Monday, October 23, 2006

Round one goes to the Aussies, after they unleashed the full force of their pace attack against a hapless England one-day line up to devastating effect.

Australia's rout of England in the ICC trophy group stages has prompted grumpy old Geoff Boycott to call for Duncan Flecther to annouce his retirement plans in his Daily Telegraph column. Boycott ridculed Fletcher and Flintoff for batting in-form Paul Collingwood at number 6. Collingwood replied that '"You cannot set the batting order expecting to be five down after 10 overs."
Are there any positives to come out of Saturday's defeat? Perhaps there are a few if you look closely.
Firstly test batsmen Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood all looked in good touch. Collingwood will probably miss out in the first tets if everyone is fit, but should there be an injury expect him to be raring to get after McGrath and Co. Bell especially has looked a different man recently than the nervous youngster who froze and padded up to a Shane Warne slider last year. Bell will probably bat at number 5, between Pietersen and Flintoff, and should bring a nice balance to a sound-looking middle-order.
Secondly Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting has continued his run of low scores. Punter has been in terrible form throughout both the DLF Cup and the ICC trophy. Matthew Hayden has been bitten by a dog and Dennis Lillee is worried about the number of Aussie's on the wrong side of 35. Forsaking Pontings second innings century at Old Trafford only Justin Langer batted well against Harmison and Co. last time around. Hussey will probably start this time around, but should the old dogs fail again in the first couple of games expect Aussie calls for their blood.
Thirdly, young speedsters Sajid Mahmood and Jimmy Anderson, both contesting the third seamers position, took top-order Aussie scalps on Saturday. Hopefully Harmison will get his radar back with the new red ball and Flintoff will be ready to bowl at 100% come November 23rd.
Maybe things aren't all that bad after all. Young Alistair Cook looks like he is made of the right stuff, Trescothick will be back and so will Hoggard and Giles and Panesar in the bowling department. This could leave us with the biggest selection problem England has had since the Thorpe/Pietersen conumdrum before the last ashes series; Ashley Giles or Monty Panesar?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Slingy fast bowler Shaun Tait is staking his claim for Ashes selection in the Pura cup, as South Australia look to bowl out New South Wales for less than 280 on the final day tomorrow.
Tait took 4-70 in the first innings to help his side to a useful lead of 95 runs. Sidelined through injury after his stint in the baggy green in the 2005 Ashes series, Jason Gillespie took over the mantle of first change bowler against bangladesh.
Gillespie, who averaged 11 with the ball and made a double hundred as nightwatchman on his return against the Tigers, seems less than optimistic about his reselection however. Calling for the selectors to pick 'young punks' the veteran speedster praised Tait, saying he 'can run through teams'.
'He bowls with genuine pace, swinging yorkers and he's unpredictable. He's got some serious talent.' Gillespie continued. Tait has taken 5 wickets at an average of 42 runs in his two test matches so far. Both were against England during last years Ashes series when Gillespie was dropped for averaging 100.
Gillespie has never really been his old self since losing the new ball to Brett Lee. Even though McGrath was sidelined in the Edgebaston test and Gillespie was allowed to open up once again he bowled with less zip than he used to and was generally treated like fodder by Englands batsmen.
Gillespie might be showing some bias however, as Shaun Tait is his new ball partner at South Australia. So far in the Pura Cup match Gillespie has blanked, returning first innings figures of 13-1-41-0. After a poor season with Yorkshire no wonder he's so optimistic about not getting the nod this winter, let alone ever seeing the new ball again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The first round of matches finished to today with the West Indies sneaking a win over the out-of-sorts Aussies. So far no batsman has made 100 and both seam-up, accurate medium pace and spin bowling has caused trouble on some less than perfect Indian pitches.

Time to reflect on what the rest of the tournament may hold with a team-by-team run down on who's hot and who's looking shot so far.

India are now 9/4 favourites with William Hill for the trophy. Their pace bowlers looked the part against a hapless England in the opening match, however their batsmen are still yet to find the sort of form that will deliver the home-side the trophy. Now that the Windies are on song, having beaten the world champions today, it's quite possible India might face an early exit. If their batsmen don't make big improvements expect them to lose to Brian Lara's men and the Aussies.

Australia are 3/1 second favourites even after their disappointing result today. The Aussies will be happy that Adam Gilchrist has returned with a bang, making 92 today. However they seem insistant on continuing to open up with Shane Watson and their middle order are looking sloppy. Their bowling has been nothing special and unless they beat India Ponting's men will probably go out in the first round.

Pakistan can be had to lift the trophy at 9/2. Even without Inzamam, Ahktar and Asif they have one win on the bag and look ready to go onto better things. Razzaq is clearly enjoying the big stage and is pressing for man of the tournament after his all round performance that included taking 4-50 and hitting a quickfire 38 to see his team home against the Sri Lankans. Expect them to win their next two games as well and finish top of the group.

You can still get 7/1 on the West Indies. Now they only really have to beat England to be sure of a place in the semi-finals and if the Aussies beat England on Saturday the pressure will be on India when they meet on the 26th. Lara continued his good form, and with runs in seemingly short supply in this tournament this will be re-assuring for their supporters. Expect the Windies to definately qualify for the Semi's.

Sri-Lanka are also 7/1 and looked good against Pakistan in a tight game. Their top 5 batsmen are all scoring runs and this should be enough to see them passed the South Africans and the Kiwi's. Expect Sri-Lanka to go through with Pakistan.

New-Zealand are 7/1 chances as well after winning against the Saffers. Only skipper Stephen Fleming scored runs in their victory over South Africa, they look likely to lose to both Sri-Lanka and Pakistan.

South Africa are 10/1 shots. Graeme Smith's men were not convincing in the slightest against the Kiwis and should be no match for Pakistan or Sri-Lanka. Having said that both these teams are prone to bad days and judging on their current form, all the the saffers can hope for is that they both have one.

England are way out at 33/1 which says it all really. Harmisons radar is on the blink again and their batsmen are getting out in single figures. Can KP and Freddie save the day? Flintoff should revert to his favourite number 5 slot, KP in 4 and Yardy or Dalrymple at 3. It is more likely, however they stick with the current experiment and go to Australia having lost 3 out of 3.

Predictions for semi-finals? Sri-Lanka beat the West Indies and Australia beat Pakistan

Friday, October 13, 2006

Two days to go until the opening England - India showdown in the ICC Champions Trophy, and time to prophecise which eleven players England will field.
There has been talk that Flintoff might open up the batting. England haven't really got to grips with powerplay yet and time to experiment before the World Cup next year is running out. Expect this rumour to be a goer and positions 1 and 2 to be occupied by Strauss and Flintoff.
First wicket down and Bell will probably be walking to the crease. Bell made a brisk 53 in the warm-up game at Jaipur and has shown he has the mettle to dig in a bat through an innings in recent one-day matches. He can find the gaps and plays proper cricket shots to find his boundries. His orders from the dressing room will be: 'don't get out, rotate the strike, hold it together for the hitters'.
Pietersen, Englands best one-day batsman will stride in at number 4 and will be told to play his natural game. If Pietersen fires England will post a big total, Fletcher knows this and will be sitting in the dressing room with his fingers crossed.
Expect Yardy to bat in the number 5 slot. The young left-hander made a classy century in Sussex's innings victory over Notts in September and has been economical with his slow left-armers in the two games he has played. Yardy's orders will be to settle the innings in the event of early wickets or to hit quick runs if coming in at the end.
The number 6 spot belongs to Paul Collingwood. He is Englands most versitile and creative one-day player. Whether playing the singles game in the middle of the innings against the slow bowlers or hitting sixes in a tight run chase he has proved he can hold his nerve.
Jamie Dalrymple has been a revelation coming in at number 7. He made an unbeaten 79 off 69 balls in the warm-ip match and his slow bowling has been effective in the middle of the innings. Chris Read will bat behind him at number 8 and will be looking to prove his worth with the bat in the one-day arena should the opportuntiy arise.
With Flintoff not bowling England will pick three specialist pacemen and they will be expected to bowl 10 overs each. Expect Jon Lewis to miss out to Sahjid Mahmood, Steve Harmison and Jimmy Anderson. Jimmy, argueably our best one-day wicket-taker, will open up with Harmy and Mahmood will be expected to provide 2 spells of fast stuff around overs 10-15 and later with the old ball to see if he can extract some reverse swing.
Dalrymple, Yardy and perhaps Pietersen or Collingwood will be asked to apply the brakes in the middle of the innings. India's batsmen may decide to target Englands inexperienced spin-twins and this will be an interesting battle of nerves.
On paper England look like they have the players to embarrass India at home, the Indians will not be in the mood to lose to 12/1 tourment outsiders in their back yard though. Expect a close game and a real fight from both sides.
If one of Englands batters can make a decent hundred and Jimmy is on song with the new ball, India could end up on the receiving end of the first upset of the tournament. William Hill will gove you 7/4 on an England victory, 10/1 on Yardy to top score, 7/1 on Dalrymple and 6/1 on Collingwood.
Betting advice: a small bet on Yardy at 10/1 will be good value if he does start in the number 5 slot.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

England's young pace duo of Jimmy Anderson and Liam Plunkett have both declared their fitness for the Ashes, whist two Aussie fast bowlers are already on the physio's couch.
Stuart Clarke, a tall, accurate, fast-medium right-armer who impressed in South Africa earlier this year went down last week and will miss the ICC Trophy with a torn muscle. This will dilute his Ashes chances for sure, leaving young left-armers Johnson and Bracken competing for the third seamer's spot. Michael Kasprowicz has crocked his back, looking certain to be out of the contention for bowling places. After last time, when he and Gillespie got spanked all over the park, it's a doubt he was ever in the frame.
Alan Border, who recently argued in favour of fielding a 5-pronged bowling attack by playing Shane Watson as all-rounder has quit the board of selectors too. He stated he was too busy, too busy for what we might ask? They must be having some frantic debates about the balance of their side, what England fan wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall in that room? It's a good bet some of the guys aren't happy with the idea of Watson as a test match batsman.
In the England camp things are rosy. Liam Plunkett is '100% fit and raring to go Australia' according to his own words on the BBC TMS blog. Anderson is ready for the ICC one-day action ahead, and England would be fools not to let him open the bowling with Steve Harmison.
So much for Glen McGrath's statement to the Mail on Sunday last week that the Aussies would win the Ashes series 5-0. The 37 year old reckons he will be bowling at 100% by November 23rd, but it's more likely he is getting over the hill for a test match bowler. Perhaps this is one reason the selectors are arguing about whether or not 4 bowlers in enough to take 20 wickets against a confident England side with good competition for middle-batting slots.
This time in 2002 the Aussies would not have questioned their ability to win with 4 bowlers. The balance of power has shifted. Not only do England have more internationally experienced fast bowlers to call on, the aussies have to win the series to get back the urn. This means they have to bowl us out twice and their pace men are starting to drop like flys. There is the option of playing 2 spinners, but allegedly Warne doesn't like playing in the same team as MacGill.
Expect the Aussies to start with Johnson as third seamer at Brisbane. Englands best hope is that that their left-handed openers will make him look a national embarrassment. This will bring on a crisis for their selectors and a media backlash. Watson's position is still not clear, call it 50/50 whether he'll be in the final 11.
William Hill still make England 4/1 to win the series but have dropped the price on an England win at the first test from 11/2 down to 9/2. Expect this to fall a bit more before the toss the on 23rd November, especially if another convict gets crocked.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sri Lanka stretched their legs today, easing to a 37 run victory over Bangladesh in the first ICC qualifier.

The Sri-Lankans, back under the captaincy of Marvin Attapattu, were never pressured by the Banglesdeshi bowlers. All of the top six batsmen made quick runs with Upul Tharanga keeping up his good form with a dazzling 105. The men from Ceylon will need to hit the ground running in order to lift the trophy and today will have served as a good aclimatiser for the real action ahead.
Providing the Windies don't slip up against Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, the winner of their match with Sri-Lanka will get the easiest run in the group stages, the loser facing the Aussies and home side India.
Sri-Lanka's bowlers did not fare as well as will be needed if they are to lift the trophy however. The usually miserly Muralitharan went for 45 runs off his 10 overs, perhaps a sign the Bangladeshi batsmen are improving, however none were good enough to score the runs needed at sufficient pace.
If Sri Lanka beat the Windies, they will need to press home the advantage of match practice against a rusty New Zealand, an Imzaman-less Pakistan that no-one wants to captain and a South Africa that has warmed up against a poor Zimbabwe in alien conditions.
Over in England's group Duncan Fletcher has hinted he might have some tricks up his sleeve for the Aussies. In the 2004 trophy Micheal Vaughan surprised them by bowling 10 economical overs of his off-spin and taking 2 wickets. What will the plan be this time? Will Kevin Pietersen take the ball against Ponting's men?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Allan Border has hinted that the Aussie's are indeed planning to play all-rounder Shane Watson in the up and coming Ashes series.

Border stopped short of saying whether the plan was to play a 4 pronged pace attack or 2 spinners however. It is probable that if Watson does play then the Aussies will vary their attack, selecting an extra paceman or spinner depending on the ground and pitch conditions. Watson has showed he can bowl with sustained 85mph pace on a good outside-off-stump line and length before.
Watson has looked feeble with the bat when up against top quality international bowling however, so the Aussies must have gained some respect for Englands batsmen since the 2005 series. A few years ago they would have backed McGrath, Gillespie and Warne to bowl England out twice on any surface.
A weaker batting line up including Watson will be good news in some respects for England. Without fast bowlers Simon Jones England are weaker in the bowling department than last time around, however Mahmood does have the potential to take lots of wickets at the highest level with his 90mph plus skiddy deliveries. Englands other option is to play 2 spinners, something that will cause a mixed reaction with the fans no doubt.
The prospect of facing both Warne and McGill, who has taken over 200 test match wickets despite playing secind fiddle all these years, will have England thinking about their batting techniques though. Hopefully they will resist the temptation to play a 4 man attack themselves for the sake of an extra batsman and go for the kill.
With this news about Watson the series is shaping up to be another cracker - don't expect too many boring draws.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

There was an intense escalation in the war of words ahead of the winters Ashes series today. Whilst Brett Lee continued with the Aussies cunning plan of piling pressure on new skipper Andrew Flintoff, Ian Bell insisted he was 'not frightened' of Shane Warne.

Firstly Brett Lee, he knows that the England camp have been watching him make wicket-taking look easy in the DLF cup. He knows he will have an opportunity to intimidate the England batsmen in the group stages of the ICC Champions Trophy. Today he told reporters 'I'm really excited about playing against Freddie' and that there were 'A few things I want to achieve.' Take this as meaning 'I want to get Freddie out'.
Immediately after the annoucement that Freddie had been made skipper Ricky Ponting and Warne unleashed the first attack. Whilst Ponting claimed to be 'surprised' Warne discussed the posibility of sledging him.
It looks like the Aussies are trying to syke Freddie out on his return to international duty in the ICC trophy. The likelyhood is Lee will have a few short balls and fast yorkers up his sleeve to test him. Lee seems to believe dismissing Flintoff in the shorter version of the game, and knocking England out of the tournament, will give him a psychological edge in the test series.
Ian Bell launched the counter attack for England today, saying 'If we can match Australia in terms of the verbals and not get carried away with other things around us I'm sure we'll be fine.'
Bell denied speculation he was frightened of Warne joking 'He can't hit me on the head which is a bonus'. Bell looked as if he suffered from stage-fright in the 2005 series in England, and later against the spin of Kumble in last winters India tour. On both occasions he failed to play at a ball that was on target for his stumps, and just stood there looking Gazzumped. Since the Kumble dismissal Bell has not repeated the error however, and was in good form this summer at home.
Since the last Ashes series Bell has averaged 51 in test cricket and scored 4 centuries. If selected ahead of Paul Collingwood to bat in the number 5 berth, he will have to play in front of the biggest crowds in the game. Having scored two more test centries in the last year than Collingwood, Bell will probably get the nod for the first test at the 'gabba.
Bell's got the technique, but he better get ready for the crowd and the atmosphere. Lee better get ready to be hooked for six.

Monday, September 25, 2006

It's now only 12 days before the first qualifier for the ICC Champions Trophy. On October 7th Sri Lanka take on minnows Bangladesh at in Mohali, the question is; will having to qualify be an advantage, essentially acting as 3 warm-up games in Indian conditions for Tom Moody's men?
The Sri Lankan top order have all showed stonking form recently in both the one-day and test area. Openers Jayasuria and Tharanga have both made 4 one-day centuries in the last 12 months. In the middle order Sangakkara and skipper Jayawardene recently shared a test partnership of 624 runs against the South Africans at Columbo. Down the order and Dilshan is averaging just under 35 at a high strike-rate of 89 runs per hundred balls in the last 12 months.
Fast bowler Malinga took 4 wickets in 5 deliveries including a hat-trick fo rthe Sinhalese Cricket Club under 23 squad today. Muralitharan is fit, pace bowler Fernando has been looking good, all-rounder Maharoof has been in form and Vaas can be relied upon to bowl as accurate as ever.
Unlike the Aussies and Indians the Sri Lankans will get three 'warm-up' games, in Indian conditions, against international opponents right before the serious stuff starts. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are unlikey to hinder their progress to qualification. If the Sri Lankans can hit the ground running, finding form for their batsmen and rhythym for their bowlers, having to qualify might actually prove to be an advantage.
Many of the big names in the the tournament arrive in India for the group stages having spent little or no time at the crease in recent months. If Sri Lanka beat the West Indies on October 14th, which is highly likely given the form of their players, they will also find themselves in the easiest group for the first stage of the tournament.
Expect the Sri Lankans to beat New-Zealand and one of either South Africa or Pakistan to go through to the semi-finals of the tournament. There expect them to face either the Aussie's or India.
Sri Lanka can beat any team on their day, as they have so often proven. With so many match-winning batsmen in their team, the genius of Muralitharan, Indian spinning conditions and 3 easy warm-up games to get them on a roll, don't consider it all that bigger upset if they make the final, or even lift the trophy.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Former Aussie skipper, and Shane Warne's buddy, Ian Chappell has fired a broadside at fast bowler Steve Harmison, signalling the Aussies intent to get under his skin.

Chappell stated 'so much depends on how Steve Harmison bowls' and referred to some of his bowling against Pakistan this summer as 'crap'. Harmison is a prime candidate for sledging from the convicts due to his home-sickness. Chappell does have a point though; if Harmison fires on all cylinders chances are Australia's batsmen won't be able to cope.
Does this then signal that the plan is to attack Harmison's bowling, as the South Africans did a couple of winters ago? During the 2005 Ashes series in England they treated him with respect. Maybe their plan is just to un-nerve him hoping his radar will go on the blink. In the third test at Perth, Harmison will be the man to watch for sure. Perth is the fastest, bounciest wicket in the world. If Harmison can find his line and length, expect to see carnage.
Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur the Aussie pace men dismissed the Windies for 113. The 4 pronged Aussie pace attack proved to much for Lara and his men. Brett Lee took another 4 wickets, whilst Nathan Bracken impressed the selectors with 7-0-15-3. Bracken will most likely be competing with fellow left armer Mitchell Johnson for a regular place in the World Cup 2007 squad. Johnson returns for the ICC Champions Trophy.
Both men will have their eye on a berth in the Ashes. Watson will have to do much better with the bat if he is to play test cricket again. With intense competition for one bowling place he can only merit selection ahead of Symonds in the batting all-rounder's slot at number 6 or 7. Watson has the edge with the ball, having a couple of yards of pace over Symonds, but is still short of runs.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

William Hill make the West Indies 2-1 rank outsiders to life the DLF Cup tomorrow. Both sides have now named their final 11 and 2-1 is looking like good value.
Australia have dropped in-form Matthew Hayden and reverted to opening up with all-rounder Shane Watson, who is a massive 15-2 to top score and will be partnered by Simon Katich. Most of the Aussie batsmen have not spent enough time at the crease to be considered in-form and the game should be more evenly matched than the bookies suggest.
West Indies skipper Brian Lara will revert to batting at number 4 and is 4-1 to top score for his side. The Windies have chosen a side that bats deep and will be relying on Gayle, Smith and Bravo to bowl a full allotment of 10 overs.
In terms of betting then, perhaps have a decent sized gamble on the Windies to win the game, Chris Gayle and Lara have both showed form and there is lots of batting talent in their line-up. There is no sense in backing Ponting's men at 4-11.
For those who fancy a smaller punt on top scorer, 15/2 on Watson is good value as he will be opening up, but 6-1 on fellow all-rounder Andrew Symonds might be a better bet. For the men from the Caribbean, take the 4-1 on in-form skipper Brian Lara. He has been scoring freely in the tournament and is more than capable of taking the attack to left-armer Nathan Bracken and the slower bowling of Symonds and Hogg.
The Windies batsmen will need to watch out for youngsters Watson and Bracken however, both will be looking to impress the selectors tomorrow, there is big competition for places in the 2007 World Cup squad and, of course, for the Ashes.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Brett Lee returned figures of 8.5-0-38-5 to secure Australia's place in the DLF Cup final with the West Indies. Austalia's fast bowlers are all looking in good touch as competition for Ashes places heats up.

India are now out of the DLF triangular tournament, their batsmen are out of form and apart from Tendulkar have spent precious little time at the crease. As predicted yesterday, Dravid dropped himself down to the number 4 slot. After yet another shuffle Dinesh Mongia was the only batsman to perform today, he was left stranded on 63 not out, India 19 runs short of victory.
Indias bowlers have all performed well through the tournament, today they bowled out the Aussies for just 213. Dravid will be pleased with his bowlers but will be worrying about his out of sorts batting line up.
It is difficult to decide what the attribute Indias fall from grace to. The form of their batsman is the obvious culprit, but how did they sink this low? Dravid has been tinkering and shuffling his line up ever since he was made one-day captain. Perhaps now he should stop doing so and decide on his best team in order to start building confidence for the World Cup.
Tendulkar is the only Indian batsman that can be sure what number he will be batting at in the World Cup, now only 6 months or so away. Dravid should stick with his decision to bat at 4 and decide who opens with Tendulkar. This will probably be Sehwag, however Dravid has experimented with pinch hitters Dhoni and Pathan in the opening berth, and with some success. However neither have made one-day centuries and Sehway has 7 to his name, all made when opening. Sehwag should open for India from now until he World Cup.
India has competition for middle order places as Mongia showed today. Dravid needs to decide who bats where and stick with it until a player fails so often he is dropped and replaced. If he keeps on shuffling and changing his line up every game India's players will not be ready for the World Cup, they will not know where they stand, be unsure of their role and will come home from the Carribean upstaged and disappointed.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Binit, Indian cricket-nut and author of 'It's Only Cricket', suggests India should stick with their opening combination of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tedulkar, with Verinder Sehwag to bat in the number 4 slot for tomorrows big game against Australia in the DLF Cup.
Dravid has tinkered with his team and batting line-up non-stop for the best part of a year. He has captained India in 31 one-day internationals, winning 19 of them. In this time Dravid has batted in every position from 1 to 7 and has averaged 45.6 overall and 39.5 when opening.
He has, however, suffered from the lack of form that has blighted so many of India's prolific batsmen, failing to pass 50 runs in his last 8 matches. Many of India's superstar hitters lack time in the middle ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy, where they will be thrust into the spotlight of the Indian media and expected by many home fans to lift the trophy.
In their last 9 matches, since their opening game against the West Indies on 18th May 2006, India's top order have averaged as follows:
Dravid - 23.75, Tendulkar - 110, Sehwag - 31.88, Y. Singh - 30.5, Dhoni - 19.17, Raina - 19.17, Pathan - 14.67.
Tomorrows game could be India's last before the ICC tournament gets underway and perhaps the time has come from Dravid to decide what his batting line-up will be. With the lower order in such uncharacteristic poor form one option for Dravid would be to bat at number 4 himself and try to sure up the middle order with his trademark grit.
Whoever opens will be facing the new-ball pairing of Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee with Tendulkar, they will need their wits about them and a straight bat. Binit, in his analysis, worries about Sehwags technical flaws, it is true to say that he has a weakness against the swinging new ball. Both McGrath and Lee may be able to exploit this if Sehwag goes in first up. Having said that Sehwag is an opening batsman and should be expected to cope with a bit of movement by using his head and leaving the ball when appropriate.
If India bat first they need to try and put a 250+ score on the board in order to get the Aussies under pressure. It would therefore be tempting to allow big-hitters Dhoni and Singh to spend more time at the crease and bat in the number 3 and 5 positions respectively. With Dravid in the middle of them at number 4. Talented youngsteres Raina and Pathan could occupy 6 and 7 positions, looking for quick runs at the end of the innings against the old ball. The weather in Kuala Lumpur has been unpredicable and the humidity has helped the bowlers. India should look to make a solid start to their innings and accelerate as the ball loses its shine, and against the spin of Brad Hogg.
With the atmospheric conditions helping fast-medium swingers of the ball India may also want to opt for a 4 pronged pace bowling attack. Australia seem to be expecting this and have countered by bolstering their batting, naming Andrew Symonds in their squad ahead of Shane Watson as all-rounder. India can bolster their batting by keeping Ajit Agarkar in their squad ahead of fast bowler Rudra Singh.
Steven_L would therefore recommend the following line-up for India:
Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dhoni (W), Dravid (C), Y. Singh, Raina, Pathan, Akarkar, H. Singh, Patel, Sreenath.
Though only tomorrow will tell what Dravid has on his mind.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher has hit back, literally, at talented Tatenda Taibu's admission that he is gunning for his place in the South Africa side.

Boucher made short work of Zimbabwe's bowlers today, smashing an unbeaten 147 runs off an unbelievable 68 balls. Twenty-three year old Taibu has 7 one day half-centuries to his name and a test best of 153. He has not played international cricket since his family were theatened in Zimbabwe. He recently told reporters that playing for South Africa was his 'best option' to return to test cricket.
Taibu must spend a 4 year qualfication period playing domestic cricket in the RSA before he can be selected for the national squad. Boucher's onslaught in today's match was his first one-day century, although he has 4 test tons under his belt.
There is no immediate threat to Boucher's position as wicketkeeper from Taibu, but in four years time Taibu will be in his prime at 27, Boucher will be getting on at 33 years old. Taibu was the youngest ever test captain and is undoubtedly a very talented player. Boucher better watch his back over the next four years then, and ensure he doesn't become too complacent. If today's performance was anything to go by he doesn't intend to either.
Brian Lara made the curious decison today to bat at number 9, and was left stranded on 40 not out, with the Windies needing another 17 runs for victory over India.

Lara's men have already qualified for the final of the DLF triangular tournament and will meet the winner of Friday's game between the Aussies and India in the final. India's batsmen performed woefully again today with the exception of Sachin Tendulkar, who made 65, as they were bowled out for 162.
Dwayne Smith took 4-31 and had good support from Dwayne Bravo (6-0-16-1) and Chris Gayle (5.3-0-15-2). Lara can be pleased with his bowlers and his own batting today. However he will have to be less complacent in order to win the final and bat in his favourite number 4 position. Tendulkar is in cracking form, as is Mike Hussey for the Aussies, so whoever Lara faces in the final there will be no room for mistakes.
Expect two more close games to end this interesting tournament, Friday's match definately promises to be a cracker. India and Australia have been drawn in the same group for the ICC Champions Trophy and both sides will now look to gather momentum.
England are also in this tough group and can take some solace from the poor form of India's batsmen. The return of Jimmy Anderson, who has had previous success in the subcontinent, and his Lancashire team mate Andrew Flintoff as skipper should also serve as a big boost in the England camp. Anderson's 75 one-day wickets have come at a strike rate of 32.7, notibly better than Flintoff's 35.3, Muttiah Muralitharan's 36.2 and Glenn McGrath's 35.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

William Hill make India favourites in tomorrows must-win game against the West Indies in Kuala Lumpur. However in what promises to be an even contest, against Lara's resurgent men from the Carribean, only a small flutter on top scorer is recommended.
Rahul Dravid's men have been unable to decide on their batting order for quite some time now, in fact it seems to change every game, keeping everyone guessing. Hard-hitting wicket-keeper Mahendra Dhoni has batted in all positions from 2 to 8, whilst all-rounder Irfan Pathan has now batted in all 11 positions during his one-day career.
Both players are capable of big knocks, Dhoni moreso than Pathan. Pathan has occupied the number 3 position so far in the DLF cup, scoring 64 in the previous wash-out against the Windies and a golden duck against the Aussies. Dhoni has batted at number 5 and number 7 so far in the tournament, making 2 in the first game and not batting in the second.
There is a chance Pathan will stay in his pinch hitting role at number 3 in tomorrows game, however Dravid may want to make changes. Two games have so far been washed out, and fast scoring at the top of the order may be needed if India bat second. For this reason Dhoni may be promoted up the order. The explosive Yuvraj Singh batted 5 last time whilst Dravid opened with Sachin Tendulkar. Dravid will have to decide whether to continue opening the batting, to re-instate Verinder Sehwag, or to promote Dhoni or Pathan.
Hills are offering 5/1 on Singh, 13/2 on Dhoni and 9/1 on Pathan to top score for India. All the above seem good value but personally I would have a small bet on Dhoni, who having not batted last time around against the Aussies might be given a warm-up for the ICC Champions Trophy in this match. Dhoni has proved he is a big hundreds man, India need him to fire, and he is due runs. Perhaps Dravid will give him a chance to bat himself into form tomorrow. The experienced and accurate Corey Collimore also returns for the West Indies, meaning the chance of early wickets going down increases.

Monday, September 18, 2006

West Indies big guns Brian Lara and Chris Gayle showed sparkling form ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy today in a stand of 151 at Kuala Lumpur.

Mike Hussey's unbeaten 109 was to no avail as Lara cut loose, making 88 off 80 balls, to set up victory with 16 balls to spare. Gayle chipped in at the top of the order with 79 runs, including 3 sixes. With Sri Lanka resurgent under Tom Moody's leadership, and South Africa also on promising form, the ICC Champions Trophy could prove to be a much more open a competition than the markets suggest.

Both the West Indies and Sri Lanka have yet to qualify for the competition, but only minnows Zimbabwe and Bangladesh stand in their way. William Hill were still offering 12/1 on the Windies to keep the title and 6/1 on Sri Lanka, who will be used to conditions in the Subcontinent. Australia were still favourites today at 3/1.
Now that all the tall, strong kids in the Carribean are learning basketball, rather than fast bowling, the Windies are no longer a force in test cricket. However their combination of cavalier batsmen, coupled with accurate medium pace and spin bowlers, suits the one-day area perfectly. Get your bets on quick though, they won't be out at 12/1 with England for much longer if this form continues. 12-1 is great value on Lara and his men in a knock-out tournament any side could win.
South Africa are warming up for the ICC Trophy tournament at home against Zimbabwe, and are 7/1 to return from India with the trophy. Today and Zimbabwe were reeling at 55-4 after 17 overs.

Mike Hussey's unstoppable form (he averages over 75 in both forms of the game) will, however, be a worry for England ahead of the ashes battle this winter. England struggled to dismiss Hussey in the one-day pre-ashes action last summer, now he is in the test team they will have to work him out, and fast.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Good news for Englands ICC Champions trophy and possibly World Cup bids today as Jimmy Anderson returned 2-31 off 7 overs in his comeback game for Lancashire.

England have won 24 out of the 50 one day games Anderson has played in, not a remarkable record, but considering Englands woeful one-day form over recent years a welcome return of a match winning bowler.
The opening combination of Anderson and Stephen Harmison, with Andrew Flintoff as first change should be what Engalnd are aiming at for the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. However Anderson will now be facing stiff competition from Jon Lewis for the spot of swing bowler. Lewis is probably the batter batsman of the two and arguably has more control with the white ball. Anderson, however, has pace on his side and the proven ability to get good batsmen out.
Some would beg the question of whether Anderson and Lewis could play together in a four pronged pace attack. With James Dalrymple looking more and more likely to play in the World Cup as spinner and Kevin Pietersen's off breaks looking more and more match worthy this could be a combination worth thinking about.
However wickets in the West Indies are being prepared low and slow. Two swing bowlers might not be a good strategy. The West Indies have had recent success at limiting the scoring using a combination of medium pace and finger spin in the middle of the innings.
The ICC trophy and the one day triangular series against Australia and New Zealand are now the only opportunities left for England to test their options. So far, Steven_L's World Cup England eleven would be as follows:
Trescothick, Strauss, Bell, Pietersen, Flintoff, Collingwood, Dalrymple, Read, Harmison, Anderson, Panesar
Panesar you all ask? He's not even in the ICC squad! No, but he can be relied upon to bowl 10 good overs every time you throw him the ball.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

On 23rd November England take on Australia at the Woolloongabba, Brisbane in the first test and William Hill are offering you 11/2 that England win. Steven_L says you would be a fool not to take it.
Shane Warne has played 10 test matches at the 'gabba, and Australia have won 9 of them. In 2002 Nasser Hussein famously won the toss and put Australia into bat. Hussein could only watch as first Simon Jones was stretchered off the field and Australia went onto pile up the runs, making 492 in the first innings and winning the game easily.
Flintoff will not make the same mistake. This is the first reason you should back England. If England bat first and make a respectable start expect that 11/2 to start dropping fast. Secondly good pace bowlers take wickets at the 'gabba. England will probably open up with Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard, with Andrew Flintoff first change. If the aussies bat first up don't be surprised if early wickets fall, and again, the 11/2 price on England shortens.
Thirdly the 'gabba often produces results. The pitch usually bats well for the first 3 days, but does offer pace bowlers some assistance and the ball can swing. It's 50/50 who wins the toss, and unless there are unusual overhead conditions it is likely that team will bat first.
Monty Panesar might find the 4th and 5th day 'gabba wicket to his liking. Ashely Giles bowled well there in 2002 taking 4 first innings wickets. Warney has taken 64 wickets at an average of under 20 at the 'gabba. 11/2 looks just far too long in what should be an even match that produces a result.
Aussie cricket legend and serial love cheat Shane Warne has launched a picture book aimed at aussie cricket fans.

'My Illustrated Career' was launched yesterday by Warne, whilst nursing the black eye he received courtesy of fellow aussie and Worcestershire paceman Matt Mason. 'I feel a bit drowsy and have a headache,' Warne told press at the book launch, sporting several butterfly stitches over his right eye.

Warne went on to comment about sledging, the coming Ashes series and the selection of Andrew Flintoff as England skipper. 'We tried it [sledging] with Sachin Tendulkar and it didn't work. Andrew Flintoff is an inspirational type of player. It's pretty hard to get under his skin' said Warne, commenting on the tactics that the aussies will employ to un-nerve England during the coming must-win home Ashes series.

The war of words is not yet full underway, Freddie's men have stayed silent so far and Glen McGrath is yet treat us to a few words of wisdom from his famously loose tongue. Steven_L does however have a few words of tactical advice to Warne: In the 3rd test at Perth, when Harmison bounces you, duck!
All-rounder Shane Watson surprised today as he opened the batting against India in Kuala Lumpur and made his highest one-day score of 79 in only 74 balls.
Watson struck 10 fours and 2 sixes as he helped Australia post 244 all out. The question England have to ask is whether or not this is a sign that the Aussies are planning on playing a 5 man bowling attack in this winters Ashes. Watson has made 3 previous appearances in the baggy green and dissappointed averaging 20 with the bat and only taking 2 wickets at over 60 runs a piece.
Twenty-five year old Queensland all rounder Watson, who played a stint in the County Championship with Hampshire last season, bowled with pace and accuracy during the 2005 one-day series against England. He never really looked like he could cut the mustard at the highest level with the bat however, and was overlooked by Australia for the final test at the Oval that saw England take the series 2-1. Whilst his countrymen were toiling in South London, Watson struck a double-hundred in the County Championship for Hampshire.
Watson is Australia's only bona-fide all-rounder. If the Aussies decide to slot him in the test side at number 6 or 7 this would allow them to play either their two leg spinners or a four pronged pace attack. It might be the case that the Aussies are experimenting for the coming world cup in the West Indies next year however and in any case Watson has a lot of work to do in order to earn a test recall.
Australia rested Nathan Bracken today and called up another 25 year old Queensland man, left arm paceman Mitchell Johnson. Before rain stopped play at Kuala Lumpur Johnson had India in serious trouble, having taken 4-11 off 4 overs, his victims including Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. No doubt one to watch throughout the ICC Champions Trophy, especially if you are an England batsman.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Duncan Fletcher is taking no chances on the fitness of England's fast bowlers after Matthew Hoggard's injury scare yesterday, pulling Durham legend Stephen Harmison out of their forthcoming Championship match against Yorkshire.

Australia, India and the West Indies are warming up for the ICC Champions Trophy in South-East Asia. Australia play their first match against India this coming Saturday and this blog will be watching for any clues in the selection of their bowling attack.
Andrew Strauss today annouced he will be 'having dinner' with Ashes skipper Freddie Flintoff to review the summers action and discuss tactics for down under. The first ashes test match is due to begin 23rd November at Brisbane and Australia are yet to annouce their squad.
William Hill are offering 4/1 on England to win the series outright, however the 33/1 on england winning 3-2 looks like a very good price, with a hard fought, face paced series looking likely. Sachin Tendulkar today hit an unbeaten 141 against the West Indies. India are 10/3 to win the ICC Champions Trophy, the West Indies are out at 12/1. Young Alistair Cook is tempting to be top England batsmen during the 5 match Ashes battle at 6/1, although Andrew Flintoff also looks good value at 11/2.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

With a bit of help from Shane Warne, Australian skipper Ricky Ponting has let loose his tongue and kicked off the build up to this winters Ashes series down under.

Responding to yesterday's announcement that larger than life Freddie Flintoff will captain England down-under this winter Ponting claimed to be surprised saying 'I did think Strauss would get the nod. We will have to wait and see what sort of job Flintoff does'. Shane Warne has chipped into the Ashes War of Words, commenting in a recent interview that Englands two contenders for the captaincy reminded him of 'Laurel and Hardy'.

Perhaps Ponting should start looking at his own selection worries, in particular his bowling attack, which still looks like they have the same worries as during the famous 2005 England victory at the Oval. With Shane Watson, Austrialia's only bona fide all-rounder, dropped after three disappointing test matches, Australia look likely to play a four man bowling attack consisting of Glen McGrath, Brett Lee and either one other paceman or Stuart MacGill as a second wrist spinner.

After a disappointing season with Yorkshire Jason Gillespie contends with Nathan Bracken and Stuart Clarke for the third seamer's position. Both Gillespie and Clarke are over thirty and Bracken has little experience at test level, his 12 wickets costing 42 a piece.

Australia struggled against England's 5 man bowling attack in the 2005 series. Now that McGrath and Warne are both over 35, two of their third seamers over 30 the Aussies are looking like they the ones that will be prone to injury this time around. They could even be depleated towhat was effectively a 3 man attack like last time around yet again. For this reason I fancy a flutter on England winning the 5 match series.