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Archive for September, 2009

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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England’s batsmen have failed for the second match in a row, failing for the second time in three days to knock off the required runs after their bowlers had restricted Australia to an unexceptional total. With a large Pietersen-shaped hole gaping in the top order (Matt Prior batting at number three? Seriously?), the home side are in danger of suffering an embarrasingly emphatic series win if they can’t win matches when their opponents play poorly.

The good news for England is that they have plenty of ODIs coming up in the next few months to get some practice in (another five ODIs against Australia, the Champions Trophy in South Africa and then the One-Day element of their tour of that country). Whether or not the opportunity to build a stable and balanced side will be taken, however, remains to be seen.

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Mitchell Johnson, after a disappointing Ashes series (even allowing for his fine showing at Headingley), is showing English crowds what he’s capable of. After taking a wicket with his only ball of the rain-curtailed Twenty20 series, he was at it again at The Oval, taking 3 for 2 from his 7 overs as Australia won by 4 runs.

The potency of Johnson and the equally impressive Brett Lee as a strike partnership may have Australian fans pondering what might have been if the two had bowled together in the Test series. Whilst Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Clark picked up plaudits in some quarters, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the series was ultimately decided by two awesome bowling spells (particularly, of course, Stuart Broad‘s at The Oval) which Australia’s pacemen couldn’t quite deliver.

Speculation is of course an idle pastime, but there are certainly plenty of Poms who reacted to Lee’s injury at the start of the summer in much the same way as they did four years earlier when Glenn McGrath managed to injure himself in a warm-up without so much as an Owais Shah leg-biter to blame. I don’t think anyone is saying that Lee would have had as much impact as McGrath undoubtedly would have in 2005 (indeed, I made that point at the time), but the Aussie pace attack might have been a little more stable with his involvement.

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