in Antigua and announced the dissolution of his 12-man board of "Stanford Legends", including greats of the game such as Sir Garry Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards, amid fears that he was about to pull the plug on his entire operation.

A subsequent press release reaffirmed Stanford's willingness to work with the ECB, with whom he had signed a five-year deal that included four further US$20 million matches, but left the future of his inter-island domestic tournament up in the air. That was largely as a consequence of the damaging row between the WICB and their principal sponsors, Digicel, which reached an uncomfortable resolution on the eve of the tournament in October, following a victory for Digicel at the High Court in London.

The concerns about Stanford's commitment to the region were intensified last month, when he announced 200 job losses in his Antigua-based Stanford Development Company, leaving the island's prime minister distinctly unimpressed. A spokesman for the company said they "had to reassess the market in Antigua especially in light of the global economic downturn".

Although the exact content of Stanford's announcement is not yet known, it is expected to incorporate both the domestic and 20/20 for 20 arms of his operation. According to the ECB, an announcement is "imminent", with the chairman, Giles Clarke, flying out to Antigua on Tuesday.

Butt and Miandad square off

The Javed Miandad controversy continues.

The ongoing matter of Javed Miandad's resignation as director-general of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) took an ugly turn at a senate hearing as the board chairman and Miandad traded allegations over the fiasco. Ijaz Butt admitted to the senate standing committee on sports that he had made a mistake in not settling terms and conditions with Miandad when he joined, but refused to apologise to the former captain, who was also present at the session.

Instead Butt levelled a number of allegations at Miandad, claiming he wanted more money, that he interfered with selectorial matters and that he wasn't a capable administrator. Miandad, visibly upset, denied the charges, claiming he would work on an honorary basis for the board if others did likewise.

The issue of Miandad's resignation had been brewing steadily in recent weeks and last week, senators decided to to get to the bottom of the matter, issuing summons to Miandad to appear. In a heated discussion, senators grilled the PCB chief over every little detail of Miandad's hiring and eventual refusal of a contract. Miandad joined the board in November as director-general, though there was ambiguity over the nature of his role even then. He quit last month, after finally being offered a contract, the terms of which he wasn't happy with.

In particular, Miandad claimed that the nature of his role in the contract letter was significantly reduced from what he had initially discussed with the chairman. That, and not the salary, was what made him change his mind.

Butt did admit there were 'procedural flaws' in the appointment of Miandad, leaving senators aghast that such an established figure was working at such a senior post without any letter of appointment or contract or indeed terms of reference for the post. "I admit it was our mistake as we didn't sign a contract with Miandad when he was appointed as DG in December," Butt said.

Butt also claimed that Miandad was interfering in selecting the national team and had asked for a salary of 1.6 million rupees ($20,000) as opposed to the 500,000 rupees ($6,300) offered in the contract. "Miandad asked for a salary which we could not give to him," Butt said. "I regard Miandad highly as a great cricketer but we can't pay him more than what we had offered him."

But what must have irked Miandad the most - particularly given how close he always said he was to Butt - was Butt's belief that he wasn't a capable administrator. "I have the utmost respect for him as a cricketer and his achievements but he's not capable of handling either financial of administrative matters of the PCB," Butt said.

Miandad's claims that it was the role and not the money which was a problem were lent solid credibility when he produced an internal board memo circulated on December 4 last year. The memo, with Butt's consent on it, makes various board directors, of game development, international cricket operations, domestic cricket operations, the national team coach, manager and chairmen of national junior and senior selection committees all answerable to Miandad. The message, at that point, seemed clear: Miandad was to be in charge of almost all cricket affairs.

But when the contract was offered to him, Miandad was made head of domestic cricket operations and the department of game development only. "This job could be done by anyone and I feel it was not what I was actually promised by Mr. Butt," Miandad said.

Miandad also said he didn't take any money from the board in his two-and-a-half month stint and was now even willing to work on an honorary basis - provided other PCB officials did likewise.

The senators, mostly bewildered that such a situation could even arise, initially pressured Butt to apologise for the humiliation they perceived to have been heaped upon Miandad. Butt stood his ground and refused to do so, thus leading the chairman of the committee to suggest they both sit down together privately and sort out the matter.

"We believe that if you both could work together for the betterment of the game it will be good for Pakistan, so it's better you should sit together and resolve this issue privately," committee chairman Zafar Iqbal said.

Before the meeting, rumour had it that Miandad may well find his way back into the board at a post he was happier with. After today's mudslinging, that scenario has become less likely.

Pietersen likely to captain Royal Challengers

Kevin Pietersen may give captaincy a second shot, this time with his IPL team.

Kevin Pietersen is likely to captain Bangalore Royal Challengers for the first three weeks of this IPL season for which he is available. Pietersen will then hand over the leadership to Rahul Dravid or Mark Boucher, a team source said.

"This scenario is a very strong possibility but a final decision is yet to be taken," the source said. "Shane Warne was denied the captaincy in Australia, and look what he did in the IPL last year (Warne's Rajasthan Royals won the tournament). We expect KP will have a point to prove too with regards to captaincy, and that will only benefit the team."

Vijay Mallya, the team's owner, had hinted at a change of captaincy after the player auction in Goa last week when he bought Pietersen for a record US$ 1.55 million. "The captaincy options are open," Mallya said. "The team management will take a decision on it."

Dravid, the former India captain, had led the Royal Challengers last year when the team finished seventh out of eight -- they were also tagged as a Test XI, including the likes of Jacques Kallis, and Wasim Jaffer.

This time, after Pietersen leaves for the home series against West Indies starting May 6, the team will be led by Dravid, if he is available, or Boucher. Dravid's wife is expecting their second child in the first week of May, and franchise officials are unsure whether he will be available during that period. "After Pietersen and Dravid, Boucher has been identified as a strong captaincy option," the source said. This year's IPL will run from April 10-May 24 but officials are yet to release the final schedule.

Meanwhile, Ray Jennings, the Bangalore coach, feels that Pietersen would succeed as captain of his team even if it is for the short-term. Pietersen had a very short stint as England captain last year but resigned just before the ongoing tour of West Indies. "Kevin may work really well as captain for a short period," Jennings told the Times. "A small amount of time means a limited amount of time for things to go wrong. Captains often have that honeymoon period anyway.

"We bought Kevin to improve our whole profile, which goes beyond cricket. Kevin has great, eye-catching cricketing skills. He is also a very marketable guy. He is a product who can go across India and he might be an ideal captain over four weeks or so."