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Cricket News & Views

Clarke's standing hit by Bingle saga

APART from a possible court appearance as witnesses over the theft of an Aston Martin, Michael Clarke has managed to disengage with the Lara Bingle media circus and return to cricket to represent Australia against New Zealand in the first Test at Wellington, starting on Friday.

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Clarke suddenly quit the tour on March 8 and missed three one-day internationals against New Zealand after flying to Sydney to comfort his then fiancee Lara... and then break off their engagement that had lasted two years. They became a celebrity couple when Clarke popped the question to bikina model Lara, 20, with a 4.7 carat diamond ring allegedly worth about £100,000 while on holiday together in New York.

This week before Clarke returned to cricket still as Australia's vice-captain, he spoke to Lara on the phone after it had been reported that her agent Max Markson had offered her exclusive 'story' to a television channel for about £500,000. This followed an earlier plea to the media by Markson to respect the couple's privacy with an oily hypocrisy that surprised even the Aussie newspapers.

Clarke returned to a media scrum at Wellington airport this week, and Australia's coach Tim Nielsen said he had the team's support while he dealt with the sort of personal issue that anyone might have. "It's just that we happen to do it in a public forum, pretty much," Nielsen said.

The theft of Bingle's Aston Martin, after a third party had illegally obtained the keys, resulted in a police charge and a likely court appearance for the two celebrities as witnesses. The Bingle saga continued to fizz when a report claimed that plumbers had been called in to rescue a precious item from the foul water drains at her Bondi apartment amid speculation that she had thrown her engagement ring away, though this was denied by her father and her agent. 

Clarke's original reason for leaving the tour was to support an upset Bingle after a magazine published an old topless photograph, a shower room picture that had been circulated by her previous boyfriend, an Australia Rules footballer not worth dignifying by reporting his name. His claim that he was not involved in the magazine access hardly let him off the hook as an outright cad.

Sportingly, one might think, the New Zealand fast bower Chris Martin said he and his team-mates would not be 'sledging' Clarke about the Bingle embarrassment. One of Clarke's team-mates, Mike Hussey, had appealed to his opponents not to attempt to upset the batsman in this way, a plea that drew angry response from members of the public in newspaper comment strings.

Bearing in mind that Australians had been the world's keenest sledgers since the foul-mouthed days of Ian Chappell in the 1970s, there was little sympathy for Clarke. There was a time when the Aussies had been accused of making 'choo choo' noises when Chris Cairns arrived at the crease after his sister had been killed in a railway crash, but this dreadful personal insult had almost certainly been barracking from the crowd and not from the players.

Nevertheless, that notion that choo choo from the Australian players was a credible possibility stood as the legacy of a dirty past that was not exorcised, as many hoped, by the revolting flare-up between Glenn McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan in Antigua in May 2003. Loutish Australian behaviour surfaced again at Sydney during their home series against India in January 2008. After Martin had given his informal non-sledging assurance in Wellington, he added: "The fans will probably have a ball, but that's nothing to do with us."

Clarke proposed on bended knee under a full moon at the Rockefeller Centre skating rink in March 2008, and within a year there were reports that Bingle was feeling lonely while her future husband was away playing cricket. Many would think she should have twigged this eventuality before accepting his romantic marriage proposal.

Clarke arguably should not have quit the tour, leaving the team hotel in Hamilton without warning on the eve of a one-day international, his absence reducing Australia to 12 fit men. Major family events such as illness, bereavement or birth have caused such disruption in the past -- and one could add personal mental state, as with Marcus Trescothick -- but an upset fiancee could hardly be deemed so serious, not for a man due to captain Australia at the World Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies in May.

Clarke's sudden departure was a mystery at the time, and it was assumed his father, a cancer sufferer, had been taken ill. Clarke had declined a slot in the Indian Premier League in 2008 to spend time with him.

CHARLIE SAYS: While Bingle deserved sympathy for the photo scandal, her hurt was a relatively minor matter. Such tumult should not have been set in motion to envelop Australia's likely successor to Ricky Ponting. Naturally Clarke was upset and could not have been in a good frame of mind for cricket. Nevertheless the show had to go on, for Clarke and for everyone else. Marriage must have already slipped off Lara's priorities by the time Clarke joined her from New Zealand. Clarke's standing has been reduced by his hapless action; Bingle's consolation will be publicity likely to earn her hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Posted by Charlie Randall
16/03/2010 14:24:34

Napier no closer to just desserts

A CANTERBURY batsman who gave the touring England Lions a miserable time in North Island has been drafted into New Zealand's provisional squad for the ICC World Twenty20, but the mystery of Graham Napier, well respected on North Island, continues.

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Shanan Stewart lashed 88 not out off 39 balls against Rob Key's team at New Plymouth as New Zealand A piled up 227 for six off their 20 overs, a total never challenged. Stewart, from Christchurch, hit seven sixes that day and now appears among 30 names with newcomers Brent Arnel, a successful seamer against the Lions, Rob Nicol, Kieran Noema-Barnett and Bradley Scott.

Stewart's emergence at a relatively mature age of 27 puts the focus on England's strange insistence on omitting Napier, 30, from even their wider provisional twenty20 squad. He was in the main squad for the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 in England, but was never given a game. The promotion of former Essex team-mate Andy Flower to England coach has not worked in his favour.

The all-rounder was notably successful at Wellington in New Zealand during the 2008/09 winter and is still regarded as an exceptional short-form player in county cricket. Signed by Central Districts for 2009/10, he produced 73 not out off 29 balls to beat Northern Districts in a 50-over game against all odds at Palmerston North in December before returning to Mumbai Indians for the IPL's 2010 season.

Napier and the Essex club were very unhappy when England announced their selections. No one can hide from the fact he hit 152 off 58 balls against Sussex at Chelmsford in 2008, hitting 16 sixes over admittedly short boundaries. Will Luke, of cricinfo, aptly described the innings as "unabashed mayhem" in a focus on players 'born for twenty20'.

Napier said on grahamnapier.com: "I’m deeply disappointed not to be involved in the 30-man squad, having played well in Twenty20 cricket over the winter. I feel twenty20 is a form of the game that suits me well, and the more experience I’ve gained in it the more effective I have become."

It is a shame his form in the IPL will make no realistic difference to England's attitude. "There is an opportunity for me over the next few weeks – as one of only eight English players involved in the IPL – to show the England selectors what they are missing out on," Napier said.

"But my job now is to focus on being as good a player I can be for Mumbai Indians, Essex and Central Districts. I have always been told that if you work hard, you get your rewards. So I need to keep doing that." Unfortunately England might make an exception when it suits them.

www.grahamnapier.com

Provisional England Twenty20 squad: Paul Collingwood (capt), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Steven Davies, Joe Denly, Steven Finn, Craig Kieswetter, Michael Lumb, Sajid Mahmood, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Eoin Morgan, Graham Onions, Kevin Pietersen, Liam Plunkett, Matt Prior, Adil Rashid, Owais Shah, Ajmal Shahzad, Ryan Sidebottom, Graeme Swann, James Tredwell, Peter Trego, Jonathan Trott, David Wainwright, Chris Woakes, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy.

Posted by Charlie Randall
05/03/2010 11:24:19

Kenya sacked as Under-19 hosts

THE ICC Under-19 World Cup next year has been taken away from Kenya and will be hosted by New Zealand as a result of slow progress in upgrading grounds and facilities, the ICC announced after a meeting at Lord's today.

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An ICC report concluded that with only eight months to go before the event -- awarded to Cricket Kenya in 2006 -- it was unrealistic to expect Kenya to be ready to act as hosts, given the large amount of work still needing to be done.

ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said: "Regrettably, the conclusion reached was that the amount of work still to be done to get many of the venues ready was such that retaining Kenya as a host represented too great a risk to the successful staging of the event. It is a difficult conclusion to have reached and a regrettable one from the perspectives of both the ICC and Cricket Kenya, but with just eight months to go before the scheduled start, we could not proceed on the basis of hoping that everything would be ready next February.

"The ICC Under-19 World Cup is the highest profile event in the ICC’s development calendar. Coverage of the matches is broadcast all around the world, and it is a recognised stepping stone for players to graduate to full international level.

"We hope Kenya will be able to stage ICC events in the future and we are grateful to New Zealand Cricket for their offer to stage the tournament."

Posted by Charlie Randall
26/06/2009 18:10:47

Ryder illness could scupper NZ

NEW ZEALAND'S chances of winning the ICC Twenty20 dipped sharply when when Jesse Ryder was detained in hospital in London and ruled out of the tournament.

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Ireland took on New Zealand in the first day of the Super Eights at Trent Bridge on Thursday without having to face this intimidating left-hander, one of the world's best strikers of a cricket ball. Ross Taylor was ruled out with a hamstring strain, but the Irish were still heavily defeated.

New Zealand called up the Otago batsman Aaron Redmond as cover. Team manager Dave Currie said the diagnosis of Ryder's groin injury remained "unclear". A spokesman added: "It now seems likely that he is suffering from a significant infection. He has been in considerable discomfort, and medical advice is that he would certainly not be able to play in the Ireland game."

Redmond, already in the UK, joined the squad immediately. He was a leading performer in the latest domestic Twenty20 competition, finishing top run scorer including an innings of 100 not out from 58 balls.

Posted by Charlie Randall
10/06/2009 20:26:15

Samit Patel forced to be 'better'

ON TOUR WITH ENGLAND LIONS

THE England Lions tour of New Zealand in March produced controversy over Samit Patel -- more a lingering worry -- and did not garner the results that would have been expected, but the environment and matches provided valuable experience for all, despite cruelly limited opportunities for individuals to impress.

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Unlike many tours in the past, no one could be said to have ruled himself out of future consideration, but only a handful of players really gave their careers a boost. In my view Mark Davies, of Durham, was the only bowler to excel -- he really caught the eye, which would be no surprise to county members noting his ability in championship cricket.

The batting quality was quite high. Rob Key, the captain, and Steve Moore, the most prolific championship run-maker of 2008, did just enough, but the best on view proved to be Jonathan Trott and the all-rounders Luke Wright and Samit Patel. Another to take a step forward was Ben Scott, noticeably sound behind the stumps and maintaining his Middlesex improvement with the bat. Lack of experience weighed against the two junior tourists Eoin Morgan and Joe Denly.

Perhaps the most notable events of the trip happened off the field. Ravi Bopara and Amjad Khan were both promoted to the senior Test squad in the Caribbean on arrival in New Zealand, and Samit Patel was deselected from the one-day series on fitness grounds and had to stay behind. Bopara made a century in Barbados on his Test debut.

Patel did very well in New Zealand with an assertive century at Queenstown and 64 at Lincoln, though he bowled only a handful of overs of left-arm spin. He finished the tour with 64 in 36 balls in a crushing Twenty20 reverse at New Plymouth. The ECB acknowledged that the Nottinghamshire man had the required ability to play at the higher level, but they declined to make an exception to their fitness markings, a decision not without controversy.

Patel, naturally upset, said he was surprised at failing to reach the standard. He remained diplomatic in his comments, though his talk of returning as a "better person" sounded odd to me. The ECB were forcing everyone to conform, and it raised the question of degree. The management deserve support and credit for trying to raise performance levels, but surely they must avoid converting players to automatons.

The automaton topic had already arisen tellingly in New Zealand with the emergence of Jesse Ryder, a burly left-hander with fantastic talent. Ryder would not fit the ECB ideal. He looks bulky, and his attempts to have a normal pub social life in an abnormal life as a full-time cricketer have led to clashes with his New Zealand Cricket bosses. Shades of Andrew Flintoff here.

But Ryder, not dissimilar to Marcus Trescothick in batting style, has become absolutely crucial to Black Cap fortunes. While the Lions were touring the country he powered a majestic rampaging one-day ton against India at Auckland and followed it up with a back-to-the-wall Test century in the first innings at Hamilton, which avoided humiliation if not defeat. Then this week he smashed a double-hundred in the Test at Napier. Yet England would contemplate deselecting a man like this if they saw a set of figures that don't fit the norm.

The Lions trip offered only two first class matches, two one-dayers and a Twenty20 for anyone to make a point. Trott, of Warwickshire, excelled at No 3. He grafted to 138 not out under The Remarkables mountain range at Queenstown, finishing the tour's top run-maker with 271 in four innings and appending one-day scores of 94 and 48. And his medium-paced seamers looked more than useful.

Trott was still remembered with affection in New Zealand after a very successful season with Otago three years ago, and he met one of his old team-mates Chris Gaffaney in the Lions' first warm-up match at Christchurch. "He wandered into our dressing room carrying a box of balls and I wondered what on earth he was doing," said Trott before realising quickly that 'Gaff' had become a youthful umpire, fast-tracked by New Zealand Cricket.

It is encouraging for Sussex that Luke Wright sustained crisp, mature strokeplay for 55, 69 and 105 in his three Test innings before returning home to rest a sore ankle. It was just a pity that his nippy seam-bowling was not luckier and more penetrative. The ECB bowling coach Kevin Shine has been working, in co-operation with the Sussex coach Mark Robinson, to conjure up more outswerve. The Dukes ball on the county circuit should provide proof of any pudding this summer.

Morgan and Denly -- two outstanding prospects -- played one Test each. Morgan hit the ball very sweetly in two warm-up games, but he threw away his wicket twice, a mistake Moore did not make. It did not matter in the match context, but Morgan could have nailed down a place in both Tests against New Zealand A at Queenstown and Lincoln University, near Christchurch. The Irish left-hander had only one first class innings on the tour, which happened to be an uneventful score of 18. He made a typically livewire 74 off 60 balls in the first one-dayer at Palmerston North -- much more his scene before joining Ireland for the World Cup qualifying tournament in Johannesburg.

Denly was unlucky to damage a finger and miss a warm-up game so that he could not force his way into the first Test. Not everybody could play, and he became the easiest option to drop. In the second Test he tried to play shots too early on an awkward pitch, and the first half of his tour disappeared. His nice clean 68 off 78 balls in the second one-dayer revived his credibility no end.

The Lions were robbed of a Test series win when they were held to a draw at Lincoln, shocked an extraordinary undefeated hundred by a local 'unknown' Iain Robertson, batting at No 8 as a last-day replacement for the promoted Ewen Thompson. But, without Davies and Wright, the Lions were thrashed in the two one-dayers at Palmerston North and in the Twenty20 by New Zealand A sides containing hardened mature players.

The pitches proved reasonably responsive to seam-bowling while lacking 'carry' and only Davies -- and Arnel for New Zealand -- seemed able to turn this to an advantage. Robbie Joseph had a reasonable game in his one Test, at Queenstown, and was taken to the cleaners along with his colleagues in the one-day matches by assertive hundreds from Peter Ingram and Jamie Marshall, twin brother of the Gloucestershire batsman Hamish.

The arrival of Graham Napier for the one-dayers did strengthen the Lions, and he enhanced his own prospects with 77 off 41 balls in the first game. At the age of 29, the all-rounder would probably do well for England if selected. As Sussex know all too well from their Twenty20 encounter at Chelmsford last year, anyone who can score 152 not out in 55 balls must have some sort of ability.

If Napier has a good England chance in the one-day format, so must Morgan. The Dubliner faces an important year after the Lions tour, starting with Ireland's World Cup qualifier. As a very strong fielder, he seems up to the mark for England at 50 overs or 20 overs. So his Middlesex season becomes expecially important.

Morgan, 22, gained from his experience in New Zealand. "I got an impression of the way things are in regard to playing against a Test-playing nation by testing myself against their second XI," he said. "It gave me a good indicator as to where I am at the moment and where I need to improve, and how to go about it."

"I've made a lot of good friends on the toure and gained good experience with the guys I've played with, such as Rob Key and Stephen Moore. The memories are certainhly ones I will cherish and hopefully gain from it in the future."

The tour was not as tough physically for Morgan as might be expected. "It wasn't that arduous really because I am quite used to being away for a long time with Ireland. I enjoy getting away and seeing other countries. The Lions tour -- any England tour -- was something I looked forward to when I was growing up as a child, with the dream of following the paths of guys like Thorpe and Stewart.

"I think I have come a long way in the last year or so in county cricket and obviously being recognised to come on the Lions tour. I played an England A game last year, so I certainly think I'm going in the right direction.

"At Middlesex I can hopefully see us progressing in the Division Two championship. The unknown we have at the moment is a young batting line-up, which is strengthened by Phil Hughes as our overseas batsman from Australia. We have plenty of talent, and hopefully it will bring a lot of success."

FIRST TEST Queenstown, March 1-4

Match drawn:

England Lions 493-5 dec (J Trott 138 not out, S Patel 101, R Key 89, L Wright 55, S Moore 43) & 158-1 (R Key 66 not out, J Trott 75 not out).

New Zealand A 430 (J How 190 not out, J Franklin 92, P Ingram 73; M Davies 29-13-54-4)

SECOND TEST Christchurch March 7-10

Match drawn

England Lions 346 (L Wright 69, S Patel 64, G Batty 64; E Thompson 4-98) & 353-9 dec (L Wright 105, J Trott 51, B Scott 47, S Moore 41, R Key 38; J Franklin 3-56)

New Zealand A 243 (Young 71, Thompson 60; Davies 4-47, Batty 3-51) & 393-9 (I Robertson 107*, A Redmond 55, K Williamson 48, D Flynn 45, P Fulton 45; S Mahmood 3-118)

ONE-DAYERS

Palmerston North, March 14:

New Zealand A 373-6 (50 overs; P Ingram 135, S Stewart 59, N McCullum 50*; G Napier 3-74)

England Lions 335 (48.1 overs; J Trott 94, G Napier 77, O Morgan 74, R Key 44)

England Lions lost by 35 runs

Palmerston North, March 16

England Lions 284-9 (50 overs; J Denly 68, J Trott 48, B Scott 31)

New Zealand A 285-4 (46.1 overs; J Marshall 125* G Hopkins 66; L Plunkett 2-33)

England Lions lost by six wickets

TWENTY20 MATCH

New Plymouth, March 19

New Zealand A 227-6 (20 overs; S Stewart 88, G Hopkins 41)

England Lions 143 (16.4 overs; S Patel 64)

Lions lost by 83 runs

Posted by Charlie Randall
27/03/2009 17:37:12

Steve Moore itching for big time

THE Worcestershire opener Steve Moore says he is frustrated at the lack of opportunity for new players to break into England’s top order. And he has a good point.

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Though Moore, 28, was no doubt pleased to be selected for the recent England Lions tour of New Zealand through his eye-catching 2008 county season, England's senior batting line-up remained firmly set, if not quite in concrete. The dropping of Ian Bell for Owais Shah in the West Indies seemed a seismic change after so long with the same faces.

Interviewed in the April issue of The Wisden Cricketer magazine Moore talked about the lack of England success. "I think quite a few of us now are scratching our heads at some of the selections that are being made," he said. "There are definitely guys around, saying, ‘Well, we’re not winning many competitions, we’re middle of the table in world cricket and we’re not seeing new faces and others being given an opportunity. That is frustrating."

After giving the interview Moore would have been please that Steve Davies, Ravi Bopara and Amjad Khan were summoned from the England lions to the West Indies, where Bopara and Khan made Test debuts. The fact that Bopara hit a century on debut reinforced Moore's case.

Moore, the championship's leading run-scorer last summer with 1,288 runs at 53.66, added: "One of the most important things selectors can do is make people believe that the opportunity for the next step, to play for your country – which everyone playing county cricket should be trying to strive for – is available.

"It’s only going to be available to you if you perform at a superior level to other people in county cricket and put pressure on England players. But, if I sat here and said we we’re all happy with the situation, I’d be lying. Of course we’re not. That hasn’t changed. We’re not winning Test series. Guys aren’t averaging 50-plus."

Moore, 28, said his main hope was for English success, but asked: "Where does England see itself? What sort of cricket side does it want to be? It’s about giving guys the opportunity to perform at Test level and, if they’re not performing, then giving others the chance."

The New Zealand selectors decided to promote seamer bowler Brent Arnel, 30, to their Test squad against India for a possible debut on the basis of his form against the Lions. Last summer he played club cricket for Beckenham, Rob Key's old club.

CHARLIE SAYS: I have just returned from covering the England Lions in New Zealand, a tour shamefully ignored for coverage by the national daily newspapers, even though there was interaction with the senior Caribbean party -- not to mention the deselection of Samit Patel from the West Indies one-day series for fitness reasons.

Though Moore immpressed as a character and strong back-foot player, he did not score the runs he shoud have. His scores against New Zealand A in the two drawn four-dayers at Queenstown and Christchurch were 43 & 11, 22 & 41. Nevertheless he looked good enough for Test cricket to me.

Posted by Charlie Randall
20/03/2009 16:48:14

Montgomerie back in Sussex

THE former Sussex opener Richard Montgomerie, now an Eton College teacher, returns to professional cricket for a day when he turns out for the MCC against the New Zealand touring side at Arundel on Sunday.

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'Monty' retired after his third county championship title at Hove at the end of last season and makes an appearance back in Sussex for the opening tour match under the captaincy of Chris Cairns, the former New Zealand all-rounder and three players facing their fellow countrymen. He will be joined by Nathan Astle and Rob Nicol, the Auckland batsman and former MCC Young Cricketer.

Darren Bicknell, fresh from his 'pink ball' heroics at Lord's, where he scored 132 not out to win the match against Scotland, will once again open the batting for MCC. Adding further international experience to the team will be Steve Elworthy, the former South Africa fast bowler, Paul Nixon, John Stephenson, Min Patel and former Zimbabwe all-rounder Sean Ervine, of Hampshire.

Tickets will be available on the gates at Arundel at £20 for adults, £15 for over-60s and under-18s; children under five free.

MCC (v New Zealanders at Arundel Park, April 27)

Darren Bicknell (ex Nottinghamshire)

Hylton Ackerman (Leicestershire)

Richard Montgomerie (ex Sussex)

Rob Nicol (Auckland)

Nathan Astle (ex New Zealand)

Sean Ervine (Hampshire, Zimbabwe)

Chris Cairns (capt, ex New Zealand)

John Stephenson (ex Essex, Hampshire and England)

Paul Nixon (wkt, Leicestershire and England)

Steve Elworthy (ex-South Africa)

Min Patel (ex-Kent and England)

Posted by Charlie
24/04/2008 15:23:55

Strauss taking Harmie risk

ANDREW Strauss has signed to play for the Hamilton-based Northern Districts for a couple of months before England’s tour to New Zealand, which starts in February.

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It seems a decent idea but is a potential double-edged sword. Rather like Steve Harmison and his two matches in South Africa last month, Strauss, 30, will be hoping to score loads of runs for Districts and Northern Knights and might well end up achieving the opposite. Harmison, while proving his fitness, was devoid of form with the ball for Highveld Lions.

Strauss might not score runs, but he has the chance to make a good case for England selection under the guidance of Knights coach Andy Moles, the former Warwickshire batsman.

Posted by Charlie Randall
05/12/2007 18:51:12

Kenyans Set Up for England

St Lucia: New Zealand 331-7 (R Taylor 85, C McMillan 68, S Styris 63, S Fleming 60) Kenya 183 (49.2 overs; R Shah 71, T Odoyo 42). NZ won by 148 runs.

KENYA are due to play England -- now 14/1 shots with Ladbrokes -- for the second qualifying spot at Beausejour on Saturday, so it was interesting to see whether the Africans could stretch New Zealand and suggest they could produce a surprise against Duncan Fletcher’s nightclub gang, with or without pedalos.

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Kenya were absolutely demolished by the intense professionalism of the New Zealanders. It was difficult to establish how well or badly Kenya played. Their bowling was tidier than Canada’s, and they dropped Scott Styris quite early in his innings, but the Black Caps batted deep. And in the field they were electric, never letting up for a minute in support of an attack led by Shane Bond, the ICC top-ranked one-day bowler.

On the evidence of two group games New Zealand must have a chance of going all the way to the final, because they did not seem to have a weakness. They lost Lou Vincent in the day’s first over, edging an outswinger to second slip, but after that they built an unstoppable momentum, culminating with Craig McMillan’s 68 off 43 balls.

This lovely stadium was almost empty at the start, but hundreds of schoolchildren filtered in as the day progressed. Kenya never looked like challenging such a high total amid rain showers, though Ravi Shah – once of North Mymms CC in Hertfordshire – batted very nicely for 71.
Kenya’s bowlers were intimidated by some aggressive batting and they could probably do better, especially the spinners.

Posted by Charlie Randall
20/03/2007 23:41:43

England's clubbers fined

St Lucia: England 209-7 (50 overs; K Pietersen 60, P Nixon 42*) New Zealand 210-4 (41 overs; S Styris 87*, J Oram 63*).

AN unspecified number of England players, later confirmed as six, have been fined by the coach Duncan Fletcher today for what the management described as a “breach of discipline” – going to a nightclub -- after the six-wicket defeat by New Zealand in their opening World Cup group match at St Lucia on Friday.

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England’s performance at Beausejour was so weak that Ladbrokes pushed their odds out to 12/1 immediately after the game. The stadium looked an absolute picture nestling in the green hills of Gros Islet, especially when viewed from the West Indies Board president’s seating. The outfield was perfectly manicured, the ground management was good and a sell-out crowd of 18,000 was determined to enjoy a tense day’s cricket. The sense of anti-climax grew overwhelming as the afternoon wore on.

CHARLIE SAYS: The behaviour of these professional sportsmen was ridiculous in that England faced another match only two days later – apart from the PR goof, which suggested to the public they did not care about the result. The Beausejour announcer drew attention to the next match after the New Zealand debacle with some unwittingly appropriate words: “Hope to see you on Sunday when England will battle against Canada.” England should not HAVE to battle against the Canadians, but no doubt they will achieve the right result, even if some chaps are a bit dehydrated. Anyway, they have little hope of defeating any of the fancied teams while Duncan Fletcher selects such a vulnerable top three.

Ed Joyce slashed heedlessly at the second ball of the match, Ian Bell got bogged down – as so often – and Michael Vaughan again showed how ineffective he was at this format, especially on a slow, low pitch. Joyce was certainly a better prospect than Andrew Strauss – rightly dropped – but England, 8/1 chances before the game, lacked menace as overs ticked by, and Kevin Pietersen yet again had to shoulder the burden. A challenging total never seemed likely.
 
On a personal note, charlierandallcricket has been frozen for a few days. On my return from Bangladesh, I had to recover from my attack of labrynthitis (see Monkey’s Paw) and prepare immediately to fly out to St Lucia, via Barbados, as a guest of the island’s World Cup director Ernest Hilaire.

AND CHARLIE CONTINUES: As there were no early seats available on the day from Barbados to St Lucia, I was booked on the 2pm Liat flight with the prospect of seeing the New Zealand innings, having watched England’s first couple of hours on television in Barbados. Unfortunately the plane landed 15 minutes late at Vigie airport, and my baggage was lost, causing considerable delay. In fact I had to queue nine times to complete the 40-minute journey, including baggage reclaim for a suitcase that missed the plane. The computer power lead absent in my suitcase meant charlierandallcricket could not be accessed.

As the absolute last passenger at customs green exit, with no suitcase for a customs search, I was left hopping up and down with frustration while the two officials on duty tooth-combed several luggage items of two passengers in front. It was 10 minutes before a supervisor took pity and waved me through. After registering lost luggage with Liat, another lengthy wait, I was ushered into a courtesy taxi. Near the ground I switched to another taxi, who had my match ticket, and then came another switch to the World Cup VIP shuttle bus. On arrival I saw Kevin Pietersen drop Scott Styris, quite an easy catch, and dozed while New Zealand sauntered to victory with a string of easy singles. The St Lucia hospitality was splendid. It was good to meet Les Ferdinand, an England footballer of St Lucian stock and a player I have always admired.

Posted by Charlie Randall
17/03/2007 19:52:41
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