Brothers and others
The Sibling Rescue
What are the odds? Two pairs of brothers bailing their teams out of trouble and taking them to wins. In internationals. On the same day. Australia were 101 for 3 in the ODI in Adelaide when David Hussey was joined at the crease by his brother Michael. Nearly 150 runs to get at a little under six per. No problem for our likely lads, who took it steady, mostly in singles and twos with just the occasional boundary. By the time David was out in the 45th, he had made 79 and the two had put on 119 at nearly a run a ball. Michael, after being dropped twice, stuck around till the end, as is his wont, made 75, and brought up the win with a six.
A few hours later at the Premadasa in Colombo, India had lost five wickets for 34 in the Twenty20; they needed 57 off 29. Enter the brothers Pathan. Yusuf sent his first ball, off Malinga Bandara, over extra cover for four, the second over long-on for six, and the fourth over deep midwicket, also for six. A couple of relatively quiet overs went by before Irfan, deciding he wasn't going to be outshone, took 12 off a Dilhara Fernando over and finished the match with, yes, a six.
Making it three for February were the McCullum brothers, Brendon and Nathan, who chipped in with their own effort at the end of the month, taking New Zealand to a win by the skin of their teeth in the second Twenty20 against India. No six off the last ball here, though - just a skier that eluded the desperate fielder at mid-off and sealed the deal.
The Kevin Pietersen dismissal in the Sabina Park second-innings bloodbath may have been the most photogenic, with its squared-up, hapless batsman and off stump sent flying, but the top wicket was of a player lower down the ranks. Matt Prior came in to face Jerome Taylor in the 19th over. The first ball, Prior prodded forward and defended. The second, he attempted a back-foot drive before realising there was no room for the shot. The third was another teaser; Prior was pulled forward and squeezed it to cover. The fourth was the knockout: a slow offcutter that looped, crept in through the gate - left invitingly open by Prior, who had again been lured forward - and bowled him.
It's official. No Twenty20 international is now complete without the regulation juggled boundary catch. February's first came in the Australia-New Zealand game. Brendon McCullum heaved the first ball of the 19th over towards the long-on fence. Adam Voges, on the boundary, back-pedalled and grabbed a hold of the ball, realised he was headed over the rope and flicked it up into the air, skipped over the boundary, skipped back in, headed for the ball as it dropped, stumbled, recovered, dived forward and took it before it landed. It changed the game around, and New Zealand fell two runs short.
The sequel also came in a New Zealand game, also on the long-on boundary, when Jacob Oram pulled off a more effortless, less acrobatic rendition to dismiss Yusuf Pathan in the first Twenty20 against India.
The Catch II
The South Africans seem to have cornered the market on picture-perfect freeze frames of spectacular fielding. First there was Jonty Rhodes with his kamikaze run-out; then Andrew Strauss with his Ashes-defining take at Trent Bridge in 2005. In the Johannesburg Test, Neil McKenzie produced as close to a mirror image of that Strauss catch as you could get, in the ninth over. The ball, from Dale Steyn, landed back of a length outside off stump and Simon Katich tried to steer it behind square. McKenzie threw himself full length to his right and took it one-handed, about three feet from the turf, no part of his body on the ground when he did.
It was the straw that broke England's back. West Indies started day five in Antigua about 75-odd overs away from a draw - thanks to rain that delayed the start - with seven wickets in hand. Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul held England at bay for the better part of the day, Brendon Nash hung around for a while, and Denesh Ramdin ground it out for a priceless hour and a half. But the resistance to shout about came from Sulieman Benn, Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards. Defending with soft hands, large strides and big hearts; keeping at bay James Anderson and Graeme Swann; fending off Steve Harmison and whatever an increasingly frayed-looking Andrew Flintoff sent down at them, the three saw West Indies home with composure to spare. Benn even found it in him to chip Anderson for a six over midwicket. Powell, who had played the night-watchman to perfection in the first innings, provided 65 minutes of audacity. They made their own luck: edges fell short or squirted past fielders for boundaries. Each ball was clapped and cheered by an increasingly raucous crowd. Tail-end bunnies? Never heard of the breed.
Balls that bounce twice before getting to the batsman, ones that never arrive and end up bowling the player when they finally do… we've seen them before. The two beamers Ajantha Mendis produced in the Karachi Test were not quite as exotic, but in a game decidedly short on thrills, they sufficed to perk the ranks of the watching comatose up a little. The first, in the 87th over, slipped out of Mendis' mystical fingers and got head-high to Younis Khan, who attempted to swat it over the fine-leg boundary but failed - whereupon an apology was forthcoming and a giggle had by all. Younis was the recipient of the second one as well, but this time couldn't take a swing at it: it soared over both batsman and keeper to fall in no-man's land.
Andrew Flintoff is cricket's equivalent of death and taxes. You can be certain he'll wring every last bit of effort out of himself… and then produce another two bucketfuls more. In Antigua Flintoff shrugged off the pain of an injured hip to send down 12 overs, as heroic as they were fruitless, on the last day. He hobbled and grimaced his way around - and between deliveries occasionally sank to his haunches - but when he was running in, there was no quarter given, as he mixed his trademark elbow-rattling heavy balls with short ones and yorkers just a tad short of his usual pace. He saved his best for last, turning himself inside out in an epic six-over spell after tea that was nearly rewarded with the wicket of Ramdin. Then, as England's last hopes began to fade with the light, he returned, improbably, for one final over, finishing with a reverse-swinger that was too good for Daren Powell but, in keeping with the narrative, didn't produce the one wicket England desperately sought.
Is that you, Shiv? Sarwan had quite the Chanderpaulian run in the half of the series against England, while his more illustrious team-mate ran relatively dry. In the first innings at Sabina Park, Sarwan provided the anchor to Chris Gayle's motor, scoring a laggardly if priceless hundred at the Chanderpaul-like strike-rate of 36.89. In St John's, Sarwan tripped along twice as fast, before falling on the threshold of a hundred. In the second innings he stuck around four hours for his 106 - much of that in the company of Chanderpaul, who provided a peerless exhibition of the dead-batted crawl, consuming 231 minutes for his 55. The piece de resistance came in Barbados, where after Chanderpaul scored a mere 70, thanks largely to a trigger-happy umpire, Sarwan produced a personal-best 291 to take his side to safety. His average after his first four innings of the series? A mere 149, which is in the region of what a certain batsman we know averaged for large parts of 2008.