Return of the white flannels brigade
England’s Kevin Pietersen (right) will be returning to the lineup for a test series against India. (REUTERS)
Following hard on the heels of the thrills and spills of World Twenty20 and the Champions League, cricket fans are in for another treat with non-stop action leading up to Christmas. The purists can finally welcome players wearing the traditional white flannels as Test matches take centre stage in India, Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The series between South Africa and Australia will attract the most attention for obvious reasons, while the battle involving England and India isn’t too far behind. With more than a week before the coin toss for the first Test in Ahmedabad, a war of words between the two camps has spiced things up and India, of course, will be gunning for revenge after its Test whitewash in England earlier this year.
If the series Down Under and one in in India isn’t enough to satisfy the palate of the purists, newly-crowned T20 world champion West Indies have landed in Bangladesh and New Zealand is in Sri Lanka.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan fired the first salvo by criticizing India for not including a spinner when England played India A in the drawn exhibition match last week. That brought sharp retorts from India’s skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and batsman Virat Kohli. Expect the two countries to continue trading verbal shots right until the end of the tour.
Adding additional interest to this series is the return to the England squad of Kevin Pietersen, who was dropped after falling out with his teammates in May. Experts believe his form with the bat could decide the series. The spotlight will also be on Sachin Tendulkar. Another run of poor scores could seal his Test fate. But the Indian icon showed he is rounding into form with a superb 137 in 136 balls for Mumbai against Railways in a Ranji Trophy match on Saturday ... Meanwhile, India on Monday named all-rounder Yuvraj Singh in its 15-man squad for the first two Tests. Yuvraj’s inclusion comes as no surprise as he has excelled in local matches with bat and ball after a courageous year-long battle with cancer, but that of out-of-form spinner Harbhajan Singh has raised eyebrows. Also, the decision to leave out solid middle-order batsmen Suresh Raina and Manoj Tiwary is drawing criticism. The selectors have again placed an emphasis on experience. That means batsmen Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir and pace bowler Zaheer Khan are back despite patchy form of late.
South Africa will be defending its status as the No.1 Test team against an Australian team that can never be underestimated. One can expect fireworks as both teams will unleash their pace artillery in the three-Test series. On one side we have scud-missile supreme Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel while Australia will respond with Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus. Expect James Pattinson or Mitchell Starc to join this powerful attack.
South Africa’s bowling coach Allan Donald, who formed a deadly two-pronged seam attack with Shaun Pollock in the early 1990s, reckons the Proteas attack is the best the country has produced.
“I’m not just saying that, because I was part of an attack with Shaun Pollock and myself and a few others, and I say that humbly and respectfully, I think this is as good as it gets.’’ And he may have a point as Australian coach Mickey Arthur, who happens to be a South African, admitted his top order batsmen face a “baptism of fire.”
“It is going to be about which top six (batsmen) can adapt better, which top six is going to be more consistent over the three Test series. I think both top sixes are in for a real baptism of fire.’’ ... The Aussies were dealt a severe blow on Monday when all-rounder Shane Watson was ruled out of the first Test with a calf injury. His injury opens the door for Victoria’s Rob Quinney, who earns his first Test cap. Arthur was also informed on Monday that 19-year-fast bowling phenom Pat Cummins will miss the rest of the season due to a stress fracture in his lower back ... The 16 international cricketers who did not receive a dime for playing in an exhibition match at the Rogers Centre in May have sued Mississauga promoter Kat Rose Custom Designs Inc. for reneging on their contract. The players are asking for $113,000. Wish them good luck on trying to collect.
Starc has racked up more frequent-flyer miles than any other sportsman this year. His travels around the world have been nothing short of mind-boggling and it gives one a glimpse of the strenuous schedule of today’s international cricketer.
In the past eight months, the ace of the Aussie pace attack has slept in his own bed in Sydney for exactly seven days! His travels began in March with a tour of the West Indies and it was then on to England, the United Arab Republic, the World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka and finally the Champions League with the Sydney Sixers last week. He was home for two days last week before jetting off to Brisbane with New South Wales for a Sheffield Shield match against Queensland. Starc isn’t complaining, though, saying that “playing cricket is my job, but it’s always nice to sleep back in your own bed.’’