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Rising from the Ashes!
by Gulu Ezekiel
Feb 09, 2007
You would not have believed it even a week ago. But the English cricket team--the laughing stock of ODI cricket, no less--have just done cricket fans around the world a big favour.

First they sneaked into the CB finals with a surprise win over Australia at Sydney and then pipped New Zealand in the final qualifying game at Brisbane.

Nothing though could have prepared us for the shocker at Melbourne on Friday.

England were outclassed and thoroughly demoralized in the Ashes Test series and even faced the taunts of their loyal fans demanding they return home!

In Paul Collingwood they have discovered a super-star who could well turn out to be one of the pivotal players of next month's World Cup. And whatever the result of the second final at Sydney on Sunday, England must now be counted as one of the dark-horses for the big one which they have never won.

Collingwood, remember is only the second player to score a century and take five wickets in the same match, a feat he performed against Bangladesh in 2005. The opponents in the CB Series of course are made of far sterner stuff and to score consecutive centuries in two crunch games is world-class stuff.

Right until Thursday, few would have looked beyond Australia to become the first side to win the World Cup three times in succession.

Now suddenly, doubts are cropping up and that means the tournament will be wide open which can only be good for cricket.

The injury to star all-rounder Andrew Symonds is a big blow to the chances of the title-holders. Even if he makes it to the Caribbean next month, he may not be fully fit. Captain Ricky Ponting too has decided to take a break from the three games in New Zealand that follow the CB finals, due to a back sprain.

There have been interesting developments in other matches too in the final warm-ups around the world. Though he bowled just seven overs in the washed-out game against Sri Lanka in Kolkata on Thursday, Munaf Patel has surely proved his fitness. And he appears to have done just enough to edge out S. Sreesanth for the fourth seamer's spot in the Indian team that will be chosen on Monday.

The only question mark now is over Virender Sehwag and he has one final game, at Rajkot on Sunday to grab what is probably the 15th and final spot in the team the rest of which more or less chooses itself.

v Over in South Africa, Pakistan and the home side are locked in a topsy-turvy series. The 1992 champions however are beset with injury problems--as well as a drug cloud over their top two pacers--and may well lose top all-rounder Shahid Afridi if the ICC metes out equal justice following their punishment last month of Herschelle Gibbs.

Interesting times indeed. And I have not even touch on 'la-affaire Marlon Samuels'! That is too fluid a case to comment on right now.
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