England’s nightmare isn’t over, it has just begun

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f you were the captain of the English Test team at this very moment, you would probably want to just get away from anything even remotely synonymous with the word spin and you would probably want to believe that a nightmare has just passed. In reality though, at the back of your mind, you would be well aware that the nightmare isn’t over, it has only just started.

A 3-0 whitewash to Pakistan is what England had to succumb to. Something that had never happened before to the ‘Queen’s Men’ against Pakistan in the history of Test cricket. England went into the series as the ‘numero uno’ of the longest format of the game, but came out looking nowhere close to being the best in the world. Against the art of spin, they looked as fragile as a thin sheet of glass and a team batting average of just 19.06 at the end of the series was proof of that fact. To say England looked uncomfortable against spin would be an understatement, because they didn’t look just uncomfortable, they looked woeful, and that is where England’s problem starts.

Inability to play spin, a few nerves jingling as the number one spot seems to be slipping away and a series in Sri Lanka, a real spin haven, couple them together and you know you have a nightmare brewing. Pakistan’s spinners took a whopping 48 wickets against England in the Test series on pitches that assist spin bowlers but don’t really spit and kick off the surface until the fourth or fifth day of play. Come March, England will have to travel to Sri Lanka and play a two Test series on tracks that turn from day one, and one wouldn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that the visitors will certainly struggle.

The first of those Tests is at Galle, a venue that hosted Australia versus Sri Lanka last and saw both teams complaining about the enormous amount of turn that the pitch offered. In fact that series saw 26 out of 48 wickets being taken by the Sri Lankan tweakers. A percentage of a little over a fifty, but one that is bound to rise when the Englismen set foot on Sri Lankan soil.

England’s batting average in the series against Pakistan was appallingly low, but what is worse is the fact that the figure dropped further against spin to a miserly 15.64. That also happens to be their second lowest average against spin in a series, and I wouldn’t be risking too much if I put my money on England recording a similar series average in Sri Lanka. One could obviously argue that it was the quality of spin from Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman that made England whimper and there is no denying that. The fact is though, that on a turning Galle or Colombo wicket, one doesn’t need to be as gifted as an Ajmal to make the batsmen struggle. More so if the batsmen already have a weakness against spin. Nathan Lyon’s five wicket haul in an innings against Sri Lanka at Galle is an example of that fact.

Despite the outcome of the series against Pakistan, the ICC rankings still have England as the best Test playing nation at the moment. The question to ask though, is just for how long can England cling onto that number one spot. With a series in Sri Lanka and one much later in India, it doesn’t look like ‘The Three Lions’ will be very confident of holding onto that rank. There is some respite for the English in between those two series, as they host West Indies and South Africa. England will bank on coming out on top in the home series for as has become the norm in recent times, cricketing nations have become ‘Kings’ in their backyard but ‘Peasants’ overseas. If they don’t get the results they want in those home matches, England would almost certainly be staring at a slide down the rankings table.

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India’s poor form a plus point: Mathews

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Sri Lanka vice-captain Angelo Mathews on Tuesday said his side is determined to shrug off the issues, plaguing his side as they concentrate on exploiting the poor form of the Indians when they open their tri-series campaign, here on Wednesday.

Tillakaratne Dilshan was sacked as captain and Geoff Marsh lost his job as coach after the series in South Africa last month. Mahela Jayawardene once again took over the captaincy and South African Graham Ford was appointed coach.

On the financial part, the cricketers still have been unpaid for nearly 10 months. “There have been a few hiccups. It’s a bit of an unfortunate situation. We were not consulted (by the Sri Lankan board) on the coach and the captain. But we are here to play cricket. Our job is to concentrate on our cricket and that’s all we can do,” said Matthews.

The young all-rounder has followed India’s performance in the Test series against Australia and believes their poor form is a plus for them. India were whitewashed 4-0 in the series.

“They haven’t played well in Tests and that’s a plus point for us which we can take into the game. But it’s a different team when it comes to ODIs. They are current world champions. They could come really hard at us.”

Dilshan, 35, took over captaincy from Kumar Sangakkara after the 2011 World Cup finals last April. He could win only one Test out of the 11 he captained though it was an important win, their first ever in South Africa.

Dilshan also struggled with the bat, averaging just 20 in the one-day format. Sri Lanka lost Test and one-day series against England, Australia, Pakistan and South Afric. Ford, incidentally, is the fourth coach appointed by Sri Lanka since the World Cup final in April 2011. After the World Cup, Trevor Bayliss was sacked and his assistant Stuart Law took over.

Rumesh Ratnayake then held the fort till Marsh replaced him. Now it’s Ford’s turn. The selection panel also faced the upheaval. Chief selector Duleep Mendis was replaced by Asantha de Mel.

But more grim is the situation regarding wages. Sri Lankan cricketers haven’t been paid since last April. The Sri Lankan Cricketers Association (SLCA) have given a deadline till February 29 for clearing the outstanding salaries.

The outstanding amount had ballooned to USD five million by December last when International Cricket Council (ICC) intervened and made a direct payment of $2 million to cricketers.

The players are still owed a further $2.3 million from the World Cup, plus money from outstanding payments for matches against England, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa in the past eight months.

“Eventually we would get paid. Cricket board is trying to sort it out. Hopefully, they would come up with a good answer in near future. We are playing for the love of the game,” said Matthews.

Matthews said Dilshan has reacted very well to the situation and Mahela has been considerate in accepting the captaincy as a stop-gap arrangement.

“Dilshan is a great character. With all the pressure and the situation, he’s ready and set to go and perform tomorrow. Mahela took the job to steady the ship. He has mentioned he wouldn’t be captaining for long. It’s the correct decision for Mahela. He knows the game, he reads the game and he knows what needs to be done to steady the ship.”

Sangakkara recently has been quoted as saying that Matthews deserves captaincy. The young all-rounder, who has taken 35 wickets and scored 1241 runs from 63 games, isn’t quite convinced he’s ready for it.

“There’s been all sorts of saying regarding captaincy. I wasn’t looking to captain the country. I have so many years ahead of my career. Vice-captaincy is given to me to groom and I take it as a challenge. I try and cope with it, whatever the situation and try and give my best for the country.”

Matthews hoped the experience of playing South Africa recently would come handy on similar pitches of Australia. “We have been playing in South Africa recently. It’s likewise pacey and bouncy here. We played well in the later stage of ODI series in South Africa and but for Duckworth-Lewis (rule), could have turned things around.”

The youngster was candid enough to say that it will be a learning curve to play against Sachin Tendulkar on Wednesday.

“His stats say it all. He is one of the best ever produced in cricket’s history. Playing against him, it’s a great opportunity for us to learn. He’s a very seasoned campaigner. We have a lot to learn from him.”

“We have got a few brilliant youngsters We need to focus on our own game, feel free and play our natural game. That’s when we come out best.”

India and Sri Lanka have played against each other all too often but ironically, haven’t crossed swords once after the World Cup finals.

“Unfortunately, I personally couldn’t play the final as I was injured. It was a great loss for me as well as for the team. Losing World Cup finals hurt but past is past. We need to look into this series. It’s not the subcontinent so we need to adapt quickly.

“We’ve been playing them for quite a while. It’s great to be playing against the Indian team. It’s a world class team and keeps you on your toes.”

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Pune players will not suffer: Subrata Roy

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Sahara supremo Subrata Roy on Tuesday said that the BCCI’s unfair treatment towards the Pune Warriors IPL franchise team members forced him to sever all ties with cricket.

Roy, who hoped for a plausible solution to the issue between the Sahara India Parivar and the BCCI, vowed that the Pune players would not suffer because of the pullout in an interview with CNN-IBN on tuesday.

“Our players shouldn’t be deprived of playing IPL this year. Our team shouldn’t be in any problem. We will come out with a solution soon,” Roy said in an exclusive interview to the channel.

“I really can’t say about reconciliation. We are into huge development work. I am with an open mind. Cricket is rich and many are willing to sponsor.

“If it is really needed, I will not give a second thought in sponsoring Pune IPL. We are flexible and will come out with an amicable solution.”

Sahara India withdrew its sponsorship of the Indian cricket team and Pune Warriors on Saturday hours ahead of the IPL auction for season five, after the BCCI turned down the franchise’s request that the price of their marquee player Yuvraj Singh be added to their overall purse for the auction.

“We really feel such one-sided emotional relationship cannot be dragged on any further. We are withdrawing from all cricket under the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI),” said a statement from Sahara, who chose not to be present at the IPL 5 players auction in Bangalore.

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Brownlie crashes out of series with injury

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Kiwi batsman Dean Brownlie has suffered a fracture on his left finger following a fielding incident in Monday’s One Day International against Zimbabwe.

Brownlie sustained the fracture when he was struck by a ball while fielding in the match at Cobham Oval in Whangarei.

The Black Caps’ Physiotherapist Paul Close said: “Dean complained of soreness with the hand becoming more painful and swollen today. An x-ray this evening confirmed a fracture.

“He is expected to miss the remainder of the Zimbabwe series but it’s a bit early to tell how long he will be out.

“His return to cricket will be based on how quickly the fracture heals and we should have clearer idea of the timeframe and best course of treatment after he meets with the orthopaedic surgeon tomorrow.”

No one will be added to the remaining squad of 13 at this stage with a decision on whether to bring in a replacement made at a later date.

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Will reveal “Teesra” after ODI series: Ajmal

Saeed Ajmal, who tortured England’s batsmen in Pakistan’s clean sweep of their three-test series, believes no one has yet been able to pick his mystery “teesra” ball.

The spinner was named man of the series after his 24 wickets having said before the UAE tests that he had developed the delivery especially for England.

“I used the “teesra” sparingly in the series and I don’t think anyone has been able to spot it as yet and that makes it more dangerous,” Ajmal told the Pakistani “Ary News” channel on Tuesday.

“I will reveal which is the “teesra” delivery after the (one-day) series is over. Until then it remains a challenge for everyone to identify this ball in the coming one-dayers.”

Modest Ajmal refused to take the plaudits for humbling the world’s top-ranked test side.

“I credit my captain (Misbah-ul-Haq) for the success myself or Abdur Rehman (18 wickets) got in the series. He told us from the start that there would be spin pitches and he had confidence we could deliver,” Ajmal said.

“It felt good bowling in tandem with Rehman. There was less pressure on me. Our captain had planned out everything in detail like which bowler will bowl to which batsmen and so on and it worked beautifully.”

Ajmal said the clean sweep was a big moment for a team keen to make people forget the 2010 spot-fixing affair which rocked Pakistan cricket.

“I guess that scandal really hurt our pride and since then we have been trying to get better and better. Beating England 3-0 was like winning the World Cup for us,” Ajmal said.

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Ajit Agarkar makes himself available for Mumbai

After walking out of the squad in a huff for being dropped from the playing XI in the league stage of the Ranji Trophy, former India pacer Ajit Agarkar has returned to the Mumbai team for its West Zone One-day Leaue campaign.

Agarkar, who walked out of the team, after he was confined to the bench for the match against Orissa, has been named as one of the 25 probables picked by the Mumbai selectors for the tournament, to be held from 22 to 26 February in various grounds.

“Agarkar has made himself available for the One-Day tournament, after he was asked whether he was ready to play. There’s nothing more to this issue,” Mumbai Cricket Association’s joint secretary and selection panel convenor Nitin Dalal told PTI.

Interestingly, the move comes after Wasim Jaffer, Mumbai’s captain in their unsuccessful Ranji campaign, has stepped down from his post, but Dalal insisted nothing should be read to connect these two developments.

Jaffer has also found a spot in the list and Dalal said the new captain of the Mumbai team for the one-dayers would be announced on the 14th or 15th.

The Mumbai one-day probables: Ajinkya Rahane, Wasim Jaffer, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar, Avishkar Salvi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Abhishek Nayar, Anup Revandkar, Praful Waghela, Siddharth Chitnis, Iqbal Abdullah, Ankit Chavan, Suryakumar Yadav, Shahid Shaikh, Parag Khanapurkar, Aditya Tare, Sushant Marathe, Kumar Subramanian, Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Jr.), Kshemal Waingankar, Akhil Herwadkar, Kaustubh Pawar, Usman Malvi, Santosh Shinde and Murtuza Hussain.

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Modi lashes out on BCCI again

Exiled former IPL chief Lalit Modi has yet again lashed out at BCCI chief N.Srivasan saying that the IPL-2 auctions were rigged and the BCCI’s way of running the IPL.

In an interview with CNN-IBN, Modi alleged that when he was in charge of the IPL, the rules were tweaked to allow former England allrounder Andrew Flintoff to remain with Chennai. “The Flintoff auction was rigged,” he said. “All players were supposed to go back to the auction after the first three years but that did not happen. I was arm-twisted into allowing Flintoff to stay with the Chennai team. The retention clause was not my idea. I had created a level playing field.

“The rules have been changed to favour some powerful BCCI members. If you tweak the model along the way it’s going to fail. There is no level playing field in the IPL today. There is a lack of transparency now. Many wanted to be part of the game after it became a success.”

Against the backdrop of Sahara India’s pullout of the sponsorship of the Indian team and their withdrawal of the Pune Warriors franchise, Modi said the current IPL model had become untenable. “This model will not work. You have to keep the players in mind. There are things being done by the BCCI that in the long run will hurt Indian cricket.”

Earlier on Saturday, Modi had tweeted, “Sahara termination – shows how unhappy the major sponsor and franchise owner is with the way BCCI deals with its partners. This is really a sad day. Sahara has been sports biggest supporter and pillar.”

Modi, who was suspended as the IPL commissioner pending investigations into alleged financial irregularities, had a very public fallout with Srinivisan. He had earlier accused him of misusing his position as the Indian board secretary to benefit the Chennai franchise. He has now called for the sacking of Srinivisan in order for the smooth running of the IPL.

As a result of all that was going wrong, Modi also said the BCCI stands to lose Rs 10000 crore. “Its not rocket science. Look at the numbers. I’ve put them all there on my website. I dare the BCCI to prove me wrong.”

Asked whether such a situation would have arose under his leadership, Modi said: “The IPL was fair and open when I was in charge in first three years and Sahara would not have pulled out during my time.”

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