IPL Off to Great Start

21/04/2008

The Indian Premier League kicked off this weekend with much ceremony, fanfare, and a fair bit of cricket too. McCullum’s century to opening the tournament will surely not be beaten, and Hussey, Michael, adding a 2nd century in the opening weekend gets it off to a great start. While some having been voicing concerns about the affect and influence that the IPL will have on world cricket as a whole, it is fair to say that what has been seen on the pitches thus far has not harmed the game at all.

While people have been worried that the money involved in the IPL and the structure, with the auction for players to teams, teams made up a core of international players and filled by young Indian talent, would turn players into mercenaries, going where the money takes them, with no loyalty and patriotism, although only at its beginning, these fears appear to be ill found.

International players are using this forum to showcase themselves away from their national teams. Reputations are being tested and the idea that these athletes are showing up just to collect some money while they can is naive. Watching the games it is clear to see how much each individual and each time wants to win, they are in it to win, and the pain of defeat is all too obvious.

What is more so, following on from the Australia/India series, where so much damaged was done to cricket, it is of particular highlight to notice the camaraderie, and fellowship that is being forged by so many from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. The ill effects of the Australia/India series are being redressed and new friendships formed.

Players are testing themselves in ways that they can not at international level. In yesterdays game between the Mumbai Indians and Bangalore Royal Challengers there was an over when Shaun Pollock was bowling to Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher. Boucher and Kallis would have stood behind the wicket, at keeper and slip, to Pollock on many occasions throughout their careers and would have faced him in domestic games, but not under these circumstances, in front of as big a crowd, and with the whole world watching.

For the South Africans that game was a good show case of where they are in world cricket. Pollock showed South Africa that he is still capable of being a world beater with a brilliant knock of 28 from just 12 balls, finding the middle of the bat and the boundaries from just about the first ball faced, and then an economical spell of bowling that will surely go down as “doing a Pollock” in years to come.

On the other side Kallis did a job rebuilding the innings with Boucher and getting their team within reach of the win, while Boucher played an innings, 39 not out from 19 balls, which just about won the game for Bangalore.

IPL is off to a great start and promises to be an entertaining, quality driven, feast for all.

(Pic from http://www.cricinfo.com)


A Good Effort but SA Fall Short

14/04/2008

South Africa fell short of achieved their desired goal of a Sub Continental treble on a day to forget in the 3rd and final Test against India.

It seemed like the story of this South African team’s life as it took a single bad day to ruin what had been a good tour for the Protea’s. Their World Cup hopes were torn apart by a bruising turn over against Australia, in the T20 World Cup they took a 100% record into their final second round group game and that one loss, to India, was enough to see them fail to progress, and again a good showing came to an abrupt end at the hands of Harbajan Singh.

The 3rd day, and what would prove to be the final day, of the 3rd and deciding Test saw South African fail to pick up the final Indian wicket they needed cheaply, allowing the Indians to gain a substantial lead under the circumstances, and then crumble all out with a lead of just over 60 runs, as the Indian bowlers made full use of conditions on a very dry, crumbling pitch, and the South African batsman seemed unsure to go about the task at hand.

In the end India got there, losing 2 wickets, to seal victory and tie the 3 match series 1-1 and in so doing keep their 2nd place in the Test rankings, just ahead of South Africa. For South Africa it was a case of one off day ruining a series that they had dominated, and surprised in doing so.

The good news for world cricket is that over the last few months both India and South Africa have shown that they are moving in the right direction in terms of being able to compete with Australia. India has added grit and inner strength to their talent, and South Africa a greater sense of self belief and confidence.

Where to now for South Africa? They face a tough schedule for the rest of the year with a long tour of England in August and then they’re off to Australia in December to test how good they really are. In terms of the team they have a settle squad, but there could be some changes. Ashwell Prince has been short of form in recent Tests and his place is under pressure from the supremely talented and stylish JP Duminy, who has recently cemented a place in the ODI batting line up and has been patiently waiting for his chance in Test cricket. He must get his chance on the England tour, and when he does he must be persevered with, even if he fails. What must not happen is a chop and change effect that leaves JP feeling like he is playing for his place everytime he goes to the crease. He has to feel secure and confident that the selectors and his team back him, and then allowed to flourish. The rest of the batting line up picks itself, with Smith finding a capable opening partner in Mackenzie that looks more secure then any South Africa have had for a couple of seasons now. Gibbs will struggle to get back into the Test team, but if he finds form again, a Gibbs waiting in the wings is not a bad problem to have. The bowling unit has depth and motivation behind them, and with Dale Steyn leading the line is one to be feared. Harris will have learned a lot from this tour and although he wont have been thrilled with his performance he must be a better player for it. Morne Morkel is a huge talent who like Duminy, must be given a sustained run in the team. He will lead the attack with Steyn for many seasons to come, and the ground work starts here and now. Ntini is getting back some of the form he has lost over the last few months, but there must be option to rest him at some stage. With Andre Nel and Charl Langeveld waiting to show the selectors a thing or two, and Monde Zondeki, and a host of fast bowling talent back home, the selectors should have more than a few options should form or injury hamper their starting attack.

So long as politics doesn’t continue to harm the game the future of South African cricket looks good. This could be the team to finally win a series against Australia, something South Africa hasn’t achieved since readmission. First up is England. The rest of the year should be enthralling for all South African cricket lovers.

(Pic from cricinfo.com)


South Africa v India 3rd Test Preview

10/04/2008

The 3rd Test between South Africa and India get underway tomorrow morning amongst the threat of terrorist activity, a pitch that will look like a day 5 pitch even before day 1 and the dawn of the much hyped and eagerly anticipated IPL.

South Africa go into the match knowing that they can not lose the series, having drawn the first and won the second Test, inside 3 days, but will be looking to ensure they get the series victory they require to leap frog India into 2nd place on the ICC Test rankings.

India go into the match looking to square the series, keep their 2nd position on the rankings, and restore some much needed pride after the 2nd Test drubbing South Africa inflicted on them.

For this very reason it seems that India are determined to get the pitch they want for this deciding match, and will look to get it as far removed from the green top that South Africa terrorized their batting line up on last week.

The pitch is expected to turn from the first ball and India will take advantage of a heavy spin attack to wrestle the initiative away from the touring South Africans. While this may suit India it should not be interpreted that the South Africans will be tossing and turning in bed the night before, frightened of the prospect of a much vaunted spin attack having them in knots and off their feet in no time. This isn’t the same South African team of a decade ago, one which was said to be unable to play spin, never mind good spin. That myth has well and truly been dispelled and this lot, who have beaten Pakistan and Bangladesh in Pakistan and Bangladesh in recent months, and are looking for a hat trick of Sub Continental scalps, will not be daunted by the prospect of a terrible, dry, dirt pitch. In Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers they have some very good players of spin bowling, and although totals may not be big in this match, they will be confident of posting scores higher then that of India.

India for their part should not be over confident. The pitch that seems to be awaiting them for this match may be one that will take turn immediately, it may be devoid of even a blade of grass, but with the inconsistent bounce that is expected, one ball keeping low the next shooting off, not to mention the huge cracks that will be baked into it, Dale Steyn and co will have more than enough opportunity to blast the batsmen out. It is for this very reason that I would not drop Morne Morkel, as is being suggested, for a second spinner, Robin Peterson, as the three South African quickies, Steyn, Ntini and Morkel could cause a lot of damage on this track and could be very effective. If South Africa were to entertain the thought of a second spinner I would either replace Prince with Peterson or JP Duminy. Prince has not scored for a number of Tests now and being dropped may be just what he needs to rediscover form and hunger. Peterson would be the second spinner with Harris and although the team would be a batsman light, he is capable with the bat and with Prince thus far ineffectual the difference in batting would not be noticed, but a further option with the ball would be available. If South Africa do not want to weaken the batting line up, in a match that could again only see 3 days, Duminy would be the option as he is a solid, stylish batsman, who has done well in ODI cricket and is patiently waiting for his chance in Test cricket, and he does offer some part time spin in his favour.

All in all we are set for a quick fire battle between two sides looking to catch Australia within the next season. The pitch should be in India’s favour and why not, they are at home, but will give the Protea’s the chance to measure just how far they’ve come and just how good they really are.