Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Michael Clarke celebrates a century that sealed the series, Sri Lanka v Australia, 3rd Test, Colombo, 5th day, September 20, 2011

In his first series as Test captain, Michael Clarke has delivered Australia a 1-0 victory over Sri Lanka, moved them up to fourth in the ICC Test rankings, retained the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy and broken his own personal drought with his first Test century in 18 months. Not a bad way to start a new job. On the final day of the series, Clarke played a true captain's innings to deny Sri Lanka any hope of winning the match, which ended in a draw that was as good as a victory for Australia.

Sri Lanka began the morning needing quick wickets to knock Australia over and set up a chase. By tea, Tillakaratne Dilshan's men had added only two breakthroughs to the three wickets they had taken on the fourth afternoon, and they were left not only to rue their slow batting in a match they had to win, but also to wonder how long their attack will take to deliver them a Test win in the post-Muttiah Muralitharan era.

Rangana Herath toiled manfully to earn a career-best 7 for 157, but the harsh truth is that Sri Lanka haven't won a Test since Murali last played for them in July 2010. And by losing a home series for just the third time in ten years, they have fallen to fifth on the ICC rankings list. Besides Herath, none of the bowlers looked threatening on the final day, not that their task was an easy one on a pitch offering nothing.

There was a glimmer of hope early, when Phillip Hughes (126) top-edged Herath to square leg, having added only four to his overnight total. But that brought Clarke and Michael Hussey together, and they proceeded to bat Sri Lanka out of the game in a 176-run partnership, an Australian fifth-wicket record against Sri Lanka, beating the 155 set by David Hookes and Allan Border in the first Test ever played between the two countries.

And while Hussey missed the chance to score his third hundred of the series, falling for 93, Clarke didn't waste his opportunity to end a drought that stretched back to Australia's tour of New Zealand last March. It was an outstanding effort from Clarke, for when he came to the crease late on day four, a Sri Lanka victory was very much a possibility.

He batted precisely the way a captain should in such circumstances, first and foremost guarding his wicket fiercely, but also ticking the scoreboard over to add to Sri Lanka's problems. At one point during the morning, he was 24 from 80 deliveries, but he lifted his rate as the day wore on, three times advancing down the pitch to Herath to drive him down the ground for six.

Although he survived a stumping chance when Prasanna Jayawardene failed to glove the ball cleanly, Clarke provided a masterclass in handling spin, using his feet and smothering the turn where he could. He brought up his century in exactly that manner, from his 139th ball, dancing down the pitch to clip Herath wide of mid-on for a boundary, and it was a fine way to cap off a tour during which his captaincy has been bold and thoughtful.

Eventually, Clarke fell for 112 driving a catch to mid-on from the bowling of Herath, following some banter between Clarke and Kumar Sangakkara, and the chirping continued as Clarke walked off the field. But the most important thing was that he had ensured a series win.

The only remaining point of interest was whether Hussey would finish his incredible tour with a century in each innings of a Test for the first time, having scored 118 in the first innings. Alas, he top-edged a sweep off Dilshan and was caught for 93. Still, he was unequivocally the Player of the Series, with scores of 95, 15, 142, 118 and 93, as well as two wickets and a stunning catch.

It continued a remarkable renaissance for Hussey, 36, whose past two series, the Ashes at home and this Sri Lankan tour, have been the most prolific in his Test career. Herath also produced his best Test series, easily topping the wicket tally from either side with 16 at an average of 23, despite missing the second Test to injury, but it will hardly be a series he'll remember with fondness.

Still, he finished off strongly, securing his first six-for when Brad Haddin (30) was caught at wide mid-off, and that became a seven-wicket haul when he trapped Peter Siddle lbw for 26 as the sun set on the SSC. It was also his 100th Test wicket, making him the fourth Sri Lanka player to the milestone, after Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga.

Australia were finally bowled out for 488, and Sri Lanka had to bat for two overs before the captains could agree to an early end. Clarke handed the ball to Trent Copeland and Nathan Lyon, who both debuted during the series, and finished with one over each.

It was a fitting way to end a series in which Australia's debutants - Lyon, Copeland and Shaun Marsh - played key roles. Their next job is to take on the world No.2, South Africa, in Cape Town and Johannesburg. For now, Clarke and his men can celebrate. Finally, they are moving in the right direction.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir

salman butt, muhammad asif and muhammad amir ave been banned for 10, 7 and 5 years respectively after an ICC tribunal found them guilty of spot-fixing stemming from the Lord's Test against England last year. The sanctions against Butt and Asif have five and two years suspended, which means that the trio cannot play any official, sanctioned cricket, international or domestic, for a minimum of five years, until September 2015.

The suspended sentences on Butt and Asif have been made conditional on their making no further breaches of the code and participating in an anti-corruption education programme, under the auspices of the PCB.

Butt, who was captain during the series in England, received the maximum sentence but one charge against him - of batting out a maiden over during the Oval Test - was dismissed. However, he was found to have not disclosed an approach by Majeed that he should bat the maiden over. The other charges that were upheld relate to the subsequent Lord's Test, where Amir and Asif were found to have bowled deliberate no-balls and Butt was penalized for being party to that. Amir will appeal against the decision to the Court of Arbitration Sports, but the other two players have not yet said whether they will.

The announcement on Saturday evening followed a day of deliberations in Doha between the three-man tribunal - comprising the head Michael Beloff QC, Sharad Rao and Justice Albie Sachs - the players and their legal teams and the ICC's lawyers. The three players began the day requesting the tribunal for a deferral of any verdict, in light of the statement on Friday by the UK's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that the players might also face criminal charges relating to the Lord's Test as the result of a separate investigation carried out by British police. The players, who continued to maintain their innocence, argued that a judgment today by the tribunal could be prejudicial to any criminal trial in the UK, but the request was rejected.

The length of the sentences may be considered surprising to the extent that at least one life ban had been predicted beforehand. Now, in theory, the 26-year-old Butt could return after five years if he complies with the conditions of the verdict. Amir, who will only turn 19 in April, could also conceivably harbour hopes of a return, though in practical terms a five-year gap from any competitive cricket makes the prospect of a return that much more difficult. The situation is most bleak for Asif, who will be 33 by the time the minimum five years are up.

It must also be noted that not until the full judgment is released will the picture become fully clear, especially with regards to the nature of the rehabilitation programme they must undertake and the role the PCB will have in that. The tribunal asked the ICC to publish the full judgment as soon as possible and it is expected to happen tomorrow. The question, however, of whether or not the full judgment may be deemed prejudicial to any criminal proceedings in the UK still looms.

A member of the ICC legal team told ESPNcricinfo that it is "very happy with the fact that the players were convicted." But given that the governing body was pushing for maximum sanctions, there will be at least a tinge of disappointment within the governing body.

The tribunal also recommended that the ICC make "certain changes to the code with a view to providing flexibility in relation to minimum sentences in exceptional circumstances." The lawyers of Butt and Amir later said that the tribunal would've given lower punishments had their hands not "been tied" to the code's range of sanctions.

News of the World, the tabloid that broke the spot-fixing story this summer, released a statement of its own, saying that "it is now clear to everyone in the game that corruption will not be tolerated," and added that it will continue to assist the police in any way it can.

A number of Pakistani fans waited outside the Qatar Financial Centre, some for the entire nine-hour duration of the proceedings, and gave vociferous support to the players when they eventually came out. Amir, in fact, was mobbed and had to return inside the building briefly.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The moment before impact: Abdul Razzaq winds up for a big hit, Pakistan v South Africa, 2nd ODI, Abu Dhabi, October 31, 2010

Abdul Razzaq pummeled an 11-ball 34 to propel Pakistan to 183, before returning to flatten the New Zealand top order with the new ball, as the visitors stormed to a 103-run victory in the third Twenty20 in Christchurch. Razzaq capitalised on some inexperienced death bowling from Adam Milne to hammer 31 from the last nine deliveries of the innings, and picked up three wickets for 13 as New Zealand imploded dramatically, effectively surrendering the game within the first three overs of their chase.

The chase was derailed almost before it had begun as the top four batsmen all collected ducks. Martin Guptill began the catastrophic collapse when he edged Razzaq to point, pushing away from his body with hard hands to one that nipped away a touch. Jesse Ryder turned in his third failure of the series in the following over when he top edged a pull, and Dean Brownlie's decision to sneak a quick single to get off the mark backfired when Shahid Afridi effected a rare Pakistani direct hit. Ross Taylor was unfortunate to be adjudged lbw to one that struck him slightly above the knee roll, but didn't do himself any favours by playing all around the straight delivery. Three overs into the innings, New Zealand had lost four wickets for three runs, and when James Franklin lost his head, and his middle stump, two overs later, there was only one direction the match was heading. New Zealand had made 11 runs for the loss of five wickets from their first five overs. Pakistan were 51 for no loss at the same stage.

Styris resisted bravely, throwing his bat to collect a couple of boundaries over cover in Razzaq's last over, and even swatting a six over midwicket to give the Christchurch crowd something to cheer about, but with the required run-rate tipping 15, and wickets falling regularly at the other end, there was little he could do. Peter McGlashan dragged Abdur Rehman onto the stumps attempting to reverse sweep and Nathan McCullum didn't hang around long, succumbing to Shahid Afridi's straighter one. Styris eventually fell for 45, and Afridi wasted little time cleaning up the tail - an 134 kph arm ball to dismiss Tim Southee first ball being the highlight of his spell. Styris aside, none of the other New Zealand batsmen managed double figures. They made 28 collectively.

Pakistan's impressive total was set up by an explosive opening partnership between Ahmad Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez, who blasted 81 in 8.4 overs to set pulses racing at the AMI stadium. Shehzad in particular, was quick to punish anything on a length, peppering the midwicket boundary repeatedly, while also driving through the covers when the ball was pitched up. Hafeez too got into the action scooping Mills over the shoulder for four, before unfurling a wristy swat that sent the ball sailing over deep square-leg a few overs later.

The introduction of slow bowling into the attack did the trick for New Zealand though, as both openers perished attempting to maintain the frenetic scoring rate, and three more wickets followed soon after. Younis Khan was run out, attempting a suicidal single, Asad Shafiq was caught on the boundary after having used up 15 deliveries for his 8 and Shahid Afridi departed for a quickfire 14.

Umar Akmal kept Pakistan ticking with some intelligent hitting, but it was Abdul Razzaq who boosted the visitors' total and swung the momentum decidedly Pakistan's way with a brutal display of power hitting. Razzaq swung in the V, launching Tim Southee twice over midwicket before taking on Milne in the last over. Razzaq smoked the short deliveries over cover, and sent the fuller ones racing along the ground to the boundary, and 19 runs came off the last five deliveries, despite Milne's best efforts to vary the pace and find the blockhole.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Roy Hodgson

Wolves beat Liverpool for the first time in 27 years to climb off the foot of the Premier League table and pile pressure on Reds manager Roy Hodgson.

Stephen Ward's crisp finish from Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's pass 11 minutes into the second half proved enough to give Mick McCarthy's men a famous victory.

Raul Meireles wasted a dismal Liverpool's best chance early on when he shot straight at Wayne Hennessey.

And Martin Skrtel's late headed goal was rightly ruled out for offside.

That scare aside, Wolves had little trouble in holding on for their first league away win of the season and their first over the Reds since little-known striker Steve Mardenborough gave them a victory at Anfield in January 1984.

n truth McCarthy's side, so often unable to turn impressive performances into points, were fully worthy of all three on an evening when Liverpool looked totally devoid of any creative spark.

Before the match, Hodgson had expressed the hope that his players would be fresh rather than rusty after an 18-day break from league commitments because of two successive postponements.

But even the return of skipper Steven Gerrard from a six-week injury layoff could not inspire Liverpool, and Hodgson headed down the tunnel with the boos of fans ringing in his ears after an eighth league defeat of the season which leaves the Reds in 12th place going into the new year, just three points above the relegation zone.

The first half was an instantly forgettable affair, with the only chance of note falling to Meireles inside six minutes.

A quick free-kick from Fernando Torres released the Portuguese midfielder through on goal but his weak shot was comfortably saved by the advancing Hennessey.

From then on, Wolves more than held their own, enjoying plenty of possession in the Liverpool half without really creating any clear-cut openings.

Their only shot of the first period was a long-range strike from top-scorer Ebanks-Blake which trickled tamely wide.

Gerrard did his best to energise Liverpool, but with Torres once again out-of-sorts, and Dirk Kuyt looking uncomfortable in a left-sided role, there was very little fluidity to the home side's play.

The Reds carved the first opening of the second period as Glen Johnson's pull-back found David Ngog but the Frenchman hooked wide from six yards.

Wolves defender Ronald Zubar was slightly closer with his shot on the turn as he forced Pepe Reina, on his 200th Premier League appearance, into a low save.

It was an omen of things to come as in the 56th minute the visitors took the lead after a mix-up between Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos allowed Ebanks-Blake's through-ball to squeeze between them.

Ward showed good pace to beat the advancing Reina to the ball and poke a low finish into the corner.

Hodgson sent on Ryan Babel and Joe Cole in pursuit of an equaliser but it was Wolves who came closest to scoring, when only a last-gasp block by Johnson prevented Matthew Jarvis making it 2-0.

Two minutes from time, Skrtel's header from Gerrard's free-kick flew in past Hennessey but replays showed several Liverpool players had strayed offside.

Jacques Kallis gloves a brute of a bouncer, South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 4th day, December 29, 2010

India reiterated that they are no longer poor travellers by pulling off a series-levelling win in Durban, the scene of one of their worst Test defeats in 1996. Monday's victory at Kingsmead, after a humiliating loss in Centurion, joined other famous successes over the past decade on some of the world's fastest tracks - Headingley, Jamaica, Nottingham, Johannesburg and Perth.

The match was even at the start of the fourth day but India's bowlers barely sent down a bad ball in the morning session to seize control of the Test. A Sreesanth snorter to Jacques Kallis started South Africa's slide, before two lbws - one a marginal decision and the other a howler, both sure to refuel the UDRS debate - hurt them further. Ashwell Prince tried to resist but India plugged away to remove the tail an hour into the second session and set up a decider in Cape Town next week.

The ebb and flow of the match was matched by Sreesanth's bowling form. The wayward, antic-loving Sreesanth was missing in the morning as he sent down an accurate spell of sustained hostility. The highlight was in the day's seventh over - an unplayable bouncer that reared up sharply and jagged in towards Kallis, who had no way of avoiding it. He jumped and arched his back in an attempt to get out of the way but could only glove it to gully. It was the snorter needed to remove the kingpin of South Africa's batting. There was no over-the-top Sreesanth celebration either, just a fist pump before getting back to business.

That wicket put India slightly ahead, and there was no doubt who the front-runners were when AB de Villiers offered a half-hearted forward defensive against a Harbhajan Singh delivery from round the wicket. He was struck in front of middle, looked lbw and the umpire agreed, though Hawk-Eye suggested the ball would have bounced well over the stumps.

Mark Boucher has, over a decade in international cricket, built his reputation as a scrapper and, with Prince also around, it wasn't yet lights out for South Africa. Boucher, though, made only 1 before he was given lbw to a delivery that was angling across him and comfortably missing off stump .

South Africa had lost three wickets, and there was still no boundary in the morning, a testament to the scarcity of bad deliveries. When the first four did come, from Dale Steyn, it was an edge to third man. Steyn had pinged Zaheer Khan on the helmet with a quick bouncer on Tuesday, and was the target of a string of short balls. After three of those, Zaheer slipped in a fuller delivery, which Steyn duly nicked to slip.

At 155 for 7, with lunch 45 minutes away, the game looked set for a quick finish. Prince and Paul Harris, however, resisted with some dour batting and a couple of confident boundaries from Prince. They saw out the 10 overs to the break but a pumped-up Zaheer, chatting with the batsmen after almost every ball, ended the stand in his first over after the resumption with a peach that clipped Harris' off stump.

Prince and Morne Morkel then stood firm for an hour, reducing the required runs to double digits. India's wait seemed to have ended when Ishant Sharma had Morkel wafting to gully, but that turned out to be his regulation wicket off a no-ball. In his next over, though, Ishant didn't overstep when he found the edge off Morkel to Dhoni. Two balls later, an alert Cheteshwar Pujara threw down the stumps from short leg, catching the No. 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe short, and sparking celebrations. The Indians were ready to grab the stumps as souvenirs, when they realised the third umpire had been called for. The dismissal was confirmed moments later and there was no stopping the celebrations this time.

India came into this Test with their No. 1 status questioned after the clobbering in Centurion and doubts over whether they had the bowling to take 20 wickets. They provided answers to both in Durban, handing South Africa their third straight defeat at the venue.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Edoardo and Francesco Molinari

Italian brothers Francesco and Edoardo Molinari are among 13 players to qualify for the 2011 Masters at Augusta courtesy of their world ranking.

The top 50 in the end-of-year world rankings are invited to the tournament.

America's defending champion Phil Mickelson is looking for a fourth win, while Tiger Woods is chasing a fifth.

British golfers, including world number one Lee Westwood and US Open champion Graeme McDowell have qualified through one of several other criteria.

The top 16 from the previous year's Masters automatically qualify meaning Westwood, who finished second, and his fellow Englishman Ian Poulter, who was 10th, will be in Georgia in April. Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez also qualifies under this criteria.

Ulsterman McDowell is in after winning the US Open at Pebble Beach, while his Northern Ireland compatriot Rory McIlroy is awarded a place for finishing third at the Open Championship.

English trio Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Justin Rose make the cut after finishing in the top 30 players on the 2010 US PGA Tour money list, while Scotland's Martin Laird also qualifies from his Tour Championship showing.

Francesco Molinari, who is 15th in the world rankings, made his Masters debut last year and finished tied for 30th at three over par, while his brother, who is 18th in the world, has played twice previously, missing the cut in 2006 and 2010.

The Masters field is currently at 91, but players can still qualify by getting into the top 50 of the world rankings in the week before the 75th Masters which takes place from 7-10 April 2011.

Chris Tremlett celebrates an early wicket in Melbourne, Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 4th day, December 29, 2010

England have retained the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 24 years, after inflicting one of Australia's heaviest losses, with a margin of an innings and 157 runs on the fourth morning at the MCG. It took less than 90 minutes for England to collect the three wickets they needed for victory, and when Tim Bresnan picked up his fourth wicket, an edge behind from Ben Hilfenhaus, the celebrations began.

Bresnan finished with 4 for 50 and was mobbed by his team-mates when the final wicket fell, and the big collection of England fans at the MCG burst into full voice. It was a wonderful moment for England, who will now aim to turn their 2-1 lead into a series victory at the SCG next week, but as the holders of the Ashes before the tour they have done enough to retain the urn.

For the first time in history, Australia have lost two Tests in a home series by an innings, and the margin was their worst defeat in Australia in 98 years, and their eighth-worst of all time. There was some fight from Brad Haddin and Peter Siddle, who put together an 86-run partnership after the early loss of Mitchell Johnson, but it was only ever a matter of time for England.

During the Haddin-Siddle stand, both men cleared the boundary off Graeme Swann, providing something to cheer for the Australian fans who had turned up despite the certain result. Haddin's half-century came in 86 balls and Siddle posted his highest Test score, before the end came in a rush with Siddle and Hilfenhaus falling in quick succession, and the injured Ryan Harris unable to bat