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Archive for January, 2009

Afghanistan and Uganda have qualified from Division 3 of the World Cricket League to book their places in the final round of qualification for the 2011 World Cup, edging out Papau New Guinea on net run rate.

Afghanistan and Uganda had been forced to replay their final matches against the Cayman Islands and Argentina respectively following rain on Friday, but neither will have been too upset as both were in difficult situations before the matches were abandoned. Afghanistan in particular were a mere 28 runs away from defeat to the Cayman Islands in their original match, but triumphed in the replay. Uganda were also given a reprieve by the weather, having been 69/4 on Friday, and also enjoyed victory (by 99 runs) in their replay.

Joining the two qualifiers in the World Cup Qualifier – to be held in South Africa in April – will be Kenya, Scotland, the Netherlands, Canada,
Ireland, Bermuda, the UAE, Oman, Namibia and Denmark. Of these 12, four will qualify for the tournament itself, but the top 6 will all be granted full ODI status for four years (and the top 8 will qualify for the ICC Intercontinental Cup).

Personally, I’m very pleased that the remarkable story of the Afghan side is going to continue.

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Australia, fresh from being deposed as the best ODI team in the world by South Africa, have the chance to take out their frustrations on New Zealand (as happened with the Test series back in November, which followed the Aussies’ defeat in India). The hosts have the opportunity to immediately regain top spot in the rankings with victory in the First ODI against the Black Caps, which will add further incentive for an immediate return to form.

It’s likely that Australia’s openers will be Marsh and Warner, with Michael Clarke batting at number four, but the batting order is more fluid (and less certain) than it has been for some time.

If New Zealand were feeling confident about Australia’s vulnerability, their warm-up defeat to the Prime Minister’s XI on Thursday will have left them in no doubt that they will be the clear underdogs. The rebuilding of the team under Andy Moles is still in its early stages, although there were some promising signs during the rain-affected series against the West Indies.

The tourists may have to make do without Brendon McCullum the wicketkeeper, although he is apparently fit enough to bat. Much, as ever, depends on Vettori.

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Bill Frindall RIP

For those of you outside of the UK wondering what all the fuss is about, Bill Frindall was a legendary figure, and there are many people out there for whom listening to cricket on the radio will never be the same.

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The series may be won and lost, many players involved may already have found their thoughts drifting towards next week’s IPL auction, but there is plenty to play for when Australia take on South Africa tomorrow in Perth. There’s pride, of course, and individuals will want to stake their claims for continued inclusion, but there’s another factor – if South Africa win, they will topple Australia from the top of the ODI world rankings.

We’ve been here before, of course, with the Test series – Australia managed a win in Syndey to hold onto top spot on that occasion. South Africa look likely to rest the likes of Steyn and Kallis, whilst Ntini has flown home following a family car accident, so the home side may be more motivated than the tourist. Whatever happens, the return series in South Africa is only a month away, so any relative cessation of hostilities will be brief.

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The first time India faced the twin threat of Muralitharan and Mendis, in the Asia Cup final of July 2008, the Sri Lankans ripped through the Indian batting order. In the subsequent Test series, the ‘spin twins’ continued to cause all kinds of problems. By the time of August’s One Day series, however, there were signs that India’s batsmen were learning to cope.

There has been, as there tends to be, much talk of Mendis and Muralitharan in the build-up to the current series, but the message coming from India, regarding the youngster in particular, is that Mendis is not a threat, and that key batsmen will look to attack him. This is in marked contrast to Pakistan’s more wary approach, which included special training designed to prepare batsmen for the particular challenges that Sri Lanka’s twin spin attack poses.

In today’s First ODI, the two spinners’ combined figures were 20-0-99-1, which may suggest that India are starting to find a successful strategy. It remains to be seen if the next four ODIs produce any further evidence that bears out India’s confidence.

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India go into the ODI series against Sri Lanka riding a run of good form – the tourists beat their hosts 3-2 last year without Sehwag or Tendulkar, and have since pummelled England 5-0 at home. Aside from tournaments such as the Kitply Cup and Asia Cup, their last series defeat was way back in 2007, and their professed desire to be the best in the world is constantly gaining credibility, especially now that the pace attack is so strong.

That pace attack is likely to comprise Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel and one other, given the fact that chief spinner Harbhajan is injured. The batting line-up looks as strong as ever, even if Tendulkar isn’t the archetypical modern ODI opener.

For Sri Lanka, much will depend on whether Muralitharan and Mendis can improve on the less-than-exemplary performances they put in the last time these two sides met in an ODI series (which of course followed a Test series where they had made mincemeat of India’s batsmen). The former is poised on the verge of a world record, which should be motivation enough. If those two take wickets and Nuwan Kulasekara continues his recent good form, India will have their work cut out for them.

Nevertheless, India will be favourites, given their form and the sheer quality of their side.

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Following the series loss to South Africa (on Australia Day, of all days), Australia have now lost their major home One Day International series for three years on the trot. With South Africa managing to win with relative ease despite the absence of Smith, and India plotting world domination, the Aussies now have challengers breathing down their neck in both sets of ICC rankings.

If Australia lose their status as the best ODI team in the world, there may well be some Australians who will be more upset than if (when?) they lose their status as the top Test side. I’ve spoken to some of them, and I got the impression that Aussie pride is more wrapped up in the success of its representatives in the brash, quick, aggressive world of limited-overs cricket than in the longer form.

The Ashes, of course, are an exception – I’ve ever met an Aussie cricket fan who doesn’t fantasise about thrashing the Poms.

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