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Archive for September, 2009

The Netherlands (or rather, the Dutch cricket board – the KNCB) have accepted the ECB’s offer to take part in their shiny new 40-over competition (not to be confused with their old, irrelevant 40-over competition).

Ireland, meanwhile, have (somewhat controversially, in some quarters) decided not to take part, partly due to the difficulties involved in balancing the Irish national team’s international schedule with the English domestic season as well as its own. The incongruity of playing 40-over cricket in England and 50-over cricket the rest of the time has also been cited as a factor.

Scotland will, however, be joining the Netherlands in the competition, alongside “an ECB Recreational XI” (your guess is as good as mine).

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Something has happened to England’s batsmen – have they been replaced by replicas grown from plantlike pods, identical in every way apart from their ability to pace an innings and remain steady under pressure?

Certainly, Owais Shah demonstrated a seldom-glimpsed ability to keep his head, making 98 (OK, he didn’t maintain his composure long enough to make a century) of England’s 323 against South Africa. Eoin Morgan also continued the swashbuckling form he displayed against Sri Lanka, knocking off 67 from just 34 balls to keep the pace up after Shah and Collingwood’s 163-run partnership came to an end.

The contrast with the pathetic displays of the late summer could hardly be more striking. With typical timing, England seem to be getting serious about 50-over cricket just as the format is on its deathbed.

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India versus Pakistan often fails to live up to the hype, usually because there is so much of that hype, but this had twists and turns enough to satisfy even the most jaded 50-over cynic.

Shoaib Malik’s 128 from 126 balls, much of which came in partnership with Mohammad Yousuf (who himself made 87), helped Pakistan recover from 65/3 to post 302 – more than has ever been succesfully chased at Centurion.

Malik now averges more than 52 against India, compared with his overall average of around 35, and this was his fourth ODI century against them. After flirting with an opening role, he seems to have found his rightful place in the upper-middle order. Whether or not Pakistan’s selectors will agree, however, remains to be seen.

Malik did let himself down a bit with the ball, though, getting smashed for 14 in a single over by Suresh Raina as India raced along at a pace even quicker than Pakistan’s. Gambhir made a quickfire fifty to set things off, and then Dravid played the anchor role as only he can, remaining steady as wicket after wicket fell at the other end. Once ‘the Wall‘ had fallen, though, victory was out of India’s reach, and they eventually fell 54 runs short.

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Yesterday, few (including myself) would have given England much of a chance of victory against Sri Lanka. However, thanks partly to their suddenly revitalised and potent pace attack and partly due to a fluent innings from Eoin Morgan, that’s exactly what they managed to pull off.

The unexpected six-wicket triumph throws Group B of the Champions Trophy wide open, with only New Zealand yet to win, and no-one managing more than one win so far. Who knows, maybe England will even reach the Semi-Finals?

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It may feel like Ajantha Mendis has been around for ever (he’s already had a dramatic arrival on the international scene, followed by a relative fall from grace and then a minor resurgence), but it’s only about 15 months since he took 6-13 in the Asia Cup final. In that time, he is yet to bowl England’s batsmen, who nervously await in tomorrow’s Champions Trophy match.

Mendis bamboozled Graeme Smith with his first ball of Tuesday’s curtain-raiser, ending up with 3-30. With England struggling with the bat throughout the latter part of the summer, he may get a similar return tomorrow. Even if it doesn’t turn, Andrew Strauss’ stomach might.

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  • South Africa have always been the nearly men of 50-over cricket, but they did win the Champions Trophy back in 1998, since when they have developed a reputation as big tournament bottlers. This is South Africa’s best chance in years to win some ICC silverware, as well as to cast off the ‘chokers‘ tag.
  • Sri Lanka could be dark horses, with Dilshan‘s firepower matched by the steadying hands of veterans Jayasuriya, Jayawardene and captain Sangakkara. The return of Murali and the recent form of the pace attack will worry opposing batsmen, but the side will need to take a step up to taste glory.
  • England, having been humiliated in the ODI series against Australia, and without their two best limited overs players in Flintoff and Pietersen, will do well to win a match. The batsmen seem to fail whenever the bowlers succeed and vice versa, so expectations, it’s fair to say, will be easy to live up (or down) to.

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The second most prestigious tournament in everyone’s third-favourite format of the game is nearly here. Can you contain yourself? Here are the Group A runners and riders:

  • Australia will no doubt have had a confidence boost from driving a steamroller over England over the latter part of the summer, but doubts remain over how they will perform when faced with tougher opposition. Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson are a potent combination with the ball, and there seems to be no shortage of batsmen able to make runs (foremost amongst which, of course, is Ricky Ponting).
  • India may be missing Virender Sehwag, but will be amongst the favourites as they look to improve on their last showing at a 50-over tournament, when they didn’t make it past the first round of the 2007 World Cup. Since then, however, India have won an ICC tournament in South Africa – the same year’s World Twenty20 – and there is enough quality in the side to beat any opponent on the right day.
  • The West Indies go into the competition still in disarray, with a side full of reserves as the contract dispute rumbles on. Although progress seems to have been made on that front, this competition is likely to be little more than a further embarrassment for the WICB.

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Stuart Broad has been casually referred to as The Next Flintoff ever since his remarkable bowling spell at The Oval back in August, but he’s only now starting to live up to the moniker by picking up “a niggling injury to his right knee“. The young superstar-in-waiting and chat show guest is set to undergo a ‘strengthening programme’, but not until after the Champions Trophy, which suggests that he may also be going down the Flintoff route in playing in less-than-crucial matches even when unfit because of his ‘presence’.

If I was Broad’s manager, I’d lock the minibar and keep him away from pedal-powered water vehicles, or alternatively invest in some hangover-masking sunglasses.

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There’s been plenty of talk in recent months of the rise of the freelance cricketer, with first Andrew Symonds, then Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff being linked with the idea. Now it seems that the latter is set to lead the way, having turned down an ECB contract in favour of what some might call a mercenary existance.

On his official website, Flintoff has said that “I said when I retired from Test cricket that my ambition was to become the best one-day and Twenty20 player in the world and playing in all these different countries can only help”, keeping mention of the potential millions on offer if he plays for six teams on five continents as it has been suggested he might.

Just in case the IPL millions don’t quite cover Freddie’s bar bill, though, he is also set to take on a second job commentating for Eurosport on the Twenty20 Champions League next month. The retirement fund seems to be coming along nicely, although it remains to be seen whether Flintoff’s popularity with England fans takes a knock from this news.

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India, having very briefly ascended to the top of the ICC ODI rankings after yesterday’s victory over New Zealand, came crashing back down to earth as they were crushed by Sri Lanka in Colombo, with the home side being bowled out for a mere 168, 140 runs short of their target for victory.

Sri Lanka had made over 300 mainly thanks to the efforts of ‘Uncle’ Sanath Jayasuriya (98 from 79 balls) and Thilina Kandamby (91 not out from 73 balls). India’s reply was the victim of Angelo Mathews’ best-ever haul of 6-20.

If the battle for Test supremacy is hotting up between several countries, so too is the competition to be the best at 50-over cricket, even if the format itself is under threat from supporter indifference.

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The ECB’s decision not to offer central contracts, nor even incremental contracts, to Steve Harmison or Monty Panesar has left both with their international futures in doubt. Harmison has been rumoured to be considering international retirement in any case, but Panesar now looks to have been cut adrift, particularly when the fact that Adil Rashid has been given an incremental contract is taken into account. Being England’s third-choice spin bowler isn’t a particularly attractive proposition, but at least he’ll always have Cardiff.

Just in case anyone thought the ECB were being radical, though, they gave full central contracts to Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell.

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What might turn out to be the future of Test cricket is taking shape with the news that Bangladesh and England are set to play a Day-Night Test– assuming that the ICC agrees.

The MCC’s World Cricket Committee is set to meet ICC representatives in November to discuss the idea, which could include the use of coloured balls and maybe even a change of clothing for the players.

With the longest form of the game seemingly under constant threat, ideas like this could be the way forward, but those involved will have to be careful that they don’t end up losing the ‘traditional’ elements of the Test format that make it such a unique spectacle. Ultimately, it will be the attitude that the ICC (and, realistically, the BCCI) takes to this development which will be crucial.

It’s also nice to see the MCC at the forefront of new developments, giving the lie to the organisation’s reputation for conservativism.

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