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Yuvraj Singh – A Remarkable, Inspirational Return To Cricket

Yuvraj Singh – a winner on and off the pitch

This weekend sees the return to cricket of Indian batsman Yuvraj Singh as India take on New Zealand in two Twenty20 Internationals ahead of the ICC World T20. The first game is in Visakhapatnam on 8th September and the second is in Chennai on 11th September.

Nothing remarkable about that, you might think as players recover from injury and return every day. However, not many do what Yuvraj has done, which is to fight, and beat, cancer, then make his way back to international cricket. It is a story that has echoes in what Lance Armstrong was able to achieve, although Yuvraj has still to write his final on-field chapters.

Yuvraj Singh

Yuvraj Singh © REUTERS / Action Images

He was diagnosed with a lung tumour last year – not long after the World Cup final, in fact – and subsequently underwent treatment in America before finally being given the all-clear in March.

Words hardly do justice to the magnitude of what he has undergone and what he will achieve, simply by turning up to the ground along with his team-mates ready to don the blue shirt once again.

He is arguably best known for hitting Stuart Broad for six sixes in one over in 2007 and winning the World Cup last year, but he has had to face up to something far more deadly than a fast bowler or a batsman trying to hit him out of the park.

His illness, and the humility he showed during each phase of it, gave sports fans around the world a sense of perspective. Yes, winning World Cups and blasting the ball hundreds of metres is great, but at the end of the day, there are more pressing things to worry about.

He was cheered royally when he attended a Pune Warriors game in this year’s Indian Premier League and he will doubtless receive a rapturous ovation the next time he walks out to bat. More than perhaps any other cricketer, he deserves it.

Already, cricketers have offered their congratulations to this remarkable competitor:

@yuvstrong12 Hey buddy, good luck tomorrow re being back on the field, very proud of you & your determination..Well done champion…

— Shane Warne (@warne888) September 7, 2012


Who Will Prevail In England-Australia ODI Series?

The England cricket team begin a five-match One-Day International series against Australia at Lord’s on Friday and they will be expecting a bigger challenge than that laid down by the West Indies.

The bookmakers agree, having made both sides 10/11 to win the series – and that is despite an England player scoring a century in their last six completed ODIs.

Australia, as outlined by Peter Such below, are indeed a team in transition but can never be underestimated and with David Warner and Brett Lee looking in ominous form, it could be a fascinating series.

England are essentially unchanged. Although they made changes for the final ODI against the West Indies, resting three of their frontline bowlers, the game was washed out, so it is as you were.

There was a small possibility that Australia would go on strike and not take part in this tour. Fortunately the only strikes we will be talking about will be those registered by players’ bats and the balls onto the stumps.

There has been some adverse reaction to the series taking place at all, with a series of ODIs seen as unnecessary by some, particularly with the much-anticipated England-South Africa Test series also looming on the horizon. Neither side will be worried about that and will be firmly concentrating on the here and now.

We will be offering our thoughts during a Mr Predictor later this week but what do you think will be the outcome? Such thinks it will be a tough series for England, although they beat Australia when they were over here in 2010. Is a repeat performance on the cards?

Why You Can’t Take Your Eye Off The IPL 2012 Action

IPL 2012 – IPL 5 – Latest Action Is Eye-Catching Stuff

This is proving to be a very difficult Indian Premier League season to predict. Both myself and my colleague Alastair Symondson have struggled during our Mr Predictor TV shows, and one comment left for us on YouTube advised us, quite fairly, to forget about thinking about giving up the day job.

Yesterday’s games were no exceptions. The Rajasthan Royals and the Royal Challengers Bangalore snatched victories from positions where they appeared down and out. While I have to admit I never completely ruled the Royals out given the pedigree of Brad Hodge, right up until Saurabh Tiwary hit the winning six for the Challengers, I had that one down as a Pune win.

There was a slight mid-innings wobble and then they imploded in the final over but otherwise they were on top throughout. A key difference between those two games was the standard of fielding.

Deccan Chargers coach Darren Lehmann came out afterwards and described his team’s performance in the field as ‘like an under-14 team’ and he was about right. The run chase started and ended with shocking misfields and there were two bad drops mixed in as well.

Conversely, in the evening game, both sides fielded outstandingly and there was some brilliant batting from the likes of Robin Uthappa, Chris Gayle and then AB de Villiers at the death, who played some extraordinary strokes. He looked to have been left with too much to do but in the end timed his charge perfectly.

One of Chris Gayle’s sixes injured a young fan and it was a lovely touch from the Jamaican to pay them a visit after the game. We often use terms such as ‘bruising’ and describe innings that ‘hurt’ an opposition in a metaphorical sense but when the IPL is in full flow, it isn’t just the fielders that are at risk – it is the umpires and the fans as well.

For one reason or another, you cannot take your eye off the action.


A Weekend Of High Octane IPL 2012 Action

IPL 2012 – IPL 5 – Weekend Provides Thrills And Spills

What a fascinating weekend’s action in the Indian Premier League. While we here in the UK slowed down a little for an extended weekend, there was no sign of much slowing down in India.

While few would have been too surprised to see the Mumbai Indians making the early running with two wins out of three, the appearance of Rajasthan Royals and Pune Warriors alongside them will come as something of a surprise.

Astutely led by Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly respectively, their rise to prominence has given the tournament an added dimension and it could turn out to be the most open yet.

It just needs the Kings XI Punjab to pull out some performances and then all teams might think they are in with a chance of a play-off place. Early days yet though.

Initially I didn’t think the Kings XI should be too concerned after they hit more than 160 in their opening game but lost but they have some issues with their bowling which need to put right, and swiftly, else they’ll find themselves in trouble.

The game of the weekend was probably the Mumbai-Deccan encounter which had a bit of everything. Excellent batting from Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, outstanding bowling from Dale Steyn and plenty of controversy.

Should Kumar Sangakkara have been given out? Yes. Should players crowd and hararss the umpires when a mistake has been made? No. Therefore, a fine for Munaf Patel and a warning for Harbhajan are a step in the right direction.

It is no good simply to sign a Spirit of Cricket charter prior to the tournament. The players are rightly expected to subsequently uphold the values of the game and can have no complaints when they are pulled up for transgressing the code of conduct.

Kevon Cooper is fast proving to be the bargain buy of the tournament although Chennai will have been delighted to have seen their big buy Ravindra Jadeja produce an excellent all-round performance as they thrashed the Chargers.

The Deccan side can consider themselves unlucky to still be looking for their first point but lacked the quality at the death to close out the match against Mumbai, who even without Sachin Tendulkar, will undoubtedly be there or thereabouts come the business end of the tournament.

As will Bangalore, for whom AB de Villiers looks in prime touch and although Chris Gayle hasn’t scored big runs in today’s game, their new signing Muttiah Muralitharan is looking like a shrewd purchase.

What have been your highlights of the opening week’s action in the IPL?

IPL 2012 – Mumbai & Delhi Make Strong Early Impression

IPL 2012 – IPL 5 – Mumbai, Delhi Impress As Chennai, Kolkata Disappoint

The opening two matches of the Indian Premier League 2012 have set the ball rolling for the tournament. Reigning champions Chennai Super Kings were well beaten by the Mumbai Indians before the Kolkata Knight Riders were beaten by the Delhi Daredevils.

Two wins then, for the away sides, and wins for the sides that went into the game as the underdogs – Mumbai because of Chennai’ strength at home and Delhi because they are without their star batsmen in Mahela Jayawardene, David Warner and Kevin Pietersen.

Irfan Pathan wrote his own script and his innings of 42 in 20 balls was my highlight of the first two games. As well as Richard Levi played in spanking 50 in 35 balls for Mumbai, Pathan was under pressure. He had no option but to accelerate when he did but the grace with which he lifted three sixes into the crowd showed just how well he managed the situation.

The 12 overs per side game turned out to be something of a thriller as at the halfway point, Kolkata’s score of 97 never looked enough but after Virender Sehwag and Aaron Finch fell within six balls of one another, we had a game on our hands.

Delhi missed one chance in the field but were otherwise outstanding. Kolkata needed everything to stick and get early wickets and once they failed in the latter, Delhi were always likely to come through.

Chennai were also not at their best in the field while Mumbai were excellent. Any team that loses three wickets to run outs will struggle, particularly if key players such as Francois du Plessis and Mahendra Singh Dhoni depart in this fashion.

Both sides are likely to bounce back but should Mumbai win today’s game against the Pune Warriors, they will quickly emerge as everyone’s favourites for the title with two wins out of two under their belt.

It would be sensible to remember that they have started well in the past and faded as the tournament went on. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

IPL 2012 – Who Are The Main Contenders To Topple Chennai?

IPL 2012 – IPL 5 – The Cricket World Descends On India

The fifth edition of the Indian Premier League gets underway tomorrow and will doubtless dominate the headlines for the next seven weeks as the world’s best cricketers descend on India for the IPL 2012.

Chennai Super Kings

Chennai Super Kings are looking for three titles in a row - © REUTERS / Action Images

Reigning champions the Chennai Super Kings are chasing their third staight title as Mahendra Singh Dhoni aims to put recent troubles with the Test team behind him and claim another trophy.

The Super Kings are expected to face stiff challenges from the Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Delhi Daredevils although such is the frenetic and unpredictable nature of Twenty20 any franchise, if they get off to a good start, or find a purple patch at some point in the tournament, could make an outside bid for glory.

Remember, there weren’t many of us who predicted victories in the first two tournaments for the Rajasthan Royals or the Deccan Chargers.

Since then, the powerhouses of Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai have been the dominant forces. Can this be the year that Delhi, the Kings XI Punjab or the Kolkata Knight Riders put together a consistent challenge?

The Pune Warriors have been rocked by the loss of Yuvraj Singh but in Sourav Ganguly, Tamim Iqbal and Michael Clarke they appear to have recruited well and may spring a surprise or two.

With players coming and going throughout the tournament as international cricket continues, the team that manages its resources best will be the champions.

Let us know who you think will win and who you are looking forward to seeing in this year’s tournament. We’ll update this post with the first of our IPL 2012 podcasts later today and a Mr Predictor IPL 2012 special.

What Now For England After Fourth Defeat In A Row?

Spin 4-0 England – Should Strauss/Flower Stick Or Twist?

It has not been the recent way with England’s cricket team to lose four games in a row. However unlucky they might feel they have been to do so, the facts are what they are. They have failed to win a Test this winter and are in danger of losing their status as the world’s best Test team.

Particularly in Sri Lanka, they have made errors of judgement at key times in the game and committed basic mistakes. If you want to beat any team at home, let alone Sri Lanka when Mahela Jayawardene is in full flow, you can’t afford to drop catches and bowl no balls that result in wicket-taking deliveries.

Even before the match had finished, Andrew Strauss was already coming under pressure in some quarters – see our interview with David Lloyd for just one example – and he isn’t alone.

Sri Lanka Celebrate As England Lose Again

Sri Lanka Celebrate As England Lose Again - REUTERS / Action Images

Only Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell held their hands up with the bat during the match but not one batsman has truly excelled this winter. Eoin Morgan made way for Samit Patel as England’s management team finally decided to play a five-bowler attack.

Given how well the bowlers (in general) performed and how poorly (again, in general terms) the batsmen performed, was that the right move? For all his improvement as a bowler and with the bat, is Monty Panesar’s fielding still holding him and the team back? You might argue a similar case for Patel but he is technically as accomplished a batsman as Ravi Bopara or Morgan, the players he finds himself in competition with.

England now need to make some important decisions ahead of the second Test. Some of the batsmen who are selected will be playing for their positions come the summer.

But is it time for sweeping changes once the team returns home, or should the players who got England to the top of the Test rankings be trusted to either keep them there or get them back there, depending on the result in Colombo?

Is it time for Strauss to stand aside and let Alastair Cook take over the ropes? Should England be looking to the next generation and players like James Taylor and Jonathan Bairstow to be putting Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell under serious pressure?

Let us know what you think by leaving us a comment below. You can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Rahul Dravid – Farewell To A Cricketing Colussus

Rahul Dravid – ‘The Wall’ – Retires

Rahul Dravid, one of Indian cricket’s most celebrated stalwarts, captains and fielders has called time on a distinguished international career. He was as classy a batsman as he is a dignified and eloquent man. Five-day cricket will miss him greatly.

The numbers bear testament to just how important a cog he has been in India’s run-gathering machine which, during his career, reached the top of the Test rankings and won both ODI and T20I World Cups.

504 times he has represented India in international cricket (163 Tests, 340 ODIs and a solitary T20 last year against England) and scored over 24,000 international runs.

While Tendulkar, Laxman, Sehwag and others have thrilled crowds with explosive innings, on so many occasions they have been given the foundations to play their strokes because it is Dravid, be it at number three or opening the batting, who has ground down the bowlers’ resolve. He has been the man that when a match needs winning, or a tricky run chase is in the offing, you would want batting for you.

A sense of extraordinary calm pervaded everything he did on the field – and he did pretty much everything, from batting through taking hundreds of catches at slip, to wicket-keeping, to leading the side and even turning his arm over in the early days – and he always looked like he had so much time at the crease.

Perhaps his finest hour was in Kolkata in 2001 when he and Laxman contrived to help India beat Australia after following on. Yet he can look back on an international career full of outstanding innings and you won’t find many, if any people who have a bad word to say about him.

I was at the press conference at Sussex in 2007 when Dravid, along with Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar, declared they would not play Twenty20 cricket for India, as it was a ‘young man’s game’. Given how the likes of that trio, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and many others have subsequently forged impressive second careers in the IPL, it was a rare error of judgment from the man known as ‘The Wall’.

The fact that he played international cricket for one of the best teams in the world for almost 15 years is a more than adequate reminder of just how good a player he was. He will leave an enormous set of pads to fill – whenever he decides to call it a day.

In 20 years, when Twenty20 cricket will perhaps rule the world, future generations will look at Dravid’s career statistics and simply will not understand how much of a colussus he was. I consider myself lucky to have seen a master craftsman in action and I wish him the very best in retirement.

What are your memories of Dravid’s illustrious career? How much will India miss him? And will his retirement heap extra pressure on Sachin Tendulkar?

Cook Leads England’s ODI Revival – A New Dawn Or A False One?

England’s one-day cricket performances in the last week have provided a refreshing change for fans who were dismayed by the 3-0 Test series defeat to Pakistan.

Alastair Cook

England captain Alastair Cook has led by example for his side in the UAE © REUTERS / Action Images

Alastair Cook has led from the front and by becoming the first England captain to score back-to-back ODI centuries has firmly delivered another riposte – if one was needed – to lingering critics of his suitability for the limited overs side.

Steven Finn has taken consistency to a new level by twice returning figures of four for 34, Ravi Bopara has batted with a new-found maturity to score two important half-centuries and Samit Patel has been a match-changer with the ball and in the field.

Two wins do not, however, make a world-beating team, but could this series be a new dawn for England’s one-day side? Or are you still unconvinced that this team has all the options covered?

Consider that England have not beaten India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan away from home since 2007 and contrast with the way that they have outplayed Pakistan so far in the UAE. Consider that even with misfiring batsmen (Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan) they have been able to set defendable totals. Consider that Tim Bresnan cannot even get into the team at the moment such is the way that Finn has grabbed his opportunity.

But how long can it last? Over the years, we have time and again proclaimed series performances as ‘new dawns’ for English cricket only for the reality to be anything but. Wins in Sri Lanka in 2007 and then over Australia in 2010 at home didn’t see the team kick on and produce the performances they needed to at the World Cup in 2011.

Perhaps we would be better served by looking at the longer term. England are building towards the next Champions Trophy (2013) and then the World Cup (2015) so the goal is to have a settled, winning team by then. A few hiccups along the way can probably be expected. But one thing is for sure – under captain Cook in the UAE – so far, so good.

What do you think – another false dawn for England’s ODI team or are England on track? Or is it simply too early to say?


A Busy Week In Test Cricket Lies Ahead

It might be cold and dark here in the UK but in warmer climes, we have a busy week in the world of cricket ahead as three Test matches get underway.

In Adelaide, Australia take on India as they bid to seal a 4-0 series clean sweep although on a pitch expected to take turn, could this offer India a chance at reacquanting themselves with a winning feeling and will Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international century?

Then in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan take on England in high spirits following their ten-wicket win in the opener in Dubai. England must improve on their performance if they are to stay in the series and must play especially well to overcome a well-discplined and well-drilled unit.

Finally, New Zealand meet Zimbabwe in Napier. Having almost produced an upset win in Zimbabwe when these two teams met last year, this match could well be worth watching. New Zealand have named uncapped players Kruger van Wyk and Sam Wells in their squad and they will not be taking Zimbabwe lightly.

Tillakaratne Dilshan

Tillakaratne Dilshan - captain no more

New Zealand’s last outing was a memorable win against Australia and they will hope that victory can be the springboard to further success.

Going one step further than New Zealand with their team selection is Australia. They have named an uncapped player – George Bailey – as their new Twenty20 International captain.

They play India in two T20s on 1st and 3rd February and have also recalled 40-year-old left-arm spinner Brad Hogg. Uncapped James Faulkner also makes the squad as erstwhile captain Cameron White and ‘Mr Cricket’ Michael Hussey miss out.

White is not the only player to become an ex-captain this week after Tillakaratne Dilshan resigned as Sri Lanka skipper to be replaced by Mahela Jayawardene.

For Australia, the road to the ICC World Twenty20 later this year starts here. But what are you most looking forward to watching this week?