Saturday, March 11, 2006

'I believe every ball can get a wicket' - Kumble

At the end of a satisfying day, one Anil Kumble will remember for long, he cut a cake with his team-mates in the Long Room at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali. The bubbly was uncorked and the team celebrated with Kumble moments before he addressed a lengthy press conference

On getting to the milestone of 500 wickets

It's a great feeling to reach a milestone like this. What makes it more special is the fact that only four other bowlers have got to the 500-mark and I am the first Indian to do so.

On how he'd sum up his journey in cricket in 16 years

I'd say I've persevered. When I began people questioned my kind of bowling and even now people do. I guess after 16 years that has still not been answered and I find that strange. I've just gone into every game thinking I need to perform, to contribute something to the team.

On what has kept him going all these years

I've always had the self-belief that I can perform at this level. There have been doubts created by other people over my ability to perform. When you play for 16 years people are bound to create such doubts. But I have never doubted myself. And nor have my team-mates and my family. Coming back from my shoulder injury [in 2000-01] was crucial.

On what the next target is

Already the tally is 501. How many more wickets depends on my body and the schedule, so I can't really say what the target is. Warne has 659, Murali just got to 600 yesterday, hopefully I'll also scale those heights some day.

On setting up batsmen

When I bowl I believe every ball can get a wicket. That's my attitude. Obviously you try and set up a batsman, get him to play a few shots. Some days it works and some days it doesn't. You're always trying to play a mental game with the batsman. If you consistently ask questions of the batsmen you are bound to be successful.

On how he continues to strive to improve after 16 years in international cricket

You need to constantly evolve and bring up some variations because these days even before you step out, the opposition knows everything about you. I still try to bowl the classical legspinner, the classical flipper and the classical googly. That's the only way to enjoy yourself. The day I think I've had enough of trying out new things, I won't be playing the game.

On whether he had fears that he may never bowl again after his shoulder injury

There were fears that I may not bowl again, when I had the surgery. It took two months to just lift my hand. Playing cricket at the international level was a distant thought. That's when my wife, Andrew Leipus, Omkar [yoga expert in Bangalore] and Ramakant [Karnataka team physiotherapist] constantly motivated me and helped me in my rehabilitation. Also the thought that one day when I bowl there would be no pain was enough motivation. Srinath's coming back to international cricket after a similar surgery also gave me lot of strength.

On how he seems to be bowling at his best in the recent past

The last couple of years have been good. The experience that I've gained over the years and the way the ball is coming out of the hand has been good. The number of overs I have bowled over the last 16 years have helped me in understanding what needs to be done. The last three years have been really good.

On the memorable wickets along the way

The first wicket of Allan Lamb, which was where it all started. The 10-wicket haul against Pakistan in Delhi was special. Also the performance against Australia at Sydney [in early 2005] ... There have been many special moments. When we won against Australia at Adelaide ... the series win in Pakistan in 2004.

On whom he dedicates reaching this milestone to

I dedicate this to all those players who have played with me. To the fielders who took the catches, the fellow bowlers who applied pressure from the other end, to batsmen who put runs on the board ... I would not have got 500 wickets if they had not played their part.

On what Matthew Hoggard, Kumble's 300th victim, had to say when the wicket of Harmison fell

He suggested that I might have been more happy if I'd picked up the wicket of a batsman as my 500th.

By Anand Vasu, Assistant editor of Cricinfo


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Beaten Blues Aces Reject Flair Theory

Frank Lampard and John Terry believe Chelsea can conquer Europe without spending big money on a fantasy player like Ronaldinho.

The England duo reject the idea that Jose Mourinho must scrap his own tactical beliefs and accommodate a playmaker who can conjure something out of thin air.

Ronaldinho's magical goal in the Nou Camp may have sealed Chelsea's Champions League fate for another year but the Blues feel they have enough talent to compete with top teams like Barcelona.

Lampard said: "The difference at this level is so small and maybe Ronaldinho with a moment of brilliance is it.

"It was a great goal, great body movement and great skill. But he can do that week in week out.

"That kind of player can always make a difference but I don't think it's a case of us not having a Ronaldinho.

"We have special players who make goals out of nothing and we're a very strong team with a strong spirit.

"What happened to us this year is what happened to Barcelona last year. We are two of the best teams in Europe."

Skipper Terry agreed and added: "It is very unfair to say we need to bring in players who can play off the cuff.

"If you look at our squad, we have three or four individuals, including Damien Duff, Arjen Robben and Joe Cole who can change a game and create something out of nothing.

"Barcelona have the same going forward. We knew it would be very tight and we said at half-time we had to go out and really give it a go, but we could not break them down."

Chelsea drew 1-1 in Barcelona but went out on aggregate after losing the first leg 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

Boss Mourinho insisted the first game was decisive because his team were forced to play more than half the game with 10 men after Asier del Horno was sent off for a tackle on Lionel Messi.

Lampard said: "If you come to the Nou Camp in the Champions League and draw 1-1, you normally go home more than happy.

"I'm not going to stand here and make excuses because Barca are a great team but we did play the first leg for 60 minutes with 10 men which was a hard call.

"We did it very well, going 1-0 up, but then the legs went a little and because Barcelona are a great attacking side they scored two goals.

"I don't know what the difference between the sides was but it was small."

Chelsea, 15 points clear at the top of the Premiership and in the FA Cup quarter-finals, will now focus on winning the double for the first time in their history.

But the players vowed to return next season to make another serious bid to lift Europe's ultimate club trophy.

Terry said: "Everyone at Chelsea wants to win the European Cup and we will happily play Barcelona again next term and go for it again.

"You want to compete against the best sides in the world and whether we got them in the first round or the semi-final, we would take that.

"It is the worst feeling ever to lose a game but a big one such as last night's, on such a great stage, leaves you gutted.

"We will pick ourselves up. We desperately want to win the FA Cup, we said that right from the start, and we need to keep winning to maintain our lead in the league."

By Matt Barlow, PA Sport Chief Football Writer


US tennis to launch instant replay

New York: The US Tennis Association and the ATP and WTA Tours announced on Monday that tournaments in North America will begin using instant replay starting at the NASDAQ-100 Open in Miami on March 22.

The 2006 US Open will be the first Grand Slam to use instant replay to double-check officiating. Hawk-Eye Officiating will be implemented in Miami, which hosts an elite men’s Masters Series and women’s WTA Tier One event.

"It’s not only a way of better officiating, it’s also a great way to stimulate interest and to retain the sense of strategy and jeopardy in the sport," ATP chairman Etienne de Villiers said.

"To me it was always crazy that with modern GPS technology, we could tell where a person is within to yard or a meter on Planet Earth, and yet we can’t tell whether a tennis ball is in and out. So technology is going to help us do that."

They system will be based on player challenges. Each player will receive two challenges per set to review line calls. If he is correct, he will retain the same number of challenges, but if he is incorrect, one will be lost.

In addition, each player will receive one additional challenge in tiebreakers, but challenges may not be carried over from one set to another.

"Introducing this technology will make our sport more TV and fan friendly," WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott said. "Given the stakes in professional tennis, the ability to have more accurate line calls that can change a match is great news for players."

Gayle Bradshaw, the ATP’s administrator for rules and competition, said replays will not be intrusive.

"There’s going to be two video boards on the center court that will be visible by the players, the chair umpire and all the spectators," Bradshaw said.



Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Federer, Nadal to renew rivalry

Indian Wells, California: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are poised to renew their rivalry in the California desert as they headline the Tennis Masters Series tournament that starts here on Friday.

Switzerland’s world number one Roger Federer arrives to defend his title after falling to Spain’s Nadal last Saturday in the final at Dubai.

Nadal snapped Federer’s 56-match hardcourt winning streak by rallying for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory, the 19-year-old claiming his 13th ATP Tour title, three shy of Bjorn Borg’s record for a teenager.

With the triumph, the Spaniard improved to 3-1 against the 24-year-old Federer. Nadal also beat Federer in last year’s French Open semi-finals en route to claiming his first Grand Slam title. Even before he left Dubai, Federer was looking ahead.

"I’m pretty much pleased with my performance," he said, "and I now look forward to the hard courts in America." The top 32 men have first-round byes, as do the top 32 women in the WTA tier one event that is also part of the Pacific Life Open.

In his opening match, Federer could face either reigning Olympic gold medallist Nicolas Massu of Chile or Agustin Calleri.

Australian Lleyton Hewitt, runner up to Federer here last year, is seeded ninth. He won back-to-back titles here in 2002-03.

While he comes into the tournament seeking his first title in more than a year, Hewitt posted runner-up finishes recently in San Jose, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada.



Monday, March 06, 2006

England 393 & 297-3 dec India 323 & 260-6 (Match drawn)

As followers of the England cricket team we ought to know better by now - England rarely, if ever, play a Test match that peters out into a boring draw.

Yet the first Test against India looked to be heading that way yesterday as Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid repelled everything England's bowlers threw at them. India, chasing an improbable target of 368, were on 160 for 1 with only 26 overs remaining.

But then it all changed. Dravid, the Indian captain, came down the wicket to Matthew Hoggard and clipped him to fine leg for two, and in the next over he reverse swept Monty Panesar for four. For a man whose ability to blunt bowling attacks has earned him the nickname of "The Wall", these were two atypical strokes.

Dravid's improvising was the first sign that India were going to have a little go at pulling off one of the most remarkable run chases in the history of Test cricket. And my, they gave England a fright. Irfan Pathan clobbered 35 off 25 balls and Sachin Tendulkar looked in worryingly good form during his 19-ball innings of 28.

India's charge ultimately failed, and the Test was declared a draw when Tendulkar and V V S Laxman accepted the umpires' offer to leave the field for bad light with 11.4 overs of the game remaining - but 100 runs had been scored and five wickets lost in 80 minutes of rich entertainment.

After controlling the match for more than four days, this was not the finale Andrew Flintoff and his tired bowlers needed. The second Test in Mohali is only four days away and the England captain would have wanted his team to retain the confidence gained from outplaying India here.

India's late flurry was brave and calculated. Bad light was always going to act as an insurance policy, in that it would allow India to leave the field when they wanted, but the cloud cover hanging over the stadium could have disappeared and left the hosts facing a nervy final 30 minutes.

The approach of the Indians also sent a message to England. In 200 overs of cricket, India's stellar batting line-up had scored at less than 2.5 runs an over, and the onslaught notified England that they were not going to get things all there own way during the remaining two Test matches.

Despite this, England should travel to Chandigarh today feeling proud of what they have achieved over the past five days and, when Flintoff called his players in to a huddle at the end of the match, he told them this.

Nobody had given England much hope in the build-up to the Test, and understandably so. Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones had returned home for their differing reasons and England were fielding a side containing a new captain, three debutants and no player over the age of 30.

Ironically, three of England's star performers replaced those who went home. Alastair Cook showed astonishing maturity on his Test debut. He rarely looked troubled during the nine hours he spent at the crease and he became the fourth youngest player to score a Test hundred for England when he cut Harbhajan Singh for four on Saturday evening.

Paul Collingwood batted with similar composure during his first Test century, and without his unbeaten 134 the outcome of the match would have been different. The batting of this pair was crucial but it is the bowling of Monty Panesar that won over the Indian crowds.

The crowds over here worship spinners in the same way West Indian crowds love their fast bowlers, and Panesar's wickets were cheered almost as loudly as those taken by the home side. Panesar may have been born in Luton but Indian fans are now claiming him as their own.

England's star performer was Hoggard, who had match figures of 7 for 86 in 47 overs. He deservedly won the man of the match award and can never have bowled better for England.

Views vary on whether England should have batted more positively at the end of day four in order to have five or six overs at the Indian openers before the close. The hard-nosed, win-at-all-cost brigade believe Flintoff should have declared before Cook reached his century. The romantics, of which Flintoff is one, thought differently.

The dismissal of Virender Sehwag in the fifth over of the day gave England the perfect start. Sehwag played a horrible shot which was capitalised on by Hoggard, who knocked back his off-stump. England's bowlers made life uncomfortable for the Indian batsmen and Dravid should have been caught by Geraint Jones off the bowling of Ian Blackwell when he was on 19. Jones had an excellent tour of Pakistan but this was his second important miss - he dropped Anil Kumble on nine in India's first innings - of the match.

Jaffer is an elegant player who times the ball beautifully off his legs. He played his last Test for India four years ago and, at the age of 28, knows that this is likely to be his last chance. Jaffer was on 96 when Dravid was bowled by Panesar and he completed a maiden Test hundred before chipping Flintoff to extra cover.

By sending Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in at four and five, India had made their intentions clear. Flintoff reacted by placing six fielders on the boundary. The tactic failed to stop Pathan, who hit the opposing captain straight back over his head for six. Flintoff gained revenge when Andrew Strauss caught the left-hander in the deep and the pair appeared to have a little exchange as they passed each other.

Dhoni was caught at long off four overs later and his departure finally allowed England to relax. The rest will be brief. On Thursday morning, England have to go through it all again in Mohali, and they will need to play just as well.

Ball of the day

* MONTY PANESAR England's debutant spinner can now boast two of cricket's biggest names as his scalps. Breaching Rahul Dravid's defence is a difficult task yet Panesar managed to do this with a superbly-directed delivery that pitched on middle and uprooted his off-stump.

Shot of the day

* IRFAN PATHAN Very few players hit Andrew Flintoff back over his head for six but Pathan did just that as India suddenly chased an improbable victory. England will see a lot more of this when the one-dayers start in three weeks.

Moment of the day

* GERAINT JONES If Jones had caught Rahul Dravid on 19, would England have gone on to win the Test? It is unlikely but errors like this fuel the debate over whether England should play their best wicketkeeper regardless of his ability to add runs.

By Angus Fraser at the Vidarbha Stadium
Published: 06 March 2006


Blake Wins Las Vegas Tennis Title to Reach Career-High Ranking

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- James Blake beat Lleyton Hewitt in the Tennis Channel Open final in Las Vegas to win his fifth title and reach a career-high 14th in the world rankings.

Fifth-seeded Blake upset the top-seeded Australian 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 for his first victory over Hewitt in seven attempts, extending his career-best start to a season to 14-4.

Blake, 26, joins top-ranked Roger Federer, Tommy Haas and Ivan Ljubicic as the only players to have won two Association of Tennis Professionals titles this year. Blake also won January's Sydney International.

The 25-year-old Hewitt, a former top-ranked player, lost his second straight final after reaching the title decider at the SAP Open in San Jose, California, two weeks ago. He last won a tournament in January 2005 in Sydney.


Mauresmo misses out

Amélie Mauresmo failed to regain the world No1 spot when Nadia Petrova beat her 6-3, 7-5 in the Qatar Open final. Mauresmo, winner of three tournaments this year, could have overtaken Kim Clijsters, who was inactive through injury last week, in today's WTA rankings if she had beaten the Russian.

Petrova, the No2 seed and world No8, won on her first match point after 1¾ hours for her second career title. The Russian won $95,000 (£54,000) and a Harley Davidson while Mauresmo picked up $51,000.

"I am absolutely delighted with my effort," Petrova said after lifting her second career WTA Tour title. "I played my best match here today against probably the best player of the tournament."

It was the fourth successive Russian victory in Doha after Anastasia Myskina in 2003 and 2004 and Maria Sharapova last year.

Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Ai Sugiyama of Japan won the doubles 6-4, 6-4 against China's Ti Ling and Tiantian Sun.


Richard Jago in Dubai
Monday March 6, 2006
The Guardian


Nadal emerges as Federer's nemesis in new world order

Rafael Nadal's little courtside weep after his unexpected 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Roger Federer in the final of the Dubai Open expressed not only relief at recovering from a worrying foot injury but joy at reviving what looks like becoming the finest rivalry of modern times.

Few expected Nadal's triumph in only his second tournament after three months out, during which he spent two entire days in aeroplanes seeking better-fitting shoes to protect him from the thousand-mile pounding he gets. But suddenly he halted Federer's open-era record of 56 successive hard-court wins, and now the 19-year-old has won three times out of four against an opponent who was being touted very conspicuously as the greatest after regaining the Australian Open title only six weeks ago.

Already it has become the most eye-catching rivalry since Sampras and Agassi in the late 90s. With its differences in personalities, Mr Silky Smooth versus Mr Ebullient, and its contrast in styles, a fluidly ubiquitous all-court attacker versus a bouncing Energiser bunny marauding the baseline, it could develop the most intriguing emotional chemistry since that other famous left-right confrontation, Borg versus McEnroe.

When asked if he could take over from Federer as No1, Nadal preferred to deflect the pressure. "No," he said. "I don't have chance. For me, he's unbelievable. I will continue with my comeback and I am just happy with that."

Long-term may be different because, as Federer himself volunteered, his only victory over Nadal, from two sets down in Miami 11 months ago, owed something to good fortune. This time Nadal's triumph owed something to Federer falling away from his high standards after an impressive first set. The three-times champion missed oddly with his favourite inside-out forehand drive, sometimes from positions well inside the baseline, and made forays to the net which were not as well judged as they needed to be against one of the supreme passing-shot exponents.

This offered Nadal a period for retrenchment, during which the clay-raised Spaniard converted his loopy top-spins into the flatter, more penetrating attacks required on a hard court and got his adrenalin pump working. "When he playing aggressive with his forehand I can do nothing, because I playing very short and it easy for him," said Nadal, who has an amusing ability to communicate much more than the sum of his limited English. "After I change a little bit, the match change. I change a little of tactic, and he had some misses."

When Federer's first serve eluded him, Nadal came up with the returns which broke the champion in the penultimate games of both the second and third sets. There was minimal time to recover. "Rafael was better on the day," acknowledged Federer. "We knew I was going to be the aggressive player and he would be the consistent one. But when I went down a bit he broke at just the right times.

"It's not easy being expected to win all the time. But I am still happy with my game. And it gives me something to look forward to when I play him again."

This suggests a taste for revenge. That could happen in either of this month's Masters Series events, in Indian Wells and Miami. But the biggest focal point of the rivalry is likely to be on the Paris clay in May and June, when the current holder of three grand slam titles will become the one needing to adapt to the surface as the young French Open champion takes over the burden of favourite.

Federer has carefully avoided saying it, but that has become his main focus. It became even more so after Rod Laver, the only man to have won all four grand slam titles in a calendar year twice, announced in Melbourne that he thought Federer was ready to win the fourth one as well. It is this which puts the Swiss's defeat on Saturday in perspective. If he does feel happy with his game, that may be far more important. But for the first time in a long while, nobody can be sure.

Richard Jago in Dubai
Monday March 6, 2006
The Guardian


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Australia win third ODI

05/03/2006 18:00 - (SA)Port Elizabeth - Australia beat South Africa by 24 runs in the third Standard Bank one-day international at St George's Park on Sunday.

South Africa won the toss and elected to field first.

Australia made 254/6 in their allotted 50 overs. South Africa made 230 in reply.

South Africa lead the five match series by 2-1.