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Concrete blocks for stumps, a crudely-cut plank for a bat, and a chewed-up tennis ball, all carried off the pitch for honking motorists waiting to pass, then wheeled out again for a few minutes, until the next four-wheeled intrusion appears. Street cricket has been a centrepiece of the South Asian childhood for generations, but if Sri Lanka's authorities are to have their way, it could soon become extinct on the island.
On Wednesday, a Sri Lanka Police spokesperson said playing cricket on the roads could lead to arrests, adding that three poor Colombo souls had already been apprehended for this 'offence'. It is a symptom of Sri Lanka's rate of economic progress. In years gone by, cricket had had the critical mass to dominate the streetscape, but since this decade's economic growth kicked in, the tide has turned for traffic.
Though police have deemed cricket the biggest threat to traffic flow, other activities that may block the road - like washing parked cars and mixing concrete - may also lead to trouble. In cricket, though, as in so many other spheres of Sri Lankan life, much-vaunted development has been the death knell for a slice of old-world Sri Lankan charm.
Warwickshire may, in an indirect way, have cannabis to thank if they go on to win a trophy in the 2014 season.
The club is currently utilising hot lamps confiscated by West Midlands Police from cannabis growers in the area to promote grass growth on their Edgbaston playing surface. The police gave the lamps to the club free of charge, but did warn them that they could become a target for other cannabis growers in the region.
Warwickshire, who have made a conscious effort to improve their relationships with the police, the council and other community groups over recent months, hope the lamps will help them produce wickets with the pace and bounce to assist their impressive seam attack.
Edgbaston's head groundsman, Gary Barwell, first saw hot lamps in action when he worked on the groundstaff at Notts County Football Club and believes their usage in cricket will improve pitch quality and outfield drainage.
While the desperately wet winter might usually be expected to have delayed grass growth and resulted in sluggish surfaces, the club hope the lamps have given them the chance to exploit a seam attack that includes five bowlers - Boyd Rankin, Chris Wright, Chris Woakes, Rikki Clarke and Keith Barker - who have appeared in England or England Lions squads in the last 12 months.
The lights will also help promote grass growth on areas of the outfield habitually overshadowed by the enormous new pavilion and subject to more use than other areas. In recent seasons, Warwickshire have struggled to deal with excessive rainfall in the area and have seen several games abandoned. The extra grass growth will help deal with the excessive use, soak up water and aid quick drainage.
Warwickshire has experienced more than its share of drug-related controversy in the past but on this occasion there will be relief that any connection with the issue is in a purely positive context. You might even call it a legal high.
After becoming the first New Zealand batsman to score a triple-century - an epic, series-clinching 302 at Basin Reserve - Brendon McCullum, who grew up in South Dunedin and lives in Christchurch, has become an honorary Wellingtonian. Celia Wade-Brown, the mayor of Wellington, made this official by offering McCullum the Keys to the City.
McCullum became the first person honoured in this manner since director Peter Jackson, scriptwriter Fran Walsh and Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger of the New Zealand based special effects company Weta Workshop received the Keys to Wellington in 2002 for their work on the Lord of the Rings movies.
"Wellingtonians and the cricket world congratulate Brendon McCullum on his magnificent achievement," Wade-Brown said. "Brendon's magnificent innings will be remembered for decades to come by the thousands of people at the Basin, and the tens of thousands of others who stopped everything in the middle of a working day to witness sports history being made."
McCullum said he was "honoured and humbled". He is expected to receive the keys during a formal ceremony in June.
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'.
Australia's tougher immigration laws are set to see three English tabloid journalists expelled and unable to cover the death throes of England's disastrous Ashes tour.
John Etheridge from The Sun, one of English cricket journalism's most experienced operators, has been refused licence to stay, as has Dean Wilson from the Mirror and Paul Newman of the Daily Mail. Etheridge said that Cricket Australia had tried to negotiate on their behalf but that "all avenues have been exhausted".
All three journalists were travelling on visas which had been recommended by the Australian visa department. They are the only three members of England's travelling press pack who had opted to cover the entire tour, so going beyond the 90-day limit. "We had hoped to stay long enough to see England win a match," Etheridge said.
Newman tweeted disconsolately: "Cricket Australia and the ECB have done all they can to help us but I guess, in Australia particularly, rules are rules..."
Seven England players plus members of the support staff will also go beyond 90 days. They are travelling on a different visa. Australia has yet to evict them.
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."
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."
We've all heard or read about the pressure on famous cricketing sons to live up to their family names on the field. But what happens when a son finds himself in same commentary box as his famous father? If you happen to be Rohan Gavaskar, be ready for a bit of ribbing. Sitting in on his first television commentary stint with father Sunil, at the Ranji Trophy quarter-final between Mumbai and Maharashtra, Rohan was asked about his lack of Ranji titles - he played for Bengal, while his father used turn out for Ranji giants Bombay back in the day.
Speaking about the experience, Sunil joked: "For a change I could actually pull someone's legs and get away with it. Generally when I am doing it at the international level, my fellow commentator can come back at me. Over here that was the big plus. I started by saying that he has not been a part of the Ranji Trophy winning team, but thankfully he didn't come back to me saying he has scored more runs at Eden Gardens [Bengal's home ground] than I have."
Batting tips apart, Rohan also gets commentary advice from his father. "Sometimes we do talk about little things, like the things I have learnt from Richie Benaud and by observing other commentators," Sunil said. "I haven't heard much of him [commentating] because of my travels, but the feedback that I get, generally, has been pretty good. That is good to hear."
Anyone looking for a tasty Ashes subplot needed to be at the MCG nets at tea time on the second day of the Boxing Day Test. Brett Lee, retired but no less lethal, ran in to bowl a fiery over to Piers Morgan, the television host and former editor of the Sun tabloid. Never shy of rustling a few feathers on Twitter, Morgan - frustrated at England's no-show after three Tests in the Ashes - claimed that he was good enough to face Mitchell Johnson. Lee then challenged him to a duel in the nets and Morgan didn't shy away. After several exchanges between the two on Twitter, including one Morgan tweet requesting fielders on the roof and in the street, the stage was set. Watched by spectators, Channel 9's commentators and a television crew, Morgan took guard. To everyone's surprise, Lee wasn't being charitable as he ran in in full throttle.
The verbal barbs began when Morgan told the commentator Mark Nicholas: "I'm about to ruin a great Australian career and legend." An unfussed Lee replied, "I want one six." Here's how our ball-by-ball commentary would have recorded it:
0.1 Lee to Morgan, no run, hit on the body. Morgan has the guts to give Lee the charge first ball! Who cares for reputations? Lee bangs it in, too quick for Morgan to react. Morgan fails to show his bat to ball but instead points it towards the run-up. "Where's the pain? asks a concerned Nicholas. "I don't feel it," says Morgan. Michael Vaughan offers his tips: "Stay at the crease!"
0.2 Lee to Morgan, no run, the 48-year-old is felled! An unplayable bouncer from Lee and a hapless Morgan tumbles backwards. Morgan steps forward, tells the bowler to bring it on and wants him to "try pitching it in his half." Shane Warne is a fan of Morgan already: "What about the 'come on, come on'. He's showing some courage!"
0.3 Lee to Morgan, no run, a snorter from Lee fizzes past Morgan. Nicholas walks over and asks if he needs the Australian team doctor. Morgan's having none of it
0.4 Lee to Morgan, no run, a bouncer down the leg side! Morgan can't get bat on ball to save his life. Vaughany obliges with tips: "He needs to go deeper in the crease. 'Stay in line Piers, get inside it!" Warnie can't stop gushing: "Tell you what, this is serious toughness and courage. This is 150 kmh stuff!"
0.5 Lee to Morgan, OUT, timber! For a change, Lee actually targets the stumps, Morgan takes Vaughan's advice but exposes all the woodwork. The leg stump gets a hammering. Lee charges forward and punches the air, shows Morgan the way to the changeroom
0.6 Lee to Morgan, no run, down the track is the way to go but Morgan still can't connect! Another nasty bouncer fizzes past him! So it's Lee 6 Morgan 0. "Hats off mate", says Lee.
Beaten, bruised but still upbeat, Morgan takes off his helmet but doesn't stop the verbal war: "He's a bit quicker than I thought he'd be to be honest. Boys (looking at his sons), you still have a father and I don't know if it makes you happy or not, I'm alive!"
"The warm-up guy hurt me more than he did," he added before reminding the selectors: "I am not quitting this tour and I'm available till the end of this tour."
Morgan didn't lose his sense of humour though with the follow-up tweet
Full injury list post @BrettLee_58 showdown - cracked wrist, bruised rib, and massive egg on back of head from...the throw-down guy.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) December 27, 2013
The West Indies squad was given an early taste of Wellington's famous wind as they landed into the city on Sunday and it left some of them joking that they'll take the bus next time.
The flight from Dunedin needed two attempts to land into gale-force winds leading Darren Sammy to tweet a picture of himself looking distinctly uncomfortable. "#neveragain do I want to land at Wellington airport..so scary," was his accompanying message.
By all accounts he was not the only one a little unsteady as they left the aircraft. Even some New Zealanders on the same flight commented that it was one of the roughest they had known.
"I don't suppose anything can prepare you for that," Ottis Gibson said. "It was a little bit scary, I've experienced it before myself in South Africa but a lot of us haven't. There were a few finger nails chewed down to the bitter end. But the pilots do every day so they know what they are doing. It was experience."
And although it would be a six-hour road trip to Hamilton it has already been suggested. "It has been mentioned," Gibson said. "But we've recovered from it now. For some it was good fun, for some a bit terrifying."
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.
With England and Australia contesting the second of back-to-back Ashes series, the action on the field has become increasingly heated. For different reasons, controversy has also enveloped the official computer game, Ashes Cricket 2013, which was handed a thrashing by consumers comparable with England's defeat at the Gabba and has since been withdrawn from sale.
Licensed by the ECB and Cricket Australia, the simulation produced by 505 Games was originally planned to coincide with the Ashes series in England. Despite a five-month delay in production, the publishers were able to launch Ashes Cricket 2013 in conjunction with the return series Down Under, only for severe problems to be revealed.
Released last Friday, initially for PC, gamers have reported numerous glitches, with videos being uploaded to YouTube showing incompetent fielding, batsmen making unlimited runs, shots disappearing at bizarre angles and mysteriously claimed catches.
A 505 Games statement said: "The development of Ashes Cricket 2013 has been fraught with challenges almost from the outset. The chosen developer, even with their many years of cricket game development experience, was unable to overcome the unexpected challenges that the chosen game engine threw up, even with multiple extensions to the development schedule.
"As the licensee and publisher of name for Ashes Cricket 2013, 505 Games would like to apologise publicly and sincerely to our licensors, the ECB and Cricket Australia, and their respective partners/sponsors, who have been nothing but patient and supportive of us throughout the challenges this project has presented, and who, ultimately, we have let down. Our deepest apologies, however, are reserved for the fans of cricket and cricket games worldwide."
The ECB also released a statement, telling the BBC that it was "extremely disappointed". Those who bought the game will be offered refunds.
In a further twist to the age-old rivalry, the developer blamed for the problems, Trickstar Games, is an Australian company - but it seems both sides dropped the ball on this occasion. Oh, for the days of Brian Lara Cricket.
What do you do if a beach ball flops onto the field next to you at an international cricket match? Nothing. Photographer Patrick Hamilton learnt that the hard way at the Ashes Brisbane Test, when he was escorted from his spot on the boundary by security for tapping a beach ball that fell onto the ground back to the crowd a few too many times.
An award-winning local photographer, Hamilton eventually earned the right to continue to take his photos from the stands after a bit of negotiation with security. The security personnel, of course, earned their fair share of boos from the fans for being party spoilers. And the fans, it is likely, lost a beach ball in due course.
When Mohammed Shami began his demolition job on the West Indies batting line-up yesterday, the visitors weren't the only ones worried about the Test coming to a premature end. With every passing wicket, the fans' cheers were accompanied by an increasingly saddening realisation that it was probably going to be the last time that the Eden Gardens faithful would get to see Sachin Tendulkar on the field.
The disappointment was felt most by the Cricket Association of Bengal, which in a bid to provide Tendulkar a grand farewell, had planned for three aircrafts to shower 199 kg of rose petals - or roughly 400000 flowers - over the prize-distribution area, creating a two-inch thick carpet of petals.
"Our aircraft are two-seater Cessna-152 light-engine planes capable of carrying around 30kg of flowers at a time," Saket Agarwal of Trans Bharat Aviation told Metro. "We would have made more than one sortie each to airdrop the 199kg of flowers. It would have been such a spectacle."
The CAB officials had pulled nearly every possible string in their efforts to pull this off. Besides getting permission from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, and clearance from air traffic control at Kolkata airport, the government also had to give its approval. This, according to a CAB official, "isn't possible over a phone call".
"We were looking forward to this occasion as a lot of hard work had gone behind arranging this ceremony for Sachin," CAB treasurer Biswarup Dey said. "That we had to cut it short is a setback."
Dickie Bird was most admired and respected during his 24 years as an international umpire and now he is being raised to a higher status. By five feet to be precise. Not the real thing but Bird's statue in his hometown of Barnsley. The move comes after his bronzed index finger was being used to hang a variety of interesting items on including pants, condoms and chip boxes. Bird has been seen removing rogue items from his own statue but said he didn't mind what people were doing and saw it as a sign of respect that the statue had not been damaged.
"We are not going to stop it," Sculptor Graham Ibbeson said about a plinth that will be erected beneath the statue. "What we are going to do is make it a little more difficult. We are raising him up where he belongs.
"On Friday and Saturday night everybody who wobbles home from the town after a few sherberts seems to gravitate towards that finger, with knickers, brassieres, condoms, whatever. Dickie has been seen occasionally cleaning the debris off himself, so it needed to be done. It's horrible when people are abusing it like that. It is a bit of fun but it is a bit inappropriate."
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."
In a case of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em", cricket in Sri Lanka has gained a convert from the world of athletics, thanks to an evangelistic prod from Dinesh Chandimal. National javelin record-holder Sachith Maduranga shocked the track and field community in Sri Lanka when he retired from his sport at 23, last month, citing his frustration at the lack of recognition for his achievement. But weeks later, he has turned his attention to cricket - which is the country's biggest culprit for robbing other sports of their limelight.
School-mate Chandimal had reportedly suggested that Maduranga try his hand at fast bowling, and he has since been working in the nets at the Premadasa Stadium to some success, according to fast bowling coach Anusha Samaranayake.
"He averages between 130-135kmph without any difficulty," Samaranayake told The Island newspaper. "The only concern is his bowling action which he said he would like to work with us to improve." Maduranga said he had not yet fully committed to a career in cricket, but a bowler of his description will be a boon to Sri Lanka's sparse fast-bowling stocks.
He might have been one of the greatest players to have ever played cricket but Ricky Ponting has been told that he has been wasting his time with the sport. That's because he has quite an aptitude for golf and many observers have suggested Ponting should have a crack a playing professionally now his cricketing days are over.
Ponting was told by nine-time major winner Gary Player that "The way you hit the ball, you're wasting your time playing cricket." A handicap of +1 and a career low-score of 66 give credence to that claim and fellow Australian cricketer Dean Jones believes Ponting could become a dual international. "He hits it super-long, he's a great putter and he just loves golf," Jones said. "He spends time with his mate Marc Leishman, he has dozens of sets of golf clubs - I've seen his garage. When he's not playing cricket, he lives and breathes golf."
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.
Lights, camera, action time! Chennai's newest film star ;-) pic.twitter.com/jxkBmhoqUJ— Dwayne Bravo (@Newbigdog) October 7, 2013
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.