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Archive for August, 2009

The Urn

Congratulations England, farewell Flintoff, hard luck Hussey, and hats off to young Broad.

It hasn’t been the greatest series ever, but winning the Ashes still means a lot. Of course, it’s all thanks to Monty’s last stand at Cardiff

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Australia are facing an almost impossible task to avoid defeat at the Oval after Jonathan Trott made an impressive ton on debut as England set the tourists a stratospheric 546 to win.

If any side is capable of making 546, it’s the side that made 674/6 at Cardiff (albeit in very different conditions), and if any side is capable of losing a Test from such a commanding position, it’s definitely England. Nevertheless, the open-top bus is surely booked, the vats of alcohol on their way to the dressing room, and the obituaries for Australian cricket being composed.

The decision by Australia not to include a spinner in their side for the final Test has already come in for a lot of criticism, but it is clearly apparent that Australia have had bigger problems than that throughout the series.

Whatever happens tomorrow (and, if there’s any play, on Monday), there will probably be people who will say this has been a classic series. Based on the quality of the two sides, the general standard of cricket on display and the overall intensity, ‘classic’ would be putting it far too strongly.

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It’s Nearly Time

After all the hype, the mind games and the avian pitch invasions, the Ashes are about to reach their denouement at the Oval.

It might not be as tense as 2005, but cricket fans across the globe will still be calling in sick, scheduling phantom ‘meetings’ that last the same amount of time as the afternoon session, hiding behind the sofa and trying to teach their non-cricket-fan friends and colleagues the intricacies of the LBW rule.

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I’m not sure Tillakaratne Dilshan has fully grasped the concept of what an opening Test batsmen is supposed to do. Filling the role for the first time in the First Test against New Zealand, he ‘steadied the ship’ after Sri Lanka had lost two early wickets by hitting 92 from 72 balls, including the fastest ever Test fifty by a Sri Lankan.

It’s difficult to imagine many other Test openers reacting with in quite such an aggressive approach (certainly not any of England or New Zealand’s openers). Whilst it could be argued that Dilshan was playing high-risk cricket to a degree which is often unsuitable for the longer format, his positivity certainly turned the match in his side’s favour (from 16/2 to 134/3).

Who knows? Test Cricket may just need more crazy openers – what price Afridi to open for Pakistan?

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Away from the tension, hype and seagulls (yes, honestly, seagulls) of the build-up to the final Ashes Test, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are preparing for a Test series of their own.

For most of the tourists, Test cricket in Sri Lanka will be a new experience (only three members of the Black Caps’ squad have played a Test in Sri Lanka before). Their recent record is a cause for concern – a mere four Tests won in the last two-and-a-half years (with three of those coming against Bangladesh). None of the likely front-line bowlers have much experience of Sri Lankan conditions, which may prove costly. The likes of Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder will be taking a step into the unknown, and – on recent form – New Zealand’s top order is hardly likely to set them up with a comfortable platform to do so.

The hosts will be comfortable favourites, and will be looking to sneak the Number 2 spot in the ICC Test Rankings. Ajantha Mendis looks set to miss out given Rangana Herath‘s performances against Pakistan, whilst Murali returns to the side to worry New Zealand’s inexperienced batting line-up.

Anything other than a Sri Lankan series win would be a massive surprise.

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Whilst the cricketing world has been looking forward to the Fifth Ashes Test at the Oval, remarkable things have been happening in Zimbabwe. Trailing 2-1 in the ODI series against Bangladesh, the hosts must surely have fancied their chances of levelling it after posting 312 in their 50 overs, including a world-record-equalling 19 not out from Charles Coventry (which is almost certainly also a record for a man wearing glasses).

Even that wasn’t enough as the tourists, led by Tamim Iqbal‘s 154 from 138 balls (a career best), reached the required 313 in just 47.5 overs. It must have been one hell of a batting pitch.

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Rahul Dravid is set to return to One Day International cricket after being included in India’s squad for the upcoming tri-series in Sri Lanka and the autumn’s Champions Trophy. Although Dravid hasn’t played an ODI since 2007, his performances in this year’s IPL and the relative weakness of India’s middle order in the World Twenty20 have encouraged the selectors to bring back ‘The Wall’ in place of Rohit Sharma.

Sachin Tendulkar also returns to the side after sitting out the ODI series against the West Indies, but Virender Sehwag is still out with the shoulder injury that caused him to miss out on the World Twenty20.

The squad in full is: MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh,Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh, Amit Mishra, Dinesh Karthik, and Abhishek Nayar.

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