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Archive for the ‘new zealand’ Category

The obvious point to make ahead of a New Zealand – Pakistan Test series is that the two sides have, on the face of it, diametrically opposed approaches. New Zealand are sometimes dull, usually reasonably efficient and often mediocre, whereas Pakistan are exciting, unpredictable, inconsistent and fleetingly brilliant.

Recently, though, New Zealand have been through a series of upheavals which the average Pakistan fan would not find it difficult to empathise with – a bloodless coup to depose the coach and misbehaving players, to name the most prominent. Shane Bond’s return to the Test side will provide a boost, although he is unlikely to be the player that he was two years ago, notably with regard to raw pace. Meanwhile, Jacob Oram’s retirement and Jesse Ryder‘s absence through injury mean that the overall balance of the side may take some time to get right.

Pakistan have (of course) been through upheavals themselves, with Younis Khan’s resignation, which was apparently at least partially motivated by a lack of support from players such as former skipper Shoaib Malik. New captain Mohammad Yousuf has not always seen eye-to-eye with Malik in the past, so there could still be some issues to resolve on that front. Adjusting to the low temperatures of November in New Zealand will also be a challenge, whilst Mohammad Asif‘s return to Test cricket following his drugs ban provides some welcome good news.

Pakistan’s recent Test form has been poor, and although New Zealand are in a ‘transitional period’, the home side will probably be slight favourites for the series win.

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Club cricket takes a new turn this week with the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League. Here’s a brief run-down of the sides involved:

  • The Cape Cobras, although without the injured Graeme Smith, will still have plenty of firepower with JP Duminy and Herschelle Gibbs the main threats. The lack of access to the large pool of overseas talent that the IPL teams will enjoy could be an issue, though, as could a lack of familiarity with subcontinental conditions from the non-internationals amongst the squad.
  • The Deccan Chargers boast a wealth of talent, with Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Chaminda Vaas and Scott Styris all in the squad alongside Indian players of the quality of Laxman and RP Singh. One of the IPL sides will be expected to win the competition, and the Chargers will certainly fancy their chances.
  • The Delhi Daredevils pulled off a coup in securing Dirk Nannes‘ services for the tournament, and some of his fellow Victorians may be cursing that decision on Friday when he could well open the bowling against the Australian side. Meanwhile, Gambhir, Sehwag and Dilshan could be an irresistable top order combination if they all hit form. The loss of Paul Collingwood to injury is unlikely to be felt too deeply (except by Collingwood himself, who has ‘a little niggle in his buttock’, no less).
  • The Eagles are on paper the weakest team in the competition, but the likes of Dillon du Preez and Ryan McLaren have overseas experience, and Twenty20 competitions have proved ripe for surprising results in the past, so they shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • New South Wales could upset the IPL hegemony, with the likes of Simon Katich and the famously big-hitting David Warner providing the runs, whilst Stuart Clark, Nathan Hauritz and Brett Lee will be a potent attack. If the problems which the Australian national side had in the World Twenty20 can be overcome, then NSW could be heading home with some silverware to go with their international players’ natty new white jackets.
  • Otago‘s chief asset, as ever, is the power-hitting of Brendon McCullum, but brother Nathan can also contribute. Dimitri Mascarenhas, available as neither Hampshire nor Rajasthan have qualified, has a strong track record in this format with both bat and ball, and is a strong addition to the squad.

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The Champions Trophy, even though it’s only the Carling Cup of international cricket tournaments, has – partly due to its timing – taken on a disproportionate significance in many people’s minds with regard to the future of 50-over cricket.

Leaving aside wider questions about whether the format is enjoying a renaissance, whether the tournament’s design (which avoids the overkill of most ODI series) is the way forward, and of whether England fans just liked it because their team was winning for a bit and there was no other cricket to watch, there’s also the matter of who the best ODI side in the world is.

Australia’s tournament might be seen as symbolic, with the side which has dominated cricket for the last decade or two facing a series of challenges from various pretenders to their throne. With the exception of the side masquerading as the West Indies (who, to be fair, gave the Aussies a brief scare in their match, reducing them to 171-7 before Mitchell Johnson rescued the situation), most sides seem capable of beating one another, so the Number 1 spot in the rankings could change hands with some regularity over the next few months.

The other finalists, New Zealand, have raised a few eyebrows by making it this far, having been in poor form in the run-up to the tournament, and their progress arguably provides evidence for the fluid nature of the ODI pecking order at the moment. Whilst few will expect them to beat Australia, they did have some success against the same opposition back in February. If the big names perform well, then the Black Caps could spring another surprise.

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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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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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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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Shane Bond looks set to return to Test cricket, and he won’t even need to wear a comedy disguise. Having cut all ties with the ICL, the Kiwi pace bowler has made himself available for selection by New Zealand.

The news has been welcomed by captain Daniel Vettori, given the injury problems that frustrated his side during their World Twenty20 campaign. Bond, however, says that he doesn’t expect to be recalled for the Black Caps’ upcoming tour of Sri Lanka.

With the ICL seemingly now a dead end, a number of ‘rebel’ players are making the transition back to mainstream cricket, with Bond arguably the player who was most missed by his international side during his exile.

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Group E

  • The West Indies may have hammered Australia, but that victory owed a lot more to Chris Gayle’s power-hitting than it did to competent fielding from the team at large. Conceding as many runs as the side has recently probably won’t see them progress any further, but such is Gayle’s talent that few totals are unequivocally out of reach if the Windies bat second.

Group F

  • Ireland have exceeded many expectations by reaching this stage, and the lone Associate side remaining in the competition will need more than a little luck to progress any further. The match against Pakistan, though is bound to rekindle memories of 2007, and there’s still a chance of another upset or two being sprung.
  • New Zealand haven’t shown as much promise in their two group matches as I thought they might, but the quality of Vettori, McCullum, Oram and Taylor (if all are fit at the same time) will raise hopes of a Semi Final place.

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New Zealand beat India in their recent warm-up match for this tournament, which is bound to raise hopes that the Black Caps will pose a real challenge. Brendon McCullum is perhaps the archetypal Twenty20 batsman (as he showed in his dramatic introduction to the IPL last year), and Daniel Vettori and Jacob Oram are both top-class bowlers in the short format, so anything is possible, but it would still be quite a shock if New Zealand were to take home the trophy.

Scotland’s preparations for the competition have been hit by John Blain’s walk-out, and the Saltires’ fortunes in general have been on a downward curve for the last four years. Gavin Hamilton (who has played Test cricket) is still around, but there seems little hope for Scotland to win a match in the tournament, especially given the group they find themselves in.

South Africa are now the top-ranked ODI team in the world, and have beaten Australia twice in their last two T20 Internationals, but their reputation as ‘chokers’ hasn’t yet been entirely shaken off. The recent emergence of the likes of JP Duminy and Morecambe’s own Wayne Parnell – along with the experience of players such as Kallis, Steyn and Smith – may prove enough for the Saffers to finally get their hands on an ICC trophy.

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The Indian Cricket League, currently in limbo following the cancellation of its World Series in the wake of last year’s attacks in Mumbai, and apparently running seriously short of cash, has offered its Kiwi players the option of being released from their contracts.

Some of the New Zealanders involved, notably Shane Bond and Darryl Tuffey, have sacrified their international careers by getting involved with the ‘rebel’ ICL, and if they were to cut their ties with the competition, it could raise the possibility of them playing again for the Black Caps. Whilst Bond has talked down this possibility in the past, Tuffey is reportedly keen to represent his country once again.

Perhaps of greater interest for those outside of New Zealand are the implications of this news on the expected future of the ICL itself. With subcontinental cricket involving non-subcontinental players seemingly becoming an ever rarer sight for ‘security reasons’, and the global economy looking shakier than it has been in decades, can the world support two Indian Twenty20 leagues?

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Ahead of the Second Test in Napier, with India having been so convincing in the first you would have been offered stratospheric odds on New Zealand forcing them to follow on, Sehwag twice getting out for less than 35 and Jesse Ryder making a double century. Yet all of those things have come to pass.

Most worrying for India in their quest for a first series win in New Zealand is the way that Sehwag’s magic touch seems to have deserted him, resulting in scenes like this more often than scenes like this. If the bloggers’ deity is to return to the old ways of recklessness, perhaps he will be proved mortal after all, and those who have questioned his brains in the past may be making their case again.

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England and New Zealand will contest the World Cup Final in Australia with both looking for their first tournament wins away from home (and the first ICC-sponsored Women’s World Cup).

England were much fancied at the start of the tournament, but their 17-match winning run was recently brought to an end by Australia (admittedly in a dead game), and New Zealand’s performances throughout the competition have earned them an increasing number of fans. The odds for the final suggest England are expected to win, but a close encounter is on the cards.

New Zealand’s hopes hinge on Suzie Bates (also an Olympic basketballer) and experienced captain Haidee Tiffen, who has won the trophy before.

For England, all eyes will be on Claire Taylor (widely regarded as the world’s best batsman/batswoman/batsperson) and captain Charlotte Edwards.

Although the competition hasn’t garnered as much media attention as it might have, but it seems to have been successful as a sporting event in itself. With luck, the final will live up to the high expectations that the recent performances of the two teams involved have raised.

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