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Archive for February, 2009

Following the unusual tribute to Shrove Tuesday that the curators of Karachi’s very own pancake produced for the First Test, it is to be hoped that the Second Test in Lahore will produce a more exciting contest.

The Test will be Mahela Jayawardene‘s last before he steps down as captain, and his last chance to lead his team to a hitherto elusive series win in Pakistan.

The hosts haven’t won a home series since 2006 (although they didn’t play any in 2008), so something looks set to give. Another bore draw would be an ill-fitting result for a Test which has the potential to become very significant for both captains, as Pakistan’s new leader looks for his first series win and Sri Lanka’s looks for his last.

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I’ve always quite liked young Ravi Bopara (exactly a fortnight older than me, actually), so I’m pleased he’s finally got a Test century. That should, at least, correct his aberrant Test average, which before the current Test stood at a mere 8.40.

Whether making a century on a decent track in Barbados qualifies him to face Australia’s newly potent pace attack in the summer is another matter. Indeed, the role Bopara is being asked to play at the moment may merely be a sort of job-share, a pro-rata part-time Flintoff substitute, with the bowling element of Freddie’s role allocated elsewhere. If that proves to be the case, then once Flintoff returns, Bopara’s may find himself in a difficult situation.

England’s middle order for the Ashes is still not entirely fixed, but on past evidence the selectors are likely to resist radical changes. Therefore, if Shah does well enough to keep his place at number three, and Collingwood continues to make decent scores, then future chances for England’s newest centurion may turn out to be somewhat more limited than he might hope.

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Marcus North has made quite an impact in his first outing as a Baggy Green. Australia are in the market for new heroes at the moment, given their recent slip from the heights of invincibility, and North seems to fit the bill.

The last player to make a century on debut for Australia was Michael Clarke back in 2004, and in the years since, the side has been arguably at its least stable for some considerable time. A batsman of North’s ability lower down the order, combined with some promising batting from Mitchell Johnson, will help the Aussies cope without feeling the need to have Andrew Symonds in the side if his non-cricketing issues aren’t resolved in time for the Ashes.

Australia are evidently going to be tougher to beat for South Africa the second time around.

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The IPL has announced the fixtures for its second season (or at least “the tentative Match Schedule”), with the main headline-grabber being the Chennai Super Kings vs Bangalore Royal Challengers match in Chennai, which may see the newest two marquee players, England lynchpins Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen making their IPL debuts on opposite sides, potentially with the latter captaining his new side.

Whether or not Flintoff will be fit (or allowed) to take part in that match, or any other in the IPL, is still open to question. The tone of the discussion around whether Flintoff should take part hasn’t been particularly balanced so far, but the amount of money involved (not just for the player himself – the IPL is struggling for sponsors and Flintoff is the sort of name that will draw in spectators) is likely to tilt things in favour of his participation.

UPDATE: The revised fixtures (now that the whole thing’s in South Africa) can be found here.

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The two best Test cricket teams in the world move on to the second leg of their epic clash (the first was, of course, the recent series in Australia) as the Aussies embark on their first Gilchrist-less and Warne-less (and, for that matter, Lee-less, Hayden-less…) tour of South Africa. The series will be the first for either team to make use of the referral system, and it will be interesting to see how Smith and Ponting choose to utilise it.

For the tourists, much of the focus will be on the less familiar faces – the likes of old Bryce McGain and young Philip Hughes. Marcus North, recently signed by Hampshire, is also in line for a debut, probably in the First Test.

For South Africa, the faces will be more familiar given the team’s performance in Australia- even to the extent that a fit-again Ashwell Prince can’t break back into the side. The pace attack (especially Steyn), so potent in December, will be crucial once again.

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Matt Prior has flown home to be with his wife after she gave birth to his son on Monday. All well and good, but lurking at the bottom of the Cricinfo report of this occurence, in a discussion of Tim Ambrose (Prior’s replacement as wicketkeeper) are four words that will strike terror into the hearts of England fans everywhere:

“[Ambrose] is likely to be joined in the middle-order by Ravi Bopara, who scored an attractive century in England’s warm-up in Barbados, or a recalled Ian Bell.”

I’d rather have Amjad Khan batting at three than let Bell back in after one mediocre performance in a tour match against the bowling of Barrington Bjorn Beckenbauer Yearwood. If Bell comes back in, it will arguably be more of a testament to the lack of quality available to England on their current tour than to any resurgence in his own lacklustre form.

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Sri Lanka have ‘welcomed’ Pakistan back to Test cricket in the same way that Daily Mail readers might ‘welcome’ the invasion of their home by a burgular – by repeatedly (in Sri Lanka’s case metaphorically) bashing them over the head with a cricket bat.

Most of the bashing was done by Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera, who combined in a record-breaking 437-run partnership as Pakistan ended the second day of the First Test a massive 600 runs adrift and with one wicket of their own already taken by an onimously economical Muralitharan.

It already looks like Pakistan may have some catching up to do before they can fully return to where they were 15 months ago in the Test cricketing order of things.

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