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Archive for April, 2009

It seems a slightly amateurish website hasn’t hindered the fledgling American Premier League from attracting players. Although the ICC has deemed the competition ‘unauthorised’ and the ECB has discouraged county players from taking part, the likes of Astle, Gillespie, Hick and Hollioake.

Whether or not October in New York will be a little too cold for cricket doesn’t seem to have been addressed yet. The baseball season will still be underway, which suggests that there is an appetite for outdoor sport in the city, but whether the players already signed up will convince NYC’s expatriate population to come out in force remains to be seen.

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After all the speculation about whether Bell, Key, Shah or Vaughan would be England’s number 3 batsmen against the West Indies, the collective gasp from the nation’s cricket writers was almost audible even outside of London as none of the aforementioned candidates even made it into the squad for the First Test.

Ravi Bopara is now expected to fill the third slot in the England’s batting order. Whilst I’m a fan of Bopara, he doesn’t strike me as a Test number three. It has always struck me as a little strange that Kevin Pietersen is so reluctant to bat at three, which suggests that he doesn’t rate himself against the new ball.

To think that Kevin Pietersen doesn’t rate himself at anything is so counter-inituitive that it makes my head hurt.

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There was much excitment in some quarters when it was announced that English players would be available for the second season of the IPL, and Chennai and Bangalore alone spent $3m between them on Flintoff and Pietersen respectively, but how have England’s IPL stars got on so far?

  • Kevin Pietersen has struggled too, getting out cheaply in nearly every innings. His famed aggression hasn’t always been on display for Bangalore (at least not until after he’s out), and the treatment he’s getting from the South African crowds can’t have helped. Having captained his side to four defeats in a row, the Royal Challengers might not be too upset to see the back of him when he returns to England.
  • Dimitri Mascheranhas, the only English player with prior experience of the IPL, made an explosive start to his second season, taking 2 wickets in 2 balls, and batted well against Kolkatta. He seems to have graduated from last year’s bit-part at Rajasthan to the role of front-line bowler, and has taken the wickets of some very good players indeed.
  • Owais Shah has apparently enjoyed practising his Hindi with his Delhi Daredevils team-mates, and has had plenty of time to, with little in the way of cricket to occupy himself with.
  • Ravi Bopara blasted 84 from 59 balls against Bangalore, and claims that he has now learnt how to open in Twenty20 cricket, something that may bring cheer to England ahead of the World Twenty20 in June.
  • Paul Collingwood has made it onto the field, but only as a substitute fielder (would it be cruel to suggest that Delhi signed him with that in mind?), and may not get a chance before England duty calls.

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Michael Vaughan missed another chance to prove his form ahead of the announcement of England’s sqaud to play the West Indies when he fell to fellow England outcast Steve Harmison for 24. Television replays suggested Vaughan may not have got a touch on the fatal ball, but the evidence from the single available angle was inconclusive.

The selectors almost seem to be looking for an excuse to pick Vaughan, so this score will frustrate them as well as their former captain. The number three spot is looking increasingly like it might end up being filled by Ian Bell, which is fine if he’s in form, but it’s only a matter if weeks since he was dropped, so it seems more likely that any recall would owe more to the lack of options available than to a belief that Bell has improved in the intervening period. Indeed, his attitude to being dropped suggests little or nothing has changed.

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Australia’s poor one-day form continued as they lost to Pakistan by 4 wickets with a whopping 35 balls remaining. Chief amongst their tormentors was Shahid Afridi, who took 6-38 from his ten overs, his best ever bowling performance in an ODI.

In fact, eight of Australia’s wickets fell to spinners as they crumbled to 168 all out. James Hopes made 48, but ran out of partners and ended as the lone player not to be dismissed (and as the only player other than the top 3 to make it into double figures).

The sides play again on Friday, when Pakistan will be hoping to continue their good form and Australia will be hoping to arrest their seeming decline. The likes of Andrew Symonds, playing in this tournament in the hope of gaining an Ashes place, will nio doubt be desperate to get back out onto the field.

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Much of the talk (in England at least) ahead of Bangalore Royal Challengers against Chennai Super Kings was of Pietersen vs Flintoff, but it was Muralitharan and Hayden who made the biggest contributions as Chennai rolled over Pietersen’s side, claiming victory by 92 runs.

To be fair to Flintoff, he did hit 22 from 13 balls and took 3-11 from 4 overs (including the wicket of Pietersen) to leave Bangalore reeling, finally slumping to 87 all out in pursuit of Chennai’s 179.

65 of those 179 runs were scored by Matthew Hayden off just 35 balls as the Super Kings ran riot.

The second season of the IPL is starting to heat up now, and if the marquee names like Hayden, Muralitharan and Flintoff continue to deliver, then the competition is sure to monopolise cricket coverage for the next few weeks.

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If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s fair to say that one of the true giants of Associate cricket has retired in Dwayne Leverock. Sluggo, as he is known, has often been a figure of fun owing to his size, but his talent as a spinner should not be understated. His figures – 34 wickets at 33.02 with an economy of 4.00 in ODIs, 71 wickets at 26.47 in just 15 first-class appearances – are strong, but he will be remembered by most of us outside of Bermuda for his outstanding catch against India in the 2007 World Cup, which you can enjoy again below (with, admittedly, a somewhat questionable soundtrack):

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England have delayed naming their Test squad for the series against the West Indies, because the selectors “need more time to assess players who are returning after injury”.

This gives the likes of Ian Bell and Michael Vaughan an extra nine days to impress, an effect which may not be entirely coincidental. The poor showing for the MCC by Vaughan, Bell and Rob Key means that there are few real candidates for the number three spot who are in any sort of form. Although Bell recently made 172 for Warwickshire, it is perhaps felt too soon to bring him back (even if he would clearly disagree). An extra week-and-a-bit may provide an opportunity for someone to play themselves into a ‘selectable’ position.

Another factor involved in the delay may be concerns over players picking up injuries in the IPL. Andrew Flintoff is reportedly already feeling the strain on his ankle after a mere 4 overs for the Chennai Super Kings, and it’s not difficult to imagine something happening to Collingwood or Pietersen in South Africa either (even if, in the latter’s case, the main injury threat may come from angry Saffer spectators).

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Kings XI Punjab
Punjab have been relatively quiet in the transfer market, having added only Jerome Taylor, Ravi Bopara, and the previously obscure Burt Cockley. Sarwan has departed – having apparently only been on a one-year contract – and a number of key players will only play part of the season (Shaun Marsh, Brett Lee and James Hopes are all likely to be called away by Australia).

As with last season, much will rest on the shoulders of Yuvraj, who will be expected to provide batting pyrotechnics every time he plays. If he can find form whilst the Australians are unavailable, and Marsh can continue his impressive form from last year, then the Kings XI are capable of mounting a strong challenge.

Kolkata Knight Riders
The KKRs build-up has been dominated by talk of multiple or rotating captains, but the unusual situation has partly arisen out of the fact that the side has so many top-class players at its disposal. Chris Gayle is made for Twenty20 cricket, as is Brendon McCullum (who should be available for the whole season). David Hussey, Ricky Ponting and Ajantha Mendis will probably only play cameo roles, but home-grown talents such as Cheteshwar Pujara will be available throughout.

Sole auction signing Mashrafe Mortaza probably won’t alter the balance of the side much, but Umar Gul’s bowling will be missed, putting a lot of pressure on Ishant Sharma.

Mumbai Indians
A disappointing start last time around saw Mumbai fail to make the play-offs, and the Sreesanth slapping incident stirred controversy. He’s out with an injury, so discipline may be less of an issue in 2009. Dwayne Bravo’s recent form has been impressive, suggesting that he will be a key player with both bat and ball, and the additions of JP Duminy and Graham Napier should boost the batting.

Zaheer Khan has also come in for Robin Uthappa, whilst a number of the overseas players can offer something with both bat and ball, leaving the side well-balanced in the middle order. Harbhajan has so far failed to impress in Twenty20 cricket, but is likely to feature throughout.

Rajasthan Royals
Rajasthan confounded a lot of people’s expectations with their victory last season, but key player Shane Watson could miss much of the 2009 season due to international call-ups. Tyron Henderson comes in as cover, but the lack of big-name players (Graeme Smith’s recovery from injury may also prove more costly for the Royals now that they have lost the element of surprise.

Rajasthan, of course, are nominally my team, so all the best to them.

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The second season of the IPL (or the first season of the SAPL, if you prefer) gets underway this weekend, so here’s the lowdown on the teams taking part:

Bangalore Royal Challengers
Bangalore’s main pre-season activity was the purchase of Kevin Pietersen and KP will join a host of his fellow countrymen in Kallis, Steyn and Boucher. Last year the Royal Challengers finished seventh of eight teams, with only 4 wins, and Rahul Dravid didn’t look much of a Twenty20 batsman last time out, so it is to be hoped that the signing of Pietersen and the availability of Nathan Bracken following injury last year will improve things.

Zaheer Khan has departed to the Mumbai Indians in a swap deal for Robin Uthappa, but Steyn and Bracken – when available – should be enough to keep the bowling up to standard. Nevertheless, the Royal Challengers are unlikely to be amongst the favourites for the competition this year (although as Rajasthan showed last year, the odds may not be a fair indicator of each team’s relative chances).

Chennai Super Kings
Initial indications are that Chennai look strong again this year. Matthew Hayden’s retirement from international cricket means he is available for the whole competition, and new signing Andrew Flintoff, if fit, could potentially be the archetypal IPL all-rounder. In addition, MS Dhoni remains a potent threat.

Last season, the Super Kings lost out to Rajasthan in the final on the last ball, and the squad looks good enough to go one better this time around if fortune (and fitness) favours the Super Kings.

Delhi Daredevils
Dehli have been hit by the loss of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Asif, but have added Australian master blaster David Warner and English duo Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah. Perhaps most important of their new additions is ‘Dirty’ Dirk Nannes, a Twenty20 specialist who has been part of successful Middlesex and Victoria teams in the shortest form of the game.

Dehli also have the likes of Sehwag, Gambhir, Vettori, de Villiers and McGrath at their disposal, so if the Daredevils can get the make-up of their side right, they have a strong chance of success. The fact that most of their overseas stars will be available throughout may lead to the odd selection problem, but they will be problems of the sort that other franchises would like to have.

Deccan Chargers
Last year’s wooden-spoon winners in dead last place, the Chargers suffered heavily in the batting department as Shahid Afridi, Scott Styris and even Herschelle Gibbs failed to live up to expectations. he has been recalled, and they have a preponderance of all-rounders having also added Dwayne Smith and Ryan Harris.

RP Singh is also under pressure after a disappointing season last year, as is Chaminda Vaas, and Fidel Edwards’s arrival should improve the effectiveness of the bowling unit. In all, there is some hope for a better performance this year, although it would be hard for the Chargers to do any worse.

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  • Durham surprised a lot of people with their Championship win last year, and with Steve Harmison out of favour with England once again, their bowling attack looks just as strong as it was in 2008. Ian Blackwell has come in to bolster the middle order and add a spin option, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul returns in June following the World Twenty20.
  • Hampshire arguably owe last year’s survival, let alone their eventual third place, to the spin bowling of Imran Tahir, who returns from June. In the meantime, Australian Marcus North comes in as an overseas player to add runs, and Dominic Cork also arrives following his release by Lancashire. Chris Tremlett will also be key for the attack, whilst Mascarenhas’ England and IPL commitments will drain the Rose Bowl’s resources for much of the season.
  • Lancashire have released Dominic Cork and Stuart Law, whilst Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson are likely to make very few appearances for their county, so the Red Rose lineup will be somewhat unfamiliar in places. Mark Chilton and Francois Du Plessis need to improve on last year’s performances with the bat, or relegation may threaten to make Peter Moores’ 2009 even worse.
  • Nottinghamshire may spend the majority of the season watching their three best bowlers ply their trade for England, so the likes of Shreck and Pattinson will be key. If Samit Patel gets fit enough to be called up as well, the side could look a little thin in the middle order, but if newlywed Adam Voges can translate his limited-overs form to the four-day game then the prospect of a title challenge isn’t too far-fetched to consider.
  • Somerset continue to have an incredibly strong top order (especially with and Marcus Trescothick as an opening pair), but with Ian Blackwell moving to Durham and Andy Caddick into his 40s, the bowling attack looks worryingly thin. Unless a young gun steps up to take wickets, a proliferation of draws may ensue.
  • Warwickshire face the step up from Division Two without Ian Salisbury, but Jeetan Patel should be a strong addition to their four-day side. If Ian Bell stays out of the England team long enough to feature regularly, then the Bears can reap the benefits. Similarly, Tim Ambrose will be a force in the County game even he doesn’t cut it at Test level.
  • Worcestershire enter the post-Hick era in 2009, which puts a lot of pressure on Vikram Solanki and the likes of Stephen Moore. Gareth Batty’s recent England call-up underlined his quality with the ball, but the pace attack is relatively weak, especially given Simon Jones’ continuing injury problems. If Solanki and Kabir Ali find form, then the side can look for more than just consolidation in their return to Division One.
  • Yorkshire came uncomfortably close to relegation last year, but players of the quality of Michael Vaughan, Anthony McGrath, Matthew Hoggard and Adil Rashid should see them improve in 2009 (assuming England call-ups don’t intervene). A championship challenge may be asking too much, and adjusting to life without Darren Gough will be difficult, but there is enough class (especially with Jacques Rudolph in the side) for a top-half finish.

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  • Derbyshire have brought in Stuart Law (who was cut loose by Lancashire) to boost their one-day firepower, but he won’t feature much in the County Championship. Charl Langeveldt will also be absent for at least three matches following his acquisition by Kolkatta for the IPL, but captain Chris Rogers is probably the best short-sighted colour-blind ginger cricketer in the world.
  • Gloucestershire, if anything, had an even worse season than Glamorgan, finishing rock bottom of the Championship in 2008. John Bracewell has a tough task on his hands to turn things around, but James Franklin’s arrival will help improve the standard of a bowling attack that struggled so much last year.
  • Northamptonshire struggled to win matches in 2008, so may be secretly hoping that Monty Panesar is dropped by England so that he can take key wickets for his county. The motley crew of Kolpaks and ‘Steelboks’ will otherwise have its work cut out to improve on last year’s showing.
  • Surrey find themselves back in Division Two once again, but the summer’s signings of Andre Nel – who will be available throughout the season – and Grant Elliot will boost their chances of promotion. Mark Ramprakash, of course, is still there, and now that he has passed the 100 centuries milestone, his county will be hoping that the part-time ballroom dancer returns to his form of 2006 and 2007.

A Division One preview will follow tomorrow.

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