OCTOBER 02, 2014

Curtains on the pig saga

ESPNcricinfo staff

Remember Ash the pig? He was the one smuggled into the Gabba on a steaming summer's day during the last Ashes and later found to be dehydrated and in fairly sorry condition. Well, the update is that David Gunn, accused of smuggling him in wrapped in a blanket, his snout taped shut and ensconced in a baby harness, no longer faces charges of animal cruelty. The charges were reportedly dropped by Brisbane's prosecuting authorities because they couldn't prove that Gunn was the same person who'd smuggled in the pig. And Ash? Well, he was adopted soon after his ordeal and spent his recuperation eating liver and swimming in his own pool. He's now reported to be in good health.

SEPTEMBER 03, 2014

Usain Bolt seals last-ball victory against Yuvraj XI

Usain Bolt outhits Yuvraj Singh in a six-hitting competition. Yuvraj Singh outruns Usain Bolt in a 100m dash. Both share the honours in a bowl-out, hitting the stumps three times apiece.

That was just some of the 'action' witnessed by the fans who turned up to watch an exhibition match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Tuesday. While some of it was clearly not authentic, the 6000-strong crowd present at the Puma event didn't seem to mind.

The highlight of the day, of course, was the match itself, a four-overs-per-team, seven-a-side affair. There were other big names on show too: Yuvraj's team included Zaheer Khan, while Bolt had Harbhajan Singh.

And it was a thriller: with 10 needed off two balls, Bolt hit a six off the penultimate ball - sent down by full-time keeper, part-time offspinner Aditya Tare - but missed the next one. In keeping with the entertainment-first theme, umpire Ajay Jadeja called no-ball, and Bolt duly smashed the final one for six more to finish 45 not out off 19 (both captains were allowed to bat through the innings, even if dismissed in between). Wonder if Royal Challengers' scouts were around?

AUGUST 27, 2014

Bolt versus Yuvraj

Usain Bolt isn't a stranger to cricket. He played during his early years, did a number on Chris Gayle's stumps in a charity match in Jamaica in 2009 and almost turned out for Melbourne Stars during the 2012 Big Bash League. And he will be at it again when he squares up with Yuvraj Singh during an event at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium, on September 2.

Though Bolt's abilities on the open track are considerably more impressive, Gayle had a word of warning about Bolt the cricketer: "In a charity game he [Bolt] played against me, he almost knocked my head off with a good, competitive bouncer."

Bolt's trademark celebrations have been copied by cricketers, but here is a chance for catching the original one on a cricket field. Look out, Yuvraj.

JUNE 19, 2014

New Zealand cricket

Chris Martin, the grocer

Chris Martin, the retired New Zealand pacer, has found his new calling. He is going into the grocery store business. He, with his family, moved from Christchurch to Palmerston North to take charge of a Four Square - a mini-market chain in New Zealand, which offers groceries, fresh produce, meat and drinks, all with "a friendly smile". Clients who visit this particular outlet, will probably be offered that smile by Martin himself, as he plans to be quite hands-on.

"[Wife] Jane and I were quite keen to have our own business," Martin said, according to stuff.co.nz. "We wanted to have something we could own and operate and have ourselves.

"We also have a passion for food, which I suppose translated well to a Four Square. I might get a few aspiring cricketers coming and buying drinks."

Cricket, Martin said, left him well prepared to go into business. "I think with the cricket side of things you have to get out of bed every day and kind of do it all for yourself ... I think owning your own business is similar."

JUNE 06, 2014

West Indies cricket

Serving the community with Chris Gayle's Big Six Club

Chris Gayle is looking to give something back to Jamaican society, through cricket. He has opened an academy in Kingston, at the Lucas Cricket Club, for "underprivileged youngsters". The academy, which also has a branch in England, will have two programmes: the Chris Gayle Academy team, and the Chris Gayle Big Six Club.

The academy team will cater to 16 young players on an annual basis, aged between 16 and 21, and - the plan is - give them the opportunity to play other Jamaican teams and touring youth squads. The Big Six Club is a 12-week programme targeted at kids from troubled communities (think low school-attendance rates, high crime levels, and rising drugs abuse).

An emotional Gayle, at the academy's launch, remembered how he was attracted to the game when he was a kid. "Being here brings back memories of me as a youngster, who used to jump the walls of Lucas from my house across the street, just wanting the opportunity to learn the sport of cricket and become a better person," Gayle said, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. "To have come from that far, and being here now, is quite moving, and the hope is that this academy will similarly open doors and opportunities for youngsters."

MAY 16, 2014

English cricket

The cricket ball goes to space … almost

The ECB has sent the cricket ball "where no cricket ball has gone before": to the "edge of space".

A white ball was sent up from Edgbaston, Birmingham, strapped to a helium balloon, to an altitude of 110,000 feet (or three times the height at which commercial aircraft fly), where it is said to have experienced temperatures of -54C and reached speeds of 500mph while freefalling back to earth. It landed in Newbury, Hertfordshire, in "near-perfect condition".

The stunt was organised as part of the launch of the ECB's revamped T20 competition, the NatWest t20 Blast, and required the input of "a team of aeronautical engineers", according to the ECB site. For the video of the ball on its way to the upper layers of the earth's atmosphere, click here.

MAY 01, 2014

Indian cricket

Drama, dance and Sreesanth

One of Sreesanth's trademarks, both on and off the field, is theatricality. Now, with cricket off the agenda for him, he seems to have turned his attention more firmly to acting, dancing and song-writing. He is set to score music for Anbulla Azagae a Tamil-Telugu film his brother Dipu Shanthan is producing, as well as play a cameo role in it. He is also likely to take part in dance-based television show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, next season.

"Sree will be composing all songs in the movie, a love story laced with suspense and drama," Dipu Shanthan told Hindustan Times. "The main cast of the film hasn't been finalised yet, but it will have the best in the industry." Sreesanth, who was banned last year after being found guilty of being involved in the IPL spot-fixing scandal, has already produced and directed two music albums.

APRIL 01, 2014

Indian cricket

An app by a cricketer, for cricketers

The list of engineers in Indian cricket is a long and illustrious one and while Mumbai pacer Saurabh Netravalkar is a rank newbie on that list, he has already combined his academic focus with his knowledge of the game to develop a cricket-based application.

Called CricDeCode, the application is designed to help cricketers analyse their game and can be used across platforms. The inspiration behind it was simple enough. "I didn't want the hours of engineering studies to go to waste," Netravalkar told Hindustan Times. "That's how I thought of developing the mobile app."

In the 2010 Under-19 World Cup, Netravalkar was the leading wicket-taker for India after which the fast bowler decided to split his focus on engineering and cricket. He graduated with a degree in computer science last year and also made his first-class and List A debuts for Mumbai earlier in this season.

FEBRUARY 16, 2014

Under-19 World Cup 2014

Sarfaraz's unique T-shirt tribute to father

One of the most influential figures in the life of Sarfaraz Khan - India's 16-year-old batting allrounder - is his father and coach, Naushad. One of the many things Naushad, a hard taskmaster, did to support and push his son's cricketing ambition was to install a synthetic pitch near their house to ensure Sarfaraz had access to practice facilities at all times. Sarfaraz who hit a half-century, took four catches and a wicket in India's first game of the Under-19 World Cup against Pakistan, found a unique way to thank his father at the tournament.

At the media conference after the game against Pakistan, Sarfaraz was asked why his shirt number had changed from 86 to 97. As it turned out, it was no clerical error but one done purposely, as a mark of respect to his father. In Hindi, '9' and '7' are nau and saat respectively. Said together, it rhymes with 'Naushad'.

JANUARY 16, 2014

Pakistan news

Qamar Ahmed's special quadruple

Sunil Gavaskar's 10,000th run, Richard Hadlee's 400th wicket, Anil Kumble's cleansweep, cricket's 1000th Test in 1984 and its 2000th in 2011 - Qamar Ahmed; has seen them all. The Sharjah Test; between Pakistan and Sri Lanka is his 400th as a reporter, and he has been present at 19% of all Tests played to date.

His favourite is Gavaskar's last innings, a 96 in a losing cause against Pakistan in Bangalore, memorable because even spinners had the ball rearing chest-high on a poor pitch. Michael Holding's furious 14-wicket haul at The Oval in 1976 is Qamar's bowling equivalent.

A first-class left-arm spinner in Pakistan in his youth, Qamar was based out of the UK for most of his reporting career. In addition to having written extensively in English, Urdu and Hindi, he has also been a broadcaster for Test Match Special, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Television New Zealand, among others.

The press in Sharjah missed the chance to perform a guard of honour with their laptops, but the PCB and Pakistan team presented Qamar with mementoes and two signed Test shirts, wishing him many more matches in the press box. It is a sentiment Qamar agrees with heartily - he said: "I am not retiring as long as I'm on my feet."

JANUARY 09, 2014

Murali runs into the Williams sisters

Big-hitting Melbourne Renegades captain Aaron Finch has indicated he wouldn't mind dropping down the order for his team. Why? Because he has come across a couple of mightier hitters of the cricket ball than himself. Who? The Williams sisters.

USA tennis stars Serena and Venus, in Melbourne for the Australian Open, tried their hand at batting on Thursday, and smashed Finch and a certain Muttiah Muralitharan all over the rooftop on which they were playing. "They're more than welcome to bat up the order, I might have to slide down a few spots," Finch joked after the Renegades event.

Yes, a heavy bat might have had something to do with all the carnage. "I just hit it as hard as I could. But the bat was heavy," Venus laughed. "We don't play cricket, it's not our sport, but we were excited to come out and try." A good workout in the lead up to their tennis commitments then? "Think so. Feeling loose," Serena said. "We had a few nerves but we got through it."

NOVEMBER 28, 2013

Cricket, under the world

No, we're not talking about the Ashes. This particular match took place 'down under' in a more literal sense. Down under a mountain, in a slate mine, in Lake District - a mountainous region in northwest England. Two village teams, Threlkeld and Caldbeck, were involved in the game, widely believed to be the first underground cricket match.

Honister Slate Mine hosted the game, a fundraiser, amid a network of underground tunnels inside the mountain Fleetwith Pike. And if everyone on hand had to wear hard hats it was because of the 2000ft of rock and slate above their heads, not because a flurry of sixes were expected - there were no designated boundaries in the match and the batsmen had to run all their runs, resulting in a middling target of 28 from six overs for Caldbeck to chase. The team made light work of it, winning with 10 balls to spare.

OCTOBER 19, 2013

The Vatican Cricket Club

The cricket team that shoulders a billion hopes? No, we're not talking about India, but cricket's new converts - the Vatican. With ecclesiastical records numbering members of the Catholic church at around 1.2 billion worldwide, the ICC, in their bid to expand the game, would sure welcome the news of the Vatican being interested in cricket.

And that's what it seems to be, with the Pontifical Council for Culture announcing plans to form cricket teams - one for men, made up of priests from around the world, and a women's XI comprising nuns. Australia's ambassador to the Vatican, John McCarthy, a former SCG Trust member, is helping to put the teams together, and hopes to organise a match against a Church of England XI.

Cricket, McCarthy said, was already popular in Rome, with priests and religious arriving there from around the world, and the Vatican's teams would draw on talent from everywhere cricket is played. "Internationally one would have a team representing the Vatican drawn from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies," McCarthy told Vatican Radio. "We are looking for Sri Lankan, Indian or Pakistani sisters who have played cricket and if they are found, they certainly will be invited to join the [women's] cricket team."

OCTOBER 07, 2013

All the moves like Bravo

The next time he gets a wicket or finds himself on a winning team, Dwayne Bravo could well break into the same dance moves that he's been busy learning on movie sets these days. The West Indies allrounder, who plays for Chennai Super Kings, will be appearing in a promotional song for the Tamil film Ulla.

On Monday, he tweeted pictures of himself getting makeup touch-ups and posing in his costume, looking the part of "Chennai's newest film star", as he calls himself.

According to Rajan Madhav, the film's director, Bravo agreed as soon as he was offered the chance to shake a leg under the arclights. "Our producer approached him through a common friend. He is known for his freestyle dancing and we want to capitalise on it. Show him the way the audiences would love to see him on screen," Madhav told IANS.

Now there's an off-the-field PR opportunity the IPL franchises never dreamed of.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2013

Zimbabwe cricket

Guy Whittall's close encounter of the reptilian kind

Guy Whittall, the former Zimbabwe allrounder, put up an uninvited guest for a night earlier this week. The house guest followed the rules of etiquette too, remaining quiet, not putting the family out, not even snapping at the feet dangling invitingly in front of its nose ... A well-behaved, eight-foot, 165kg Nile crocodile, it was, which spent the night inches away from Whittall at the Humani Ranch, the Whittall's game reserve in southeastern Zimbabwe.

The crocodile had made its way into Whittall's house from a nearby river and, presumably, spent the night under his bed. It was only discovered by a housemaid in the morning, who understandably screamed bloody murder as Whittall breakfasted in the kitchen. "The really disconcerting thing about the whole episode is the fact that I was sitting on the edge of the bed that morning, bare foot and just centimetres away from the croc," Whittall said later. "It came from the Turgwe River, which is a couple of kilometres from the house. They often wander about the bush, especially when it's cold and raining. I think he liked it under the bed because it was warm."

Whittall called in his co-workers at the reserve and the croc, after a bit of wrestling, was returned unharmed to the wild.

JULY 23, 2013

Indian cricket

Cricket administrator borrows Ganguly's face

Assam Cricket Association secretary Bikash Baruah has discovered just how difficult it is to step into former India captain Sourav Ganguly's shoes. Baruah had reportedly distributed a picture of himself sharing a dais with Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone. Newspapers in Guwahati had run the picture with a caption that quoted Baruah as saying he had asked the actors to set up an IPL team to represent India's northeast.

Upon further investigation, though, it was revealed that Baruah had doctored the picture. The original had featured Ganguly with the two actors, and Baruah had had his face superimposed on Ganguly's. For his canniness - or that of his Photoshop expert - all Baruah ended up with was an FIR, filed against him by India's Freelance Journalists' Association.

JULY 17, 2013

Rwanda cricket

Batting for a Rwanda playing field

At the end of it all, 22-year-old Alby Shale simply collapsed out of exhaustion. He had batted non-stop for 26 hours at The Oval to break a batting world record, and even had the British prime minister David Cameron line up to bowl at him.

Shale, who broke the previous record of 25 hours held by Australian batsman Jade Child, was raising awareness and funds for the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, which is planning to build a cricket ground in Kigali, Rwanda.

The existing cricket field in Kigali had been the site of a massacre in 1994 and remains were found when the tall grass was mowed to create a pitch in 2002. The idea to raise funds for the cause came from Shale's father, Christopher, who died in July 2011.

An exhausted Shale said: "We've seen first-hand what cricket can bring to a country and we decided. He [his father] said to me there, 'Listen, we need to build a new cricket pitch for Rwanda.'"

JUNE 21, 2013

Australia cricket

Ricky Ponting the second

One Ricky Ponting might just have retired, but another is only beginning his Australian journey. Last year, a couple named Udaya and Radha fled Sri Lanka on a boat bound for Indonesia and in October they arrived on Christmas Island with 186 more asylum seekers.

Radha was heavily pregnant at the time and gave birth to a baby boy once the couple was in South Australia, waiting on their asylum claim. As cricket fans, the given names they chose for their Australian-born boy were "Ricky Ponting".

"We would love to work here and bring up Ricky," Udaya said. "I love cricket in Sri Lanka and I watch it here."

Young Ricky is now six months old and is living in the Adelaide suburb of Glenalta while the family awaits their refugee status being approved by the government.

MAY 23, 2013

IPL fixing allegations

PETA's plea to Sreesanth

Sreesanth is currently in the headlines for all the wrong reasons - his shopping list, romantic gestures and dance moves - but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have zeroed in on an idea they think could bring him some goodwill.

"Star in a PETA ad promoting a different kind of 'fixing' - sterilising dogs and cats. No one would call you 'out' about that," said a statement from the organisation, who want Sreesanth - who was PETA's Sexiest Vegetarian Alive in 2009 - and the other cricketers, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan, to participate in a campaign against "unchecked breeding".

All three players are currently back in police custody, until May 26, after a Delhi court remanded them without bail on Tuesday. So they might just be a while answering.

APRIL 27, 2013

Indian cricket

Tussauds hands Tendulkar wrong t-shirt

Sachin Tendulkar has the honour of having a wax model of himself on display at Madame Tussauds in London. It doesn't need telling that his contributions to cricket have elevated him to 'godlike' status, not only in India, but across the world. So it is not very often that a goof up regarding him is made. Such was the case though, when his second wax likeness - this one at the SCG in Sydney - was unveiled by the iconic wax museum; the jersey that the figure sported was India's kit from the 2012 World T20, a tournament Tendulkar wasn't part of, Mid-Day reported. It has been almost seven years since Tendulkar suited up for a T20 international, his only such game being India's maiden T20I, against South Africa in December 2006. Madame Tussauds has admitted to the rather embarrassing gaff and will change the figure's kit to reflect Tendulkar's crowning glory with a 2011 World Cup India jersey.

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