The week that was ... February 20-26 February 26, 2006

A fading light, a returning star and a pace ace

The week that was ... February 20-26



Sourav Ganguly was left wondering what else life will throw up © Getty Images

Fade to black: Since he's only 33, it's hard to say whether Sourav Ganguly's time in the Big Tent of international cricket is really over. But after the manner in which he's been messed around of late, you could forgive the man if he wanted to just chuck it all and walk away. The unkindest cut came on Thursday, when the selection committee, in consultation with the team management, picked a squad that included Suresh Raina and Mohammad Kaif. With Yuvraj Singh hors de combat, Ganguly was the logical replacement, but with the accent seemingly on youth, India's most successful captain finds himself on the sidelines. Kiran More's words - "He has been a good performer for India, but we are trying to bring in youth" - seemed as much an epitaph to a glorious career as they were an empty encomium.

Can it get worse?: England's tour of India was supposed to be an opportunity to learn from the mistakes made in Pakistan and to secure victory on the subcontinent - that feat which separates the all-time-great sides from the merely good. But everything from Michael Vaughan's knee to Kevin Pietersen's back has refused to cooperate, and an eight-wicket mauling at the hands of the Indian Board President's XI was the worst possible preparation for the first Test which starts on Wednesday. Even more demoralising was Marcus Trescothick's decision to head home in the light of personal problems. Alistair Cook and James Anderson, on A-team duty in the Caribbean as recently as a couple of days ago, fly in, and Cook may well make his debut, with Andrew Flintoff set to lead the side if Vaughan is ruled out.

Pace is ace: At times you had to pinch yourself to make sure that the match wasn't being played at the Bagh-e-Jinnah or some other Pakistani ground, where the sight of a strapping fast bowler swinging the ball at more-than-decent pace evokes not even a frisson of surprise. But this was Baroda, and the man was Munaf Patel, heralded as a tremendous prospect two years ago before it all started to go pear-shaped. But after a 34-wicket Ranji campaign, Munaf left his calling card in impressive fashion, skittling 10 English wickets for 91, including two ruthless mop-up jobs on the tail. Not a man prone to histrionics on the pitch, the Munaf approach appears similar to a certain Jeff Thomson who once said: "I just shuffle up and go whang!" "My job is to bowl, that's it," said Munaf after the game. By opting for Vikram Raj Vir Singh in the squad for the first Test, India's selectors may just have missed a trick.

Captain Duffin: The Flowers, the Streaks and the Olongas may be long gone, but there's life in Zimbabwe cricket yet. A team led by Terrance Duffin beat Kenya in a one-day international at Bulawayo, with luminaries such as Anthony Ireland, Hamilton Masakadza and Prosper Utseya playing lead roles. Duffin himself made a sedate 53 while ceding performer-of-the-day honours to Brendan Taylor, who smashed six sixes in his 60.

A fork in the road: Over the past decade, Australia haven't just had the wood on South Africa, they've had a whole forest. Several times, the pretenders came close, especially at the World Cup semi-final in 1999, but when it's mattered the Australians have always been a class apart. After meting out similar humiliation to Graeme Smith's men on Australian soil over Christmas and New Year, Ricky Ponting and friends arrived in South Africa expecting an encore. With Glenn McGrath missing, however, it may not be a straightforward task. A 2-run loss in a Twenty20 match is hardly a crisis, but Smith's rollicking innings could well be. In Australia, they shut him down, and shut the team down. If Smith leads from the front though, it could get very interesting. One thing's for sure. The South African crowds won't be shy when it comes to telling the Australian players what they feel.

Those brilliant Bangla boys: Syed Rasel and his bowling mates did the early damage, while Mohammad Ashraful and the ebullient Aftab Ahmad applied the finishing touches with the bat as a passionately supported side sent Bogra and the rest of the country went ballistic with a five-wicket victory over Sri Lanka. With the Under-19s showing real promise, the only way is up for Bangladesh cricket. Their fabulous fans deserve nothing less.

Quote-hanger: "The team still remains a team. And the Ranji Trophy still remains the same competition." - Munaf Patel resorts to the philosophical approach when asked about his switch from Mumbai to Maharashtra.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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