October 4, 2009 10:16 AM
A strangely subdued semi-final saw New Zealand beat Pakistan by five wickets and set up a Champions Trophy showdown with arch rivals Australia on Monday.
Grant Elliott provided some late-innings fireworks when the match was all but won - and Pakistan were left to reflect on what might have been, particulary after Younus Khan dropped a sitter. The Twenty20 champions showed none of their limited overs firepower this time round, and the black caps, while they didn't exactly set the world on fire with their hitting, paced their innings nicely.
One imagines the southern hemisphere will savour every last drop out of the final, although it's hard to see anything other than an Aussie win.
October 3, 2009 3:58 PM
In a tournament which saw Vettori lauded for reversing Collingwood's run out and Strauss criticised in some quarters for recalling Mathews after colliding with Onions, It's Not The Winning That Counts is an interesting and timely read.
The Daily Telegraph journalist Max Davidson has researched 54 instances of sporting chivalry across a range of sports, with seven devoted to cricket. Ricky Ponting, Mark Taylor, Adam Gilchrist, Sir Gary Sobers, Andrew Flintoff, the Sydney crowd and Shane Warne are all featured for miscellaneous reasons, although united in their honourable actions.
The book starts and ends with two enduring images from the 2005 Ashes, Flintoff's consoling arm around Brett Lee after the two-run win at Edgbaston and Shane Warne racing over to congratulate Pietersen after the urn was reclaimed at the Oval.
The title is a catchy oxymoron of course, since sport is ultimately all about winning, but the series of short stories are a telling reminder that you can still play the game competitively and do the right thing when dilemmas present themselves.
October 3, 2009 3:31 AM
With bees swarming on cameras and flying ants disrupting the start of Australia's reply, there was no shortage of wildlife at Centurion last night -and it was the reigning champions who stung England yet again with a nine-wicket win and cruised into the final against rivals New Zealand or Pakistan, who play today.
This was vintage Australia and 'old England', the team we thought had vanished after sterling performances against Sri Lanka and South Africa, but was merely in hibernation, as Ponting and Watson flayed their docile attack to all corners under the floodlights.
It may have been a different tournament and different continent from the 6-1 drubbing, but pre-match talk of England turning the corner was severly misplaced as the game took on a familiar predictability and outcome.
The Aussie records fell faster than England's heads as the belligerent pair notched up a stand of 252, the best ODI partnership by any Australia pairing. Watson was in such destructive move that one of his sixes almost decapitated a youngster in the crowd, thankfully the ball skimming off his head, while Ponting didn't put a foot wrong, picking off the bowling with ease.
England's innings was a strange mixture of collapse and conviction, the top-order firing blanks as they fell to 101 for 6, and then an unlikely resistance from Wright (48) and Bresnan (80) taking the score towards respectability. But it was never going to be enough.
Now England have a month off before returning to SA for the tests, and can be thankful that they won't have to play the yellow shirts for a while. Australia march on though, and on this evidence will be too strong for NZ or Pakistan.
September 28, 2009 4:27 AM
An extraordinary game at Centurion saw England beat South Africa by 22 runs, enough to secure a semi-final spot and eliminate the hosts.
A few weeks ago, the middle order looked like it could be knocked over by a passing wind, but yesterday saw an explosive display from Shah, Collingwood and Morgan which propelled England to 322. On this evidence, they are genuine contenders - a remarkable turnaround after the lack-lustre performances against Australia.
Shah showed both sides of his character in smacking a blistering 98 and then dropping a dolly off Smith which could have been costly. The South African captain played a gritty knock, hampered by cramp at the end, but it wasn't replicated by his team-mates.
Anderson calmed any England nerves with an assured second spell, although question marks hover over young Broad's composure, something he will have to address in the semis.
It was interesting seeing Strauss refuse Smith a runner, a demonstration of steely resolve to Flower as anyone else, after he was criticised for allowing the runner back after the collision in the Sri Lankan match.
England march on, while South Africa can only look on and ponder, yet again, what might have been.
September 27, 2009 4:12 AM
The SubContinental showdown lived up to its pre-match billing with 550 runs and no shortage of incident as Pakistan saw off India by 54 runs.
The majestic Malik cracked 128 to set up the platform, although Yousef's 87 from 88 balls was just as crucial in setting the 300-plus total which put the game beyond India's reach.
The normally mercurial Harbhajan went for 71 off his 10 overs and, with Tendulkar going cheaply and the injured Yuvraj looking on from the stands, Indian's box office names were no draw for their more committed, though sometimes just as errant, rivals on the big occasion.
Gul and the ebullient Aamir did their best to help by overstepping and providing enough free hits to fill a career album - but India failed to capitalise.
Their reply hinged on two run-outs, ironically both involving the dependable 'Wall', Rahul Dravid, who held the innings together with a typically resolute 76, but illustrated his shortcomings with the shorter form of the game by failing to score off 27 balls.
His yes-no with Gambhir, who was playing beautifully, let Pakistan back into the game, and a similar bout of indecision would cost him his own wicket towards the end when there was an outside chance of victory.
Unfancied Pakistan now have two wins out of two. For India, the hard work begins.
September 26, 2009 4:01 AM
After half the cricket writing fraternity have eaten large slices of humble pie this morning - myself included - it's time to reflect on England's surprise six-wicket victory over Sri Lanka last night.
England were desperately looking for some inspiration before this game, and they probably didn't bank on finding it inside five overs, thanks to a Wanderers pitch that offered more movement than a steroid-charged Kangaroo. Some of the top order's shot selection left a lot to be desired, but it was still a great effort to reduce Sri Lanka to 17 for 4, even if they did let them off the hook in the middle overs.
England's batting was a shadow of its former self, with the exception of Shah's laboured knock. Why Collingwood couldn't play with such attacking verve against Australia, only he will know, and Morgan delivered some urgency between the wickets at just the right time.
Let's not get carried away though. England will need to deliver several key performances akin to this one before we can safely say they've turned the corner, but an encouraging display nonetheless.
September 25, 2009 10:48 AM
You may have rubbed your eyes in disbelief over your Cornflakes this morning if you saw the picture of the elevated 'stand' at Centurion.
After having cameras beaming down pictures from spaceship-style balloons, the marketeers have gone one step further and put a table and chairs for 22 fans 100 feet in the sky, all supported by what one trusts is a particularly sturdy crane.
But could you really relax and take in the view, never mind the action? And what if you became really engrossed in conversation with your neighbour, and leant back forgetting where you were?
I'm not sure it's going to catch on over the skies of Lord's or the SCG, but it shows that the commercial side of the game continues to reach new heights.
September 25, 2009 3:44 AM
Three matches into the Champions Trophy, and we're none the wiser. We know Sri Lanka have a formidable batting line-up, Pakistan and South Africa are capable of blowing hot and cold, New Zealand batsmen need to show more urgency and West Indies won't pose too many threats, being bereft of so many star names.
South Africa are an enigma wrapped in the mystery in that they have some of the best players of the tournament in de Villiers, Smith and Kallis, but still an air of vulnerability. More teams may be tempted to follow the Lankans' lead and bat first, try and post a big total and see if the hosts crack under the weight of expectation.
Pakistan almost contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, although the fact West Indies couldn't even muster 150 will be as much a worry for the organisers as the players.
Reports that England are targeting a top four finish are fanciful bravado on current form, and it's hard to see them overcoming Sri Lanka today. Similarly, we may be waving goodbye to the black caps when they take on Sri Lanka on Sunday.
Hopefully tomorrow's game, when the Subcontinent comes to a standstill, will be the match that gets it all going.
September 21, 2009 5:11 AM
Typical England. Just when you think they're in terminal decline, they produced an inspired performance at Durham yesterday, with Swann's five wickets leaving Australia posting a decidedly England-like score of 176, enabling the hosts to avoid the ignominy of a 7-0 whitewash.
Swann and Strauss would have given their right arms for a turner like this in the previous six games - although the frailty of England's batting may not have made that much difference to the overall outcome.
One Swann doesn't make a summer though, and England travel to South Africa with more ODI baggage than a fully loaded 747, with question marks aplenty with bat and ball. Their insipid performances have taken much of the gloss off the Ashes victory and they will have to hope several key players - make that half the team - can somehow raise their games for the Champions Trophy.
In contrast, Ponting's men showed character and class to come back fighting after the Ashes defeat, and must touch down in the southern hemisphere in confident mood - although for all their superiority in this tournament, they're far from invincible.
September 18, 2009 4:37 AM
Andrew Flintoff has come to Dubai to recuperate from knee surgery - but in true Freddie style, the limelight continues to shine on him as brightly as the UAE weather, as the media pores over his playing and coaching options.
The all-rounder, who signed off from Tests after the Ashes victory, has refused to sign a new England contract in order to make himself available to all and sundry, becoming the first English player to turn one down since the central contract system was drawn up 10 years ago.
It leaves the door open for him to play in next spring's Indian Premier League (IPL), while also pursuing deals with other teams globally.
He'd be advised to take the time off to really think about his goals. Can he realistically play for England in ODIs and Twenty20s, Lancashire, Chennai in the IPL and squeeze in time for South Australia or anyone else? The companies printing the shirts are going to be busy.
While in Dubai, he's exploring coaching opportunities for the national team, plans to set up his own academy, and his agent said he's also looking to do a reality TV series which could include bungee-jumping.
Let's hope his making time for rest amid all the zest.