Twenty20 Quarter Finals 2008

by Suneer Chowdhary 7/14/2008 3:38:00 PM

The only real excitement that the quarter-finals of the Twenty20 Cup in England exhibited was off the field, rather than on it. And the generated thrill was due to the cancelling of a cricket match, due to suspicions about the legality of a player’s right to play for one of the counties. Clearly, the matches that actually got played had failed to live up to their billing.

From all the three matches that did get played, the most exciting was the third quarter-final between Middlesex and Lancashire that was the Oval hosted. The former won the toss and decided to bat first on a wicket that probably swung a bit, and soon found themselves at 2/2 and 21/4 and in a lot of trouble. It was here that the duo of Eoin Morgan and Dawid Malan got together and pulled Middlesex out of the quagmire; adding 80 runs. But the real fireworks came in at the fall of Morgan’s wicket, as Malan pulled, hooked, cut and drove with panache to get to his first T20 hundred, coming off only 54 deliveries. The score of 176 was his team got to, something not totally impossible to chase down, but reasonably difficult in a knock-out game.

However, the start that Lancashire got was something they could have done without. Lou Vincent and G. Cross departed early, but the biggest scalp was that of Stuart Law – their skipper – who departed for only 11. Lancashire was at 11/3 at this stage. The rest of the batting did try their level best, especially, on the back of a fighting fifty by Andrew Flintoff, but in the end, some superb bowling by Murali Kartik saw Middlesex through to the semi-finals by 12 runs.

Incidentally, Flintoff, who is recuperating from his injury bowled all the four stipulated overs, conceding only 17 runs and picking up three scalps! Clearly, the signs are good for England.

Essex played Northamptonshire at Chelmsford and had no difficulty in disposing them off the latter. Winning the toss and bating first, none of the Essex batsmen crossed fifties, yet they managed to pile on a 192/9 in the twenty overs; a good enough total in a pressure, knock-out. This was amply helped by Ravindra Bopara’s 26-ball 47 and a late order flourish by Graham Napier, who hit out 40 runs in only twenty deliveries. Northampton’s target was reduced to 175 in 18 overs due to rain during the innings break, but that did nothing to prop up their spirits. The start was as abysmal as it could get, as Napier continued his good form with the ball. He broke the back of the team by picking up 4/10 in his four overs, and by the time Nicky Boje scored 43-ball 58, it was too late and all over bar the shouting.

Essex had won by 59 runs by the Duckworth-Lewis formula, and Graham Napier was the Player-of-the-Match for his superlative all-round effort.  Graham Napier now appears to have made a real claim for inclusion in the England Twenty20 side, and with the Million dollar match looming he must be rightly pleased with his efforts in recent weeks.

In the 4th quarter-final that got spilled over to the reserve day due to heavy rains, Kent faced up to Warwickshire. And for the third time in a row, the team that had batted first moved on to the semi-final stage of the tournament. Darren Stevens’ brilliant hitting saw him get to 69 off just 32 deliveries, but his team could only struggle up to 175/6 in twenty overs; clearly 20 runs adrift of their expectations. The Warwickshire reply was as feeble as it could get. Wickets kept falling at regular intervals, with the highest total been that of Ant Botha’s 35. By that time, the match was done and dusted after Yasir Arafat had picked up three in his allotted quota of four overs, conceding 29 runs.

Kent had triumphed by 42 runs.

As mentioned earlier, the biggest piece of action came in the Yorkshire-Durham match that first got postponed and then ended in Yorkshire’s disqualification from the tournament. This was because Yorkshire had earlier fielded an ineligible player, Azeem Rafiq, who had not been officially registered as a first class player. This meant that only minutes before the start of the game, the miffed spectators were informed of the decision of the postponement. It was finally decided that Yorkshire would be expelled from the tournament, and their points would be awarded to Nottinghamshire, who now face up to Durham.

More on the Durham-Nottinghamshire match later…

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England v South Africa 2008 - Test series

by Suneer Chowdhary 7/9/2008 5:17:00 PM

Right through the 1990s, and into the early 2000s, England had not looked like a side that is out there to compete in the Test matches, against reasonable opponents. It was only under the stewardship of Duncan Fletcher that things begun to change, and in 2004-05 they won their first Test series in South Africa after a span of 40 years, some of which were lost out due to South Africa’s exile from international cricket. Very often the Ashes triumph of 2005 overshadows the good that had happened immediately before or after it, but the fact of the matter is that it was this series win in Africa that gave them the desired confidence to take on the best side in the world.

Tomorrow, the English host the Springboks for the start of another Test series, 7th after Africa’s comeback into international fold in 1991. And it promises to be one of the better fought series of recent times, after the English had routed the Kiwis in the previous couple of series.

South Africa’s main strength is definitely their pace bowling, with the contrasting styles of Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn, with the back up of Andre Nel, Morne Morkel, and the oft-injured Monde Zondeki propping them up. There is no doubt that Dale Steyn would love to continue his good bowling form of 2007-08 that included 15 wickets in India on tracks that were as similar to his style as Kevin Pietersen’s batting was to Geoffrey Boycott. His 100 plus wickets, after his return to the international fold, at an average of less than twenty are an ample testimony to it. England would need to be a little wary of this entity as he is one of the select few bowlers in the world who can swing the red cherry at speeds over 140 km/hour.

Graeme Smith’s leadership skills would be tested as much as his batting. He has had a decent run in the three series in the sub-continent, against India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the relatively barren of West Indies, but England would be a different ball game altogether. Jacques Kallis would obviously be the fulcrum on which the rest of the batting would revolve, while on either side of Kallis, South Africa has Ashwell Prince and Hashim Amla, two under-rated, but slowly turning out to be highly effective batsmen.

From England’s perspective, the batsman, the whole of South Africa would be targeting would be Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen has had a love-hate relationship with, both the South African team and the media, having given up early on his place of birth and qualified to play for the English team. The South African team – led by skipper Smith – haven’t yet missed out on a single opportunity to drill home the ‘traitor’ angle! The England selectors have also resisted the temptation of rushing in Andrew Flintoff, and while that has reduced their middle order balance, the all-rounder would have come in with a dash of risk of braking down in the middle of the game. Paul Collingwood has come a long way since being a lower-middle order batsman who could bowl a bit, but he would need to pull up his socks after a miserable time against the Kiwis.

If it is Steyn for the Proteas, then the bowler who would be looked upto by England could well be Ryan Sidebottom, who has had a fairy tale comeback after being dumped by the wayside due to Fletcher’s tactics of not getting in the team, the medium pacers who could not bowl at more than 80 miles/hour! He has come back strong and would be a threat to the likes of Smith, whose problems against another left handed bowler, Zaheer Khan have been well chronicled.

Post the return of South Africa to cricket; the South Africa-England Tests have evoked some really interesting memories. Who can forget Michael Artherton’s famous unbeaten inning of 185 that staved off a certain defeat on the last day of the 1995-96 Jo’burg Test match, or the equally infamous mud-in-the-pocket incident that had the critics crying foul! Hansie Cronje’s shocking inning forfeiture to lose a match that was transpired to have been fixed by the former South African skipper. Devon Malcolm’s retort at being felled by a bouncer by Fanie de Villiers was ‘You guys are history” and history they were, as Malcolm destroyed the opponents with mesmerizing spell of 9/57 that left the South Africans absolutely clueless! Graeme Smith had joined the annals of cricket when he hit two back-to-back double centuries against the English attack in a gripping 2003 series that ended in a 2-2 draw.

With two of the flattest pitches having greeted the Proteas in their warm-up matches against Somerset and Middlesex, Hashim Amla’s already cracked a couple of centuries, and Kallis and Prince have looked in fine fettle with one each too. So placid were the pitches, that Andy Caddick’s tongue-in-cheek response to this was “Welcome to England, if anyone is out of form or hasn't played in a while, don't worry, we've done everything we can to make sure you get into form as soon as possible”. With opening verbal salvos being fired at by both the camps, it is time for the action to begin. Over to Lord’s for what promises to be an exciting Test series.


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IPL Twenty20 - Where are Pietersen, Flintoff and the other English cricketing stars

by Suneer Chowdhary 5/13/2008 11:09:00 AM

The first season of the Indian Premier League is underway, and already, it has captured the imagination of the viewing public and the players alike, like no other. And with the kind of cash that has flown in, the orgy-of-cricket can only get bigger. However, there is one country, England, which is missing out on a little fun here. If one discounts Dmitri Mascarhenhas, no other English player has been signed up for the tournament, and that includes star attractions like Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.  The reason has been simple; the English cricketers have been asked by the ECB bosses, including Chairman, Mr. Giles Clarke, to focus on county cricket to be match fit for the New Zealand series. He says, "The England team is the critical part of the economics of our game and having the best players available is critical to that. The reason we have England central contracts is to enable the head coach to determine how much cricket those who were centrally contracted played."

Clarke goes on to add that the English cricketers would be needed to be totally fit, physically and mentally, before the next home Ashes series, and playing in such a tournament could take away from the rest periods between series.

The point here that Giles Clarke makes is quite fair, and in fact, pretty logical. However, the fact of the matter that remains is, a player of the stature of a Pietersen or a Flintoff, would have probably got signed up for at least an $800,000, for playing in the inaugural season. With the limiting cap clause on the player buyouts been shown the door, this could go up manifold in the years to come. This would be many times more than what their central contract would pay them through the period of the contract. This Catch-22 situation that the players find themselves in, i.e. choosing between playing for their country against participating in the IPL, has very few takers. Pietersen finds it silly and says, "You want your best players playing both for their country and for the IPL. You don't want them choosing between the two"

This would necessarily get resolved in only one of the few ways possible, either these iconic cricketers would start giving up their English caps for the IPL, or they may not want to sign central contracts with the ECB any more. The only other two options that ECB may have is to provide for a window for these cricketers to "ply their trade" at the IPL, or create an EPL of their own, that pays similar sums of amount.

The creation of window would need a sanction from the ICC, conjuring up an EPL would need money. Adam Stanford has agreed to bankroll such a tournament, only after he is convinced of it being a value proposition. This may take at least a couple of years, and still, there are question marks over its feasibility.

In the end, the ECB would need to be careful about not treading into territories where they end up losing the players of the calibre of Andrew Flintoff, Collingwood, Pietersen and the likes.

There is a nice little anecdote about Chris Gayle text messaging Kevin Pietersen asking him for the reasons for his absence from this jamboree. When Pietersen replied that he just can't, Gayle's retort was a message that had only dollar signs! Now while, Gayle and Pietersen have an on-field history attached to them, the underlying meaning is hard to miss. A hundred grand a game, over a period of six weeks is not what any of these players would want to miss out on.

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