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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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