India enact media drama to show unity

NOTTINGHAM: India’s cricketers held a bizarre media conference on Friday to dismiss reports of dissension in the team ahead of the World Twenty20.

The entire squad turned up for the pre-match briefing before their opening match against Bangladesh at Trent Bridge on Saturday. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni read out a prepared statement and then walked out in front of a large group of stunned media persons before any questions could be asked.

Indian coach Gary Kirsten returned an hour later to hold a regular briefing following protests from journalists to the ICC’s media officer Sami-ul Hasan. The defending champions were peeved at media reports back home that Dhoni had clashed with vice-captain Virender Sehwag last week which prompted the aggressive opener to miss two practice matches.

Dhoni had told reporters a few days back that Sehwag had suffered a shoulder injury soon after the team’s arrival in London and was doubtful for opener against Bangladesh. The Indian captain’s statement on Friday stressed on a “superbly unified team with each individual supporting each other, both on and off the field”.

“This message is for the people of India, and for Indian cricket fans worldwide, and comes from the whole team,” the statement read by Dhoni began. “That’s why we are all here. As we prepare for the World Twenty20, we are a superbly unified team. The team spirit is good as it has ever been, with each individual supporting each other, both on and off the field.”

“Recent reports in the Indian media of a rift between myself and Sehwag amount to nothing but false and irresponsible media. Our fans and supporters can take confidence from the wonderful unity that continues to exist in this team. We thank our fans for their continued support and look forward to entertaining you during this tournament, which we go into well-prepared, unified as Team India and confident. Thank you,” the statement ended.

Kirsten defended the show of unity, saying his team had been unfairly targeted in the media. “When we get accused of infighting it hurts us,” the former South African opening batsman said. “It does not happen in this team. It just hurt a little bit. We wanted to send a message across that this team is really unified. We play positive, good cricket and we try and win games of cricket. From the media’s side it is important that they report responsibly.”

NZ favourites over Scotland

LONDON: New Zealand’s World Twenty20 opener against Scotland at the Oval on Saturday promises to be a low key affair — and that is, you suspect, just the way the Black Caps want it. For years now in one-day cricket New Zealand have punched above their weight and their quality was on show when they beat defending World Twenty20 champions India by nine runs in a warm-up match at Lord’s.

India’s subsequent nine-wicket thrashing of Pakistan in another warm-up at the Oval meant the impact of the New Zealand loss was not felt for too long back home in the sub-continent. But it was a reminder of the heights the Black Caps can reach. In wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum they have one of the most dynamic batsmen in world cricket and a worthy successor to the likes of Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle.

Jesse Ryder is also a batsman who can make bowlers look stupid and while the absence of Shane Bond robs them of a genuine quick, captain Daniel Vettori remains arguably world cricket’s pre-eminent left-arm spinner in all forms of the game.

“In Twenty20, you are not going to second-guess yourself,” said Vettori. “The batsman is going to attack you, most spin bowlers realise that, and if they attack too much you create chances and you find even part-time spinners in the Indian Premier League being highly successful.”

Of all the three Associate or junior nations taking part in this tournament (Ireland and the Netherlands are the other two), Scotland look least equipped to cause an upset. It is now a decade since their captain Gavin Hamilton won his one and only Test cap for England while the squad suffered disruption during the warm-up series when former county bowler John Blain quit after a row with his skipper.

Australia get set for life without Symonds

LONDON: Australia will be forced into a late change of plan when they begin their quest for the ICC World Twenty20 title against the West Indies at the Oval on Saturday now that Andrew Symonds has been sent home. The controversial all-rounder was given his marching orders following an alcohol related incident that may well have brought down the curtain on his international career. Symonds’s absence robs Australia of one of the world’s leading Twenty20 players.

In the short term Australia, who have called up Cameron White to the squad as a replacement, could promote either one of Michael or David Hussey up the order with David Hussey’s off-spin a useful bowling option in the Twenty20 tournament. Given their off-field problems, Australia could have had a worse opener than a match against the West Indies, who have been beaten comprehensively by England in Tests, one-dayers and most recently a Twenty20 warm-up this season.

West Indies captain Chris Gayle though did hammer 88 runs in a nine-wicket warm-up win over minnows Ireland this week and, in a format which more than any other type of cricket can see games won by one player alone, the left-handed opener remains a significant force. “This is a fresh start,” said Gayle after his innings against Ireland. And now those words don’t just apply to his team,” he added.