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Jan 20, 2009

Pakistan brace for record-breaking Muralitharan, Mendis

Sri Lankan spin magicians Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis loom as major threats for Pakistan in their three-match one-day series which opens here Tuesday.

The 36-year-old Muralitharan, already the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket with 769, will have the extra motivation of overhauling the tally of one-day wickets, currently held by Pakistan's Wasim Akram with 502.

The wily off-spinner needs just nine wickets to become the highest wicket-taker in both forms of the game.

But the unorthodox Mendis holds more challenges for the home team.

The 23-year-old army officer is not a big turner of the ball like his more illustrious partner Muralitharan, but the key to his success is the way he grips the ball with his fingers and flicks it to bowl a variety of deliveries.

Last week he became the quickest bowler to get 50 wickets in one-day cricket, having made his debut only last year.

In his only match against Pakistan, Mendis took four wickets. He then took six wickets in the very next match against India to help Sri Lanka win the Asia Cup here in July last year.

But Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam said his team were geared up to counter the twin-spin threat.

"We have devised our plans how to tackle Mendis. I can't tell you the details as it's not for public consumption," said Intikhab, himself a former leg-spinner of repute.

"He is not conventional at all. He has the offie, a leggie, a flipper. Some say play him from the hand, some say off the pitch. But the thing is he's quick, so whatever we do, we have to decide properly," he said.

"We will definitely be positive and attack him."

Pakistan's first plan is to outwit Sri Lanka with pace as they named six fast bowlers in their squad of 15 with fit-again Shoaib Akhtar leading the pack.

Akhtar, 33, missed all matches in Pakistan's 3-0 win against the West Indies at Abu Dhabi in November last year.

The home team can also take heart from Sri Lanka's unimpressive batting despite winning the tri-series in Bangladesh last week.

Pakistan hastily arranged the one-day series with Sri Lanka after India pulled out of a planned tour amid hightened political tension in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

The second match will be played here on Wednesday, while the final match is in Lahore on Saturday.

Teams (from):

Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Salman Butt, Younus Khan, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Sohail Tanvir, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar, Saeed Ajmal, Khurram Manzoor, Sohail Khan, Yasir Arafat, Umar Amin

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Chamara Kapugedera, Jehan Mubarak, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilina Kandamby, Muthiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Farveez Maharoof, Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Kulasekara, Thilan Thushara, Angelo Mathews

Umpires: Nigel Llong (ENG), Nadeem Ghouri (PAK)

TV umpire: Ahsan Raza (PAK)

Match referee: Chris Broad (ENG)

Jan 12, 2009

Debutant Warner destroys South Africa

David Warner made one of the most memorable international debuts imaginable as he lit up the MCG with 89 from 43 balls to set up Australia's 52-run win over South Africa. Not even a superb 78 from JP Duminy could rescue South Africa's chase and he watched his partners fall around him as they fizzled out for 130 in the 18th over.

The crowd appreciated Duminy's brilliance, particularly when he scooped a Shaun Tait half-volley over the wicketkeeper's head for six, but it was Warner who was undeniably the star of the show. It was an incredible situation for a man previously so unknown that the scoreboard operators didn't have a photo of him when the teams were displayed.

Warner, 22, had already created history by simply playing the match; he was the first man to debut for Australia in any format without first-class experience since 1877. It's a fair bet he might get a game for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield after this performance.

His innings featured six sixes, including a paddle over fine-leg off Dale Steyn and Warner's personal favourite, a baseball-style slog over midwicket off the same bowler. What made the strikes even more impressive was that they were the first two deliveries Warner faced from Steyn, the man who caused Australia so much trouble in the Test series.

Warner raced to his half-century from 19 deliveries and it was the second-fastest in Twenty20 internationals, behind the brutal 12-ball effort of Yuvraj Singh when he put Stuart Broad away for six sixes in an over. The previous quickest for Australia was a comparatively unhurried 25-ball display from Andrew Symonds two years ago.

South Africa's bowlers simply didn't know where to bowl to Warner. A tiny man at 170 centimetres, he was so strong on the leg-side that one six off Jacques Kallis more resembled a home run as it threatened to reach the second tier of the Ponsford Stand before falling just short. It was a sight that must have pleased the IPL Delhi Daredevils, who signed Warner last month on the strength of a couple of blitzes at state level.

When the fast men tried to force him to play through the off side he demonstrated equal proficiency there. One cut for four off Kallis was so finely placed that Warner, who could hardly see daylight between the men at point and backward point, managed to split them. He also demonstrated his cricket brain by driving twos regularly when the field was back.

His breathtaking effort finally came to a close when he holed out to long-on off Makhaya Ntini, who had been on the wrong end of two consecutive sixes from Warner in the third over of the match. In the end South Africa did well to keep Australia relatively quiet following Warner's departure.

David Hussey (19) and Luke Ronchi, who made 11, were caught before they could reach full flight, and Ntini and Albie Morkel chipped in for two wickets each before Steyn finished things off with 3 for 38. Fortunately for Australia, South Africa's effort was just as uneven.

Apart from Duminy's effort, their chase never quite got back on track following the second over of the innings, a particularly nasty one from Tait in his first international match in nearly a year. No delivery in his first over was slower than 150kph. His first ball was a vicious 152kph bouncer that whacked Kallis on the shoulder but worse was to come for AB de Villiers.

Tait dug in a 155.4kph delivery short of a length, de Villiers looked to pull and bottom-edged the ball onto his hip. As he folded in pain, he lowered his bat in the follow-through and crashed it into his stumps. Hit wicket is an unfortunate dismissal at any time but it was a particularly embarrassing exit for de Villiers as he hobbled off clearly in pain with a bruised hip, although South Africa were hopeful of him making a quick recovery.

Nathan Bracken, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Hopes and David Hussey all chipped in for wickets and the scorecard was so lopsided that besides Duminy, no batsman passed 12. Duminy was outstanding and, apart from his six off Tait, he played much more typical cricket strokes than Warner.

A cover-driven four off Tait proved to Duminy's team-mates that the fastest man in the match was playable, and a straight-drive to the boundary off Hilfenhaus would on most days have been the shot of the match. His half-century took 35 deliveries but as the required run-rate ballooned, so did his risk-taking increase, until he was lbw to Hussey trying a lavish reverse-sweep.

The finish came when Tait rattled the stumps of Lonwabo Tsotsobe with 12 balls remaining. Tait's fiery 2 for 36 was just as impressive a sign for Australia as Warner's display. Australia retained their unbeaten record in Twenty20 internationals at home, and will look to continue their dominance when the teams meet again at the Gabba on Tuesday.

Jan 2, 2009

Smith out of ODI series with an elbow injury

Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, has been ruled out of this month's one-day series against Australia because of an ongoing elbow injury, coach Mickey Arthur said. Smith's participation in the final Test in Sydney which starts on Saturday is also not confirmed, though Arthur rated him a "90%" chance to play.

"It's unfortunate to lose your captain but we need to give him the best opportunity of being ready for the Test series in South Africa (against Australia starting on February 26 in Johannesburg)," Arthur said. He said Smith had batted through enormous pain in the two Tests last month, getting by on cortisone injections.

He said the operation hadn't been performed in South Africa before and may need to be done in Australia first, with a second injection back home in South Africa.

"We want him to get right for the home series and we think by sending him home straight away (after the Tests) and getting these injections, it will give him the best opportunity of being ready for the Test series in South Africa."

The spinner Johan Botha, who led the side during ODIs against Kenya and Bangladesh in November, will captain the one-day team and opener Neil McKenzie will stay on after the Tests as a standby batsman.

Australia's five-match one-day series against South Africa starts in Melbourne on January 16, preceded by two Twenty20 games on January 11 and 13 at the MCG and the Gabba.

Upbeat Bangladesh look to scare Sri Lanka again

Bangladesh hope to continue the promise they showed in the first Test against Sri Lanka when the second match starts here on Saturday.

The hosts gave the formidable Sri Lankans a fright in the Dhaka Test when chasing an improbable target of 521, scoring a creditable 413 before falling 107 runs short.

Skipper Mohammad Ashraful's 101 and Shakib Al Hasan's 96 on a wearing wicket helped Bangladesh record the 11th-best fourth-innings total by any team in the history of the game.

Sri Lanka won the Test for a 1-0 lead in the two-match series due to spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan's 10-190 -- his 22nd haul of 10 or more wickets in a match.

Ashraful was confident of another good showing by his under-rated nation, which has lost 51 of its 58 Tests so far, with six draws and a lone victory against lowly Zimbabwe.

"This is the first match of the new year and we want to play good cricket and start afresh on a positive note," he said.

Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene, who hit a match-winning 166 at Dhaka, goes into his 100th Test match needing just 74 runs to cross the 8,000-run milestone.

"There is no pressure on me because of these records," said the 31-year-old, who is already Sri Lanka's highest run scorer in Tests.

"I am just proud to have played for my country for so long.

"We are focused on beating Bangladesh here and win the series 2-0. They played very well in Dhaka and I expect they will fight hard here as well."

The Test series will be followed by a triangular one-day tournament in Dhaka from January 10 with Zimbabwe as the third team.

Sri Lanka (from): Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Malinda Warnapura, Michael Vandort, Kumar Sangakkara, Thilan Samaraweera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Prasanna Jayawardene, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Rangana Herath, Dammika Prasad, Chamara Kapugedera, Farveez Maharoof, Dilhara Fernando, Thilan Thushara, Ajantha Mendis.

Bangladesh (from): Mohammad Ashraful (capt), Mashrafe Mortaza, Tamim Iqbal, Junaid Siddique, Imrul Kayes, Raqibul Hasan, Mehrab Hossain, Shakib Al Hasan, Rajin Saleh, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shahadat Hossain, Enamul Haque, Mahbubul Alam, Sajidul Islam.