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A tale of two teens

Two 19-year-olds have made Test centuries in the last week, both on Test debut, and both in a losing cause.

Umar Akmal, younger brother of Kamran, made 129 from just 160 balls in his first ever Test innings, which he followed up with a creditable 75, the highest individual score of anyone in Pakistan’s second innings total of 218, during the First Test against New Zealand. The youngster impressed observers with performances such as his century for Pakistan A in an unofficial Test against Australia A, and from what I have seen, he looks very promising indeed.

Adrian Barath made just 15 in his first Test innings for the West Indies against Australia in Brisbane, but he followed it up with 104 of the Windies 187 as the tourists fell to an innings defeat. Barath was one of the stars of Trinidad & Tobago’s Champions League adventure, and Brian Lara is a longstanding fan, so Adrian could be another star of the near future.

Here’s hoping these two are delighting cricket fans for many years to come.

Kent have well documented problems with wind, and not just after Rob Key‘s gone to town on the baked beans and Scotch eggs. The county has announced that they won’t play any day-night matches in the 2010 season as high winds would cause issues with the temporary floodlights at the St. Lawrence Ground.

Two matches have already been affected, including last year’s Pro40 match with Surrey, which was reduced to 27 overs a side.

Has Sreesanth grown up?

It’s a cliche to say that you can’t judge a pitch until both sides have batted on it, but it certainly seems that India have made better use of the Kanpur pitch than Sri Lanka managed.

Sreesanth marked his comeback by tearing through the latter’s batting line-up, taking 5-75 as the tourists were bowled out 413 runs short of India’s first innings total, and then dismissing Dilshan in the second innings as Sri Lanka ended Day 3 on 57/4 following on, still 356 behind. He found movement off the seam in the morning session, reverse swing in the afternoon, and – perhaps most tellingly – consistency more or less throughout the day.

Given Sreesanth’s past temperament, it’s worth noting that, by and large, his trademark theatrics seem to have been absent today – perhaps Indian cricket’s prodigal son is ready to live up to his potential.

Dirk Nannes is the latest overseas star to sign up for next season’s Twenty20 Cup (following Adam Gilchrist’s move to Middlesex and the various other county comings and goings), having been snapped up by Nottinghamshire.

The Dutch-Australian fluent Japanese speaker and skiing enthusiast is widely regarded as a Twenty20 specialist, and given his success with Delhi, Victoria and Middlesex in the past (not to mention a certain incident over the summer), it’s hard to argue with Notts director of cricket Mick Newell’s assertion that Nannes is “the most effective Twenty20 bowler in the world“. If Graeme Swann, Samit Patel and Ryan Sidebottom are all available to their county over the summer, then the Outlaws will have quite a bowling line up in the short format next year.

Australia go into their first Test series since the Ashes with a strong desire to bounce back, and one could hardly dispute that the West Indies are in need of a boost following their recent troubles, so both sides should be sufficiently motivated for the three Test series which starts on Thursday.

For Australia, the side is fairly settled, with Doug Bollinger confirmed as the 12th man for the First Test. Mitchell Johnson will be hoping for a return to form following his well-publicised struggles over the English summer, whilst Stuart Clark now seems to have been cut adrift indefinitely. As for the batting line-up, Shane Watson is well established as Katich’s opening partner, and the rest of the top and middle order is similarly predictable. Anything other than a series win for the hosts is unthinkable for captain Ponting, who will desperately be trying to shake off the disappointment (and the stigma) of a second Ashes defeat under his stewardship.

The tourists will be boosted by the return of Chris Gayle from Jamaica in time for the First Test. Much, as ever, rests on the captain’s shoulders, as well as those of Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo, with the latter hoping to translate his good form for Trinidad & Tobago across to the Test format. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Adrian Barath looks set to open the batting alongside Gayle in a partnership that will have to gel quickly in the face of the formidable Aussie pace attack, not to mention the pace-friendly conditions at the Gabba. The Windies face an uphil struggle, to say the least.

India go ballistic

It may be an innocuous pitch, the bowling may not have been great, but 417 runs for two wickets in one day is still pretty special. Virender Sehwag‘s 131 from 122 balls was spectacular enough, but Gambhir (167 – his seventh century in nine Tests) and Dravid (85 not out) got in on the act as well as India scored the most runs they have ever scored in a day of Test cricket.

Hopefully, this isn’t just the first day of another run-filled bore draw – the pitch is expected to prove helpful to the spinners in the coming days. It didn’t seem to help Sri Lanka much today, as Muralitharan and Herath both went for more than 5 an over.

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.