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Something has happened to England’s batsmen – have they been replaced by replicas grown from plantlike pods, identical in every way apart from their ability to pace an innings and remain steady under pressure?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