Archive for November, 2008

India and Pakistan

Indian television is reporting that India’s tour of Pakistan has been cancelled. This isn’t a surprising development, but it is a significant one. Pakistan have already gone nearly 12 months without playing a Test due to security concerns, India is in danger of becoming similarly ostracised, and growing tensions between the countries mean that they cannot even play against each other.

Whilst it is crucial to the security of the region that India and Pakistan manage to find some common ground, it is also important for cricket that two countries of such significance are able to compete against each other. If the best response to terrorism is, as many argue, to continue one’s life unbowed, then recrimination is counterproductive.

I hope that the cricketing authorities of all countries involved are allowed to make decisions based purely on the best interests both of their players and of cricket in general – not decisions forced upon them by fear.

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Cheteshwar Pujara

Before the cancellation of England’s remaining ODIs in India and the subsequent doubt cast on the Test series, my attention was drawn to an emerging Indian batsman who some have been tipping for a spot in the home side’s Test squad: Cheteshwar Pujara.

The young right-hander (he will turn 21 in January) has been in scintillating form of late, scoring two triple centuries in an under-22 tournament, and another in the Ranji Trophy which was part of the highest ever first-class 5th wicket partnership.

It seems Pujara is another one for followers of cricket outside India to keep an eye out for. Those who follow cricket in that country already seem well appraised of his talents.

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Aaron Redmond thinks New Zealand can make it near 500 against Australia in the Second Test. I think that may be a little optimistic, but 262-6 with McCullum and Vettori both still there isn’t a bad platform (although not as good as it might have been – the Black Caps were 101-1 at lunch).

Redmond himself is the top scorer so far with 83, but it seems likely that at least one of Australia’s batting lineup will surpass that on such a notorious batsman-friendly pitch as Adelaide. Matthew Hayden, playing in his 100th Test, must be desperate to get out there and bat, especially given his recent form.

UPDATE: New Zealand actually managed something almost as unlikely as 500 – they collapsed from 262-6 overnight to 270 all out.

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Bangladesh, despite another good performance from Shakib Al Hasan, weren’t able to capitalise on having South Africa 134-5 during the Second Test between the sides. Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher both ended the day unbeaten, having also both made centuries.

Yesterday, the Bangladeshi batsmen continued their lacklustre form, with only two batsmen making decent scores as the side made 250. There are signs of some progress from the kittens/cubs, but not enough to suggest that they’ll win a Test anytime soon.

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Events in Mumbai

Confusion reigns in Mumbai at the moment, following yesterday’s terrorist attacks. As well as the obvious reaction of horror and concern for those involved, the cricketing world is starting to wake up to the realisation that it will be deeply affected by these terrible (and ongoing) events.

England are considering abandoning their tour (indeed some reports suggest they already have – not surprisingly as Britons were amongst those targeted), the Twenty20 Champions League may not go ahead, and the future of several other scheduled events in Indian cricket are also shrouded in uncertainty.

I fear that the situation may lead to Mumbai, and India in general, being considered by the outside world as an inherently dangerous place, with consequences similar to those seen recently in Pakistan.

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Just how good is Sehwag? Is he one of the greatest ever One Day cricketers? Is he worthy of his own cult? Should everyone else just give up and go home?

His strike rate is phenomenal for someone who has scored so many runs (better even than Shahid Afridi’s), his style is relentlessly aggressive (especially when opening with Gambhir), and his reputation amongst neutrals could hardly be higher.

As one of those neutrals, my fervent hope is that he gets the recognition he deserves as one of India’s greatest batsmen. There is, I realise, a lot of competition, but who ever heard of Gangulyology?

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Much like the way Pakistan’s cricket fans now have an ‘unnofficial’ side to follow which plays more often than the ‘official’ side (two if you count both the Lahore Badshahs and the ICL Pakistan XI), there are now two Bangladesh teams to follow.

One, that backed by the official governing body, will play in the Second Test against South Africa tomorrow, hoping to salvage some pride. The prospect of a win in that contest seems exceedingly unlikely, given (as Will Luke puts it) the fact that “their form guide, a string of ‘Ls’, reads like a Welsh railway station“.

Meanwhile, the unofficial, ICL side had some success today, beating their Indian equivalents with 3 balls to spare mainly thanks to the efforts of Shahriar Nafees. If the ‘real’ Bangladesh keep losing, then more and more casual fans may be drawn to the glamour and relative success of the ‘fake’ ICL side. That would, in my view, be a shame, but I can’t blame those fans if they feel they’d rather watch a half-decent Twenty20 side than see the Test side get hammered repeatedly.

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All over England, people are bemoaning the national side’s run of ODI defeats to India. Some are pointing to an outdated attitude to the batting order, others to a fundamental misjudgement of Indian conditions, yet others to the general attitude to limited overs cricket that, it is argued, persists in the UK.

There is another possibility, though. What if India are, simply put, now the best One Day side there is?

From the breakneck acceleration of Sehwag and Gambhir, through the middle-order fireworks of Yuvraj and company, the Indian batting lineup is as good as any in the world. Although Tendulkar isn’t quite as ‘modern’ in his approach as some of the younger stars, having a player of such quality in the side is anything but a hardship.

As for the spin bowlers, only Sri Lanka can table a serious claim to superiority over the likes of Harbhajan. In comparison, the part timers of Australia and England are hardly worth considering.

Even the seam bowlers, traditionally India’s weak spot, are world-class. Ishant Sharma has exploded onto the international scene, and Zaheer Khan continues to attract plaudits from all directions.

The experience that most of the Indian side have gained, partly from two recent confrontations with Australia, partly from the brave new world of the IPL, has given them an edge over most, if not all, of the planet’s One Day sides. Whether or not they can maintain their current form for long enough to overhaul Australia and South Africa at the top of the ODI rankings, and whether they can produce such electric performances away from home, remains to be seen – but I wouldn’t bet against it.

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The First ODI between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe was a little one-sided. The Second was a hammering, with the tourists winning by 9 wickets with 194 balls remaining.

There was little in these first two matches, then, that suggested the Third ODI would be a close run thing. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka scraped home by a mere 5 runs. Only the combined might of Muralitharan, Mendis and Thushara finally slowed the home side down, tipping the balance in an incredible 28-over thriller.

Whilst the political situation in Zimbabwe hasn’t improved at the rate I had hoped (and may even be getting worse), it seems the nation’s cricketers are still capable of giving a side like Sri Lanka a decent game.

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Andrew Symonds? Incident?

Just what is it about Andrew Symonds that means he always finds himself in close proximity to trouble. He’s only just returned to the Australian side following a fishing-related dispute that may or may not have involved a beer or two, and already his name is being mentioned in headlines next to the words ‘pub incident’.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in pubs, and there aren’t that many types of incident that commonly occur. Aside from drunken arguments that get out of hand, the only things that generally elicit the attention of the average pub regular are pint spillage or someone changing the channel on the TV. I would recommend that you neither spill Andrew Symonds’ pint nor change the TV channel if he’s watching something. He hunts with his bare hands, you know.

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Marcus Trescothick has won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year for his autobiography. Trescothick’s exploration of the deepest, darkest recesses of his troubled mind, which hit the cricketing headlines recently for its revelations of ball-tampering, is probably not ideal stocking filler material, but it’s probably going to turn up in plenty of stockings anyway.

The Somerset vice-captain seems a lot more content now that his England career is over, but will his literary success counterbalance his lack of baseball skill?

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England’s slim hopes of salvaging something from the One Day series in India ended in dramatic fashion as the Fourth ODI was reduced to a 22-over slogfest. India, put in to bat by Kevin Pietersen, started their innings still expecting a 50-over match, but Sehwag behaved as if he was playing Twenty20 anyway, smashing 69 from 57 balls to take the home side to 106-1 after 17 overs.

A prolonged rain delay seemed at one stage to have ended all hopes of play resuming, but when it did India hammered 60 runs from their last five overs to take them to 166, a target inflated to 198 by the mystical workings of Duckworth/Lewis.

Nine runs an over was always going to be a struggle for England, and the only point in their innings when it looked attainable was whilst Owais Shah and Andrew Flintoff where smashing balls to all corners of the ground during their 79-run partnership. Once both had fallen, England had little to offer in the way of boundaries, and could only make 178 from their allotted 22 overs.

India win the series, and England’s attention may now drift towards the upcoming Tests. Shah’s knock at least bodes well for Middlesex’s chances in the upcoming Twenty20 Champions League.

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