Black Caps keen to take England’s best shots at Lord’s

Updated 16 May 2013
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Black Caps keen to take England’s best shots at Lord’s

LONDON: The chance to beat a desperate England is mouthwatering to New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum.
England has been ordered to atone for the drawn series in New Zealand in March or face consequences after the two-Test return leg begins at Lord’s on Thursday.
McCullum said the Black Caps were ready to take England’s best shots.
“This challenge is going to be a lot harder, England will be more aware of us,” he said on Wednesday. “They’re in their own backyard. Their bowlers will be able to swing the ball a bit more than they did back home where they struggled with the Kookaburra ball. They will be a far more dangerous proposition, and their batsmen are clinical at home from recent history.
“But we’ve got guys who will be favored in these conditions as well, especially our bowling unit. We know we’re going to have to be on our game. It’s pretty mouth-watering.”
When England selector Geoff Miller named his team last week, he accused them of “going through the motions” in New Zealand, under-performing and told them to rectify the results. Captain Alastair Cook played down questions on Wednesday of any harsh words between the team and selectors.
Cook remembered they were confident and ready before the series in New Zealand, where England was fortunate to finish with three draws.
“In hindsight, it’s easy to start picking faults,” Cook said. “We looked for reasons behind closed doors and that’s where they’ll remain. But it wasn’t about a lack of attitude.”
McCullum believed England wasn’t disrespectful of the Kiwis, but rather the first day of that series set the tone, when England was bowled out for 167 by tea in Dunedin. That raised New Zealand’s confidence, he said, and ate away at England’s.
McCullum received plaudits after the series for shading Cook with his aggressive, creative moves, but the Kiwi said it was easier for him as his team was either on a par with or in front of England.
“The next challenge for me is when we find ourselves behind in a game and getting them back in the contest,” he said.
Despite being prepared to take risks, he said he preferred to think he was making “educated gambles.”
“Just because you run past the principal’s office doesn’t mean you’re not doing your homework,” McCullum said.
The damp, colder-than-usual weather in late spring could make both teams start without full-time spinners. The teams are expected to wake up on match day to sunshine that will be gone after lunch and may not come back for the rest of the match.
It means Graeme Swann, whose class and conviviality was sorely missed by England in New Zealand, might miss out after recovering from his elbow operation, while New Zealand could be without Bruce Martin, who has also had a lack of wickets to contend with.
Cook said playing without Swann was an option, while McCullum was more direct: Either Martin or a four-seamer attack including Doug Bracewell.
“This is a huge series for us to regain the consistency we showed back home,” McCullum said, “to show our fighting instincts and innovations from home, and replicate those in foreign conditions against a team that’s confident at home.”
Lineups:
England (from): Alastair Cook (captain), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Nick Compton, Steve Finn, Matt Prior, Joe Root, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott.
New Zealand (from): Brendon McCullum (New Zealand), Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, BJ Watling, Tim Southee, Bruce Martin, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell.


AB de Villiers’ exit should give cricket’s bigwigs pause for thought.

Updated 56 min 27 sec ago
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AB de Villiers’ exit should give cricket’s bigwigs pause for thought.

  • Brilliant batsman's retirement from international cricket leaves the game all the poorer without one of its true stars.
  • Treadmill of international games leaves players with little room to breathe.

If the disbelief on South African faces after their tied World Cup seinifinal against Australia in 1999 was one of the emblematic cricket images from the latter part of the 20th century, then the picture of an inconsolable AB de Villiers walking off Eden Park after losing another last-four clash will forever stick in the minds of the present generation.
No one grudged a magnificent New Zealand side their victory, especially not in front of a raucous home crowd, but the thought persisted that the loss marked the end of the World Cup road for some of South Africa’s greatest cricketers.
Graeme Smith had already quit at the age of 33, worn down by presiding over World Cup debacles in 2007 and ‘11 and the slog to the top of the Test rankings. De Villiers was only 30 at the time, but that night in Auckland he looked older and wearier. It is only now that he has called time on his international career, a year before the start of another World Cup, that we can begin to fathom just what was lost at Eden Park.
Unlike Smith, whose powers as a batsman were in decline after a succession of injuries, de Villiers exits the big stage while still the cock of the walk. Before the start of South Africa’s punishing home season, so much of the talk was about the great batsmen who would be visiting their shores — Virat Kohli and Steven Smith. De Villiers, who had spent time away from the Test side the previous season, was not quite an afterthought, but he certainly did not dominate parlour discussions.
In the very first Test, one dominated by the bowlers at Newlands, he showed us just how wrong we were to look to others. His masterful batsmanship in both innings, in conditions where most other batsmen were shipwrecked sailors, was as integral to South Africa’s victory as Vernon Philander’s riddle-me-this seam bowling. 
He did it again at Centurion to all but seal the series against India for South Africa. Over the course of the three Tests, Kohli almost matched him, but in a series that South Africa won 2-1, it was de Villiers that landed the decisive blows. A month later, Smith arrived in the southern cape, feted, with justification, as the best Test bat in the world. Again, in a series that unraveled rapidly for the visitors, he was no match for Mr. 360, who left his inimitable signature on yet another marquee series.
The greatest thing about de Villiers the batsman is the complete absence of ego. He could smoke the 31-ball centuries and play strokes others would not even have dreamt of. At the same time, he could stonewall all day in the Adelaide heat, or block 297 balls on his way to 43 in New Delhi. Whatever he felt was the best option for the team, he would choose that. With him, it was never my way or the highway. He never hid behind those this-is-how-I-play excuses.
For the international game, the loss of a star batsman who still has so much to offer is a grievous blow. It once again shines the light on the ramshackle scheduling and the skewed payment structures that have cast cricket adrift on uncertain seas. Jonathan Trott, a contemporary who went to England to try his luck there, made more from playing international cricket for half a decade than de Villiers did from 14 years with the Proteas. Administrators keep harping on about the primacy of Test cricket, but England, Australia and India apart, no one can afford to play the players what they are worth.
For de Villiers, it was never about the money. For nearly a decade now, he has been handsomely rewarded for being one of the talismans of the Indian Premier League (IPL). But when he talks of feeling tired, we would do well to listen. Just look at the itinerary that he and Kohli, who play all the formats, have been subjected to in recent times. What is surprising is that they have picked and chosen so little, putting their bodies on the line month on month, year on year.
Unlike football, with its clearly defined off-seasons — though greed is eating into that with tours of the Far East and the United States organized every summer — cricket offers no pause. It affects the players, who are getting off the international treadmill earlier and earlier. It affects fans too, because it has taken away the sense of anticipation that is such a huge part of the spectator experience.
And right now, it has also taken away the game’s most captivating batsman.