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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Australia lay solid foundation

Australia 3/259 (S Katich 113 no, R Ponting 65) v West Indies. Second Test Day 1 at Antigua

Rain briefly delayed the start but once play got under way Australia, having won the toss and elected to bat focused on laying a solid foundation. This they did through innings of 113no /248b (9x4) from Simon Katich and 65/123b (5x4) from Ricky Ponting. Ponting looked the more fluent of the pair as he went past his 10,000 runs in Test cricket.

The West Indies bowling was steady but, in the absence of a front line spinner, lacked variety while the fielding was well below the high standard of the First Test. Naturally Australia will be looking to
build a formidable first innings total as a foundation for an attack on the Windies batting.

It's early days yet and the wicket is playing well, but it looks as if Australia will be hard to beat from here.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Clark bowls Australia to victory

Australia 431 and 167 defeated West Indies 312 and 191 (S Clark 5/32) by 95 runs. First Test Day 5 at Sabina Park, Jamaica.

Thanks chiefly to a sustained display of probing and often penetrative bowling by Stuart Clark Australia won by a margin greater than I'd predicted and gained time to regroup for the next two Tests.

The regrouping will need to be mental as well as physical as the Windies have shown that, in contrast to the New Zealanders in England, they have a tenacious approach to their game which has been lacking for some years. Bowlers such as Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell who looked ordinary in Australia only a couple of years ago are now much more challenging propositions.

Both sides still have weaknesses: opening batting and spin bowling spring to mind but whether the Windies are able to lift further (if Chris Gayle and Jerome Taylor return for the Second Test this will help) is a moot point. Not that Australia can be complacent: the second innings collapse to 5/18 showed the brittleness of the batting, while the bowling and fielding lacked consistency.

More low sleep nights beckon as the Second Test begins this weekend in Antigua.


Cricinfo coverage

England rise, New Zealand choke

England 202 and 4/294 (A Strauss 106) defeated New Zealand 381 and 114 by 6 wickets. Second Test Day 4 at Old Trafford, Manchester.

New Zealand surrendered abjectly and unconditionally to a competent England team in the last two days of the match. On what turned out to be the final day the Black Caps turned in a lacklustre performance with the ball and in the field. My question about whether they had the self-belief to push for, let alone force, victory turned out to be a rhetorical one as nobody was able to chip away at the England batting for long enough to make a difference.

For me and perhaps many others the moment of recognition was when Iain O'Brien, an honest into the wind trundler dropped a simple return catch. The game had looked lost at that point: after his sub-club cricket display of ineptitude not only it but also the Third Test looked England's.

The competitive New Zealanders, eg RossTaylor, Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram (who was less competitive in this match) and Daniel Vettori (much of whose bowling in the second innings lacked zest and zip), much be hoping that the whole side can lift enough to register a Kiwi cricket victory , aka a draw, in the Third Test.


Cricinfo coverage

Monday, May 26, 2008

Will Australia be able to keep a resurgent West Indies at bay?

Australia 431 and 167 (A Symonds 79, D Bravo 4/47, D Powell 3/36 , F Edwards 3/40) v West Indies 312 and 1/46. West Indies need another 241 runs with 9 wickets in hand. First Test Day 4 at Sabina Park, Jamaica.

This has turned into a cracker of a match.

On Day 4 West Indies continued their revival, albeit in a more muted way than on Day 3, and, while still not in the box seat, are still in strong contention.

Australia's abysmal start continued in the first over of the day's play when nightwatchman Mitchell Johnson was well caught behind by Denesh Ramdin off Daren Powell. 5/18: one of the worst starts ever for an Australian team, as several commentators of a Schadenfreudish disposition pointed out.

Fortunately (for Australia) Brad Hodge and Andrew Symonds repaired some of the damage with a 52 run partnership. Hodge was the more assertive early but seemed to wilt in the heat (not under the pressure) before he edged Dwayne Bravo - the right choice as first change bowler - low to Ramdin for a 27 that was worth much more. 6/70 was far from a secure position but it showed the remaining batters that all was not lost, despite the generally hostile and accurate bowling and the frequently brilliant fielding.

Symonds, as he'd done in the first innings, became more aggressive: he added 72 with Brad Haddin 23/76b and eventually finished with 79/ 118b (9x4, 3x6) which, apart from providing the cornerstone of Australia's response, showed that he is now a most accomplished Test batsman.

When West Indies, needing 287 to win, began their second innings the Australian attack was more uniformly disciplined, with Stuart Clark once again looking the most dangerous. He took the only wicket to fall, that of Brenton Parchment, who has struggled as an opener bu who is a brilliant fielder. As the light faded Stuart MacGill bowled two overs with a defensive field. He didn't turn the ball much but was treated with sufficient respect to stake a claim to bowl a few overs on the last day. That said, Andrew Symonds's off spin might be a better proposition on a wicket which has not broken up as much as might have been expected. He will not turn the ball as much as MacGill but should be much less prodigal.

241 runs is still a tall order for the West Indians and the Australians will certainly harry them all the way.

The outcome? I'd say a narrow (50 runs or less) Australian victory but wouldn't put money on it.


Do New Zealand have enough self-belief to win?

New Zealand 381 and 114 (M Panesar 6/37) v England 202 (A Strauss 60, D Vettori 5/66) and 1/76. England require 218 more runs with 9 wickets in hand: Second Test Day 3 at Old Trafford, Manchester.

On the face of it New Zealand are on top of England and should be able to win, yet over the course of the day's play the home team came back into the match after a poor first innings batting display.

The wind blew hard, impairing, according to the TV commentators, Hawkeye's accuracy (interesting!) and the temperature didn't rise above the mid teens. A typical May day in Manchester perhaps?

The high points of the day were the performances of the two left-arm spinners Daniel Vettori 31-5-66-5 for NZ and Monty Panesar 17-5-37-6 for England. Yes, the pitch helped them but they had to winkle out the opposition. Without detracting from Panesar's performance his task was made a little easier by the ineptness of the NZ batting (not that some of the England batting was much better) but his match figures of 7/138 reflect his contribution to the team.

The lowest point of the day was NZ's collapse for 114 all out (batting one short). This put some wind in the English sails and batting in the final session of the day looked easier than at any other time of the day, despite the demons in the pitch.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Captain rises and inspires bowlers

Australia 431 and 4/17 lead West Indies 312 (S Chanderpaul 118, R Morton 67, S Clark 3/59, B Lee 3/63) by 136 runs with 6 wickets left: Second Test Day3 at Sabina Park, Jamaica.

What a day! What a fightback by the West Indies. And how unexpected... though maybe less so after the resolution the Windies have shown in this match so far.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul's 118/276b (13x4, 1x6) solidified the shaky foundation of 3/68 and in time allowed Runako Morton 67/ 135b (10x4, 2x6) and Dwayne Bravo 46/60b, (4x4, 3x6) to play a few more strokes. Together and despite receiving little assistance from the others who batted today (nos 7 -11 contributed 4 runs between them) they took their side to a respectable first innings total of 312.

The defining moment was at 8/276 when Chanderpaul, on 86, was hit and knocked out by a short ball from Brett Lee: the last of the 95th over. The sound thudded out of my television set, and it seemed for several minutes as if he'd play no further part in the innings, and perhaps the match.

But he rose, continued his innings and added another 45 to his team's and 32 to his personal score. This brave act (which I hope doesn't turn out to have been foolhardy) brought the Windies
that much closer to Australia: the gap in the scores greater than the psychological one.

The Australian pace bowlers were more consistent today, even if Stuart Clark lacked his fire of yesterday. Stuart MacGill did not bowl well: as 22-2 -100 - 2 indicates. He'll need to lift several notches if he is to play any part in the second innings ie unless there's a target of at least 200 or so bowling him will be very risky indeed.

When Simon Katich and Phil Jaques walked out to open Australia's second innings they would have expected to build their team's lead, their scores and their reputations.

But it didn't happen, in fact there was a collapse of unAustralian proportions: Jacques caught behind off Fidel Edwards, Ricky Ponting snicking Daren Powell to Bravo in the slips (another good catch by him), Katich lbw to Edwards and Mike " Mr Cricket" Hussey bowled by Powell. It was then 4/12.

When bad light stopped play, no doubt to Australia's relief, the score had advanced to 4/17 and the lead to 136. If Australia are to win this one from here something like normal service will need to be resumed.

Another late night/ early morning awaits.


Taylor and bowlers put New Zealand on top

England 4/152 ( A Strauss 60) trail New Zealand 381 (R Taylor 154, J How 64, K Mills 57, J Anderson 4/118) by 229 runs on first innings with 6 wickets in hand: Day 2 Second Test at Old Trafford, Manchester.

I wasn't able to watch as much of the day's play as I'd have liked because Foxtel gave its cricket following subscribers short measure, delaying the telecast until the lunch interval, when it took the Sky Sports relay, which consisted largely of lunchtime chitchat, direct instead of showing more of the actual play.

This means that Australian viewers missed the session in which New Zealand scored 2/120 in 27 overs, Ross Taylor reached his century, and the team consequently established its ascendancy. Given that Daniel Flynn didn't return to the crease after his injury the previous day this was a considerable feat.

Grumbling aside, the last two sessions (of which I only watched the first as the second overlapped with the Aust - WI match telecast) also had their moments of interest, without changing the overall situation much. Taylor's 154/176b (17x4, 5 x 6) was, as these stats suggest, aggressive in intent and has caused a rethink of the strength of the NZ batting, while Kyle Mills's 57/78b (7x4, 1 x6)
has caused a rethink of its depth.

I am looking forward to watching more of the game tonight.


If you'd like more about the day's play, try this report from"> Simon Wilde at Times Online He makes some good points, but his prediction of a potential England total of 400 now looks even more fanciful than it must have done at the time (where was the sub-editor?):

England can still chase the dream of winning this match. With Andrew Strauss providing solidity at the top of the order, England passed 100 for the loss of only one wicket and on a good batting surface can aim to finally top 400 against a New Zealand attack as dependent on the swinging ball for success as their own.

The ball has stubbornly not swung here. Old Trafford pitches tend to last well too, which means England should not unduly fear batting last. Australia held out for a draw here in 2005 and last year West Indies were dismissed for 394 in the fourth innings, having been set 455 to win.

Their first task is to satisfy Michael Vaughan’s demand that two batsmen score centuries in the first innings as the basis for a commanding total and Strauss’s dismissal for 60 - to a fine catch by Brendon McCullum diving onto his bruised left arm - set back that aim considerably.

England’s meagre tempo of less than three runs per over did not suggest a team charging for the victory line; nor did it meet Vaughan’s preseries claim that we would see more confident batting from his team now that they had a series win behind them. They remain a nervous, introspective batting unit. By the close, England had lost four wickets, with Vaughan, Alastair Cook and nightwatchman Ryan Sidebottom also falling. They resume today on 152 for four.

England’s shabby performance in the field confirmed two things. One is that Vaughan was right when he said before the series that a four-man attack would only work if the four bowlers were operating to a high level. When he was talking, Vaughan was thinking of Flintoff as among his quartet but here, without his most dependable bowler, Vaughan struggled to maintain order.

England’s captain had conceded that four bowlers might struggle if they were required to bowl first and Monty Panesar, his spinner, was working with an untrammelled surface. Panesar had made the occasional ball turn on the first day, but his influence remained marginal, as figures of one for 101 from 22 overs suggest. He did, though, account for the key wicket of McCullum.

The second view that was upheld was that James Anderson is not a bowler who can be trusted at Test match level. If the ball swings, he can be dangerous, if it does not he is a needless luxury. In a recent interview, he gave the game away when he said that he had to make sure he did not panic if his rhythm eluded him. Anderson, who has spent more of his England career panicking than playing well, is the new Mark Ram-prakash. Yesterday his panic extended to his fielding as he misjudged a catch off a skyer off Jacob Oram at deep mid-off.

As chance had it, Anderson finished with four of the seven wickets that fell to bowlers, but he was flattered by such a return. Had Anderson not cleaned up the tail, with three wickets in his last four overs, his figures would have fully betrayed his profligacy. He went at almost six runs an over, a scandalous rate given the bounce at his disposal, but Anderson rarely asserts the kind of control that a Glenn McGrath or Shaun Pollock would regard as a base requirement.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Clark checks West Indies reply

Australia 431 (R Ponting 158, A Symonds 70 no, B Hodge 67, M Hussey 56, F Edwards 5/104) v West Indies 3/115 (S Clark 3/18): Day 2 First Test at Sabina Park, Jamaica.

West Indies didn't give up, and their quick bowlers and fielders brought them some way back into the game, as they reduced Australia from their overnight 4/301 to 9/399. Much of the damage was done by Fidel Edwards though Dwayne Bravo persevered well with the ball and inspired in the field: his catch to dismiss Stuart Clark off Daren Powell was in the same class as yesterday's sharp slip catch of Mike Hussey.

Brad Hodge only added 14 to his overnight 53 before Edwards had him caught behind for 67/122b ((9x4, 1x6), but he should feel pleased at his own performance. The selectors might also ponder how best to use him : if he can't make the first choice XI he'd be a handy backup player for England 2009. Andrew Symonds's 70 no/115b (8x4, 2x6) began with test cricket watchfulness and, in the later stages of the innings, shifted to T20 mode.

When the West Indies batted Devon Smith and Brenton Parchment negotiated the Brett Lee - Mitchell Johnson attack well, Smith attacking and Parchment defending. When Stuart Clark came on it was a different matter as Smith was bowled, then Ramnaresh Sarwan and Parchment were caught behind in quick succession off him.

!/47 to 3/68 looked par for the course for the current WI XI. The wicket played a little unevenly and the other Australian bowlers weren't at their best, but Clark's singlehanded effort (8-3-18-3)was enough to reinforce the achievements of the batters and confirm his team's grip on the game, despite a late infusion of some iron into the Windies soul by Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Runako Morton. Clark bowled very much in the Glenn McGrath style, with great accuracy and sufficient variation of movement to ensure that each batsman watched each ball carefully; but even then three of them failed to do so.

3/115 at stumps is better than looked probable at one point but it's still a long, long way from saving the game, let alone winning it. Unlike Manchester, where England are playing NZ at the moment, there seems to be no rain around, even if the slow over rate (only 76.5 overs bowled today out of a notional possible 90) may act as a brake.


Old Trafford lives up to reputation again

New Zealand 4/202 (R Taylor 67 no, J How 64) v England: Second Test Day 1, Old Trafford, Manchester.

Despite the abundance of cricket available at the moment (two Tests plus IPL) it was disappointing to see (on TV) only 54 overs bowled on the first, chilly, day of the Old Trafford Test. The weather was the primary cause, but a slow over rate also contributed.

New Zealand began well, surprisingly well considering their difficulties in finding a competent opening pair in the last few years. This time Jamie How and Aaron Redmond stayed together until the last ball of the 24th over when Ryan Sidebottom, England's current go-to bowler, clipped Redmond's off stump with a ball he'd left alone.

1/80 became 2/86 when Sidebottom had James Marshall lbw for another duck, then 3/102 when the mercurial Jimmy Anderson produced one of his best balls which had How caught behind for a well made 64/110b (7x4). Brendon McCullum briefly threatened a reprise of his Lord's peerformance by hitting a six and a four before Monty Panesar, who extracted some turn from the wicket, induced a snick to slip.

At 4/123 the Black Caps had squandered their early advantage. Their position didn't improve when at 136 Daniel Flynn had a tooth knocked out ("at two thirty" as Sir Ian Botham on Sky Sports put it). Fortunately Ross Taylor and Jacob Oram came to the rescue with a combination of flashy and aggressive strokeplay. Taylor, 67no /75 b (8x4, 1x6) looked more at home than Oram 22no/46b (4x4) but both managed to remain at the crease until the early suspension of hostilities for the day.

This will be the last test match played at Old Trafford for three years, for reasons which apparently are more to due with money than anything else. So for sentimental as well as practical reasons I hope that sufficient play is possible to achieve a result. At the moment it's hard to predict a winner, though I can't imagine the England top order batting as poorly here as it did at Lord's.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Ponting's class demonstrated yet again as Australia take first day honours

Australia 4/301 (R Ponting 158, M Hussey 56, B Hodge 53 no) v West Indies; First Test Day 1 at Sabina Park, Jamaica.

As the score indicates Australia had a good, perhaps very good, and maybe (note maybe) even matchwinning day. Yet without Ricky Ponting's masterclass 158/224b (17x4, 1x6) things may have been different.

The pitch played a few tricks, the West Indies attack performed competently and the fielding, apart from occasional lethargic moments, was very good, yet Ponting rose above all this and put Australia on top. If he'd not been brilliantly caught late in the day by Brenton Parchment off Dwayne Bravo (who earlier had taken an excellent slip catch off Amit Jaggernaugth to dismiss Michael Hussey) the sky, or at least at 500 plus total, would have been the limit for Australia. This may still not be beyond them and the Windies batting looks very thin on paper.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where there's fire in his belly there's smoke

Peter Lalor in today's Australian

There is some talk that Shane Warne has been reincarnated in India as the vegetable-curry-eating, team-leading guru of Jaipur's Twenty20 cricket outfit, but it is reassuring to see that, deep down, he is still the same old Aussie Shane.

Just days after he sent waves of hysteria across the cricketing globe by suggesting he might come back and play in next year's Ashes series in England, he has been caught out in a predictable ashtray outrage.

The Hindustan Times caught Warne having a cigarette before the match against Kolkata at Eden Gardens on Tuesday. The stadium is a smoke-free zone, but the venerated leg-spinner, who was known to hang out of dressing-room windows for a cigarette in a past life, has apparently not changed that much.

Bollywood Shane is, it seems, very similar to the old Hollywood Shane, whose exploits dominated newspapers throughout his 708-wicket Test career. Warne was photographed by a schoolboy while having a puff on a tour of New Zealand in 1999 despite having signed a $200,000 deal with an anti-smoking lobby that required him not to inhale.

Social issues aside, the Kolkata match was something of a triumph for Warne, who has successfully combined the roles of captain and coach of the underdog Rajasthan Royals side in the Indian Premier League.

The Royals took on the Kolkata Knight Riders, who are coached by Warne's old coach and nemesis John Buchanan. Warne has been a critic of Buchanan over the years, but was caught out borrowing his former coach's tactics when The Hindustan Times published Warne's secret team-strategy sheet.

Buchanan was mocked by the bowler for his creative approach to preparation and strategies.

Lalor had another sharply observed piece yesterday on a related issue:

Shane Warne's fanciful suggestion of an Ashes comeback has been met with rolled eyes and laughter in Australian cricket circles, but was enough to send a shiver of fear down the spines of England's batsmen.

Those poor, long-suffering souls have seen enough horror movies to know that no matter how dead the bad guy looks, he always manages to reach a gnarly hand out of the grave one last time.

The news might also have Stuart MacGill reaching for the silver bullets. Warne is the body in the lake that has haunted MacGill his whole career.

The greatest leg-spinner of all time admitted the whole notion of an Ashes comeback is a "fairytale" and Cricket Australia treated it as something of a joke, but Warne has never tired of the spotlight and knows that even the peak of his nose through the velvet curtains is enough to raise excitement in the cheap seats


Even Warne himself had offered the odd qualifier and condition to his return.

"If Stuey MacGill fell over and broke his leg, and there were no other spinners around, and Ricky (Ponting) came out and said, 'Mate, can you please help us out for this one-off tour? We need you', that is something I would weigh up," Warne said.

He was not, however, finished with the fine print just yet. "The reason I retired was to spend time with my kids. I was also sick of international touring here there and everywhere, other commitments, and team meetings. If you could just turn up and play Test cricket, that would be cool. I would definitely consider that."

So there you have it: one broken leg (can be arranged), one call from the captain (a text would do) and he'd consider it - just as long as there were no team meetings, no travel, no commitments and, presumably, not too much training.

Oh, and he might have to mind the kids on Wednesdays.

Warne had been playing this same song about one-day internationals since being sent home from the 2003 World Cup because of a positive drug Test. Comeback? Oh, if they ask me I'd think about it, he'd say. And they'd say, if he wants to make himself available we'd think about it.

After you. No, no, I insist, after you ...

Update 24 May

In today's Australian Lalor has another piece about Shane "'Hollywood' Shane can't retire from the spotlight":

In the past month Warne had lured the spotlight to himself, this time via his efforts in the Indian Premier League. It seems the uber riche owners of the new Indian cricket franchises had made the terrible mistake of ignoring and underestimating Warne and he was not going to let them forget it.

During the insanity of the player auctions Warne went for a modest $450,000 and found himself plonked in charge of the bargain-basement Rajasthan Royals. The team had an op-shop feel, the $1m superstars had gone to the other brightly uniformed sides and the money was on the big spenders to dominate the league.

Warne, naturally, defied all logic. He roused his charges to great deeds against the champions of international cricket and in the middle of the Ashes-return story he lead them to a win over gold-plated Kolkata Knight Riders. Warne's op-shop XI was the first side through to the competition's semi-finals.

Making the finals was one thing for the leg-spinner, but beating the Knight Riders quite another. Warne had ensured this meeting was personal, taking aim at the opposition coach John Buchanan - a man he has spent much of the past five years criticising. Warne loathed Buchanan's coaching style when he was in charge of the Australia side and continues to moan about the number of team meetings and odd ideas his former coach was renowned for.

Still, when Warne's team tactic's list was leaked to the Hindustan Times it made interesting reading. Here was an approach that looked like it had come from the Buchanan cricket canon.

Players were given odd titles and roles. He was "the leader of the pack" his duty was "spin to win", show a "match-winning temperament in closing overs with the bat" and to "marshal the troops". Shane Watson was "the enforcer", Yusuf Pathan the "statement maker" and Mohammed Kaif the "guiding light" and so on.

The Warne comeback story had been sparked in part by an earlier Warne news cycle, this time about how the Rajasthan team's success was proof the leg-spinner was the best Test captain Australia never had.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell had always been outspoken on the issue and decided it was time to speak out again.

"He makes the game exciting for his team-mates, which is part of the secret to successful captaincy. Keep them involved in an absorbing contest and the really competitive players will regularly produce their best," Chappell wrote in his Cricinfo column.

"Also, his captaincy creed, 'We can win from any position,' is like the common cold - it's contagious. If a team under Warne pulls off a stunning victory or two, the players start to believe that it wasn't a miracle, just an everyday occurrence. "

Cricket Australia, as everybody knows, got a little nervous in the bowels at the thought of Warne leading the national team. While CA had flirted with the idea and appointed him vice-captain it had eventually been forced to relieve him of this role.

Chappell had an interesting take on what might have been. The former Test captain invoked the Pythonesque notion that "Man has two major organs, brain and penis, but only blood enough to run one at a time".

Chappell suggested that the demands of captaincy would have kept Warne out of trouble.

Australia v West Indies Test preview

The general consensus among MSM commentators is a cautious optimism that Australia should win the series, if not each of the three matches. Both teams will be at less than full strength because of injuries and other factors (read Marlon Samuels's suspension) but, without being too triumphalist about it, Australia still has a greater depth of talent.

At least batting talent. Simon Katich and Brad Hodge would be automatic selections in many other Test teams; Hodge has been cruelly if not downright shabbily treated by the Australian selectors. I hope that he's able to prove a point or two in the First Test, where Matthew Hayden's withdrawal has given him another chance.

If Australia has a weakness it may be in spin bowling, where IMO Stuart McGill needs to lift his game well above the standard he achieved during the home 2007 - 08 Australia - Sri Lanka series. He achieved a good return in the warm up match against the Jamaica Select XI, but so did Simon Katich.

Not that the Windies are known to possess top notch spinners, but in recent seasons they've relied more upon their quicker bowlers, admittedly with limited success.

While I'm looking forward to some late nights, or more accurately early mornings, watching the matches unfold on TV, I'm hoping that the West Indies will be able to find something extra to make the series competitive and justify my camping on the living room couch for the next few nights.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NZ wobble before Oram musters middle order to secure draw

New Zealand 277 and 6/269 (J Oram 101, J How 68) drew with England 319: First Test Day 5 at Lord's.

At 4/120 and Brendon McCullum retired hurt, a lead of 78 with plenty of time left for England to secure a win didn't inspire much confidence that the Black Caps could survive. But survive, even prosper (in a modest NZ cricket way), they did thanks chiefly to a bold, aggressive and occasionally risky 101/121 b (2x6, 15x4) from Jacob Oram. While Oram was the dominant figure in the revival he was well supported by debutant Daniel Flynn's obdurate 29 no/118 b (2x4).

The England attack was steady but lacked a little penetration. In their defence the wicket played well and they weren't especially well supported in the field, but in the end it was the light and the weather which determined the result.

Everyone, not least's Peter Foster writing lugubriously from Takaka (which must be even closer to the end of the earth than Adelaide), will be hoping for fewer interruptions in the second Test at Manchester.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Draw likely despite uninterrupted day's play

New Zealand 277 and 0/40 trail England 319 (M Vaughan 106, A Strauss 63, A Cook 61, D Vettori 5/69) by 2 runs with 10 wickets in hand: Second Test Day 4 at Lord's.

The sun shone in English style for most of the day and the temperature, according to the TV, reached 17 deg C at one point, yet many of the spectators were well rugged up for what turned out to be a good day of Test cricket. Fortunes ebbed and flowed over the extended day by the end of which scores were almost level and a satisfactory result for New Zealand, ie a draw, looked the likeliest outcome.

In the first session Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook continued to bat well against some steady and occasionally probing bowling from New Zealand. Chris Martin was the best, and deserved more than the wickets of Cook and Ian Bell. Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills provided consistent support and Tim Southee, who should become a good Test bowler if he is able to add a yard or two of pace, improved as the innings progressed.

Once Martin had broken the 121 run opening partnership the England batting wobbled as only Michael Vaughan held firm. Daniel Vettori drew upon his ability and experience to dismiss Kevin Pietersen for 3, lbw to a ball which barely deviated, Paul Collingwood, well caught at slip by Ross Taylor for 6, and keeper Tim Ambrose lbw first ball. Stuart Broad averted the hat trick but his bat was very close to the ball as it passed through to the keeper. Fortunately for England he regrouped and with Vaughan took the score from a disappointingly (after what had preceded it) shaky 6/208 to 269 before he was bowled by Oram.

Vaughan proceeded to an assured 106/214 b (11x4), his 18th test century and his 6th at Lord's (!) before being brilliantly caught by a leaping James Marshall at deep mid wicket from a flat batted pull (slog sweep?) off Vettori who finished with an impressive 5/69 from 22.3 overs.

Jamie How and Aaron Redmond saw out the day without loss. Redmond avoided a pair but was extremely fortunate not to be given out lbw to Monty Panesar on at least two occasions.

New Zealand, as Vettori conceded in his post-play interview on Sky Sport, will try to bat out the final day for a draw. If England manage to run through them cheaply, which is not beyond the bounds of probability, they may lose, but a victory for hem will require an unlikely combination of good and bad luck.

Australian cap controversy no small beer

What is an Australian cricket cap?

Peter Lalor in today's Australian reports

Test cap or Australian cap?

Cricket Australia claims that respect for the baggy green, rather than a lack of it, led to the controversial decision by the national team to wear a cap with a beer logo on it during a tour match in the West Indies.

The game's governing body claims that an evolution in the tradition of the baggy green has meant that it is now regarded almost exclusively as a Test cap.

The team has been accused of "selling out" by past players over the incident.

In the past, the cap was given to anybody who represented Australia, regardless of whether it was a tour, one-day or Test match.

Adam Gilchrist was awarded a baggy green for his one-day debut in England, but was given another, which he values more, on his Test debut.

Cricket Australia said yesterday the touring side decided not to wear the baggy green as wicket-keeper Brad Haddin had not been awarded one, so his teammates opted to wear the training cap with a sponsor's logo instead out of solidarity and "respect for the baggy green".

"It is believed that since 2001, and due to the evolution of the importance of the baggy green within Australian cricket circles, no non-Test player has been awarded a baggy green until they've been selected to play Test cricket for Australia," a spokesman for Cricket Australia said.

"Having reviewed various public and media comments, Cricket Australia has accepted that in the future a 'fitted green' cap may need to be developed so that players who have not yet represented Australia in Test cricket may wear an appropriate green felt cap, which is different from the baggy green, in Australia tour matches."

Cricket Australia's website now claims

Cricket Australia has clarified the circumstances surrounding the caps worn by players during the opening game of the West Indies Tour.

Brad Haddin, who has not yet been selected to play Test cricket for Australia, was ineligible to wear the baggy green cap, which is only presented to players on the morning of their Test debut. In these circumstances it was decided that in the interests of team uniformity (and out of respect for the baggy green) all players would wear the same cap, the blue Cricket Australia training cap, which bears the sponsors mark. It is believed that since 2001, and due to the evolution of the importance of the baggy green within Australian cricket circles, no non-Test player has been awarded a baggy green until they've been selected to play Test cricket for Australia.

Therefore, during the first day's play in the opening tour match of the West Indies tour all fielders took the field either wearing their blue cricket Australia training cap or a Cricket Australia 'white floppy' brimmed hat.

Having reviewed various public and media comment Cricket Australia has accepted that in the future a 'fitted green' cap may need to be developed so that players who have not yet represented Australia in Test cricket may wear an appropriate green felt cap, that is different from the baggy green, in Australia tour matches. (In the past few years some Australia 'A' teams have been awarded 'fitted greens').

Due to these special circumstances, during the second innings of the current tour game the Australian players are wearing baggy green caps, if they are eligible to wear them, or a Cricket Australia floppy white hat, rather than the blue training cap. Brad Haddin may wear his Australia one-day cap while keeping wicket.

You'd think that CA could have foreseen something like this arising and headed the matter off at the pass, especially as one of its directors, Peter Warner, according to his profile on its website has "worked in the sports footwear/apparel industry for 25 years involving various major brands". Does he have a conflict of interest in this matter, I wonder?

I'm disappointed, though not surprised, that CA has been so toothless on this matter, at least until now, when external pressure seems to have prompted a change.

It seems willing to bend the truth wherever there's a buck to be made. Another example is the Foxtel ad on its website claiming
"Catch every ball of the VB Tour of the West Indies live on Fox Sports." This is false as Fox Sports has not telecast any of the game in which the players wore the unofficial caps promoting the series sponsor. Nor has CA apparently been able to state whether the three day match (click on link to see scorecard etc) has been given first class status.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

England assert themselves when light permits

England 0/68 trail New Zealand 277 (R Sidebottom 4/55) by 209 runs with 10 wickets in hand: Second Test Day 2 at Lord's.

Several interruptions for bad light
made for a frustrating day's cricket, though England would have been pleased to dismiss NZ for 277 and to post 68 runs without loss in reply.

The highlight of the day was Ryan Sidebottom's four wickets with the new ball: lower order ones, yes, and in favourable conditions, but he did bowl very well.

Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss, especially the former, batted well enough to suggest that, weather permitting, England should be able to obtain a first innings lead. Whether they will have enough time to force a victory should become clearer after the third day's play.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Tests to stay No1 , says new ICC CEO

From Cricinfo

Haroon Lorgat, the incoming ICC chief executive, has said it is vital for Test cricket to remain the No. 1 format. The explosion of Twenty20, especially the advent of the IPL, has raised questions about the future of five-day cricket with the fear that some players may end their international careers early to take up lucrative deals such as those offered by the IPL.

Lorgat believes the sudden surge of Twenty20 might need to plateau so that a balance is maintained between all the different formats, although he is still confident it can help boost the game overall. "I sat in on the ICC cricket committee meeting this month and they were very clear that Test cricket should remain the pinnacle of the game and I agree," Lorgat told Reuters. "It's a form of the game we can use as a wonderful opportunity to grow cricket globally, though we will have to manage the load that Twenty20 takes on against Test and 50-over cricket.

"We are seeing a lot of Twenty20 now because the IPL is going on, but like most things that are new, you see an explosion of interest at first and then things settle down. We might be having too much of it at first but I hope going forward we can keep a sensible balance between Twenty20 and the other formats."

I'm pleased to hear this but wonder whether money will talk louder than good intentions, and how much authority the ICC will have to shape a balance between these two mainly competing principles.

Test cricket resumes... with T20 flavour

New Zealand 6/208 (B McCullum 97, J Anderson 3/42) v England: at Lord's, First Test Day 1

I was looking forward to watching some Test cricket after several weeks where the only item on the menu has been the highly spiced IPL. Spice has its place, but I prefer a more varied diet.

Early rain, hardly surprising for England in May, delayed the start until after lunch. England won the toss and "chose to field", as modern cricketspeak has it, in overcast conditions which even from a couch on the other side of the world looked to favour bowlers.

The New Zealand top order on paper and, as it turned out in reality, is brittle, with two of the top six, Aaron Redmond and Daniel Flynn, making their Test debuts. England took the field in their near new ultra-white apparel (David Lloyd on TV said they looked like "a team of decorators") gained the ascendancy with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad taking the first five wickets for 105 by tea. Only James Marshall (24/71b) looked able to cope with the conditions, while Ross Taylor's 19/20b was straight out of the IPL (which he'd not long ago left) , ie totally inappropriate for these circumstances.

After tea, Brendon McCullum, who'd survived a testing over from Monty Panesar before the interval, and Jacob Oram resumed watchfully. McCullum eased towards IPL mode, moving towards the bowler and aiming to belt the ball to or over the boundary as much as possible. A flat batted six over extra cover off Broad was the shot of the day, though another off Panesar ran it close.

Gradually, correction rapidly, the partnership brought NZ back into the game. They played some streaky shots but gave no chances until, against the tide of the play, McCullum was bowled by Panesar from a ball which barely turned before taking off stump. His 97/97b was, given the conditions, a great innings, one which would have been great in all three cricket genres, even T20
despite his own IPL benchmark innings a few weeks ago.

While the Black Caps have recovered I don't think that they are on top yet. Much depends on the conditions for the remainder of the match and how the NZ attack, which is short on experience ( Tim Southee) and recent match practice (Daniel Vettori).


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

All bets on as IPL "showers moolah"

In today's Australian Bruce Loudon reviews the IPL at the halfway mark.

A staggering $5.6 billion is likely to be wagered on the Indian Premier League competition, it was estimated yesterday, as a new survey showed that an astonishing 131 million Indians have been watching matches on television.

These latest statistics - published in one newspaper under the headline "IPL showers moolah" - came as detailed new performance tables disclosed that just past the halfway stage of the 44-day, 59-match series Australians Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh are firmly at the top of intricate assessments of which foreign players are providing the best value for money.

Watson heads the so-called MVP index, a collation of batting, bowling and fielding points. On 418 points, the Queensland all-rounder contracted to Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals is way ahead of all the 128 other foreigners playing in the tournament - with Ricky Ponting, comparatively, listed in 110th spot with just 15 points.

A second so-called PV index, also published yesterday, lists the foreign players in terms of "value for money" and what each run costs on the basis of what they are being paid. On this index, Shaun Marsh, playing for a relatively paltry fee of $32,000, is at the head of the list, on $86 per run, with Watson, playing for a fee of $133,000, on $159 per run.

On this table, the disappointing performance by Ponting, playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders for a fee of $426,000, is listed as costing $7949 per run, though the cellar dweller on the index is South African Herschelle Gibbs, whose fee of $613,000 means that each run he has made for the poorly performing Hyderabad Deccan Chargers has cost $17,692.

Publications of the two performance indexes underlines, yet again, the importance of the financial aspects of the billion-dollar competition, with the leading business newspaper The Economic Times reporting estimates yesterday that $5.6 billion will be wagered in mostly illegal betting on the competition by the time it winds up on June 1.

Yesterday The Oz also published another piece by Loudon about the IPL's father figure:

Shane Warne, emerging as the father figure of the Indian Premier League, last night offered a helping hand to controversial spinner Harbhajan Singh and said he was ready to assist him in any way he could.

"Everyone has issues - on and off the field," Warne said when asked about Harbhajan, who faces a ruling today from the Board of Control for Cricket in India on his playing future after slapping fellow India player Shantha Sreesanth.

"He has admitted to his mistake, which is a huge thing," Warne said. "And when he returns to play for India, it'll be a different Bhaji.

"I'm ready to help Bhaji if he wants to talk about it, or in any other way," added Warne, the captain-coach of the Rajasthan Royals team, which leads the IPL table.

Warne's offer followed a statement by Ricky Ponting in which he said that after the slapping incident, "people should be making their own judgments about Harbhajan. He has again done something wrong."


Warne's status in the competition was reinforced yesterday with reports appearing in Indian newspapers that highlight the fluency he has gained in Hindi, as disclosed previously in The Australian.

He has also, according to a report on the front page of The Pioneer, assumed the Indian custom of greeting people with folded hands, saying namaste, when meeting them, even welcoming fellow players and Royals officials in this way.

"Warne maintains a notebook and notes down one new word daily," the newspaper reported.

"Other than Hindi, he has become a gourmet of vegetarian dishes."

One Royals player said, "mostly, he decides our vegetarian menu". This is the same player who on an Australian tour of India had cans of baked beans shipped in to avoid the local food.

Not all is sweetness and light, though, according to today's Times of India:

In an apparent bid to cut cost, the Kolkata Knight Riders team management today "politely" asked five of its players, who are yet to feature in the side's 14-member squad in any match, to leave the team hotel.

The players are Ranadeb Bose, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sourasish Lahiri, Yashpal Singh and Hokkaido.

One of the players said they were "politely given the option of either staying at the team hotel or going home".

"It was clear what the the team managment wants. Apparently coach John Buchannon [ sic] feels that he has found his set combination and had no need for the fringe players," one of the players said.

lick here for a video report.

And of course there's been the controversy over cheerleaders , though this seems to have gone quiet for now.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I must be the last blogger with even the slightest interest in cricket to post about the IPL, but here goes.

Like many others in these parts I've kept awake longer than I should have to watch the matches, or some of them, or parts of some of them. Channel Ten hasn't helped by delaying the telecasts of many matches (some not even being screened until they are over). Why this is so is beyond me.

Enough for now about that.

Here are some (very general) observations:

  • The League is a competition of high standard but some way below international standard
  • That said some of the non-international players have performed very well
  • While the main batting performances have come from established (if not all top drawer eg Brendon McCullum) international players the bowling achievements - economy rates as well as averages and wickets - have been spread more evenly across the spectrum of experience
  • There have been more low scoring games than I expected, partly because of some poor pitches though also because of good bowling.