Archive for May, 2009

The ICC World Twenty20 gets underway from Friday. Here’s part one of my preview:

India, the defending champions, will face high expectations after emerging triumphant from the thrilling finale last time out.  The intervening years have of course seen the development of the Indian Premier League, a competition that means India’s players have a wealth of Twenty20 experience (although the national side has only played five T20 Internationals since the last competition, winning only one). Twenty20 superstars such as MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh will certainly strengthen the holders’ chances of retaining the title.

Bangladesh caused a minor shock last time out when they beat the West Indies to make the Super Eight, and hopes will be high that they can reach that stage again. The likes of Tamim Iqbal, Mohammad Ashraful and Shakib Al Hasan are potential match-winners, but no Bangladeshi player has yet set the IPL alight, and any progression beyond the last eight seems unlikely for the Tigers.

Ireland qualified for the tournament mainly thanks to an impressive performance from Andre Botha. The side will, however, be missing a key player of recent years in Eoin Morgan, who has been called into England’s squad for the tournament.  A surprise result against Bangladesh could see the Irish sneak into the Super Eight (much as they did in the last 50-over World Cup), but on balance the current side (especially without Morgan) may be hard-pressed to repeat the heroics of 2007.

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Kevin Pietersen has, presumably half-jokingly, admitted that he’s not very good at something. The fact that KP is capable of articulating the idea that he isn’t amazing at everything will be shocking enough in itself to some, but that’s not all – the thing he’s not great at is cricket.

“I’m not very good at Twenty20 cricket”, Pietersen told the Mirror (the English tabloid paper, that is, rather than the reflective surface – I imagine that his comments to the latter are more along the lines of ‘hey there, looking good’). Presumably, the Bangalore Royal Challengers, who paid more than $1.5m for Pietersen in the second IPL auction only to see him dramatically underperform, would agree.

KP has a history of odd pronouncements. He previously called Twenty20 ‘a silly game with silly shots’, which is doubly strange given his well-documented predilection for unorthordox shots of his own. It’s also worth remembering that this is the man who made a resignation statement containing the phrase “I wish to make it very clear that I did not resign as captain of the England cricket team this morning“.

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They may have arrived in England with only a single spin bowler, but Ricky Ponting’s Australia seem not to be short on the type of spin favoured by Malcolm Tucker as opposed to Malcolm Walker.

First there was the suggestion from Ponting that England had moved the First Test from Lord’s on purpose because Australia have a good record there (where the First Test was played in 2005, but hasn’t usually been in previous Ashes summers). Now, Ricky is weighing in on the subject of Flintoff’s fitness, suggesting that a half-fit Freddie would be more of a liability than an asset to the hosts.

Well, thanks Ricky. I don’t think anyone else had realised that. I doubt that any in the England setup will be keen on taking advice from the opposition captain, in any case.

To some extent, the real reason for all these ‘controversial’ pronouncements is the unwillingness of either the English or Australian media to think about anything cricket-related other than through the prism of the upcoming Ashes, but the Australian side has recently shown a propensity for media spin which, with respect to Nathan Hauritz, seems to surpass the current team’s ability with regard to the variety of spin more familiar to cricketers.

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The news that Andrew Flintoff will miss the World Twenty20 tournament will have been unwelcome for most involved in English cricket (and, of course, for the competition’s sponsors), but it could prove to be Adil Rashid’s big break.

The young Yorkshire spinner has been called into England’s 15-man squad to replace Flintoff. Rashid played a strong role in Yorkshire’s Twenty20 Cup campaign last year (unfortunately doomed by an administrative error), and is highly rated by many (including myself), although Gareth Batty was preferred by England for the ODIs over in the Carribbean despite Rashid being over there already. The debate about his ‘readiness’ for international cricket is really a debate about his quality, but if he features for England, he will have been granted a golden opportunity to announce himself as ‘ready’ to the world of cricket.

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Just as Twenty20 cricket seems to be taking over, with the IPL looking to expand, Gayle’s recent comments and the upcoming World Twenty20, there are whispers that the tournament that started it all, the Twenty20 Cup in England and Wales, is struggling to attract fans.

Advance ticket sales are reportedly down by as much as 40% on last year, and a number of theories are being advanced in explanation. One is that the novelty of Twenty20 is no longer enough to attract spectators who have experienced the glitz and glamour of the IPL, another that the early start to the international season and the prospect of a busy summer with the World Twenty20 and the Ashes on the way (plus the involvement of English players in the IPL) has overshadowed the county game for UK cricket fans.

It could be that casual fans who flocked to matches in the past are cutting back on their cricket watching during the current recession, or even that the novelty of Twenty20 as a format has worn off following the overkill of the last few years. The prospect of the latter may worry the ECB, who are planning a second Twenty20 competition from next year – the P20.

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Pakistan’s international matches against Australia in 2010 may be held in Ireland or Scotland, as hosting matches in England looks set to be ‘too expensive’ for the PCB.

This seems like it would be a shame for the many thousands of expatriate Pakistani cricket fans (or, perhaps more accurately, cricket fans of Pakistani extraction) in Yorkshire or Lancashire, but it would undoubtedly be a huge boost for the Irish and Scottish cricket authorities to have a Test nation based within their jurisdiction.

Personally, I’d love to see Pakistan play at Old Trafford, but it would also be great to see them playing in the British Isles, regardless of how close it is to where I live.

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England fans who have handed over £45 to watch England versus the West Indies at Headingley (or up to a whopping £66 to watch the Second ODI at Bristol) may be, how shall I put it, a little disappointed that they will see neither Andrew Flintoff nor Kevin Pietersen. They may also be less than impressed with the tourists’ attitude so far.

Nevertheless, England’s success in the ODI series over in the Carribbean, as well as ever-growing Ashes fever, will ensure plenty of attention is paid to this series. The return to the side of Dwayne Bravo, and the move to a format of cricket that Chris Gayle cares about, will boost the Windies’ chances no end.

For England, much of the attention will be on the new blood in the squad. Tim Bresnan returns for the first time since 2006, whilst Eoin Morgan looks set to get his big chance in Pietersen’s stead. Meanwhile, Ravi Bopara’s recent Test and IPL form means that he may now be the headline-grabber.

England are favourites, but I think they’ll have a tough time of it if Chanderpaul, Gayle and Bravo all perform for the Windies.

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