March 1, 2008

Brendon's blinders, Sharma's sizzlers

Odd dismissals and frenzied fifties, scorching spells and last tangos ... they're all in our look back at the on-field highlights of the month gone by

Weird and wonderful: de Villiers lost his wicket to a ball that bounced twice © AFP

The Bizarre Dismissal
In the first Test in Mirpur, leading a South Africa comeback from 77 for 5, AB de Villiers thought he had a freebie in his sights when Mohammad Ashraful bowled so long a long hop, it bounced twice before it could reach the batsman. de Villiers took an almighty heave, top-edged, and immediately looked at the umpire for a no-ball signal. Ashraful caught the ball, and neither umpire declared the delivery invalid - rightly, for it is only when the ball bounces more than twice before reaching the batsman that it can be called a no-ball.

The Double
After New Zealand's bowlers had done the job in Hamilton and Christchurch during the one-day series against England, Brendon McCullum went on to kill the contests in the first few overs of the second innings. In Hamilton he scored 80 off 47 as New Zealand chased down 165 in 18.1 overs, and in Christchurch 77 off 43 as New Zealand got to 213 in 37 overs, chasing 243, when rain stopped the game. McCullum hit 13 boundaries and 11 sixes in the two matches, and reached 50 off exactly 27 balls in both.

The Mismatch
Had the women's World Cup qualifier between Bermuda and South Africa counted towards official statistics, no record with the word "lowest" in it would have been safe. Put in, Bermuda scored 13 runs, ten of which came via extras. Seven batsmen got out for ducks, three managed a single each - among them the captain, Linda Mienzer, who fought 60 minutes for that one run. For South Africa, Sunette Loubser took six wickets for three runs, including 5 for 1 in 12 balls. The Bermuda bowlers (bowler, rather) ended the misery swiftly, giving away the runs in four legitimate deliveries: nine of the target came off wides.

The Valiant Losers
These were perhaps the standout individual performances of the month, but Kumar Sangakkara (128 v India in Adelaide) and Shahadat Hossain (6 for 27 v South Africa in Mirpur) happened to end up on the losing sides.

Hossain took Bangladesh painfully close to an elusive first Test win against major opposition, getting his wickets with accurate, fast inswingers. He got the openers cheaply, and then, after a run-out and the freak dismissal of de Villiers, came back to blow the last four away for three runs.

Sangakkara's effort came after a horrible start in a game in the middle of what has been a horrible tri-series for Sri Lanka. Mahela Jayawardene and he came together at 6 for 2, and by the time Sangakkara got out in the 49th over, he had scored well over half of Sri Lanka's 234.

In the end Bangladesh faltered in the second innings, and although India contrived to produce a thriller in Adelaide, Mahendra Singh Dhoni saw them through.

The Fairytale Ending
In his last big match in Perth, Adam Gilchrist smashed a dream century. It was an innings of two parts: savage hitting in the first (six fours and a six in the first 40 runs, off 38 balls), and sensible pacing in the second, giving the hundred a sense of inevitability. He scored 118, which given the collapse after his dismissal, proved the difference between the sides. Who writes his scripts?

Repeat eight times: Guha takes yet another in the Ashes Test in Bowral © Getty Images

The Spell
If you get Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, and Andrew Symonds in the same innings, you must have bowled a special delivery or three. In Melbourne during India's CB Series game against Australia, Ishant Sharma, given the new ball for the first time in ODIs, frustrated Hayden into edging a booming drive behind, and then got Ponting and Symonds with two balls that pitched just outside off before straightening and kicking. For good measure Sharma got Stuart Clark at the death and ended with 4 for 38 to set up India's only win against Australia in the series so far.

The Thriller
Chasing 341 to win the fourth ODI in Napier, and with it the five-match series, New Zealand seemed well on course at 301 for 3 in 43.3 overs, especially with Jamie How batting like a dream, unbeaten on 117 off 98 at the time. New Zealand then lost three wickets in three overs, not to special bowling but some extraordinary fielding, and found themselves needing seven off the last over. Paul Collingwood took a punt on Luke Wright, who bowled six straight, full, nerveless deliveries. How was run out off the fifth, leaving two needed off the last ball. Daniel Vettori couldn't get it off the square but scampered a run: Kyle Mills dived for the crease at the striker's end, beating Collingwood's diving shy at the stumps. It was the second tie between England and New Zealand in Napier.

The Purple patch
Going into the CB Series, Gautam Gambhir averaged 22.46 in ODIs against Test teams, with one century to his name. But in Australia, where he was least expected to succeed, he has looked the most comfortable batsman of all. With 422 runs, including two centuries, he is the top scorer in the series - and by a long way. His 113 in Sydney almost masterminded a successful 318-run chase, after India were 51 for 4.

The Unexpected Success
That Jesse Ryder made his debut was against large odds: he is overweight, has had discipline problems, and had turned his back on New Zealand in the past. Not that any of that takes away from his ability to hit a cricket ball hard: Ryder made 196 runs from five matches in the series against England at a strike-rate of 91.16. Just when it seemed New Zealand were on their way to finding an able replacement in the batting order for Stephen Fleming, Ryder drank his way into more trouble. This wild child promises a wild ride for those ready to go along.

The Peach
Pitch middle, beat the batsman, hit off ... at more than 143kph. Any slinger worth his salt would dream of deliveries that do that. Lasith Malinga, he bowls them: his first ball of the Adelaide one-dayer against India did just that - and to Sachin Tendulkar, yet. Just as well that the delivery was not wasted on a lesser batsman.

The Comeback
It is a tribute to Ricky Ponting's ability with the bat that just six matches after he had made back-to-back centuries against New Zealand, people were talking of a slump in form in the wake of scores of 0, 9, 9, 25, 10, and 11. But then he followed those up with a spotless century in Sydney, just in time for the finals. That it came against India would have been especially pleasing.

All Wrighty then: England mob their unlikely star after the tie in Napier © Getty Images

The Send-off
When Dave Mohammed had Danza Hyatt stumped in the final of the Stanford 20/20 in Antigua, he broke into a unique celebration. He took his boot off and held it to his ear, like one would a telephone receiver, and then motioned the crowd and his team-mates to keep quiet, suggesting there was a call for the batsman and it was necessary that he left. Now there's a send-off that won't earn a fine. Mohammed went on to take 4 for 20 to decimate Jamaica, and help Trinidad & Tobago win the title.

The Ashes-winning Performance
Taking 45% of the opposition wickets in an Ashes series has to count as an incredible effort - so what if it's in a one-off Test. Isa Guha did just that, with nine for 100 runs, helping England win the game against Australia in Bowral. Guha sliced through the top and middle orders twice, bowling Australia out for 154 and 231, and with Charlotte Edwards and Claire Taylor chipping in with the runs, it was an easy six-wicket win for England.

The Parting Shot
Sri Lanka's final CB Series league match, at the MCG, was in all probability Sanath Jayasuriya's last on Australian soil. A poor series by his standards continued as he managed 23 - 11 fewer than his highest in the tournament this year. In the field he watched as Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken scripted an amazing recovery with a 35-run last-wicket stand. Australia needed 14 off the last two overs when Mahela Jayawardene called on Jayasuriya, who had bowled only six overs in the series till then. He fired a quick arm-ball in towards leg, Lee swung and missed, and was bowled. It is a trick Jayasuriya has mastered over the years and can play blindfolded now. There's more than one way of going out on a high.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo