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Archive for July, 2009

After the Test series, Sri Lanka’s first home series win against Pakistan, the two sides move on to ODIs with the tourists looking for revenge. In trying to get their own back, Pakistan will be boosted by the return of ICL exiles Naved-ul-Hasan and Imran Nazir (as well as Abdul Razzaq,back after sitting out the Tests).

After the relative success of both sides in the World Twenty20, the focus shifts to preparation for the World Cup in 2011, but both sides have chosen to focus on experience – whilst Pakistan welcome back their ICL players, Sri Lanka bring back the likes of Thilan Samaraweera. The hosts also enjoy the return of Lasith Malinga (although Dilhara Fernando is available as cover in case the slinger picks up an injury. Meanwhile, the pressure on Mendis to deliver against Pakistan, a side who have played him pretty well, continues to mount amid suggestions that his magic has worn off.

Pakistan will hope that their new opening partnership of Nazir and Kamran Akmal (or whatever other partnership they go for – the squad is as strong as it has been for ages) can deliver, whilst their bowling attack – led by Umar Gul – looks strong as usual. If Shahid Afridi can take his World Twenty20 form into the (slightly) longer form then the tourists have a real chance of victory, but inconsistency (as ever) may prove the largest obstacle to success for Pakistan.

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Mitchell Johnson isn’t having the Ashes tour he was supposed to. His form is erratic, his mum and his girlfriend are complaining about each other in the press and the same papers are calling for him to be dropped.

English conditions are being blamed by some, his mum is being blamed by others, but whatever the cause the decline from top-ranked fast bowler to potential liability has been as striking and sudden as Steve Harmison’s. Nevertheless, with Brett Lee still sidelined, Johnson may well feature at Edgbaston, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if his mind is concentrated by all the criticism that has come his way over the last couple of weeks.

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Ian Bell will definitely start the Third Ashes Test at Edgbaston, after England opted not to call up a replacement for the injured Kevin Pietersen. Bell hasn’t played for England since February, when he was part of the touring side that collapsed to 51 all out against the West Indies in Jamaica, and the lack of any competition for batting positions could be seen as indicative of a lack of strength in depth.

Certainly, Bell’s average against Australia (a mere 25.10, as opposed to Pietersen’s 50.72) doesn’t inspire much confidence. Australia’s bowlers have had the better of Bell in the past, and he will need to come up with more convincing performances than he has in the past if he is to make an impact on the series.

Pietersen’s absence, of course, also heaps more pressure on Ravi Bopara to make some runs at the top of the order, and perhaps the expectation will be for Bopara to take on the role of aggressor in the manner that KP made his trademark. Whatever happens, there is a long way to go in the series, and plenty of time for reputations to be made, restored or cemented.

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There has been a lot of talk recently about the rise of Twenty20 freelancers, with Andrew Symonds and Andrew Flintoff both being linked speculatively with the idea of wandering Twenty20 specialists playing in four or five different countries’ domestic Twenty20 competitions a year rather than playing for their country.

Kevin Pietersen is the latest player to be linked with this idea (some less kind commentators may suggest that he has already displayed what some would call a mercenary approach in his move from South Africa to England), with PCA chief executive Sean Morris predicting “the day of the freelance cricketer with players turning down England contracts” in favour of the money on offer as ‘marquee’ players in overseas leagues.

There has been an interesting development on this front in New Zealand, with six Black Caps players agreeing new contracts which effectively surrender some of their IPL income. Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor all agreed deals with New Zealand Cricket following a  delay whilst”scheduling conflicts between the … international programme and the IPL were clarified“. Unless some wide-ranging agreement is reached between national boards to compensate one another for the conflicts which arise between players’ commitments to overseas leagues and their national (and domestic) sides, this is a story which looks unlikely to go away anytime soon.

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The ECB has, somewhat out of character, done something that makes sense and decided that having two county Twenty20 competitions might be a little over the top, scrapping the proposed ‘P20’ league format (which was itself an alternative to the ‘EPL’ city-franchise-based competition which was previously favoured by some) in favour of expanding the existing Twenty20 Cup.

There would have been considerable foolhardiness in persisting with two twenty-over competitions in the face of waning support from the counties (which predictably faded further after it became apparent that there wasn’t as much money to be made as had previously been thought) and a general feeling that the format is reaching saturation point. According to the BBC, the expanded competition will span the whole season with most matches played on Thursdays, Fridays and at weekends, which also makes sense. In fact, the whole thing is so plausible and seemingly well-thought-out that it’s a little disconcerting.

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Bangladesh’s first ever overseas Test series victory may have come against a weakened West Indies side, but it does have a number of fringe benefits, not least the fact that Shakib Al Hasan has the chance to show off his quality in a winning cause. Having taken eight wickets in the Second Test (including 5-70 in the second innings) and made 96 not out as Bangladesh knocked off the required runs to seal the series, Shakib is starting to garner attention beyond the hardcore fans.

If Bangladesh are to establish themselves as a Test side to be reckoned with, and not just a minnow that can win the odd match and series against reserve teams, then the likes of Al Hasan, and Tamim Iqbal (who recently made his first ever Test century), will need to stand up and be counted as the influence of the old guard starts to wane. The silver lining of the huge metaphorical cloud that is what’s happening over in the Caribbean is that the Tigers are getting a chance to find out what winning Test matches feels like.

Here’s hoping they get a taste for it.

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In all the (admittedly irresistable) excitement about Flintoff, 1934 and all that, it’s important to remember that 2009 is not 2005. The tension has been similar, but mainly because both sides have alternated between dominance and capitulation, rather than because the standard of cricket has been as high as it was during the much exalted series of four years ago.

England, certainly, have looked much less impressive with the ball than they were at their mid-decade peak, with even Flintoff only occasionally managing to dispel the impression that he is something of a nostalgia act (today, of course, has been a glorious exception). The batting, too, is less assured – perhaps surprising, given that Ian Bell was in the 2005 side.

It’s hardly revelatory to suggest that Australia’s bowling attack is weaker than it has been for any Ashes series for nearly two decades, but it’s nevertheless accurate. Whereas the Aussies used to have the best bowlers in the world, Hauritz isn’t even necessarily the best spinner in Australia, and comparing McGrath to Hilfenhaus or Siddle is a bit like comparing Elvis to Jimmy Ray, at least for the moment.

So, it’s not time to start planning that chapter in your memoirs about the ‘legendary summer of 2009’ just yet, but unfortunately, this Ashes series seems to be having a similar effect on my mental health to the 2005 edition.

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